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You can modernize the SAS survival mess kit for the twenty-first century. The SAS survival mess kit has been around since the 1970s. John “Lofty” Wiseman, who is a retired SAS Sergeant Major, popularized the use of the survival mess kit in his book, SAS Survival Handbook (1986). Wiseman calls it the Survival Pouch in his book.

As with the survival tin, the contents of Wiseman’s survival mess kit reflect the technology and practices of the 1970s. The kit functions as a complementary element with the survival tin. Therefore, one can understand the survival tin as “part A” and the mess kit as “part B.” How can this piece of survival gear be upgraded to address 21st-century concerns?

The Container

The SAS survival mess kit utilizes the standard issued British Royal Army mess kit. They call it a “mess tin.” The mess tin has two nested parts, a large and smaller piece with folding handles to secure them together to form a box-like look. It measures roughly 7 x 5.3 x 2.4 inches. The modern versions of this item are made of kitchen-grade aluminum rather than stainless steel. I prefer stainless steel items when they are available.

The mess tin fits into a large military pouch, such as the ones that hold a box of ammunition for a squad automatic weapon (SAW). The ESEE Mess Tin Kit is the closest equivalent on the market. However, the ESEE kit has a lid rather than a smaller mess tin to fit inside of it. Additionally, there are stainless steel lunch boxes of similar size on the market that can function as a modern upgrade to the British mess tin.

The Purpose of the Container

The mess tin has purposes beyond being a container for survival gear. The primary purpose of the mess tin is for preparing and eating food. As such, Wiseman suggests putting food items in the survival mess tin. The British mess tin is a better mess kit than the U.S. Army one because it can collect and boil water more efficiently. A bushcraft cook pot functions in a similar way to the British mess tin.

Assessment of the Container

The British mess tin is a practical item for enabling survival in an emergency. Therefore, the survival mess tin is a wonderful addition to your survival gear if you are looking to enhance your wilderness, vehicle, or urban survival loadouts.

The Contents

The contents that Wiseman recommends for his survival mess tin are fifteen items. However, these items can be sorted into eight categories of consideration: fire making, illumination, emergency food, food preparation, emergency signaling, and additional contents. As with the survival tin, the size of the mess kit will influence what kinds of contents to store in it.

1. Fire Making

Wiseman suggests putting more survival matches into the mess kit. The principle of incorporating redundancy into your kit considerations is at work here. Again, understand that the mess kit is a complimentary item to the survival tin. Therefore, including extra survival matches is prudent. The best survival matches on the market are the UCO Stormproof Matches. However, the UCO Survival Matches are smaller and come with a waterproof plastic container.

However, if you wish to stay with the military-grade matches, then the NATO Survival Matches by ProForce® should be a consideration. Additionally, there are other fire-making items to consider as substitutes for the matches. You could include a UCO Fire Steel, a regular-sized Bic ® lighter, the SOL Fire Lite Sparker with Tinder, or a NATO Spark Lite kit with extra tinder tabs.

2. Lighting or Illumination

Lighting and illumination in the SAS Survival Pouch is a small LED flashlight. The mini-MAGLITE® flashlight is an example of the flashlight illustrated in the SAS Survival Handbook. However, MAGLITE® and other companies make smaller flashlights that use alkaline batteries, lithium batteries, or have rechargeable batteries. Therefore, when considering a more modern upgrade to a small flashlight, my preference is a MAGLITE Solitaire. Others may recommend O-Light or Streamlight® products. Those are equally good flashlight products.

3. Emergency Food Items

Wiseman recommends putting food items in the mess kit. He also suggests putting a “brew kit” in the tin. The “brew kit” would be tea or coffee bags. However, many beverage companies currently make single-use instant coffee or tea packets, as well as flavored drink mixes like Kool-Aid or Wyler’s® drink mixes. An even better drink mix besides instant coffee or tea would be the sports drink mixes in single-use packets such as Gator-Aide or Propel mixes. A local health food store can assist in helping you find healthy tea or electrolyte drink mixes in single-use packets.

