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Are you ready to survive an emergency at your location? Is your survival context urban or the wilderness? In recent days, I have read a few articles and watched a few presentations relating to urban or wilderness survival. It is interesting to notice one preference over another. These preferences are due to the leanings of those making their case. One’s environment influences the preferred approach to emergency preparedness. My own experiences with outdoor recreational activities, weather emergencies, military field training, and combat deployments accentuate this truism.

Thus, there are two basic categories of survival that are the most common in the literature: urban survival and wilderness survival. My article on survival approaches further breaks these down. However, in this article, I will discuss the urban and wilderness methods for survival planning from a broader perspective.

The Urban Survival Approach

The contemporary interest in urban survival is a more recent development in the survival and preparedness world. The popularity in the zombie genre of dystopian movies and television program seems to have been the impetus for the interest. The concern about the sudden collapse of modern society intensified with the Y2K scare of the late 1990s. Lofty Wiseman’s book, SAS Urban Survival Handbook (1996) discusses urban survival and is a standard read on the subject. Thus, urban survival became a hot topic in the early decades of the new century. What is urban survival?

The name, urban, implies the context in which one needs to survive: a city, town, or metroplex. The urbanization of the United States is a byproduct of its Industrial Revolution (1865-1920). The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that close to 63% of America’s population lives in urban and suburban areas. Furthermore, strategic thinker and author, David Kilcullen writes of the increasing urbanization of warfare in his book, Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla (2013). Therefore, urban survival planning a viable exercise for those living in that context.

The Uniqueness of the Urban Environment

There are many contrasts between an urban environment and the wilderness environment. The concerns of the urban environment are unique. For example, a person attempting to survive in an urban or suburban context does not have to worry about building a shelter in the same manner as their wilderness counterparts. One can occupy an abandoned building or house if necessary and if it is safe. The stories of urban survival from the siege of Stalingrad to the killing fields of Sarajevo give ample evidence of the peculiarities of urban survival.

A feature of urban survival are the kinds of items necessary for an emergency kit. Thus, urban survival requires some different things that are not present in a wilderness survival loadout. For example, most urban survival kits include a sillcock key. A sillcock key is unnecessary beyond the rural survival zone. Why? There are no commercial buildings with secured outside water faucets in the backcountry that require a sillcock key to access.

It is common for urban survival kits to feature lock picking tools. Again, these are unnecessary in the deep backcountry for living off of the land. Lock picking tools assist in getting into buildings to obtain food, water, or shelter in an urban or suburban survival zone. The movie, World War Z, has a good representation of the importance of accessing a grocery store or hospital pharmacy during a societal collapse. Lock picking tools enable that activity.

Some Observations About The Urban Environment

Additionally, the urban environment offers some infrastructure that is not available to those living near or in the wilderness. Cities and towns provide a utility grid (gas, water, electricity), if operational, which allows access to potable water, refrigeration, communication, sanitation, and emergency medical care. Stable buildings offer shelter and protection from the weather, predation, and criminal activity.

The main weaknesses with the urban environment are the available resources, like food, medicine, and water. In an urban collapse, such as that after Hurricane Katrina, those resources dwindle very quickly. It is estimated that major grocery stores only maintain about a 30-day supply of food and water. However, in a panic, the shelves and coolers in those same grocery stores will be stripped clean in 48 hours.

I witnessed this in Virginia when a named snowstorm was going to hit our area in 2016. The local Kroger’s, down the street from my apartment, was a chaotic mess in two hours. You would have thought the zombie apocalypse was upon us. My oldest son was with me in the store. I pointed out the barren bread shelves to him. I told him that this is what happens when people fail to prepare. They become very selfish and animalistic towards others when they are fearful of their mortality. Therefore, the storage of essential necessities becomes crucial in an urban survival zone.

