Why I Always Carry Survival Gear 2


Well-known member
Mar 9, 2017
Central Montana
Ode to the Canteen Cup

Enough people showed interest in my story about recently spending an unanticipated night on the mountain while out hunting that I thought I would talk about the first time such a thing happened to me. Of the survival gear I carry in the mountains, this time it was the simple old canteen cup that really saved my butt.

At first glance, a canteen cup might seem like an unnecessary accessory, but it is designed to nest compactly with the canteen I carry, taking up virtually no space and not adding much weight, and the thing can actually come in handy in quite a few ways.

One simple little thing that I’ve found in the mountains, especially up high, is that the water sources you find may be little more than a tiny trickle, certainly nothing you could submerge a water bottle or canteen in. Here, the canteen cup makes the job of gathering water from these small sources much easier, as you can dip the wide mouth into only an inch or two of water, or tuck it up against the rocks to capture a tiny rivulet running down them.
Fill 'er up.

You can also melt snow, warm liquids, boil water or even cook simple meals in a canteen cup as well. This is why I prefer the old school M-1910 World War-style cup which has a long, single folding handle that allows you to safely pick up the cup from a fire or other heat source without burning your hand.

The canteen cup is hardly perfect. The metal rim, especially on the aluminum cups, can get hot enough to burn your lips while having your morning coffee if you’re not careful. Otherwise, it’s a KISS simple piece of gear designed for hard use in the field.

One nice non-USGI accessory I added is the inexpensive Rotcho stainless steel canteen cup lid which is designed to snugly fit the top of the cup and has a small, folding wire bail for handling on top. Especially at high altitudes, a cover allows you to heat the contents of the cup to a boil a good deal quicker and easier than you can without a lid.

For stirring, cooking and eating I also carry an old metal spoon. My thoughtful wife once got me a nice thick plastic survival spork, which I managed to break the first time I used it. So I went back to my old spoon since even I have some difficulty breaking metal utensils.
The sum total of my cooking gear for over-nighters or longer solo trips. The Swiss Army surplus M72 "Emergency Cooker" is essentially a gussied up can of Sterno and the gel fuel makes a great fire-starter.

There are other uses for a canteen cup in survival situations. I’ve used mine to scoop up snow to throw into the body cavity of a field-dressed big game animal to cool it down and clean it out. You could probably even do a little digging with one in soft soil if you had to. Mine even came in handy for helping dry out my boots during my latest unintended over-nighter.

The other occasion in which all the survival gear I carry…especially the canteen cup…came in handy was the first time I spent an unplanned night on the mountain. It was an almost impossibly nice Indian Summer day in September some years ago and I was hiking a high ridgetop glassing for black bear. When I did finally glass a nice fat one feeding on snowberries on a distant hillside, it was still only mid-afternoon so I didn’t really give much thought as to how far away the bear really was.

Everything went fine up until I actually got the bear. He wound up expiring on a west-facing slope with the full force of the afternoon sun beating down on it. I said it was an impossibly nice day for September since the forecast had called for a high of near 80 degrees. I stripped down to just my T-shirt and lightweight orange vest to field dress and skin the bear.

While skinning, it was my intention to cut off the feet and head intact with the skin so the taxidermist could do them up right for a rug mount. When I got to that first leg, I discovered that I had no bone saw. The saw had come in a cheap nylon case which I had attached to my belt and somewhere during my journey the belt loop had torn off and the saw and case went with it.

Undeterred, I whipped out my Leatherman. About the time I started to unfold the saw blade is when I remembered I had broken it awhile back. Yup, I found myself armed with a broken saw blade stub considerably less than two inches in length. So an already arduous skinning job became even more physically demanding and time-consuming.

By the time I was done, I was utterly parched, soaked with perspiration and well baked in the afternoon sun. I had long since consumed the two quarts of water in my canteens. So, after washing up the best I could in the tiny stream at the bottom of the draw, I broke out my water filter. My wife had gotten me a very nice (and not exactly inexpensive) Katadyn Mini backpacker’s water filter. It was indeed compact and lightweight and I had tested it a couple of times previously. On this occasion, however, it failed to work at all, even after I disassembled it completely and tried to wash everything out.

“Oh heck.” I said. “Darn. Poo-poo ca-ca.” Or words to that effect.

This was kind of a big deal since I knew I was sliding rapidly towards dehydration. Up high in the wilderness I can often find springs that are safe to drink from directly, but this particular area was lower down and part of a very well-used grazing allotment. Every stream, rivulet, trickle and spring was well plastered with cow pies and thus virtually guaranteed to be contaminated with giardia. Already dehydrated, the last thing I needed was to start losing more moisture out the other end. When the giardia takes hold, your bowels start to gurgle ominously and the next thing you know you can, as a friend of mine once put it, “Crap through a screen door at ten paces.”

