“Two is one, one is none”

I’ve been hearing and reading this quote a lot recently. As far as I can tell, it originated in the US military (marine corps?). It stresses the idea that it’s good to have some redundancy to your gear, especially when it comes to items which are frequently used or required for safety/survival. If you have a knife on your belt and one in your pack, for example, you’d still have one knife should you somehow lose either your pack or belt. If you only have one knife, and it gets separated from you, you’re out of luck. I decided to take a look at my gear to see how it measures up (by the way, a review of what I carry in my backpack is coming soon…promise!).

I identified the following redundancies in my gear (only important or semi-important items taken into account here). I carry:

  • 2 knives (one fixed blade and one small SAK)
  • 4 fire-starting tools (matches in two places and ferro rod and flint and steel kit in other places)
  • 2 map compasses (almost identical)
  • 2 bundles of cord and twine (twine and paracord in one place, just twine in another place)
  • 2 flashlights (one LED headlamp and one bright LED keychain flashlight)
  • 2 canteens (second is brought on longer trips)
  • 3 pots/kettles (cooking pot and kettle in backpack, canteen cup in shoulder bag)
  • 2 basic shelters (2 poncho tent halves) (3 shelters if you include the Mylar space blanket)
  • 2 soaps
  • 2 small rolls of toilet paper

As I said above, this list is not exhaustive, but I don’t think there are too many other items which are doubled up (or tripled etc.). As you can see, my backup items are often smaller/lighter than the main item, and almost as functional, so they don’t add a huge amount of bulk or weight. The backup items are not always exactly the same the original, nor do they always need to be (i.e. I don’t feel the need to carry two fixed-blade knives etc.).

While doing this check, I noticed one glaring redundancy omission: first-aid kits. I have one in my shoulder bag, which is almost always with me, but I think it would make a lot of sense to have a second first-aid kit in my backpack as well, in case I lose my shoulder bag somehow. So before my next outing, I will put together another first-aid kit and include it in a small dry bag in my backpack which already contains a few other items. Another change will be to move my Swiss army knife from my belt pouch to my shoulder bag so that both my knives are not attached to my belt.

Do you have redundancies built into your kit? I highly recommend making sure that you do!

EDIT: Please check out the comments and my responses below, as they provide some more insight into why I think some gear redundancy can be crucial.


26 comments on ““Two is one, one is none”

  1. Finnman says:

    Sure redundancy is important. I have 3-4 knives (2 sheath knives, SAK And Leatherman), atleast 3 ways to make fire, 2 compasses. 2-3 metal cups,pots or kettles to make food / boil water. Those are most important to me. After those I ALWAYS carry my PSK (personal survival kit) and space blanket on my jacket pocket or in pocket of my cargo pants. That psk is my last resort if I lose everythin else containing blade, matches, compass and many other things.

    – Finnman

  2. Ross Gilmore says:

    I understand the theory as it applies to military operations, but it never made sense to me in terms of being out in the woods. On one hand, yes, the more things you have the better. However, there is a cost for each extra item you bring-weight. Someone could have told Mallory that he should take a few extra oxygen canisters when attempting to climb Everest, but the reality was that he could not carry them up if he had. As a result, those redundant items take the place of necessary items. For each extra pound of knives we bring, we have to leave a pound of food at home, or some other item, unless we are to become beasts of burden.

    In the more regular context, for me, “one is one; and one is enough”. If I lose all of my gear, I’ll simply make my way back. When was the last time that any of us were so far away from civilization that a broken knife or lost ferro rod would result in our death, or even hardship? For that matter, when was the last time anyone has their backpack?

    I have come a lot closer to dying while driving to the forest than while being in it-a number of times. 🙂

    • You make some good points, Ross, but I think there might be some factors to this that you aren’t taking into account (both because of differences in the places people go to, as well as the fact that I haven’t shown all my gear here at TWW yet).

      “being out in the woods” can mean very different things to different people. Is it the woods behind a house in a suburban area, or is it the middle of a large wilderness where there are no trails? Big difference. The place I go to most is somewhere in between, though it is admittedly more like “backyard woods” (it’s about an hour’s walk/hike to the nearest house inhabited year-round). I think the type of the woods you’re going to can make a difference in the safety/survival factor.

