In recent years there have been a number of products made to work in this fashion and we’ll take a look at a few of them here today. The idea is to take something that you almost assuredly will have with you, and attach your gear to that. For cooler weather this one is easy: use your jacket or your coat. Most of us have one or two jackets that tend to see the most woods wear. On the ones you’re likely to be wearing the most, give some strong though to adding a couple items on that may come in handy in a pinch.
Even if you have a variety of coats that you use, the items about to be discussed are inexpensive enough that you can easily outfit everything you’re likely to wear into the field. What types of items you ask? Well, one of the most basic items is a whistle. While you could clip on any sort of whistle naturally, I’m partial to the
Aerowave zipper pull whistles like those offered by GoinGear. GoinGear provided us with several of these items to review and use for this article along with the cordlock light below, and other gear you’ll see in articles in the near future. The Aerowave replaces your existing zipper pull, or can attach with a short piece of cord to any regular zipper with an appropriate hole in it (which is most of them). It’s very compact and the weight is negligible. While it may not be as loud as a dedicated emergency whistle, like a Fox 40, it’s still going to give you better signaling capability than voice alone in an emergency situation. At under $0.50 there’s absolutely no reason not to attach these to all of your jackets. Any time you grab your jacket, you know you have a signaling device on you, and that’s smart insurance for yourself and for the rest of your family–especially when you’re all out together in the outdoors.
Next up is a compass. No, I’m not talking about a large baseplate navigation compass, but rather a simple model to help you get, or stay, oriented. The best I’ve found for this basic use are the Sun Company Cordlock Compasses. These liquid filled compasses are extremely compact and attach via a cordlock. I use one in conjunction with an Aerowave whistle pull on my Gore-Tex jacket so I now have both signaling and navigation aids any time I walk out of the house. Another option from Sun Company is their Therm-o-compass zipper pull. This unit is a bit bigger than the Cordlock Compass but it incorporates both a liquid filled compass, as well as a thermometer. I have one of these attached to my Columbia winter jacket along with an Aerowave whistle. CampingSurvival.com carries both models of Sun Compasses as well as a couple of other options.
Lighting is another issue that can be accommodated on zipper pulls or on pack straps. There are any number of options available now such as the small button cell Photon lights and their various clones, which can attach easily to a zipper. Another option is once again of the cord-lock variety and that’s the Black Crater Cord Lock LED Light available from GoinGear. This yellow light is relatively compact and features a bright 3 mode LED offering a low, high, and flash mode, thus providing both light and signaling capability. The Black Crater features Lithium batteries with a 5-year shelf life and run times of 20 hours on low, 12 hours on high and 50 hours on the flash mode.
Whichever type of light you choose, it’s comforting, and sometimes essential, to be able to see what you’re doing if you get stuck outside overnight. Heck, even if you end up in a power outage at work or just need to find your car keys its handy to have a light at the ready. Don’t underestimate the signaling capability of even small light either. In a truly dark situation, like the forest at night, even a small LED strobe can carry quite a distance and give you a chance of being seen that you might otherwise not have.
The last thing I’d like you to consider for your zipper pull survival kit is a fire starting method. Probably the most compact and most durable method is a small fire steel. You can go about this one of two ways. First would be to use a split ring and simply attach a small handled rod, like a BSA Hotspark, to your zipper. Another sneakier way to do it would be to get a thin diameter rod, like the 3/20” model from Goingear.com, and slipping it inside a piece of paracord (after removing the inner cordage) and looping it through a zipper. Once you tie the paracord on to the zipper pull, simply knot it off and allow enough excess cord length to slide your firesteel inside. Then melt the end of the cord to secure your steel. That way, it’s sealed off and protected until you need it in an emergency. I believe I first saw this method used by Marty Simon of the Wilderness Learning Center if I’m not mistaken.
One cautionary note on setting up your gear; if you add all of this on to one zipper pull you could end up with a bulky, rattling mess that’s going to jingle jangle as you walk. If that doesn’t bother you it isn’t a big deal. If you like things a bit neater, then consider spacing items out onto other zippers on your jacket, if it has them. Many coats have zippered inside pockets, zippered side pockets, even zippered game pockets on hunting jackets. It doesn’t all need to be attached right to the front of your coat. Attach the things that you might use most there, but just make sure the other items are somewhere at hand in case you need them.
A last point to be made: I mostly focused this article on using your jacket as the basis for your back up gear. That’s great in cooler weather but doesn’t really help you when the weather gets warm. That might require a little more creativity, but take a look at your gear and see the things that you do tend to always take with you. Perhaps a small pack, or water bottle carrier? That would work just fine. Most all of the types of item mentioned would work just as well on a bag, pouch zipper, or a webbing strap just as easily as on a jacket. You could even lace a fire steel into your bootlaces or add items to the hatband of a Tilley hat. The idea with this small survival gear is to think outside the box, and stash items you hope you never need, for those times when you really thought you wouldn’t need it.