I’ve been involved with survival skills since I was a young Boy Scout, then later, as a US Infantry Marine, and currently as an expert Wilderness Navigation Instructor, Climbing Guide, and Mountain Rescue Service Team Member. So when a friend of mine introduced me to the founder of VSSL (pron. vessel), a new company producing outdoor utility tools with a focus on survival, my interest was naturally peaked.
A couple weeks later I received the VSSL Supplies Model. There are already a ton of positive reviews out on the inter-webs regarding this product along with it being featured in quite a few national magazines:
Instead of jumping on the brief positive review bandwagon I’m going to break this clever little device down into its realistically smaller parts and review each piece with a focus on performance & real life practicality. Let’s get to it!
“Each VSSL unit is 9″ long* by 2″ diameter made from seamless extruded military specification anodized aluminum… Weighs 18 ounces (1 pound, 2 ounces).” – VSSLgear.com
*my at home measurement put the length at 9″ 7/18th (just about 9.5in)
It is unquestionably rugged weighing in at 18.3 ounces. In hand it feels like something you could drop down a 300 foot cliff without it receiving more than a couple cosmetic scratches.
The gist of VSSL is to take the style and durability of the classic rugged Maglite flashlights, switch to energy efficient LEDs, and replace the large heavy D alkaline batteries with small 3 N-type (generic name), or E90 (Energizer) batteries, freeing up storage space in the handle to pack various supplies. Currently offered in 6 different models (including the comically intriguing “Zombies model“) I received the “Supplies” model for this review.
Let’s take a look at everything included:
On the bottom of the unit is an oil filled compass. Comparing its accuracy to my professional grade compass it was spot on. As a wilderness navigation instructor I would emphasize that this style compass is not a replacement for a dedicated compass that can also function as a protractor for re-section and trip planning. As far as a “backup” compass it is probably the nicest one I have seen, with no visible bubble in the liquid and resolution to 2 degrees, however without an index line that resolution would be hard to take advantage of.
On the other end of the unit you’ll find the dual mode LED flashlight. Official lumens, range, duration, etc. will have to wait while the company seeks “ANSI/NEMA FL-1 portable light certification”. Many of us don’t know what a “lumen” is anyways and we just wanna know how darn bright this thing is and how long will it last? To that end my testing reveals the following (with fresh batteries);
- Range– On “high” setting the light has a use-able range of about 20m. My personal definition of “use-able range” is enough light to make out a person standing in open woods. I know, that sounds weird, but to me that is “use-able range”.
- Field of View (FOV)– After conducting some market research the company decided to go with a “flood” beam as opposed to a focused “spot” beam. The first thing I noticed about this flood beam was its gigantic FOV, my estimates putting it at about 120 degrees. I can’t help but wonder if some of those polled during the research wanted to make sure zombies couldn’t sneak up from the sides, and with a FOV like this I think those surviving a zombie attack might have a fighting chance ;)
- Duration– This is not so much a “negative” point in the review but definitely a case of real life practicality. While switching to compact E90 type batteries frees up valuable space it obviously cuts down on duration. In this case the company reports about 20 hours “usable/functional light time”, and 40 hours in “SOS mode”, which is just a strobe effect. My obvious solution to improve these numbers was to look for lithium batteries in this size, and alas, they do not appear to exist. This has some negative implications for cold weather use; alkaline batteries suffer greatly in sub-zero temperatures. So what to do? Consider this, like the compass, as a “back-up”. Continue to carry a dedicated hands-free headlamp in your day kit. For a really nice option on a emergency headlamp check out the Petzl e+LITE!
I’ll be honest, I am no expert at fishing. I have a few fly fishing friends that have been inviting me to get to it though so I plan on sharing this neat little kit with them for their candid take on it. For those who do know what they are looking for in emergency fishing gear this .75oz little tin stocks;
- 3 barbed hooks
- 3 lead weights
- 3 swivel leaders
- 3 rubber worms
- 1 swivel spoon
- 50′ of 20lb test fishing line
- 1 EVA line winder – bobber
Rope and Razor Blade:
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I smirked a little when I saw this little tin labeled “rope”. What functional rope could be inside this tiny little container? How about 25 feet of 250lb breaking strength rope? Basically a thick thread, this could have countless uses in a real-life survival situation, but don’t expect to go rappelling down your local crag with it ok? The included razor blade can be used to cut said rope, or fishing line, or other gear that needs cutting, or, if you land a fish with the above mentioned fishing gear, a much easier way to skin your catch!
