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February 15, 2009 Comments (0) News

UST’s Aqua Survival Kit Review

For those folks that have some knowledge of the outdoors and survival industry, the name Ultimate Survival Technologies should be familiar.  UST manufactures and distributes specific hard-use gear that is designed to help keep military personnel, first responders, and outoors enthusiasts safe.  A lot of that gear is oriented around survival situations, and UST offers a number of different kits with such situations in mind.  My first experience with them was around seven or eight years ago when I picked up my first BlastMatch–a fire starting tool that was designed with an innovative concept in mind.  And, through the years, I saw the additions to their product lines and have continually been impressed by the quality of the equipment they supply in their kits.  I had a chance to speak with UST representatives about their products at the SHOT Show in January, and during the course of our converstation, I was provided their Aqua Survival Kit for review.  It’s now a month later, and I’ve had a chance to work with the entire kit.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to provide some insightful information for those folks considering picking one of UST’s kits for their own personal use.  In the end, I think a lot of folks might just find that the Aqua Survival Kit will be just the thing they need on hand for their outdoor adventures!

To alleviate any confusion, let me point out that the Aqua Survival Kit has the exact same components as the Deluxe Survival Kit.  The only difference is that instead of the Hard Cache carrying case, the Aqua Survival Kit uses a flexible pouch as the housing for the gear.  The pouch is waterproof to 15 feet.  Everything else is the same between the two kits.  It’s pretty much the user’s preference as to which system is best.  I have my own Hard Cache Case, and I like it quite a bit for the protection it provides to the gear since it’s nearly indestructable.  But, the case also adds to the kit’s overall bulk and weight and isn’t quite as packable as the the Aqua Survival Kit’s pouch form-factor.

Aqua Survival Kit Components

There is no question to the quality of the gear once you’ve got the kit open and everything laid out.  You don’t even have to test the gear before you realize that it’s meant for serious use.  The Aqua Survival Kit has the core components that will be needed to help someone stay alive when the fit hits the shan.  The items included in the kit are:

  • BlastMatch Fire Starter
  • 2 WetFire Tinder Packs
  • StarFlash Signal Mirror
  • JetScream Whistle
  • SaberCut Saw with case

 

Now, right off the bat, one would say there aren’t very many pieces to the kit, and I might agree with them.  In fact, Ultimate Survival Technologies offers another kit which I believe is more complete.  It is called their Soldier’s Tactical Advantage Kit (STAK).  It includes the same exact items as the Aqua Survival Kit with the addition of a few other things–2 cyalume light sticks (green and IR), a Brunton 28NL compass, a Streamlight Keymate Flashlight, a Keymate Flashlight Filter Kit, and a SuperKnife folding knife.  That’s certainly a bit more gear, but it’s aimed at a specific purpose and it comes at a price both in expense and size.

A soldier will be in a different type of situation than the recreational outdoors person.  Besides dealing with the elements, they will usually have to be aware of any combatants in the field.  This will require them to stay on the move (hence the compass), possibly light up an area for observation (the green and IR light stick), and they may need to do tasks like map reading or investigating a specific target in the dark (the flashlight and various filters).  Also, a soldier is more likely to have the gear and clothing available to acommodate the larger size of the STAK and its extra items.  Most outdoors folks don’t enjoy unneccessary weight in their gear when playing out in the woods.

Wisely, UST kept it simple for their mainstream survival kits such as the Aqua Survival Kit.  It has the gear you need to stay alive, yet it’s easy to pack and carry, and it stays more in line with what most people can afford to spend on this type of kit.  But, there’s no sacrifice in quality of the components you’ll find in this collection of tools.  In fact, in my opinion, this is one of the best, high-end personal survival kits out on the market today.  Yes, there are all kinds of kits and packs that run hundreds and thousands of dollars, but what I’m talking about are the bare essentials kits that you can throw in your pocket and forget about–until it’s needed.

