I’m slowly gathering the equipment that I would need for my upcoming wilderness survival trip in northern Michigan. I will have to admit a certain sense of trepidation, especially since the list of gear we’re taking with us is pretty much summed up by a tarp, rope, knives and food. I’m packing pretty light compared to my companions, and that same sentiment attracted me to the Bear Grylls Survival Tool Pack. Made by Gerber, famed survival expert Bear Gryll’s product line has received both accolades and criticism. A few years back, I was wrestling with the purchase of Gerber’s full-length survival knife, which is by most accounts a pretty decent knife for its price. It won’t skin a seal for you or make refreshing yet questionable beverages, but it’s a solid utility knife that comes with a few goodies.
I was not as sure about the quality of the Survival Tool Pack. There’s a certain elitism toward survival tools in the knife world, and some would tell you that a length of rope and a good knife is just about all the survival kit you need. However, there’s nothing wrong with taking 12 tools, a firestarter and a flashlight with you as well. Especially if they are the same size and weight as a medium-sized smartphone. I am by no means a survival expert, as my expertise is far outstripped by the other contributors on this site, but I do know my knives and I decided to include the Tool Pack in my kit. Here’s why.
Let’s start with the biggest component of the kit—both literally and by price—and focus on the multi-tool. It’s subtly colored with just enough orange so you won’t lose it on the forest floor. The handles are rubber and adequately grippy, which is a huge bonus over many multi-tools. The last thing I look forward to this winter is fumbling with a flathead driver as my fingers freeze in one of Michigan’s sudden blizzards.
The components are:
- Needle Nose Pliers
- Standard Pliers
- File (doubles as firestarter striker)
- Wire Cutters
- Partially Serrated Blade
- Wood Saw
- Small Flathead Driver
- Bottle Opener
- Crosshead Driver
- Medium Flathead
I would have been much happier if the Grylls multi-tool included a flare gun or possibly a can of bear spray, but I understand that sacrifices must be made to conserve space. The first thing I noticed is that the tools face outward, allowing their use without having to unfold the multi-tool. This is a bit unusual as multi-tools generally are concealed by the handles to prevent rust or other kinds of damage. But because the Grylls contraption comes in a sheath, the tools are already sealed away nicely.
The knife here is also strangely serrated, which I consider a bit redundant, especially with its short blade and inclusion of a saw. It did however come to me razor sharp and I was pleasantly surprised by its performance. Multi-tool knives are hardly a standard for quality, and very few I’ve used outside of Victorinox and Leatherman are worthy of carrying. The one on the Grylls multi-tool is. The knife is easily distinguishable from the other tools by its darker coating, but for the life of me I couldn’t find out what steel the blade is constructed from. Odds are, if you’re thinking about buying the tool pack, you already have a dedicated knife for camp/bushcraft chores, so a multi-tool’s knife is of secondary (or tertiary) concern. I know I’m already fast running out of belt space. Despite its mystery steel, the knife seems to have an astounding level of edge retention. Maybe Gerber accidentally shipped mine with meteorite iron.
The blade also comes with an easy-to-deploy thumb notch, which is a nice touch.
Except for the knife, all of the other components of the multi-tool come with a locking mechanism activated by a slide on the handle. It can be a bit difficult to operate with wet hands, but otherwise is very useful in holding your tools in place.
The woodsaw can be useful, but may be a bit small to be considered anything but a novelty. What I am really impressed by is the quality of the scissors, which are probably the best I’ve ever used out of a multi-tool. Everything else performs to specifications. By that I mean they didn’t break through being submerged in ice water, thrown around, and ravaged by my girlfriend’s cat, which I am convinced is actually a domesticated mountain lion.
I’m not big on ferrocerium firestarters. However, I understand the value of these firestarters over lighters and matches, such as their famous durability and the ability to operate in low temperatures. And you should always carry different methods of starting a fire. Still, I rarely find myself using a firestarter. The process of lighting a fire with one of these isn’t hard, but may take some practice for your first few strikes. Here’s a tip: bring a cotton ball with you if you intend on using firestarters. Cotton balls are easy to light and weigh next to nothing.
Additional firestarters can be purchased from Gerber. They’re around $5 or so.
This is probably as small as a torch can get without be considered an overly bright Christmas light. That said, I’m not complaining about this pint-sized, 7-lumen wonder. It is durable, waterproof when screwed tight, and lasts just about forever. In one of the rare cases of a product description actually underselling something, the Grylls kit flashlight does not have an advertised four-hour run time. I left the light on before a solid eight-hour nap and woke to find that the flashlight barely dimmed. Then I threw it at a wall and went back to sleep.
Scratches on my home decor notwithstanding, this little device is incredibly handy. There are two modes of activation: screwing the base cap of the light clockwise until it activates, or tapping on a hard point on the reverse of the base. For the second option to work, the base must not be too far back from the battery. For those of us who want every hard, shiny thing to be a glass-breaker, I’m sure the Tempo will do in a pinch. It is not exactly optimal, with its short three-inch reach and screwing cap, but it beats having to learn Pai Mei’s one-inch punch.
This is my favorite part of the entire package, and played a large part in me getting the survival kit. The heavy duty plastic sheath that comes with the kit stores all the tools included in a small, compact package. An opening on the front allows easy retrieval of the multi-tool (just push out) while slots for the flashlight and firstarter are equally well-designed for retention and easy access. It’s a handsome-looking presentation and is unobtrusive. Another neat feature is that the back strap can be unhooked to pull over your belt, rather than requiring you to loosen your pants.
Experienced survival enthusiasts have every reason to turn down their nose at this tool pack. Admittedly, it has that awkward, freshman look about it, almost like it’s the first day at college and it’s trying to find out where all the cooler survival tools are hanging out. Snobbery aside, it makes for a decent beginner’s pack and contains tools that never cease to be useful. It may not be made out of the highest quality materials or the most innovative designs, but it will learn with you. Like a beloved first .22 (or in my case, my first fixed blade), you will eventually outgrow it, but it’ll be there for you if you want to take it out for a ride again.
Images courtesy Daniel Xu