When it comes to being prepared, the bare essentials for survival and first aid should never be far away. And whether it’s a daypack, camping pack, car trunk, or bug-out bag, VSSL’s canisters do a great job overall at keeping those essentials ready, organized, and easy to access.
VSSL canisters have different themes, but each contains a 200-lumen integrated flashlight and oil-filled compass. The flashlight seems high-quality and shines bright with multiple modes, including one that delivers the Morse SOS signal. The compass is not high-end, but is perfectly functional and does its job as long as you balance it carefully.
The rest of each canister is filled with supplies according to different themes like First Aid, Shelter, and even a tongue-in-cheek Zombie canister featuring a sharp aluminum spike for combating hordes of the undead. Each 9” canister is made of sturdy, anodized aluminum, and is 2” in diameter. They’re water-resistant, and feel like they could stand up to a good deal of abuse.
VSSL sent me their “First Aid” and “Supplies” canisters. While basic, the First-Aid canister is wonderfully organized and surprisingly well-stocked. The Supplies canister, also well-thought out, contains a set of general survival essentials. I was impressed with both, and while they weren’t without their drawbacks, their flaws really just depend on how you plan on using them. In other words, a flaw for one use might turn out to be an advantage for another. More on this later.
Special Note: The folks at VSSL were kind enough to set up a special deal for BDS readers (unprompted!). If you go to this page here and use code “BACKDOOR15” they will take 15% off (expires July 24th @ 11:59 PM). This is valid for ALL items, not just the ones discussed here.
Below I’ll describe my experience with each, and what situations I think they’re most ideal for.
Three Nights in the Wilderness: VSSL Supplies Canister
With the VSSL Supplies Canister strapped securely to the outside of my pack, I headed out for three nights and four days in the Virginia wilderness. As described on the box, this canister contains numerous tins packed with:
- 3-mode LED lantern (static and SOS)
- Broad ‘flood’ based lantern light (illuminates large area)
- Compass (oil filled)
- 4 hour pure Canadian beeswax candle
- Razor blade
- Aquatabs® water purification tablets
- Wire saw, bow saw (high tensile, 60lb working strength with handle straps)
- First aid supplies
- Aluminum beadless emergency whistle
- Waterproof matches
- Tinder Quik® fire starters
- Fishing Gear
- Signalling [sic] Mirror
- Marine grade rope (250lb breaking strength)
- Reflective trail markers
- P38 military GI Type can opener
- VSSL priorities of survival and instructions
The instructions provide an overview of how to use each tool, along with a list of what your priorities should be in a survival situation. It’s a helpful guide that’s easy to re-fold and return into the canister. In fact, all of the tools were surprisingly easy to reorganize after being removed.
Supplies Canister: All Included Tins
I expected to have a difficult time keeping things as tight and compact when I tried to pack them back into the canister, but the clever design and easily-re-packable tins made it surprisingly easy across the board. I’ll review the Supplies canister tin-by-tin:
- Wire Saw: The instructions recommend using loops on each end to attach the saw to a stick, turning it into a bow saw. I tested it without doing this, and was surprised at how effective it was sawing into a split log. It’s also easy to handle without feeling like you’re going to cut yourself, which is a huge plus, as you need it wind it up very tightly to return it to its tin. I found the process of packing it up a little hard to finagle at first, but this got easier after a few tries, by which point I’d developed a technique.
- Fishing Tackle: This little tin contained all I needed to create a fishing pole out of a stick: line, hooks, sinkers, a reflective lure, and neon yellow worm lures. The instructions include some handy fishing tips. While I didn’t get any bites during a short test, with a little more luck, there’s no doubt this tin contains all the necessary tools to catch a fish for dinner.
- Fire Starter & Mirror: This tin has a reflective plastic panel on the bottom that can be used as a signal mirror. With proper sunlight and angle, it does the trick. Inside the tin are cotton fire starters and waterproof matches. A match striking panel is built into the tin’s cap. The fire starter and matches worked well to get a fire going, but I couldn’t help but think they could have found a way to include a small flint and steel rather than matches. It seems like this would be a fire starting solution that could last much longer, making it more valuable in a medium to long-term survival or bug-out situation.
- Rope & Razor Blade: Both of these items are simple, and serve their purpose. The 25-foot rope is thin but strong, and comes in high-visibility neon yellow. The razor blade can’t do what a pocketknife can do, but it worked great for basics such as cutting cordage to hang my bear bag and shaving tinder off a dry log.
- Can Opener & Water Purification: With a little getting used to, and a bit of elbow grease, the can opener was effective. The tin included instructions for the water purification tablets, which can purify three gallons of water. They caused a slight chlorine-like taste, but some degree of this is unavoidable with chemical purification methods. After all, this would be a comically small price to pay in a situation where three gallons of water meant the difference between survival and death!
- First Aid & Mini-Medical Kit: This tin requires a bit more space, so is twice as deep as the other tins in the kit. It contains safety pins, a bunch of standard and small-sized adhesive bandages, an antiseptic towelette, some medical tape, and a pair of aspirin tablets. For a camping trip, car trunk, or bug-out bag, you’d probably want to pack a more robust first aid kit, so I thought this space would be better used for things like additional rope, fire starter, and water purification supplies.
