-ADVERTISEMENT-
-ADVERTISEMENT-

The philosophy “you get what you pay for” is quite a double-edged sword. On one hand, an item doesn’t need to be expensive to be high-quality, while on the other hand, the quality of an expensive item can be low. Are you buying the name brand? Are you paying for expensive marketing, gimmicks, high overhead, a famous spokesperson, and the fancy packaging? A Kia works just as well as a Mercedes, right? They both have four wheels, an engine, and a seat. Isn’t a Mercedes just a Kia in a fancy package with an expensive spokesperson?

Can this same philosophy apply itself to emergency survival bags and gear? We took $50 bills and headed off to two different dollar stores to see how much survival gear we could find, if any, to decently outfit an emergency bag. Essentially, we wanted to see if we could make a Mercedes out of Kia parts. At first, we were skeptical, but once we started wandering the aisles of our local dollar stores, it became pretty clear there were dozens of things that could easily be included in our DIY cheap kit.

ASG-1506-How-Dollar-03The parameters for most survival kits can be summed up in a few categories: food/water, shelter, fire, first aid, signaling, and safety/light. Under those categories sits an enormous array of gear. Some cross over from one category to another, as a knife can be used for both protection and for food prep, for example. Basically, if all of these categories are satisfied, you have the makings of a good kit. The problem is every single thing at the dollar store costs exactly a dollar (plus tax) and while that might be good for matches and small rolls of duct tape, that’s bad when it comes to knives and heavy-use gear that would see hard use in a survival situation.

KEEP IT SIMPLE

We decided that an emergency kit of this caliber should be kept simple. We could have purchased an entirely new outfit — shoes, pants, shirts, and hat — for a dollar each and we could have included a plethora of foodstuffs. But we decided not to. The point of our emergency pack was to have a kit that could solve a variety of situations in a short amount of time. It’s not a get-home bag or a bug-out bag, but instead a one-time-use bag, a collection of very cheap products (99 percent made in China) that will serve specific purposes in an emergency situation, such as an earthquake or tornado.

WHAT TO EXPECT

With the above in mind, don’t expect much. Though there are a host of gems on the shelves of your local dollar store, don’t go in with the idea that you’re going to climb Mount Everest with the gear you’ll find. At best, this is an illustration of gear you could use to supplement your off-the-shelf pack. That being said, about half of what be bought came in multi-packs — there were three packs of tissue, three rolls of twine, 25 feet of aluminum foil — so our purchases could have easily been spread over a couple of different packs. Keeping our six parameters in mind, we scoured the shelves for items that could be used in an emergency situation.

There was a host of things to be used to tie down other things, such as duct tape, twine, zip-ties, nylon rope, and bungee cords.

There was a host of things to be used to tie down other things, such as duct tape, twine, zip ties, nylon rope, and bungee cords.

The biggest catch at the dollar stores was first aid gear. Cold and hot chemical compresses that are activated by squeezing them were a great find, as was a variety of ointments and balms. Gauze, tape, anti-bacterial gel, and anti-inflammatory pain medicine were included.

The biggest catch at the dollar stores was first aid gear. Cold and hot chemical compresses that are activated by squeezing them were a great find, as was a variety of ointments and balms. Gauze, tape, anti-bacterial gel, and anti-inflammatory pain medicine were included.

We packed the tea candles and about 50 matches in one of the two small containers, and we cut the handle off the magnifying glass so it would stow in a smaller space. Take care with the chafing fuel, as it burns at a low temperature and takes more time to cook food.

We packed the tea candles and about 50 matches in one of the two small containers, and we cut the handle off the magnifying glass so it would stow in a smaller space. Take care with the chafing fuel, as it burns at a low temperature and takes more time to cook food.

Canvas gloves as well as latex gloves will keep your hands safe when you need them to be. The 0.7-mil plastic drop cloth will be nearly useless when the going gets rough, it’ll come in handy to shelter under when it rains. The pack of 28 plastic bags has a multitude of uses.

Canvas gloves, as well as latex gloves, will keep your hands safe when you need them to be. The 0.7-mil plastic drop cloth will be nearly useless when the going gets rough, it’ll come in handy to shelter under when it rains. The pack of 28 plastic bags has a multitude of uses.

Keeping clean is an important part of survival. Small wounds can lead to big infections if not properly cleaned. The pink grooming kit was a little girlish, but it went nicely with our pink sewing kit (so we combined them). Three-pack bar of soap, threepack of tissues and a roll of toilet paper will keep everything ship-shape. Though the toilet paper is bulky and can be replaced by the pack of tissue, if there’s a need for toilet paper, you’ll be glad you had it.

