Rethinking my ditch kit....

Joined
Jul 25, 2012
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838
Over the years the contents of my ditch kit has changed a little bit when I found something that I really liked or maybe did some job better than what it replaced. But by and large the basic idea was one of survival during the time it took to rescue yourself or be found and rescued. For me it's always a tug of war between what I'd like to have and the realization that the kit needs to be small or it might get left behind. Plus the open ended idea of how long could it be before you were rescued/safe.

Then I bought my ACR personal locator beacon.

At first I just worked it into a space in the kit and thought "that's good". But now I'm thinking that one of the major parameters of the survival equation has changed; the time until rescue. Given the finite space in the ditch kit, maybe I need to relocate, reprioritize what I carry in the kit.
Thinking about it, I find myself curiously unwilling the change anything. It may be that I'm a stick in the mud or perhaps just cautious.
What do you guys think?

Rob
 
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oldie moldy,

I've just recently changed my whole ditch kit philosophy. I used to carry it in a makeshift fanny pack. It had a lot of useful stuff in it, and while it was reasonably small, it was not light and not comfortable to wear all day long. For an hour...sure...great. But on those hot muggy days, or when bushwacking/portaging through dense bush, it was constrictive and made me want to lose it as soon as possible. Worse yet, my rather petite wife hated wearing hers, even though I'd taken pains to make her kit smaller and lighter (yet complete) as possible. She'd take it off everytime she sat down for a break, sat in the canoe, or cram it into her day pack or backpack every chance she could, thus defeating the purpose of having a ditch kit. There's really little point in having a well-stocked ditch kit if you're not going to have it on your person when you find yourself separated from your boat or camping gear and tripping partner. As for myself, I forced myself to wear it almost always, but because we camp in bear country, I invariably carry a belt canister of bear spray on me. Between the bear spray and ditch kit, I felt completely encumbered, constricted about the waist, and I too came to resent it. I eventually tried smaller versions, but everything worn about the waist eventually grew uncomfortable, especially when portaging or practicing bush craft. I wanted something that I would be happy to keep on me when paddling, on portages, sitting and reading under the tarp, doing camp chores, going to the latrine, hanging the food barrel at night, etc.

So, I've recently completely changed what we carry to only things that are tiny, lightweight, non-bulky, and where the whole kit can easily and comfortably fit in a pant or breast pocket. I still bring along all the regular emergency stuff I used to carry (a proper first-aid kit, thermal/reflective blanket, lots of cord, duct tape, bug dope, etc), but that stays in my canoe pack. My on-person ditch kit, on the other hand, is absolutely minimalist. Stripped-down as it is, it lacks a great many things I'd want if one of us became separated from the other and the rest of our gear, but it is something we can each carry directly on our persons at all times to get us through alive.

The items in our on-person ditch kits are:
- Bear spray canister on belt (with carabiner)
- DIY paracord bracelet with about 15 feet of cordage (worn on a wrist),
- small drawstring sac containing:
- A Swiss Army knife (including a saw),
- micro whistle,
- button compass,
- micro-mini waterproof lighter,
- micro mini LED flashlight
- mini waterproof pill container (for benadryl, water purification tablets, etc).

It will seem an odd trade-off to some, but I just figured that the only ditch kit worth putting together and bringing along is the one you're actually going to have on your person if you unexpectedly lose all your gear in rapids, become separated from your party or gear, etc.

I'm very open to suggestions from anyone who can think of other very small, light, compact items I could add to this.

Cheers,
-Martin
 
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Willis

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My ditch kit is in a fanny pack that I wear, particularly when paddling. My first pack didn't fit for crap, it kept slipping off my hips, and was only worn in the canoe. I looked around quite a bit and found a High Sierra that fits and is comfortable. YMMV.

I don't know much about your PLB. I carry a Spot which seems to be quite reliable. However, there are areas where many PLBs don't work. Such as under dense trees and in narrow valleys. Line of sight for the satellite communications is a must. Because of that, I try to be prepared for my wife to call out a search party, i.e. the several day scenario.
 
