Pocket Survival: Big Gear in Small Packages

By Cherie

Big is not always better. In fact, when survival is your goal, “big” only slows you down. When selecting gear to take into the field, you want tools that are small but powerful — survival tools that offer great application but take up little space. Gear that will fit in your pocket is ideal, leaving both of your hands free and eliminating the weight of a clunky backpack. So how do you decide on which tools to take with you? Use the following criteria:

  • It must be practical
  • It must have multiple uses
  • It must fit in your pocket
  • It must not require additional parts to operate

To offer a few suggestions, here are several necessary survival gear items that adhere to these guidelines and will keep you prepared, mobile, surviving and thriving out in the wild.

Compact flashlight

First and foremost, let there be light. You’ll need a high-powered flashlight with significant life that isn’t too bulky to carry comfortably. Cabela’s has a wide range of flashlights, including LED flashlights (durable with long bulb life) and solar-powered (handy, of course, but these tend to not be as bright or as compact). If you decide on a traditional battery-operated flashlight, make sure it offers a long battery life. How long is up to you. Your compact flashlight can yield other uses, too. It can be used as a weight, to send a distress signal (Morse code SOS is three short, three long, three short), or even to start a fire using the reflector and the globe inside.

Survival knife

Most likely, you’ll wear your blade on your belt rather than carry it in your pocket, but the same criteria applies to choosing a survival knife; go relatively small but effective. A survival knife is an outdoors-man’s best friend. Generally, you’ll want a stainless steel or carbon steel knife with a large blade. The applications of a survival knifes are countless. You can use it to sever ropes and cords, cut back brush, trim excess materials, and most importantly, to defend yourself against any potential threats. Additionally, survival knives often have hollowed out handles, so you can use that space to store even more stock, like water purification tablets, matches, fishing tackle, or a compass.

Multi-purpose tool

The Swiss Army knife has come a long way since Karl Elsener first began producing them in 1891. In fact, many multi-tools now include more features and gadgets than you would ever find application for. When was the last time you needed to uncork a bottle of wine in the wild? When choosing a multi-tool, be selective. One with the basics, like needle-nose pliers, small scissors, file, and standard blade should be plenty useful and will not clutter your pockets. A multi-tool can be used to whittle wood, cut materials, fasten cloth, and pin down tarp.

Closeup portrait of handsomely rugged Caucasian man with primitive bamboo spear in natural setting of jungle river environment


Speaking of tarp: Tarp has more functions than you’d ever imagine, and it is as light of an item as you are likely to find. Tarps can be folded into compact shapes and weigh as little as a few ounces, depending on the material, of course. A tarp can be used to keep you and your gear dry, to create a tent or lean-to shelter, as bandages if things take an unexpected turn, or even as a stretcher if a companion were to become immobilized.

Sewing kit

Though your needle point doilies will have to wait until you’re back home, your sewing kit has 101 uses in survival scenarios and is the smallest and lightest item on the list. A few needles and some thread can go a long way, from makeshift stitches for wounds to repairing torn materials, this set is worth a lot more than its weight in gold. Additionally, if you magnetize the needles before entering the field, one can be used as a compass. Simply place the needle on a leaf and lay it in any body of water. The needle will always point north.

A good survivalist is also a minimalist. Instead of trying to bring everything you might need, bring only what will help you meet your needs in the field, small tools with many applications will ensure your survival.

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6 thoughts on “Pocket Survival: Big Gear in Small Packages”

  1. “When was the last time you needed to uncork a bottle of wine in the wild?” I’ve been carrying a SAK Camper model for over 30 years (it was even in my pocket in my tux when I got married). I’ve used it to open hundreds of bottles of wine, both while camping and at home (but never in a survival situation, unless you consider camping with your wife / girlfriend and not having a cork screw, a ‘survival situation’…lol). I do carry a Leatherman ‘Wave’ in my ‘Get Home Bag’ and have many others I’ve carried over the years in the ‘knife drawer’ (I like the ‘Wave’ model the best). One tip for anyone looking to buy a Swiss Army Knife: from my experience, The Victronox has a better can opener and the Wenger has a better Scissor, just FYI

  2. I like SAKs too. I also have little use for the corkscrew tool itself, but the cavity does hold a small amount of extra ‘toolage’. An extra sewing needle, a skinny (and short) spark rod for example. And if you use eyeglasses that eye glass screwdriver might become very valuable. I use the saw blade pretty often too for fire tinder materials.

    Small pack choice – three or four pocket AK magazine. They often come with a shoulder or belt strap and aren’t too bulky. Probably too much for urban EDC though – I leave one in the truck all the time.

  3. I am a lifelong Swiss Army Knife advocate as well! My favorite model is the Huntsman. It is not too big or heavy to fit in a pocket (like the Champion version), but has useful tools like a saw and scissors. Although I’ve carried a pliers/multi-tool on my belt since the early 1990’s, I’ve had a Swiss Army Knife on me every single day since the late 1970’s. For me, the Huntsman is used more than the multi-tool. Of the 2 “Official” Swiss Army Knives, I prefer Victorinox to Wenger. I have experimented with several small flashlights over the years, too. My initial EDC was a Maglite AA flashlight. Recently, I switched to alternating several NEBO models. The Redline light is powered by 3 AAA batteries, but is bigger and heavier in your pocket than the single AA NU14C or NU14J (both Item# 5519). I purchased a bunch of CREE Mini-lights as Christmas presents in December 2013. Powered by one AA battery, they were VERY bright and cost only 5 bucks each! I gave them all away, though, so I am flip-flopping the NEBOs (depending on the trousers or shorts I’m wearing). BANDANNAS! I have 1 or 2 in my pocket all the time. Limitless survival applications here! Another handy-dandy gizmo to have close is the AMK SOL Original Survival Kit. This is probably the most versatile “stand alone” item I’ve ever seen. It has a knife, compass, “Sparkie” fire starter, mirror, light, whistle in a small waterproof box that holds Tinder Quick, aluminum foil, braided cord, stainless steel wire and a fishing/sewing kit. There is also room for a few additional items like water purification tablets or any daily medications some folks need to take. For less than $40.00, you can have some basic survival items with you 24/7/365.

  4. My work uniform has elastic-waist pants, and you can only carry so much in your pockets before you have to pull your pants up every 5 minutes. Not to mention, every time I had to reach for one of my many keys (on 3 separate rings) I invariably wound up with a knife or multi-tool in my hands instead. Not to make you guys uncomfortable, but I finally found that the seldom-used items could be tucked inside my bra. I can carry the things I want and no one is the wiser.


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