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Emergency kits can be a mental crutch — a piece of equipment that provides a feeling of personal safety; that feeling may reside in our minds only, especially if that emergency kit isn’t worth the cheap vinyl bag its stored in. We’ve got a three-day emergency kit in the closet, you may think to yourself, we’re set with whatever Mother Nature or mankind can throw at us. Maybe that’s true. Maybe the hurricane, earthquake, or Ebola quarantine that closes down your city won’t be that bad. You’ve got a three-day kit in the closet, right? But what’s in it? How do I use it? What should I do with it? Valid questions, yes, but not questions you should be asking yourself as you stand knee-deep in the rubble of your house, surrounded by your scared and hungry family.

The New Millennium energy bars come packed with 400 calories and are made with all-natural flavors. They have a shelf-life of five years and come in a variety of flavors that we’re sure differs with each kit. Though not exactly the most delicious thing you’ll ever eat, at least it won’t be the last.

The main problem with a lot of kits on the market these days is the company’s desire to stay within a certain price-point, at the same time providing as much stuff as possible to pack into the kit. More is better, right? Who cares if the matches won’t work in the rain; there’s 1000 of them. This fosters an unrealistic idea of what an emergency kit is for, what it can do and what you can do with it. Wet matches won’t start a fire and an emergency kit is as only strong as its weakest link. RSE Oufitter’s response to this chink in the market is to provide the best equipment they can find and everything that goes into their kit is of the best quality. But you have to know how to use it.

When your emergency kit arrives at your house you should treat it as if you just bought a complicated espresso machine. You don’t just plug it in and expect coffee to come pouring out. You have to assemble it, read the directions and learn how to make coffee. It is the same with an emergency kit. You have to figure out how to use it, what it is missing and what it has you might not need. That’s exactly what the folks at Realistic Survival Equipment Outfitters expects of you. Based in Tacoma, Wash., RSE Outfitters suggests “the best way that we know of to make sure you have a properly outfitted kit is to use it. Our favorite way to test our kits is to go camping with them. Once you are away from the conveniences of life and are relying on the gear inside your kit, you’ll soon find out what works, what doesn’t, what you like, and what you wish you had brought.” Maybe there’s not enough water. Maybe two rolls of toilet paper is too much for three days. Maybe you wish there had been a larger blanket or a smaller knife. You won’t know this until it is too late and you have to make do with what you have; or you can find out now.

A drop cloth is a good idea where ground cloth is needed, but we would have liked to see a tarp shelter instead. Our advice is to leave in the drop cloth and add a tube tent or a tarp of some kind that has grommets. When the rain comes down, you’ll thank us.

Let’s find out now.

The wealth of gear that spills out of RSE Outfitters’ Advanced Survival Kit is nearly immeasurable, and almost all of it (aside from the pack itself and a couple of other things) is made in the USA because, according to RSE Outfitters, “we feel that USA manufacturing companies too readily look to have their products made in China just to save some money rather than choosing to support our own economy. We also feel that the Chinese government has a track record of disregarding the personal health and safety of both human and animal alike in the name of producing cheap products.”

The bag itself is a well-built Vulture II from Maxpedition, with 2,100 cubic inches of carrying capacity, three huge compartments and a space to accommodate up to a three-liter reservoir. The outside has 10 rows of webbing, Y-compression strap on the top and a sturdy grab handle. The foliage green fabric is 1000-Denier, water-resistand ballistic nylon coated with Teflon.

Overall, the pack isn’t light, but most of the heft comes from the 16 4.2-ounce water pouches included in the Advanced kit; this makes up nearly five pounds of weight. Not enough water? Don’t worry, in the side pocket is a Nalgene wide-mouth water bottle and 50 purifying tablets. Still not enough? Okay, there’s also an Aquamira Frontier Pro water filter system that can purify 50 gallons of water. To eat are nine energy bars from New Millennium; with 400 calories each, they come in a variety of flavors.

A tangled host of straps keep this pack securely to your back with a sternum strap and waist strap. All of which are adjustable to fit nearly any-sized individual. The main straps are contoured, and the back is padded and breathable.