One of the first things a person is going to need in a wilderness survival scenario is a way to make fire.  Fire serves a number of purposes.  It provides warmth for drying out clothes and beating back the cold.  It can be used to signal with, keep predators at bay, boil water to kill bacteria and viruses, and it can be used for cooking meat.  Additionally, fire can be used for improvised weaponry whether you’re fire-hardening a spear or using it to drive back attackers.  And, finally, fire provides light.  So, one of the most important items in the Aqua Survival Kit is the BlastMatch fire starter.  As mentioned earlier, it’s an innovative design that allows for one-handed operation.  You unspring the cap, flip it down out of the way, aim the ferro rod at your tinder on a hard surface, depress the striker tab into the rod and push down at about a 70 degree angle.  Voila!  You’ve got sparks and the makings for a fire!!  The first time, you’ll need to do this 2-3 times to expose the bare rod to get good sparks going, but once done, you’ve got no problems getting great sparks to get your fire up and running.

Striking with the BlastMatch into WetFire Tinder

Good technique is essential to get the sparks and to protect the firestarter.  You need to have the ferro rod pointed at the tinder in that 70-90 degree angle to get a good strike and to prevent too much lateral stress on the housing.  But, it’s quick work to understand after a couple of tries.  Also, you’ll need a hard surface to place the ferro rod against since you want the rod to stay in place while you are driving the striker downward with your thumb pushing the striker against the entire length of the rod during the strike.  Otherwise, if you try to do it on bare earth, you’ll just push the rod straight into the dirt.  A tree stump or rock will serve quite nicely as the hard surface you need.  Once you’ve got your tinder going, you can simply move it to where you’ve got your kindling and firewood ready to rock and roll!  Oh, and speaking of tinder, UST didn’t forget about that part when they put this kit together.  Included in the Aqua Survival Kit are two WetFire tinder cubes that will help you get your fire started easier, especially when faced with wet surroundings.

WetFire Tinder gets a good flame going after just a few sparks.

UST’s WetFire Tinder are white cubes just a bit smaller than the size of a cube of pool cue chalk.  When you first pick them up and hold them, they remind you a bit of styrofoam because of their light weight.  However, these tinder cubes have a propriety mix of materials that allow them to catch fire even in wet conditions.  All you need to do is crumble off some pieces, or slice some if you like, and then hit the small pieces with the sparks from your BlastMatch.  Almost instantly, you’ll have fire.  What I found nice was that you could blow the fire out (with enough force) and reuse the left overs again and again.  (Update) I made contact with the folks at UST to find out about the WetFire Tinder cubes to see how long the cubes will retain their spark-catching properties once out of the foil pack.  I was informed that if the cube is broken into pieces and immediately put into an airtight container, it should retain its properties for up to a year.  But, there’s no question that this stuff works well in catching sparks and getting your life-saving fire going in no time. The only gripe that I have with the WetFire Tabs in the Aqua Survival Kit is that there were only two provided.  And, if there is a short life outside of the foil packaging, it would be nice to have 3-4 of these cubes instead of just two.  That’s not a knock on the product, just something for the wish list.

Miniature Star Fire started with the BlastMatch and WetFire Tinder

Overall the fire-starting combination of the BlastMatch and the WetFire tinder works quite well together.  You get great sparks and a medium that takes the sparks quickly for fast fire generation.  Once the fire is going, you can move the tinder cube to your other materials.  Or, if you’re smart enough, just put a rock in the center of your fire area and you can use that to strike with the BlastMatch.  On a personal note, I like other methods of generating sparks than the BlastMatch.  Me, I’ve found a great striker that I use with a 1/2" thick ferro rod that does the trick, and more recently, I’ve been using the Aurora fire starter for my needs.  Again, this isn’t a knock on the quality of the BlastMatch, it’s just more personal preference.  The BlastMatch is built solidly and does it’s job quite well.  I just don’t like having to go the extra step of making sure I have a hard surface to use to make the BlastMatch work.  I can use a ferro rod and a striker without having to fiddle with that requirement.  But, something important should be noted about the BlastMatch that most may not have considered yet.  The one-handed operation isn’t simply just a neat trick to be different.  It serves a vital function all on its own.

