Saturday, December 31, 2011

What's That Noise?

In a survival situation, you need all your senses working efficiently to keep you alive. That is, in fact, the very reason we have those senses. One of those is your sense of hearing. Humans don't have a sense of hearing just so we can enjoy tunes piped through earbuds.

Don't take me wrong, I love to listen to music through a set of earbuds, but there's a time to set those things aside and pay attention to the world around you. Those who walk around with earbuds hanging from their heads, put themselves at a certain level of risk. That's why participants in a triathlon are not allowed to wear earbuds and listen to music during the cycling or running phases, because they can't hear the traffic around them — and under those conditions, that's a survival issue.

In broader terms of survival, we have the sense of hearing so we can avoid becoming some predator's meal, so we can hear the movements of an enemy, so we can hear a shouted warning, so we can be aware of an approaching storm and take cover, so we can hear the sound of water trickling in a stream, so we can track animals for food, etc. — all for our survival.

When you find yourself in any type of emergency situation, that is the time to tune up your audible awareness of what's going on around you. It may save your life.

Listen for anything unusual. Becoming a legendary Kung Fu master who can hear a tiny ant walk into the room might be too much to expect, but on the other hand don’t be so tuned out to what’s going on around you that people can walk up behind you without your knowing.

Likewise, be aware of the unusual buzz or snap or hum that might alert you to an electrical fire. A growl from under the hood might signal low power steering fluid in the reservoir that can disable your vehicle. A strange vibration might turn out to be a rattlesnake near your feet. A change of tone in the conversations in a crowd might give you advance warning of trouble brewing, allowing you to get out before it erupts.

Pay attention to sounds that are out of the ordinary. Check out the source, and take appropriate action.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ten Days Stranded

How would you like to spend 10 frozen days alone stranded in your car with nothing to eat except a couple of candy bars and nothing to drink except melted snow?

That's what Lauren Elizabeth Weinberg, a 23-year-old Arizona State University student did, and it got her name in the headlines. Not that getting headlines for this sort of thing is desirable, but at least she survived her ordeal without much damage.

The whole thing started when Lauren decided to take a drive in the mountains of northeast Arizona, not knowing that a vicious sub-freezing winter storm was about to clobber the region, laying down a blanket of several feet of snow. According to her rescuers, the young lady didn't understand that those forest roads are impassible during the winter.

When the car became stuck, Lauren hunkered down and spent the next 10 days nibbling on candy bars and  drinking water she melted from snow. She turned the snow into water by packing it into water bottles and setting them on top of the car so the sunshine could do the melting. A good tactic.

Authorities commented that Lauren's survival was remarkable after such a length of time in near-zero temperatures and with so few resources available. When the car became stuck, she just sat there with 2 candy bars and a bottle of water to keep her alive until some forest service employees happened to ride by on snowmobiles 10 days later checking gates. They weren't even looking for her, because no search was underway. It was pure luck.

What she did wrong:
  • she didn't let anyone know where she was going and when to expect her to return
  • she didn't check the weather ahead of making the trip
  • she didn't understand that the roads were impossible to drive in the winter
  • the vehicle wasn't equipped with survival gear (food, water, clothing, sleeping bag, signaling, fire)
What she did right was that she remained calm and stuck with the vehicle that provided shelter and offered access to all the resources (meager as they were) she had with her. A vehicle is much easier for rescuers to spot than a person wandering on foot through the forest. But after such a long time with no rescue, it would be understandable for anyone to want to leave the vehicle behind and attempt to hike out. That's especially true if you had not left information with anyone back home that you would expect to initiate a search if you didn't show up.

Lauren made the decision to stay with the vehicle, and that probably saved her life in this case. But there was a lot of luck involved, because she had left no "flight plan" with friends, and no official search was taking place to look for her. She might easily have died alone in her car later in the winter, if not for the fortunate arrival of the forest service workers on snow mobiles.

On the other hand, she probably would have died if she had left the vehicle in an attempt to hike out for self-rescue, because:
  • she would have been exposed to the bitter cold
  • her clothing would have become wet
  • she would have been expending caloric energy she couldn't afford
  • she would have been increasing her need for water consumption
  • she would have been exposed to frostbite and hypothermia
  • in all probability she would not have survived
Maybe there's something we can learn from this incident.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Knowledge vs. Wisdom

I recently watched a TV program called Dual Survival that features two very knowledgeable guys from different backgrounds placing themselves in a variety of survival situations, then showing how to handle the challenges. Good show, and a good source of survival information. But one of the biggest messages I took from the show is how knowledge needs to be balanced with wisdom.

Both of these fellows have a commendable depth of survival knowledge. One of the men comes from a military background, so his approach is what you might expect from a military mindset — challenge nature, push hard, keep moving, hoo-rah!

The other guy refers to himself as an extreme naturalist who gave up wearing shoes 20 years ago so he could be more in touch with the earth and nature. His approach to survival is to cooperate with the natural elements, move slowly with caution, and utilize all the natural resources.

Like I said, the program is well done, and I can recommend it as an entertaining source to gain survival knowledge. But there is a huge difference between knowledge and wisdom. Wisdom is the proper application of knowledge, and even with all the knowledge in the world you can still make foolish choices.

As I watched several episodes of this program, it became clear to me that going to extremes in one's approach to facing survival (or even general life) challenges sometimes defies wisdom. For example, insisting on living so close to nature that you shun wearing shoes or other protective clothing is (in my opinion) a departure from wisdom. This fellow obviously fancies himself a native, but if you understand the ways of most native cultures, it is clear that they use footwear and clothing appropriate to the season and environment. Clothing is the first line of defense against the elements, and there is no rational reason to fail to provide that level of protection to one's self.