The Wilderness Survival Approach

The wilderness survival approach is the oldest of the methods. Wilderness or frontier survival is as old as humanity from the Otzi Iceman to the modern bushcrafter. As its name indicates, wilderness survival refers to surviving in an outdoor environment. There are different kinds of survival considerations for various outdoor activities. Wilderness survival preparation may be as sophisticated as a modern ultralight backpacking kit to an extended hunting trip into the Alaskan backcountry. It can also be as simplistic as employing the survival skills and tools of the Native Americans or the Mountain Men of the early 1800s.

The Uniqueness Of The Wilderness Approach

The outdoor environment offers its own set of unique characteristics influencing survival and preparedness. Outdoorsmen must be able to survive and sustain themselves in the field for extended periods in remote locations. There is nothing “remote” about the urban environment. Moreover, wilderness survival requires one to carry all of the survival necessities within the limitations of your pack, pack animal, or both. Furthermore, the wilderness survival approach implies being able to access and create essentials from natural surroundings. For example, flint napping a knife blade or spear point is not necessary for an urban context.

Some Observations About The Wilderness Environment

The main difference in wilderness survival kits and those for the urban environment are the tools. Those going into the outdoors need a fixed blade knife as their primary tool. Urban survival kits can function effectively with only a multitool. A fixed blade knife is a core item for bushcrafters and hunters. Ferro rods and strikers are the tools of choice for making fires in the backcountry. Whereas, urban survival kits usually feature a Bic Lighter. Thus, there are some differences in kit components to enable urban or wilderness survival.

Some Final Thoughts

Is it urban or wilderness? Your location and type of survival concern will dictate your requirements. However, for those living in the transition survival zones, it is prudent to take a hybrid or blended approach of both urban and survival techniques and kit mentality. Sigma 3 Survival School offers a great blend of both urban and wilderness survival training courses. It is best to avail yourself of that training if you are able. You may have to traverse multiple survival zones to get to safety during a mandatory evacuation. Therefore, it is wise to gain as much field time, formal training, and individual practice in both urban and wilderness survival skills within your budget and time limits. These will enhance your chances of a positive outcome in your survival situation.

Further Reading

Are there effective one tool options? The answer is that it depends on the intended use of your cutting instrument. Are bushcraft knives better than multitools? Are multitools better than bushcraft knives? It is essential to ensure that you have the appropriate tools for functioning effectively and efficiently in the outdoors. Most survival experts advise taking some type of cutting instrument with you into the field, such as a fixed blade knife. Comprehensive packing lists for backpackers and hunters consist of both a fixed blade knife and a multitool. However, what if you are limited to just one cutting option?

The Bushcraft Knife Overview

The bushcraft knife or an equivalent fixed blade knife is the tool of choice for most outdoorsman. The description of these knives are the one tool option to ensure survival and sustainment in the field. There are specific characteristics that define a quality bushcraft knife. Those features are as follows:

  • Length of the Blade: 5-8 inches
  • Type of Steel: D2 or 1095 HC
  • Blade Spine: 90°, sharp-edged
  • Coating of the Blade: None

These features can be negotiable such as the case with the Morakniv® knives.

The purpose of these knives is to allow a person to conduct various field tasks. The bushcraft knife blade is short enough to do small jobs like process firewood or carve traps. However, the blade is long enough to adequately process game or to function as a self-defense weapon, such as a spear.

The Multitool Overview

The multitool has grown in sophistication over the years. Most people’s first exposure to a multitool was either a Swiss Army Knife or Leatherman® PST. The origin of the multitool concept is with the pocket knife. The addition of multiple blades, can openers, or bottle openers as features on pocket knives reflect the multitool concept. The Boy Scout Pocket Knife was an early example of these kinds of pocket knives. However, contemporary multitools feature pliers, folding handles, with various tools that tuck into the handles. A folding blade and saw blade are often part of the modern multitool. Leatherman® and Gerber® are the largest manufacturers of contemporary multitools.

