Survival vest philosophy

Inital writeup
Everyone says it's a good idea to put together a survival vest, but what actually makes a good one and why?
Inital writeup
Everyone says it's a good idea to put together a survival vest, but what actually makes a good one and why?

Thoughts on survival vests

It's a common suggestion among the backcountry pilot brethren to assemble a survival vest, since in the event of a crash and post-crash fire situation, it's likely the only items you'll have with you post-egress are what you're wearing. But what exactly should be stored in this vest? Often, pilots will buy the vest they like most for its comfort or appearance, then fill the available pockets with whatever fits or whatever they can find.

We've visted this topic in the past with a great article titled The Survival Vest, by British Columbia based professional pilot John Vandene, and his final result was great. However, it's a very personal endeavor to spec your vest, and so BCP member and frequent contributor Greg Hren aka "Bigrenna" of Bushwagon East decided to roll his own, with a slightly different approach. Leaning on his background as a paramedic and Fellow of Wilderness Medicine, he started by identifying some core philosophies about air crash survival to determine what tools and supplies would best fulfill the actual needs of a survivor in order to achieve the most important goals: Stay alive and be found.

There's no dancing around it, the following video is long at 37 minutes. It's not a highlight video or fast-paced entertainment; it's a deep dive into the philosophy and contents of a survival vest. Greg has clearly done a fair amount of thinking and planning in building his, yet yours may be different altogether. Skip that hour-long episode of...whatever you normally watch on TV; grab some snacks and beer(s) and kick back for this first installment of our Knowledge Series videos, Survival Vest Philosophy. Below the video we've listed a few notes from the production for reference which will hopefully help in assembling your own vest.

The Three "C's" of Survival Vests

According to Greg, the singular purpose of a vest is to "prepare one mentally, and prepare one physically" for the unplanned stop, forced landing or unexpected insult. He believes that a simple approach to assembling vest is best, and suggests it meet the three "C's." Comfortable, Compact, and Complete.

Evolution of an Insult

In his film, Greg first starts by imagining the arc of a crash in what he calls the "Evolution of an Insult," which takes from one of the official definitions (medical) of the word insult: "an event or occurrence that causes damage to a tissue or organ." He argues that having a better idea of the steps one might encounter post-event will better inform you as to what items might be needed to successfully emerge on the other side of that insult. These steps are as follows:

  1. Initial Event or Insult
  2. Disorientation to Reorientation
  3. Extricate and Evaluate (from crash)
  4. Stabilize Medically
  5. Stabilize Mentally
  6. Communicate
  7. Establish Shelter
  8. Establish Fire
  9. Hydrate
  10. Rest
  11. Go/No-go Decision

The four tenets of post-crash survival

It's natural to create taxonomy and organization as an approach to any problem, and survival equipment is no different. Instead of simply starting with a single piece of equipment such as a vest, Greg suggests one first identify global needs to be addressed, then apply solutions to each problem. To this end, Greg distills this process into four basic tenets to staying alive and being rescued. These are: Be Healthy, Be Comfortable, Be Crafty, and Be Found.


    H2O Purification

    • Chemical Purification Tabs
    • Povidone Iodine Swabs

    Medical Kit* - Airway Adjuncts

    • OPA
    • NPA
    • Surgilube

    Medical Kit* - Trauma

    • Compression Bandage
    • Tourniquet
    • Abdominal Pad

    Medical Kit* - Wound Care**

    • Gloves
    • 5cc syringe (wound cleaning)
    • Alcohol Prep Pads
    • Povidone Iodine Swabs
    • Antiseptic Ointment
    • Cravat
    • Bandages - Band-Aids, 2x2's & 4x4's
    • Medical Tape
    • Kling Conforming Bandage
    • Kotex (Nosebleed)
    • Petrolatum Gauze (Sucking Chest)
    • Burn Gel
    • Moleskin (Blisters)

    Medical Kit* - RX

    • Analgesic (Tylenol+NSAID+Opioid)
    • Antibiotic (Broadspectrum i.e. Ciprofloxin/Doxycycline)
    • Antihistamine (Diphenhydramine)
    • Antidiarrheal (i.e. Imodium/Lomotil)
    • Personal Rx, Eyeglasses, Disposable Contacts



    • Matches
    • Fire Steel/Magnesium
    • Lighter
    • Vaseline Cotton

    Wear Warm & Dry

    • Dry Socks
    • Base layer (Top)
    • Tuke

    Sleep Warm & Dry

    • Emergency Bivy (WX)
    • Ulralight Bag Liner (Warmth)

    Elemental Protection

    • Orange Trash Bag (Shelter/Poncho)
    • SPF 50
    • Bug Net
    • Bug Dope


    • Electrolyte Mix
    • Energy Gel/Bar
    • Bullion

    Mental Status

    • Deck of Cards or Harmonica
    • Mints, Candy or Chocolate
    • Nip of Booze (High Proof for Flamibility)
    • Glowstick/Chemlite
    • Sm Instant Coffee Packet
    • Bog Roll/Baby Wipes


