It used to be that a pocket knife, a shilling and a piece of string would take you round the world. But the modern way is plastic, and Mike Swan has upgraded his core kit accordingly

The sporting crowd are a particular bunch, especially when it comes to kit. In a series of columns for The Field, we ask what is most indispensable in the field. Mike Swan chooses his cable ties, the modern day version of the eternally useful piece of string.

Find out what Gavin Gardiner couldn’t be without in the field, read my favourite bit of kit: Gavin Gardiner. His choice couldn’t be more different to that of Mike Swan.


It will be 25 or 30 years since my old mate Kevin Wissett-Warner lost his boots. We were on our way home from wildfowling on my favourite Medway marsh and, tiring of the struggle through the increasingly deep and gloopy mud of the last crossing, Kevin forged off to find a new route and lost his thigh waders in the process. They may still be there, waiting to be discovered by an archaeologist of the future.

Now, I had advised Kevin of a nifty little knot that is a big help in these situations. You tie it round your instep to the front of your foot and then behind the top of your heel; as you pull, the grip at the back tightens and holds your boot on. Truth be told, Kevin had failed on this and, I suspect, on my grandfather’s advice to always carry a pocket knife, a shilling and a piece of string whenever you leave the house. “It will take you round the world,” he said.

The pocket knife remains but the other two are increasingly replaced in this modern world by plastic. A credit card is obvious, and it wears out your pockets less quickly than coin, but for the string I substitute cable ties. You will find a few in various sizes in my shooting and fishing coat pockets, as well as in creel, game bag, tackle bag, wildfowling pack and even the outboard motor tool kit.

Just like the piece of string that preceded it, the cable tie has a multitude of uses in making running repairs when you are out and about. It will help connect your braces to your trousers when a clip or button fails, can be used to mend the strap on your bag and makes an excellent zip handle when the original breaks.

If you successfully score at the wildlife you are pursuing, cable ties can be a great help in carrying the spoils home. While a big old hare is easily hocked and slung over your gun at “shoulder arms”, a Canada goose is a different project. However, you can easily strap its feet together with a tie and sling it over your gun in the same way. A large tie can also be used to strap several fish together through the gills.

Another specific use that has made a big difference to me is holding the mesh to the frame on my prawn net. Once upon a time, we laced the net on with fine wire. This is a fiddly process and the first thing you know about the lacing wire wearing out against the rocks and barnacles is when everything unravels. Cable ties give up one at a time and it is simplicity itself to install a new one and cut off the loose end with your pocket knife.

The possibilities are endless and, as the picture shows, two large cable ties are much better than baler twine for holding on the wildfowler’s boots. Oh, and lastly, as you leave the café after the proper breakfast that all sportsmen need to set themselves up for the day, a small cable tie makes an excellent toothpick.

Mike Swan is head of education at the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust.