On a mountain road in Southwest Idaho a single-mother and her two teen-aged sons were coming home from their first hunting trip. Their vehicle bounced down the road on a Sunday evening well after the sun set quickly behind the craggy peaks of Boise National Forest. The light rain was working its way to a freezing mist, soon to blanket the roads. Their faithful pick-up, one of the few remaining ties to a non-loving husband and checked-out father rattled along as it jolted its three passengers over washboard roads. The boys hunted as long as their mom would allow them, understanding the next day they had to be back in school. The backcountry had exhaled nearly all its weekend inhabitants. Most hunters, hikers, and other recreationist were already home putting away gear, firing up the grill, and preparing to go back to the grind on Monday.
The cab of the vehicle was quiet as the two young hunters recovered from their first quest for game. Their mother, one of the few steady components in their world-wind life, glanced at them proudly as she worked the steering wheel to compensate for the skating that the truck did on the nearly single track dirt road. It wasn’t long ago her boys approached her about hunting. She had never hunted and her ex-husband was never around to teach either of his sons about the outdoors. A few months earlier she enrolled the boys in a hunter’s safety class and then later a free all-day seminar where they learned a few skills on hunting, shooting and survival. While they came home with nothing to put in the freezer, the latter was about to pay-off.
It wasn’t a loud pop. There wasn’t the violent surge of the vehicle as one might expect. There was a subtle thump of the rear tire that signaled something was wrong. Finding a wide pull-out space often used for camping, she guided the rig over and after a quick inspection realized she had a flat tire. Unfortunately after further inspection realized her spare tire was also flat. She cursed her ex-husband who had never taken the time to fix the gash in the tire that happened nearly three years ago and was the spare bolted on the underside. She had reached a breaking point. Trying to be strong for her boys was getting tougher every day. Being both the mother and father figure was exhausting.
With the light rain turning to snow the boys jumped into action. They knew they could not huddle together in an already cramped single-cab pick-up, and the steel of the rig would only rob them of precious heat. While one quickly collected firewood, the other set about making a shelter from a tarp found in the back of the truck. As she looked on in amazement, her youngest child stated matter-of-factly, “We got this Mom”, and continued by pulling a device that created sparks and ignited the dryer lint he had stored in a plastic bag from his hunting pack. Soon the three were bundled close by, sipping a tea made from a packet in one of the boy’s bags, as a roaring fire projected heat under the small tarp. The next morning she awoke scrunched together but free of snow, with her boys on a bed made of pine boughs. A few hours later a passing truck stopped to help. They survived a night where temperatures plummeted into to single digits and light snow filled the forest.
Nearly 80% of the recreationist that find themselves in a survival situation did so because they did not take simple precautions. They did not tell someone where they were going. They failed to check the weather. They completely disregarded the need to carry survival gear. Here we are going to discuss what you should carry and how much. We will break this down into —– categories; Fire, Water, Shelter, Food, Signal, and First Aid. Assuming your adventures are not solely tied to driving and that you might do a simple hike or possibly have to hike to safety, we will further break it down to the equipment you should have in your pocket, your pack, and your rig. If you are in your rig when disaster strikes, you have a built-in redundancy system.
The ability to get a fire going in any condition is a vital skill that provides not only warmth when temperatures drop, but has the additional benefits of providing motivation and a resource for heating food, purifying water, and light. Learn how to prepare a fire pit, complete with reflective wall, in all conditions including rain and snow. Master at least two methods for creating fire, the first with a striking tool such as a metal match and the other a primitive technique (i.e. bow drill) so you are ready in any situation. Then learn two other techniques, and finally become aware and even try two more. This will give you a comprehensive skill set when you need to get fire going.
In Your Rig: Emergency fire starters such as egg cartons (paper) with saw dust and candle wax, fire pucks, windproof matches, striker, and windproof lighter. In addition, keep a phonebook stuffed somewhere to use as tinder by tearing out a few pages and two or three small pre-split tree-rounds like you find in wood bundles at the convenience store. When you need to get a fire going, you want to have materials ready on a moment’s notice, and dry tinder and wood is a great start to improving your situation. Keep a small hatchet in your vehicle for splitting wood into smaller pieces or to get to dry layers when its wet.
In Your Bag: Nothing beats the portability of what is often called “flint and steel”, which is really a feral rod used to create a spark and ignite tinder into a flame. For tinder, carry cotton balls dipped in petroleum jelly in a small metal tin or tin foil and zipper sandwich bag. Throw in a pencil sharpener to quickly create dry tinder for igniting. A windproof lighter, birthday gag candles that don’t blow out, and a small tin of wood shavings are also ideal for a small day pack.
