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The Making Of A Simple Survival Vest

The Making Of A Simple Survival Vest by Gary Benton
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When you need survival gear is not the time you to discover you don’t have it with you. Years ago, while in the Air Force, I learned how to turn an old fishing vest into a hunting/survival vest. It is easy to do and doesn’t take much time to construct. You will be surprised how organized it is, as well as inexpensive to put together. All you need is a fishing vest, I used an old one, and some survival components. Just make sure you do not use a vest with built in flotation. It would be too bulky to use with a backpack.

I used my wife’s sewing machine to sew to three large pockets inside the vest. I sewed one large pocket (inside) on each side and one larger one in the back, on the inside. You can make the pockets as large or small as you like. I also sewed a bit of Velcro to the vest and the top of the pocket. I did not add a closing flap to the pockets, so they actually looked like deep pouches. The Velcro will keep the pocket (or pouch) closed.

You can add as many or as few pockets as you like. However, most fishing vests come with enough pockets to store all of the survival equipment you would ever need. My vest is packed all the time and ready to go in a minutes notice. That means that at any time I can just pick it up and I know my gear is there. I do at times, pull the gear out and check it, making sure it’s still in good shape. I keep the following items stored in the outside pockets.

1. A quality penknife or jack knife.
2. Condoms for water storage, unlubricated.
3. Water proof matches in a plastic container.
4. Flint and steel, along with a metal match.
5. Water purification tablets, small bottle 50 count.
6. A long strip of folded heavy-duty aluminum foil folded up to cook with
7. Fishing kit, i.e., hooks, sinkers, and some line. Nothing fancy.
Commercial back packing first aid kit (with instructions). I carry a very small one.
One small pack of gum and one of hard candy (energy).
Approximately 30 feet of parachute nylon cord (550 cord).
A very small penlight flashlight.
Five beef bullion cubes wrapped in a plastic sandwich bag.
Five tea/coffee bags wrapped in a plastic sandwich bag.
An emergency strobe light, with an extra battery.
Whistle, plastic
Other small odds and ends that make life more comfortable for me, (i.e., thin space blanket, an additional knife, mechanical fire starters, and so on).

Inside the vest, in the large pockets, I store the softer and bigger items. The pocket at the rear of the vest contains my good quality casualty blanket. On the right, inside pocket, I keep a pair of dry socks and a poncho. The left inside pocket has my boonie hat and Nomex flight gloves. The hat protects me from the sun and rain, while the gloves are great heat protection when I cook or work with the campfire.

When you consider adding survival components, consider what they are to be used for. I try to break my gear down into categories when I consider adding anything;
Foods (examples are candy, coffee, teas, bullion cubes, etc.)
Signaling equipment (strobe light, silver lined casualty blanket, matches for signal fires, signal mirror, flares, and a whistle)
Food procurement (parachute cord for snares, fishing kit, perhaps some wire)
Water (water purification tablets, condoms, maybe a collapsible two quart canteen as well).
Shelter items (poncho, casualty blanket, space blanket, and cord to make a shelter).
First Aid (a first small general aid kit and first aid manual)
Fire starting (metal match, storm proof matches, lighter, etc..)
Nice to have (sewing kit, Nomex ® gloves, boonie hat, and other comfort items)

All of this sounds like a lot of gear, but it is not very heavy. I can wear the vest along with my backpack very easily. The key is to put a soft object in the inside rear pocket to help cushion the backpack. Also, make sure the item is flat in the pocket. If it is bunched up you will experience discomfort with a backpack. Also, some of these items serve more than one purpose. For example, my casualty blanket can be used to wrap up and sleep in, treat an injured person, construct a shelter, and even to signal with (one side is bright silver in color).

So, there you go. Use your imagination to design your own survival vest. Or, you can go down to “Joe’s Survival Surplus” and purchase a used or new aviators vest. It is pre-made and ready to go. The commercial one will have about the same number of pockets, but it will be made of mesh and all the pockets will have Velcro closures. Also, a commercial one may have line tied to the vest that allows you to secure each survival item. This is ok for some people but I dislike the idea.

The idea of securing your survival equipment was developed by the Air Force to keep equipment attached to the vest secured in the event of a high speed bailout or from being lost due to turbulence during a parachute freefall. Additionally, if the aircrew member had to open his vest, perhaps to get a radio out during a parachute descent or while hanging in a tree, if he dropped it, the gear would not be lost.

I like the idea in some ways. I mean, if you drop your gear it is no further than the end of the cord attaching it to the vest. Plus, the cord can be removed from the vest and put to other uses.

I dislike the idea because after you remove a few items to use them you start to look like a spaghetti pot that has exploded with lines everywhere. This happens because most people, me included, are too lazy to wrap the item up properly once they use it. The piece of gear goes back into a pocket poorly wrapped and with part or all of line hanging out. Then, the lines will get entangled in brush and limbs as the person moves.

The choice is yours to secure your items or not. I don’t plan on making any parachute drops, so I have removed the lines. If you are worried about losing your gear consider it. It is an individual preference and you can try it out if you are interested.

A survival vest is easy and inexpensive to make. All it takes is a vest, some very basic survival gear, and a sewing machine (you can go with just the standard vest pockets if you don’t have a sewing machine). In less than an hour you can have a survival kit you can wear. It is always ready to go and you can put it on as you walk out the door. Within no time, you will even forget you are wearing it. While survival is never easy, it does get easier when you are wearing a survival vest.

Take care and I will see you in the field.

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