Saturday, October 31, 2009

Teach The Children #1

A Guide for Parents
Teach Your Children How To Sound Off
            The ability to call for help is one of the most important aspects of a child’s survival, whether in the wilderness or in civilization among people. This one survival skill alone can save the lives of children, if they understand how and when to sound the alarm. As a parent, you can help your children be safe by supplying the tools and knowledge of how to signal for help.
  • Give each child his or her own signal whistle, with a lanyard so it can be carried around the neck. A very compact and effective signal whistle is the WW-3 Res-Q Whistle made by ACR  and available online for less than $5. Similar whistles can be purchased at sporting goods stores.
  • Teach children that when they feel lost or threatened in any way, it’s time to blow the whistle vigorously. This applies to situations in the wilderness or in civilization.

  • Teach your child that if he or she is lost, the best procedure is to stop moving, sit down and blow the whistle with three sharp blasts. Then stop and listen for the sound of people calling their name. If they don’t hear anything, they should blow the whistle three times again, and then stop and listen. They should repeat this process until rescued. Let your child know it is important to wait and listen for searchers. If they hear someone, they should blow the whistle again, so the searchers can locate the lost child.
  • Teach your child that stopping and sitting down is important so he or she does not wander away from those who are searching. It’s important to not only stay put, but also to make themselves as visible as possible by moving out into the open and not hiding. A few years ago, a youngster got lost for four days while camping with his family. In despair, the family and search and rescue teams scoured the forest until they almost gave up hope. Luckily, the boy was found, and it turns out he had been intentionally hiding from searchers because his parents had taught him to avoid strangers. As a parent, work with your children so they understand that there are times when it’s okay to seek the help of strangers.
  • If you hear the signal whistle, try to determine the direction the sound came from. To avoid confusion, don’t use a signal whistle to respond, but call your child’s name, then wait for the next set of three blasts of the whistle. If possible, recruit others to join the search, and follow the sound of the whistle.
  • Teach children that if they are threatened or attacked by a person or an animal, they should blow the whistle continually, without stopping. The shrill sound might frighten away a human or animal predator.
  • To familiarize your children with the whistle and make them comfortable using it, do a practice drill someplace where other people will not be alarmed by the sound. Have each child practice blowing the whistle vigorously in the 3-blast pattern. You want your children to be perfectly comfortable with the use of the whistle and to have no misunderstanding about when and how to use it.
  • Teach your child that if the whistle is not available, to use other means to make noise. Explore with your child different ideas about how an audible signal might be made.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Coyote Attack

As if to prove that we should never feel overconfident in the presences of wild animals, today we learn that popular Canadian folk singer Taylor Mitchell was killed when two coyotes ganged up on her, took her down, and killed her.

This is a first. Coyotes have always been recognized as shy around humans. But, these are wild canines and they roam the countryside and hunt in packs, just like wolves. However, the "countryside" where coyotes roam and hunt includes small towns and even metropolitan cities. You don't have to be way out in the wilderness to encounter coyotes. They are wiley, unafraid (being shy around humans should not be misconstrued as fear - it is merely a cunning survival mechanism), and will boldly prowl residential neighborhoods and take small pets as a meal. But they've never been known to take a human before, as far as I can ascertain.

Life is not a Disney movie, and the wildlife does not enjoy a warm and fuzzy lifestyle. Wild animals face a survival situation every day of their lives. At one and the same time, they are all trying to find some other animal to eat, and avoid being eaten by someone bigger or more aggressive. You can't know what kind of pressure the animals are under from things such as seasonal food shortage, or getting ousted from their habitat by encroachments of civilization, or hormonal or disease issues that might cause unusual behavior.

So what does this mean to you? It means you shouldn't take anything for granted, when it comes to the behavior of wildlife. Keep your eyes and ears open, know what's going on around you at all times, don't take unnecessary chances, understand the realities (for instance, you can't outrun a pack of wild dogs), and have a self-defense strategy.

A very effective component of a self-defense strategy, with regard to predators both human and animal, is to not go out alone. I know that violates some peoples' sense of what the wilderness is all about — going out alone to ponder the solitude — and if that's the case, I wish you well. But if you want to increase your safety, travel in pairs or small groups. This pertains not only to wildlife-related safety, but to all issues of safety.

If you absolutely must travel alone, my suggestion is that you arm yourself with something more lethal than your soft fingernails. At least give yourself a fighting chance.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Survival Kit

What should be included in a survival kit? What is most likely to be needed in any given situation, and what items are mostly just gimmicks? 

A survival kit should be assembled with one thought in mind — If I have to spend the night in the woods with nothing but this stuff, what will I need? One kit may not fit all situations. I have more than one kit. The winter kit requires a larger fanny pack than a summer kit, because of the additional clothing and food items carried. Each kit includes a shelter, redundant fire starters, a signal mirror and whistle. Each has emergency food rations, a  flashlight and extra set of batteries, a folding knife, and an assortment of bandages. The summer kit includes bug repellent, which would be unnecessary baggage in the winter kit. The winter kit, on the other hand, has spare socks, a neoprene face mask, spare glove liners, and more high-calorie food.

A homemade kit can be far superior to a store-bought kit, if for no other reason than the individual assembling the kit is forced to become familiar with everything in it. Too often, people who buy ready-made kits assume that because it was assembled by "professionals" it must be perfect, and they never even look through its contents until an emergency arises.

Every person should carry his or her own personal survival kit, know what is inside and how to use the equipment. Older children should not be left out of the equation, but should be familiar with their own kits and trained in the use of every item in an age-appropriate manner.
Consideration should be given to medical problems.  Adhesive bandages, sun protection, bug repellent, and moist towelettes are examples of items that should be included. Anyone who has health issues requiring special medications should include those items in their personal survival kits.

There are several priorities to address when assembling a survival kit.
  • Shelter is highest on the list. Exposure to the elements can injure or kill a human much more quickly than nearly any other survival factor except traumatic accident. Under the right conditions, a person can be seriously at risk in a matter of hours, so shelter is a very high priority. In a survival kit, shelter must be limited to a super compact and lightweight form. A reflective emergency blanket or pocket-sized emergency poncho will protect against the wind and precipitation. An emergency bivvy, such as the one from Adventure Medical Kits ( provides wraparound protection and effectively reflects body heat back toward you. A simple tube tent will keep the rain/snow off and turn the wind. 
  • The ability to start and maintain a fire can make all the difference. It will warm you up, purify water, cook food, provide light for yourself and smoke for to signal rescuers. I carry two means of starting a fire — a Brunton Helios Stormproof lighter and a Swedish Firesteel striker. But it isn't enough to carry the equipment — practice the techniques.
  • Methods for signaling to help rescuers find you. I carry both a signal mirror and whistle.
  • Water is critical. At 8.5 pounds per gallon, it is impossible to carry enough water for a prolonged survival situation. A compact filter that will remove microorganisms such as giardia is the solution. I carry an Aquamira Frontier Filter straw that is good for up to 20 gallons. It fits in a pocket and will keep me going for about three weeks, if I am careful. 

