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Survival Kits – What’s in yours?

As a pilot who spends a very large percentage of my time flying a small plane over beautiful but remote areas of the Sunshine State, I am a strong believer in carrying at least some type of emergency survival gear in the plane with me. This is not the same thing as a first-aid kit, although some first-aid supplies may be included in it. This is a collection of specialized items specifically included to increase your odds of surviving AFTER the landing (Some might say “crash”, but that is only one possibility here.), and enhance your quality of living while you either wait for help to arrive or make your own way back to safety. This is not an easy topic to address for many pilots, and many spend their entire flying careers carefully avoiding thinking about going down in hostile territory. But as I continue to watch for any new news on the pilot and plane that disappeared somewhere in the forests and swamps of Florida’s Citrus County a little over a month ago and has still not been found, I realize that having the right gear in a situation like that might mean the difference between life and death – assuming you survive the landing.

Now, I am writing this piece from the perspective of a pilot who flies mostly in the South Eastern US, but anyone who flies over remote areas anywhere should also make sure that they have at least the basic items that they might need in an emergency, for the areas that they fly over. In other words, you might need to adjust your kit depending on where you fly. One universal consideration for small planes everywhere, though, is weight and space. Your kit should be as small and light as possible.
My own survival kit is about the size of an old fashioned “ditty bag”. For those who don’t know what a ditty bag is, it’s the small bag that men used to keep their shaving and personal hygiene gear in when they travelled. Mine is bright red, so it’ll be easy to find after the event. I think it weighs about 3 pounds fully loaded. I tried to choose only those items that I’d need the most to survive for a week or less. Depending on where you fly, you might need more supplies than that, but I feel that I could walk out for help or be found and rescued in about that amount of time, or less. I feel that between the items I carry in my flight bag (that’s another article entirely), plus my survival kit, I am fairly well covered in this type of emergency. If you are like me and live in hurricane or other natural disaster prone areas, you might already have a lot of these items handy. In that case, it’s a lot easier to put your kit together. Either way, it’s worth the effort for the peace of mind it brings.
So, enough with the intro, let’s get down to it. My kit contains the following items:

  • Duct Tape – Way too many uses to list. This is a must-have item. I have a small, 3” wide roll.

  • Flashlight w/Batteries – I use the kind that takes 2 D cells because they last longer. Do not store them inside the flashlight, as they can corrode or run down faster.

  • Water – I carry a couple bottles in the plane all the time, but I also have a couple of those sealed plastic packs of emergency water in the kit. I’ll come back to the bottles of water later.

  • Matches – I carry a Bic lighter in my flight bag, but I keep plenty of good old matches in the survival kit. Why? Because lighters can run down in your bag, but matches will always be there for you. I keep half of my supply in a little waterproof match container, and a backup supply in a ziplock bag. The bag itself can be a resource. I use the kind of large wooden matches that can strike on anything. Fire is second only to water in a survival situation.

  • Duraflame Firestart mini-logs (2) – These are the same thing as the larger fireplace logs, but are only about 6 inches long and maybe 3 inches wide x 2 inches think. They’ll burn cleanly for 30 minutes or more, and that’s plenty of time to get a real fire going, even if your kindling is a little wet. You can also break off pieces and use them that way to light more fires.

  • Pocket Knife – I like the kind with a serrated rope-cutting section of the blade. It’s also a good idea to use the lock-blade designed ones. The last thing you need out there is an injury added to your troubles.

  • Light Rope or 550 Parachord – It’s light, it’s useful, and it doesn’t take up much space. I like nylon rope because it’s impervious to moisture, and easy to cut.

  • Whistle – Eventually, your voice will give out. Or, you might even be hurt and unable to call out for help at all. But a whistle stays loud and clear, and anyone hearing it where there isn’t usually a whistle blowing will know someone’s trying to get their attention. It can be heard from a pretty good distance, too.

  • Plastic Rain Poncho (2) – I have a two seater plane, so I keep two in my kit. These have a variety of uses, and are very compact. It rains a lot where I live, so these are a must.

  • Bug Repellent – I have a small, pump-type spray bottle in my kit, about the size of a magic marker.

  • Thermal Blanket – I admit I’ve never used one of these things before, but I’ve heard they really work well, and it comes in a little packet that doesn’t take up much space. It’s also silver and very reflective, so I think it might also help in signaling rescuers.

  • Fishing Kit – I have a small spool of fishing line, a few hooks, a couple of sinkers and a small bobber in my kit. In the event that I need to get food, I don’t want to have to kill and skin some furry forest creature, when I can just catch fish instead. Fishing line has lots of other uses, too.

  • Blinking Marker Light, or Jogger’s Light – You know those cheap little clip-on flashing lights that companies give away at promotional events, that bikers and runners can clip on their clothes so that cars can see them at night? I keep one of those for each person in my kit (2, in my case). They’re free, small and light, and if you get separated in the dark they’ll make it much easier to keep track of one another. You can also leave one at camp to help you find your way back in the dark.

  • Crazy Glue – Lots of uses, it can even be used for stitches in an emergency.

  • Smoke Bombs – You may need to signal a recue aircraft, and nothing says “LOOK!” like a nice plumb of smoke. I like the colored smoke kind, since it stands out better from a distance.

So, by now you might be thinking to yourself “But John, you never mentioned anything about a compass, or GPS, or hand held radio, etc. What’s up with that?”. Well, you’re right, and I would never get caught out there without these items. But those are things I carry in my flight bag, and as I said before, that’s for another article. ;-)

*Remember back at the beginning when I said I’d come back to the bottles of water? These are useful in many ways. They’ll help you carry water when you’re hiking to safety, and they can even be used to START a fire! That’s right, your bottle of water can start a fire. Here’s how you do it:
Remember when you were a kid and you used a magnifying glass to burn things with sunlight? Well, your bottle of water can be used the same way. Just tip it upside down so that the rounded top part is on the bottom, and is completely filled with water (even urine can be used for this, if you have no water left). Now, use a piece or two of paper that has a decent sized patch of black ink on it (think about a page from you headset manual or FAR/AIM’s, etc.) and focus the sunlight through the bottle into the smallest little circle you can on the paper. Be patient, it takes a while, but the water and curved bottle create a lens and you can light that piece of paper on fire with it!

There, now you’ve learned a new survival skill to take with you when you fly out over the great unknown, so reading this far paid off after all. ;-)

Happy flying, and stay safe out there,


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