Joined
Jul 25, 2012
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These are half formed thoughts; been chewing this whole idea of survival around and by no means am I finished.
For me at least the idea of survival is somewhat distressing, I mean there you are within elbow knocking distance with death. And frequently it happens very suddenly, with no time to get used to the idea. So....what I do at the time will be tinged with this fear, in fact it is under lying most of my decisions of what to pack into the ditch kit. I'm sort of buying piece meal insurance policies with each thing I put into the kit. But it really doesn't help because the fear is still there. But it sure explains how I wind up with such a huge ditch kit.
They say fear is useful; the whole fight or flight thing, but for me I find it numbs my thinking process down to where I must struggle to come up with a workable plan. I once saw a film with a rabbit, frozen at the approach of a predatory snake, it didn't work out too well for the rabbit and I don't think I want to become a rabbit.
Now we have all read of some situation or other where someone survived against what seems like impossible odds. People talk about "will to survive". OK could be true, but I'm wondering if maybe another way to think of it is somehow the person was able to become unstuck from the fear that would freeze their actions into rabbit like immobility. I'm not particularly brave but I find after I've done something several times my confidence builds and the clammy fear dissipates like morning fog.
Most of the time.
If you've held up under all this blab so far, what I'm suggesting is that we ought to go camping with our kits and actually run survival scenarios lasting at least overnight. Now it won't be as nice as regular camping but a person will sure learn just what works in the kit and what was cute but actually just a piece of junk. And most importantly we are going through the experience and rubbing off some of the fear. Sort of "Been there and done that" ; maybe not pleasant but I survived and now know a lot more about it.
That "I know more about it" won't add any weight or take up space in the kit but might wind up being one of the more valuable items.
That's my thinking so far, Rob
 
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A good ditch kit is one you make yourself so you know it well, and one that makes you feel safe and comfortable. I have lots of fun modifying mine and changing it and have yet to need it. I hope that continues. :)
 
Joined
Jun 12, 2012
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Location
Appleton, Maine
I tried the ditch kit thing but found anything I tried to carry it in was to uncomfortable, so I pretty much gave up on it.
What I do now is carry two sources of matches, one in a film canister that hangs from my pfd, one (disposable lighter) in my pocket wrapped in a zip lock. A large whistle hanging from my pfd zipper. A small squirt bottle of bug juice, I also have one of those space blankets wrapped in duct tape in the breast pocket of my pfd. I also wear a folding lock back knife on my belt, a bandanna in my left rear pants pocket and my most important item goes in my right rear pocket where I always carry a wallet when I'm home, and that's one of those bright orange hunters vests that weigh next to nothing but can be seen for miles whether from the water or air.

My thinking is, I always wear my PFD while paddling so if I get separated from the canoe and gear, I'll have:

1-at least one source of fire, hopefully two
2-a space blanket to keep me covered
3-some duct tape for cuts, splints or shelter building
4-a heavy folding knife for fire starting kindling, and peace of mind
5-bug juice
6-bandanna for a bandage plus quite a few other uses
7-a whistle
8-the hunter orange vest for aid in rescue sighting

If I'm in a park like LaVerendrye or Woodland Caribou bushwacking is a tough thing to do for any length of time. The risk of injury or getting lost is not worth it imo, so my plan is to make it to shore, find a prominent point of land and set up camp.
I won't starve for a week or two, (although I find it hard to go with a bowl of popcorn almost every night:))
The fire will keep me warm
And that orange vest will make sure no one will miss seeing me.
 
Joined
Jul 31, 2011
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Aberdeen, MD
this isn't very thoughtfully presented, but bear with me... making several points...

the best book i've ever read on survival is "98*, The Art of Keeping Your A$$ Alive" by Cody Lundin. in a nutshell, most people are found (or not) within 72 hours. The key to survival during this time is to maintain body temp and not go too low or too high. his suggested kit stresses how to survive those critical hours and signaling for rescue.

your PLB should not really change what you carry in your kit... all it does is function as a different method of signalling... you still need the means to maintain body temp (heat or shade), purify water, and last til rescue.

maybe i'm crazy, but i don't carry a PLB. i rarely wear a life jacket. i paddle mostly warm flat slow shallow southern waters. when i do, i'm worried more about the alligators than losing all my gear. for those trips, i generally have my normal pocket contents... a Swiss Army Knife, chapstick, and a couple of lighters in two pockets (one zippered, one a cargo pocket). there's my fire/heat/smoke signal. i also usually carry a revolver (snakes. you kinda have to live here to understand) and a sheath knife (just handy).

when i'm up north, like in the Adirondacks (let's say really backwoods, like the St Regis Canoe area), i've got the same pocket contents and sheath knife. i keep a pretty good stash of handy survival stuff in my thwart bag/daypack, but it's not exactly a ditch kit. what i'd like to do is find a good life jacket that was set up like a hunting vest, into which i could move some of my items (usgi casualty blanket, lighter, whistle, mirror, iodine, knives, cordage, etc.) and if i had a PLB, i'd find a spot for it in that vest as well.
 