In Your Pocket: You ditched your pack falling into a deep creek. Now you are wet and need to quickly get warm. Over 700 people in the U.S. die of hypothermia every year. At this point it’s up to you and Mother Nature to come to terms in getting flame. Learning “two sticks” methods are great when your down to nothing, but waste valuable calories if you have to resort to finding, making and using a bow-drill. Instead carry a small feral rod and striker in your pocket and use it to light tinder such as moss, animal nest, wood-shavings.
Most people walk around everyday dehydrated. When at home we can quickly rehydrate at a drinking fountain, tap water in the kitchen, or simply slip into the local “stop and rob” and buy a cool bottle of water.
When in a survival situation, water is one of the key factors that leads stranded back-country enthusiast down the road to a meeting with the afterlife. Finding, filtering, and consuming water is a must when you find yourself stranded. Too many people have succumbed to dehydration when a simple day trip turns into a multi-day struggle to survive. Instead of resorting to techniques sensationalized on popular survival shows, it’s better to go prepared. Filtering your own urine through rattle-snake skin is not the answer to resolving dehydration.
In You Rig: Basic rule, carry enough EMERGENCY water (minimum 1 gallon) in your rig for 2 days multiplied by the number of seat belts. For most rigs, this should be around 10 gallons in reserve. If you wind up alone, you have more H2O, if the family is along you have enough to get you through the first 24 hours at least. In addition, a pot for boiling water and a gravity filter. Boiling is great if you have large quantities of water and large quantities of fuel for you fire. You can also flavor the boiled water with diced pine needles or even an instant orange drink mix.
In Your Bag: First, go prepared. A hydration bladder-based pack is your best option. It holds up to 100 ounces of water and there is a convenient tube to remind you to stay hydrated. Second, when you run out of life-liquid, fill it up using a water filtering system. A ceramic or paper-based water filter is the way to go for ensuring water is free from Giardia, Protozoa, and other bacteria found in water. Giardia is a microscopic parasite that causes diarrhea, something to avoid when already faced in a dire situation. Filters are light-weight and easy to pack. Word of caution, you don’t have to drink the water to get Giardia, simply getting it in your ears, eyes, nose, or inside the mouth can cause illness.
In Your Pocket: Remember that bag you ditched earlier? Yep it had your filter in it. This is why you are carrying purification tablets. Most are Iodine based, so if you are allergic to shell fish, Iodine tablets are not going to play nice with you. In this case you would search for another option. Most people are okay with the tablets. Learn how to use them before you walk out the door on your next adventure. There is also a neutralizer you can put in the water to take-away the Iodine taste.
Some rigs you can crawl up in and if you have enough fuel, no exhaust leaks, and nothing preventing the escape of exhaust, you may be able to snuggle in your vehicle and keep yourself warm by using the heater. Some rigs have two distinct disadvantages though. Not comfortable to sleep in and the surrounding metal can sap away heat from you. In summer months, the heat in the vehicle can amplify to unbearable temperatures. In most cases it’s good to get out and build shelter and control the climate around you the best that you can.
In Your Rig: In winter months keep a tent or at minimum a tarp with you. If you have to set up new residence, staying dry and controlling the immediate environment is important. In summer months a good tarp and perhaps mosquito net will keep you comfortable. Don’t overlook the advantages sleeping bags and foam pad for the ground to keep you comfortable. In areas with lots of things that wiggle on the ground, consider a hammock. Remember to keep nylon cordage wrapped around tarps for securing.
In Your Pack: A heavy duty Mylar space-blanket is worth its weight in gold. It can be used in the winter to retain up to 75% of your body heat by wrapping it around you. It can double as a tarp to sleep under in hot or cold conditions, and can be used to catch rain water for drinking.
In Your Pocket: A small disposable space blanket. They tear easy so be careful. Not your first choice for living outside, but works when your pack drifts away or falls over a steep ravine.
You need calories. If you think you are going to get stranded and live on deer and elk until help arrives, think of all the hunters who come home each season with little in the freezer. Berries have short seasons, the wrong mushrooms can be unforgiving, and most weekend recreationist can’t tell the difference in what is edible and what is pure poison when it comes to plants and insects. The best plan is to keep a few things on stock as you venture into the back-country, and if you find that you need to procure food, it will likely be small game and fish.
In Your Rig: Most vehicle-based recreationist do well when it comes to food in the back-country. Most have at least a small ice-chest filled with a few sandwiches and snacks. A few years ago a family stranded when their 2WD truck high-centered when it broke through an ice-covered rut, lived for two days on what was in their ice-chest until rescued. Still, you need to keep food in your rig in case you should get stuck on a trip and your back-country picnic basket is empty. The rule here is food for three-days multiplied by the number of seatbelts or passengers your vehicle holds. Canned spam, dried fruit, cereal bars, and bags of oatmeal compact nicely in a small satchel in your rig.
