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So-called survival products you don't need (and a few you do)

The survival market is saturated with products of substandard quality and questionable function
The survival market is saturated with products of substandard quality and questionable function
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

I never cease to be amazed at the depths some manufacturers will sink to in an effort to make a buck off the survival/preparedness market. If someone is considering purchasing a survival kit, it must be assumed that the consumer may literally bet their life on that product at some point in the future. Unfortunately, this vital realization is lost on some companies who continue to flood the market with gadgets and gizmos of substandard quality and questionable practicality. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on some of the more common items of “survival gear” that you can do without and some quality alternatives you might not want to pass on.

- Sardine Can Survival Kits: I have never understood the concept of the survival kit that you don’t open until you’re actually in a life threatening situation. Survival kits work best when you can open them up, inspect them, personalize them to your particular needs and close them up until you need to do it again. Every survival kit should be customized to your own specific skill set and the environment you plan to be operating in. The epitome of these mystery kits is the unfortunately common sardine can survival kit sold by big box stores and outfitters who should know better. Yes they are compact and sealed from the elements but how are you to know that the kit actually contains what it says it does until you break that hermetic seal? What if it was made on a Monday morning and some half asleep laborer with a hangover failed to put half the contents in there? What if the contents are nothing but a bunch of useless junk from the Worker’s Paradise? What if you need to add something? The best survival kit is the one you build. Put it in something rugged that can be opened and closed repeatedly. Save the cans for tiny salted fish.

- Bags of Water: This is another one I’ve never understood. If you’ve never seen these before, some commercial survival kits contain Mylar bags filled with a small amount (usually 4oz or so) of purified water with a shelf life of 5 years. While I’m sure there’s a novelty factor at work here, the bag of water comes up short when compared to the ubiquitous bottle of purified water (not spring water). Four ounces of water is the minimum amount the body needs to flush itself of waste products. A standard bottle of purified water contains 16.9 ounces. Which would you rather have in a survival situation? While bottled water carries an expiration date, it will not go bad as long as the seal is not compromised. The reason bottled water carries an expiration date is that some states require them on all food products. As an added bonus, bottled water comes with a reusable container. If you need a cheap source of water for your kit, the lowly bottle of purified water beats the Mylar bag of water any day.

- Dehydrated Towels: The other day, I saw a bargain priced “survival kit” that contained five “wet and expand” towels. If you’ve never seen one of these gizmos, they are basically vacuum packed wetnaps about the size of a thick Alka Seltzer tablet that expand into a thin washcloth when you wet them.. I don’t know if this is supposed to be some kind of tongue in cheek reference to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why one would need five washcloths in a survival kit? If you want something to wash and dry with, get a bandanna or better yet a shemagh. They make decent towels, last longer and do a dozen other tasks.

- Fake Paracord: Rope or cordage is one of the most essential items the survivor can carry. Unfortunately, the market is saturated with various types of “survival” or “utility” rope that is weak, reluctant to hold a knot and generally unsuitable for just about everything rope is used for. In a survival situation, it is easy to find yourself using rope to hold together everything from a splint to a shelter. Rope is not the place to save a few bucks. The preferred type of rope for survival kits everywhere is 550 cord; also known as paracord. Sadly, the word paracord has been hijacked by a number of substandard ripoffs who hock a product that may look similar but comes up short the first time you try to use it. When shopping for rope, remember that only genuine paracord has a breaking strength of 550lbs and consists of a nylon outer shell with 7 thinner inner strands that can be removed and used separately. Nothing else even comes close to the versatility and sheer practicality of 550 cord. Insist on the real thing.

When putting together a survival kit, always remember that you might literally be betting your life on the quality of that kit’s contents. Buy quality.

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