It is true that some primitive cultures go nearly naked and shoeless, but those are exceptions to the rule and only in "friendly" environments. And as soon as those cultures are introduced to more protective clothing, they adopt it as their own. Adaptation is a key point for survival, and natives are quick to adapt new methods when they see that they are an improvement over the old traditions. Some purists see this as an intrusion of civilization on primitive cultures, but you don't see the natives complaining about the upgrades.

Now, I understand that the fellow in question is trying to create a persona for himself as he teaches primitive survival classes. That's a business decision, and it might actually even reach into his personal preferences of how he wants to live. Whatever floats his boat…

The trouble I have with it is that he parades this on a public forum such as TV, and it will undoubtedly influence some viewers into thinking it's okay to disregard the fundamentals of survival when it comes to clothing. Without a doubt, it makes good TV. What it doesn't make is good survival doctrine.

I'm not saying the man is not knowledgeable. It's obvious he is. It's the wisdom I question. And, by the way, I'm not alone in this. His partner on the TV program repeatedly declares the "extreme naturalist" sidekick to be nuts.

In my world, colored and flavored by both Special Forces military training and years of primitive living study and experience, I want people to understand that going to extremes in any direction might tickle your fancy, but it might also be foolish. Gain knowledge and experience, then apply wisdom. That's the best formula I know for survival.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Great Reading For Only 99 Cents!

If you like political thrillers with a dose of outdoor survival threaded throughout the story, I've got some good news for you. I have reduced the price for my two novels, Code Name Viper and The Container. For only 99 cents you can now download each of these exciting novels from Amazon's Kindle Books division. The best news is that Amazon gives away their Kindle reader application for computers, iPads, iPhones, Blackberries and other smart phones, so you don't actually have to own a Kindle device to be able to access the whole library. Just download the free Kindle app on your digital device or computer. It takes only a minute to set yourself up to be able to read anything in the entire Kindle collection.

Of course, I think my two books are "must" reads, but I may be prejudiced. But if you're willing to risk 99 cents, you can decide for yourself. So, here's the synopsis of my two books.

Code Name Viper is all about a government conspiracy in the depths of the intelligence community, and how it threatens the lives of those who uncover the well-guarded secret. Imagine what happens when the director of a black-ops government intelligence agency goes bad and then tries to cover his murderous past by hunting down and killing anyone who discovers his secret? Mark Benton and his pregnant wife find out how deadly it can be to get in this man's way. Now they're running for their lives, with a murderous spy on their heels. Filled with survival, escape and evasion technique, this story has a twist at the end.

The Container is right out of today's headlines, a survival thriller that will keep you wondering who's going to live and who's going to die. Husam al Din is an al Qaeda warrior on a personal jihad, hoping to die on a suicide mission while delivering a biological weapon to the U.S. aboard a shipping container. Josh Adams is the intelligence agent trying to stop al Din. The action takes you from Pakistan to the Gulf of Mexico in a race to prevent a biological nightmare. This one will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Click on the book image to open the link in Amazon. 

Happy reading! 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Could You?

My wife and I used to visit an elderly lady who was totally blind. She lived in a two-story house all by herself. Nobody came to fix her meals — she wouldn't hear of it. She had a staunchly independent nature and wanted to do as much as she possibly could for herself. The only thing she couldn't do was drive, so friends would take her grocery shopping from time to time. Other than that, she got along just fine on her own.

Her house was a model of organization, as you might imagine. In order for her to be able to operate, everything had to be in its prescribed place. And that was a lesson to me.

Now the question — the way your house is organized, could you find everything you need if you suddenly were without the ability to see? Could you, without fumbling around in a frantic search, put your hands on a pair of socks, pants, shirt, shoes, coat, gloves, etc.?

Could you walk through your house without stumbling over clutter?

Could you find the exact can of soup you want for lunch, locate the can opener, find the pot to cook it in, put your hands on a clean spoon and bowl?

I know people who can't find their car keys or sunglasses with their eyes wide open. I have been in homes that were such a clutter disaster that it looked as if the place had been ransacked by burglars or tossed by police looking for a stash of drugs. If there was a sudden emergency in the middle of the night and the electricity was knocked out, those people would be helpless.

Part of being able to "get out alive" from any emergency situation depends on a high degree of organization. You need to know what to do, when to do it, and be able to either put your hands on the right equipment, or improvise. If you have to search through your backpack for the bear spray when the grizzly is bearing (pun intended) down on you, you're not well enough organized. If you can't put your hands on a flashlight from the comfort of your bed, you're not well enough organized. If you can't put your feet into a pair of shoes without getting out of bed and walking across a possibly glass strewn room, you're not well enough organized. If you can't escape your burning house, totally blinded by smoke, without stumbling over clutter, you're not well enough organized.

We can all take a lesson from the old blind lady. Get our house in order. Know where things are, and be able to access them without forming a search party. Be ready for whatever emergency might befall us, without having to search blindly for appropriate clothing to allow us to safely escape into a stormy night.

Could you do that now?

Friday, December 2, 2011


One of the readers of this blog recently made a comment that leads me to believe I need to clarify the function of a PLB or SPOT Satellite Messenger.

What the reader said was that he doesn't go places where he is likely to get lost — as if I had somehow given the misconception that the SPOT is merely a GPS device. It isn't. That is not its function. This is a device that can notify either your friends/family that you are OK on your journey, to alleviate their worry, or to show them your GPS coordinates through a tracking mode so they an see your progress as you travel, or (and this is the big OR) to call in the search and rescue team if your life somehow becomes at risk.

I don't use my SPOT to keep track of where I am. I use it to let others keep track of where I am. I still use a map and compass, common sense, dead reckoning navigation techniques, and occasionally I'll pull out my GPS to verify my coordinates and mark them on the map. For me, the joy of the backcountry is in the simplicity. But in this day of inexpensive and reliable technology, there's no reason not to have a backup system that can save your life.

After all, I never made a parachute jump that didn't also include a reserve chute. Only had to use it once, but on that day I was mighty happy I had it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

SPOT Question

In the comments to my last post, a question was asked about my experience with the SPOT Satellite Messenger, and whether or not it was hampered by a canopy of trees overhead.