The purpose of the modern multitool is to function as a compact toolbox for the handyman, mechanic, electrician, or other skilled laborers. Anglers and hunters saw that the contemporary multitool was an asset for their needs and began to use them. Thus, the multitool entered the outdoor world. The favorite features on a multitool for anglers and hunters are the pliers and knife blade. Yet, is the multitool a good one tool option for field survival?

Bushcraft Knife verses A Multitool In The Field

 

Processing Fish

A recent experience of mine revealed the strengths and weaknesses of the single tool option concept. My son and I went fishing as part of a church activity in the Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico. We caught five small to average length trout. We had to cook them since we did not bring a cooler to keep them in for transportation back to the house. The cooler that I intended to take was unusable, and I did not have time to get another one before the trip. I did not have to gut the fish because the folks running the location did it for us as a complimentary courtesy for fishing in their private pond. As an experiment, I used my multitool to prepare the fish for cooking.

I had my Leatherman® Sidekick® on me, so I proceeded to prepare the fish for cooking. My original intent was to fillet them to avoid my son having to eat any bones accidentally. That turned out to be a useless effort and was advised by a more experienced gentleman just to wrap them in aluminum foil and place them on the grill. This was a concept that was familiar with, so I finished preparing the other fish. After they were finished cooking, I ran into another issue, how do you effectively take the meat off and leave the bones? I decided to peel the meat off after cutting the heads and tails off of fish. The saw blade on the multitool was used to cut the heads and tails off. It quickly became evident why anglers have a filet knife in their tackle boxes. A multitool is not the most efficient tool to process fish of average size except for gutting them.

Processing Game

A more recent observation also reinforced the practical nature of a bushcraft knife as a one tool option over a multitool. The latest episode of the television show, Alone, shows a contestant with hunting experience attempting to process a full-sized moose with only a multitool. He successfully killed the moose with his bow and arrow. He later comments while processing the moose that he regretted not having his fixed blade knife on him. Most hunters take a game processing kit with them into the field. These kits have various blades for cutting, chopping, and skinning, as well as sawing bones. A multitool seems to have some of these features. However, the contestant quickly realized that the job of processing that kind of game with a multitool was a daunting effort. It took the contestant six hours to process the moose with his multitool and transport the meat to his bivouac location.

Furthermore, as I was watching this unfold, it brought to remembrance some things that I have read or heard by outdoorsman about the bushcraft knife and its uses. Here is an excellent example of why frontiersman, trappers, and mountain men had the type of knives that they carried in the field. They found themselves having to process deer, elk, moose, or bear after hunting them. A two or three-inch knife blade or saw blade was not going to get the job accomplished. The contemporary outdoorsman is no different. Thus, as a one tool option, it would seem that the bushcraft knife is preferable to the multitool.

Some Final Thoughts

The bushcraft knife or the multitool as the one tool option? Which is best? The answer still comes down to what is your intended use for a cutting instrument. Most outdoor experts will advise carrying at least two or three kinds of cutting tools: a fixed blade knife, a folding knife, and a multitool. The folding knife and multitool are used for smaller tasks like fashioning fishing hooks, carving traps, or making primitive weapons. The fixed blade is used for the more significant functions beyond the campsite. However, if you are limited to just one of those three, a quality bushcraft knife seems to be the choice.

The proper tool for the task is the best option of all. Yet, some people find themselves separated from their gear and only have what they are carrying on their belts. Keeping your fixed blade knife attached to your belt is a sure technique for having a knife when you need it. Thru-hikers, ultralight, and multiday backpackers tend to not carry things on the belts of their trousers or shorts. This is done for the comfort and to avoid getting sores rubbed on their body by the friction of the pack waist belt rubbing against their body and things attached to their belts. It would seem that a drop-leg approach to carrying a bushcraft knife might be an option in this scenario. Nevertheless, a quality bushcraft knife is the best one tool option for wilderness survival considerations. Therefore, shop around and find the bushcraft knife that works best for your needs.

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