Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Useful Tools (Z Kit)

If you have been building your Z Kit along with this series, take heart in the fact that it is nearly complete! And if you are sick and tired of this series, rejoice that it is nearly over! Only two categories remain for discussion, and today we shall cover "Useful tools."

Most of what goes under this category is what you'd find in a camping store. The rules for these are simple:
  1. Lightweight
  2. Slim/small form factor
  3. Effective/durable
  4. Inexpensive without being cheap
  5. Preferably multi-function
This last point is important, because a good multi-function tool by its very nature encompasses numbers one and two due to a high use-to-mass ration. A bad multi-tool is usually ineffective and cheap, despite also being light and small. Be wary of what you buy and test everything as if your life depended on it.

Here is an excellent example from my own experience. In earlier posts I had mentioned that I was worried the Emergency Pro 4-in-1 was a little too fragile for my purposes. Some basic testing proved this to be the case (not at all water-resistant, easily breakable plastic shell) so I re-thought my priorities, went shopping, and ended up with the Eton Microlink FR150:

Larger than a cigarette pack and smaller than a paperback book, the FR150 is definitely small and lightweight. It also feels very durable, as it is covered with a black rubberized coating. I wouldn't call it waterproof, but it's definitely safe to take out into the rain. There is even a water/dust cover for the headphone jack and recharging outlets.

The flashlight is very bright and has better range than I expected from an LED. The two features I like most, though, are the solar panel on top (laziness for the win!) and ability for the radio to pick up Weather Band. Since I live in a state regularly beset by hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires, this is very very useful for any sort of bug-out scenario.

The FR150 does have two drawbacks however, minor though they are. First, its blocky nature makes it kind of awkward to hold as a flashlight (though the attached wrist strap helps with this because I don't have to grip it so much as just carry it). The second is that it doesn't come with a cell-phone adapter; you have to send in a card specifying what kind of phone you have and they'll send you the right adapter. I was fortunate in that I could use the adapters that came with the Emergency Pro, so no worries for me.

Let's review:
  1. Lightweight: YES
  2. Slim/small form factor: YES
  3. Effective/durable: YES. This has the American Red Cross seal of approval.
  4. Inexpensive without being cheap: YES. You can buy them for $24.99 from Thinkgeek.
  5. Preferably multi-function: YES
With these rules in mind, let's go over some other tools you will find useful.

Compass: Some people/places will try to sell you on a Lensatic compass with a bevel this and azimuth that, but unless you're in the army, all you need from a compass is that it tells you where North is and that it's easy to read and follow. Everything else is useless weight. (However, you need a map of some kind to go with it or it's all but useless. I have a roadmap of the entire East Coast in my kit.) My compass has a magnifying glass over the lens and a built-in light which illuminates the dial. I also have one that's built into a zipper pull along with a thermometer. To that I have tied a...

Whistle: Excellent for signalling distress or getting a taxi. Also, it's easier to blow a whistle than shout. Make sure you get one that's Coast Guard approved, like a Fox 40. If it's really good it will be sold in a bundle with a...

Signal Mirror: Make sure you get one that says Star Flash, because they're aimable, they float, and they're damn hard to break. If you aren't using this to signal for help, it can help with basic grooming or very rudimentary cooking/fire-starting.

Wire Saw: Again, don't get the cheap imported crap. Get one that's NATO approved, like the BCB Commando saw. You can use it as a wrap-around saw, or tie it to a frame and make a bowsaw. It also makes a pretty nifty industrial-goth necklace when tied together (no kidding, I've worn this to clubs and it makes quite an impression. Just make sure there's some protection for your neck.)

Folding Trowel: You won't be digging any trenches with this, but it's great for digging up roots, bait worms, or even an emergency latrine. It's also tiny when folded (about the size of my hand.)

Leatherman: Forget the Swiss Army Knife, this is the serious multi-tool handymen swear by. There are dozens of colors, sizes, styles, and configurations. When you're picking out yours, don't think too hard on the comparison that this is what women think of when they're shopping for shoes.

Knife sharpeners: You need to keep your blades honed, after all. I prefer Smith's Sharpeners -- a Two Step for my regular knives (it's small and idiot-proof) and an Edge  Eater for my kukri machete.

And finally, don't forget 50 to 100 feet of 550 paracord. Light, strong, and you can cut it apart and separate the strands for smaller jobs (fishing lines, shoelaces, etc.)

Have I forgotten something? Probably. Leave a comment and let me know!

EDIT: Of course I forgot something. You'll need something to whack other things with, and a prybar of some kind. An 8 ounce stubby claw hammer solves both of those problems, though if you have a gas valve at home the On Duty 4-in-1 Emergency Shutoff Tool might be a better choice.

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