Since these kits and tools were designed with the military in mind, we need to remember that when a person is likely to need a survival kit, the probablility of accompanying injuries is very high.  For instance, if a pilot ejected from his plane, and breaks an arm on the way down to the ground, he’s going to have a tough time using a striker that’s separate from the ferro rod because that’s a two-handed operation.  The BlastMatch really steps in and takes over in this scenario because it allows that injured pilot to get that fire going with just one hand.  And, you don’t have to be a pilot or an elite special forces operator to get injured in the wilderness.  There are stories all the time about people that get injured in falls and end up breaking an arm.  It’s just that very reason that I will keep the BlastMatch with me even though I have another method I prefer.  It’s a quality product and it’s small enough that I’m not concerned about the extra weight or size when slipping it into my gear.  So, if something untoward does happen where I might sustain an injury to a hand or an arm, I know that I’ve got that back-up on me for just that occasion.  And, because of its quality construction and spark-spitting abilities, I don’t have to worry about it getting the job done for me.

UST’s SaberCut Saw with Nylon Webbing Strap Handles

Soon-to-be SaberCut Saw victim.

And, another quality piece of gear that I don’t have to worry about is UST’s SaberCut Saw.  This is basically a chainsaw that you operate by hand with the aid of a nylon webbing strap at each end.  Forget the little wiresaws with the keyrings on them.  They’re basically useless unless you’ve got a wedge of cheese with you.  The SaberCut Saw is the real deal.  This component of the Aqua Survival Kit is what’s going to help you get the materials you need to build a sturdy shelter or make improvised furniture such as shelves, seats, and the like.  Now, I got a little goofy when I picked out my target on which to test the SaberCut Saw.  We had a recent storm in the past week and the winds got up to 70 miles per hour.  After it was over, there was a mess on our land with downed trees and power poles.  In our lower field, we had a tree that fell over in an area where we like to run vehicles through, so I thought I would give that a go and really put the SaberCut Saw to the test.  I would like to point out that I think this is really pushing the envelope for the SaberCut Saw.  A person wouldn’t need to cut trunks this thick to get the materials they need to build a sturdy shelter.  But, I figured if it would zip through this, then the small stuff would be a piece of cake!

SaberCut Saw does the trick on quickly getting through this large trunk.

The SaberCut Saw took right off and was digging out a notch in no time on the relatively thick trunk.  After a bit of getting acclimated, you’ll find the right rhythm and tension to keep on the saw to keep it running quickly and smoothly.  I found if you pull too tightly while sawing, you’ll just bind it up.  Just keep enough tension to give it some guidance and let it do the work.  I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s not going to replace a real chainsaw, but I was able to make very quick work of the trunk.  In almost no time, I was already halfway through it without even feeling tired or breaking a sweat.  And, believe me, I sweat easy!  Even though I wasn’t winded, I wanted to get a picture of my progress for posterity’s sake, and you can see it on the right.  I was quite pleased with the ease that this saw chewed through wood.  After getting a few shots, I picked up the task again and started on the home stretch.  But, I was reminded of a lesson that I had earned a few months ago when performing a similar task.  You see, as you’re cutting through the wood, you’re not just cutting straight down like you would with a normal chainsaw.  You’re actually cutting all around the tree including the opposite side and near the bottom.  Once you get so much work done, you’ve just got a little bit of wood in the center supporting the end that you’re trying to cut off.  Well, at some point or another, that bit of wood just isn’t enough to support that weight any longer.  That’s when the weight of the trunk causes the hanging end to start leaning inward just enough to get the saw in a bind, and that weight is also causing you from being able to pull the saw out of its spot in the tree.

My answer to getting the saw out of the bind cause by the weight of the hanging end.

