How to: Make a skinny wallet a survival tool

I already have too much stuff in my wallet – how do I carry survival gear without making it even thicker?

by Leon Pantenburg

I got that question a few months back, and  I’m with you. My wallet was out of control. It was so thick I couldn’t comfortably sit on it, and I had all this unnecessary junk that went everywhere with me. Since I refused to leave my survival gear behind, I ended up with this wallet that was thicker than a hockey puck and about as comfortable to carry.

Then, Naga, my office supervisor trainee and adolescent  black Lab, got hold of my wallet and chewed it up. I had to get a new one, but decided to shop systematically. There had to be a compromise between bulk and efficiency, I figured and that’s what I looked for.

Wallets are difficult to review because paper money is in different sizes from country to country. And people use their wallets for fundamentally different things, and ID requirements for purchases vary from state to state and country to country.

Here were my considerations:

As a minimum, I carry a signal mirror, charcloth, firestarter and a ferrocerium rod in my wallet because it’s convenient.  You may decide to add other items, (such as dental floss, a razor blade, a few matches etc.) along with the accompanying bulk and weight. After serious de-bulking, I am down from too many unnecessary cards and stuff, to six cards, and three business cards.

I live and work in both the business/academic and the outdoors worlds. My wallet needs to be rugged and hold a lot of necessary (Note to self: NECESSARY!!!)  items.

Since I may wear a suit one day, and BDUs the next, I need something versatile. I don’t want to open a tactical version with the accompanying Velcro rip sound in a nice restaurant or at the college coffee shop. Nor is it quite kosher to flash a tactical wallet at a faculty/staff lunch. But I also need something that can provide protection for documents when it rides in the thigh pocket of my BDUs.

Then, where will the wallet be carried front or back pocket? In a pair of dress slacks, a wallet bulge in the front or hip pocket does not add to a professional appearance. I prefer a front pocket carry, since a bulky hip pocket wallet can lead to lower back pain if you sit on it all day.

I checked out several different brands and styles and in the end I settled for two: A Big Skinny and a SpecOps  T.H.E Wallet JR. Between the two, I am well served in whatever world I am in. Both carry my minimum survival gear, but they are night and day when it comes to use.

The Big Skinny Curve is a super thin wallet that can carry much of what you need, along with minimal survival gear.

The Big Skinny Curve is a super thin wallet that can carry much of what you need, along with minimal survival gear.

The Big Skinny is designed to be a thin wallet and it is. There is no needless padding or thick materials. It is less than  1/8-inch thick unloaded. Fully packed with minimal survival gear, six bills, six cards and three business cards the Big Skinny is under 1/2-inch thick. The dimensions are 4-1/2 by 3-3/8. It rides comfortably anywhere and it’s easy to forget I’m carrying it. 

But there isn’t room to carry many receipts, and that’s a problem, since I buy items for reimbursement at both my jobs. The Big Skinny will carry cash, but the wallet is almost too narrow to carry more than  six bills.When the Big Skinny is packed, there isn’t a lot of room for extra stuff.

T.H.E Wallet JR is a tactical, large wallet with the potential for tremendous storage.

T.H.E Wallet JR is a tactical, large wallet with the potential for tremendous storage.

The T.H.E. Wallet JR is a large tactical wallet, and it has the potential to become a mobile file cabinet. It fits exactly in the hip pocket of my Wranglers, but I find it uncomfortable to carry there.  It is too big to carry comfortably in a front pocket. I find the Shark Bite closure to be quiet, but almost too bulky.

But none of that matters outdoors. I typically carry my wallet in a thigh pocket or in my backpack, so bulk is not a big deal. Also, If I’m hunting or fishing, I need to carry various wilderness permits, licenses and small game, deer, elk or steelhead tags. There is ample room for those. There is also a special section for carrying receipts, which I use a lot. (Check out the video review.)

Typically, I carry more cash than usual when hunting or fishing, because I may need to buy gas or something at a remote country store with no ATM where they don’t take debit cards.  And if you’re trying to hire a packer to haul out an elk, you better have cash in hand, and it doesn’t hurt to sweeten the deal with a pint of reasonably good whiskey!

So I switch between the two. Because I de-bulked my everyday carry items, it’s simple to move items from one wallet to the other.

It’s working for me. I can have my survival gear with either choice, and  that’s the bottom line. If  you don’t have any survival gear with you, you don’t have any survival gear.

Updated: January 28, 2014 — 2:08 pm

The Author


Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, who doesn’t claim expertise as a survivalist. As a newpaperman for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff’s departments and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense may have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense survival techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters.

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