Survival Debate: Gear or Knowledge

Since I run an entire website about survival gear you’d think I would be firmly in the camp that says gear is more important than knowledge.  Well that’s not always the case.  Here we’ll look at a few of the important aspects of each and you can decide where your priorities lie.


Survival TentPro

  • Wide Range of Capabilities
  • Work is much easier
  • Save Time


  • Expensive
  • For specific situations only
  • Gear Breaks


Debris ShelterPro

  • Cannot be lost of stolen
  • Can always be used or rebuilt
  • Can be adopted for the situation


  • Some tasks absolutely require tools
  • Work is Difficult
  • Time Intensive

Middle Ground

Obviously the middle ground here is the intelligent choice. You will want gear to make things easier, but of course you should have both the skills to use your gear, and the skills to survive if you have no gear.

Which is more important to you?

If you were to ask someone like Tom Brown, he would say you don’t need gear and all, simply the knowledge to survive. However, most modern preppers aren’t that skilled at wilderness survival. So, at this point in your prepping which do you value more? Tell us what you are doing to improve both areas.

Top photo by: Leo Reynolds and Axlotl

Written by Joel Jefferson

Joel is one of the original founders of After college, he joined the USMC where he served as an (0302) Marine Infantry Officer. Joel is an avid outdoorsman and spends much of his free time in the mountains. Joel’s hobby is researching survival gear & weapons as well as prepping. Read his full interview here. Read more of Joel's articles.

84 thoughts on “Survival Debate: Gear or Knowledge”

  1. I think we all, probably since the time we were very young, have been in awe of all of the fancy gadgets of the day. I still get excited every time I get another catalog full of expensive knives, or a full-size tent that will fit in your pocket, but at the same time I enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that all of these gadgets are not necessary to my survival. My choice is Head-candy over Hand-candy, even though they both taste sweet.

  2. In the military, you have "high speed" (knowledgeable) and "high tech" (lots of gear/gadgets).

    You need some basic equipment, but a pile of preps is only good if you can stay in place unmolested. In the event you need to move, share with others, change your plan, or have preps taken/stolen/lost/etc. you need to adapt, improvise, and overcome.

    With adequate knowledge, you focus less on a process or activity (a way to operate a water purification system) and more about the desired end state (have potable water) with several ways to achieve those means, or flexibility in materials or approaches based on what you have at hand.

    • Dustin,

      I will give you that a pile of preps is only as good as far as you can carry it or stay with it.

      However, if it comes to it, I am going to do everything in my power to keep my own backpack full of gear with me. Just what you can fit into a pack that you can carry multiplies your survival capabilities by orders of magnitude.

      However, as with all good debates the other side is an excellent point. I want to be able to survive if I do end up losing everything.

      • here is where i come in to the picture again lol. I have a large amount of supplys stocked up and the only thing i could think of to transport them was to make a suvival trailer out of an old pop up camper my family used for years when i was a kid. this is also the advantage of haveing a father that is a carpenter by trade lol. i guess at some point i should make another one concidering I have three more trailers to use around the house and give them to my fellow preppers on my team. if i do decide to do that should i make a step by step for you?

    • I’m old school corps, as we would say there is more than one way to skin a cat. If you have two lighter then you should have several ways to light the fire by hand. Lighter only last for so long, on the other hand your mind, your knowledge last forever !

      Semper Fi

  3. Just include in your gear list a couple of Survival 101 books and you're good to go. 🙂 Gear is great but without applicable knowledge it holds little value.

  4. Knowledge, gear is great if you have it . but you might be in a situation where your bug out bag was lost stolen or just went down the river. GPS are great but if it stopped working can you use a map and compass, or use the sun and stars. Now for all the gear I have. the one thing I take every where with me is my Swiss Army knife. I have a couple, one that went to war with me and another with my minimum esentials which is the blades and a wood saw.. it's light and doesnt take up any room. In the Army I have slept out under the stars more than in a tent. I've been rained on and just pulled out my poncho, and I have woken with snow on my sleeping bag. In The infantry field skills are a way of life. Skills are more important..You have to have food and water. So unless your in a winter wonderland, or in the Dessert, a shelter is nice to have. A plastic bag can keep the rain off you. for fire use a match or lighter flint .whatever you can handle for 3 days.