  • Food will help you function more efficiently and think more clearly. You won't actually die of starvation for several weeks, but you may kill yourself off through other means if you can't think or perform well. Choose high-calorie foods that are compact and have a long shelf life. Power bars, or something similar, work well. Homemade GORP (good old raisins and peanuts) will do the job. Cycle food out (that means eat it) periodically, to prevent stuff from going rancid.
 A well-developed survival kit is not something you can tuck in a shirt pocket. A fanny pack or day pack will do, but even the best survival  kit will not help if you leave it  behind.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Winter Storms

Winter storms bring civilization to a standstill. Ice, snow and wind can completely stop transportation, tear down utility lines, cut off communications, and trap people in their homes, cars, and places of business. When conditions are bad, firefighters can’t reach burning buildings, police and emergency medical teams can’t get where they need to go. Delivery of food or other essentials gets cut off. People are left to take care of themselves.

More than a hundred thousand people were trapped for two weeks by an ice storm in Spokane, Washington the winter of 1996. Up to an inch of ice was deposited on trees, power lines, roads, houses, vehicles, everything. Frozen trees shattered and fell under the icy load, collapsing on homes and garages, smashing cars, falling across driveways and roads. Power lines were torn down as if they were delicate threads. The devastation was widespread, and it was a miracle that only four people died as a result of the storm. Damages exceeded twenty million dollars, but that doesn’t begin to tell the story of the cost in human suffering among those who survived. With utilities cut off for up to two weeks, household heat sources such as furnaces or electric heaters failed to operate. Conventional cooking methods were disabled. When the sun went down, it was like living in the isolation of a cold, dark, silent tomb. The world outside was broken, and there was no TV, telephone or radio to let people know what was being done to fix the situation.

The season is upon us — what can you do to prepare?
  • Stock up on everyday supplies such as food, drinking water, toilet paper, prescription medications
  • Have a backup cooking system such as a camp stove (and a supply of propane canisters) to prepare hot meals and warm drinks 
  • Have a backup toilet arrangement (porta potty, composting toilet, etc.)
  • Have a backup system for heating your home (a generator-fed electric heater is safer than a propane space heater. Do not use a BBQ or hibachi to heat enclosed spaces)
  • Keep flashlights or camp lanterns handy for use after dark. Don't use candles or oil lamps unless you have nothing else, as they pose additional fire danger.
  • Keep warm clothing at hand
  • Have a warm sleeping bag for each person
  • Make sure your vehicle is full of fuel, and pre-install chains on the tires, but don't go out on the streets unless absolutely necessary
  • Keep a snow shovel in your house or garage so you can dig out after the storm passes

Friday, October 23, 2009

What's Beside Your Bed?

In any kind of disaster that might destroy your home, be it earthquake, hurricane, tornado, landslide, or what have you, there are a few pieces of safety equipment you should have near your bed. The reason to keep these items near your bed is so you can have immediate access to them if the crisis hits in the middle of the night. You don't want to have to go hunting for these things in the dark when your world is coming unglued at the seams.
  • First, sturdy shoes. If you have any reason to believe there is broken glass or any other type of debris on the floor, do not put your feet down until they are inside sturdy shoes that can protect against nail penetration, etc. Injured feet will not only invite infection, but will also disable you from being able to carry on with survival tasks. 
  • Heavy leather gloves. If you need to claw your way out of a collapsed structure, these will protect your hands. 
  • A hard hat. I know, sounds weird. But it's actually not a bad idea to be able to protect your noggin when things start falling down. Doesn't have to be an industrial-looking hat — a bicycle helmet will do nicely. 
  • Safety glasses or goggles. If you're blinded by dust or flying debris getting in your eyes, you won't be able to save yourself or anyone else. A lightweight pair of swim goggles will work, and they don't take up much space. 
  • A flashlight. You want to be able to reach and grab a flashlight (loaded with fully-charged batteries) without having to get out of bed to find it. If it is a "headlamp" type, so much the better, because that leaves your hands free to do whatever is necessary to get yourself and your family to safety. 
  • A fire extinguisher. I know, this sounds a bit over the top, but what if you awaken to discover that your house is in flames and the only extinguisher is in the kitchen, and you can't get to it? You're toast — literally! Keep an extinguisher within reach so you can fight your way out of a burning room  if necessary. 
  • A cell phone (fully charged). You might awaken to noises in your house that don't belong there. Home invasion by burglars (or worse) might involve the cutting of your home's telephone lines, leaving you unable to call 9-1-1 for help. Even if it's not a home invasion, but just your run of the mill disaster that has torn everything up and left you injured, your landline might be dead and you might be able to use the cell phone to summon assistance. 

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Strategies for Winter Survival

  1. If you can help it, don’t go out alone.
    1. If you are injured, you’ll have someone nearby who can help you.
    2. Hypothermia brings on poor judgment, so having another person with you increases the chance that if one of you loses your mind the other one can help protect against deadly mistakes. 
  1. Maintain communication by having a cell phone and a two-way radio. Start out with everything charged up, and also carry spare batteries.
    1. Before heading out, let people know where you’re going and when to expect you back.
    2. Be there – don’t deviate from your plan. If you do deviate, contact the people who were previously notified about your plans and tell them about the change of plans.
    3. Carry an emergency signaling system that consists of signal mirror, whistle, and electronic device such as a PLB (personal locator beacon) or SPOT satellite messaging system. Know how to use these things before you need to use them — you don’t want to have to read the instructions in the middle of an emergency.
  1. Dress appropriately. Remember the old adage, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” Your clothing is your primary shelter and is the first line of defense against the elements. With the appropriate clothing, and by following proper techniques, you can survive extreme conditions.
    1. The best clothing for the elements – wool or synthetics that don’t absorb and hold moisture against the skin.
    2. Layers that can be easily added or removed to prevent perspiration from building up in the fabric.
    3. Stay dry. It’s impossible to get warm once you’re wet, so staying dry is absolutely critical to staying warm. Vent body moisture out – prevent outside moisture from coming in.
    4. Mittens instead of gloves. Warm boots. Gators. Facemask. Neck warmer. Total head covering. UV protective sunglasses or goggles.
  1. Shelter and Fire. Be prepared to stay longer than you planned – overnight or over several nights. Carry emergency shelter (emergency blanket, bivvy, etc.). Be prepared with several methods of staring a fire. Practice so you are confident you can start a fire under all conditions.
  1. Hydrate and feed the furnace. That means eat and drink often. Dehydration helps bring on hypothermia and frostbite by thickening the blood and inhibiting circulation that delivers warmth to the extremities. Eat and drink warm foods and fluids to help maintain body core temperature. High calorie food and plenty of non-alcoholic beverage (alcohol actually promotes hypothermia and frostbite) will help keep the internal fire burning at a time when you’re consuming large amounts of energy just to stay alive. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


The cooling of the body core results in hypothermia. It can happen in a matter of minutes, if you fall into cold water. Or it can creep up on you over a matter of hours or days. Everything depends on the conditions that promote lowering the body core temperature. There are five mechanisms responsible for loss of core warmth. Most of them can be controlled by you.