Trail Markers & Whistle:
I wasn’t sure what trail markers would look like, but when I opened this up my first thought was “how clever!”. These 30 little thumb tacks are 50/50 white/red reflective arrows. While they probably wouldn’t have helped Anthony Hopkins out of the wilderness I can see the most practical implication being a remove-able flagging system, perhaps from a main trail to a preferred bivy spot, to mark an unofficial climber’s approach trail, or if you know rescuers are looking for you a way of leaving a bit of a bread crumb trail. The included whistle benefits from being “beadless” so it performs quite well even when wet.
Firestarter & Mirror:
A fire-starter is on every basic “essentials” list for good reason. This fire-starter is composed of;
- 10 quality weather proof matches
- 1 striker (under the lid of tin, I almost missed it)
- 5 Tinder Quik fire starters
- 1 acrylic signaling mirror (protected by a remove-able microfilm)
This 100% Canadian Beeswax candle is nestled in the unscrew-able end cap and boasts a 6 hour burn time. Accompanying literature recommends removing the candle from the end cap if burning for more than 15 minutes as the end cap can get quite hot (it is aluminum after all). I imagine cleanup would be a bit more involved if you burned the candle down in the end cap over an extended time.
Another eyebrow raiser was this little tin claiming to hold an effective saw. Turns out this is the same saw issued by the British military. Utilizing canvas handle straps, which are better than the metal ring “handles” you typically see, this is a pretty sweet looking bow saw.
- Wire saw (high tensile, 60lb working strength with handle straps)
- Made of 8 independent, tightly woven stainless steel wires
- Standard issue used by the British Military (United Kingdom Special Forces)
- Can be used in areas hard to reach with a traditional saw
- Cuts through wood, bone and soft metals like aircraft aluminum
- Canvas strap handles make it easier to form the wire saw into a bow for the most effective cutting
I’ll try to get some video showcasing the effectiveness of this soon.
Can Opener/Water Purification:
- 1 P-38 military rations can opener (world’s smallest functional can opener)
- 6 Aquatab water purification tablets
- 1 set of Aquatab instructions (also useful for starting a fire)
Having enough purification tablets to treat up to 12 liters of water is a great addition to this kit. The “P-38” can opener has a slight learning curve to it. Luckily YouTube member “Horizons” has created a how-to video regarding this opener.
First Aid Kit:
Properly named the “mini-medical kit” this, like the light & compass, should be considered the “back-up” and not replace a dedicated first aid kit for wilderness & survival adventures. VSSL even sells a dedicated First Aid model. I’ve long since learned though the most important thing about a first aid kit is the training of the person carrying it. To that end take a wilderness first aid course from a quality provider. I highly recommend SOLO wilderness medicine training. With courses all over the continent you owe it to yourself and those you adventure with to take a 16 hour Wilderness First Aid course.
Finally a set of brief instructions covering each “tin” is included in the metallic sleeve:
It’s obvious that this company is carefully considering everything that goes into this product. A lot is accomplished in 36 inches of cubic space and just over a pound of weight. Could it be improved? Sure. I’d love to see lithium batteries in it, but that would require finding room for AAA size batteries. Stuffing one pair of nitrile gloves into the first aid section would add value for me. These thoughts are diminished though if you take my advice to consider the light feature as a back-up to a traditional headlamp. I think that’s where I keep getting hung up. You can’t fully replace dedicated items to your kit when you are planning an adventure. Compass, Headlamp, First Aid Kit… those are key. But what if you weren’t planning on the %$^# hitting the fan? How difficult is it to just toss this thing in my pack and know I have 6 of the classic “Ten Essentials” already covered.
The answer? Not difficult at all. While this might not ride in my pack all season long, it will definitely be grabbed during short impromptu trips where I plan to be back in a few hours anyways. I think it will also become a standard in our vehicle, as driving to remote places in the winter always has me second guessing our level of preparedness in the event of a break-down in sparsely populated areas.
The kind folks at VSSL have supplied me with a discount code for any of my readers, so if you’d like to pick one of these up use “scout15” at checkout and get 15% off! You can find this model on their website here.
What does your emergency kit look like? Share in the comments below!
Thanks for reading… see you in the mountains,
Disclaimer: While this product was provided to me at no cost the opinions above are entirely my own.