The importance of field testing gear

When I was about 13, I saw an ad in a magazine (probably either American Survival Guide, SWAT, or Soldier of Fortune) for a survival knife. It was modeled after the “Rambo” knife that was so popular back then. As I recall, it had a 12″ blade and a hollow handle, complete with a small survival kit. Oh man, I wanted that knife so bad! It looked like the coolest thing EVER!

I think the price was something like $29.99 plus shipping and handling. Being only 13, it took me a while to save up the scratch. I mean, c’mon, this was 1984 or so and I was lucky to get $5 for mowing Grandma’s lawn. In any event, I managed to get the money together and convinced my mom to send in a check for me. And I waited…and waited…and waited. Like Ralphie waiting for his Little Orphan Annie decoder ring, I was convinced every day when I got off the bus that today would be the day.

When it finally did arrive, it looked wicked cool. It had a compass built into the butt of the handle, a handle that was indeed hollow. Inside it had a little plastic tube which contained fish hooks, fishing line, a couple needles, a few wooden matches, and a folded up wire saw.

And that’s about when things went downhill. The wire saw snapped into several pieces when I unfolded it. The matches weren’t of the strike anywhere kind and even when using a matchbox still wouldn’t light. The cap for the hollow handle was threaded in such a way that if you didn’t get it on exactly right, it would cross thread.

I thought to myself, Ok, so the kit was worthless but maybe the knife itself is still decent. I took it out to the woods to play around with it. I used it to clear away some brush and that went fine, until I accidentally hit a tree about 4″ in diameter. Yeah, um, the blade snapped off the plastic handle.

The entire thing was such a fiasco, and I’d begged and pleaded for weeks to even get the knife, that I just tossed the knife into the trash an didn’t say anything to anyone. The only thing I kept was the plastic tube from inside the handle as it was waterproof and, believe it or not, I still have it to this day. It is one of my kits, keeping a stash of strike anywhere matches safe and dry.

The moral of the story is to field test each new piece of gear you acquire. Make sure it will do what you want it to do and hold up to varying conditions. Don’t ever just buy a new knife, backpack, or anything else and toss it in a closet with the rest of your gear, keeping it for…someday.

If that “someday” does arrive, you really don’t want to face it holding nothing more than a broken knife handle in your hand.

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Jim Cobb

Jim Cobb has been a student of survivalism and emergency preparedness for almost thirty years. As a young child, he drove his parents nuts with stockpiling supplies in the basement every time he heard there was a tornado watch in his area. Of course, being a child, those supplies consisted of his teddy bear, a few blankets and pillows, and random canned goods he grabbed from the kitchen cabinets. Later, he was the first (and likely only) child in his fifth grade class to have bought his very own copy of Life After Doomsday by Bruce Clayton. Today, he is a freelance writer whose work has been published in national magazines such as Boy’s Life and Complete Survivalist Magazine. He is a voracious reader with a keen interest in all stories with post-apocalyptic settings. He maintains the Library at the End of the World blog and is also the Content Director for He currently resides in a fortified bunker in the upper Midwest, accompanied by his lovely wife and their three adolescent Weapons of Mass Destruction. Jim's first book, Prepper's Home Defense, was published late 2012 and his second book, tentatively titled The Prepper's Complete Guide to Disaster Readiness, will be out in mid-2013, both coming from Ulysses Press.

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