  • Conduction — If your flesh touches an object that is colder than your body temperature, heat will transfer from your body to the cold object. The rule is to not let anything except the soles of your shoes or boots touch the cold ground. Don't sit on a cold rock or a damp log. Don't lie on the cold ground without plenty of thermal insulation beneath you. 
  • Convection — The movement of air around your warm body will steal away the heat. Protect yourself from even the slightest breeze. 
  • Evaporation — When moisture evaporates, cooling takes place. If your clothes are wet, the evaporation process will act like an air conditioner around your body. If your skin is wet, you will lost core warmth as the water evaporates.
  • Respiration — With every breath, you exhale warmth that comes from your body core and ends up outside. With every breath, you inhale cold air that chills your body core. You must breathe, but you don't have to breathe cold air. Inhale from inside your jacket. Exhaling into your clothing will capture moisture in the fabric, so it's better to exhale into the surrounding air. 
  • Elimination — There is a reason urine and solid waste release steam when it hits the ground on a cold day. Warmth is leaving your body via the elimination process. Not much you can do about this. 
It doesn't take exposure to extreme cold for hypothermia to claim a victim. The gradual loss of core warmth can happen to swimmers in 80-degree tropical water. Or it can happen inside a house when the heat has been shut off for a prolonged period. The elderly, the very young, and those who are weakened by illness are particularly at risk. The instruments of death by hypothermia are:
  • Damp body or clothing
  • Fatigue
  • Insufficient nourishment
  • Being chilled
  • Exposure to the wind

To protect against hypothermia:

  • Stay dry
  • Eat warm high-calorie meals regularly
  • Drink warm beverages (non-alcoholic, because alcohol promotes hypothermia)
  • Protect yourself from exposure to the wind
  • Wrap up to hold your body core warmth - cover your head, neck, wrists (an emergency blanket will reflect your body warmth back toward you
  • Snuggle with someone who is warm, or wrap up in a blanket together with a fire-warmed stone (wrapped in a cloth to prevent burns)
  • Exercise mildly to generate body warmth 

Monday, October 19, 2009

Off-Site Survival Strategy

When I served on a volunteer fire department in Wisconsin, we had a strategy to protect the department's assets (fire and ambulance equipment) when the occasional tornado would threaten to hit our town. The tactic was to position the fire trucks and ambulances in several different locations, so they were not all clustered in one place where they could all be wiped out at once.

This concept has application for survival preparation. If everything is in one place, it can all be destroyed in one fell swoop. But if you have an "off-site" location you can move to in the event your primary residence is threatened, life can go on almost as normal.

Some folks have an RV, which is a good strategy because it is mobile. Others have a second home or a condo someplace distant. If you keep those secondary locations fully stocked with food and clothing and other daily-use supplies, evacuation from your residence is much less traumatic. The only problem is getting to your off-site location without getting strangled in evacuation traffic. To avoid the gridlock, evacuate early. Of course, early evacuation assumes that you have advance notice that a crisis is about to hit. We don't always have early warning — sometimes our world just suddenly erupts into chaos. All you can do is prepare a place to evacuate to, and then do your best to get there when the time comes.

How you arrange your off-site location depends somewhat on where you live. For example, our secondary living space is a sailboat. That wouldn't be the best choice if we lived in Baker, CA. Near the ocean, where we live, one possible disaster is a tsunami … in which case we would stay in our home because it is built on ground that is high enough to survive. But if the forest that surrounds our area goes up in flames and takes our house with it, we'll head for the boat. For us, a boat is a good choice because it is mobile, yet it is not subject to the gridlock of traffic that land-based evacuees might face.

Not everyone can afford a second home, an RV or a livable boat. For those folks, the best bet is to make reciprocal arrangements with a friend or relative who lives close enough to serve as a logical evacuation site, yet far enough away to avoid being struck by the same disaster that is forcing you to flee your own home. With this type of arrangement, formulate a plan to either store some of your emergency supplies at the off-site location, or be sure you can grab your 72-hour kit and take it with you.

Failing to have a pre-planned evacuation site, you might end up living a refugee lifestyle in a gathering place set up by relief agencies. To make life more bearable in that situation, take a well-prepared 72-hour kit with you.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Getting Water

Disasters such as earthquake, flood, severe weather, power outage, or contamination can result in a shut-down of the community water supply to your home. If the outage happens during hot weather, the problem becomes serious in a hurry because everyone needs to maintain adequate drinking water intake to prevent dehydration.

The best course of action is to have several days of drinkable water stored in your home or garage. One-gallon containers are easy to store and light enough for anyone to carry. Smaller water bottles are easy to pack around during activity. Aqua Clip ( is a small hook for the individual water bottles that allows you to hang the bottle from your belt or pocket when you need both hands for another task.

Plan for each member of the family to have about a gallon of drinking water per day. Actual intake will vary depending on the ambient temperature, activity level, age, size and physical condition of the individual. If you have a gallon per person, that's a safe quantity.

In the event of a prolonged water shut-off to your home, you might be able to extract some water from the plumbing. To do this, go to the highest faucet in the house and open it. Use a container to catch any water that comes out, until no more water drains from the faucet. Leave the faucet open and go to the lowest faucet in the house. Place a container beneath the faucet and turn on the water. Whatever water is in the plumbing will drain from the lower faucet.

Collect water from the water heater by first turning off the electricity or gas to the water heater, then open the drain valve at the bottom of the tank. The water will start to flow when you turn off the water intake valve and open the hot water faucet at a nearby sink. After the water tank has been emptied, remember to refill it before turning on the power or starting the gas burner again.

Leave a Note

If your vehicle runs out of gas or breaks down and you become stranded way back in the bush, it's almost never a good idea to abandon your vehicle and attempt to hike out of the wilderness. Searchers will always spot the vehicle before they find a lone hiker moving through the brush. If you stay with the vehicle, you have a better chance of being rescued than if you are wandering alone on foot.

But, if it reaches a point that you decide to leave the vehicle behind and hike out, leave a note for the search and rescue team. The note might even be spotted by a ranger or some other individual before a search has been initiated. Leave the note on the dashboard where it is protected from the elements.

On the note, include your name and information about the type and color of clothing you're wearing, equipment you have with you, how many are in your group, which direction you plan to travel, etc. Give authorities as much information as you can to help them find you.

