So, this meme crops up frequently on Facebook. And when I say frequently, I mean I see it at least once or twice every single day.
My standard answer is this — If I’m told to pick out a handful of these items because I’m going to be stranded on a deserted island, I’m not getting on the damn boat or plane. Look, the whole preparedness thing is to avoid threats whenever possible. If I’m told ahead of time that I’m going to be stranded, I’m going to avoid the trip altogether. That’s just common sense. If the trip were unavoidable, I find it difficult to imagine a scenario where I’ll have a choice among these specific items but can only take a certain number of them, weight and size of no consequence.
But, with all that said, the point of the meme, as I see it at least, is to get you thinking about priorities. With that in mind, I thought it might be interesting to go down the list and talk a bit about each item, sort of the pros and cons of each.
Tarp – this is a great multi-purpose item. It can be used in a variety of configurations for shelter, whether as just sun shade or an A-frame tent. It could also be set up to catch rainwater. One great way to do so is illustrated in this video by my friend John McCann. https://www.survivalresources.com/quick-deploying-rain-catchment.html
Sunscreen – sunburn can be a serious hazard. With severe burns, blisters can form and burst, leading to potential infection. Sunscreen is something I recommend keeping in a bug out bag but I don’t know if I’d rank it as a top-tier survival necessity.
Toilet paper – Simply put, while there are alternatives to toilet paper, most of them are less than ideal. But, I feel there are far more important items in the list. For those who are thinking it might serve as a dual purpose item, It isn’t that great as a fire starter as it burns fairly quickly.
Cook pot – Any time we look at adding gear or supplies to our kit, priority should be given to things we cannot readily reproduce in the wild. A good metal cook pot is an example of this. It can be used to boil water, making it safe to drink, as well as cook food. If weight and size are not restrictions, this would definitely go in the TAKE category.
iPod – Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge music fan and that’s something I’d miss greatly in any type of grid down scenario. But, if it isn’t going to feed, hydrate, or protect me, it isn’t a priority. Plus, once the battery runs out, it is pretty much worthless, though the ear buds could provide useful cordage.
Hiking boots – This is a second-tier need. Hopefully I’d be wearing decent shoes or boots already. If I ended up barefoot on this island, boots would be awesome but I can do without if necessary.
Saw – While very useful for processing firewood and shelter building, I could make do without a saw. There are other items here that outrank the saw but if the requirements of the exercise were expanded a bit, I’d grab it.
Flare gun – This is a great tool for signaling and could prove very valuable. But, what if a plane or ship never gets close? What if you send off the flare and nobody sees it? A signal fire or something similar would work almost as well and allows you to carry better survival gear options.
Raft – I’ve seen people put this on their “must have” list, thinking they will be able to use it to either get around the island or paddle their way to civilization. These folks have clearly never used an inflatable raft in such a way before. Pass.
Flashlight – Definitely a second-tier selection. The problem is battery life. But, until it dies, it could be very useful for finding your way around. A burning torch isn’t quite the easy build as movies would have you think.
Insect repellent – If I were certain it would work on the insect pests I’m liable to encounter on the island, this would be tough to pass up. If I can’t say for certain whether it would repel the biting and stinging bugs, I’d definitely pass.
Hammock – Sleep is a biological need. A hammock gets you off the ground, and thus away from the critters there, and can be damn comfortable. Assuming the necessary cordage is included to hang it properly, I’d say this would be item #5 or #6 on the priority list.
Compass – Not quite sure what use the compass would have, other than possibly using the mirror as a signaling device. If the island is small enough to be deserted, it is probably small enough that I’m not going to get lost.
Mirror – Signal device as well as having first aid uses, such as removing something from your eye. High on the list but not sure if it breaks into the top 4.
Vitamins – How many are included? A day? Week? Month? When you experience diet restrictions, your health can be compromised. A good multivitamin can help offset those issues, such as scurvy (vitamin C deficiency).
Water purifier – Definitely a priority item. You can purify water through boiling but a filter like a Sawyer Mini will allow you to drink water right from the spring or creek. The one pictured here appears to be a Katadyn Hiker, which is another great filter, though considerably more expensive than the Sawyer. Yes, the island is probably surrounded by ocean and thus saltwater and filters don’t generally do much for removing salt. If there are plants on the island, there’s freshwater coming from somewhere.
Fishing rod – A great help in food acquisition. Assuming it comes with plenty of line, hooks, and other tackle, this is a high priority item.
Rope – Cordage can be made in the wild, if you know how to do it. Having cordage with you makes life much easier. It can be used for shelter building, keep food up off the ground and away from scavengers, and a number of other tasks.
Rifle – Very tempting but pass on it in favor of other, more vital, gear. The exercise doesn’t specify how many rounds you’re getting with the rifle. Once you’re out of ammo, the rifle becomes nothing more than a clumsily shaped club.
Weed – Pass. While potentially useful as a stress reliever, there are too many other items here that have higher priority.
First aid kit – Probably in my top 4 but depends on the contents. If it is nothing more than Band-Aids and a small single-use container of antibacterial ointment, I’d move it further down the list.
Tent – I’d take the tarp over the tent as it is more multi-purpose.
Knife – Definitely a priority item. Too useful to leave behind.
Matches – I’d rather have a ferrocerium rod but lacking that or a BIC, I’d probably take the matches.
If I were somehow forced to get on the boat and forced to only choose four items, they would be:
If I could sneak a couple more items, they would be: