Emergency Survival Kit
August 3, 2006
In September of 2003, I set out on my first cross country flight over an uninhabited area, the wilderness of Northern Ontario. Until then, I’ve never been required (or felt the need) to carry any sort of survival kit other than the first aid kit already in the plane. I looked at the various aviation survival kits commercially available and found they were all either too expensive, too incomplete, or both.
Being a do-it-yourself sort of person, I decided to assemble my own, so I did some research. The best source of information I found was Doug Ritter’s Equipped to Survive site. From there I got an understanding of what would and would not be useful and started assembling a shopping list. Even if you don’t want to build your own kit, I recommend reading the reviews of available kits so you can buy an adequate one.
Here’s what I ended up with in my homemade kit:
Everything you see fits in the red water resistant soft-sided cooler you see at the top center of the picture. It will even float for quite a while. Here is a list of everything in the kit, along with a few survival items that I always keep in my flight bag:
|Survival Kit Contents|
Food and Water
Items in italics are perishable or have perishable contents. Check annually.
The contents are divided into six categories that reflect the primary use of each item, although some items can be used for multiple purposes. For instance, the “head towels” are just dish towels, which can be used for head protection, bandaging, or as towels. Most of the items are self-explanatory, but I’d like to elaborate on a few of them.
My handheld radio is an ICOM A4. I purchased the model with the rechargeable NiMH battery since that’s all the local supplier had. This is less than ideal unless you remember to make sure it’s charged before every flight. Rechargeable batteries tend to self-discharge rather quickly (about 1% per day), which alkalines don’t do. In the mean time, I make a point of charging the radio before heading out on any cross-country flights.
The flashlight is a waterproof PrincetonTec® Attitude light with three ultra-bright white LEDs, powered by 4 AAA alkaline cells. I use name-brand batteries with expiry dates, and ensure that I replace them before their shelf-life is up. I also keep an extra set in the survival kit. I should also probably keep a spare set of AA cells in the kit for the GPS.
This is a great flashlight, but one annoyance about it is that some of the light spills out of the back of the LED module and through the translucent case. I found this to be bright enough to spoil my night vision. I solved this problem by simply painting the back and sides of the LED module with silver paint as shown in the photo.
A survival kit is of little use if you don’t know how to use its contents. I read many reviews of survival manuals, but eventually decided I’d make my own, sort of. I started with the freely available SURVIVAL, EVASION, AND RECOVERY – Multiservice Procedures for Survival, Evasion, and Recovery produced for the United States Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force. Rather than just printing the manual as-is, I did some editing:
- I removed all the sections that were combat specific, such as evasion and dealing with various forms of attack.
- I redid the text in many of the images, since much of it was almost illegible.
I then printed the manual in a form suitable for top binding, put a pair of covers on it, and slipped it into the pocket inside the top of the cooler. This pocket also holds a laminated copy of the equipment manifest, and a grease pencil that can write on almost anything (rocks, trees, airplanes, etc.).
All that editing had the additional advantage of forcing me to read the material over and over. If I ever do need to use it, I’ll have the advantage of already being somewhat familiar with it.
I’ve produced a PDF version of my revised version of the survival manual (3Mb file size). It’s designed to be printed double-sided, after which about 1½ inches should be trimmed off all four edges of the pages before binding. Leave a bit extra on the edge you want to bind.
First Aid Kit
Rather than incorporating all the components of a first aid kit into the survival kit, I just purchased a small camping first aid kit in a folding pouch. The pouch is normally held closed by Velcro®. I inserted one half of the pouch into the pocket on the front of the cooler, and then glued a piece of Velcro on the cooler for the other half of the pouch to stick to. This way, the first aid kit doesn’t take up any space inside the survival kit, and can be accessed without digging it out from under everything else.
In addition to the survival kit, it’s important to bring clothes suitable for the conditions that might be encountered. In spring, summer, or fall, I usually bring a light-weight but warm Coleman® rain jacket. In winter I’ll bring a parka and winter boots.
The best survival aid is to file a flight plan, and then stick to it. That way, if you go missing and are unable to call for help, it won’t be long before your absence is noticed, and the rescue team will have a really good idea of where to find you. If you must deviate from your flight plan, or if you end up behind or ahead of schedule, contact a flight service station and let them know. In fact, it’s generally a good idea to provide position reports from time to time.
With good planning and a tiny bit of luck, you’ll never have to open your survival kit except to replenish the perishable supplies. But if you do find yourself down in the wilderness, don’t panic, because you’re prepared.
If you've found this article useful, you may also be interested in:
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- Checklists for the Cessna 172N/152 and Diamond DA20-A1
- Aviator Sunglasses
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