Also mention your medical situation — whether you (or anyone in your group) are sick or injured or in need of prescription medication. This will help the rescue team be prepared to render medical assistance when you are located.

Don't take off across country thinking you're taking a short cut to civilization. Follow the road or trail that you drove in on. Your chance of encountering someone who can help you is far higher if you are on the beaten path. And your chance of getting lost and/or injured increases dramatically if you leave the road or trail and start hiking cross-country.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Treating Shock

Almost every crisis situation can result in victims suffering shock, either from physical trauma or from emotional trauma.

Shock is a medical problem caused by loss of blood pressure and subsequent loss of blood delivery to the brain. The causes of shock can be physical blood loss (external or internal) due to a severe injury, or from the effects of an emotional or psychological trauma that does not involve physical injury.

Symptoms of shock include:
  • pale, cool, clammy skin  
  • rapid but weak pulse
  • rapid breathing
  • anxiety or confusion
  • low blood pressure
  • feeling dizzy or faint
When a person suffers shock, he or she might collapse and fall to the ground. It's the body's way of trying to get the head lower than the rest of the body, to restore blood flow to the brain. Rather than wait for the victim to faint, place him in a horizontal position (on the ground, on a bed, on the couch, in the bed of a truck — anyplace safe from further falling) and, unless there is severe bleeding in the upper body or head, elevate the lower extremities slightly higher than the head.

NOTE: Bleeding is a top priority so always stop the bleeding first.

Cover the individual with a blanket to maintain body warmth, because the lack of circulation will tend to cool the victim's body core.

Monitor life signs and note times and changes of patient conditions so you can relate that information to medical personnel.

It is possible that an internal organ trauma that is not detectable from outside observation is the cause of the shock, so it is always advisable to transport the patient to an emergency medical facility as soon as possible.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

All Hazards Radio

One of the keys to surviving a developing crisis, such as an approaching hurricane, tornado, or severe winter storm is finding out about it ahead of time so you can take steps to avoid getting caught up in the situation. To keep track of the weather you can use a NOAA Weather Radio. But there are emergencies that have nothing to do with the weather, and for those you want to use an All Hazards Radio.

An example of this type of radio is the Reecom R1650 ( that sells for roughly $60 online. This radio is designed as a desktop unit but is battery powered (4 AA), so you can take it with you and monitor the situation during evacuation. It delivers weather alerts, as well as alerts about chemical spills, terrorist attacks, earthquake, landslide, nuclear accident, wildfire, volcano, flooding, child abduction, dam break, food contamination and more. If there's an emergency, you'll know about it.

Another excellent unit is the Oregon Scientific WR601 ( that sells for about $50, is very compact and weighs only a pound, and delivers U.S. Emergency All Hazards, and Emergency Alert System bulletins, warnings and forecasts.

And, of course, there are other radios available. Use Google and type in All Hazards Radio to search for  sources. The important thing is to become equipped to receive timely information about emergency situations that are coming your way.

In the absence of one of these All Hazard Radios, use the local TV and radio stations as a source of information, and then respond appropriately.

We'll discuss "appropriate response" to various crisis situations in upcoming posts.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Triangle of Life

Buildings collapse and people are trapped inside. Some are killed almost immediately by falling debris. Others might be lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to avoid being buried. But nobody wants to depend on mere luck when the roof starts to come down.

A few years ago, a fellow named Doug Copp (Rescue Chief and Disaster Manager for the American Rescue Team International) discovered a method to beat the odds when a building starts to come down on top of people. The crisis could be caused by an earthquake, an explosion, an impact-type accident from a vehicle or aircraft hitting the structure, poor engineering resulting in the collapse, or a decrepit building breathing its last.

The method Mr. Copp came up with is called the "Triangle of Life" and involves taking shelter in very particular spaces within the collapsing structure. He begins by recalling the old "duck and cover" method taught to school children, wherein they fall to their knees and crawl beneath their school desks or tables and cover their heads with their arms.

What Mr. Copp found during his service as a rescuer was that inside collapsed buildings the weight of the ceiling members falling on top of objects such as desks or tables crushed those things and would also crush anyone hiding under them. But, as the furniture was smashed down, an air space was often formed next to the object, creating what he called the triangle of life. If a person took shelter next to the desk or table, or whatever, that individual would have a better chance of survival than if he was under the desk itself.

This concept extends outside buildings as well. In a parking structure, you're better off ducking down beside a car rather than being inside or under it. As the car is crushed, some of it will support the collapsed structure and create an open air space beside the vehicle. But the space beneath the car is likely to be non-existent.

We'll discuss more survival strategies for this type of situation later, but for now teach yourself to instinctively look for those triangle of life situations in any building you enter.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Day-Hike Syndrome

Day-hike syndrome is the unfortunate (and sometimes deadly) result of over confidence combined with lack of preparation. People who go out on short hikes in familiar surrounds are most vulnerable, because they mistakenly believe that nothing can or will go wrong. So off they go, totally unprepared to spend the night in the wilderness or hunker down and wait out a sudden and unexpected storm. 

All it takes is a twisted ankle or taking the wrong fork in the trail to turn a day hike into an overnighter — or even longer. It’s a very good idea to always be prepared with enough equipment to spend a few days on your own. At least carry a rudimentary shelter like the tube tent pictured above, so you can get in out of the rain and wind. Being alone and lost might scare you but it probably won't kill you. But hypothermia will, so always take enough gear to allow you to stay dry and conserve your body warmth. 

To make sure you don’t have to spend too much time lost or alone,  always leave a hike plan with trusted friends or loved ones, detailing where you’re going and when you’re planning to return. That way, if you don’t show up on schedule, someone will report you you missing and be able to supply search teams with your hike plan.

Better yet, carry a personal locator beacon or a SPOT satellite personal tracker, so you can immediately call the rescue squads yourself at the moment you find yourself in trouble. 

Bottom line — day hikes sometimes last a lot longer than a day. Be prepared. Expect the unexpected.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Transportation Strategies

Any number of crisis situations can result in the closure of transportation routes. Highways and bridges can be broken up by earthquakes, washed away by floods caused by hurricanes, a sudden downpour, or the melting of snow in nearby mountains. Roads can be closed because trees have fallen across them, or power lines are down and lying on the ground. A broken water main, a leaking natural gas line, a fire, a bad accident, a riot or demonstration, a hazardous materials spill, or criminal activity in the area might disrupt travel along certain routes.

Because you can never know in advance what is going to happen, it's an excellent strategy to scope out the alternate routes to and from your home, your place of business, the schools your kids attend, etc.

During any kind of emergency, especially when evacuation of an area has been ordered by authorities, it is common for traffic to clot the main transportation routes. You want to be prepared to sidestep all that.

Explore your neighborhood and community. Discover the little-used back streets and alleys that can be used in an emergency. Check out dirt roads that skirt the community altogether. Make contingency plans for routes you can take in the event there is a disruption of travel on what you might otherwise consider the "normal" routes.

