Proper Preparation Over Improvisation

Proper Preparation Over Improvisation

In the two books and many articles that I have written, I think it is very clear that I am a huge advocate of multipurpose gear. It doesn’t matter whether you are planning for an emergency, a survival situation, or just an outdoor adventure, I am a fan of gear that is versatile. There are two reasons for this. 

The first reason is that it is a space saver. There is limited room in emergency kits and packs, so sometimes we must be clever in what we pack to have what we need. The second reason is that it reduces weight. If we had every item in its ideal form that we wanted, kits and packs would be much heavier. 

However, a problem arises when people confuse having the proper gear or versatile gear with methods of improvisation. The modern term for improvisation is “hacks.” Now, there are different ways that a person can interpret this term because I have seen it used in two different ways. 

What is a Hack?

I have heard people use the term "hack" in place of a tip or piece of advice. These tips or pieces of advice are usually acceptable ways of accomplishing a task, but the person has simply inserted the popular keyword hack. 

The second and most common way I have heard the term "hack" is to display a “new” and uncommon way of using a tool or accomplishing a task.



The Problem With Hacks 

I don’t have a problem with the first definition of a hack because the tool or method that is used is usually acceptable. There is just some wordplay going on. 

I do have a problem with the second definition because while the hack may work, it is usually illogical, or worse, it promotes the use of inferior tools or supplies. 



How This Relates to Preparedness and Survival

In an emergency or survival situation, knowing how to think outside the box or improvise is a great trait to have. This leads to adaptation, and being able to adapt to a situation as it unfolds will improve your odds of getting through the experience. 

Improvising out of necessity during a survival situation is okay. Changing out gear and preparing beforehand based on some of these hacks is not okay. Below are a few examples to better illustrate what I am talking about. 



Crayons as an Emergency Light Source 

This one was making the rounds about a year or two ago. There is quite a bit of wax in a coloring crayon, so it makes sense that once lit, it will burn like a candle and it can act as an emergency source of light. But a crayon is not a candle. It will not be as easy to relight; it will make a mess, it will not burn as efficiently, they are difficult to keep upright, and crayons break easily.

If you have little ones, then by all means, go ahead and pack some crayons so that they have something to do. For emergency light sources, pack candles or a flashlight.

Dryer Lint As A Fire Starting Aid 

I will be the first to admit that I will sound like a bit of a hypocrite on this one because I have promoted using dryer lint as a fire-starting aid, and I still do. Dryer lint is cheap, and it takes a flame or a spark extremely easily.

Dryer lint has a big downfall, though. Once it gets wet, it is worthless until it is completely dried out. This is why I carry other fire-starting aids in my fire kits, such as fatwood or Quickfire. These items are less susceptible to moisture and will continue to work when it is raining out or even if they become wet. Making fire in a survival situation is so important that our ability to do so shouldn’t be limited to having only one source of tinder, especially one with such a large limitation.



Knife Batoning

This is another “hack” that gained notoriety in modern times, and every time I have seen it done incorrectly. Here is how to properly split wood with a knife using the baton method. 

You don’t. 

Knives are cutting tools, not splitting tools. Using a knife to split wood damages the cutting edge and increases the chances of damaging the tip or breaking the blade. A knife should only be used in this manner if there is no other option. Pack a knife for cutting tasks and a chopper for splitting tasks. 

Final Thoughts

Let me be clear in wrapping all this up. Being able to improvise and adapt is a good thing. Knowing about hacks or different ways in which tools can be used is also a good thing. That information should be stored in your mental toolbox for times when you have no other option.

Do not actively prepare your kits and packs with hacks and improvisation methods from the get-go because they are not the best methods and some can be downright unsafe. As Craig Caudill over at Nature Reliance Schools says, “Facts over hacks.”

Thanks for reading and stay prepared so that you don’t have to use hacks. Let us know your thoughts on this topic by leaving a comment below.




Bryan grew up in the Midwest and spent every waking moment outdoors. Learning how to hunt, fish, read the land, and be self-reliant was part of everyday life. Eventually, he combined his passions for the outdoors, emergency preparedness, and writing. Bryan is a published author with Fox Chapel Publishing. In 2019, Bryan authored the book, Swiss Army Knife Camping and Outdoor Survival Guide. In March 2021, he released his second book, Paracord Projects For Camping and Outdoor Survival.

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