  • Utility Tool
  • Survival Knife
  • Hand Chain or Wire Saw
  • Cordage
  • Carabiner
  • Water Vessel
  • Ductape
  • Fish Kit (Line/Hook/Flies
  • Lg Ziplock Bag (Gathering H2O/Flushing wounds)
  • ZipTies
  • Sm Titanium Cup
  • Snare (picture wire)
  • Proper Compass (Lensatic)
  • Pace beads
  • Handheld GPS
  • Firearm + Ammunition
  • Compact Light
  • Passive LED Blinker
  • Bear Bell
  • Spare Battery*
See footnotes >


  • 2-way Communication (Active) i.e. UHF, Cell, or SAT phone
  • 1-way Communication (Passive) i.e. SPOT, PLB or In Reach
  • Signal Mirror (Visually - Day)
  • Laser Flare (Visually - Day/Night)
  • Whistle (Audibly)
Disclaimer: Items presented herewith are strictly for entertainment only and should not replace the advice of experts. Please consult your physician for any pharmacological or medical advice.
BE HEALTHY footnotes: *NOTE: Medical kit is a personal kit carried in the vest which is not to be confused with a larger trauma/medical bag that should be easily accessible and stowed next to a "bug-out" bag.

**NOTE: Although common to see in med kits, the use of pre-hospital wound closure devices such as suture kits or steri-strips (butterfly bandages) is ill advised EVEN BY MDs due to the risk of infection. Attend a current Wilderness Medical course for the latest progressive, evidence based practices.
BE CRAFTY footnotes: *NOTE: Attempt to select electric/electronic items that all share the same battery. I.E. Greatland Laser Flare and Surefire flashlight both use CR123 Batteries.

This is a living article in the Knowledge Base. If you have feedback on the accuracy or legitimacy of this entry, or would like to add more information, join the discussion below or email to volunteer your input. Suggestions and changes will be incorporated readily.

Overall Rating (3)

5 out of 5 stars
  • Rated 5 out of 5 stars

    Excellent video and info Greg. Way overkill for two days (for me) but if we went down you'd be a hell of a lot more comfortable then me. You might consider adding a LifeStraw to the mix. Weighs near nothing and quicker to hydrate then purifying water. I carry one since my "getting stuck on the island" adventure. Could have just stuck it in the lake to get a drink.

  • Greg,
    Thanks for sharing .... very well executed. You're absolutely correct that the topic sparks great conversation, but you defiantly hit it on head and at least made us all think!

    Comment last edited on about 2 years ago by HighCountryIdaho
  • no kitchen sink?

  • Great perspective Greg! As you hinted, I would love to see a video on putting together a more comprehensive medical kit that would not be attached to your body, but in the plane. I went through my first WFA course almost two years ago now, and spent some time consulting other EMT's on how to put together my kit. With my very limited knowledge, I Would love more perspective!


  • Picked up a few GREAT IDEAS!!! Thank you!!

  • Rated 5 out of 5 stars

    Very well done Greg! Thanks for the great information and perspectives on organization and psychology. You mentioned orienteering and that you didn't have a map in your vest. I've always thought that sectional charts would be about perfect for navigating land on foot in an emergency situation, and conveniently, I always carry them. A habit of slipping the chart for your current location in to the vest Is a good one to get in to. Digital charts would obviously be a distinct disadvantage in Such a situation, because as soon as your batteries go, your maps go.

  • Great Video! It definitely made me rethink my preparedness. After watching this video I build myself a vest to supplement the kit in the back of the plane.

    from Pitt Meadows, BC, Canada
  • forgive me if you covered this (its been a few weeks since i watched the video) and maybe this is more of a thing to put on your belt. but the leatherman pliars is the swiss knife of pliars. it has the pliars, a wire cutter, a knife, a saw, a can opener, a flat screw driver, a phillips screw driver, a file, a scissors, a bottle opener, some sort of a little punch, a second shorter stouter knife. the model i have now even has a little flash light built in.

  • Rated 5 out of 5 stars

    Great video. I really appreciate great audio and lighting, too. Greg has put many hours into his vest and the thought behind it and it shows. I have gotten so many great tips from the vid, like the food sealer method of miniaturizing items, for instance. I am assembling a vest based upon the concept of "layering." That is duplicating certain survival items needed in the event of a mishap. Whether in your own aircraft, car, or boat or in another's, if you don't have it on you it doesn't exist. The presumption being that equipment in a ditch bag, attached to the mode of travel, or with another crew member will not he available following the insult. For a mishap situation, I would like to learn more about and practise addressing trauma and shock (prevention). I feel that if I can cover those two items for me and/or another, I can feel confident in a positive outcome.

    Comment last edited on about 4 months ago by MosquitoFood


While this knowledge base is a compilation of information from various sources, some official in nature, it is not a recognized or acredited source of aviation training information, and thus should be considered entertainment. Please consult a FAA-certificated flight instructor or mechanic prior to putting any information found here into practice.