Dirt Time - PSK

I just want to share an experience that I have had while trying out my personal survival kit (PSK). I will share a little info on my experience.


I do not recommend for anyone to attempt this if you haven't received training.

For those of you that aren't familiar with PSK's, they are small portable kits that someone can carry with them at all times including in the city.

These are not fully equipped wilderness survival kits with whatever bells and whistles you can think of to put in the kit.

A PSK can cover the elements of survival, but in a minimalist sort of way given space constraints. The kit can be whatever size you want, but must be small enough if you are to carry it everywhere you go. At the time I personally had a small pouch that went on my belt, and I would have other things on my person as well at all times including a paracord bracelet.

In the photo above there is a paracord bracelet I used, yellow birch I picked for tinder, a working area to process wood and a shelter with reflector I built.

Remember that carrying less means that you need to know more.

For the winter I added an extra survival blanket by putting it in my winter coat pocket. My pouch contains the minimum that I need, but I added other things in the event there was a need for them. It depends on the circumstances.

You can alter your kit when you feel that you need to, but remember that you cannot prepare for literally all possible emergencies. Do your best, and to have a small kit on you can help you through a lot of things. How and where you organize your kit is up to you. For the trial here I used a portion of my kit only, not all.

For example I didn't use my whistle or duct tape. I used what was in my pouch, the extra survival blanket and my paracord bracelet only. You may build your own kit or purchase a commercially pre-made kit. I recommend that you make your own.

On December 10th - 11th 2010, I went out in the woods (privately owned land and with permission) to simulate an emergency where I needed to spend the night in the woods with only a PSK. The agreement was that I don't cut any trees down, so I didn't. In an actual emergency I would have cut down whatever trees that I needed in order to save on time and energy.

A lot snow had already fallen in the days preceeding the day chosen, so the ground was covered with several inches of snow. This made finding dead wood more difficult, but I managed. Some of the wood was dry for what was above ground, but much of it was of course humid due to being buried in the snow. This in turn made it more challenging when it came to the fire I needed to keep me warm at night.

I used an emergency survival blanket called Heatsheets made by Adventure Medical Kits, their 1 or 2 person size they call it. It measures 96” x 60”.

I had another one that I put in my winter coat as an extra blanket with me. It was their one person size blanket, and I used it to help keep me warm at times. I'll replace it with the larger one.

Survival blankets have many uses, one of them is to make a shelter. I had tasks to perform such as choosing a shelter site as well as its orientation to the wind, as well as collect wood for the bed frame, reflector, shelter and fire. I used snow as a part of my shelter as well.

The photo shows a partially constructed reflector and shelter. There are other possibilities when it comes to a reflector. I chose this one for my own practice. This reflector can be used in a multi-day emergency. I constructed it with a small roof (not all the way) to capture some heat. I used the roof to dry up my gloves enough to get rid of the frost on them. I'd placed wood over it as well for it to dry.

Just a note here, if you don't have the time to get everything done, do the minimum you need in order to be safe. Do the rest the next day or according as circumstances will permit.

As I was going about fetching wood I noticed yellow birch (also know as curly birch) betula alleghaniensis for the scientific name. I collected some for tinder. This is something that you should always do when out and about in a survival situation. If you see good tinder, grab some!

I just want to make a note about orienting the shelter as I'd mentioned above. I'd checked the weather in the days preceeding the day I was to go out, to see what they were predicting for the weather to be as well as wind direction. I'd noticed that the wind is now coming from a more southerly direction, instead of northerly. I also checked on the day I was leaving to see whatever changes there may have been. Checking the weather before heading out is a good thing to do.

I used my paracord bracelet for cordage and it came in handy for many things. I gutted the cord when necessary.

Don't use the full cord (outer sheath with 7 inner strands) for simple non-demanding tasks for doing so would be a waste of material, particularly when you are limited in the amount of cordage you have at your disposal.

My boot laces were paracord, but I didn't need to use any of it. It is good however that it is there should the occasion arise. Use your best judgment.

