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Individual survival gear approaches have two common categories: tactical and non-tactical. The two approaches to personal gear feature some common items. However, they also have some stark differences. Therefore, it is essential to have a working understanding of both approaches. It will help you to discern the kinds of resources to purchase and types of kits to build.

In a previous article, we discussed the three popular approaches to survival. The purpose of that article is to familiarize you with the conventional methods of survival in general. In this article, we will close in on the two common approaches people use to purchase and organize their survival gear. There are a few factors to keep in mind when assessing which method to take regarding your survival or prepping loadout.

The first factor influencing your survival gear approach is your experience with your equipment. People tend to fall back on what they are comfortable with in general. How a person organizes their survival or prepping gear is no different. The second factor is knowledge about your survival gear. Most people will only put gear in their survival loadout in which they have knowledge and experience. The final factor governing the approach one takes to survival gear loadout is finances. Some people cannot afford the top-of-the-line survival gear regardless of the approach that they prefer to use to build their kits. Consequently, they look for budget-friendly quality gear to develop their loadout.

1. The Tactical Approach

Overview

The tactical approach centers on finding a military or tactical solution to solving survival and prepping questions. The individual gear that typically identifies this approach is the military surplus items. However, the modern tactical gear designed for the military or law enforcement also falls into this approach. If one prefers the tactical approach to gear and gear organization, then learning how the military or law enforcement personnel use and organize their gear will be of interest. Typically, this approach appeals to those with current or previous military or law enforcement experience.

However, there is a growing interest in this approach among those never associated with military or law enforcement. Military packing lists for various situations helps one to understand this approach. The most common packing list of this type is the ALICE rucksack packing list. Military manuals covering survival gives insight into the tactical approach to survival and preparedness. However, as with anything related to military and law enforcement, gear recommendations and techniques for their organization are directly related to military and law enforcement operations. They are never meant to be duplicated by those not employed in those professions.

Advantages

There are some advantages to the tactical approach. The most significant advantage is the proven reliability and practicality of military gear and its use in the field. Most individual tactical gear in use with the military or law enforcement must meet high standards and pass rigorous testing. Consequently, the tactical gear tends to be of higher quality than its non-military counterparts. Moreover, the way military and law enforcement personnel organize and use their gear also brings some reliability to the tactical approach. For example, many people are interested in how the SOF community approaches survival and prepping. Why? SOF approaches have inherent credibility and reliability. Therefore, desiring to know what gear the SOF community uses and how they organize it is of interest.

Disadvantages:

The main drawback with the tactical approach to gear and gear organization is it can give a false sense of security. A well-known comic artist published a meme several years ago called, Gear-do, a wordplay on the word, weirdo. It shows a soldier all kitted up to kick in doors, who is in an administrative desk job. In essence, the soldier had too much gear for the situation and his good. Furthermore, possessing tactical gear, in-and-of-itself, does not guarantee you will survive an emergency. You have to be proficient in using it.

2. The Non-Tactical Approach

Overview

The second most common way people approach gear purchases and organizing that gear is known as the non-tactical approach. The non-tactical approach to gear and gear organization is a favorite method of bushcrafters and homesteaders. The growing interest in being a “gray man” is also fueling the non-tactical approach. This approach emphasizes gear that reflects the frontier, old west, or everyday carry (EDC) in an urban or suburban setting. Leather and non-camouflage gear is a characteristic of this approach. Weapons preferences also tend to be non-tactical, such as revolvers over semi-automatic pistols. Leather and solid color nylon pouches are a preference over camouflage ones. Furthermore, backpacks tend to be solid colors, like black or grey, without much Pouch Attachment Ladder System (PALS) webbing, if any.

Advantages:

The main advantage of the non-tactical approach to gear and gear organization is that it facilitates stealth. Those looking to blend into their environment and to avoid confrontation should consider a non-tactical approach. Another advantage of this approach is that it tends to simplify backpack organization into dry bags, stuff sacks, or Ziploc bags. Furthermore, the non-tactical approach offers more variety of colors for a piece of gear than the tactical. Kelty, for example, offers various colors for the Redwing 50 non-tactical packs. There is a limited color choice for their tactical line of backpacks, like the Raven 2500.

Disadvantages:

The non-tactical approach brings some difficulties. The most significant weakness in the non-tactical approach is in the durability and reliability of the gear. Generally, non-tactical backpacks do not feature ballistic Cordura® nylon as the primary construction material. Non-tactical pouches have thin ripstop nylon.
Moreover, the non-tactical approach to organizing gear is to put it into dry bags or cinch sacks. Consequently, this approach may cause a waste of time looking for an item inside a backpack. Whereas, that same piece of gear may be stored in an outside pocket of a 5.11 Rush backpack, ALICE rucksack, or Condor Battle Belt Rig.

Final Thoughts

The approach that one takes to gear and organizing gear will occupy much time and thought. Tactical and non-tactical approaches have advantages and disadvantages. The environment in which you will most likely have to operate during a survival emergency will dictate your preferred strategy. Some people use a hybrid approach. They borrow aspects from both the tactical and non-tactical elements and blend them into a personalized method. However, it is wise also to consider your knowledge and experience with gear and gear organization methods. Therefore, it is helpful to take time to review your approach, the gear you use, and how you will organize it.

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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