Hmmm…  An answer was needed.  I came up with the best answer I could at the time with what I had on hand.  I just took a shaft of wood that I found and ran it through both loops of the SaberCut Saw.  Once that was done, I got under the hanging end that was pressing down on the saw and pushed up with my shoulders to take the weight off of the cut area.  Once I thought I had it raised up enough, I raised a leg and put a foot on the shaft in between the two loops and kicked downward.  It was kind of like trying to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time.  I was pushing up on the trunk and trying to kick down with one leg.  On the third try, the wood shaft broke, but the SaberCut Saw luckily dropped out at the same time.  I picked it up and inspected it and there was no damage or points of compression that would cause any problems.  Lucky me!  It wasn’t the saw’s fault.  It was just simple physics that I didn’t think about when I started the exercise.  The saw zipped right through the wood in quick enough fashion.  I just hadn’t thought about the hanging weight bending down to catch the saw in it’s grip.  So, that part was done.  I had the saw back in my hands safe and sound, but there was a little bit of the center portion of trunk left over to finish.  Deciding I’d put the saw through enough, I took my Next Generation Ka-Bar out and chopped through the rest of it.  There wasn’t much of it left and I was done in a couple of minutes–with no damage to the Ka-Bar.  I could have finished it off with the saw, but I wanted to try the Ka-Bar out and see how it did at chopping since it’s not really intended for that use.  I have a habit of using tools for chores they weren’t designed for, much to the chagrin of many manufacturers.

Finished Product after using the SaberCut Saw

So, after this happening, was I satisfied with the SaberCut Saw?  Absolutely!  No one can change the law of physics, and you can get bound up blades even with power chainsaws.  The important thing to remember in this exercise is that I tackled something that probably wouldn’t be done in a true survival situation.  A person in that kind of predicament isn’t going to build a log cabin.  They’re just going to need to get stout enough materials to build a strong shelter.  That can be accomplished with much smaller trees and it will be much faster since you can cut them while they are standing and then just push them over when you’ve cut through them just enough.  I loved the nylon webbing straps on the SaberCut Saw.  I didn’t get any deep grooves dug into my skin or sensitive areas from its use.  They were sturdy, comfortable, and really helped me get a substantial grip on the task by giving me more surface area to work with than a loop of paracord.  The SaberCut Saw really is a top-notch product to have in a survival kit.  That said, it should be noted that the nylon webbing straps do add a bit of bulk to the overall package for packing into the included nylon pouch.  But, it’s well worth it when you consider the extra leverage and comfort it provides during cutting chores.  It’s really a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned.  I know there are a lot of fans of large chopper knives, but I wouldn’t even begin to think about tackling a tree this large with just a chopper.  But, though it’s not a walk in the park, you can get the job done with the SaberCut Saw!  That sure beats spending all day trying to chop through it with a 7" field knife.  That, in itself, makes the SaberCut Saw worth its weight in gold.

StarFlash Signal Mirror and JetScream Whistle

So, we can make a fire, and we can make a shelter.  What else do we need to do?  Oh, yeah, we have to get found!  That’s where a couple of the other products in the Aqua Survival Kit comes in handy.  Those two items are the StarFlash signal mirror and the JetScream signal whistle.  Besides your fire, these two items are what you’re going to rely upon to hopefully let people know your whereabouts.  The Starflash signal mirror is a well-respected signalling device that’s been around a good while.  It has a very nice, reflective surface, and provides an aiming port that allows you to aim your signal flash in the right direction–especially overhead for planes and helicopters to observe.  The JetScream whistle weighs in at an ear-piercing 122 decibels and it will probably be more handy for searchers on the ground that are looking for your location.  I tried this whistle a few times to see if I could rouse any coyotes in the area, and I came up with a little tip I’d like to pass along to the reader.  It’s a lot more comfortable for you to use this device if you plug your ears with your fingers.  I don’t think repeated blasts with this whistle that close to your unprotected ears will be good for you.  But, it creates a high-pitched blast that is readily heard and is much better than relying on yelling as a way to signal others, because your voice will wear out eventually.

UST’s Sparkie in its ready position.

The Sparkie is very small and makes for a nice back-up to your main fire-starting device.

