The Most Versatile Rescue Equipment

There are some pieces of gear lurking in your cache that may not be the shiniest, the newest, or the fanciest… but they may just take the prize for most versatile rescue equipment.

What are these hidden gems? We ask our rescue instructors to weigh in.

While Raven instructor Ryan McLarty did concede that, “versatility between rescue mediums is hard to envision in this day and age of specialization and fancy gear!”, the submissions from the Raven instructor team still came in fast and furious.  And the enthusiasm was undeniable – these folks know that basic pieces of equipment are integral to their success as rescuers, and they want you to remember that, too.

So whether you’re working with rope, water, confined space, ice, towers, boats, or first aid, here’s our lineup of the most versatile rescue equipment that you should find in your cache.  

Take the time to be sure these items are in good condition, and your rescue efficiency and effectiveness will benefit.


BELT WITH 3:1 Mechanical Advantage KIT

This is a great choice for all you DIY gear junkies out there.  With the number of belts and throwbags available, there are numerous combinations that could do the job.  

“I added a piece of floatation to the North Water Canyon Liner and turned it into a mini-throwbag,” says instructor Paul Carus.  “It’s a quick reaching tool, anchor and throw line.  I carry it in my North Water EDS belt, which I’ve carried with me since I began as a water rescuer in the mid-nineties.”

“For me, it’s my Guardian Pro Belt,” adds instructor Jordan Thompson, “which is set up with my throwbag and an attached pouch with everything needed for a 3:1 mechanical advantage. I can do an awful lot with that gear, and it is a must-have at all times!”

Yukon-based instuctor Andre Guindon agrees.  “A small, simple wrap kit is essential.  A couple of pulleys, two to three carabines, one to two prusiks, a piece of webbing and a throwbag – that’s all it takes.  I can use this kit for countless rescue applications, and for all kinds of other things as well… moving trees off roads, moving vehicles that are stuck, moving a woodstove… moving just about anything you can think of!”

Shallow water crossing




While we didn’t ask instructors to factor price into this versatility equation, we want to acknowledge how impressive it is when an incredibly cheap piece of rescue gear (we’re talking tens of dollars here, if that) can do so many different things. The Aztek Kit is a clear winner when it comes to various uses in rope rescue applications, but if you want to talk versatility-per-penny, purcell prusiks might just take the cake.

Take a gander at Alberta-based instructor Chad Guenter’s submission that purcell prusiks are the most versatile piece of rope gear out there:

“They can be used for so many things… and I could go on, but you’ll get the idea!”

  • work positioning
  • rescuer attachment into a litter, steep or high angle
  • for a pick off
  • for passing knots 
  • changing from a raise to haul (via a scarab, atc or brake rack type of DCD’s)
  • edge restraint
  • ascending/descending
  • escaping a jammed rappel device
  • in a pinch, as a rope grab for a haul system (if we ran out of prusiks)
  • as a foot loop from the tail of a rope when changing from an under basket position to an over basket position for attendant manoeuvres 
  • a set of four can make a litter bridle in a vertical environment, when the stretcher is packaged horizontally
  • two can be used for a steep angle bridle
  • patient attachment into a basket with easy adjustability and tension

At the same time, the Aztek Kit remains a champion multi-use tool.  “When a rescuer is looking for that one item in a time of need, and they can’t find it, they can really be destablized mentally,” says instructor Craig Gerrard. The Aztek Kit puts solutions at a rescuer’s fingertips, as it is easily stored on the rescuer’s body.  

Instructor Alle Jan de Vries couldn’t agree more: “For edge restraint or a mini-haul system, to all the uses in between, the Aztek Kit makes itself invaluable because it’s the right tool for the job, and it’s always, always there.”

Rope Rescue Jason Wolsky



The unanimous winner in this contest of versatile rescue equipment was tubular webbing.  Webbing reaches beyond a single rescue discipline, and its simplicity is what makes it so invaluable.

“When thinking over the things I’ve used over the years as a raft guide, ski patroller, volunteer fire figher, and SAR volunteer, there has always been five metres of one inch tubular webbing in my kit, regardless of the rescue medium I’m involved in,” says rope and medical instructor, Ryan McLarty.  

Instructor Tyler Dinsdale is also on board: “The most versatile piece of equipment that I carry is my five metre piece of tubular webbing.  It’s always accessible, rolled up in the front pocket of my PFD.  Its standard uses are various anchors or a quick line to throw to a swimmer, but it quickly becomes a hasty harness or can be used to make a lark’s foot cinch to attach to a person and extract them from the water.  This is just the tip of the iceberg for a length of tubular webbing though – it really pitches in any time you need to get creative.  Its as handy as Dr. Seuss’s thneed.”

Ontario-based instructor Steve Ruskay concurs.  “Obviously the most versatile piece of rescue equipment is a three metre length of one inch tubular webbing.  I have this length of webbing pre-tied in a loop, and worn as a belt with a locking carabiner as a “flip line”. This is useful in all rescue disciplines, and for a variety of applications, including anchors, hasty harnesses, travel restraints, parbuckling, step ladders, RDC painter line, and the list goes on. Webbing is so easy to take for granted, but you’ve got to be sure to inspect, log, and replace it as per SOGs and manufacturers recommendations.”

Webbing for rope rescue Matt Herzog


One more item deserves a shout-out this year, in part because of instructor Garth Lemke’s Vulcan-like logic:

“If you’re cold, miserable, and can’t think straight, all the rescue equipment in the world just doesn’t matter.”  True.

So what’s the solution?  

“Onesy!  It is an absolute necessity to any water rescue professional’s drysuit kit.  This simple piece of thermal equipment forms the base of everything else you do.”

So there you have it.  

In a way, the most versatile piece of rescue gear on the scene… is you.  If you’re not taking care of yourself the way you should be, no piece of kit – simple, complex, cheap or fancy – will get the rescue where it needs to go.  

Remember the hierarchy of rescue priorities (rescuer, team, public, subject, equipment), and you’ll be on the right path to using your personal resources effectively.

Ice Rescue Coralie Nairn