      As for the added weight, I guess I should have been more specific about my redundant gear. 🙂 My extra knife is a small SAK, not a kukri. 😉 Two of my fire tools are nothing but extremely lightweight matches (in two different places). My extra flashlight (and my main light, for that matter) is a very small, but bright LED flashlight. My extra pot is a super-lightweight aluminum cup that nests with my canteen. It’s the same with all of the items. So as you can see, the redundancies I carry are quite lightweight. I recently put together the items I am planning to bring on my next trip to Lapland this summer. Total weight, including food and water: 38.5 lbs. This includes everything for a one-week trip, including extra clothes, a hatchet, my redundancies etc. It’s not ultralight, granted, but I’m not an ultralight hiker. I don’t mind carrying this kind of weight around, and of course it decreases as the food is consumed. Sure, this weight could be reduced by switching to more modern lightweight materials, but what can I say. I likes what I likes. 🙂

      “If I lose all of my gear, I’ll simply make my way back.” In most cases, probably. It’s important to keep in mind that this is much easier when traveling on marked trails or in familiar areas.

      “When was the last time that any of us were so far away from civilization that a broken knife or lost ferro rod would result in our death, or even hardship?” Again, it depends on the situation and location. I have been in real, potentially critical situations several times over the past few years, and having the ability to make fire (in particular) was extremely important. For a good chunk of the year, the conditions I face in the wilderness in Finland are not friendly. Without the proper clothing, knowledge and gear, there is a very real possibility of being in danger, whether it’s because of a lack of light and low temperatures in the winter, wet conditions at near-freezing temperatures in the spring and fall etc. As I said before, for the most part I am only 1 hour’s walking distance away from a family’s home, so I’m not in the middle of Alaska or something. But in harsh conditions, things like falling through ice, injury etc. can become a life or death situation, even at/near my campsite (no, I don’t walk on questionable ice alone 🙂 ).

      “For that matter, when was the last time anyone has lost their backpack?” I’m lucky enough to have never lost a backpack in the wilderness, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. 🙂 It is not a rare occurrence for a pack to be lost while crossing a river, traversing ice or in other circumstances where it should be removed for safety. Granted, these things are not done by most of us every day.

      The potential for danger is going to vary depending on our level of skill and experience, distance from other people/resources etc. I’d rather carry a pound (if that) of small redundant items and play it safe, hoping that I never need to use them in an emergency, as opposed to the other way around. Just my preference.

      • Ross Gilmore says:

        All good points. If you are in an environment where where loss of gear is likely due to the conditions, then yes, you have to prepare accordingly. I am usually at the most a two day walk away from a road, so barring some huge gear failure, I can generally make it out, even if I have to walk during the night. I guess that colors my perception. All I’m saying is, I’ve had two car accidents on the way to the woods, but no accidents in the woods yet. 🙂 Even so, I’m still way more prepared for the woods than the ride there.

        • Ross Gilmore says:

          Well, I just thought about that, and it’s not exactly true. I did dislocate my shoulder during last winter. I was a few hours away from the car, so I was able to make it back. Of course, at that point I found the car stuck. I had to weight for most of the night for a tow truck with a plow to make it there to pull me out. I’m not sure what that says about duplicates. I had all my gear with me.

  3. Bill Giles says:

    Everything is relative to your survival. The things necessary to get you out of a jam are the most important and should be considered first in terms of redundancy. This would include knives, fire strting aids and clothing. If you are in a cold climate and take a tumble into a stream or lake, you are likely to need all three. I have broken through ice and fallen into a pond before, but I was lucky to be within scrambling distance of heated shelter.

  4. jim says:

    I think that it depends on where you are going, and who accompanies you. In a group, streamlining your kit makes sense, when part of a group of 12, we did a lot of streamlining. If you are by yourself, or heading into a bad spot…

    • Absolutely. There are a lot of factors involved. I should have mentioned that 95% of my outings are solo trips, so I lack the redundancy of other peoples’ gear. This makes it necessary, or at least desirable, for me to carry the redundancies I mentioned in the post.