Warmth comes via an all-weather “space” blanket with highly-visible orange on one side and reflective silver on the other. In addition, six hand warmers and a 35-inch “jumbo” bandana. Don’t like pink? Try getting a helicopter’s attention with an olive drab one. A two-mil-thick plastic drop cloth is included, and although it has a variety of uses, we would have liked to have seen a sturdy tarp instead; at two-mils, it isn’t durable enough to make an emergency shelter, and plus, once you put a hole in it (to attach any tie-down lines—for example the 100 feet of included paracord), it will rip very easily.

The Mora Bushcraft survival knife is made from carbon steel with an anti-rust coating. It comes with a plastic friction sheath and two different belt clips. The ferro rod clips onto the side of the sheath and has an integrated diamond sharpener on the side. For smaller cutting needs, a Leatherman Wave is included, featuring 17 different functions from a can opener and several screwdrivers to a wire stripper and saw. It fits perfectly in one of the backpack’s interior pouches.

A tangled host of straps keep this pack securely to your back with a sternum strap and waist strap. All of which are adjustable to fit nearly any-sized individual. The main straps are contoured, and the back is padded and breathable.

There are a couple of different light sources. The three 12-hour chemical light sticks will work in a pinch and emit a green glow. However, a mini Maglite with an LED bulb (batteries included) will produce 87 lumens and provide five hours of continuous use. There is a Princeton Tec Quad Tactical MPLS headlamp with four LEDs for 60 lumens of light and three colors of filters (blue, green and red). The LED bulbs will last 110 hours, and the housing can be mounted in a variety of ways.

Redundancy is great when it comes to methods to start a fire. The kit includes 25 wind-proof matches, a Bic lighter, a striker pad, eight tinder clubs from WetFire and a piece of wood that can tinder can be carved from. All if it fits snugly in a waterproof case that, no matter what happens, at least your ability to make a fire will stay dry when you need it.

Fire starting from many different methods is available: matches, lighter (ferro rod on the knife, magnifying glass in the first aid kit), all kept neat and dry in a waterproof box.

Some personal protection items include three pairs of earplugs, three N95 dust masks and two rolls of toilet paper. Though the toilet paper does have a host of uses besides the obvious, perhaps two rolls is a bit much. The space the extra roll takes up could be used for other things. If you run out, you’ve probably had a really bad three days but find some soft Mullein leaves instead.

The first aid kit is basic, with some sterile pads, antibiotics, sanitizers, and some easily found headache and antidiarrheal pills (another reason you might not need so much toilet paper). What’s was unexpected was the magnifying glass. There are lots of reasons to have one in a first aid kit, and it might just help in starting a fire too.

Overall, this is a great emergency kit made with this country’s finest equipment. Not only are you supporting American businesses, but you’re adding to this country’s economy when you keep your dollars within the borders. Inside the pack, there is plenty of room left to add your personal items, such as additional toiletries, extra clothes, or specialized medicines.

A lot of thought and care went into the assembly of this emergency kit, from the well constructed backpack all the way down to the small magnifying glass in the first aid kit.

What’s Included

What’s Included

Maxpedition Vulture II Backpack in Foliage Green

Maxpedition® padded bottle holder in Foliage Green

9 energy food bars, 400 calories each, multiple flavors

16 emergency drinking water pouches, 4.2 ounces each

Nalgene wide mouth water bottle

Bottle water treatment tablets

Aquamira Frontier Pro water filter straw

100 feet 550 Parachute cord

Emergency multilayer blanket

9×12 2mil polyvinyl sheet

3 pairs of hand warmers, 6 total

RSE Outfitters first aid kit

3 N95 dust masks

Jumbo 35-inch bandanna

3 12-hour chemical light sticks

Maglite LED flashlight

Princeton Tec head lamp

Leatherman Wave multi tool

Mora Bushcraft survival knife pack

Rite in the Rain note pad w/all weather pen

Gorilla® Tape To Go roll

3 pairs of ear plugs

25 wind-proof matches

8 tinder cubes

Steel carabineer

2 rolls of toilet paper

RSE Outfitters emergency contact card

9×6 LokSak dry document pouch



Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the March 2015 print issue of American Survival Guide.