Any everyday carry SERE (survival, evasion, resistance, escape) kit is a valuable piece of equipment. They can be applied to any potentially dangerous situation. A well put together kit should try to cover a wide array of scenarios but also be as minimalist as possible; if it’s cumbersome to carry in casual situations, you probably won’t be inclined to carry it at all.
A SERE kit can be quite situationally dependent as well. A military version will not be the same as an EDC or law enforcement kit. Having a SERE kit is an important part of traveling abroad as an individual volunteer in potentially volatile countries and something I practiced daily. Remember, some of these items you may have to acquire when you get in a country due to import/export restrictions at customs. Be advised that you should follow all laws regarding concealed objects in the U.S. and traveling abroad at all times.
Survival does not only apply to the wilderness, like in the instance of a downed pilot, but also to urban settings and smaller scenarios. For me, an everyday one might include a basic water and food source, a small water bottle plus power bar, or a micro water filtration system in an extreme case. This category also includes equipment for rescue/ex-filtration. When overseas for an extended period, I always immediately purchase a burner cell phone — a small push button Nokia or similar. You can usually cheaply acquire these and when paired with a local SIM card, you have an effective means of communication (providing service is available). This also saves me the hassle of using WiFi hotspots for urgent matters on a day-to-day basis. By always keeping a backup prepaid card on hand I can quickly reach my local contacts for support if I find myself in a pinch. It’s a great idea to pre-load the phone’s contact list with essential numbers; any time you encounter an English-speaking taxi driver, save their contact information and be sure to let them know you pay well for on-demand, expedient service. On a final note, survival is all about mentality so keeping a positive and forward moving train of thought is key.
Escape is a touchy subject and there are better subject-matter-experts than I out there. Knowing when and how to escape capture is something that takes not only training but a strong intuition — timing can be everything. I won’t pretend to do it justice by trying to explain how any of it works, however, I do have a few items that I would recommend going into a low-key EDC SERE kit that I have personally carried.
For starters, a handcuff key is probably the most applicable to the art of escape and there are a variety of concealable handcuff keys on the market today. A razor blade is my next item because a small hidden blade can do a lot of damage or be a lifesaver when your handcuff key won’t unlock the duct tape wrapped around your appendages. Bobby pins are excellent because they can be fashioned to pick handcuffs and their small stature and shape allow for concealment with ease; women hide them in their hair. A lighter, preferably a Bic, makes the cut because fire is useful and it’s an inconspicuous pocket-carry item. They allow you a great deal of versatility while enabling you to light cigarettes, a favored past time of international travel.
A good rule of thumb is that illegal detention is best avoided by escaping at the moment an attempt by hostile forces is made; your chances at escape and surviving the encounter only decrease from there.
Resistance is a tricky term, but in this case, we are going to assume it indicates resisting re-capture or initial capture. A handgun is probably the best bet here but unfortunately, that is not always an option afforded to you. All too often I have been forced to carry a knife over a pistol due to unforeseen or situational circumstances. When it comes to knives, I prefer small fixed blades (around three-inch blades) because of their rigidity, but I have also carried folding knives when my options have been limited. Knives are not meant to be seen, only felt; conceal a defensive-carry blade well, as if you were a criminal hiding a weapon, but ensure you can produce it quickly should the need arise. There are many ways to improvise a lethal weapon as well, but your best defense when abroad is to not only take preventative measures but also skip the first three steps and evade bad situations entirely.
Evasion can be divided into two primary categories: physical evasion and prevention. While there are not a great deal of tools out there that can aid you in evasion besides quality footwear, there are some important philosophies that you can adhere to.
Always trust your gut: instinct will serve you well and if something doesn’t feel right it’s a good policy to go with it. Avoid meetings and traveling in less populated locations without a proper escort. A foreign military volunteer is a high-value target for the enemy with an often coveted bounty. The Islamic State put a $150,000 dollar bounty on the head of every foreign volunteer in the conflict at one point. Remember, you are responsible for your safety and no one else is going to ensure it. Wear plain clothes that are native to your region of travel, bright colors and flashy accessories are generally to be avoided. If you’re wearing tactical pants or a tie-dye shirt, you are wrong. How you dress is part of your SERE kit; it literally stops you from becoming a visual target of opportunity.
If carried improperly, a SERE kit is useless. For example, if you carry it in a paracord bracelet you are doing it incorrectly. It should be concealed to the point that a thorough pat down will yield no results aside from defensive weapons (those should still be hard to catch) and obvious items such as your cell phone. For the most part, I carried my escape options taped to the inside of my shoe while the rest sat in my pockets and waistband. I will not tell you how to hide contraband, but as long as you apply the philosophy of use and need, it should work out alright.