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After reading this question about emergency kits, I noticed that no one mentioned nails. Why shouldn't we include 10 or 12, common 6d (2", 6 penny) nails in the kit? Ten 6d nails weigh about an ounce (28g) and could be useful in many situations.

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    List some specific ways you would use nails in a survival situation. Can any of those uses not be served by either a lighter-weight item or another item already in your survival kit?
    – csk
    Dec 10 '19 at 21:17
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    I don't understand why you would have nails in a survival kit
    – Separatrix
    Dec 11 '19 at 8:03
  • Might be helpful depending on circumstances. Aid for shelter build, to fasten boards; weapon, when driven through the end of a board or stick...? Dec 14 '19 at 0:37
  • Add this as an answer to original post. Not a bad idea. Perhaps a nail likely needs a hammer?
    – PV22
    Dec 14 '19 at 1:48
  • @JimmyFix-it paracord is almost always a better option than a nail in a survival situation. everyone should carry at least that and a knife when heading out into the wild.
    – devnull
    Dec 14 '19 at 14:29
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I think there are simply not that many uses for nails in emergency situations.

Using nails as intended:

  • If you want to build shelter or other wooden constructions you would need a lot of nails - which are heavy.
  • Hammering in nails with a rock is rather annoying - and you're not planning to bring a 500g hammer, are you?
  • In any case, for shelter and tool use you can just as well rely on cordage (which should be in your emergency kit) - it is arguably more flexible in its use and can serve many different purposes.
  • Nails are not easily re-usable, while cordage is. This is relevant, as re-usable means that you need to bring less of the thing which means a smaller and lighter survival kit.

Using nails in improvised ways:

  • Yes, there are probably a hand full of uses for nails other than for nailing things down. Maybe improvise a fish hook or something... But frankly, nothing comes to mind that would be really useful and which cannot be done in a different, easier way with the other things your standard survival kit will already contain (such as cordage, tape, wire, ...).
  • To work nails into shape you'd likely need pliers - and you probably don't want to carry those just for this, as they are heavy and don't serve too many purposes.
  • Nails are primarily to nail things down, it's what they are good at. The kit you bring with you is not made from wood generally, and nailing mostly isn't really part of its construction or fixing any part of it. And while some of the resources you can likely rely on in a survival situation involve wood, nailing wood pieces together is simply not something that is needed too often.

So the answer really is: people don't put nails into survival kits because they don't solve any problem that can't be solved by other, easier/better/quicker/more flexible ways.

So what are better alternatives to nails?

  • For fastening: use cordage or create wooden fasteners/dowels using your knife.
  • For fish hooks: bring some actual fish hooks, they weigh essentially nothing.
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    I agree with you, but a multitool based around pliers wouldn't be unreasonable to have, especially in a big group
    – Chris H
    Dec 16 '19 at 12:57
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    True, in some cases a multitool can be reasonable. Personally I stopped bringing it on my longer treks (2 weeks plus) as I found it is rather heavy and I actually never really needed it.
    – fgysin
    Dec 16 '19 at 16:05
  • @ChrisH "wouldn't be unreasonable" I'll go one further: it would be very reasonable to have. I keep a multitool which includes pliers on the outside of my pack where I can reach it without taking the pack off, and I've grabbed it from that position more times than I can count. 95+% of the time I grab it for the knife, but I have used the pliers plenty as well, both for the obvious (like fishing) but also for woodwork (eg: hold onto a very short piece of wood so I don't cut my fingers while carving) and to help break apart wood pieces. Recommended for bush-crafting.
    – Loduwijk
    Dec 17 '19 at 16:33
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    @Loduwijk To each their own, I'm sure you find a use for it if you bring one. For me the question was: "Is it absolutely essential?" And if the answer to this question is no, then I won't bring the thing to a 2-week-no-resupply trek, as weight is of the utmost concern. I don't even bring a big fixed-bladed knife, however much I enjoy using my Fällkniven when I'm out in the woods...
    – fgysin
    Dec 18 '19 at 7:08
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    That makes sense. When I see "emergency kit" though I don't think "Is it absolutely essential?" rather I think "What is going to make my emergency situation so much better that it's worth the weight?" or "Could this likely be the difference between life and death, or subsistence and thriving, in an emergency?" Nails don't make your definition or mine (at least not better than alternatives), but I think pliers do. But since pliers aren't the topic I'll leave it at that; just wanted to support Chris in saying that pliers shouldn't be counted out, only problem with the answer; its premise is good
    – Loduwijk
    Dec 18 '19 at 15:06
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Nails will be extremely useful at a Bug Out Location (BOL), not so much in the Bug Out Bag (BOB) or even the Bug Out Vehicle (BOV). That is why I keep an extensive cache at the BOL, which includes woodworking tools and a large assortment of stainless steel nails. Most of what I cache in terms of woodworking/construction were extras and duplicates of other tools, so there was minimal investment. Example - everyone likely has 2 claw hammers, but probably always go for the same favorite. Those ignored tools went to the BOL cache - not my favorite or even best, but perfectly functional. As far as not making it to my BOL, I have 2 other BOLs which are stocked and occupied by other parties, making my cache abandonable if need be....

