I believe in free thinking in all aspects of my life and survival is no different. I often hear people in the survival community discuss various aspects of priorities during a survival situation, the proper way to perform a specific task, and even what type of equipment you must carry. I don’t believe this is necessarily a bad thing, as long as it doesn’t prevent people from thinking outside of the box, or hamper their ability to think for themselves when a situation changes. Inflexibility, especially under stress, can thwart logical and reasonable judgment.

It is also my feeling that the ability to think for one’s self is an essential trait. Of course, as a lifelong student of survival, I continually learn and seek out new methods to enhance my skill level. But I don’t automatically buy-in to everything I see or hear. I don’t blindly follow “gurus” that think their way is the best. I investigate, test things for myself, and make decisions based on my abilities, and what works best for me, not others.

I thought I might provide some examples of my thought process in regard to free thinking as it relates to survival. Of course, there are more than I address here, but this should illustrate my point that you should do your own thinking when it comes to survival.

The first would be Shelter vs. Fire in regard to a survival priority. I seem to see this often become an argument when discussed. There is the school that believes that the first priority is always shelter, and others who believe fire is a priority. Without knowing or understanding the situation at hand, how can anyone predetermine what action to take? Why would one lock themselves into a course of action before they know the specific circumstances at hand?

In a survival situation you must make decisions based on the details at hand. How could anybody state that shelter always comes first? If I am lost, and the weather is warm, but it looks like it might rain, then shelter would be a priority. If you are out in the sun, then putting up a tarp could protect you from it. Prevent getting wet and hypothermia or hyperthermia. But if you are in the north country and you fall through the ice, a shelter would be a secondary priority over fire. If not, you die. Get a fire going, warm yourself, dry your clothes, then build a shelter. Sometime even shelter or fire is not a priority, it just might be water, or it might even be to stop the bleeding. You can’t follow strict rules in regard to survival. Again, you must think, analyze, and do what is appropriate for the situation at hand.

ShelterVsFire.ForSiteAlthough building a shelter might often be a first priority, it might also be fire, water, or stopping the bleeding.

The ultimate survival knife is another topic I often hear. What is the best survival knife? In my opinion it is the one that works for you and performs the tasks you need to accomplish. Sometimes that can be any knife that you have with you. Of course there are particular characteristics that I prefer, but those are my personal preferences, and may differ greatly from others.

I like a full tang knife that has a blade about as wide as my hand, about four inches. I prefer a drop point convex grind, but I could certainly live with a Scandi, or other type grind. I don’t like serrations on my full tang knife, especially in my sweet spot. I like Swiss Army knives as a backup, but not as a primary as they are folders. There are many different styles, shapes, configurations, stainless vs. carbon steel, and the bottom line is that you should try many different ones and choose the one that works for you, not somebody else.

SurvivalKnife.ForSiteThe best survival knife is the one that works for you, not somebody else.

Fire starting is another controversial subject. What is the best way to start a fire and what should you carry with you to start a fire. Some people think that you must, or should carry a ferrocerium rod. I carry one and I am also well practiced with it, as well as preparing tinder. But in a real survival situation, where fire must be accomplished immediately, I would prefer the Thumb Drill, better known as a lighter, or even wind and waterproof matches. I have heard some say matches are not necessary but they make fire now, not later. Even a road flare will work in an emergency.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with a ferrocerium rod, but you must be practiced and have tinder that can be ignited with a spark. Not something that is always readily available. In regard to striking a ferrocerium rod, there is not a right or wrong way in my opinion. I like to pull the rod holding the striker stationary so the rod does not hit my tinder pile. But some like to slide the striker down the rod or even just flip small sparks off the end. Some like a softer rod that provides gobs of molten magnesium and others like a harder rod with many hot sparks. And nobody is right, and nobody is wrong. If it works for you, it works. Don’t ever be convinced that somebody else’s way is best. Do your homework and you will determine for yourself the best technique for you.

LighterInHand.ForSiteThe Thumb Drill (Lighter) is a very effective fire starter when you need fire now.

Another question I often seen asked is what would you rather have, a map or a compass. I have seen some real arguments over this and I always laugh. Personally I would prefer to have both a map and a compass. But some people can’t use either so it would be a moot point for them.

A map can be very handy, especially if you are in an area where you can see land features. Using terrain association you should be able to navigate rather well. However, if you are deep in a forest or jungle, and can’t see anything, it would be more difficult to determine where you were, or are going. A compass can keep you on a straight line, and keep you from walking in circles. But if you don’t know where that straight line leads, you won’t know where you are going. Together, a map and compass will allow you to navigate even in dense foliage.

But what if you have neither. You will need to use more primitive methods and for those you must be practiced, just like with a map and compass. Can you navigate by the stars, by using the sun, utilizing know base lines or handrails, or dead reckoning? Keep in mind, that sometimes it might be better if you just stay put and wait for rescue.

CompassOnMap.ForSiteA map and compass together provides the best option for navigation, but only if you know how to use them.

Have you ever been told that you are carrying the wrong type of gear? That this type of “fill in the blank” is better than what you are using? I am of the opinion that the best gear is that which you personally have chosen and again, it works for you. There is no best pack, pot, stove, or any other type of gear. It is all personal preference and nobody is wrong. I personally like titanium pots and have been using them for over twenty years. But I can also use a coffee can just as well to cook or boil water. I try not to get tied down what other people use or do. My pack is one that I chose and is normally modified for my purposes. I look, I experiment, and sometimes make changes. But those changes are based on my needs and wants, not anybody else’s.

CoffeeCan.ForSiteWhether it is a coffee can, or a stainless or titanium pot, it will still boil water.

Last, but not least, I will address batoning. This is a subject that often causes great disagreement, bickering, and argument, and for the life of me I can’t figure it out. You, as always, should do what you feel comfortable with. If you want to baton with a knife that you bought, and are willing to use for the task at hand, then why are you wrong? Yes it can break if used wrong. But it is your knife. I always do what works for me and I don’t listen to others when it comes to my gear or my skill set. If you don’t believe in batoning, then don’t. If you do, then do so. It’s that easy.

Batoning.ForSiteIf you don’t believe in batoning, don’t do it. If you do, then go for it.

I suppose that I could go on, but I am hopeful that you have gotten my point. I highly recommend that you learn from everyone. But resist following just one person, technique, or style. Learn, practice, experiment, and become a Free Thinker when it comes to your survival!

Copyright © 2016 by John D. McCann

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  1. John,

    First I would like to thank you for writing this article. I could not agree with you more. I have been in the survival community since before it was cool :) I am no one of note I have not done anything remarkable, I just share knowledge and try to help my family and other students learn valuable skills to save their butts should they need to. I read, study and follow many “Survival Guru’s” you included.

    That said, I do not believe any one way works for everyone. Personal Safety, Everyday Carry, & Practical Preparedness is as personal to a person as where they choose to live and where they sent their children to school.

    Certain types of gear works great in some areas, while it might not work the best in another area. Some gear work well for folks at a certain skill level, where it might not be the best fit for someone at a lower skill level, but as their skill increase it might then be a good fit later. In short it is personal and a moving target to find what works best for you, Like John is saying, it is up to each of us to study, teach and learn what works best for us and allow other the information they need to make that decision for themselves. Thank you John for all you do in the Survival Community.

    Thank you,

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