Another aspect of your survival transportation strategy is to consider alternate means of travel. A motorcycle or bicycle can take you through narrow passages where no car or truck can go. Wearing a backpack and having panniers attached to the bike can allow you to carry your 72-hour kit pretty easily.

There might be times when you have to dismount and carry your bicycle past a spot where riding is impossible. Wear hiking boots or trail shoes that will protect your feet and allow you to walk long distances, if hiking is the only form of transportation left.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

One Flush Left

So what are you going to do when the water is shut off and you have one flush left in the toilet? This can happen, by the way, for any number of reasons.

  • A break in the water main disrupts delivery to your house
  • An earthquake shatters the water pipes
  • Nasty winter weather freezes the pipes
  • Equipment failure of the community water supply system
  • Contamination of the water supply requires a shut-down of water delivery
  • Drought results in water shortage
  • A power outage shuts down the community water pumps
  • etc.
Sanitation is a high priority in a survival incident because, if you don't take care of sanitation, disease will soon find your camp. You must figure out how to handle the human waste problem. This is a situation that is so easy to solve, yet most people never give it a second thought. No matter where you live, you have options.
  • Buy a chemical porta potty (and extra chemicals)
  • Use a 5-gallon bucket, some plastic bags to line the bucket, and a toilet seat that you place on top
  • Dig a latrine, if you have the open land to permit it
  • Get a composting toilet and some peat moss
We've done all of the above at one time or another, so we can report with some authority on each of these options.

A chemical porta potty works well, but the holding tank is limited to about 5 gallons or less. Depending on the size of your family, you might have to empty it every couple of days. When you do, you're dealing with wet sewage, so you'll need to find a suitable place to dispose of it.

A bucket is a poor-man's porta potty. Lined with plastic bags, you can collect all the waste in the bag and haul it out for disposal without messing up the bucket. A toilet seat placed on the bucket makes things a lot more comfortable.

A latrine is just an excavated hole in the ground into which one makes a "direct deposit" when nature calls. Actually, if you cut the bottom out of the plastic bucket and position it over the latrine, you can have a place to sit while pondering your circumstances. Toss some soil or wood ashes over the deposit when finished. When one latrine spot has reached capacity, move to a new spot.

More than a year ago, we acquired a composting toilet made by Nature's Head ( that separates the liquid from solid waste. The liquid goes into a collecting tank that holds a couple gallons and can be emptied when necessary. The solids go into a dry holding tank that contains some peat moss. By turning a hand crank after the deposit has been made, the human waste is mixed with the peat moss and over time it turns into compost. Continuous air flow is necessary to promote the composting process, and a small fan is integrated into the system, to be powered by a 12-volt battery or small solar panel to sustain the air flow. As the composting takes place, the waste nearly disappears, so you can go for a long while before emptying. In fact, the longer you wait before emptying the unit, the better the compost gets, and the odor is virtually undetectable.

All of these toilet options are intended for outdoor use, it is a good idea to have a shelter for privacy and protection from the weather. A cabana-style tent is idea for this purpose. The privacy enclosure pictured here is Model 747-82, available from Stansport ( for less than $40.

And while we're on this fine subject, have you given any thought to what you'll do when you reach the last sheet of toilet paper on the last roll? You have only a couple of options here — stock up with toilet paper, or learn to improvise by using old newspapers and "bottom friendly" plant leaves. Take it from me, it's a much happier situation if you just buy toilet paper in bulk packaging and have a healthy supply handy for any emergencies.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Dress To Live

When you step away from your house or vehicle where you have protection from the wind and precipitation, and are able to adjust the ambient temperature to keep you comfortable, your clothing is your first line of defense against the elements.

What you wear becomes a portable shelter system. So give careful consideration to the clothing and shoes you routinely wear. When an emergency situation hits, you may not be able to change into something more appropriate. If you're wearing high-heels or slick-soled business shoes when civilization suddenly comes to an end, heaven help you.

Seriously, if you're interested in survival, forget fashion and go with function every time. There are alternatives today that look good in a business environment and still provide the ability to walk comfortably for long distances. The same goes with every article of clothing you wear.

Imagine a power failure in New York City just at the close of business on a snowy January evening, and you have to walk 9 miles to get to your apartment because transportation is shut down because there are no functioning traffic lights and the subways aren't running. If you were caught in that, you'd regret the "stupid" fashions and wish you were wearing "real" clothing.

Whether you're surviving on the street or in the wilderness, the problems are the same. But frankly, I'd take the wilderness every time, where the predators are easier to identify and deal with.

Here are 10 tips about how to dress to live:

  • Dress in layers, so you can easily add or subtract articles of clothing to adjust for weather and temperature conditions, as well as for your level of labor.
  • When buying outdoor clothing, keep in mind that buttons are more durable and more reliable than zippers, but zippers close the fabric without gaps in between, to prevent unintentional ventilation.
  • The best natural fiber for outdoor clothing is wool, because it is relatively resistant to absorbing moisture, it tends to wick moisture away from your body to prevent cooling, and it will still provide some insulation value even when wet. If you don't like the "itch" of wool, buy Merino Wool, because it is soft and itch-free. Cotton, on the other hand, absorbs like a sponge and holds moisture close to your body, promoting hypothermia in cool weather.
  • Wind and water are the enemy, so wear clothing that will turn both away. A waterproof but breathable outer shell is best because it protects against the wind and sheds water from outside but allows perspiration to escape from inside. 
  • In winter, mittens are better than gloves because they allow the fingers to share warmth rather than isolating each finger in a cold cocoon. 

  • Wear boots or shoes that are loose enough to promote good circulation of blood to the feet and toes. Poor circulation promotes frostbite. 
  • The purpose of clothing is to protect the body, so wear long sleeves and pant legs to prevent sunburn, scrapes, bug bites, and loss of body core warmth. 
  • In warm weather, wear a brimmed hat or a cap with a bill, and have a large handkerchief or bandana to use as a sun shield for the back of the neck and sides of the face. In cold weather, wear a hooded jacket and neck covering to protect body warmth. 

  • Clean clothing insulates better than dirty fabric, so in a survival situation take care of your clothing to keep it clean and functional. 
  • Unless you’re trying to cool off in the heat of summer, keep yourself and your clothes dry. Wet clothing conducts heat away from your body very rapidly, and moisture on your skin acts like an evaporative air conditioner. 

Shelter Quick Tips

Aside from taking care of a life-threatening medical emergency, creating some kind of shelter to protect you from the elements is almost always the highest priority in a survival situation. There are lots of different options when it comes to making a shelter, but here are a few quick tips that can help you learn to take advantage of natural resources and avoid unnecessary exposure to a dangerous environment.

