Everyday Carry for the Homesteader

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by Dana Benner

As homesteaders, we have a never-ending list of chores. There’s food to harvest, wood to cut, and buildings to repair, and that’s just the beginning. Faced with this endless list, we sometimes forget about the dangers we face every day. How many times do we get up in the morning and head out to tackle the next task without thinking of our own safety?

Inherent dangers come with a homesteading lifestyle, such as a careless mistake with a chainsaw, a tumble from a barn roof, or an encounter with a bear. Every year, thousands of people find themselves unprepared to handle an emergency situation and in need of rescue. The ability to build a shelter, make a fire, or render first aid can make all the difference. When I was growing up, some 50 years ago, my father told me that if all you carry is a knife and a way to make fire, then you’ll survive until help arrives. My list of items and the knowledge to use them has grown over the years, but his words have stuck with me.

It’s impossible to anticipate every possible situation or carry every item you’ll ever need in an emergency. What is possible, though, is to have some basic tools with you at all times that can save your life, or the lives of others, should the need arise. Everyday carry, or EDC for short, refers to the items a person routinely carries with them, both for utility and to prepare for unexpected and dangerous situations. The items I regularly carry vary somewhat depending upon the job and the season, but there are a few things I keep with me at all times. Here’s my list of year-round, essential items to take with you whenever you walk out your door.

Black backpack with rifle on the ground

Pack. Because you can’t carry everything on your person, you’ll want a reliable pack to hold the majority of your homestead EDC items. There are good packs and bad packs. A good pack is one that meets your specific needs, and not ne­cessarily the one that’s the most expensive. I like the packs made by Blackhawk and 5.11 Tactical because they have the ability to attach gear to the outside of them, leaving the inside compartments free to hold other items. Always carry your pack with you, and keep it within easy reach at all times.

A large knifer a smaller hunting knife a small lighter and a butane lighter

Knives. When it comes to knives, the best advice is to never leave home without one. Of all the tools you have — besides your brain — a knife is the most valuable. A good knife can be used to free you from a jammed seat belt, aid in building a shelter, open a box of nails, and prepare wild game and fish.

I always carry a belt knife, either a fixed blade or a folder, in a case on my person. My folder is a Gator Drop Point by Gerber, and my fixed blade of choice is a Next Gen by L.T. Wright. In addition, I carry a Swiss Army knife in my pocket. Because of its multiple tools, this knife sees the most use.

I also keep two additional knives with my pack. These are heavy fixed-blade knives, perfect for chopping limbs for firewood or to make an emergency shelter. There are plenty of good knives on the market, but I like the Jessmuk by L.T. Wright and the StrongArm by Gerber. I keep the Jessmuk inside my pack and the StrongArm attached to the outside of my pack for quick access.

an organ black flashlight and a bag for gathering water

Fire. The original “multitool,” fire is a must. It can warm your body, cook food, and boil water. It can also melt the ends of nylon rope to keep it from fraying. Because fire has so many uses, it’s important to always have a way to start it. Matches are great, but I carry a butane lighter in my pocket at all times. These lighters are cheap, readily available, and highly reliable, so there’s no excuse not to have one. Besides, it beats the heck out of rubbing two sticks together.

I keep additional fire-starting devices in a pouch on the outside of my pack in a resealable, waterproof bag. I keep a box of wooden kitchen matches, a couple of paper matchbooks, and two additional butane lighters in this bag.

Flashlight. There’s nothing worse than fumbling around in the dark. A flashlight is invaluable, whether you’re tightening a bolt on your vehicle or trying to find your way back home.

Flashlights come in all sizes and qualities. Don’t settle for those inexpensive ones you find at a discount store or get for free at a bank; they’ll fail you when you need them the most. I carry a 5.11 Tactical EDC PL2AAA flashlight in my shirt pocket. It puts out a good amount of light, and it’s also about the size of a large pen, made of high-grade aluminum, and shock resistant. I also keep a headlamp in my pack, which allows me to see in the dark while keeping my hands free for other tasks.

Black medical kit

Communication devices. Always carry a fully charged cellphone. The ability to communicate with the outside world can mean the difference between life and death. Despite all the other items you carry, nobody will come to your aid if they don’t know you need help.

A cellphone may not work at times, so I also carry a two-way radio in my pack. I use a Midland GXT, and the channel is monitored by my wife at our home with a Midland XT511 GMRS Base Camp. Most emergency agencies monitor radio signals, so you should keep a radio with you at all times, even if you don’t have a designated person on the other end.

It’s also important to note that you should always take the time to let another person know where you’re going and when you expect to return. This way, someone knows where and when to begin looking for you if something happens.

Black backpack with knives laid out and other useful items for survival

Food. If you’re like me, you pack a lunch before you head out for the day. With a lunch in your pack, you don’t have to worry about heading home to eat when you’re mending fences or felling trees. But that sandwich will only hold you for so long, and if something should happen, it may be a few hours, or longer, before help arrives. For that reason, you should always keep some form of alternate, shelf-stable food in your pack, such as beef jerky. I prefer the products made by The New Primal, but stock your pack with whatever you like best.

Water. Always take water with you. However, since water quickly adds weight to a pack, and there’s only so much you can reasonably carry, you’ll never be able to carry as much portable liquid as you might need. In the case of an emergency, you may need to rely upon another water source, such as a stream. That’s why it’s a good idea to invest in a quality water filter. (Never drink directly from a stream, even if it seems clean.) I use a Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System, which works well and fits nicely in my pack.

Paracord. I keep 100 yards of 550 paracord in my pack at all times. Paracord has thousands of uses, such as dragging a deer out of the woods, lashing branches together for an emergency shelter, fashioning makeshift snowshoes, or as spare bootlaces.

grey and black Midlan radio for communication

First-aid supplies. I designed a first-aid kit that I keep attached to the outside of my pack. I wanted a kit that would reflect what I thought was most important, so I ditched the store-bought products and customized one of my own. (I suggest you do the same, as the store-bought options usually don’t have everything you would want or need.) I use a detachable medical bag from Blackhawk and fill it with plenty of bandages of various sizes, a couple rolls of gauze, antiseptic cream, and over-the-counter pain reliever. I also carry lip balm, antibacterial hand sanitizer, insect sting relief, SPF 30 sunscreen, poison ivy wash, and a pair of surgical gloves. Last, but certainly not least, I included a few chitosan hemostatic dressings, which are used to stop major bleeding. I also carry a tourniquet and a moldable SAM splint for immobilizing broken or sprained limbs.

This may seem like a lot of things to carry with you every day, but it’s manageable if packed correctly. Despite our best efforts, accidents can still happen on the homestead, and, as the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Dana Benner has been writing about all aspects of the outdoors, survival, and homesteading for more than 30 years, with his work appearing in a variety of publications. He hunts, fishes, forages, and raises a garden. He served 10 years in the U.S. Army, and holds a B.A. in U.S. history and Native American culture and an M.Ed in heritage studies.