Wiseman makes a strong recommendation for high-fat foods. One of the best items for this is the peanut butter or cheese packets that come with the current Meals, Ready-to-Eat (MRE). However, there is a growing number of people with peanut allergies, so be careful about what kinds of food items to put in your mess tin. Trail Mix nut packets, beef jerky, or Cliff® Energy Bars are good items to consider for the survival mess kit.

4. Food Preparation Items

The SAS Survival Pouch calls for a pocket-sized folding stove and hexamine fuel tabs. The folding stove that is illustrated in the SAS Survival Handbook is the Esbit Compact Folding Stove. There are more up-to-date substitutes for the pocket folding stove, such as the Vargo Titanium Hexagon Backpacking Wood Stove. The Toaks Titanium Alcohol Stove Pot Stand also is a good option. The Toaks and Vargo stoves fold into a more flat configuration, which makes more room for other items in the mess kit.

5. Emergency Signaling

One of the differences between the survival tin and the mess kit is emergency signaling items. Wiseman suggests the inclusion of a pen flare kit and a signaling panel in the mess kit. The pen flare kit available in the U.S. is the Orion Pocket Rocket Signal Kit. The pen flare kit illustrated in Wiseman’s book is an issued item for the survival vest worn by military pilots. Therefore, the exact one shown in the book is unavailable to most personal. Again, this fact demonstrates the trouble with using military items for non-military purposes.

The signal panel also is a military issued item. However, some alternatives would be just as useful, such as a blaze orange bandana or the small ResQBrite™ panel by Survival Metrics.
Another aspect of signaling is writing messages and keeping notes. Wiseman also suggests keeping writing material in the kit. Some excellent considerations would be the Rite in the Rain Mini Notebook with a golf pencil, small ink pen, or miniature Sharpie® marker.

6. Additional Items

There are some other items to consider if there is room in your mess kit. An emergency whistle such as the rescue howler sold by the Orion company is a good addition. The Best Glide Aviation Survival Equipment Compact Emergency Signal Mirror is an excellent complement to the kit. A good backup compass to consider would be the Sun Company MiniComp II – Miniature Orienteering Compass with Rotating Bezel. A backup knife also should be an option if there is room in the kit. The SOG Instinct fixed-blade knife would be great in the survival mess kit as an additional item.

Final Thoughts

The survival tin and mess kit discussed by John “Lofty” Wiseman are great starts for thinking about resourcing your survival. Your preferences on items will mean your kits will be customized for your unique needs. One can view the survival tin and mess kit as a two-part survival system that will be useful to the outdoorsman, prepper, or survival enthusiast. Therefore, take the time to explore and experiment with different configurations with these kits to find the best one for your needs in the 21st century.

You can modernize the SAS survival tin for the twenty-first century. The SAS survival tin has been around since the 1970s. John “Lofty” Wiseman, who is a retired SAS Sergeant Major, popularized the use of the survival tin in his book, SAS Survival Handbook (1986). The book is currently in its third edition. Additionally, The survival and prepping worlds have made use of Wiseman’s suggestions for the construction of a survival kit.

Consequently, there are many commercial and private versions of this survival item currently available. The primary purpose of the survival tin is to enable survival in an emergency. As useful as Wiseman’s survival kit is to wilderness survival, its contents reflect the technology and understanding of survival from the 1970s. How can this kit be upgraded to address 21st-century concerns?

The Container

A typical survival-type tin utilizes a simple metal box that measures around two inches in width by three inches in length and three-quarters of an inch in depth. It is sometimes called an Altoids® tin. The current SAS Survival Tin being used is 3.5 x 4.625 x 1.25 inches. Therefore, it is larger than the commercial Altoids tin. Moreover, there are arguments about the practicality of using such a container for emergency survival purposes. These arguments reflect the trouble of taking a military item and adapting it for non-military uses.

