One of the premises behind the hero’s journey is that he often faces incredible odds with little to no chances of success. He might be traumatized, injured, or abandoned somewhere along the way and must face the most perilous of odds alone and outnumbered. Of course, in the back of our minds, we have an idea that despite it all, he somehow succeeds, since if he didn’t, there wouldn’t be a story.
But Logan, the main character of The Thirteenth Hour doesn’t know that. He’s just your average, everyday kind-of-guy who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (or the right place/time, depending on how you look at it) who is thrown into a situation with incredible odds stacked against him and little chances of success (a quest around the known world to find his narcissist of a King the secret to eternal life probably qualifies as such). He’s not particularly enthusiastic about the whole quest for eternal life (and privately, would probably admit he doesn’t really understand what the fuss is about), nor is he bound by a code of honor or duty to his country. He’s just a kid from an orphanage (as he puts it) who hopes to see something of the world and not get himself killed too soon while doing it. In other words, he’s kind of along for the ride. But early on, the rest of his crewmates are eaten and his supplies sink to the bottom of the sea. And he has to make a decision – what the hell do I do now??
We’ve all been there – maybe not abandoned and shipwrecked – but at some crucial nexus of out lives where the decisions we make can alter our lives forever. In Logan’s case, he decides that despite lacking any and all supplies, weapons, and transport, he’ll press on the best he can and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
But life sure would have been easier if he’d had some of the gear he’d been issued. If you notice in the picture above, the typical Imperial Ranger was issued with a variety of life sustaining accouterments that were meant to be compact and easy to transport on one’s person. Of course, they’d only helpful if one actually carried said items. Logan did what most people would probably do if weighed down by a load of heavy crap – he took it off and left it someplace else – in his case, in the quarters of his ship, which, unfortunately, ended up at the bottom of the ocean. Isn’t that the way it is … the best equipment isn’t worth a damn if you don’t have it with you. So without further ado, I progress to the topic of this post.
Lately, I’ve noticed that people have posted videos or pictures of survival tins made out Altoids tins stuffed full of miniature survival gear (like this Altoids survival tin or this old school one with flint and steel) It’s somewhat of an art and hobby all itself, since the idea, as far as I can tell, is to figure how to cram the most useful gear into the smallest container possible.
So with that in mind, I decided that if Logan woke up in our world and could carry modern things back with him, I’d give him a pocket survival kit – something small enough to fit in his pocket so he would have it with him and weigh down his britches.
Not having any Altoids tins or Tic Tac containers handy, I decided to use a little vinyl wallet that previously housed a month’s worth of birth control pills. My wife had a bunch of them lyring around, and although we never knew what to do with them, it always seemed like a shame to throw them out. The nice thing is that they’re small (3″ x 4.5″), light, and can accommodate quite a bit owing to the inherent malleability of vinyl. I added a few feet of duct tape wrapped around the outer flap and added a Velcro fastener to keep the wallet closed when not in use.
As for the contents, I focused on things that 1.) could fit inside, and 2.) more importantly, fit in one of the following categories necessary (or at least nice) for survival: a.) water, b.) food, c.) fire, d.) safety. The numbers below correspond to the numbers in the pictures.
Water (11, 12)
Ahh, water, possibly the most important and sometimes the most difficult to get (clean, drinkable water, that is). Of course, water can be filtered or boiled, but filtering requires a water filter or at least a bottle or receptacle to hold the water. And boiling requires a fire and some kind of pot (none of which fit in the birth control wallet). I thought about good, old reliable iodine drops, but any kind of container I could think of was too big (and still had the potential for big mess if leakage occured), so I went with a strip of water purification tablets. Because they need to sit in the dirty water for at least 30 minutes, the smallest collapsible container I could think of was a (nonlubricated) condom, after remembering reading that the US Air Force used to put those in aviator survival kits. All potential genitalia-related jokes aside, condoms are a feat of engineering – compact yet amazingly strong and stretchy. There are two in case one gets punctured or needs to be used to hold more water. You could (in theory) use them for slingshot bands, though to be honest, I’m not sure how powerful they’d be for that purpose. I’ll have to give it a try and write up my results later.
Food (7, 10)
Since I couldn’t think of food small, thin, or durable enough to fit inside the wallet and last there without rotting, I figured I could at least provide some of the tools needed to catch food. I added a weighted fish hook with one of those handy swivel chain things that connects to the line, which, in this case, is a length of dental floss, which can also double as strong thread for sewing (which is why there’s a needle at #7 in the pictures). And, should you find civilization and a can of food but lack the right tool to open in, there’s the civilized option – a GI can opener – saving you trying opening it by bashing it on rocks or something similarly barbaric. At the very least, the can opener is a piece of metal, and substances as thin, easy to sharpen, and useful as metal are hard to find in nature (useful for a arrow point, for example).
Fire (6, 8)
As someone who has tried to start many a fire with soggy matches and damp wood, I can say that nothing beats a good old lighter (and plenty of patience). But, too big for the wallet. So I did my best to waterproof a bunch of strike-anywhere matches by dripping hot candle wax over the striking ends. And … since it never hurts to have a backup plan, I filed some magnesium to make shavings (the little bag at #8) to add some insurance in case of wetness or poor tinder (which, per Murphy’s law, will probably rain down the minute you’d like a fire).
Safety (every other number)
This broad category is basically everything else. I added some bandages, antibiotic ointment, alcohol wipes, and basic comfort medications – 1000 mg of acetaminophen (generic Tylenol) for pain and 50 mg of diphenhydramine (generic Benadryl) for sleep and/or allergic reactions) to make a minimalist first aid kit. There’s a length of duct tape wrapped around one of the wallet flaps that can serve many purposes, not the least of which is taping your feet to prevent hot spots from turning into blisters (given you may be walking a lot). And since it never hurts to be able to see where you’re going at night, there’s a tiny LED light stuffed in the wallet that, while not as bright or useful as say, a headlamp, is better than nothing. Lastly, you can’t have a survival kit without having a knife – useful for so many things. This is a little credit card folding knife I found for a buck or two on ebay. It’s not the most robust thing out there, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers, and it’s better to have one than none at all.
After assembling everything, I carried it around in a cargo pocket of whatever shorts I was wearing for a few weeks to see if it would get in the way. Thinner and lighter than my real wallet, most of the time I actually forgot I had it, which is, I suppose, the best outcome I could hope for if I were to just keep carrying it with me.
I obviously used modern materials that Logan didn’t have access to in his world, though even just the little knife and the matches in the kit (both of which were available in his world) would have saved him a lot of trouble. And that, I suppose, gets to the heart of all this. The preparation you do in life probably goes a long way to ensuring comfort, if not outright survival, in many situations. I’m not saying this is the time to build a bunker and start caching guns for the zombie apocalypse. If that’s your thing, then go for it, but I’m talking about much more mundane circumstances. You hopefully will never need to survive in the wilderness after being shipwrecked like Logan, but there are plenty of mini, non-life threatening disasters that we all experience in daily life where the extra $20 bill, car key, memory card, or battery can make big difference between a good, or at least tolerable experience, and one with repeat facepalms and utterances like Logan’s when he realized his gear was sinking to the bottom of the ocean – “why, today of all days, did I leave that [thing] at home?”
And, if you’re interested in making your own mini survival kit, please post your ideas and experiments below. I’d love to know if you have suggestions or other ideas!