- Trail Markers & Whistle: By far the heaviest of the tins in this kit, this is one I might switch out with additional fire starter or water purification tins as well. The contents are definitely useful. But with so much modern camping gear like backpacks and even headlamps now including built-in whistles, this item seems less critical. Trail markers are also potentially very handy, but they add a lot of weight for being not nearly as critical in survival situations compared to other items.
- Beeswax Candle: While it takes up a fair amount of space, something as simple as a candle can do wonders for morale in a survival setting. That makes the candle a great addition for people using this as a survival kit, but not as much for camping and backpacking expeditions where whether or not you have a candle can actually influence your will to live!
All in all, the Supplies canister is an impressive package of survival essentials that could be great for bug-out bags and car emergency kits. VSSL also allows you to re-fill your canister with supplies you’ve used up. In addition to keeping your canister stocked without having to buy a new one just to replace one item, this allows you some degree of customization for a canister you already own.
For camping, I would make some modifications by swapping the first aid tin, trail marker and whistle tin, and candle with more of their other supplies However, my preference for a lighter headlamp would probably disqualify this 18-ounce canister for backpacking journeys where pack weight was a major concern.
The compass is significantly lighter than the flashlight, so if you have two canisters, you can remove the flashlight on one and screw a second compass onto the other to reduce the weight. Of course, that would require buying a second canister.
Three Nights in the Wilderness: VSSL First Aid Canister
Thankfully, my three nights in the wilderness didn’t include a situation where anyone required medical attention. Also thankfully, the components of a basic first aid kit are generally easy to review without actually have to test them on a real, live patient! Therefore, my review of this canister will be briefer and much more general than the Supplies canister, as the items are much more self-explanatory.
Along with VSSL’s standard flashlight and compass, this canister contains:
- 6 BZK-based antiseptic wipes
- 2 Isopropyl antiseptic wipes
- 1 Alcohol free cleansing wipe
- 1 Soap wipe
- 2 Cotton pads (2” x 2”)
- 4 Knuckle bandages
- 8 Butterfly bandages
- 8 Regular bandages
- 4 Ibuprofen tablets
- 4 Aspirin tablets
- 4 Safety pins (2 small, 2 large)
- 1 Antibiotic ointment
- 1 Tweezers
- 1 Single sided razor blade
- 1 Roll of medical tape
- 1 Roll medical gauze tape
- 1 Pair medical gloves
- 1 Emergency whistle
As you can see, VSSL packed a nice little first aid kit into a conveniently small package. It’s got everything you need to treat cuts, scrapes, aches and pains, and other common and minor medical situations. The razor blade is a great inclusion, as it could be used to cut a cotton shirt into a larger sling or bandage.
Great as the First Aid canister is as a basic first aid kit, however, it would be great if they offered a flashlight-free version for backpacking trips and other uses where every ounce counts. Since most backpackers and bug-out bags can be packed with lighter but equally-bright headlamps, and existing gear often includes emergency whistles, having more space in the First Aid canister for additional supplies (like extra gauze, medical tape, and antiseptic ointment) would improve it for situations where you need to keep packs as light and compact as possible.
As part of a car emergency kit, on the other hand, it’s great having the flashlight integrated because the extra weight doesn’t really matter. For those reasons, the best uses for the first aid canister really depend on your weight tolerance for any given application.
I’d recommend it most highly for short trips that don’t require much hiking, and bug-out bags that don’t have separate flashlights packed in. It’s also perfect as a basic car first aid kit with an integrated flashlight. The car trunk is where mine will stay, right next to my VSSL Supplies canister. Having both at the ready will give me greater peace of mind wherever my travels take me.
At $99.50 on the VSSL website, the Supplies canister is about at the price point I’d expect it to be. That said, if you didn’t need the flashlight, it would be nice to see a version without the flashlight that replaces it with some more survival gear, all while getting the canister to an even lower cost.
Same goes for the First Aid canister, at $66.50. A less expensive flashlight-free version could pack additional first aid stuff while retailing at a lower price point, which would be great for those who already have all the flashlights they need. Given that the flashlight is high-quality, both prices are reasonable, but the flashlight adds a lot to the cost and total weight for those who don’t really need it.
Part of what you’re paying for is VSSL’s clever design – you might be able to put together a similar set of equipment for the same price or even lower, but would it all integrate into a nifty, well-organized, easy-to-carry canister with a flashlight and compass built right in? Probably not.
For any use where a few extra ounces won’t really matter, and you want all the basic survival and first aid essentials packed into two well-organized packages, VSSL’s Supplies and First Aid canisters are a fantastic option.
Special Note Reminder: The folks at VSSL were kind enough to set up a special deal for BDS readers (unprompted!). If you go to this page here and use code “BACKDOOR15” they will take 15% off (expires July 24th @ 11:59 PM). This is valid for ALL items, not just the ones discussed here.
Eric Raue is a nature-loving writer, experience junkie, and former Boy Scout who never forgot that time-honored Scout Motto: Be prepared. Aside from camping and survival, he loves writing about travel, history, and anything he finds strange and unique!
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