Keeping clean is an important part of survival. Small wounds can lead to big infections if not properly cleaned. The pink grooming kit was a little girlish, but it went nicely with our pink sewing kit (so we combined them). Three-pack bar of soap, three pack of tissues and a roll of toilet paper will keep everything ship-shape. Though the toilet paper is bulky and can be replaced by the pack of tissue, if there’s a need for toilet paper, you’ll be glad you had it.

A host of lighting tools were found, from chemical sticks and AAA LED flashlight to a hand-powered flashlight, a bicycle strobe light and a two-pack of high-visibility reflectors that can be wrapped around your arm or hung off of your pack.

A host of lighting tools were found, from chemical sticks and AAA LED flashlight to a hand-powered flashlight, a bicycle strobe light and a two-pack of high-visibility reflectors that can be wrapped around your arm or hung off of your pack.

We wrapped the five extra blades of the utility knife around the outside of it with a little duct tape. The cans of sausage and tuna will help stave off hunger, and the hard candy (25 to a pack) is a refreshing treat to a dry mouth.

We wrapped the five extra blades of the utility knife around the outside of it with a little duct tape. The cans of sausage and tuna will help stave off hunger, and the hard candy (25 to a pack) is a refreshing treat to a dry mouth.

We folded three feet of aluminum foil into a flat square. The two small carabiners are fairly weak but they can be used to attach things to your belt or pack. The three coils of wire are useful in a variety of ways, from snares to lashings. You can’t go wrong with a deck of cards.

We folded three feet of aluminum foil into a flat square. The two small carabiners are fairly weak but they can be used to attach things to your belt or pack. The three coils of wire are useful in a variety of ways, from snares to lashings. You can’t go wrong with a deck of cards.

Food/water: The shelves of the dollar stores are littered with a wide variety of foodstuffs, from bags of chips, sodas, boxes of pasta to spices, nuts, and canned soup. Look for small cans of high-protein meats like tuna. It is helpful if the cans have pop tops so you don’t have to worry about opening them. There isn’t much in the way of water but instead lots of choices for water bottles. Find the sturdiest one with a tight seal. If it has a ring, it can be clipped to your pack as you are walking.

-ADVERTISEMENT-

Shelter: Nope, no tents at the dollar store, but they do have painter’s tarps, those low-end extremely thin plastic covers you use when painting your walls. They rip easily and probably won’t make for a good emergency tent, but will keep the rain off of you and your gear in a pinch. Plus, they can be used for capturing rainwater or to make a water distiller.

Fire: There was a wide variety of fire making items available. From a box of wooden matches and lighters (two pack) to candles and a can of chafing fuel. We even found a magnifying glass.

First Aid: One thing the dollar store has in spades is first aid gear, so we put together a mini first aid kit for only a few dollars. Is it high-quality stuff? Of course not, but a cheap bandage that you have to replace every couple of hours because it won’t stick to sweaty skin is better than no bandage, right?

Safety/Light: There is no gun aisle or rack of hunting knives available at the dollar store, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a host of things that can be used as protection (including the utility knife). A large cooking knife can be used around the campfire and to fend off attackers, and a large two-tined roasting fork can be lashed to a stick and made into a fishing spear. We found several methods of light, including one powered by a ratchet mechanism.

Misc.: Canvas gloves, bungee cords, twine and nylon rope are staples of the dollar store. The pretty pink sewing kit for girls contained a dozen needles and thread. Anti-bacterial wipes, a bag of hard candy, two small boxes to seal in small gear, and essential items to keep you clean, organized and sane. Speaking of sane, a deck of cards goes a long way in keeping you mentally awake.

Your choices are limitless. If we wanted to keep with the theme, we could have very well kept the items in the paper grocery bags they came home in. Barring that, we can choose a school book bag or a bag that was a giveaway from a clothing store. We chose Hazard4’ s Plan B sling instead. Sure, at $125.98 it goes against the theme here, but because it has the compartments needed to organize our gear and it was small enough to perfectly fit everything, you shouldn’t skimp on the pack itself.

Your choices are limitless. If we wanted to keep with the theme, we could have very well kept the items in the paper grocery bags they came home in. Barring that, we can choose a school book bag or a bag that was a giveaway from a clothing store. We chose Hazard4’ s Plan B sling instead. Sure, at $125.98 it goes against the theme here, but because it has the compartments needed to organize our gear and it was small enough to perfectly fit everything, you shouldn’t skimp on the pack itself.

The lower pocket contains a few things we’ll need to grab quickly: anti-bacterial wipes, gloves, lighter and a utility knife.

The lower pocket contains a few things we’ll need to grab quickly: anti-bacterial wipes, gloves, lighter and a utility knife.

The upper pocket contains the hard candies for the trail and the hand-operated flashlight.