    • I have not tried any MRE's – will need to find a good place to get some. Just recently tried some freeze dried food and was very impressed.

      Good post!! I agree with most of what you have said – just need to compare the tastes.

      Take care –


        • the sas survival guide is a great book but like all things they do not cover every situation so i couple that book with my mountianiering book and my ranger books i got from a friend like "everybodies knife bible" and my "101 ways to use a hamock"or my other favorite book "everybodies outdoor survival manuel" they were put out by a former range drill instructor that is now sharing his skills with us.

          • I have read the SAS Survival Manual, the author has a few good books along those lines. Don Paul is the author of "Everybodies Knife Bible", and "Everybodies Outdoor Survival Manual", I think there a few tidbits of useful info in his books, but most of his stuff I found pretty confusing.

    • I'm planing a trip to germany and I was thinking of geting my old war knife made like new again at the factory. I'll have to vist there

  5. hey all,

    one of the things that is often forgotten in your gear listings is BOOKS. they can help the most inexperienced person learn about how to survive without all the bulky gear. Yes the gear is some times nice but like Tom Brown Jr. I love making my own tools like flint knapping a knife or using a forge and making my own nails, knifes, or in one case a tomahawk. you can learn the skills needed before the call goes out but keep the gear for those that dont know what you know.

    that is just my thoughts on it.

    • I'm all for making my own tools. I remember when me and brother were kids we used to make our own tomahawks in the backyard. (watching too much Davy Crockett)

      That said, I'm sticking with my gear as long as possible. It just takes so much longer and so much more energy without it. But of course it's important to know how to do those things.

      • oh i agree it does take a lot more energy but one of the things to keep in mind is if you make it your self you will never be with out cause you can just make more. that is one of the things I like about nature she will provide for you if you learn to listen to her.

    • As mentioned already – a set of Gerber Multi-pliers. I have one in every one of my kits. I have had several – all Gerber – and all great.

      On second thought – I think one of those Easy Buttons from Staples would really be helpful. See a bear coming at you – press the Easy Button – problem solved. A gang of motorcycle gun weilding brigands – Easy Button!! Crops growing too slow – Easy Button – presto – full grown!!!!

      Just a thought.


  6. Yeah, my favorite, and most used blade is the woodsaw. The teeth on that thing are truly an amazing piece of engineering, there are accounts of it being used for emergency amputations. I carry one in my backpack, and there is one in my pocket everyday.

    • Owner of a Saiga 12 shotgun here:

      Who needs extra shell carriers when you have 12 round mags and 20 round drums?

      Good point on the sling and light though- what you can't see, probably shouldn't be shot at.

  7. I guess this fits under gear and knowledge. Google " improvised prison weapons" and check out what they are coming up with. I suggest this because I am thinking of using some of their creations for temporary or even one time use to save wear and tear on my equipment.Plus it got me thinking of uses for items that others may see no use for.

  8. I would say knowledge AND experience. "knowing" how to field dress a deer and smoke or jerk the meat is one thing, actually doing it is another matter. It's lie the old Hank Williams, Jr song says "Country Boys Can Survive." I wouldn't trade the knowledge
    and experience I have gained over my lifetime for any amount of gear.

    • So true. I have browsing this site and I wouild have to go with this man. I too, would take the things that trial, error and experience have show me are best. I see every body talking about all this high dollar equipment, but unless you can use it, it's no good. I'm just an old country boy and I would have to take the old Winchester 94 that i have had for nearly 30 years, the Stevens side by side 20 ga. that I've had nearly as long and my 1911. I've got an old Rauna knife that was my dad's and will stand up to the toys you talk about. But the best thing I have is the ability to harvest game and fish, process them and find plant materials that are useable. Knowledge and experience will beat gear every time.

  9. With the idea of gaining knowledge through books consider" Secrets of Street Survival-Israeli Style" by Eugene Sockut. And just about anything from Ragnar Benson,particularly "Man Trapping" for defensive purposes.

  10. If you buy knives online, check out lower than any manufacturers site I have visited. Decent time on shipping.

      • I paid $9.00 on a $38.97 Tool Logic TL-43. 2 to 3 day ups. Yes, their site leaves a bit to be desired. I check out manufacturer's sites then try there. Always trying to save a buck.

