The Survival Rucksack (Backpack)
Nov. 19, 2004
The information contained in these writings represents the opinions of the author. The author assumes no responsibility for the use or misuse of the information contained herein
What if tonight you had to get up and walk out of your home for an undetermined period of time with only those items you carried in your hands and on your back.
A year ago it was unlikely, today it is quite probable
Why the Survival Rucksack? Ahh, that is the question!
For one thing, it's a really great place to keep all your gear so you can find it the next time you need it!
Below, you will find my ideas on what the best packs are for the money, how to rig them, and what to put in them for the purpose of survival.
My opinions are formed from 44 years of backpacking, both as a kid, and in the U.S. military with 26 years combined service as a Marine, an Army Special Forces Soldier and a Combat Engineer Trainer in the Army National Guard. I hope there is something within these writings that you find useful. Mine is by far not the last word on this subject. I invite your comments, good, bad and ugly (hopefully not too ugly).
You know what they say about opinions. Some of you will agree with me, others will not. I do not claim to be an expert at anything, only a student. Experts worry me. I was once asked by an old S.F. Demolition Sergeant if there were any Demo experts present. Naturally I eagerly raised both of my hands along with several other young troopers.
Wrong! The old Sergeant then proceeded to explain that there is no such thing as an expert, and we were incredibly foolish to assume we were. We were students and hopefully would someday become good ones; a point he made very clear. The definition of an expert he said is: Ex: a has-been, Spurt: a drip under pressure! I never described myself as an expert again. “Experts” can get you killed.
Survival is the same way. With a positive attitude, a fair amount of knowledge, and a little luck; mixed in with a dash of humility and some good common sense, you have an excellent chance of coming out on top.
Once upon a time an “expert” told me just moments before he broke the hollow pot metal handle off his Chinese made “Rambo Survival Knife”. “ Don't waste your money on expensive survival equipment, you probably won't need it anyway”. This was an unwise man. My experience has proven that you should always buy the best quality equipment you can afford. The low price paid for cheap equipment will quickly be forgotten when it fails at the time you need it most. Remember that cheap discount store rain poncho that ripped the very first time you used it?
Disclaimer: I have been told I'm a fair story teller, I never claimed I was much of a writer!
Notes: The 3 Levels of survival as they pertain to the Survival Rucksack.
1. Rucksack with attached patrol pack and web gear.
For the sake of redundancy to make a point I may repeat my self occasionally, plus I am an old guy and sometimes I tend to forget what I have already said. It happens.
U.S. Military (surplus, but in new or excellent condition).
Civilian or Military equipment: Pros and Cons of each
Civilian, Pros: Usually more advanced
Cons: Usually not as rugged as military
Military, Pros: Much less expensive than civilian
Cons: Often times not as comfortable as civilian packs
For the money, I generally prefer the military pack over the civilian pack if it meets my criteria, but do not misunderstand, money is not the most important issue. If a military pack has the comfort and versatility or can be modified to that end to perform adequately, I will almost always go with the military over the civilian pack.
Some basic terms:
Haversack: A small frameless pack like the ones used by the U.S.M.C and U. S. Army during WWII, Korea and the early days of Vietnam. Not recommended as a Survival Rucksack, but can be used in a “Daypack” role, attached to the Survival Rucksack.
Packboard: As used by our military from WWII, through Vietnam. As the name states, it is a contoured board, usually of plywood, painted OD to camouflage it and protect it from the elements.
Butt Pack: Just like the name says. You have seen the commercial ones, usually with a couple of water bottles attached, every time you have gone for a day hike.
Frameless pack: Essentially the same as a haversack, usually just bigger. I do not recommend these as your main Survival Rucksack or for carrying weights of over about 25 lbs.
External Frame Pack: Just as the name implies, it has the frame on the outside of the pack. I prefer the external frame pack as my Survival Rucksack of choice. They are usually more comfortable and the frame makes it easy to attach extra needed equipment. Additionally, the external frame holds the Rucksack away from your back, providing cooling to your body.
Internal Frame Pack: This pack has it's frame on the inside of the pack, next to your back, usually in the form of aluminum stays that can be bent to fit the contour of your back. If you get this pack and the stays properly fitted to your back it can be a very comfortable pack to carry. One advantage of this kind of pack is that if fit properly it moves well with your body. A big down side to this pack not often considered is that it makes you sweat very badly where it contacts your entire back. This often accelerates overheating in hot weather and it can lead to serious chilling in cold weather when you take the pack off. Even during winter weather, your back will get wet with this pack
Patrol Pack: Usually a small frameless daypack that clips onto your main rucksack and detaches for patrolling or getaway purposes. It usually carries enough food and gear for 1 - 3 days.