The upper pocket contains the hard candies for the trail and the hand-operated flashlight.

Intertwined down the side webbing is where the zip ties are stored and a couple of the bungee cords.

Intertwined down the side webbing is where the zip ties are stored and a couple of the bungee cords.

Outside, the anti-bacterial gel is easily accessible and the carabiners hang at the ready. The Plan B has plenty of webbing for a variety of gear.

Outside, the anti-bacterial gel is easily accessible and the carabiners hang at the ready. The Plan B has plenty of webbing for a variety of gear.

The Plan B’s main compartment can be adjusted with the movable divider. On the top we placed the toilet paper and a few of the bulky items, such as the cans of food and containers of matches and toiletries.

The Plan B’s main compartment can be adjusted with the movable divider. On the top, we placed the toilet paper and a few of the bulky items, such as the cans of food and containers of matches and toiletries.

While on the bottom, everything else fit nice and snug. It is always a good idea to place the first aid kit on top for easy access.

While on the bottom, everything else fit nice and snug. It is always a good idea to place the first aid kit on top for easy access.

In a mesh pocket on the inside flap the water bottle, knife and serving fork can be stored. We made sheaths for both the knife and fork out of aluminum foil and stored them in a way that they would rest on their handles instead of their points when the pack was set upright.

In a mesh pocket on the inside flap the water bottle, knife and serving fork can be stored. We made sheaths for both the knife and fork out of aluminum foil and stored them in a way that they would rest on their handles instead of their points when the pack was set upright.

Without its packaging and placed into groups, the 50 items don’t take up much space, so you can choose a relatively small bag…which is one thing the dollar stores didn’t offer: something to carry all of this in. However, everything that would be ruined if wet was placed in sealable plastic bags.

Without its packaging and placed into groups, the 50 items don’t take up much space, so you can choose a relatively small bag…which is one thing the dollar stores didn’t offer: something to carry all of this in. However, everything that would be ruined if wet was placed in sealable plastic bags.

GO QUALITY OR GO CHEAP?

Handing over $50 at the check-out stand, we wondered if going cheap (and getting a ton of stuff) is better or worse than paying two or three times more and getting higher quality gear. How many squeezes will this ratchet flashlight take before it breaks? Can this very thin aluminum foil wrap a fish without tearing? How long before the bungee cords snap or the gloves wear through or the twine unravels? Is paying $1 for 50 bandages better than paying $50 for a fully packed first aid kit? It depends on what you can afford, as money is an object to a lot of people. Again, I’d rather have cheap bandages than no bandages.

Hazard4 Plan B Modular Sling Pack

ASG-1506-How-Dollar-21

Sometimes having a large bulky pack is more of a hindrance than help. The larger your pack, the more stuff you will put in it, logically, but the more stuff, the heavier the pack. With a smaller pack, such as the Plan B, you become more conscious about what goes in it, thereby saving weight and conserving energy.

This sling pack is designed for front or rear wear and is slim to fit the profile of the wearer and not be a bulky or obvious addition to his back. The padded sling fits perfectly over your chest and is comfortable to wear over long periods of time, and one of the main benefits of using a sling-style pack is that it can be easily switched to and from either shoulder as well as to the front with little trouble.

The Plan B has three compartments, including an additional hydration area to hold up to a 2.5 liter capacity. The small stuff pocket on the top of the pack can be used for small items one might need to access often and quickly, while the larger pocket has several sub-pockets for a variety of storage options. The main compartment runs the full height of the pack and is capable of holding more than 1,000 square inches of gear.

A small zipper allows for a barrel to protrude or perhaps a radio antenna.

A small zipper allows for a barrel to protrude or perhaps a radio antenna.

All of the straps can be rolled and secured via hook and loop fasteners.

All of the straps can be rolled and secured via hook and loop fasteners.

The back is well padded and breathable, making it more comfortable and easier to wear in hot weather.

The back is well padded and breathable, making it more comfortable and easier to wear in hot weather.

All zippers are double and covered to keep out water in wet environments.

All zippers are double and covered to keep out water in wet environments.

There is plenty enough webbing to attach several MOLLE bags to it as well as any number of additional gear that will be needed quickly.

There is plenty enough webbing to attach several MOLLE bags to it as well as any number of additional gear that will be needed quickly.

The large grab handles located on the top and the bottom make carrying around the Plan B just that much easier.

The large grab handles located on the top and the bottom makes carrying around the Plan B just that much easier.

Made from Invista 1000D Cordura, it is PU X2 water repellent and scratch/tear resistant. It comes in black, coyote (shown), OD green, Multicam and A-Tacs.

 

Editors Note: A version of this article first appeared in the June 2015 print issue of American Survival Guide.