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A crash course in survival gear from a Delta Force legend

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(US Army Photo by Sgt. David William McLean, 22nd MPAD)

Here’s a seemingly unfair question to ask: “If you’re only allowed to carry along one single piece of survival gear with you into a survival situation what would that piece be?” 


I agree, it’s not fair. What’s more is it isn’t a realistic question to ask. It would be great to have parameters added–at a minimum whether it is a warm or cold weather survival environment. Cold weather makes me think of a means to burrow, as with a shovel; hot weather makes me favor cutting/chopping as with a knife or hatchet. 

Doesn’t that make this sort of combination multi-function implement seem ideal? 

Related: 4 survival books that inform, entertain, and maybe terrify

It sure seems ideal to me, but it seems to be gaming my fundamental question of what one piece of survival gear I choose. It is a combination multi-function tool that solves several key survival problems. Sure, multi-function tools are not quite as good as a stand-alone dedicated tool of singular function — an axe, a shovel, a sheath knife — but they do a pretty decent job nonetheless! 

Shelter in cold weather where snow is a challenge calls for burrowing and digging as a means to establish shelter; shelter equates to the necessary warmth to stay alive. Shelter in temperate climates calls more for chopping and cutting rather than burrowing to establish shelter. 

My equation for the cyclic priority of effort in a survival situation can be represented as follows: 

1.) Shelter: Shelter is the basis for your existence in a survival situation. It is a base of operations that provides you peace of mind, a place to recuperate and refit for excursions, a place to rest, and storage for sustenance. 

* Man creates shelter; shelter supports fire

2.) Fire: it’s important to have shelter to contain and support your fire. Fire is needed for personal warmth, to purify wild water by boiling, and to cook food that is of danger in raw form. 

* Man creates shelter; shelter supports fire; fire supports life 

3.) Water: there is no gadget that is going to get you water. You either find it or you collect it. A water treatment chemical could be critical, but filtering and boiling can substitute for the chemical. You have to find and treat water with fire. 

* Man creates shelter; shelter supports fire; fire supports water; water supports life 

4.) Food: Food is like water; you either find and procure it or you don’t. When you find it you likely have to treat it with water to clean it and fire to cook it. 

survival gear
One of the most famous survivalists in modern history, Jeremiah Johnson, whose character here is played by Robert Redford (Sanford Productions/ Warner Bros.)

Related: Learn how to live off the grid from this legendary Navy vet

In short, the equation for the cyclic priority of effort in a survival situation can be represented as follows: 

Man creates shelter, shelter supports fire, fire supports water, water supports food, food supports man, man creates shelter… etc. 

From my survival equation we can glean that the mentioned combination, multi-function tools contribute immensely to the provision of the top two of the four pillars of survival — shelter and fire. The tool doesn’t promise either, but with sincere effort it offers the distinct prospect of both. 

In the Army, I was keen of GP this and GP that; those General Purpose items that the Army recognized as having merit in many areas, to the extent that they did not want to assign any one specialty use to the item, lest they stifle the creative recognition in Soldiers. The GP Net was one thing that lands in that category.

U.S. Army-issued General Purpose net, one each, nylon, OD green in color– underrated piece of survival gear!

Yes, the U.S. Army-issued General Purpose Net, one each, nylon, OD green in color, was a true force with which to be reckoned! As versatility goes, this piece of survival gear has the X-factor — soldiers to this day are still not finished inventing new uses for it. The principal uses that I have had great success with are as follows: 

Camouflage: I absolutely used this for camouflage on countless occasions. I spent several days and nights straight living under this net, low to the ground, with vegetation strewn on the top. That time was on the side of a hill in South Korea, watching an intersection and counting the number and direction of military vehicles moving along the Main Supply Routes (MSR). That data was reported back on the hour to a tactical headquarters. 

Catch Fish: In a survival situation, I caught the heck out of a few fish with my trusty GP net. I wasn’t stuffed, but I wasn’t starving, either (thanks to the versatility of the kit). 

Hammock: This, I’ll say, is my most frequent and enjoyable use of my net. I slept countless nights in my net strung between two trees and serving as a hammock. In a jungle environment, it is hardly acceptable to sleep on the ground due to the dangerous fauna. Elevation about three to four feet high in a hammock was a spectacular solution. 

Carry/Haul Cargo: Splendid for bundling up and carrying miscellaneous items. 

Shade: I’m perhaps gaming it a bit with this one, but the use in camouflage mode also provides some essential shade in rigorous conditions. Shade is environmental therapy–to say it is shelter is an almost shameless stretch. 

Which of my four pillars of survival does the net provide for? 

Shelter: Not a comprehensive solution for the need for shelter, but the contribution is certainly there. 

Fire: Perhaps — the net can be used to collect a healthy bundle of firewood for sure. 

Water: Perhaps — there may be some creative use for it in the realm of water storage. 

Food: Yes. 

To cheat right a little bit and wax from the purely “guy” aspect, I recognize the value and appreciation I have for my modest collection of functional cutlery. Most of my knives are fighting and utility blades. I keep a Sensei James Williams Osoraku Zukuri folder with a 3.5” blade with me at all times (to include this very moment). 

survival gear
(Sensei James Williams Osoraku Zukuri folder with 3.5” blade)

Related: The top 5 American military fighting knives

The most appreciated knife I have for several reasons is this hand-forged piece by the SandBoxx News Editor-in-Chief Alexander “A-Blast” Hollings, recognized for its original hand craftsmanship, gracious presentation, and sheer generosity of Messerschmidt

survival gear
(My highly-prized Alex “A-Blast” H. hand-made camp blade)

My pick for my favorite piece of survival gear, my GP net, is based on versatility, robust composition, and frequency of use. The all-important question still remains: Do I still have one even to this very day? Oh, you bet yer a$$ I still do, friends! 

By Almighty God and with honor, geo sends 

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This article was originally published 6/17/2020

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George Hand

Master Sergeant US Army (ret) from the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. In service, he maintained a high level of proficiency in 6 foreign languages. Post military, George worked as a subcontracter for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on the nuclear test site north of Las Vegas Nevada for 16 years. Currently, George works as an Intelligence Analyst and street operative in the fight against human trafficking. A master cabinet-grade woodworker and master photographer, George is a man of diverse interests and broad talents.