U.S. Packs I have used during my military career:
WWII Marine Corps Haversack:
WWII Army Haversack:
WWII Army Packboard:
WWII Army Bergens Pack:
Jungle Ruck Sack, circa 1960s:
Italian Army Mountain Rucksack:
Things to consider when buying a Survival Rucksack:
Before we go further, let's discuss the rule of 3 (or 4 depending on who's talking)
You can live:
I would also like to add security. Without security, you may live only about 3 seconds.
So, what are the priorities?
Remember, #1or #3 are no more important than #4 or #5. All are equally important; you can not live without each one of them. I have only prioritized them in the order death normally occurs without them.
Let's talk about each of these priorities individually.
Security: Safety and protection from predators, either two legged or four. Safety also from natural disasters such as wildfire, storms, earthquakes, etc. Consider the tools needed for the job.
Shelter: Since we are speaking of this in the context of the Survival Rucksack, in my opinion, your shelter needs to be the kind carried on your back. Remember the tortoise? So what to carry?
My first choice is the Bivy Sack. It should be made out of Gore Tex or some other high quality breathable material. The bivy sack (or bag) is nothing but a large envelope of breathable, waterproof material that zips up with you, your sleeping bag and hopefully some room left for your gear. I have slept in very rainy weather inside a good bivy, all the while staying warm and dry. The U.S. Military has been using them for some time now and they are available on the surplus market in new and used excellent condition.
Second choice, I would consider a good one man tent; a rugged one that is light weight. The problem here is that these can get quite pricey and are still heavier than a bivy or lightweight nylon tarp shelter.
My third choice shelter is an oversized poncho like tarp at least 7' X 9' in a drab color. I prefer a rip stop nylon material with several grommets around the edges and loops for suspending it from a tree. There is one available from some of the outdoor catalog companies called the S.A.S Shelter. Be sure to require that it is the authentic item. This is a reasonably priced item and it gives you a better field of view of your surrounding area than a tent.
Water: Real simple. To carry only 1 quart of water is folly. You need to carry an absolute minimum of 2 quarts; but a more realistic quantity is up to 4 quarts. I repeat, 2 quarts of water is the absolute minimum that should be carried by an adult. Two additional 1 quart canteens or a lightweight 2 quart jungle canteen can be carried empty when you are in an area that has ample water and filled as needed in drier areas. Water rehydration bladders are all the rage these days and they do work well, but they are a bit fragile. I would not rely on them solely. Also keep in mind it is very easy for an adult to go through 4 quarts of water a day when carrying a rucksack in warm weather.
Food: Food is your final priority, but it is as important as any of the others; you can't live without it, and it is the one hardest to replace. I know all the Rambo's out there are laughing now, but trust me, food is harder to acquire than you might think. “ I'll just kill me a deer or a bar”, O.K., but see how far Bambi goes when everyone out there has the same idea. I have hunted the High Sierras on several occasions and the only thing I saw were Chipmunks. Maybe I'm just a poor hunter.
I have taught survival in the Army and I have rarely seen anyone put on weight on one of these outings unless they had smuggled in a gas mask carrier full of Hershey bars. The best answer I know of is to carry as much high calorie, high protein, light weight food as you can manage. Of course, if you had a stash under a rock someplace that would be great, but then you would not need your rucksack would you. Always remember Murphy,s Law. “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”. On your back is where you want your food.
Now about the food.
Question: How much food do I need in my rucksack?.
I realize you can't carry a one year supply of food around on your back, but if you carried the right kind you could carry: 3, 5, 7, 10 or even 15 days worth without too much trouble.
Question: How many calories per day do I need?
This of course is in mild weather. If you are in a very cold environment, you can easily add a third to a half more calories for the same period.
Remember, we are not talking weight watchers here. You want calories, that means fats, carbs and protein.
Weight, how much does this stuff weigh?
Question: What type of food should I have in my Survival Rucksack?
The lightest to pack are Freeze Dried, (containing approximately 2-3 % moisture) and are easily the best tasting.
Dehydrated (containing approximately 5-10 % moisture).
Each type of food has its own unique qualities.