That is a great question. Every type of satellite communication device, whether it be a GPS a Personal Locator Beacon, or the SPOT Satellite Messenger depends to a certain degree on having a clear shot at the open sky. These are not high-powered devices, so the signal can be interrupted by overhead obstructions.

That said, I have successfully used my SPOT in deep forest as well as on open terrain. With a normal PLB, the only way to verify that the unit worked is to listen for the sound of helicopters coming to rescue you. But the SPOT works differently, having a couple modes of operation other than just calling for the rescue team. You can send a "check in" message that allows your team of people back home to follow your progress on a Google Map. Or you can send a "I need help, but don't call the rescue team" message in the event you have a non-life threatening emergency such as a flat tire, or other minor mishap. That message gives your GPS coordinates to your team who can then come and give you a hand. Of course, the final recourse, when you life is at stake, is to press the button that calls in the helicopter rescue teams.

So far (knock on wood), I haven't needed to call for rescue. But I have used the other functions.

Keep in mind that my unit is a first edition — an old model that has since been updated by the company. The newer units are more powerful, smaller and lighter. I paid $149 for mine and maintain a $99 per year subscription to the service. The alternative is to buy a PLB that costs several times that much but requires no subscription fee ever after.

One other difference between my SPOT and a PLB is that I can change batteries myself, while PLB owners need to send their units in for service.

I hope that helps answer the question. I encourage you to do more research. The websites to check out are: for the SPOT Satellite Messenger, and for PLB information.

No matter which unit you buy, it is money well spent. Hope you never need to use it, but the peace of mind alone for you and your loved ones will be a huge benefit.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Response

To my previous post about Quicksand and the use of a PLB or SPOT Satellite Messenger, I received a response from "Anonymous" that reads:

This would be a great gadget to have, but many people simply do not have the money to go out and buy all the great equipment, especially in this economy. Its really hard to justify spending money on items you may only use occasionally. There is a tipping point there somewhere. You make a valid point about being prepared, and that is well taken. The average Joe who just wants to get out in nature to find some peace and solitude from the cacophony of modern life generally isn't going to have the money to buy all the latest and greatest. I think it would be helpful if you could do some posts that would help those less fortunate, financially.

The writer makes a good point. Equipment such as a PLB is not inexpensive, and most people do without for that very reason. It's just human nature to believe that "it" will never happen to us.

If I were in the business of reporting every case of people getting lost or stranded, with no way to make contact with the outside world to spark a rescue effort, there would be no end to it. Every day, somewhere in America, people fall into those situations. And if you expand to the world, there are literally hundreds each day who fall into the depths of trouble that require outside help.

Sometimes, they're lucky enough to be able to work out their problem and save themselves. Sometimes they're not. But in every case, if you were to ask the survivors, they would say that spending a couple hundred dollars to save their lives would be cheap.

It only looks expensive when we don't need it. As soon as you do, you will wish you had made the investment.

And that brings me to my next story. Just a few days ago, a teenage boy named Jacob was hiking with his father and two brothers in the Olympic National Park. All of them were experienced hikers, and this trail was almost in their backyard, so it wasn't like they were neophytes on their first trek to some exotic location like Nepal. Actually, local day hikes are more dangerous than exotic expeditions. The reason is that, for expeditions people train and equipment themselves for the worst that can happen, but for the day hike in their backyard people don't expect anything bad to happen, so they don't prepare for the worst.

But on with the story — Disaster was only a small misstep away. As Jacob stepped onto a narrow section of the trail, the ground gave way and gravity took over. He slid for a ways, then went head over heels, tumbling down a rocky 150-foot slope.  When he stopped, his body was covered with cuts and scrapes from the jagged rocks. His right leg wasn't working well, and his left leg wasn't working at all. His left ankle was broken.

Jacob heard his brothers yelling to him from above, but when he tried to crawl up the slope his legs went into spasms and he couldn't move.

Soon, Jacob's dad and brothers descended the slope to check on his condition. By then, it was late in the afternoon, and the sun was about to set. They wouldn't have enough daylight to get themselves out of this situation. They needed help.

From where they were, cell phone reception was too poor to make a phone call, so they tried texting everyone they knew, asking them to call 911 and send help. The dad sent one of the sons down the trail to the car to retrieve their emergency backpack. (Just a note here — wouldn't it be better to have that emergency equipment with them, rather than leaving it in the car? I'm just saying…). It turns out this was the first time they had ever needed the emergency equipment, but the dad later reported that it probably made a big difference in the way things turned out during Jacob's incident.

By 7:00 p.m., park rangers and search & rescue arrived on the scene and determined that Jacob couldn't be moved until morning. The brothers hiked out with the rescue team, and the dad stayed with Jacob and six rangers through the night. At about 2:00 a.m., it started raining.

Before daylight, the rescue team was making plans involving ropes and a litter to carry Jacob down the narrow mountain trail. A secondary plan was to call in a Coast Guard helicopter to make the rescue. But the weather was bad enough that the chopper couldn't fly until 11:00 a.m.

It was afternoon of the day following his "slight misstep" that Jacob was delivered to the hospital for treatment.

As painful as this experience was, Jacob was incredibly lucky. It could have been so much worse.

  • Imagine if he had been hiking alone
  • Imagine if he had been fifty miles back in the mountains, far from the emergency kit
  • Imagine if the overnight temperature fell below freezing
  • Imagine if there had been no cell phone or zero cell coverage
All those "imagines" do happen. Consider the story of Aron Ralston, the young man who was forced to cut off his own hand to save his life. It's interesting to note that now Aron Ralston is a spokesman for a company that makes PLBs. It is probable that if he had invested a couple hundred dollars to buy a PLB, he would not have had to self amputate his hand. Rescue could have arrived within hours, rather than the days it took him to save himself — and only then at such great anguish and pain. 