  • To avoid overheating or getting too cold as you’re moving through the backcountry, learn to seek shelter instinctively. During the heat of a summer day, walk where there is shade. When it’s cold, soak up as much sunshine as possible.
  • Animals do this intuitively, and so should you — automatically take advantage of natural shelter. Hide from the rain or snow beneath dense foliage or below an overhang. Find protection from the wind on the lee side of a boulder or cliff.
  • If you are in one place for any length of time, spend a little effort every day to improve the shelter aspects of camp. Arrange the shelter so it takes full advantage of either sun or shade, depending upon what you need most. Use tender boughs or forest duff to fix up a comfortable sleeping area. Erect barriers to turn away the wind and rain. 

Monday, October 5, 2009

Wild Edible Quick Tips

Wild edible plants can supplement your supply of food, but you need to know exactly what you’re eating before you put it in your mouth.
  • Only a small fraction of the plants on Earth are edible, so don’t graze indiscriminately.
  • Some mushrooms are deadly, so unless you know which ones are which, leave them out of your survival diet.
  • Plant toxins range from merely irritating to downright deadly. There are no quick and easy general rules regarding how to identify toxic plants, such as “it’s safe to eat whatever you see the animals eat.” Some animals and birds can safely eat things that will do serious damage to humans.  It is absolutely necessary to make positive identification of a plant before using it as food.
  • The sap of some trees (maple, birch, walnut, sycamore) contains sugar. If you boil the sap down (35:1), you can make a sweet syrup. But not all tree sap is good for food, and some sap has volatile ingredients. 
So what can you safely eat? The quick answer — don't eat anything you can't identify for certain. You can make a lifelong study of plants and their uses. Learn one plant at a time. To get you started, let’s take a look at a few easy to identify plants that are safe to use.
  • Dandelion — Everybody recognizes this lawn pest, but did you know that it also grows in the wild? All parts of the dandelion can be used for food; root, leaf, bud, flower. Early in the season is best, because the plant becomes bitter with age. I like the young flower buds before they blossom. They remind me of Brussel Sprouts. The leaves can be used raw for salad or cooked for greens. The flower can be eaten raw or cooked.

  • Rose — In the wild, rose flowers tend to be small, but the leaves and thorns are otherwise similar to domesticated varieties. The edible part is the “hip,” the globe left behind after the flower has fallen. As the hips ripen, the outer layer (a pithy covering over the seeds) becomes a tasty and nutritious treat that is exceptionally high in vitamin C. Related to apples, the hips sometimes have a hint of flavor similar to that familiar fruit.

  • Cattail — Found in moist ground near lakes, streams and swamps, cattails are easily recognized. The edible parts are the roots and the young shoots. The part I like best is the young shoot before the familiar brown seedhead emerges. These can be pulled from the center at the base of the leaf cluster, peeled and eaten like celery. Later, when the seed head emerges, and is still covered by flowers, you can collect the head and prepare it like a skinny ear of corn. Use the flower clusters as a flour supplement for your pancakes.

  • Stinging nettle (urtica dioica) is easy to identify — just brush the back of your hand against it and you’ll have instant positive identification.  Tiny hollow hairs act as hypodermic needles to inject the irritating formic acid that can cause a rash or blisters (depending upon individual sensitivity). The big surprise for most folks is that stinging nettle is edible. Cooking destroys the stinging property. Use the young tender tops, steaming or boiling only briefly, so the greens don’t turn to mush. Excellent!

  • Bull thistle (cirsium vulgare) is a native of Europe, but now can be found all across the USA along roadsides, in deserts, pastures and forests. It’s easy to identify because of its very rough appearance, pain-inducing spines and purple flower head. The part you eat is the young stalk. Use your knife to scrape away the outer skin and spines, then eat the inner core as you would celery. Late in the season, the stalks become too woody to eat.

         Some excellent books to help with your study are: Wild Edible Plants of the Western United States by Donald R. Kirk; Eating from the Wild by Dr. Anne Marie Stewart and Leon Kronoff; and all of the books by Euell Gibbons. Another excellent book is Poisonous Plants of the United States by Walter Conrad Muenscher.

Watch The Clouds

The weather can be a killer, any time of year. With flashfloods and heat waves in the summer, blizzards and sub-zero cold in the winter, and the chance of falling victim to hypothermia in the spring and fall, you need to keep a close eye of what the weather is doing.

            • Watch the clouds. If they are building rapidly, with a lot of upward movement, the atmosphere is very unstable. There is a chance of thunderstorms, lightning, high winds (or even microbursts), heavy downpours and possible flash floods.

            • Warm fronts generally move into an area slowly, beginning with cirrus clouds that lead to gradually thickening clouds that bring steady rain and wind. Cold fronts are generally more volatile, move through an area quickly and can bring violent weather with rain, hail, snow and squally winds.

            • Watch the barometer. A falling barometer can (among other things) indicate the strength of coming wind conditions. A barometer that falls 1 millibar per hour indicates Force 6 (25 to 31 mph). Falling 2 mb/hour indicates 32 to 46 mph winds. Dropping 3 mb/hour tells you a powerful winds are coming, above 47 miles per hour. 

Pure Water

Without clean drinking water, you aren't going to last very long in a survival situation. You can go a long time before starvation will kill you, but dehydration will take you down in just a couple of days — or less, under the right conditions. 

There are five viable ways to clean up drinking water — boiling, distillation, filtering, chemical treatment, and exposing to UV light. Not all of these methods can be considered “purifying” in the strictest sense of the word. Pure water has nothing harmful in it. Water that has been treated to kill or otherwise remove living organisms might still contain harmful substances such as toxic chemicals or minerals. Using only a single method is almost always insufficient to truly purify water, making it necessary to combine methods such as boiling and then filtering, or chemical treatment followed by filtering.


To kill pathogens in water by boiling, bring the water to a rolling boil (lots of strong bubbles) and hold it there for at least one minute at sea level. At higher elevations, increase boiling time to three minutes. Keep in mind that boiling the water doesn’t endow it with a magical immunity against future contamination. If the water in placed in a contaminated vessel, it will be polluted again. The other thing is that boiling does not eliminate non-organic contaminants. In fact, boiling reduces the volume of water through steam loss, so non-organic contaminants (chemicals or other toxins) actually become more concentrated.

Distillation transforms liquid water into a steam that can be collected and condensed on a relatively cool surface. As the steam condenses, droplets of water form, which can be collected in a container. In the process of distillation, nearly everything is left behind (both organic and inorganic substances), and pure water comes out at the far end. However, contaminants that have the same or lower boiling point as water can actually distill along with the water, turn to steam, condense on the cooling surface, and end up in the container along with the water.


This is by far the most popular and convenient method of water treatment. Portable “backpack” filters are easy to carry and easy to use, but they don’t all offer the same degree of protection. For the best treatment of water, a filter should include a prefilter to trap the larger particulates before they can reach the main filter system. Next comes a sub-micron filtering element that traps organic contaminants such as bacteria and cysts. An activated carbon filtering element should be included, to absorb toxic compounds and to improve both taste and odor.

