VSSL First Aid Kit and Utility/Survival Kit
We recently had a chance to review and test the new VSSL Utility Tools that have been hitting the market. There are so many compact “utility/survival” and “first aid” kits on the market that as a company whose target audience is the backcountry traveler and do-it-yourself adventurer; we wanted to see for ourselves what these were about before recommending them. I should mention that we are not survival experts and as such, we are writing this review from the perspective of the everyday user who comes to us looking to go on their own adventure in the backcountry while using our equipment.
We believe it is important for these types of products to be strong enough to withstand the elements but also be assembled/packaged/delivered in such a way that the tools make sense for the average user.
What often times becomes lost in the marketing message of these types of products is that these are in fact tools and their failure/success rate is directly related to the skills and experience of the person using them. We believe that if you are going to actively pursue backcountry expeditions and venturing off into the woods, you should take the time and attend a first aid class or two. There are some great options throughout the United States including the NOLS and SOLO education centers. If you live in Colorado, we highly recommend the Apex Mountain School located here in the Vail Valley.
The basic premise of the VSSL container is that it replaces the old fashioned torch light and where the Double D batteries used to live, that space can now be used for survival gear, first aid equipment etc. All of the VSSL kits to date are built from machined aluminum, measure out at 9”x 2” and weigh in at just over a pound. The head of each tube/cylinder includes an LED spot light that doubles as an S.O.S. beacon and at the base of each tube is a surprisingly good quality, oil filled compass. My immediate thought was that the compass, as solid as it is, will be better served as a backup simply because it lacks the ability to truly work with a map. In the future, I would like to see VSSL include a solution that allows for the compass to work more in harmony with a topo map – maybe a rotating dial on the main cylinder with orienting lines and a hinged arrow that can be opened to give a heading. Also, I accidentally shook the cylinder too hard and the compass flew across the room. I think it is designed to come out of the housing but I was not aware of it and almost broke the thing – just a heads up.
As for the LED light. It’s a surprisingly powerful flood beam. The VSSL website indicates that a user can expect up to 20 hours of run time out of the beam and a total of 40 hours if solely used in S.O.S. mode. These lights are using the E90 Miniature Alkaline Batteries which are not the best option for extremely cold temperatures. I was a little bummed to see that since many of our customers are winter enthusiasts and most of the reports of people getting lost in Colorado are from the winter months from having tracks covered by snowfall and other factors. After reading some information on the vsslgear.com site, it sounds as if they are in the process of getting their ANSI/NEMA FL-1 portable light certification so maybe the report will prove me wrong. I was already scheduled to go on a winter camping trip so I’m going to bring this system with me and see for myself how long the light actually last. As for the entire cylinder/case itself, I’m really curious to see how durable this product is. It’s one thing to play with it inside the shop, it’s another thing to have it in the elements getting banged around, accidentally dropped on rocks, falling into rivers/ponds, etc. VSSL does mention on their site that the product is weather resistant and not weather proof so if anything, I may discover the breaking point for this. The aluminum that they are using is known for being indestructible so that is a good sign. All in all, I’m a fan of the VSSL Container and I believe that it has some big potential moving forward.
VSSL First Aid Kit
With Spencer, our COO, being a certified first responder and my wife being an O.R. Nurse, I opted to have each of them review the contents of the first aid kit. I mostly wanted to know their feelings on whether or not the items were a good, well thought out mix of medical supplies – Years ago my wife basically saved my foot just using the items that were in our first aid kit so it’s important that these kits do include the essentials because you just never know what may happen. We were also recently burned by an online purchase that had great reviews but what arrived was a subpar medical kit by any standards. As for the VSSL first aid kit. It is for sure built more for your family day trekkers than say a multi-day backpacking trip through the mountains. It has enough of the basics to fix small scrapes, cuts, and gashes but if you’re really getting out there, you are going to want to bring some added items. They have included an educational piece on a plastic bag but it takes up a lot of usable space and makes the items hard to remove. The lack of actual Aspirin was a bit disturbing even though the package clearly stated that aspirin was included. Instead, there are four non-aspirin pain killers and four multipurpose pain relief pills. The multipurpose does contain caffeine which is good for altitude. My thought on the lack of pure Aspirin is that there is a fear that someone may accidentally give it to a child not knowing that you should never do that but if an adult is suffering from a mild heart attack, pure aspirin is your best bet. Luckily, if you remove the massive plastic bag that holds everything, there will be plenty of room for a few added tablets. The lack of Coban (veterinarian wrap) was also frustrating as it is probably the most useful medical material out there. I would try to stuff some Coban in before heading out. For a mom who needs to fix a small cut on a child, this kit is ready to go. If you are in the middle of the mountains with a serious issue, you’re going to wish you had some added items packed in.
Contained in the same Torch Cylinder as the first aid kit, the supplies kit essentially gives you 5-6 of the 10 essential survival tools. Again, as stated above, these tools/supplies are only useful if you know how to use them. Knowledge is key and nothing tops experience. At first glance, I think this product lends itself well to parents who are looking to teach their kids about basic survival skills.