Back to the story about Jacob. After it was all said and done, Jacob's father made a statement that everyone would do well to pay attention to. "You can't eliminate all risks, but you can take steps to mitigate the danger," he said. 

In the end, only you can put a price on your life. How much are you willing to pay to make sure you're safe when you're "out there?"  And let's take it a step farther. How much are you willing to pay to make sure your loved ones will be safe?  Is a couple hundred dollars too much? 

Not for me. Actually, I'm priceless! 

Sunday, November 27, 2011


We had an up-close-and-personal incident involving quicksand on the first day of our year-long wilderness living experience in southern Utah back in 1976. That was a long time ago, but I've never forgotten how tricky it can be to deal with this stuff.

And this past week, another fellow learned a similar lesson. It happened to a 25-year-old man who was involved with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), famous for their excellent outdoor education programs.

After 23 days trekking around southern Utah, he apparently stepped in the wrong place along the Dirty Devil River and became trapped by a pool of quicksand. He was there for 8 hours before a search and rescue squad was able to get him out. The first attempts at rescue failed, and it was 2:00 a.m. before they finally fished him out of the quicksand.

The guy was lucky, to say the least. But he was also prepared, and that takes some of the luck out of it. The way the authorities found out about his dire situation was because he used a PLB (personal locator beacon) to trigger the rescue effort. The PLB sent a signal to a satellite system that relayed the distress signal to the rescue agency.

After our own encounter with quicksand on our approach to the first cave we lived in, I talked with a local rancher about what happened. "Yeah," he said without a hint of surprise on his face, "we lose cattle to the quicksand all the time down that canyon."

Back in that day, there was no such thing as a PLB. Today, there's no excuse for wandering in the wilderness without the ability to alert rescue teams if you get in trouble. I understand perfectly how that concept offends "purist" wilderness explorers who think it somehow diminishes the experience if you are still tied to civilization via a satellite link. Be that as it may, the older (and wiser) I get, the longer I want to live so I can keep exploring the world. A PLB is cheap insurance. I carry a SPOT (, but there are other products available.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What's The Weather Going to Do?

Being surprised by an unexpected storm leaves you vulnerable. Every seafaring person (of which I am one) knows that weather is a key element to safe travel. That's why we spend some time each day looking at the sky, monitoring wind shifts, reading the barometer, thermometer, and calculating relative humidity. The same goes for outdoor enthusiasts of every stripe. Keeping an eye on the sky and watching a few basic instruments to discern what's coming is a most important skill. 

Reading the weather clues in the sky is a good start for doing your own weather forecasting (and it may be all you have to work with after a disaster or if you're lost in the wilderness), but with the addition of a few pieces of equipment, you can have a head start on figuring out what the weather is going to do.

It's always a good idea to read or listen to what the pros have to say. NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) is the big dog in the world of weather forecasting through their National Weather Service. You can access local and regional forecasts via the Internet, smart phones, or a portable weather radio.

A couple of great examples of portable weather radios are the $34.95 Oregon Scientific WE601N (, and the $49.99 Midland HH54VP2 ( In addition to regular weather reports, these “all hazards” radios broadcast warnings and post-event information for all types of hazards: weather (tornadoes, floods, etc.), natural disasters (earthquakes, forest fires, volcanic activity, etc.), technological (chemical releases, oil spills, nuclear power plant emergencies, etc.), and national emergencies such as terrorist attacks.

If you want to combine the ability to receive weather information along with your GPS coordinates, the Garmin GPSMAP 496 ( allows you to subscribe to XM WX Satellite Weather that transmits real-time high-resolution animated weather data and NEXRAD weather radar. Depending on your choice of service plan (starting at $9.95 per month), you can view as many as 20 different types of weather information. 

Wow! A far cry from holding a wet finger up in the wind. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Gratitude and Giving Back

True Story:

Eddie Rickenbacker was a famous hero back in World War II. On one of his flying missions across the Pacific, he and his seven-member crew went down. Miraculously, all of the men survived, crawled out of their plane, and climbed into a life raft.

Captain Rickenbacker and his crew floated for days on the rough waters of the Pacific. They fought the sun. They fought sharks. Most of all, they fought hunger. By the eighth day their rations ran out. No food. No water. They were hundreds of miles from land and no one knew where they were.

They needed a miracle. That afternoon they had a simple devotional service and prayed for a miracle. They tried to nap. Eddie leaned back and pulled his military cap over his nose. Time dragged. All he could hear was the slap of the waves against the raft..

Suddenly, Eddie felt something land on the top of his cap. It was a seagull!

He would later describe how he sat perfectly still, planning his next move. With a flash of his hand and a squawk from the gull, he managed to grab it and wring its neck. He tore the feathers off, and he and his starving crew made a meal of it — a very slight meal for eight men. Then they used the intestines for bait. With it, they caught fish, which gave them food and more bait…and the cycle continued. With that simple survival technique, they were able to endure the rigors of the sea until they were rescued after 24 days at sea.

Eddie Rickenbacker lived many years beyond that ordeal, but he never forgot the sacrifice of that first life-saving seagull. And he never stopped saying, "Thank you."

That's why almost every Friday night, later in life, he would walk to the end of the pier with a bucket full of shrimp to feed the gulls. Just a bucket of shrimp and a heart full of gratitude.

To survive is great. To remember to be grateful is even better. The one without the other is worthless.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Night Vision

The ability to see in the dark is a matter of survival. Not only for nocturnal animals hunting for their next meal, or perhaps trying to avoid becoming somebody else's next meal, but also for humans. Evidence of that can be seen on every battlefield and in every military cockpit, both airborne and marine. If you can't see what's out there in the dark, you're vulnerable.

For the human eye, it takes about 30 to 45 minutes to fully adapt to darkness to the point that we have our maximum natural night vision. After that adaptation happens, all it takes is a brief burst of light from the white, yellow, green or blue spectrum to "bleach out" the rod cell photoreceptors in our eyes. The result is instant night blindness. 

