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 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 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.
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.