LSDS introduces the first member for our "Decision Series" gear line with our three-day (72 hour) egress bag. This bag was recently rigorously tested by former Green Beret (and also experienced salmon wrangler alongside the Deadliest Catch team in Alaska), Nick Gains. Nick took this bag out into the wilderness of the Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas along the Eagle Rock Loop for three days. Nick explains how it was used and why we selected each piece of equipment during his rain soaked and cold 30-mile push through the forest.
Tested by and blog post created by Nick Gaines, LSDS survival expert & Decision Series task lead
Here at LSDS we are dedicated to providing our clients with the most functional equipment on the market today and tested by our own in-house survival experts with experience all over the world. We bring a slew of experience ranging from Special Operations, Survival, Wilderness Medicine, War Zones, Aid Work, Backpacking, Mountaineering, Commercial Fishing, and International Travel. We are normal people too, and we know you need things in the heat of the moment for things that happen close to home: active shooters, hurricanes, earthquakes, forest fires, structural collapse, traffic accidents, and even your child’s bike wreck.
So, why should you use us? First off, we’re an outfitter, not people trying to reinvent the wheel. What are we offering? First the training, then the equipment to fill your needs specifically. Think of us as your “survivability guide” service. We are going to offer every client a 1 day option of in-home training with a Special Forces Operator on the bag that they have purchased tailored specifically to your needs. The second option is a Two-Day Survival Course at the location of your choice. The training will be realistic, personal, hands-on, and focused on your needs. If you just want the bag or consultation on how to survive because you already have gear, we can work with you. We do have standards though and those are stringent. Here is the rundown of our 72-hour Egress Bag. We also offer a 24-hour bag and will continue to change and modify our methods and gear to that which is the most applicable to your needs and reflects the best items currently on the market today.
Our Field Test:
a. Field test and demonstrate use of all items in the ‘Egress Bag’
b. Validate durability and reliability of all items
c. Document instructional material under field conditions
d. Document any shortcomings of fielded items and create a solution to those shortcomings
What Actually Occurred During Our Test
The bag was received on Thurs. Dec 14 in Lindale, TX. Items were inventoried and prepped on Sunday the 17th. Nick and the support element departed 14:30 that afternoon pushing the schedule forward due to weather concerns which later become a significant factor in the testing process on two fronts. Firstly, the Little Missouri River is a major terrain feature on the trail and the course entails crossing it and its tributaries at least 15 times during the loop. This is significant because flooding is common and lethal. Secondly, our filming capabilities were severely limited by rainfall and the need to keep the camera in a waterproof case caused the audio quality to be unusable. Filming was also limited by the implied task of moving as quickly as possible to avoid imminent flooding on the route. The issue was solved by hiring my brother-in-law who is a professional photographer to film my review of the pack and instructions with modifications to the system, as well as post recommendations for changes. This is important for product validity as we want the same items on the instructional film as those that will actually be in the bag itself.
Tremendous advantages for the test were gained through specific factors. The most appropriate is that it became an actual survival event. The test was not done in a casual manner in the woods near a park or resources. The need to accomplish 30 plus miles in a single push also changed the way we approached testing. Necessity was the rule of the day. We needed to carry only the minimum equipment and move fast, as speed is security when you have an imminent threat. This, as the story unfolded, was two-fold. The flooding Little Missouri River and a sick black bear both come into play during the event.
Let’s now compound that with exposure to hypothermia, rough terrain and significant elevation gain. The route requires summitting 10 peaks start to finish. This was prohibitive of actual speed due to slippery rocks and constantly ascending and descending steep grades. Then, navigation issues. Due to previous flooding and landslides, the trail is often washed out and unmarked, necessitating good route-finding capabilities under incredibly low visibility while moving at night with no illumination as well as fog and rain.
