estwingI learned this morning that a paper clip is one of the handiest things I can have for saving my life when stranded in the wild.

Maybe I’ll try it after recovering from the most recent wounds incurred in the opening of my Rube Goldberg model multi-tool. The paper clip certainly would be cheaper than buying one of those knives that have everything Daniel Boone might have dreamed of packed into a screw-top handle. And now that I am informed of the paper clip’s many uses, I won’t be tempted to carry a 16-ounce survival manual on my next backpacking trip. (In an emergency situation, you have to be a fast reader).

Yes, I might try the paper clip. Or die trying.

The magazine article informing me of the paper clip miracle — and I subscribe to the magazine — says a paper clip can be used in survival situations for: catching a fish; relieving nail pressure; lancing blisters; substituting for a compass; splinter removal; and spearing rodents, frogs or birds.paperclip

I need not lie awake at night anymore thinking of the perils of the wilderness. I just need to write at the top of my packing list “paper clip,” although I’m not sure about the most likely scenario for me losing all the rest of my equipment, leaving me to reckon with the wild world only with a flimsy clerical fastener.

A bear runs me out of camp but I have thoughtfully taped a paper clip to my ankle?

I am especially comforted by the idea that I can impale small animals with the paper clip folded out into a two-tined spear, although the survival article did not suggest how many attempts it might take with this device to actually obtain dinner. I assume that a lot of stealth and waiting would be involved, but you would be comforted by the knowledge that you were prepared.

My favorite survival-gear novelty used to be an economical, head-to-toe freezing-weather outfit made from thick chunks of foam rubber — taped together, I think. I learned of this in a magazine years ago — it was especially recommended for budget-minded Boy Scouts — and while I admired the affordability and do-it-yourselfness of the outfit, I felt kind of sorry for the bulky looking models demonstrating its use.  They looked like crosses of Gumby and a Cheesehead. Admittedly, the outfit probably was not great for ski touring, but it could have been the bees’ knees for sitting around camp, as long as you didn’t get too close to a fire. Assuming you had your Daniel Boone dream knife and the stuff to build one.

But wait, my magazine article says a paper clip also can be used to start a fire, simply by rubbing a paper clip between the terminals of a 9-volt battery.

Damn, did I forget to pack that 9-volt battery?

I never tried the foam-rubber cold-weather gear, but I confess to some embarrassing camping and backpacking habits of my own in past: Carrying enough medical supplies for a small, urban clinic, for instance.

And then there is my Estwing hatchet. For years, as a younger man, I never was without this pound-and-a-half, forged-steel implement on a backcountry trip. I remember carrying it as a wood-cutting, tent-staking and trenching tool, back in the days when open fires were acceptable and pegs had to be cut and driven into the ground for a canvas tent and trench dug around its base for runoff.

The trenching, of course, quickly dulled the blade, so a file also had to be carried, unless one wanted to engage in the more tedious work of sharpening with a rock. The Estwing had a way of adding to, rather than eliminating, campsite chores. And, like the multi-tool, the hatchet had a way of inflicting injury, underscoring the rational for carrying all those medical supplies.

It probably occurred to me that hatchet could be a last defense against a charging animal, but fortunately the closest I ever got to that scenario was in a dreamy last minute before dropping off to an undisturbed sleep, following the excellent survival advice of not plopping my bag down in a game trail or nodding off with toothpaste smeared on my lips.

Now that I think of it more, I know I was destined to carry the Estwing hatchet because my father had carried one. But I eased out of the habit as I grew older, my knees began to ache and my back wanted lighter loads.

My Estwing now stays at home, serving as my fireplace tool. I occasionally use it for splitting kindling, but, if the truth be known, the steel cap on the leather-wrapped handle has always given me blisters. For which I might need a paper clip.

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