  11. As much of a cynic as I am & as much as I can't stand people, I would take the person in in most cases. If only because I've always depended on the kindness of strangers (hitchhiking, random favours, etc)
    I believe in karma.

    • Very well spoken Peter!

      Thanks for commenting. I believe with think along the same lines. I am going to do my best to stock as much gear and food as I can because obviously that will make life easier.

      But at the same time I am going to learn as much as possible along the way. The only way to do that is get out there and try it.

  12. I was raised in the have it and not need it, then to need it and not have it mentality. So this is going to sound cold, but the signs have been popping up for years now. my group has decided that unless you bring something to the table hit the bricks. this is what big brother has done to some of us, we have relied on them for everything and when there not around anymore the sheep are lost. remember some of these people who will need help have condoned firearms and ideas that seem good sense to us. when the dust settles and all is said and done, god helps those who help themselves.

    • It was mostly the modifications he suggest you make to your knife. I didnt see how a lot of his suggestions would be useful, a lot of them seemed like they would actually weaken the structure of the knife more than I would care to do.

  13. Hi, new here, great site, great folks.
    About the Ruger, I got mine from a friend for 40 bux about 15 years ago, so I felt justified in spending some money on it so I installed the Tapco collapsable stock kit., "about 80 bux," It installed easily in a few minutes. Now it fits my wife or kid better, packs Great , it's a little more weatherproofed and it's got a rail on it so I've got a light on it for varmints. Plus it looks damn cool. I have a couple "Butler Bananas", they are fun but the I've got 3 Ruger original mags and I like them better from the dependability/survival aspect.. I'll be looking into the Tri-Mag Asap. All that being said, if I'd kept it original I'd be just as happy as it it the most accurate and fun to shoot gun I own and I would recommend it to anybody. I would put it in my 10 most important survival tools list. Just my 2 cents. Y'all take care, Sancho

    • I am not sure why this works but I know it helps. Crush an asprin up and mix it with Trople Antibiotic Oinment then apply it to your cut its weird but it has worked on my cut and i have done it for years,

  14. "Side-saddles are not recommended for Mossbergs with aluminum receivers because over time recoil can cause the pins to deform the action"
    oMG, thanks for this info, I installed a side saddle on my 500 thinking it would help my gun, not destroy it with the large amount of rounds I use in it. D:

    THANKS For saving my Shotty!

  15. Well I am some where in the middle, yes knowledge is great and you can do a lot of the same things that the modern day gadget guys have, but in the long run, a human is adaptable to a situation.

    Place a person in a situation with the best toys and they may adapt and survive, and in the reverse give them the basics and the same outcome can happen.

    The only place I feel knowledge would help more is in hunting, and preparing the meat. As not everyone has that bit of knowledge, but given time trail and error will teach them.

    Basically gadgets give you a edge in not having to waste time doing things the old fashion way.

    In the end Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome, as if you can not you will fail

  16. This is a silly question. Tools are born of knowledge and a realized need or usefulness. Bullets, body armor, and a basement full of beans arent going to do it. What good is a lighter? They break and they wear out., theyre nice but if I can make fire from sticks who needs it in the long run? Thats what we are in this for, right? The long run? Survival.

  17. Knowledge is power and gear is cool but attitude is everything. Are you the pray or the predator? If the SHTF will you consider yourself a victim or a survivor? Read SAS Survival Handbook, get some good gear and train with it. Prepare your body, mind, spirit, and your gear.

  18. I agree with what Peter said about 70% knowledge and 30% gear. I took Tom Brown's basic survival course and have read all of his books. At the course it took me 45 min to start my first fire with a bow drill and over an hour on the second one. I want to improve on that, but having a magnesium starter like on Man vs Wild would sure make things easier. But if everything looks wet, you have to know how to find the dry stuff. Also, if you get into a situation where you have zero gear, well, you still have the knowledge to rely on to hopefully save yourself.

  19. Just to put in my 2 cents. Even though I am new to prepping the 70/30 knowledge/gear ratio seems best. The scary part is it seems many people think head knowledge or just having the gear is sufficient. For example I Have known for years several ways to make fire without matches, etc. But boy was I suprised when I tried to actually start a fire those ways the first time. Untried Gear or "book smarts" by themselves will improve your survival a little. Practicing how to effectively use those gear/techniques will improve your chances immensely. There's a reason we have the saying 'practice makes perfect'.