Freeze Dried usually tastes better and has the best storage life. Average preparation time for a Freeze Dried meal including heating water is around 20 minutes.
Dehydrated: Taste is not usually as good, but vegetables and pastas can be quite good. Keeps well if in an oxygen barrier package. Average time to prepare a full meal including heating water is about 60 minutes.
MRE's: Much heavier than Freeze Dried or Dehydrated but is the quickest of all to prepare. Just tear the envelope open and gobble it down. Taste generally considered fair (C - ). Short shelf life if stored in a hot environment.
Canned Food: Normally the least desirable from the stand point of weight and nutrition, even heavier than MRE's. Very quick to open and serve (be sure you have a good can opener). Shelf life (about 1-2 years tops) is normally the shortest of any of the above listed foods. Very sensitive to heat.
Some myths exposed :
Field strip your MRE's: Get rid of the cardboard boxes they put everything in. Take out the things you don't need. Example, the tobasco sauce they put in almost every meal. The gum, tea, and the other things you usually won't use. By doing this you will reduce the size to the point that you can put two meals into one MRE bag and save considerable weight in doing so.
Shelf life on Freexe Dried Foods: These are the best by far of any of the foods. They are far less affected by heat than the other foods and can last for decades when stored properly.
In 1976 I packed a 55 gallon barrel full of Freeze Dried Foods for an expedition up Mt Ararat in search of a large boat. The food was never shipped, as the intended user was not able to get clearance for his forth assent (the local communists did not care much for Christians). I have dragged that barrel around for over a quarter of a century now, opening it every couple of years to supply pack trips and the food is still excellent. If you ever want to hear the rest of that story email me at: email@example.com
Weights of Food:
MRE: About 2 pounds plus per day
Freeze Dried: About 1 pound per day
Dehydrated: About 1 pound per day
Dried: About 1 - 1 1/2 pounds per day
Question: What is a good mix of the different types of food to carry in my pack, IE: F.D. to MRE, etc.
I like a mix of about 80% Freeze Dried with some dehydrated foods to 20% field stripped MRE items. Using this formula I can carry 15 days of food weighing in around 17-19 pounds.
The stuff that goes into your Survival Pack:
Now divide your equipment into three piles:
Pile # 1 Must have (mission essential, totally necessary)
After throwing out pile #3 (that goes back in your closet) load pile #1into your rucksack along with pile #2, put rucksack on and see if you can stand up. If not, continue taking items out of pile # 2 until you arrive at a manageable weight. Now go out and walk around the neighborhood. Come home and continue taking stuff out of pile # 2 until you think you have it right (you're getting the picture now). When you can walk at a brisk pace for 4 - 5 miles wearing your rucksack and it is not killing you, you are well on your way to becoming a bonafide “rucker”.
Loading your rucksack: In general.
Keep the load close to your back - heaviest items forward and high.
Weight of the rucksack and personal gear.
This is an individual matter, but generally the entire weight of your equipment should not exceed
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Conditioning Hikes: Warning, be sure to check with your doctor before doing this.
It's a very good idea to get yourself in condition by using your pack, should you ever need it for it's intended purpose. It is great exercise that can pay you big dividends while you train. Some of my most pleasant times are spent hiking at a brisk pace (and some times just strolling) with my pack down some of the local trails beside the old irrigation ditch.
A good standard to use for conditioning hikes is the one used by the U.S. Army. The Army Forced March
The Army considers 3 - 4 times a week to be ideal, with at least one workout to be on the light side.
As a side note, 35 years ago the forced march was 5 miles per hour with full gear. You had to run part of the way to keep up that pace.
They used to tell us “no pain - no gain”. Well, I'm here to tell you it does not need to be that way. Regularity and consistency in your workouts is the key and by the way, if you keep to it you should find that the term workout will change to “play out”, I can almost guarantee it. In addition to this, the confidence you will gain in knowing you can survive will in itself more than compensate for the energy
Remember what farmers say about machinery. A good machine will rust out long before it wears out. Keep the rust off!
Now go do it!
It is the belief of this author that America faces great danger and that the hour is late. These writings are offered free of charge only to subscribers of the North East Intelligence Network's Intel Alert and may not be reproduced in any way except for the personal use of said subscribers and their immediate families. Anyone else desiring a copy please send $5 for electronic or hard copy.
The information contained in these writings represents the opinions of the author. The author assumes no liability whatsoever for the use or misuse of the information contained herein.
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