The Purpose of the Container

The tin box has purposes beyond being a container of smaller items. For example, the use of such a small box allows for making charred cloth for fire-making. Similar boxes on the market have a rubber or foam seal under the lid to make them watertight or waterproof. These features defeat the purpose of the box. The survival tin box has more than one purpose or function. A sealed version of the tin can still be placed in a fire to make charred cloth, but the seals will melt and become useless to keep out water.

Secondary Uses of the Container

Another purpose of the tin is for water collection. A soldier escaping and evading the enemy is always on the move. The tin can be used to quickly gather water from a stream or during a rainstorm for quick consumption. The survival tin also can be employed as a simple stove to purify water or cook a simple meal of edible plants, insects, or small fish. Wiseman suggests wrapping duct tape around the edges to help make the tin watertight until it needs to be used. Unfortunately, the contents become vulnerable to moisture once the tape is removed

Assessment of the Container

The survival tin should not be disregarded as a legitimate container for a survival kit. Its small and compact size makes it ideal for backpacks, cargo pockets on pants, glove compartments in vehicles, toolboxes, or tackle boxes. However, there are some things that you can do to keep the contents dry. The first is using a small Ziploc-type bag. The second is vacuum sealing the contents. A third option would be to put a Ranger band around the edges instead of the duct tape.

The Contents

The contents that Wiseman recommends for his survival tin are fifteen items. However, these items can be sorted into eight categories of consideration: fire making, land navigation, illumination, food procurement, water procurement, wood processing, first-aid, and equipment repair. Furthermore, the size of the container dictates what kinds of items to place into it.

1. Fire Making

The first category of consideration in a survival tin is that of fire-making. How will you make a fire? Wiseman suggests a “matches” and a “flint steel.” Flint steel is a ferrocerium rod. The author suggests the storage of simple wood matches dipped in wax with the stems trimmed. The flint-and-striker that is pictured in the diagram is still available on the market. However, the idea is to have a mini-Ferro rod in the kit. What would be an upgrade to these fire-making items?

One of the most popular replacements for the matches and ferro rod is the miniature Bic® lighter. You can find many survival tins being discussed on YouTube® that have the miniature Bic® lighter in them. However, in sticking with the military nature of Wiseman’s tin, a simple mini-ferro rod with a striker would be sufficient. An example of such an item would be the Bayite® mini-ferro rod. The NATO Survival Matches by ProForce® are a significant upgrade to the simple wooden matches.

2. Lighting or Illumination

Lighting or illumination is a genuine concern in a survival situation. Wiseman suggests a tea candle and a “Beta Light.” Does anyone know what a beta-light is? A beta light is a self-illuminating light using tritium. These are not an item on the market in the United States. A U.S. equivalent version of this U.K. item would be the snap lights or chemlights produced by Cyalume®. Therefore, an option to consider is the micro-flashlight or a mini chemlight by Cyalume®.

Tea candles have been a suggestion for survival kits for many years. There have been improvements to the tea candle. One such improved tea candle is made with bee’s wax. An example of bee’s wax tea candle is those sold by Best Glide-Aviation Survival Equipment. Exotac® also offers a version of the tea candle, the candleTIN™ Nano. These can be a consideration for an upgrade to the SAS Survival Tin.

3. Food Procurement

Food is an essential part of survival. A person’s ability to procure and process food in an emergency survival situation can determine the difference between life or death. The SAS Survival Handbook suggests placing snare wire and some fishing items in the survival tin. These items continue to be a recommendation for survival kits. However, your food procurement items must be tailored to your environment. For example, a fishing kit may not be necessary for a metroplex environment. Nevertheless, an excellent upgrade to the fishing items in the SAS survival tin would be Readyman’s® Enhanced Wilderness Survival Card or the Fisherman’s Survival Card. You can also read my article on making an emergency fishing kit and place that in the tin.

4. Land Navigation

Land navigation is an important skill to know when you are outdoors hunting, fishing, or backpacking. Interestingly, land navigation also is essential for an urban environment. I recently had an experience with OnStar®, where I came within 300 yards of accidentally crossing into Mexico at night. It turned out that the operator put the wrong destination into the directions as it led me through the city where I live.
The SAS Survival Tin calls for a button compass. A button compass is still a good option if you have no compass at all. However, some excellent wrist compasses would make a significant improvement over the button compass. The Suunto Clipper wrist compass is an example of such a compass.