Two other evaluators who both have military and hiking experience all over the country were also chosen to take part in the test. They, while not expert survivalists per se, are adept to pushing extreme limits and offered two female perspectives. This is critical to understanding the idea and limitations of a one size fits all survival bag. The feedback from both Lindsey and Kayla will be included in this document. The feedback and efforts in support of this test were incredible. In no uncertain terms it required them giving their all and then some. After route finding, we estimate total single push distance to be 35 plus miles.
Without further ado, below is the review of every item we tested, solutions to the deficiencies we encountered, and then the reviews contributed by the other evaluators.
Sea to Summit 35 L Dry Bag:
The construction of the bag itself is incredibly robust and the suspension system held up to a 35 plus mile single push, enduring plentiful abuse over rough terrain. The need for a dry bag became critical as it was dumping rain during the night and we had to do 15 river crossings. It is definitely not a backpacking pack. It is designed for river guides; however, it provides a good suspension system and all-weather design. The pack straps must be pre-fitted to the client and secured with an overhand knot at the buckle in order to prevent slippage. The trouble shooting to solve this issue was done on the trail. I will provide instructional videos on this under more controlled conditions with the assistance of my brother in law, Joel Allegretto, who is a professional photographer that works all over the country. This will ensure the sound quality and film quality necessary for understanding the lessons learned and solutions for trouble shooting the nuances of this particular piece of gear. All in all, it was a major sustain and successfully achieved the goal of being a low key all weather survival pack that performed well under austere conditions.
SOL Heavy Duty Emergency Blanket:
To say this item is a life saver is no exaggeration, and this came into play at 2 am during a particularly severe downpour and 34-degree ambient temperature. We were forced to shelter in place for two hours under a cave-like rock outcropping. Three of us were able to comfortably huddle in its weather proof, heat reflective protection. When combined with the Jungle Blanket for insulation and the Poncho Villa as a ground cloth, we were able to successfully stave off hypothermia. The bright color of the blanket serves as a VS-17 Panel for signaling air rescue assets and it is of a robust enough material that it can be used for both a stretcher and shelter.
This soft-shell poncho is invaluable to the kit and works as a shelter and ground cloth as well. It folds into the provided pocket, integral to the poncho itself, for easy packing and unpacking. It is durable enough to use as a stretcher and thick enough that it provides a capability to insulate against the elements.
SnugPack Jungle Blanket:
It’s a poncho liner but better. I know its sacrilege to say anything could be better than a woobie but this pulls it off. It comes in a wonderful compression sack and is pound for pound ridiculously warm and comfortable. Combined with the aforementioned items, you have a very effective all-weather hypothermia prevention system.
LSDS Beanie: The lightweight fleece really comes through big time in the retention of body heat and prevention of hypothermia. Excellent item and it advertises our brand. It’s a no brainer.
Magnesium Fire Starter:
This broke before I ever got it out in the field. During transport the fire-steel separated off the magnesium bar and striker combo. I replaced it with a Bear Grills fire steel and striker with integral tinder bundle, rescue whistle, and a priority of survival guides from Gerber. It performed satisfactorily. With a lighter and storm proof matches and the limitation of the bag being 72 hours, I don’t recommend keeping this item in the kit. I also noted that if you do not possess an advanced fire building skillset and background, the probability of successfully building a fire using a primitive method is unlikely.
Verdict: Eliminate and replace with simple Bic Lighter and Stormproof Matches with waterproof case.
Nalgene 32 oz with integral canteen cup:
What a combo! The uses between these two items are a survivalist’s dream come true. The canteen cup is excellent for water purification via boiling over open flame, can be used to melt snow, cook food, coffee, tea and shovel. It is light weight and slides perfectly over the end of the Nalgene bottle. The Nalgene itself is the classic outdoor water bottle. Contains 1 Liter of water which coincided perfectly with the use of water purification tablets. The plastic Nalgene can also be used as a hand, foot and core temp warming device as it can hold boiling water and simultaneously provide insulation from the heat.