In spite of all that, notice that I didn’t mention the filtering out of virus. Those little buggers are so small that they slip right through most filter elements. The traditional way to handle virus is to either boil the water before filtering (boiling kills all the organic pathogens) or dosing the water with a chemical treatment that will kill virus, and then running the treated water through a filter. Doing it in that order helps eliminate the chemical treatment before you drink the water.

However, there is a portable filter that claims to meet EPA standard for virus removal. It is the First Need XL by General Ecology ( The company actually calls this a “water purifier” which is a standard far above most filters on the market. This system weighs 16 ounces, is compact enough for easy transport, and includes all the necessary features (pre-filter, activated carbon filter, and a “structured matrix” filter system that traps everything including virus). As testament to the effectiveness of this filter system, the company points to a report by Charles P. Gerba, PhD; Jamie E. Naranjo, BS; and Ellen L. Jones, MPH, PhD from the Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science at the University of Arizona, Tucson. To quote the report, “This study demonstrated that a structured matrix unit is available that can be expected to remove a wide range of viruses with different isoelectric points and hydrophobicity, even in water with a quality that would be expected to present conditions far less than ideal for structured matrices (ie, the presence of organic matter in the worst-case challenges can block adsorption sites to which the virus adheres to on the matrix). This technology offers the advantage of simplicity of use without the need for chemical addition to water and rapid processing of the water.

“Given that the unit in this study was capable of adsorbing a wide variety of types of viruses with a wide range of physical and chemical properties, it should be expected to remove any known viruses capable of transmission by water.” In the heading to the report, was the following: “Results — The removal of all virus types tested exceeded 99.99%.”

Average filter canister life for this unit is 150 gallons, and the pump is field-serviceable. For convenience, the unit comes with a collection of adapters that allow connection directly to a variety of hydration systems and water bottles.

Chemical Treatment

The chemicals used for disinfection of drinking water are chlorine and iodine. Both are toxic, which is why they kill the organisms, and must be used as directed on the product package. Some people are allergic to iodine, so check with your doctor before use. Chlorine is effective against bacteria, but offers only limited protection against some protozoa such as giardia and cryptosporidium.

A more high-tech approach to chemical water treatment was developed for the military and tested by the U.S. Marines and Special Forces in Afghanistan. MIOX, made by Mountain Safety Research, also known as MSR (www.cascadedesigns/, is unlike any other water purifier currently on the consumer market. The way it works is to use a small amount of untreated water, some salt and a small electrical charge to create a chemical solution (a powerful oxidant) that when added to untreated water is toxic to all manner of organic pathogens (virus, bacteria, giardia, Cryptosporidia) but is not toxic to humans in its diluted form.

UV Light

One of my water bottles is the AquaStar made by Meridian Designs ( that comes with a battery-powered UV light inside. 

The SteriPen System Pack UV Water Purifier ( is another high-tech product that operates along the same line. The concept is that UV light wavelengths disrupt the DNA and RNA of organic pathogens (bacteria, cysts, and virus), thus rendering them unable to reproduce and therefore harmless to humans. Even though there is no doubt about the effectiveness of this technology (it is, after all, employed by municipal water treatment plants), some limitations exist for portable units. Batteries wear out. Lights can break or burn out. All the non-organic contaminants are still in the water and must be filtered for removal.

Because you can’t see the bad guys in water with your naked eye, it’s tempting to think of frigid water tumbling down a stream after melting from a glacier high in the mountains with complacency. Don’t do it. The only safe way to think about water is that there is NO source of clean water in the outdoors, other than rain that you catch as it falls from the clouds. Unless you are facing imminent death from dehydration, don’t drink from wild water sources until you purify it. 

Sunday, October 4, 2009

And the Physical Aftermath

Urban survival situations, by nature, involve lots of people. It isn't like a wilderness survival incident in which one or perhaps a handful of individuals suffer. Urban catastrophes generally involve whole communities, and sometimes entire societies.

Take the recent earthquake in Indonesia as an example, but be aware that this identical situation could happen anywhere. I'm using Indonesia because it is still an evolving situation that is in the headlines today. It could as easily be St. Louis or Los Angeles.

According to reports out of Sumatra, here's what's happening in the aftermath of the destruction:
  • Search and rescue teams have begun to focus on retrieving the rotting bodies from the rubble. 
  • Lt. Colonel Harris, crew chief of a rescue team reported that, after 4 days of searching, it's almost impossible to find any survivors. 
  • He went on to say that the smell of decomposing bodies is very strong. 
  • The scope of the disaster is described by the National Disaster Management Agency: 83,712 homes destroyed, 200 public buildings destroyed, 100,000 additional buildings badly damages, 5 bridges collapsed. 

The earthquake and subsequent landslides were bad enough, but now with open sewers, broken water lines, and decaying corpses of people and animals, severe problems lie ahead in the form of disease. In a crisis of this proportion, often there are mass graves with burials being done by bulldozers for the simple sake of getting rid of the cause of disease among the survivors.

All the dignity and respect that are normally paid to the deceased are done away with, and life takes on an expedient nature. And that, only heightens the emotional burden for those who have lost loved-ones.

What can be done to help the living? Humanitarian aid organizations give broad-brush assistance, sending shelter, medical supplies, food, and trained workers to help move life back toward normal. A great example of a private company lending a hand when the 2004 tsunami struck Indonesia and surrounding areas, killing nearly a quarter-million and leaving millions of survivors in desperate conditions, was MSR ( sending 1,000 MIOX water purification units to assist in the relief effort.

What can you do personally? Get involved in an organization that contributes humanitarian aid to disaster victims around the world. And then take a look closer to home — your own home — and get started with an emergency preparedness plan for your household. Get involved with your community plan. The more self-sufficient you are in a disaster, the less burden you are on the relief organizations. As one survivor of the recent cyclone in the Philippines so wisely said, "By the time the government get here to help, it's already too late."

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Emotional Aftermath of Crisis

"The stench of dead bodies fills the air."

That quote from a report about the massive earthquake damage in Indonesia is the very essence of urban disaster. It's the aftermath of whatever caused the crisis that is so bad. Long after the earth stops shaking, the residual effect of the damage lingers. And not just for days or weeks, but for months and even years. A lifetime, for those who lost loved-ones.

Local disaster management currently has the death toll listed at 540 but, according to officials from the United Nations, more than 4,000 victims might be buried in the rubble of collapsed buildings. Search and rescue teams are working around the clock in concert with the military, but as of this posting very few bodies have been recovered. The rest are still counted among the missing.

Families of the missing are left to wonder and hope, but eventually hope turns to despair. Their lives are upside-down, not only physically as a result of the earthquake, but emotionally from not knowing the fate of their family members and friends.