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Joined
Sep 8, 2012
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Location
Toronto
I thought about ditch kits when I read the Maddie the Goose website. He (Troy) always wore a ditch kit. But like PineMartyn and Beavertail, I didn't want it to get so big it would be a pain. So I carry a really small fanny pack with:

emergency bivy sack,
3 power bars,
lighter and tinder,
large ziploc bag (for gathering water),
tiny flashlight,
small amount of first aid stuff (bandaids, butterfly closures, ibuprofen, alcohol wipes),
light folding knife,
deet spray.

I figure if I've ditched, I'll be in my lifejacket, which is yellow inside, to be spotted. It has a whistle on it.
If it's 72 hours, I'll need to sleep warmly, and free of insects. (bivy and deet)
I'll need water (ziploc) and food to keep spirits up (power bars). Fire to dry out (vaseline soaked dryer lint balls).
If I've ditched I probably have some cuts to take care of (butterfly closures)

This is probably generous. I live in Ontario. Apart from really remote NW Ontario, you're gonna be found within 72 hours if you sit tight. The only thing to add might be a small tarp and some duct tape. Can you think of anything else to add? situation would be canoeing in a park like Quetico-BWCA, Killarney, Algonquin, maybe Wabakimi.

I agree with Oldie Moldy. I should try it out for a weekend.

 
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Space Blanket caution

Space Blanket caution

I had a couple of mylar space blankets, including one in my ditch kit. I wanted to make a reflective cover for a cooler and figured that I could use one of the old space blankets.

“Old” was likely the problem. I had never unwrapped it from its original package, thinking (correctly) that if I did I’d never get it packed as small again.

When I tried to separate the tightly folded mylar blanket it was well stuck together, and even with time spent carefully peeling it apart it was pretty well shredded by the time I was finished.

If you’ve had a mylar space blanket in your kit for a few years and never opened it up it might be worth a try at home at your leisure instead of in the field in need.
 
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Good idea Mike. I've left my mylar emergency blankets in their original packaging for the same reason as you did. I'll do as you suggest to make sure I'm not just carrying around an unusable bit of gear.
-Martin
 
Joined
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Location
Raymond, ME
I had a couple of mylar space blankets, including one in my ditch kit. I wanted to make a reflective cover for a cooler and figured that I could use one of the old space blankets.

“Old” was likely the problem. I had never unwrapped it from its original package, thinking (correctly) that if I did I’d never get it packed as small again.

When I tried to separate the tightly folded mylar blanket it was well stuck together, and even with time spent carefully peeling it apart it was pretty well shredded by the time I was finished.

If you’ve had a mylar space blanket in your kit for a few years and never opened it up it might be worth a try at home at your leisure instead of in the field in need.

When replacing a Mylar space blanket consider NOT buying one. Long ago emergency service providers switched to a plastic sheet...two actually with a foam layer in the middle. That middle layer provides dead airspace. Mylar is unfortunately heat conductive and just transmits any body heat away from you and also transmits cold. But the EMS disposable blankets are bulky.

I have one of these. Pricey compared to a space blanket..but having had it for a few years it seems to fold and unfold fine. It fits in the back of any pack

http://www.blizzardsurvival.com/product.php/100/blizzard-survival-bag

Paired with a sleeping mat..under insulation is always a good thing.
 
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Garbage bag shelter

Garbage bag shelter

I’ll be interested to hear how other’s long-packaged Mylar space blankets fare when unwrapped. Or, in my case, peeled apart.

I replaced the space blanket with a large, very thick industrial trash bag. 6 feet long x 4 feet wide. It’s waterproof and big enough for me to fit fully inside with the bag doubled over on the bottom. Full size it's big enough to fit me and a friend, on the chance that some hypothermic naked-body cuddling was needed. Have to be a really good friend.