Your Pack: Keep backpacking meals, jerky, granola bars, and hard candy in your pack. Don’t overlook the need to take game. People have survived on small game and fish when food ran out. A small “survival-sized” fishing kit, sling-shot, and snares can get you game, but master each one of these. A sling-shot is the most practical game taker. Easy to use and if you run out of ammunition, there is plenty on the ground in most environments. Again, master two techniques and learn two more, it’s frustrating to be in the field and not know how to implement that small fishing kit when you really need it and reading instructions as your stomach is growling is not optimal. Also, learn how to clean and cook game.
Your Pocket: You have limited space, so be creative. Unless you are an expert at botany and can snare a rabbit with your shoelaces, a small amount of jerky, a granola bar, or something similar in size maybe your only ticket for something that provides energy. As a side note, a few snares do fit neatly on the inside of a coat pocket.
At some point you may need to call for the Calvary. Nothing wrong with requesting for back-up and in fact shucking your pride could save your life. In fact not calling for help is a major contributor to a bad situation getting worse. Whether it’s a buddy, the Sheriff’s department, or an entire army of strangers calling for help might be what gets you back alive. Keep in mind that even though we are a connected world through our smart-phones, when you’re 75 miles from the nearest pavement your device is mostly useless.
In Your Rig: Your vehicle should be your mobile communications center. CB radios are good for rig to rig commo if you know others are on frequency. Better is the 2 meter ham or amateur radio. You need a license to be legal, but getting your ham ticket grants you access to repeater systems that increase the distance and network of help when needed. Keep road flares and other signal devices. If a rescue has been instituted your review mirror can be popped off to get the attention of air or ground searchers. The tire that was ripped to shreds earlier in the day can be burned to send a dark and oily smoke that gets much needed attention.
In Your Pack: Signal mirror, emergency whistle, and pen flares should be a part of your signal kit. Learn the right methods for using a center-style mirror and stay away from any whistles that have a ball or pea in them, your breath will freeze it and make it useless I the winter. Some day packs now come with a whistle embedded in the buckles and a few companies that make sparking devices to create fire have also integrated emergency whistles into the handle. Don’t forget to throw in an orange bandana or fleece hat to aid in rescuers seeing you.
In Your Pocket: A personal locator is one of the first items that should be in anyone’s pocket when in the back –country. When you get in trouble, you have an instant 911 at your finger-tips. You can set up many of the units so your friends or family can track you and send out periodic “OK” signals to let loved one’s know where you are. Sending “OK” signals the 10-2-4 rule from an older marketing campaign of a soda company lets the people who need to know you are safe. With many units they can go online to see your latest location, not a bad idea if you do come up missing; they now have a starting point to look. Other items can include a small signal mirror and a pocket whistle.
The method of injury usually dictates the size of first aid kit you want onboard. Since you are working with machines in the 4-digit weight category, you are going to want to cover many of the bases. Common opinion is to carry only what you know how to use, however if you are hanging with a group of guys that have advanced care training, they can always dig into your kit. Also look at how deep into the frontier your are traveling, if you are hours away and possibly an air-evac from real medical care, you are going to want something comprehensive. Don’t forget about training. Go beyond the basic first aid course and CPR training you and co-workers joked around in. Spendy, but sign up for a Wilderness First Aid course through a reputable organization.
In You Rig: As a basic kit look at what EMTs carry in their kits. You are going to want to cover the gamut or breathing, bleeding, breaks, and burns. Think trauma when building or buying your kit. Winch lines break, rigs roll over, guys get scalded by broken radiator lines. You will also want to keep a small kit accessible with band-aids, gauze, ointment to relive stings and burns for all the small stuff so you don’t have to dig into your bag. As a side note- if you are not trained to perform something- the main rule is “do no further harm”.
In Your Bag: Out exploring trails or tracking down game your injury risk changes and you could find yourself alone. Cuts, abrasions, stings or sprains are common injuries. A solid backpacking first aid kit should do the trick. Here we are talking cuts, scrapes, blisters, and stings. Something to treat minor wounds and not bear attacks is what you need here.
In Your Pocket: Keep a small mint tin with band-aids and gauze. For fun you are going to put the band-aids with cartoon characters. It’s a hit with kids and you can poke fun at your buddy for having a pink princess band-aid on his “boo-boo”.
In surviving a catastrophe there are really three groups to look at using the 10-80-10 rule. The first 10-percent of people simply don’t survive an accident. The last 10-percent seem to just make it through no matter what. The middle 80-percent are most people who if prepared in order to survive and if not, become a detriment to others. Go and explore the world, but be prepared if you wind up in a real world experience. Train now, pick your gear, learn how to use it. Keep simple rules in mind like letting others know where you are going and when you will be back.