Illumination sources that don't emit white, yellow, blue or green light don't cause night blindness. That's why a red spectrum of light is used onboard ships and aircraft at night when a light source is needed. Red light has a longer wavelength that doesn't attack the rod photoreceptors in or eyes and disrupt our night vision.

Once night blindness occurs, you have to start over with the adaptation process. But one trick to help retain at least some night vision is to close or cover one eye when an offending light source is approaching.  For example, if you are aware that car headlights are coming your way, close or cover one eye to preserve the night vision in that eye. The eye that remains open will be affected, but you'll still have some night vision left after the car passes. Of course, it's better to tightly shut both eyes in the presence of light if you are able,  but there are times when you must keep at least one eye open — while you're driving, for example. Be aware, however, that closing one eye will diminish your depth perception and can be dangerous while driving. 

But if you're hunting, or being hunted, and white lights (flashlights, helicopters, flares, etc.) are being used in the area, keep that trick in mind. It might save your night vision…or even your life. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Earth Shaker

A rash of earthquakes in Oklahoma (you gotta be kidding… Oklahoma?) this past week has everyone focused on what to do to prepare for an Earth Shaker.

Begin by making an assessment of your home, looking for all the things that might be thrown down when the house rocks and rolls during an earthquake. Bookcases, knick-knack shelves, entertainment centers, hutches, pictures hung on the wall, mirrors — and more. All that stuff is vulnerable to becoming shrapnel when it flies off its perch and lands on the floor.

The major problem with that is, if the quake happens at night while you're in bed, and you wake up and realize what's happening, and jump out of bed with bare feet — ouch!

But it's more than mere ouch. It's injury and infection and blood loss and muscle/tendon damage that can last a lifetime.

So the smart thing is to assess your home ahead of time, find the vulnerabilities, and take care of them now.

In our home, we have anchored things that I mentioned above, using butterfly bolts through the sheetrock, and L-brackets bolted to whatever unit we're securing. The next challenge is securing all the small items that belong on those shelves and hutches and whatnot.

For knick-knacks, we use a thin layer of museum putty (looks like a cross between Silly Putty and modeling clay) under each item to stick them in place on shelves. Larger items such as the TV or stereo system need to be bolted down with brackets to make sure they remain in place.

Mirrors that were once held to walls by small plastic brackets have now been upgraded to a full framework of decorative moulding. It not only looks better, but is now much more secure. And we've upgraded the picture frame hangers for the oil paintings my wife's mom created.

For the water heater, we used a length of metal strap wrapped around the unit like a belt and then bolted the strap to the wall. 

Even with all that effort, a serious earthquake can still make a dangerous mess of your floor. For that reason, keep a pair of hard-soled shoes by your bed so you can slip your feet into their protection before evacuating the house in the middle of the night.

And since we're talking about the middle of the night…it's also a good idea to keep a flashlight within easy reach. And unless you want to flee the house naked except for your nice shoes, keep some appropriate clothing within reach as well.

Earthquakes give precious little warning, so it's best to live prepared all the time.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Winter Storm Survival

More than 3 million people on the East Coast were hit with power outages as an early winter storm blasted through the region. Connecticut Governor Dannel Mallory said a record number of residents of his state were without electricity and could be for a week. "Ir you are without power, you should expect to be without power for a prolonged period of time," he stated.

The snowstorm dumped more than 2 feet of snow in some places, snarling air traffic and highway travel throughout the New England states. The combination of heavy, wet snow and trees that still carried their leaves resulted in downed power lines as trees shed their limbs or fell over altogether. In Pennsylvania, a man was killed with a snow-burdened tree fell on his home while he was asleep in his recliner. Another man was electrocuted when he stopped to observe police and fire fighters working on downed power lines.

From all this, we can learn a lesson or two.

  • Don't rely on the calendar to tell you when winter will arrive. The weather can get out of its normal routine. 
  • Always be prepared to have to stay overnight (or longer) in your vehicle, if weather traps you away from home. Have what you need to survive in the car. 
  • Prepare your home so you can live comfortably without electrical power or the municipal water supply. You need water and food stored up for emergencies. You need alternate cooking and heating methods that are safe to use in your house. And you need warm clothes so you can stay comfortable as the house chills. 
  • Have what you need at home so you can live without going to the store for a couple weeks. How's your toilet paper supply?
  • If you see downed power lines, do not stop to gawk, and don't get out of your vehicle if power lines fall on it. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Shameless Self Promotion

I might as well take advantage of my own blog to promote a book I wrote that is hot off the press. It's called The Castle Gate. It's a Christian gift book that is written after the fashion of C.S. Lewis' style. There's a story within a story, and it's left to the reader to interpret the meaning found along the way.

This is an excellent book to give as Christmas gifts to those you love. Read the story first yourself, and you will find it will be especially appropriate for special people in your life.

Go to to find out more about The Castle Gate.

Blizzard Survival Bag

You never know when an emergency situation is going to happen. That's why, as we approach the coming winter, it's a good idea to be thinking about ways to protect ourselves if there is a sudden absence of the things that normally keep us alive and well.

A winter storm can knock out electrical power to our homes. Or we might be out in the mountains stalking a perfect Christmas tree when we become stranded. Both scenarios happen ever year — many times, to many people, all across the country. At a time like that, it's good to have ways to stay dry and warm.

A product that has recently come to my attention appears to meet some of those needs. It's called a Blizzard Survival Bag. My good friends at LifeView Outdoors ( sent me some information about this product. It's made in the UK, but available for $39.95 in the U.S.

