Survival in a stocking

Gifts you hope will never get used

At Christmastime, people generally try to avoid dwelling on tragedy and disaster. Kids don’t usually go to sleep Christmas Eve with visions of homemade deer jerky dancing in their heads, nor do they rush down the stairs the next morning expecting to unwrap a new chemical suit.

But this is the new America, where it’s hard to tell the difference between preparedness and paranoia. At least one thing’s for sure in the wake of Katrina—Americans could stand to be a little more self-reliant. So how about giving the gift of survival? The following suggestions are for adults and older teens. It might feel strange giving gifts you hope will never be used, but at least you’ll know they’re there should the need arise.

There are a couple of ways to go about this. The easiest is probably to drop an item or two in your loved one’s stocking that they can keep with them, in their car maybe or in a desk drawer, that has everyday uses as well as value in an emergency. One thing—we had to stray a bit from the $20 limit here. You can’t put a price on survival.

For this purpose, you can’t do better than a decent knife. Folding knives are all the rage nowadays, as they are convenient to carry and use, but the best brands—Spyderco Gerber and Kershaw to name three—tend to be pricey. Expect to pay about $50 for a top of the line 4-inch folder. A slightly cheaper, but possibly more functional choice might be the tried-and-true Swiss Army knife, like the one-handed Trailmaster by Victorinox, about $30 at most outdoor and knife shops.

Another great thing to have in an emergency is a good flashlight. Those little Mag-Lites are nice, as they’re bright and water-resistant, but if you forget to replace the batteries they won’t do you much good. For a good emergency flashlight that doesn’t need batteries, try out one of those new LED torches. Unlike incandescent bulbs, they turn none of their spent energy into heat, so they require almost no electricity. They’re not as bright, but they’ll last 10 years without any batteries. Mad Dog Surplus on Midway carries a Chinese-made, non-waterproof model for $10, but you can probably upgrade to a better (albeit more expensive) brand at any local outdoor store.

The other approach to survival gifting is to go whole-hog and either buy or make a full-on survival kit that you can cram in a stocking or small bag. For anyone who frequently travels long distances by car or lives out in the boonies, this might be the way to go. Compact, ready-made kits are available on the Internet starting at about $15, and through mail-order stores like REI. A good place to start might be, but seeing as this is supposed to be a last-minute guide, you may just want to pop into Long’s drugs or Gates Resale and build your own kit.

There are five essentials to survival: in more or less this order: Shelter, Water, fire, first aid and lastly, food. Water’s a tough one because you need a lot of it but it can be bulky and, in the case of plastic bottles, it needs to be replaced about every six months. You can get water in sterile, half-liter pouches from Mad Dog for a quarter each, but the ones we bought there are from 1999—probably left over from the Y2K scare. A simple solution is a vial of Coghlin’s germicidal water purification tablets, $6 at Long’s.

While you’re at Long’s you might as well get one of those emergency foil blankets (3$), some waterproof matches ($2) and a combination match-holder/whistle/compass/signal mirror ($3.50). Throw in a knife and you’ve got a decent kit right there. Add a couple energy bars and a small first aid kit and you’re surviving in style.

Yeah, your family will probably think you’re nuts giving them stuff like this for Christmas. But if they ever have a use for it, they might just thank you by staying alive.