5. Wood Processing

The early survival kits contained a wire saw. The wire saw, or flexible saw is part of the SAS Survival Tin recommendations. However, the quality of the commercial saws tended to be substandard and often failed when employed in the field. BCB USA/UK still sells a wire saw that is constructed using the military standards and specifications for the U.S. Government. A secondary option for a saw would be a small hacksaw blade cut to 1-2 inches in length.

6. Equipment Repair

Equipment and clothing will always need repair. Many combinations of needles and thread will do the task of mending clothing or tears in a pouch or backpack. However, the best dual-use thread is the Kevlar nylon thread. It is useful for repairing damages or as a fishing line. Therefore, I recommend taking a plastic floss sewing bobbin and wrapping as much Kevlar nylon thread on as is practical for both fishing and equipment repairs.

7. First Aid

Medical treatment always will be a concern in a survival situation. Wiseman recommends several medical items to make up a small emergency first-aid kit. Many of the questions are still available on the market. Therefore, use your best judgment about what to put in your kit. The purpose of a survival tin is as an instrument of last-resort to enable survival in an emergency. As such, it will not hold everything that you may desire for your first-aid items.

8. Water Procurement

One of the more interesting pieces of the SAS Survival Tin is the inclusion of a non-lubricated condom to be used as a water-carrying device. The kits sold by BCB in Britain still include a condom. Yet, condoms can fail in the time of need. A more sure replacement for the condom would be the NASCO Survival 1 liter Water Bag. They are thin enough that two could be included in the kit.

Additionally, Wiseman calls for water treatment tablets. Water purification tablets used to come in bulky packaging, forcing them to be placed in a smaller container. However, water purification tablets now come in aluminum foil packaging in sets of ten tablets each. The new packaging makes it easier to put water purification tablets in a survival tin.

Final Thought

John “Lofty” Wiseman gives a solid starting point for thinking about resourcing your survival. One’s preferred content for a survival tin may vary. Yet, the concept of ensuring that you address the basic needs of survival will not change for any type of emergency survival kit. The answering of the questions about food, fire, water, shelter, and first-aid will characterize any survival kit configuration. The SAS Survival Tin is a great place to start thinking through these concerns. The recommended upgrade to the items in Wiseman’s kit will ensure that you have a kit that will address 21st-century survival in the outdoors or the city

Three popular survival approaches for the outdoors are commonly discussed in the literature of wilderness and outdoor survival. Outdoor sports are gaining in popularity. For example, in 2017, over 44 million people went hiking and backpacking. It represents an increase of over 12 million participants from 2009. The Outdoor Industry Association’s annual report for 2017 shows that spending on outdoor recreation is $887 billion per year. This means that interest in outdoor emergency survival is also increasing. Therefore, it is essential to know that there are several common approaches to wilderness survival.

1. Military/Tactical Approach

The most popular approach to survival is the military or tactical framework. The popularity of dystopian and apocalyptic-themed television programs drives much of this interest. The military or tactical approach to survival finds its genesis in the Cold War. At that time, people feared a nuclear weapons exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union. The nuclear winter scenario is implied in the famous novel and movie The Road. Thus, learning to use military tactics and equipment are the keys to preparing to survive such a comprehensive event.

Those who focus on military or tactical approaches to survival sometimes fail to understand the limitations of military survival. Military survival is designed by the militaries of the world to ensure a soldier survives in combat. The U.S. Army survival manual, FM 21-76, and the SAS Survival Handbook are core pieces of literature in this approach.

A Weakness of The Military Approach

The weakness of military or tactical survival approaches is they have a limited effectiveness of 3-10 days. Military survival assumes several conditions will exist. There will be a resupply of the unit. A soldier can return to friendly forces if they become separated in some manner during combat. The servicemember will be able to be rescued if they follow protocols. The intent of military survival training is not surviving the apocalypse and to reboot human society. It is to help the soldier live in a combat field environment, which includes urban areas. Moreover, those with more specialized skills receive more intense survival training.