  20. Knowledge is more important than gear. If you know what you need to do, you can figure out a way to do it (or figure a way to get gear that helps you do what you need to do). Knowledge builds self reliance. Gear, no matter how top of the line, doesn't necessarily allow you to gain knowledge, and it doesn't usually build self reliance.

    Most of all, knowledge (backed up by some practice) gives you *confidence*, which is important to a survival mindset. With knowledge, you have options when you lose your gear. With gear, once you lose it, what have you got to fall back on?

  21. survivalcyclist HIT THE NAIL SQUARE ON THE HEAD!
    Gear is nice, but it can be lost stolen or broken. Skills however can't be taken from you, don't "wear out" and are there for a lifetime! I might have a tent destroyed by the weather, but I can build a shelter out of natural materials that will keep me warm and dry almost anywhere!
    KUDOS Survivalcyclist! And thank you for your service!

  22. This is just my opinion and others may feel differently, but I think one of the most important attributes of a survivalist is adaptability. We all like to have our gear; it gives us a sense of security that we are prepared for who knows what may happen. I fully advocate gearing up but when prepping for myself I tend to go for a good knowledge base to cover the basics of survival, while prepping my B.O.B with multi-use gear that I can adapt to perform how I need it to even if in unconventional ways. But truth is, and for the same reason we all prepare like we are, no one really knows whats going to happen. The only way to prepare for that is to prepare both physically (Gear) and mentally (Knowledge) so that we may survive even if we lack in areas of one or the other.

    Like I said, no one really knows whats going to happen. Who say's I'll get to bug out with all the gear I've prepped with. Who say's I'll even make it home to get to my gear? What makes me feel the safest is the thought that if I were put in the situation where I had less or no gear, I could survive as long as i needed to. For that reason, I like to lean towards Knowledge rather than gear.

    • I agree with you 110%. people need to stop using items only as they are intended. My main thing i always always always carry in my B.O.B. is a tin can, and although it may seem silly, think of all the uses. Cup, boiling water, you can even cut it up if you absolutely had to and make sharp edges for spears or homemade knives. its also insanely light and does not take up too much space because its hollow and you can just put stuff inside it so none of the space is wasted. You know how much tin cans cost? literally nothing. so many uses for such a cheap and light object seriously though, tin cans rock.

  23. I'd also like to point something else out. The two pictures provided in the article, one is a tent and one is lean-to type shelter made from natural objects. In a bug out situation, what is the likely hood that others may be in the area and a need to stay invisible is a must? I guess its all just a matter of each individual situation and should be judged accordingly. Personally, I would rather sacrifice comfort (the tent) to blend in more with the environment. Just take a look at the two pictures in the article. I would imagine the tent would be noticeable from a much farther distance compared to the lean-to.

  24. I would say its more of a 50/50. Knowledge is great, but without the proper gear, you can be in deep trouble or have to work twice as hard at a minimum. You might know 5 ways to chop down a tree, but it will take you a whole day without an ax. You might know how to make 10 different shelters to stay warm, but I'll just jump under my tarp and into my sleeping bag while you screw around for the next 4 hours. You could also know how to sew up a wound, but I'll just superglue my cut and be done with it. While you are trying to spear a rabbit with your Rambo type stick and survival knife strapped to the end, I've used my AR15 to shoot it, cleaned, cooked and eaten it 12 hours before you even kill it. You need the gear and the knowledge.

  25. this question requires a good analogy: let's say john doe wants to join his high school's football team. just because he goes out and buys all the gear he needs to participate on the team doesn't mean he is a sure-in for the QB position; rather, he needs to hone the skills necessary to succeed in being a good football player, not to mention getting into shape along the way.

    therefore, i believe knowledge is better than gear in any survival situation.

  26. I believe in a ground up approach. Learn to survive, short term, with a knife. Then replace the things that are the hardest to fabricate in the wild. Things like a container, cordage, shelter, fire, food. Replace these calorie burning undertakings with the best quality gear you can afford. Then test the gear out . Once you are happy with the results, try and make as much of the gear yourself as possible. Projects help us to understand how things are made and alternative means of making them. Above all ,practice your skills.