UST Stove with solid fuel tabs:
This little guy gets the job done. One thing to mention is for quick water boiling capability it is important to cover the top of the canteen cup to retain the heat inside the cup itself. The downside is that the fuel tablets smoke and leave residue, so ventilation and cleaning the bottom of the cup after use is important. Clean the stove itself as well, then replace into a plastic zip lock bag. The stove is both light and compact. When combined with the price point it has a ton of bang for the buck and can also be used with natural fuel. Outstanding item. One improvement would be to place the stove, dry tinder, and fuel tabs in a gallon zip lock bag during a survival situation.
9. Sawyer Squeeze Water Purification Filter:
Did not use it due to time constraints. I ended up boiling water and using chemical means of purification as I simply did not have time to fumble with the system under the stressful environmental consideration stated above. I would replace this with the cheaper Sawyer Mini and add iodine tablets instead. This is a more reliable method, provides a triple layer of redundancy to water procurement, and is slightly more cost effective.
Verdict: Replace with Sawyer Mini and iodine tablets
10. SOS Rations:
For this we compared the SOS Rations to the UST Emergency Food Ration bars which outperformed the SOS Rations in taste and energy levels. We almost immediately ditched the SOS Rations. All 3 of us survived off of one UST bar (YES, I SAID A SINGLE BAR FOR ALL 3 OF US), while moving 35 plus miles over rough terrain in a single push. Oddly, we all had high energy levels and the bar truly sustained us, even under severe metabolic and athletic demand. We were all truly shocked at how amazing this bar was and affectionately nicknamed it ‘Lembas Bread’ from the Lord of the Rings. It’s truly magic. The downside is that it’s a brick of apple cinnamon flavored sawdust. The upside is that it works. Improve would be to place it in a 1-gallon zip lock bag for storage after opening.
Verdict: Replace with UST Emergency Food Rations
11. Coffee and Tea:
Under stress, exertion, sleep deprivation, and severe metabolic demand caffeine is an indispensable tool as a morale boost. Benefits include mental acuity and focus, physical energy, and appetite suppressant. The Folgers in the kit needs to be replaced with Starbucks Via packets. In reality, they are not even comparable items…the quality of flavor and caffeine content which directly effects one’s morale under survival conditions is a significant difference in outcome. The Arizona tea packs were satisfactory, but they can be ditched. Sugar packets can be ditched. Add a gallon zip lock bag for trash.
Verdict: Replace with Starbucks Via packet
12. Bug Spray: This is indispensable for the prevention of infection, disease, sleep deprivation and general mental and physical health under field conditions.
13. Compass Silva Polaris, ESEE Navigation and SURVIVAL Cards:
The compass was a literal life saving device. The route was washed out, poorly marked and difficult to terrain associate. Let’s add to that limited visibility at night with fog and rain. In those conditions, things will get real-fast. A quality compass from a reputable source, such as Silva or Suunto, is critical to survival situations. It performed impeccably under harsh conditions. I cut a piece of the provided 550 fire tinder paracord for a lanyard. It is nothing more and nothing less than what is needed in a good outdoor navigation aid. It comes integrated with declination marks. There is a protractor etched into the base plate and a series of scaled rulers to gauge distances. The ESEE survival Cards are indispensable for the kit. They provide an all-weather writing pad, A SURVIVAL quick reference card, and an instructional guide to land navigation. These should be kept in a gallon Ziploc bag together with the compass and 550 paracord lanyard. A pen should be added for notes and route planning.
Verdict: Sustain and add gallon Ziploc and pen
14. Readyman Fishing Card:
Did not use it. With the priorities of survival, food is low on the totem pole and given the nature of the bag and provided use of UST rations, I think this item is unnecessary. I can see adding YoYo Fish traps as these can be baited and then left as you perform other tasks. In essence, you will not waist valuable energy and time fishing. Just set the trap and go about your business. These also can be used for equipment repair, wound closure, and fluid replacement if stuck out at sea.
Verdict: Eliminate and replace with YoYo Fish Traps and Eagle Claw Hook & Sinker Kit
15. Gorilla Tape-To Go:
No brainer. From equipment repair, to first aid and shelter building, this is an indispensable tool in the kit.
16. Leatherman Wingman:
This has everything from a factory sharp quality knife blade, scissors, screw drivers and pliers to a pocket clip and one-handed opening capability for the blade. Don’t leave home without it.
17. Condor Jungolo Machete with heavy leather sheath:
This was a powerful tool, from fire and shelter building to self-defense. A heavy leather or Kydex sheath is critical. Sometimes very quality blades will come with a cheap sheath. WATCH OUT! The result of this has been catastrophic in many case studies and in my own personal experience. Cheap sheaths can result in deep lacerations requiring multiple sutures as a sharp blade will cut straight through nylon. Weak attachment points will result in the loss of a blade while traversing rough terrain. A knife is only as good as what reliably carries it. This blade is robust in every way. The steel is high carbon and will rust. This is not a performance issue as high carbon steel does this and as long as a coat of oil is applied before storage there will be no issues.
As far as self-defense…things got pretty real. We began to encounter a lot of bear scat. It became obvious that this bear was not in good health as he had diarrhea and was desperately raiding campsites for leftover food. We include photos of claw marks left in the ground when said bear was close to our position. Close enough that we were growled at in the dark at 2 am. The confidence that 13.5 inches of sharp, unforgiving steel gives you in this situation cannot be overstated. It turned a legitimate life threat into a very manageable situation. Even a big black bear could not take a blow to the face with this thing and not end up with a severe laceration and skull fracture. Great tool and value added.
Though not used, except for a little Advil to ease muscle aches, the med kit is fantastic from its waterproof case to its contents which are able to treat everything from major trauma to minor cuts and scrapes. Indispensable piece of kit.
19. Ka-bar Spork:
Did not use it. I think the CRKT Eating Tool is a better fit for this kit. It is smaller, lighter, more cost effective, and has an integrated bottle opener and wrenches.
Verdict: Eliminate and change out for CRKT Eating Tool
Forgive the expletive, but it’s a cheap piece of shit. Energizer provided me a buy or die Black Diamond Headlamp sales pitch by creating such a deficient piece of gear. The selector switch turns on in the bag while you walk and kills the battery. Weather resistance is also a major issue. I would never go into the backcountry with it again. Luckily, we had backup Petzle and Black Diamond headlamps that literally were life saving as we had no illumination and difficult river crossings with navigation issues finding washed out trail markings in the rain, fog and dark in 34 degrees. All these issues were all mitigated by the abilities provided in a high quality, all weather headlamp that lasts 8 hours on a single battery life.
Verdict: Buy Black Diamond or Petzle
21. UST Paracord Tinder Core 30’:
Fantastic product that works great for shelter building, making lanyards and repairs to equipment. The guts are made of fire starting tinder. Can’t say enough. Great price point.
22. Self Defense Stick: Not tested. To be used in conjunction with training by LSDS self defense team.
Reviews by Case Study Participants:
“Even in the sunshine and 70°F weather, Eagle Rock Loop would be an ideal spot for testing outdoor/survival gear. Drop that temperature to just over 30 degrees F, then add in heavy fog and rain…it becomes perfect. Traversing a vast and mountainous terrain on over 28 miles of trails in a single push is not for everyone. We used the South Athens trail head, which added 2 miles to our traverse, putting the linear distance at 30+ miles and an added bonus. The steepest mountains in the region to go over twice.
Such a setting in a 22-hour push to complete the trail, enabled us to appreciate the products when put to the test. Overall, the Sea to Summit bag and its contents were well thought-out with minimal changes needed. The first item tested, upon wake up, was the rations bar. The one provided in the kit had a manageable cinnamon apple taste but shortly afterwards, about 2 miles in, I was left feeling hungry with low energy. We then tested a rations survival bar made by Ultimate Survival Technologies. Not only is this cinnamon apple more delightful, it was a better nutritional value, and the energy derived from this bar was shocking. This 6 serving ration bar nourished the 3 of us satisfyingly well, with 2 rations left over at the end. The only flaw is this bar did not come with serving sizes individually wrapped. I strongly recommend switching to this one as well as including a zip lock bag for it (can be used for other purposes as well).