This is an emergency survival bivvy featuring Reflexcell technology. It's made of a triple layer of windproof and waterproof material designed with cellular construction and metallic coating to reflect back toward you your own body heat and reduce the risk of hypothermia. A network of elastic bands keep the bag close to your body, reducing cold spaces within the bag. According to the manufacturer, it's intended for extreme cold weather down to -40º F. The bag is used by the military, civilian first responders, disaster relief organizations, and everyday outdoor enthusiasts.

I haven't had a chance to personally test and evaluate this product yet, because I just found out about it. But I wanted to pass along this information so you can do your own research. After I have an opportunity to do some field testing, I'll report back on how it performed. If any of you have experience with the Blizzard Survival Bag, post your comments and tell us what you think of it.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Reach Out and Touch Someone

Once upon a time, there was a telephone advertisement that said, "Reach out and touch someone." It was clever and catchy, but it was also good survival advice.

Fast forward to yesterday in Ercis, Turkey, where a 7.2 magnitude earthquake knocked down nearly 2,300 buildings, killing hundreds, injuring more than a thousand, and trapping a guy named Yalcin Akay (among hundreds of others). But what was so special about Yalcin Akay was that he reached out and touched someone, just like the ad said to do.

In his case, the someone he reached out and touched was the police department emergency operator. Trapped in a collapsed building, Akay used his cell phone to call for help. He knew where he was and had a clear understanding of the conditions around him. So he gave directions to the police and they were able to find him and save his life.

Others who were pulled from the rubble of buildings all over the city were found by luck. In my opinion, it's better not to rely too heavily on luck when your life is on the line. Having a cell phone with a charged battery can be a lifesaver.

Just ask Yalcin Akay next time you see him.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My Favorite Fire Starter

When I want a fire, I want a fire. I don't want to mess around with wimpy igniters that just don't do the job. So I'm pretty picky about the kind of fire starters I carry. One of the best I've found is the Swedish FireSteel from a company called Light My Fire (

This is a striker-type fire starter. It doesn't make flames, it makes sparks. Getting flames depends entirely upon me to have good tinder available to catch the sparks. But even with the best tinder, if there are no sparks, there will be no flames. And that's what I like about this fire starter. It makes some of the most powerful sparks of any striker I've tried — and I've tried a lot of different ones.

The Swedish Fire Steel comes with a small lanyard that keeps the "flint" and the "steel" together so you don't lose one of the critical components. And the lanyard is just long enough to enable you to work your magic with the flint against the steel to create a shower of 5,500º F. sparks.

The one in the photo is an older model with the earlier style of steel. Has worked just fine for me for several years. But the company has recently come out with their second generation version 2.0 that features a different kind of steel. Still works like a charm. The company claims the striker will last for 3,000 to 12,000 strikes. One of the amazing things is that it works equally well wet or dry.

So now that you know my favorite fire starter, you can buy one for about $13 from REI, and they're available at lots of sporting goods stores. Prices vary. Personally, I wouldn't be too interested in a cheap imitation. I want to know I can get a fire going quickly when I need one.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Personal Preparation Trumps Everything

When the fertilizer flies through the fan, it's too late to grab an umbrella. Unless you're prepared in advance, you're just going to have to wear the consequences of your neglect.

The same goes for survival situations. It doesn't matter whether it takes place a hundred miles back in the wilderness or in downtown metropolis, it's all the same. When the chips are down, nothing trumps personal preparedness. If you know what to do and either have the right equipment with you or know how to improvise, you'll probably make it out alive. If you fail those criteria, you're going to have to rely on luck.

If you're lucky, someone will stumble across your path and rescue you. It does happen. I've reported before on people lost or stranded who were saved because a hunter or hiker accidentally found the hapless victims. But I wouldn't count on it. It's a long shot to expect a stranger to find you in the vastness of the wilderness.

In an urban survival situation, where masses of people are in trouble all at the same time, you can't expect others to sacrifice their own families or themselves to come to your aid. Thankfully, there are folks who will do that, but by allowing yourself to be a victim you place your rescuers at risk. If you do that because you have neglected to prepare to handle emergencies yourself, then shame on you. You are part of the problem when you could easily have been part of the solution.

Personal preparation encompasses every aspect of life, including where you choose to live.  If you choose to live in a little apartment in downtown metropolis, surrounded by mega-millions of unprepared people, you might have very little ability to grow your own food, or a place to store an emergency supply of necessities. I'm not condemning anyone who lives like that, but it's a choice, whether or not you're willing to admit it. If you think you're "stuck" in those conditions because that's where your job is, then you're willing to allow your job to make the decision for you. It takes guts to break out of the herd, but it can be done.

If you really are concerned about emergency preparedness, start analyzing your life. Ask yourself:

  • If the global economy suddenly went in the tank and money had absolutely no value, what would I do?
  • If there was a total loss of public services — transportation, communication, food supply, water supply, utilities, police, fire and medical services — what would I do?
  • If a massive ice storm paralyzed my city for a month, and there was no electricity because all the power lines were down, what would I do?
  • If I became hopelessly lost while hiking, a storm was blowing in and night was coming on, what would I do?
  • If there was a biological attack by terrorists against my city, what would I do?
  • If the municipal water supply became contaminated and warnings were issued about not using the water, what would I do?
  • If a virulent pandemic spread across the country and I was quarantined for 6 months to my house, with no possibility to go outside, what would I do?
  • If my car slid off a remote snow-covered road while I was miles back in the forested mountains hunting for a Christmas tree, what would I do?
  • If a cougar or bear wandered into my fishing camp, what would I do?
  • If my family members were spread all over town the day a massive earthquake shattered everything, what would I do?
Be thoughtful about every different scenario you can come up with. Analyze your situation, your experience level, your equipment, your skills. Start bolstering where you need to. Make the hard decisions about where you live. 

Do you have everything you need to go on living for an extended period of time (at least 6 months) without having to depend on stores or restaurants or public services to keep you alive?

If you expect the government or some relief agency to save you from disaster, you're not really fit for survival. I'm not saying you deserve to die, but I wouldn't want you on my team if you're not willing to take personal responsibility for your own welfare. 