  27. Knowledge is the best tool and practice, practice and more practice will do even better. I know how to read a map and terrain features. I can use a compass and gps but without practice these things can become confusing after time. Gear is nice also a gps can be a fun and effective tool also a lot faster then map reading. We must remember who owns the satellites that transmit gps. They can easily be shut off depending on the situation. That's only one of many examples of why knowledge is key. Post 9/11 the government devised a plan in the event of a large scale terrorist attack or mass panic from civilians and incorporated into the plan a option to shut down the gps satellites. in this case the gps would be nothing but extra weight and useless. The map will not lie and can be used during this type of event. Just because you read a map years ago in boy scouts or whatever you need to practice at least every six months or so. The same goes with most gear. Its great to buy and cool to have but without the knowledge and practice is really useless and depending on what you plan to do with the gear could end up costing your life or major injuries and this will be the time when that would not be a welcomed outcome. Guns for instance a great tool that all of us survivalist own and most of us know how to break down the weapon and clean it as well as what parts my need to be replaced. We stockpile the extra parts for when we may need them, but have you practiced how to change them out in the comfort of your homes? Some parts may have little springs that will shoot across the room. Do you know if your weapon will do this? This is another thing you would not want. A spring shooting across the woods while you change it is not something you would want to look for. Practice builds knowledge repetition builds confidence. I can read and understand building traps and snares by reading about them therefor I'm retaining the knowledge to build one. Then I take my six year old daughter and my wife out in my backyard and practice minus the local squirrel in the tree. This is great stuff and good quality time spent with the family. When it snows here in Colorado Springs which is rare these days I build a Quincy or a igloo with my family. Knowledge is power and practice is confidence.

  28. Knowledge over gear but find a happy medium. I have learned high speed low drag is always better than low speed high drag. With that in mind your knowledge and training overcomes a lack of gear or gear failing.

    If you buy new gear test it out before needing it. I like to test it on controlled camping trips or just going up to the mountains for the day and testing it under controlled conditions before I go out on the big trips or seriously roughing it. Nothing better than going out for 3 to 5 days with only what’s in your pack.

  29. Based on my survival training experiences….."Your survival is only limited by your creativity." Knowledge is what keeps you alive, Gear is only good if you have it AND know how to use it. "If it's not attached to you, you will lose it."

  30. you young guys wouldn’t understand this one : Remember when an Army/Navy store actually had real army surplus and it was dirt cheap ? Now that we have been at *cough * war * cough* for so long , everybody is into it , and now you can get an OD ammo pack for your dog ! it reads Genuine GI ( made in china ) at inflated prices .

  31. Seriously tho ……. back to topic , A man once told me to start with only what you absolutely have to have to survive in gear …… anything on top of that is gravy . bizringer above said it all about knowledge .

  32. Have the skill. Practice and hone what you know. But if you are going to buy gear, buy the BEST you can! I started out with stuff i was given as a kid, as the days go on, ive started to replace old and wornout with the newest gear i can find!

  33. Even if you have all the gear in the world, you still have to know what to do with it. As a trapper, I carry certain things with me all the time. Knife, fire starter,pocket tool, and wire. as well as papertowels or toilet paper, and hand sanitizer. Everything else I can find or build.

  34. Gear and knowledge actually are equally important. That is why in a bare minimum you should always have a good knife on you, preferably one with a fixed blade and of a decent steel, some cordage, some sort of container, a water bottle of somekind, and maybe some sheeting of somekind. Even FEMA and the local Emergency Management offices list the bare minimuns each person should have in their emergency kits for either evacuation or for sheltering in one's home depending on the emergency. In their publications these agencies also advocate learning the skills needed in surviving any emergency including being lost in the wilds of your region.

  35. Knowledge has to beat gear firstly you need some knowledge to use the gear give a monkey a knife more likely it will cut itself than carve a spoon.

    Secondly put I and a well known survival expert say Ray Mears on identical islands with just the clothes we stand in and no equipment. Ray will survive much better through his knowledge/skills than I would, true the more gear I had the better my chances would be. But its knowledge that is king a lot of gear can be improvised if you know how.