Houses and buildings can be replaced … loved-ones cannot. After the initial physical needs are met for survivors (medical attention, shelter, water, food, sanitation), there is both an immediate and long-term need for some kind of comfort to help them through the great loss they have suffered. Here are some things that can help:

  • Personal faith — A belief in God and in an afterlife is the greatest comfort. If you share faith with a congregation, connect with that group as soon as possible and draw upon their support.
  • Someone to talk with — Sometimes you need a shoulder to cry on, someone you trust enough to share your grief with, someone to hug you and hold you long and hard.
  • A shared activity — Getting involved with other people in an activity can help break the cycle of emotional despair, at least for a while. 
  • A return to normal routines as quickly as possible — This brings a sense of stability and purpose that can be very healing. 
  • Embrace the gift of your survival — Demonstrate gratitude for your own life by reaching out and offering to assist others who are in worse shape than you are. Give the crisis a purpose. 

Friday, October 2, 2009

Survival Stove

What if, for a period of time, you had to live as if you were in an impoverished area of a third-world country? What if electricity and natural gas were not available as a cooking fuel, and you were forced to cook over a wood fire?

Large parts of the world actually live that way, and Aprovecho Research Center ( decided to help improve the situation. In the process, they came up with what I believe is a great survival stove. It burns wood or charcoal (or roots, crop residue, or other dry biomass), so you can operate it on twigs, scraps of lumber, bits of charcoal or other combustible materials. It has handles that make it easily portable. And my tests demonstrated that it is very efficient — the fire starts quickly and burns vigorously on very little fuel. Air flow is controlled by via a sliding door below the combustion chamber.

The stove was invented by Dr. Larry Winlarski, in an effort to provide impoverished populations with a better way to cook. The unit is designed with an internal clay brick chimney that focusses the heat up through a narrow channel, unlike an open fire that allows the heat to dissipate in all directions.

The Wood-Charcoal model ($40) allows you to burn sticks that rest on the fuel shelf and get pushed into the fire as the burning end is consumed. If you're using charcoal, it is loaded into the combustion chamber and ignited from above. The metal ring on top is a pot skirt that improves efficiency. 

Ten Essentials

Human life is fragile. Even the strongest man in the world is embarrassingly frail by comparison with the relative strength of an ant, or the almost miraculous physiological adaptability of a desert frog. When we leave the comfort and protection of our homes, we are vulnerable to the elements of a hostile environment that may threaten our survival unless we use our wits and equipment to create a safe “bubble” around ourselves.

The relative hostility of the environment shifts according to season and location, so our efforts to survive may sometimes be passive, or they may need to be exceptionally active in the face of extreme conditions. But even in a seemingly non-threatening environment, an unfortunate turn of events can change everything, so you have to know what to do in case the day turns into a survival adventure.

To create a safe bubble, there are certain essential techniques and/or items of equipment that will help. We are about to explore what Dave Letterman might call the Top Ten Essentials. Keep in mind that the order of priorities among these essentials will vary with the situation, shifting position on the priority list to satisfy the specific challenges of the moment. The only one that always remains at the top of the list is the one I placed last here. When you read it, you'll understand why.
  1. Shelter: Without the ability to control the environment immediately surrounding your body, you won’t last long. Shelter begins with your choice of clothing. Ideally, dress with clothing that keeps your body temperature near normal and shields you from wind and precipitation. After clothing, shelter takes the form of a tent or tarp or whatever you can fabricate from natural materials. The ability to improvise shelter is an essential technique for survival when modern equipment is not available. 
  2. Signaling: Countless people die in situations when they could easily be saved if they were able to signal their distress. Signal devices include such items as a cell phone, a two-way radio, a whistle, flares, a mirror, a smoky fire by day and a bright blaze by night. Cell phones don’t work everywhere. Compact amateur (HAM) radios are available in backpackable models (license required) that can reach out and touch someone who can relay a message to search parties. FRS (Family Radio Service) two-way radios are inexpensive, compact, and effective over a short range (no license required). Whistles are lightweight and easy to operate. Flares are appropriate for some circumstances, but not all, as they may set fire to a forest. Any shiny surface can serve as a signal mirror, flashing your position across miles of terrain. The ability to build a signal fire that can be seen at a great distance both day and night may save your life. 
  3. Fire: The importance of fire cannot be overstated. It will signal for help, keep you warm, provide light around camp, cook your food and purify your drinking water. Among the highest priorities in any survival situation is to get a fire going, so you should always carry redundant fire starting equipment. You should also learn to start a fire by primitive methods in case you are caught without modern equipment. 
  4. Pure water: To sustain life, it is essential to have adequate drinking water — a gallon a day, or more if the climate is hot or the work load is great. Technology has brought us water purification chemicals (iodine or chlorine) as well as compact water filters especially designed for camping and backpacking. If you are caught without a filter or chemicals, you need to know how to devise the means to contain and purify water by boiling. 
  5. Knife: Among the most essential tools for outdoor living is a knife, because it is useful for fabricating a shelter, making the components of a primitive fire starting set, building traps, preparing food, cutting kindling, making tinder, and myriad other chores. 
  6. Food: People often put food uppermost on their priority list when thinking of a survival situation, but death by starvation isn’t the most likely scenario. That said, food is still an essential because it helps maintain energy necessary to accomplish tasks and to keep your thinking clear and focused. High-calorie foods are best, and hot meals significantly improve energy and emotional strength. 
  7. Insulation: You can still perish from exposure inside a waterproof shelter, unless you have effective insulation to keep your body warmth from escaping into the surrounding air. The job of insulation is to trap a layer of body-warmed air next to your skin. Insulation should be dry, fluffy, and as thick as possible. A good sleeping bag and insulation layers of clothing are very high priorities. 
  8. First Aid: An injury can end life in a heartbeat, far more quickly than freezing or starving or dying of thirst. Proficiency at emergency medical care should be an essential part of survival preparation. Along with proficiency goes a well-planned first aid kit. 
  9. Navigation: Map and compass, and the skill to use them to keep from getting lost, should be on everybody’s list of essential equipment and techniques. A GPS is wonderful, combined with a spare set of batteries and the knowledge of how to use this high-tech equipment. But electronics can fail, so you should have a USGS topographic map of the area you’re in and a compass to serve as backup. Conscientious navigators will use a pencil to plot their position on the map from time to time, transferring GPS information as well as the time of the last plot, so they have a running history written on the map of where their GPS positions were. That way, if the equipment fails, you have a pretty close starting point for continued navigation. 
  10. Sound judgment: This one should be at the top of the priority list, regardless of the situation. But I place it last here so I can hammer it home as the final thing you think about after reading this. The ability to think clearly, understand not only the dangers you are facing but also the advantages offered by every resource ranging from your shoelaces to tree bark, is critical. The ability to remain calm and think your way through a situation can mean the difference between failure and success. And success in a survival situation means that you get to live.