Don't wait until the stink flies toward you at a hundred miles an hour before looking for the umbrella. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Escape A Submerged Vehicle

To safely escape a vehicle that has gone underwater takes quick planning and a cool head. If you panic, you probably won't survive.

As soon as you realize that the vehicle is in deep water and is going to sink, get your seatbelt off and try to open the door and get out. For this to succeed, you must open the door before the water level gets higher than a few inches on the outside of the door. Otherwise, the pressure of the water against the door will not allow you to open it. If you try to shove the door open, but can't, don't waste your energy on that avenue of escape.

The next best thing is to open the window and climb out before the water level reaches the glass. If you cannot open the window, break the glass and crawl out. The window glass will shatter into small fragments, so don't worry about impaling yourself. The best way to shatter the window is to use a heavy piece of metal (hammer, wrench, etc.) or a special spring-loaded glass-breaking punch. The punch takes almost no effort to break the window and you can find them available online for about $10.

If you are unable to escape before water reaches the level of the windows and begins to pour inside, you'll have to wait. Don't panic. You must allow the flow of water coming in through the windows to fill the interior enough to slow the flow and let you escape. The interior of the vehicle will need to be almost completely filled with water before you can get out. This is the most difficult time to remain calm, but it is vital that you do so. If other people are in the vehicle, do your best to calm everyone and tell them what to do.
  • Get seatbelts off 
  • Work to get windows or doors open 
  • Wait until the vehicle fills with water 
  • Talk about who will go first, second, third, etc. 
  • Follow the air pocket and breathe 
Take deep breaths of air as the vehicle fills, pressing your face up against the headliner to get the last of the air before escaping. The vehicle will probably sink nose-down because of the weight of the engine, and that might produce an air pocket in the back where you can breathe while you work out your survival plan.

When the vehicle is full of water, you might be able to shove the doors open because the pressure will be equal on both sides of the door. Depending on the physical size of the occupants, that might be the only way out. If you can get the doors open while you're still breathing from the air pocket, so much the better.

When you're ready to go, take a last deep breath and hold it. Keep your eyes open so you can see your escape route. Then go.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Plane Crash

I just received word that a close friend of ours was killed in the crash of a light aircraft into the waters of Chesapeake Bay. Actually, she survived the the crash with only minor injury. She and her son, the pilot, were able to get out of the plane together, but they were about 3 miles offshore and had to swim as the plane sank from beneath them.

Our good friend Mary was so excited to take this ride in her son's airplane. Everything went well as they flew above the Chesapeake to an island. Suddenly, the engine died and they were forced to land in the water.

Surviving a plane crash is miracle enough, but then to die in the attempt to swim ashore is a tragedy. Mary and her son swam for more than an hour and a half  toward a distant shoreline. She was 78 years old, and for her to swim for so long was another miracle.

Finally, exhausted, she told her son that she just couldn't go on any longer. She drowned, leaving him to swim on through the darkness of early evening until he crawled ashore in a swamp and made his way to a house to call for help.

The whole thing leaves me asking how the outcome might have been different. What if they had be able to use the radio to send a mayday to the Coast Guard before hitting the water? What if they had flotation cushions or life vests on the plane? What if a boat had spotted them going down? What if…

There are lessons to be learned from every incident such as this.
  • When a plane flies over water, it should be equipped the way a boat would be — with personal flotation devices for each passenger. 
  • We should anticipate that something might go wrong and we will have to swim or hike to find help.
  • We should wear the kind of clothing that would be appropriate for that challenge — sturdy walking shoes, long sleeve, long pants. 
  • We should know how to use the radio to transmit a distress message.
  • We should know how to remain afloat indefinitely without wearing ourselves out by swimming.
  • We should have signal flares and other equipment onboard and know how and when to use them. 
Our good friend Mary died in a tragic accident, and I am not in a position to judge what went wrong or what might have been done differently. But it does give me reason to pause and consider ways to mitigate the risks if I ever find myself in a similar situation.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ignorance Kills

A new report in the aftermath of the deadly tornados that hit Joplin, Missouri (killing 162 residents) indicates that most of the city's population ignored the tornado warning system.

While conducting a survey to assess the effectiveness of the communications and warning system, officials at NOAA discovered that, "The majority of surveyed Joplin residents did not immediately go to shelter upon hearing the initial warning." The report went on to say that they "did not take protective action until processing additional credible confirmation of the threat and its magnitude from a non-routine, extraordinary risk trigger."

In other words, even though they heard the sirens and broadcast warnings, the folks just sat there and waited to find out if it was "real" or not. The report said that, "the vast majority of Joplin residents" didn't respond to the first siren because of an apparent widespread disregard for tornado sirens. "Relationships between false alarms, public complacency, and warning credibility are highly complex," the report said.

Jasper County emergency manager, Keith Stammer, said Joplin is a "weather ready community," and that the city has applied for federal funding for 10,000 weather radios for Joplin households.

My question is why? Why should the taxpayers shell out for 10,000 weather radios when the people just ignore the warnings anyway?

My opinion is that if you don't want to heed the warnings, then you deserve exactly what you get. It's time for people to take personal responsibility for their own welfare. If you want to hear the warnings, buy your own weather radio. That way, if you decide to ignore the warnings, your ignorance hasn't cost the taxpayers anything. Your decision. Your responsibility. Your consequences.

The government has no business holding everyone's hand and trying to save those who are unwilling to save themselves. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him do the backstroke.

Now, with that bit of humor, smile and go do something to take responsibility for yourself.

Friday, September 16, 2011


A lot of folks get themselves stranded in places they never intended to stay. And I'm not talking about a seedy motel on the outskirts of Ozarkville. I'm talking about getting hopelessly stuck in the mud or snow, or suffering a breakdown of the sort that means your ride is over.