  36. Why does everyone right off the bat equate survival and skills with forest and plains. Most of the population is in citys then suburbs. I am sure there are more then a few of us here who live in southern cali coastal or near a metro. SERE really isnt going to help me too much in the suburbs, or will the SAS hand book. (my point below)

    I am near city and suburbs. a pair of fence cutters or bolt cutters will go along way. why bother picking a lock with a sliver of metal. This is such an important thing to look at as I am relying on gear and use my knowledge as a back up. What do I mean about this. If it is short term, i am breaking out all my gear, my multi fuel MSR stove, my rations, candles, lighters matches and all sorts of neat stuff I use camping. If lights are out my NVGs are coming out looking around out side the house, home made rat trap snares with caps or shotgun shells depending on how severe it is. All my gear is getting used. LINKED TO BELOW

  37. Sorry guys, I think gear is a game changer. All the knowedge in the world wouldn’t have saved the guy pinned under a boulder for 27 hours. He wouldn’t have survived without his pocket knife (gear) + the will to live. Hey rain poncho and snow on my sleeping bag guy. HELLO…GEAR! Hey football analagy guy. The coach wouldn’t let you on the field without the proper equipment (gear). How many soldiers are sent to war without gear? ZERO. After specialized training? No…basic training. Pretty sure someone who isn’t brain dead, but has a boat load of gear, will survive better than any of you knowledge is king boys can without any gear. IMHO.

  38. I want to inject that people have knowledge and cannot apply it, with gear this is possible also.
    I know a lot of intelligent people that can't hit their plate with their fork. and others that can build a geranium radio
    with a match box and some scrap gear.

    You may have the finest gear with the instructions but not the ability to understand it's ultimate function.
    and that is to relay information to the user, if the user does not write it down once the equipment looses power all
    previous information is lost and you start from -1

    Let us take a compass you need a declination map if you notice it has lines that supposedly define the change in
    declination if you live on a transition line which side will you use for a starting point ?
    it is a trick question no one knows unless they have used the declination and found them to be correct or incorrect.

    I have tried my best to explain that everything changes land has iron content and if your over a iron rich area your compass will change as well as human error as having steel that is magnetized or plated with certain elements will
    alter your compass as will energy sources battery operated equipment or a magnet and how close it is to your compass other elements in the ground alter fields as well.

    The only way to cross check is with a topo map and it would not hurt to have an analog altimeter pedometer steel
    ruler to mark your progress each day, knowing how far you traveled is very important and marking your position.
    one hill looks the same as another if your not familiar with the area and given no pre referenced points.
    traveling along gas pipelines or power / transmission lines or parallel rail road tracks or fences are good alternatives if you know where they go.

    To many people fail to relay critical information when instructing a novice a lot of military do not explain that maps
    and start points were made in advance your start and destination was know by someone else and if you were lost your last known point and search out to your proposed destination.

    If we are instructing people that are bugging out they know where they are and I would hope have a definite destination and they have been to it before makes it all simplistic.
    Should they be traveling or taken or escape that is a game changer many people taken prisoner or not paid attention had not idea where they were and that limited their escape plan your in a similar position if bussed to another location.

    Nothing states that you won't be on vacation or business trip when the world goes south neither does it say that the
    terrain will be as you remembered it fire burns earthquakes flatten tornadoes and hurricanes wipe out.
    dams break and floods wipe out whole swaths of land like the Mississippi flood in the 90's
    If it has been 10 years since you been to grandmas it may be way different now.

    Landscape keeps changing and if destruction comes finding your way will be more difficult
    knowledge is hand in hand with technology but temper it with mechanical and not electronic devices if you possibly can

    there are electronic compasses pedometers and altimeters GPS is great but have and duplicate with mechanical instruments and record data so when your GPS takes a dump your not left lost in the fetal position.

    The one thing I do not want is GPS you can surmise the reason from the above post
    I have posted the site for a declination map in another post in the forum remember that areas rich in certain mineral deposits can and will alter your compass reading.

    Marking trail is fine if your intent is to return in weeks or up to a season in some areas you can blaze a trail and in a week no one will ever know you were there.
    there are ways to mark a trail invisible to the human eye but it does not last but for a few days.

    You can recharge batteries with static electricity touching a low hanging power line uncharged can still kill you.
    so much to know and so little time.

  39. I have not read every previous comment so this may have been mentioned before: Whether you have the gear or the knowledge, neither may be enough if you have not practiced using it in the field, or woods, before the SHTF. Stay ready.


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