For OP, I agree with you that they have great value, but also agree with the others that I would rather reserve that weight in my BOB for more versatile items. However I DO carry 24 small cheap cup hooks in my BOB. They are great for REALLY quick tarp shelters and weigh next to nothing....

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    Maybe an explanation of 'bug out whatever' as well, as that is not English as was taught in school.
    – Willeke
    Sep 28 at 20:10
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    @Willeke bug out in this context, means escape, retreat, or flee. It's used in the context of disasters (civil, military, or sci-fi), though I think it originates as a US military term for retreating hastily. The ready use of acronyms based on it comes from the prepper (survivalist) community, which is more widespread in America than Europe. It's now spawned the term "bug in" which is about sheltering in your main home, having prepared to deal with a crisis there - a concept perhaps more familiar to many of us than it was a couple of years ago.
    – Chris H
    Sep 29 at 8:57
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    ... So a bug-out bag is in essence an emergency grab bag of essentials. Essential for what, for how long, how big etc. is a matter of personal choice and people who take it seriously may have several. That extends to a vehicle in some cases, which may be pre-stocked, or ready to be stocked with bug-out supplies.
    – Chris H
    Sep 29 at 9:02
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    I added descriptions to the acronyms. Since the post was about survival kits, I assumed everyone was familiar with at least a BOB. I stumbled across this thread in a Google search for something else, didn't even realize this wasn't prepper specific or global. Sorry for the confusion. Hope this clears things up! Sep 29 at 19:56
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    Thanks for the edit @FrankHuber, and welcome. It's nice to see different perspectives, and different interpretations of the question (also, if my definitions above don't match your understanding, do say - you know more about it than me)
    – Chris H
    Sep 30 at 10:15
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If I was considering nails for my survival kit, I think I would probably upgrade to a hand drill instead.

Metal nails are use once and gone, a drill and a knife will make an unlimited supply of holes and wood fasteners.

Keep in mind survival is either short term stationary or it is mobile. Anything you have to leave at the last campsite, does not provide lasting value. Buildings that require nails (or wood pegs) fall in to the same scenarios as planting crops.

Related When to know it's worth to start with agriculture?

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  • A hand drill? What kind of survival scenario are you planning for? I'd bring a hand drill to build an off-grid cabin in the woods - but that's hardly a survival scenario...
    – fgysin
    Dec 16 '19 at 16:08
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    @fgysinreinstateMonica maybe a 'bug out kit', or a 'car kit', for anything you are planning to carry on your person, I think your answer has it covered. I also had some side thoughts that may develop into new questions soon, still contemplating. The original thought was just to bring a drill bit, and plan to use it with a bow drill but on reflection a modern hand drill would weight less then a hammer, and do you a lot more good. Dec 16 '19 at 17:56
  • In case you don't know him: have a look at what Dick Proenneke did, esp. his cabin project (de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Proenneke). There are documentaries (on YouTube also I think) in which he explains which tools he brought - for longer projects I think those would be a brilliant starting point.
    – fgysin
    Dec 17 '19 at 7:07
  • English language link en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Proenneke, I have watched 'Alone in the Wilderness.' on broadcast TV, it is a good. Dec 17 '19 at 13:25
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    Before reading your answer I was going to mention how a nail could be used as a drill, a poor unwieldy one but longer lasting than wood drills. But of course, if that is your intent then yes bringing a drill bit is infinitely better. I have been meaning to put a drill bit in my survival gear for quite a while and I just keep forgetting to do it. Drilling holes with wood or multitool awls is only fun for so long, then you start dreaming about a simple drill bit. Drilling while out is useful for a lot, mostly I've done it to make superior bowdrills - the only way I've done them successfully.
    – Loduwijk
    Dec 17 '19 at 16:45
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Nails are finished metal in a portable form factor. You are not going to randomly find ore and smelt it down to useful steel. By cold forging (pounding the nail as best you can) into a flatter form you can make a makeshift knife or other edged tool (chisel, gouge, reamer/awl). In time a needle or fishhook is possible especially with using a multitool.

As a nail, No. But as material to worked, nails are pretty handy.

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    Nails are a lousy source of metal. A nail is heavier than a pre-made fishhook, too soft for a knife blade, chisel, or gouge, and too large to make a usable needle.
    – Mark
    Sep 29 at 4:32

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