In the photo you see the reflector, fire and shelter. I would have preferred a fire about three and a half feet long, but settled for the one in the photo given the circumstances.

You'll notice in the top photo (bottom left) a tree that is in-between two standing trees. I broke (cut) the wood that I needed using a technique where you snap the longer pieces of wood in-between trees. I had a quality wire saw with me but for my purposes it didn't work that well. The wood being frozen as well as perhaps the density of the fibers on the wood I was sawing combined made it extremely difficult for the saw. I only wanted to saw about halfway through, then break it. Your wire saw will last longer by doing so.

I had to fall back on the above-mentioned technique in order to have wood for my shelter, reflector and fire. This alone if you don't know what to do to replace a saw or a knife could get you into trouble under the right circumstances.

The only blade I had with me as part of my PSK was the one in the Leatherman Micra Multi Tool. The blade is worthless for any wood cutting.

Remember what I said above, that this is a small portable kit. Actually, I remember that in my wallet I have a small credit card sized survival tool, but that as well is worthless for wood cutting.

In this photo I used an oven bag with snow in it. I melted the snow to get some water. You can't rush or you'll burn the bag and lose the water.

I did bring along a good knife and a few other things in the event things got a little out of control, but didn't use them. I needed to make it through the scenario without the extras.

This was a trial of my PSK, not with a kit equipped with a solid fixed blade and so forth. A PSK is a minor, last ditch kit. It isn't designed to get you through several days, though you potentially can.

I used one of two oven bags in my little kit to place snow in it, and melt it by the fire so that I could have some water to drink. It worked. I did this in the wee hours of the morning.

Given the humidity in the wood, I had to fight throughout the night to keep a fire going. At times the fire would go out, leaving a bed of coals. I'd get it going again by blowing on it and placing a little tinder on it to re-ignite it.

I also placed wood in a tee-pee style over the fire when it was going in order to dry that wood out as much as possible, then place it in the fire when the time was right. I also leaned longer sticks against the top of my reflector to dry the wood out for the same reasons. It was a solution that helped out.

No fire would have left me in a precarious situation. Walking around all night or doing some other kind of exercise to generate body heat would have been a solution, but not desirable to say the least. Fire is one of the elements of survival and for good reasons.

It was a very long night for a couple of reasons, with approximately 15 hours of nighttime this time of year. I was still able to see somewhat outside without a headlamp, even though I had and used one (Petzl e+Lite) for work and at other times as well. I believe it is because of a cities lights in the distance (light pollution). The moon was partially or totally obscured, so it wasn't that. The sky was overcast that I could notice and it snowed during the night.

The primary danger I had to face was hypothermia. The psychology of survival came into play for me as well in this scenario.

There is a lot more that could be written here, but I wanted to keep it simple for this article. I hope that this little article helps you out. It was a difficult and challenging experience, but rewarding for me as well.

I'd went back about a month later to put in more dirt time. Have a look here for more info.


I used my Leatherman Micra to cut my paracord bracelet.
A view of my shelter and reflector from this angle. I had used the snow to shore up the sides of the shelter to prevent wind form blowing through.
A view of my shelter and reflector from another angle. The fire was terrible to deal with given the land use restrictions I had.
I used Adventure Medical Kits Heatsheets that night. One for the roof, and the other I used at some point to reflector heat from the fire onto me.

Although this was in 2010, I have recently written to them (November 2015) to ask if they would consider making the product in a larger size.

Currently their 1-2 person blanket is at 96" x 60" and I ultimately suggested two sizes, 96" x 78" and 96" x 96".

The representative from the company had gotten back to me and said he would pass it on to the appropriate people for review.

If you are using this product perhaps you can consider writing to them as well. This way they will see a demand for new sizes.

This is a product that I have recommended to people and would do so again. Of course if you need something else they have other products as well.

This company is well spoken of from what I have seen. I am not an affiliate so I make no money here, but my site is about giving information that can help people prepare for emergencies and to make kits to deal with them.