Survival Gear for a Colony Scout

I recently started reading The Rogue Retrieval by Dan Koboldt, creator of the wonderful Science in Sci-Fi, Fact in Fantasy blog series. The protagonist is a Vegas magician strong-armed into accompany a team through a portal to a pre-industrial world where magic is real, and the natural resources haven’t yet been used up.

The ostensible antagonist (honestly, at the 60% mark I’m pretty sure I’m rooting for Holt to succeed in his plans) has taken a backpack full of banned survival gear through the portal and taken over a local city-state in an effort to stop the corporation from exploiting this magical world.

Kiara sighed. “All right, Bradly. When Holt left, he took a backpack with him.”

“What’s in it?”

She had her console out and must have pulled up a list. “Genetically modified corn, soybeat, and wheat seeds. A butane lighter. Waterproof binoculars, ten times magnification. A compact portable generator. Military frequency scanner, infrared goggles. A solar-chargeable laptop.”

“And a Beretta .45 caliber handgun,” Logan added.

It got me to thinking — if I could only take what survival gear I could carry through a portal, what kind of survival gear would I take? Say, to a virgin world I’ve been asked to spearhead the colonization effort of.

I settled on the following:

The Steel Basics

A high-quality modern knife is incredibly important for everything from creating weapons to butchering meat to leather-working — the whole range of tasks related to animal husbandry, really. I’d obviously need flint and steel, as well as a sharpener for my knife.


Guns are all well and good, but as L. E. Modesitt, Jr. addresses in his book, Fall of Angelsthey will eventually run out of bullets. What I’d lose in terms of bow-drilling would be made up for by ease of use. A crossbow is fairly easy to use for a non-expert, the bolts are re-usable and recreatable, and there’s something to be said for feeling inspired by Daryl from the Walking Dead. It’s my understanding that regular bows take years to master, though they’re doubtless a superior piece of survival gear.

A Multipurpose Tool (Axe/Saw)

It certainly looks like survival gear...

Technically, these are called billhook saws…

A friend got one of these as a wedding gift and was kind enough to use it to help me cut down a troublesome holly tree in my backyard. While we used a sawsall for a lot of the trunk work, this thing was amazing at every part of the tree-cutting experience. It even had holes designed to act as leaf-strippers capable of leaving you with a nice, straight branch usable for anything from weapons to kindling. Plus, it even looks like survival gear! I love it so much I got one for my dad.

A handful of genetically diverse seed potatoes

First, I would avoid specialty genetically engineered seeds because, frankly, I don’t trust mono-culture in an environment I can’t completely control. Wheat and soybeans are fine, I guess, but potatoes incredibly versatile — even in a low-tech environment — and do not require any sort of complex milling to be usable. As the Stubby Shilleaghs’ point out, they can be baked, fried, or grilled, boiled, mashed or added to stew (though these fine Irishmen aren’t a fan of the distilled version: vodka). For that matter, the starch can be used to thicken most things as well.


While it’s true that grain is easier to ship and trade, a colony is not going to need to worry about that sort of thing. It’s going to be more concerned about the fact that potatoes are less likely to spoil than grain. Potatoes are also very nutritious, can grow underground where it is better protected from being eaten by grazers, and does well in a wide range of climates. Potatoes are bulky on a per-plant basis, making it easier to fill up on them, and furthermore they yield 2-4 times as many calories than wheat on a per-acre basis.

A female Nigora goat

Milk. Cream. Butter. Cheese. Fiber. Leather. Meat.

Nigora Goats are cute!

It looks small enough to carry, right?

It feels a little rude to call them “survival gear,” but the Nigora goat is a relatively modern breed, created by cross-breeding Nigerian Dwarf bucks with Angora does. They are small to medium-sized dual-purpose goats, which means they produce usable milk and fiber. They are calm and friendly, sensible enough to make good pets. More importantly, they’re able to tolerate a wide range of climates.

A waterproof, solar-powered e-reader

Duh, right? I want to take the entire sum of human knowledge with me in a handheld, portable database, so that when I run into a problem, I can swiftly find an answer to questions like how long do potatoes take to grow? and how to knit. Having a goat is only useful if I can actually use the products I get from it. I haven’t made butter since a 4th grade trip to a Colonial reenactment site. While I think a genuine laptop is excessive, I bet the Boy Scout’s Handbook would come in really handy in this scenario…

Paracord & Carabiner

I cannot imagine a scenario in which I would be unhappy that I had a little bit of sturdy rope around. Even with a goat, it’ll be awhile before I can create usable rope, and rope is always useful. Rope that can easily become string is even better.

Need sutures in case of an injury? Paracord. Need a fishing net? Paracord. Need a belay line to get down a cliff or across a dangerous stream? Paracord. Need to hang meat to dry? Paracord. Need snowshoes? Paracord and a few branches. Need a snare? Ditto.

The carabiner is just a bonus.

What would you take on a colonization mission?

Let me know in the comments!


Eleanor teaches Ancient Civilizations and spends the bits of time left over writing stories that bring history -- and magic -- to life. She enjoys rock climbing, bullet journaling, & gardening focused on plants you can actually eat.

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