I could alternatively slit the bottom and one side of the bag to make a 6x8 tarp shelter.

I’ve never used it for a ditch shelter, but I’ve cut out arm and head holes (and a couple of feet off the bottom) to make crude rain gear for folks in need. An arm hole remnant makes a nice waterproof dunce cap.

Not as compact as I’d like, about 3” x 6” x 1 ½”, but cheap enough to replace when I cut one up or use it for something more trash bag like.

If I could find something similar as large and sturdy in orange or yellow instead of black I’d be happier. Maybe a giant Bio-Hazard Bag. Those would make striking emergency raingear.
 
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I’ll be interested to hear how other’s long-packaged Mylar space blankets fare when unwrapped. Or, in my case, peeled apart.

I just checked my Mylar space blanket and it was fine; no damage at all. Considering I've had it for years, and this summer I have been keeping it in my back pocket or a cargo pant pocket on my outings, that's pretty good.

Folding it back up nice and small was not the difficult chore I'd anticipated. The fold creases made the material want to fold up again after I laid it out flat. Once it's been folded back into a long narrow strip, just run your hand along it, pressing the air out, and then just keep folding it smaller, starting at one end of the narrow strip to the other, squeezing air out as you go. I got mine back down to it's original compact size.

Hope this helps,
-Martin
 
Joined
Jun 12, 2012
Messages
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Appleton, Maine
I have two and the first one looks good inside it's clear package, but my second one was suspect.
#2 is older, it's inside a pretty heavy duty zip lock and I had wrapped duct tape around it bag, duct tape to keep it dry and also to have some tape in an emergency.

So I did a test, pretending I was cold, soaking wet with numb fingers. I ripped the duct tape off as fast as I could and it came of in two long pieces, which is good. I then unfolded the blanket quickly and it held up, no tears or damage.
I tried folding it up carefully, but I need to work on that. Anyway, it looked good and glad I checked it out.
 
Joined
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Location
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Mike,
I have a friend who jumps out of helicopters for a living and is a survival expert. He carries a big industrial trash bag (not in the helo!!) in his personal ditch kit and in his car, etc. I carry a reflective bag that I orinally got for my ditch kit for an arctic trip. It costs a bit more but will be a bit more effective in colder conditions.
http://www.libertymountain.com/shop/product.asp?p=6215&pg=1&c=2104&o=0&s=5
Dave
 
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I've re-thought my ditch kit

I've re-thought my ditch kit

Below are the contents of my re-vamped ditch kit with some photos. The kit is by no means exhaustive of what I'd need were I to lose my gear in rapids or some other unexpected manner, but for 3-season camping, it has most of what I'd need and it's small enough that I have it on me at all times. I don't carry this only when canoe-tripping, but even when I'm just on a day hike.

- Leatherman multi-tool (worn on belt)
- paracord bracelet (worn on wrist)

- Tool Logic folding knife with integrated Ferro-rod & whistle, plus small supply of charred cloth
- micro flashlight (can be used hands-free)
- micro lighter (waterproof)
- pill container for pain killers and anti-histamines
- button compass

- ultra light & compact day pack:
- Frontier emergency water filter (a carbon filter straw)
- cotton bandana
- mylar space blanket
- flatband slingshot
- small ziplock bag:
- salt packets, insect sting wipes, bandaids, moleskin, threaded needle, charred cloth


The main components of my ditch kit
DitchKitLabelled1.jpg


The unfolded day pack and what's immediately inside it
DitchKitLabelled2.jpg


The contents of my bandana bundle

DitchKitLabelled3.jpg


Seasonal items not shown above:
- bear spray canister (worn on belt except in winter)
- bug dope
- chemical hand/foot warmer packs (winter only)
- fishing line, hooks, & sinkers (in my wife's kit only)
- Epi-pen (for my wife's bee sting allergy)


Hope this helps,
- Martin
 
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Martin, that's hugely helpful. I haven't been here long, Martin, but I'm sure enjoying your posts.
 
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Martin, that's hugely helpful. I haven't been here long, Martin, but I'm sure enjoying your posts.

Thank you thekat. I'm glad you found it helpful. This forum's a great place for new ideas and time-tested old practices. The forum has lots of people who have highly varied canoe tripping and day-tripping experiences. It's a great resource for any paddler, no matter how long he or she's been paddling.

Cheers,
- Martin
 
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