2. Bushcraft/Woodsmanship Approach

The next survival approach is bushcraft or woodsmanship. It is enjoying popularity in the last several years. Bushcraft survival centers on living in a general field environment. The main difference between this approach and the military-tactical approach are the tools and techniques. Additionally, the bushcraft approach is not concerned with surviving a prolonged engagement with opposing military forces.

The bushcraft approach sometimes goes by the name of frontiersman or mountain man approach. The primary skills of this approach are hunting, blacksmithing, trapping, and fishing using the tools and techniques of the nineteenth-century frontiersman. Fieldcraft for bushcrafters focuses on surviving and being self-sustaining for extended periods in the outdoors, much like the trappers or mountain men of the 1800s. The use of various cutting tools, tanning hides, preserving meats, hunting with black powder rifles, trapping various animals, and building temporary shelters or camps are a focus of the bushcraft approach. Consequently, this approach helps people to survive and sustain themselves with a basic set of tools and handcraft techniques such as wood carving.

The Weakness With Bushcraft

One weakness with this approach is that it assumes a continuing availability or accessibility to raw materials, fish and game, or edible and medicinal plants. A worst case scenario of a nuclear winter will contaminate or kill hundreds of square miles of water, plants, fish, and game. It also may result in large areas becoming inaccessible to raw materials, such as iron, copper, shale, or coal due to radiation contamination. Those depending upon this approach to survive should consider an alternate survival method if those natural resources suddenly become unavailable.

The Strength of Bushcraft

One strength with the bushcraft approach is that outdoorsman, especially hunters, gain added skills to help them on long, multi-day treks into the backcountry. Bushcraft skills enable those backpacking or hunting in austere environments to survive or sustain themselves in the event their equipment fails while in the field. Outdoorsman, who become skilled at improvised tools, traps, first aid, and shelters, enhance their chances of survival in an emergency situation.

3. Primitive/Minimalist Approach

The third survival approach that also is enjoying some contemporary popularity is the primitive or minimalist approach. Primitive survival focuses on learning the survival and sustainment techniques of the Native-Americans or other primitive peoples around the world. Primitive methods feature flint knapping, hand drill or bow drill fire making, simple trapping, handcrafted weapons and tools, gathering and processing edible and medicinal plants, and building primitive shelters, such as wickiups. Woodcraft techniques also are part of learning primitive approaches to survival.

The Weakness Of Primitive Skills

A weakness with the primitive approach to survival and preparedness is that it takes considerable time and dedication to master these skills for them to be useful in a survival situation. Furthermore, those who suffer from impaired mobility may have limitations on the primitive skills that they learn. However, if one takes the time to master some basic primitive skills, they will be able to exercise more adaptability and flexibility in an emergency situation.

The Strength Of Primitive Skills

One strength of this approach is similar to the bushcraft approach. It allows for flexibility and adaptability in the field. If one loses their knife, they can make one through flint knapping. One can make cordage from surrounding vegetation when necessary. Simple but effective weapons from natural materials can be made should the need arise. One lesson from the Vietnam War is that booby traps made utilizing primitive techniques can be just as effective as sophisticated land mines. Thus, the primitive skills approach to survival in the field is a viable means of ensuring one makes it through an emergency.

Some Final Thoughts

There are several ways to approach survival in the outdoors. These approaches have strengths and weaknesses. Some require more time than others to master if they are to be of use in an emergency situation. It would seem, though, that a hybrid approach (multiple techniques) will ensure the greatest amount of flexibility and adaptability in the outdoors. By contrast, the method that one prefers will be one that enhances one’s field strengths rather than weaknesses. It is important to consider that strengthening your weakness while maintaining your survival strengths enhances the possibility of survival in the outdoors. You will have a higher number of skills to employ with a hybrid approach rather than focusing on a single method. Thus, choose your approach wisely, continue learning and improving, and enjoy your next outdoor adventure.

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