I pulled the carcass down the hillside to the small creek and cooled it off the best I could before dragging it up on a fallen log and putting some fir boughs over it for the night. I rolled up the hide, tied it with p-cord, and slung it over one shoulder. Then I headed for the truck, where I had some bottled water stashed.

By now, of course, it was dark. I found my way through the woods with my headlamp, often consulting my compass to stay headed in the right general direction. The return trip somehow proved to be much longer and harder and steeper than the route in, when I was still fresh and charged up with the stalk. I toiled endlessly up and down the intervening finger ridges, which had treacherously managed to multiply and steepen in my absence, now with the added weight of a bear hide on my back. I also wasted a great deal of energy climbing a hilltop that I didn’t really need to ascend hoping that it might offer some cell phone coverage so I could call my wife to let her know what was going on. Naturally, I could get service nowhere I went.

Eventually I emerged atop the last finger ridge. By only starlight, I could make out the towering black silhouette of the last timbered ridge I still needed to cross to get back to the trail that led to the truck. It was a steep SOB, ascending around 800 feet in altitude in less than a quarter of a mile, and the entire north-facing slope was covered with thick timber that had large swaths of blowdown which required climbing through and/or crawling under. Even after conquering the ridge, I would still need to hike a trail with some steep pitches for nearly two more miles back to the truck.

I simply wasn’t going to be able to go that much further that night. I already had a sticky cotton mouth, a headache growing in intensity, and occasional stabs of pain in my arm and leg muscles, all symptoms of dehydration. I needed to spend the night and recover and, most importantly, get hydrated. I simply went straight downhill until I found water at the very bottom of the steep draw, a tiny silver stream trickling through a bed of mossy stones and cow pies.

I broke off some boughs to make a thin browse bed on the ground under the shelter of a stout, wide-limbed Doug fir, then built a fire. I filled up my trusty canteen cup in the stream, put the lid on, and set it in the edge of the fire. After it reached a roiling boil for a few minutes, I carefully poured the water into my canteen, which I set in the streambed in a couple of inches of water to cool. Then I repeated the process.
This is basically how I spent half the night. I’d drink the contents of one canteen as I boiled more water to fill the other one. I was really dehydrated. I recall going through four full quarts, one gallon, as fast as I could boil and cool the water. Then I made a canteen cup of tea followed by another one of soup bullion from my little sardine can survival kit. After all that, I finally managed to produce a tiny amount of dark urine for the first time in many hours. I celebrated by polishing off another quart of water.

I didn’t try to go to sleep until I had both canteens refilled one last time. I chugged one for breakfast before beginning the hike out and consumed the other en route, since it took me over two hours to get back to the truck. Without my trusty canteen cup giving me the ability to purify drinking water and re-hydrate myself, the adventure could have ended badly. At the very least, I would have wound up with a case of giardia.


1. Be prepared gear-wise as well as mentally for the possibility of having to spend an unanticipated night out on the mountain.
2. You need at least one reliable way of purifying water. I now carry a Life-Straw and a bottle of water purification tablets.
3. Even when the weather is nice and warm you still may need to build a fire.
4. Don’t waste physical effort climbing hills unless you know you’ll have cell coverage when you get up there.
5. Always make sure your gear is properly secured for traveling. I only lost a cheap bonesaw. Two years ago while out hunting I looked down in the snow to find a nice Nikon Monarch 1300-yard rangefinder, still in its nylon case with…you guessed it…the stitching on the belt loops ripped out. I carry it now, along with my compass and emergency beacon, attached directly to my belt with “dummy cords” in addition to their individual carrying cases.
6. In hot weather I remove one of my 1-quart metal canteens and replace it with a collapsible 2-quart plastic canteen fitted with a hydration system straw adapter. If I know water is really scarce where I’m going, I’ll sometimes also make room for a Nalgene in my buttpack as well. I also have a couple of small packets of Gatorade mix to replace electrolytes.

Since I spend quite a few nights on the ground during season, sometimes in grizzly country, this falls under the category of "Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it."

7. It also occurred to me that night that if a bear did come into camp with a bad attitude I might have a little trouble using a scoped rifle in conjunction with a headlamp. Since there are also plenty of occasions when I’m walking into or out to hunting spots in the darkness as well as times when I camp out under a tarp in good game country, I have since attached a little 2-inch Picatinny accessory rail to the front of my rifle stock on the support arm side. When the sun goes down I now make sure my Leupold 3-9x scope is dialed down to 3x and attach a small Streamlight TLR-1 weapon light to the rail. That’s might be a tad paranoid and I sincerely hope I never actually need to shoot in the dark but it is good for one’s peace of mind in such situations.
I read both of your survival threads, and would like to thank you for alot of good reminders/new ideas.
good post. good check list.
I'll add a purifier. did not think of that one.

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