Tools and Knives For The Bug Out Bag


This article on tools and knives was written by Ed, a friend of mine.


Any “tools and sharps” in your bug out bag, stashed in the man overboard bag or aircraft crash kit must be compact, durable and versatile. An old school friend of mine was a Navy Chief Construction Electrician who always carried a pair of linesman’s pliers, box cutter and screwdriver everywhere he went. When he worked at many military installations and US embassies overseas, he couldn’t carry a “weapon,” but could go almost anywhere carrying his VOM meter and tool belt.

He recalled several times during the Cold War when his everyday work tools served an impact weapons, prisoner restraint, intimidator or come-along. During a stint evading in Bosnia his Klein lineman’s pliers served as hammer, steel fire striker, pot gripper, in addition to its normal uses. On hunting trips today he still carries those same basic tools and uses the pliers to grab and hold a deer skin, while deftly peeling the critter using his box cutter in the other hand.

Military survival schools teach that a cutting edge of some kind is a “must have” to survive when away from civilization. You might manage without one, but it will be much more difficult. You can improvise a cutting edge with a shard of glass, by sharpening a piece of scrap metal on a rock, or knapping an edge on a piece of quartz. But planning to always have a knife capable of getting you out of harms way is easier.

The Mil-K-818

Another school classmate, the late Col. Gregory Kalnitzky got lots of bush experience in primitive areas and war zones worldwide. Everywhere he went he observed primitive native peoples in Asia, Africa and South America. Tribesmen usually favored big blades and used them for everything. But Greg preferred a multiple blade approach. Greg usually carried his Mil-K-818, and an Aircrew Knife NSN 7340-00-098-4327

Aircrew Knife NSN 7340-00-098-4327

In the jungle he carried a Collins machete for rough work and, like the locals, used a file to sharpen it. The machete was a used as a weapon, digging tool, for chopping firewood, building shelters, and saved his fixed blade for fine work.

Folding surgical “prep blades” were always kept in the first aid kit. Greg kept a small black Arkansas stone and a British Army Sheffield pocket steel to touch up blades after each use. Post 9/11 Greg worked as a licensed professional hunter in Africa and still favored plain carbon steel blades. A plain carbon steel work knife can be sharpened on a river rock and it will last for years Plain carbon steel makes more sparks when striking the Doan tool  than stainless, is easy to sharpen, doesn’t shine and takes a dull patina with use which is non-reflective. Greg had little use for serrated blades because they are difficult to re sharpen effectively. A plain blade is easier to maintain.

A military aviator or coastal “brown water” sailor needs the most reliable, sturdy, compact, lightweight tool to accomplish the task. The primary survival uses are digging for field sanitation and foraging, cutting poles and stripping fibers to make cordage for shelter and trap construction, preparing fires for warmth, signaling, water purification and for food preparation.

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A common choice among current active duty personnel is to combine a sturdy fixed blade of 5 inches or more with a compact utility pocket knife or multi-tool. The best choices are determined by daily use and long experience. Use your gear and become proficient and confident in its use. If you do not have an axe or saw, will your knife withstand batoning through a hardwood pole or 1-inch diameter sisal rope which has been soaked in sea water?

Think outside the box.

A case in point is the common Aircrew Survival Knife NSN 7340-00-098-4327. While its saw teeth are supposedly intended to cut through sheet metal where the government didn’t provide an exit in a Huey or Chinook, but I never met a pilot who ever used one for that. But I can tell you from experience that the teeth on the spine of the aircrew knife are wonderful to shave magnesium fuzz from the Doan fire starting tool, and to accurately cut notches in sticks for constructing fish and small game traps.

“Blood grooves” or “fullers” on a blade are more useful for placing your fingers, to choke up towards the point, to control the knife in fine work, than for reducing adhesion when removing it from the an enemy sentry as is depicted in war movies. The holes in the hilt could be used to tie the knife to a pole to make a spear, but more important is to attach a tether to your belt so that you don’t lose the knife if you take a tumble or must swim to shore when your boat capsizes!

The sheath pocket contains a sharpening stone, but military pilots often stretched the pocket to accept the Doan fire starter, and then had the survival equipment-man or parachute rigger sew a narrow pocket along the back of the sheath to hold a sharpening steel.

The substantial hex-butt of the aircrew knife serves as an improvised hammer or sap. It’s best when doing so to grasp the sheathed blade to protect your hand. Insert your thumb through the sheath tie-down, looping it across the back of the hand, across and out the palm “nightstick” method, to maintain a secure hold, but enabling quick release if necessary. At other times the tie-down is not intended tied to the leg, but lashed securely, butt-down on a pack strap, so the tool is accessible, not flopping noisily to snag on brush.

When the enemy is searching for you and listening, pounding a knife through a sapling to cut poles by striking the spine of the knife with a rock or stick is not recommended. Litter or shelter poles were cut by “batoning” or bending the sapling over until it touches the ground. The blade is held horizontally, then pushed firmly and straight down where the stem bends from vertical to horizontal. The sapling will yield, and can be finished off with a few quick cuts. The blade has to be sharp enough and solid enough to do so. Practice makes perfect.

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