Before I review what it comes with, I want to mention that our developer James who spends most of his free time camping off of his dirt bike immediately thought of his own practical use for these containers. He was stranded a few years ago due to a bad clutch up on Pearl Pass in the late fall – not a good time to be stranded on that pass. Using some bailing wire, he was able to repair the clutch enough to where he was able to limp the bike back home. Bailing wire and paracord are two of his staples for dirt bike camping trips and he thought this VSSL container would be a great little organizer for those loose yet very important items.
As for the contents inside the utility/survival pack. Being assembled in Canada I was half expecting a bunch of small hockey pucks to roll out but instead there were seven tins and each one was individually labeled.
The tin labeled “saw” grabbed my attention first. It contained a super cool hand saw which I believe were made popular by the WWll British Army but I’ll have to check my research on that. These saws actually have a lot of use and the one that is included seems to be sharp enough. I have to say that it is difficult to get the saw back into its tin. The Fishing bin has your basic hook and jig setup. Here in Colorado there are plenty of ponds where a simple stick, line and hook with a worm on the end would be enough to catch a fish so this is a good item to have. I would also remove the jig setup and just include some dry flies. High mountain brookie’s are easy enough to catch. In the winter, it’s easy to make an ice fishing setup out of some line, a hook and 2 sticks so this fishing bin is really all you need. I’d also suggest learning how to trap a fish in a river just as a bonus skill to have.
Obviously there is a candle included. It claims to have a 6-hour burn life. I like that it is easy to separate from its housing because I don’t think I would want to burn it while its sitting in its container. Candles are extremely useful and I usually keep quite few in my pack. One trick I recently learned is that you should also keep some of those trick birthday candles with you as well. They won’t blow out as easily in gusty winds due to the magnesium coated wicks. The fire tin has a few matches, a striker and a mirror along with some packed cotton. I wouldn’t mind seeing some small easy start cubes in this tin as well.
The other tins include some thumbtacks with arrows that illuminate at night. Using these would be a smart way to mark your way back to base camp if you are actively exploring different directions to find an exit route. There is also a smaller version of the Med-Kit included in the utility/survival supplies kit. The beadless whistle is nice to have as well.
Lastly there are the water purification tablets and the worlds’ smallest can opener. The water tablets are essential – you never know what was relieving itself upstream from where you pulled your water. What’s really cool is that you can even use the cylinder to hold water/drink from. Really, with everything that is included, I was surprised to see that sun protection did not make the list – I will assume it wasn’t on their mind as they were assembling this kit in the rain-soaked northwest. Just for the heck of it I went ahead and checked – sure enough, a tin of “Burt Bees” chapstick fits perfectly into these things.
As far as we can tell, this is a solid product for families looking to explore for the day. As a former conceptual artist for a fly fishing product developer, I can honestly say that this is a very smart design and the folks on the VSSL team seem to have actually put the user first when deciding what to include. I’ve seen a lot of products on the market that use a celebrity name to sell a kit that was assembled more for profitability than actual use. The VSSL First Aid Kit is easily a great addition to any vehicle and really to any pack – I would just want to add a few more items. For those of you on snowmobiles, the size of this first aid kit is a good fit for inside your tunnel pack and for RZR’s, just toss it in your glove box. I do wish the product was a little burlier (weather proof) for winter outings but I do plan on purchasing a few shells to pack with different items for random trips – I like being able to just grab things out of my garage that are ready to go. I would also like to see some future variations in the lids. Overall, the team at VSSL has done a great job.
Example of Importance
Before I finish this article I want to make mention that here in the high country we read about many tragic events just in our own backyard. Many folks who come from out-of-town and even more so, ones who come from around Colorado have a belief that getting lost won’t happen to them for whatever reason. It’s the wrong attitude to have and just a few years ago, a group of skiers and snowboarders had to survive a night in a snowstorm after getting lost off of the Minturn Mile. If they had a supply kit that included an S.O.S. Beacon in their packs, that may have been all they needed to signal someone in the nearby town or one of the many homes that are scattered throughout the mountains. They were fortunate that they were able to start a fire and survive the night on their own but one should never venture off into the mountains of Colorado without some basic necessities because you never know what might happen.
I will be leaving for a winter camping trip with a trusted friend who is much more versed in survival skills than I am given his background. It will be an 18 mile round trip journey up to 12,000’ at the base of Mount Holy Cross – one of Colorado’s famous 14ers. The trail head is about 8 miles up the road from our shop in Eagle-Vail. I may actually order a VSSL shelter kit just to give it a go as I have been looking for a more compact version to my tarp system. I will be sure to provide feedback and trip photos of how everything holds up in the elements as soon as I get back.
Pay it Forward
I read the story about the owner of VSSL and why he got into making these types of products. It was his love for the outdoors and sharing those experiences with his family that put the idea into his head to build outdoor products. His story is not unlike our own at RMAR and as a way to spread the love for the outdoors, I’m going to map out a few locations that will take you to some really cool lakes and ponds in the central mountains. If you’re renting an RZR from us and want to take your sons and daughters up to an area where you can teach some basic skills for the day/trip, we will keep this sample kit and a few others in the shop for you to take with you.
More to come.