On the History Channel’s reality show Alone, ten men are dropped with limited gear on Vancouver Island to survive as long as they can. Each man chose 10 items of essential gear from a list of 40.
I would have chosen: a 12×12 tarp, 20m of paracord, sleeping bag, 2 quart pot, canteen, gill net, fishing gear, axe, fire starter, & knife.
Notably absent: a knife sharpener, waterproof bivi bag, leatherman, bow & arrows, slingshot, emergency rations. No other items were chosen by any man and we do not know what the list of 40 was, although in this YouTube video, contestant Joe talks about his equipment and says many of the 40 items were items no one would seriously consider.
In picking out my gear, I considered the 4 essentials: water, shelter, food, and fire. I tried to address each of these with my gear. I also thought about the area: a predator-dense rain forest surrounded by sea water.
1. Knife – This is essential and a no brainer. If you bring one item, bring a knife. I did not bring a sharpener because in theory you can use a rock. I did not consider a leatherman because although it SEEMS like it’d be useful, I do not have one in my current hiking/camping gear and have never needed it.
2. Firestarter (Ferro Rod) – You need fire and this is the best way to get one started, although this was not enough for any of the contestants. Many created wood feathers, tinder nests, and charred wood.
3. Axe – Along with a saw, an axe is a heavy tool for cutting large logs for fires and construction. You need one or the other but not both. Both have their pros and cons. I’m partial to an axe because it is often faster and you can get in and cut things you can’t get to with a saw. It could also be used for self defense.
4. 12 x 12 tarp – This is to build a shelter, stay dry and to catch rain water. In the show, contestants are able to repurpose a tarp (tarps?) for the camera gear but I’d have no way to know this would be an option. One guy actually brought two tarps.
5. 2 quart pot – You need a vessel to hold water and this can also be used to boil it, your most common means of water purification. You can also boil food and use a pot to carry or store items.
6. Paracord – This stretchy rope is helpful for building a shelter or other tools. It can be used to lash things, build snares, and entertain yourself by tying knots, etc. Too many uses to list.
7. Sleeping bag – Most guys brought these and a couple did not. In my mind, good sleep is another resource so this is essential. I even considered a bivy bag for extra water protection and warmth, but since we could pick our own equipment, I’d just buy a super badass waterproof -20 degree bag.
8. Canteen – This one is a personal preference. Do you really need two water containers? For me the answer is yes because a portable container means more hiking, which means more scouting and foraging. If a canteen makes finding more food easy, then it’s a win.
9/10. Fishing gear and gill net– Now we’re talking about what is the best way to get food on Vancouver island. Do you go with the bow & arrows, slingshot, fishing gear, gill net, or some combination? Obviously no firearms were allowed. For me, on an island surrounded by seawater, fishing is the way to go. I’d take the gear AND the net because you can set-up the net and leave it while you are fishing, or set up a trot line while cast-netting. Either way you are both actively and passively fishing at the same time. I would not feel confident that I could actually kill anything with a slingshot or bow & arrow. Guys proficient with a bow may have better luck there and it would be fun to try, but ultimately I’d go with my personal strengths. However, I would also try to build some traps and snares for small game.
One last item to discuss: emergency rations. After 4 episodes we have no idea what these rations contained. I’d be tempted to grab these and use them to extend my stay another day or two. A couple guys that quit early ran into one big moment of adversity and their spirits were shattered. A nice meal goes a long way to turning a bad day into a good one.