Next item used was the Sea to Summit bag. The weight of all contents in the bag was ideal for traveling. While the length of the bag was not friendly to my back and shorter torso and the shoulder straps tend to loosen while climbing, I am a fan of this bag and suspension system for all around purposes. All items inside the bag stayed dry while hiking in a torrential down pour. The exterior dried off quickly upon arrival to shelter, ready to be used as a seat/head rest. The emergency blankets, jungle blanket, and poncho all served their purpose perfectly when we were forced under a rock overhang for a 2 a.m. bivouac. As for hydration, we unfortunately did not test out the water filtration system, but because it does not take up much room and is lightweight, I would leave it in there. Boiling water and water purification tabs were our friends on this trip due to the minimal effort and time effectiveness provided by these methods. That being said, the stove and fuel cells were put to the test and passed on this trip. I would go with a different fire starter or just water proof matches/lighter seeing as though we had issues with the 2 other fire starters we brought on this trip.
Later on, into the night, signs of a bear tracking our trail ahead of us was evident thanks to its severe diarrhea and continuous pawing at the ground. The large multi-function knife was brought out in case of stumbling into it. Not only would this sucker do some damage, but it also fit comfortably and worked perfectly on the Sea to Summit waist strap. At this time, I cannot provide first hand info on how well it works in a bear fight, but I do feel confident that it would inflict severe damage and provide a legitimate deterrent. The other knife with the Firestarter attached was nice but not necessarily needed. The Leatherman multi tool had more uses.
We didn't use the multi-tool card with the fishing hooks and such. I did get to look at it and think this is a great addition to keep. The survival card packet with a notebook and tips on how to not die is great; however, it was lacking a pen to write with. We brought 550 parachute cord that had fire starter tinder insides. I would recommend including this in the bag. The medical kit was a great overall, although (happily) not used. The water bottle and cups provided in the bag are certainly a keep, as well as the hand crank radio.
The only product that really displeased me was the handlamp. A different brand is strongly suggested as the lamp has no 'locking' option. A couple of times it turned on in the bag, thus wasting battery life. We crossed multiple rivers in the dark with rainfall on poorly cleared/marked trails. Battery life was something we couldn't afford to have die on us. As far as being in the elements goes, if starting a fire is not an option while traveling in harsh weather in the cold, hand and toe warmers are an inexpensive, small, lightweight thing to have. There are even reusable ones out there.
On that note, unless you could include a Nick Gaines in every survival bag…other than, a pen, hand/toe warmers, different meal bar, and different headlamp there is nothing else I would add. In summary, it was a well put together bag that came through when tested in an actual survival situation. It was quite the experience to partake in this. Thank you!”
“The area used for testing at Eagle Rock Loop was ideal for this purpose. The terrain was very rugged and varied and afforded many opportunities to test the gear. The bag held up perfectly in regards to endurance to my knowledge. However, sizing and bag type were a problem in terms of comfortability for the purpose of this particular exercise. The stove worked wonderfully. I'm assuming the fuel cells took a minute to ignite due to the magnesium rod. I've never used fuel cubes so I have no prior experience with their use. Water purification was good. I liked the idea of multiple purification methods on longer varied hikes, although we only used the tabs and boiling methods. The nutrition bricks were amazing or at least the one was, as well as the coffee. Between the three of us the brick lasted a long time and it didn't taste half bad. The bivouac location was ideal. The emergency blankets and poncho were great. The only thing I can say is that since I was a smaller person (5'3" 120lbs) it somewhat worked. I'd say it would be perfect for 1-2 averaged sized people for best results. The knife was perfect for multiple uses. I actually plan on finding one for myself. Altogether, I believe the bag was a success during the expedition.”