  5. Ron says:

    Well, actually I don’t…..
    I do not bring back-ups for back-ups….
    I have one fixed bladeknife, one SAK, one FAK, one shelter…..
    However I do have an emergency blanket in my FAK that could double as a shelter, but that’s not why I bring it. I do carry an army poncho, which could double as a shelter, but that’s not why I take it along and I do carry a multitool, but not for it’s knifeblade. I have my firelightingbox, but I also carry a firesteel and I have a PSK on my, whenever I go out. You pretty much summed up the reasons why.
    I do carry a full spare set of clothes and I always bring a shelterhalf.

    If I decide to bring extra knives or other stuff, it’s for testing them, but I do keep my usual gear with me. That has been tried and tested and I know that will work… for me.

    Good you brought up the subject. Makes me rethink my own gear and choices….

  6. JIm in Ky says:

    Perhaps not “just as functional” but fulfills the core function of the item. I think of things like a garbage bag instead of a second poncho which could be used in a pinch as shelter. A condom or two instead of a 3rd Canteen. The previously mentioned SAK instead of a sheath knife.

    Thinking about Nessmuk’s trio of cutting tools, if you removed any one of the three from the set is the ability to do a task eliminated or just complicated?

    • Thanks for the comments, Jim.

      The reason I carry two ponchos is because I snap them together to form my tent. One is normally attached to my shoulder bag and is used as a poncho on day trips, and the other is in my backpack. Unfortunately, replacing one of these ponchos with a garbage bag would make my main camping shelter incomplete. I also like the size and ruggedness of these ponchos, so I won’t be ditching them anytime soon.

      As for a condom or two in place of a 3rd (?) canteen (I only have 2 canteens), I don’t personally see this as a long-term solution, as a thin rubber condom simply can’t hold up over time. Maybe in emergencies for water-gathering purposes it would work, but not on a long trek.

      My preference is for a solid sheath knife over a non-locking folder. This is just a product of testing and my own personal experience and needs. I’m not interested in replacing it with the SAK, but the SAK does have its purposes and also fills the role of a backup knife.

      As you can probably tell, I am not a minimalist. 🙂 I also like good solid gear and don’t mind a little extra weight if it means I can rely on my equipment. I don’t like to leave things at home just solely for the purpose of minimalizing. There has to be a good reason. Better to be over-prepared, than under-prepared. As I replied to Ross above, my entire loadout for a week (including food and full water canteens) is about 38.5 lbs., and I’m completely happy with that. Unlike lightweight/ultralight backpackers, my main focus is not on reducing weight, but rather choosing rugged, solid, multi-use gear.

      I do appreciate your recommendations and comments! Don’t be offended if I don’t take your advice directly. My choices are based on a number of years of use and testing in a certain environment and when doing certain things, so naturally they’re going to suit me, but probably not everyone else!

  7. OZme says:

    Having back up of the equipment is something I do think of when I pack. Even I probably not needed, it gives piece of safety feeling in mind. But on the other hand, it makes more things to carry, so I try to have equipment which works more than one way. The primary function for intended use and the secondary function for back up of something.
    Perhaps I will make blog post on this topic as this is going to become long comment.

  8. Dear Weekend Woodsman and your readers,

    You and your readers make a lot of great points that will be discussed for many years, as we try to arrive at a good answer to the concept “Two is one; one is none”

    So, …

    I’d like to add my two cents.

    First, Finnman and Bill Giles make a good point that we need to carry back-ups for critical items/skills like fire starting, shelter, water, first-aid, and cutting instruments on our person.

    Next, you and JIm in Ky make another good point about how the ‘back-up’ doesn’t need to be an exact replacement but a functional replacement such as a razor blade as a back-up in a personal survival kit (PSK) instead of another full-size knife.

    Third, all of your readers seemed to make the same point ‘The situation dictates the redundant gear.’

    Next, OZme makes a good point about your gear could and should have two functions, so you can carry less ‘stuff.’

    Lastly, I would like to add my thought.

    The more skills you have, the less stuff you need.

    Sincerely, Someone You Know

    Good post

  9. Johne271 says:

    It’ll also save a lot of cash and time for those on abdgeedecdbf

  10. Bushytails says:

    I find redundant gear has another advantage… Invariably no one I’m with ever bothers to come prepared in any fashion whatsoever, so I have spares to lend out.

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