All of that just about wraps up my observations about the Aqua Survival Kit, but that’s not quite all about Ultimate Survival Technologies and some of its other products.  Another item that I picked up at the SHOT Show was the Sparkie fire starter.  Just like it’s older sibling, the BlastMatch, the Sparkie is also configured for one-handed operation, but it’s in a smaller and lighter form factor where that might be a true concern.  Such people that may want something like this are through-hikers who count every ounce, or someone wanting to put together their own ultra-small survival kit.  Now, the Sparkie uses a smaller and shorter ferro rod, so it didn’t throw as many sparks as the BlastMatch.  However, it was very easy to use, and I still got more than enough sparks to get the tinder going in just one strike.  In fact, I tried the Sparkie over ten times with the WetFire Tinder, and got a flame going each and every time.

Getting sparks and a flame with the Sparkie.

Again, the Sparkie is just as easy to use as the BlastMatch.  The ferro rod is actually stored inside of the unit.  So, to get at the rod, you simply push on the area marked "Push" and this releases the rod from its spring-loaded position.  It slides out on it’s own, and it’s ready to go.  Just like the BlastMatch, you get your tinder together on a hard surface, and then push downward at that 70-90 degree angle to get the sparks rolling, and you’ve got instant fire.  It’s that easy!  Now, since the Sparkie usues a smaller ferro rod, it’s rated for between a 100-150 strikes, so this is truly intended as an emergency fire starter best kept in storage until it’s really needed in an emergency situation.  After I used the Sparkie, I found I like it as much, if not more than the BlastMatch.  It’s small size and lack of the swinging lid-arm found on the BlastMatch made it a little less finicky to use, and made for a straight-forward operation.  I don’t think you can ask for anything more than that.  It’s a system that anyone can use, and even the most inexperience novices can get a flame going with this great little device!

Some other interesting news that I heard at SHOT, and that I am waiting for more information about, is UST’s new kit coming out that’s called the Base Kit.  It’s an even smaller pouch that has the Sparkie as its main firestarting component and some WetFinder Tinder Cubes as well.  I’m not sure if anything else will be included, but I’ll remember to update this article once I get any additional information.  The one interesting thing I did learn about the Base Kit is that it will be using a newly designed waterproof pouch that has a different sealing mechanism.  That new mechanism will allow the pouch to remain waterproof to fifty feet (I believe that’s what I was told) instead of the fifteen feet on the current Aqua Survival Kit.  But, the good news is that they are also going to make a new, similarly-designed pouch for the Aqua Survival Kit as well.  That will make the kit even better than the currently available model.  So, it looks like Ultimate Survival Technologies is moving forward with their innovations and improvments, and I can’t wait to see what else they’ve got around the corner!

So, is the Aqua Survival Kit for you?  Only you can answer that.  For me, there are a couple of great, throw-in-your pocket kits on the market, and this is at the top of the pack for its price point.  A lot experienced outdoors people have their own preferences and enjoy putting together their own kits.  There’s nothing wrong with that at all.  But, the Aqua Survival Kit’s real strength is pulling together high-quality components, which I believe feel more substantial than some I’ve seen in other kits.  Yet, the average person, even without a lot of outdoors experience, can quickly employ these tools to improve their chances in surviving a situation that could have a dire outcome.  Heck, even the most experienced people could use this kit as a back-up to keep in a pocket in case they get separated from their main pack of gear.  It does happen. 

I recently watched a video where two hunters were out in a canoe that capsized and everything they had went to the bottom of the river.  They didn’t have anything on their person as far as survival gear, especially gear that wasn’t soaked in water.  If they’d had the Aqua Survival Kit tucked in a pocket, I’m sure they would have had a much easier time of things.  It’s that very thought that locks the notion in my mind to have one of these kits as a back-up at the very least.  And, as a primary kit, it will do you just fine.  Give the Aqua Survival Kit a good look while you’re out looking for the right survival kit for yourself.  I don’t think you’ll find a better quality kit at its price, and I think you’ll find the quality components make it well worth the money spent!

Visit: www.ultimatesurvival.com

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