When that happens, you have two choices — stay put, or take a hike in search of help. If you've read Getting Out Alive for any time at all, you probably already know that I favor the "stay put" method for several reasons.
  • It's easier for searchers to spot your vehicle than it is for them to spot a person hiking across the countryside. 
  • All your gear is right there in the vehicle.
  • You can use the vehicle either as a stand-alone shelter, or you can part it out and use the pieces to improvise what you need.
  • It's safer to sit in one place than to risk injury or getting lost by wandering off.
  • You conserve energy by staying put, which means you need less water and food to stay alive.
  • You can develop audible and visual signals that will lead rescuers to your camp.
With all that said, I clearly understand the urge to immediately start a self-rescue effort by leaving the cursed vehicle and hiking out for help. In fact, I've been in that very situation myself. Now that I've made that confession, let's talk about what you need to make sure of before you decide to leave your vehicle and go it on your own.
  • You must absolutely know where you are going. It does no good to wander around hoping you'll stumble onto some kind of help.
  • You must know what obstacles lie between where you are now and where you want to go, and know for certain that you can safely overcome those obstacles. This is best accomplished by backtracking the same road or trail you used to get where you are. 
  • If you decide to go, leave a note with the vehicle spelling out who you are, where you are headed, how you're dressed and equipped, your physical condition, and your personal contact information for family/friends.
  • Carry with you a survival kit that includes fire-making equipment, a shelter, signal whistle and mirror, high-calorie food, and a water filter. 
  • Start out fresh in the morning, well fed and hydrated.
  • Pace yourself so you don't sweat or become exhausted.
  • Make camp early in the afternoon while there's still sunlight so you can erect a shelter, gather firewood and get a fire going. 
  • Take particular care of your feet and your footwear. 
  • Stay dry.
  • Don't take foolish chances. If you get injured, you are probably toast.
  • Say your prayers and hope for the best.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Toxic Floodwaters

In the aftermath of the big storms that hit the Northeast in recent weeks, a flood of toxic waters has spread across the land, contaminating private wells and creating a public health crisis.

Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Corbett, said, "We face a public health emergency because sewage treatment plants are underwater and no longer working. Flood water is toxic and polluted. If you don't have to be in it, keep out."

A dozen towns in Vermont are on orders to boil their water, even 12 days after the passage of the storms. Similar precautions are being taken in other states damaged by the storms. The department of health is distributing test kits so private well owners can check for bacteria in their drinking water. Officials warn that if the water smells like gasoline or other petroleum products, other tests will be necessary.

Dr. Henry Chen, Vermont's health commissioner said, "It's clearly one of the biggest concerns after any disaster, including flooding. You have to ask yourself, 'is my water safe?"

In Waterbury, Vermont, the municipal wastewater plant was overwhelmed by the flooding and raw sewage flowed into the nearby river. According to one report, the smell of sewage is strong. On top of that, failed septic systems are a common cause of contamination after many different types of disaster, including floods.

For us, the lessons are clear:

  • Don't fall into the trap of thinking a relief organization is going to rescue you from the problem in just a couple of days. Here we are 12 days after the storm, and the problems persist. 
  • Store a long-term water supply that can remain free of contamination. In addition to bottled water, consider a few 55-gallon plastic barrels and a siphon kit. 
  • Be prepared to filter available water. Boiling won't remove or destroy inorganic contaminants such as solvents and petroleum products. In fact, boiling will concentrate those pollutants in the water. 
  • Have an evacuation plan so you can remove yourself from the disaster area to a safe location until the situation can be stabilized. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Solar SuperStorms

Can something as distant as the sun (averaging somewhere around 93-million miles away) thrust us into a survival situation? Only if you think living in the Dark Ages might be a problem.

I use the term dark ages with a double meaning, because not only would you literally end up living in the dark, but you would also end up living without any of the other conveniences provided by electricity. Kind of like they did back in the thirteenth century.

The problem is called a Solar Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) and, as a result of a geomagnetic storm caused by solar flares, it can disrupt the power grid all over the world. Unlike a nuclear EMP attack that would be directed at a region by an enemy, a solar event will take out the whole globe.

So that brings us to today. As I write this, a coronal mass ejection (CME) is headed for earth, because the sun erupted with an X-class solar flare, the most powerful type of sun storm. A CME is a massive cloud of solar plasma that, when it reaches the earth, can knock down the GPS system, disrupt radio signals, and even kill the power grid. That would only be important to you if you happen to use electricity for anything.

Solar EMPs differ from nuclear EMPs in the type of emissions they release. While nuclear attacks emit E1 pulses that are very fast and take out electronics (like the ignition system in your car, computers, etc. as well as the power grid), solar events produce relatively slow E3 pulses that induce large currents that can even take out underground components of the power grid.

A solar storm in 1859 (before there was a power grid) destroyed the telegraph systems in the United States and in Europe. Experts believe that a storm of that magnitude today would disable the entire power grid. Community water supplies would not function. Gas stations would be unable to pump gas. Those on life support would die. Everything is so automated today that there would be instant shutdown of transportation, communication, and every other modern convenience.

In itself, that wouldn't be a problem. The folks back in the 13th century did just fine without electricity. And so could we — at least a few of us. But most people wouldn't have a clue what to do to get water, food, process their waste, stay warm (or cool), and take care of their daily needs.

Unlike a normal power outage that might last a few hours, or even a week or so after a hurricane or ice storm, an EMP would shut down the system for years. That's because of the damage it would do to the large grid transformers for which the U.S. has zero backups and zero production capability. They would have to come from overseas, and with transportation down, that would be a long-term problem. Twelve years is one estimate. So how would you do with a 12-year blackout?

While we're pondering that question, the coronal mass ejection is on its way toward us at a relatively slow 720,000 mph. Scientists are still watching and wondering. Nobody knows exactly what will happen. Even though this is an X-class flare, it's not the biggest one we've seen in the past. But not all the others ejected directly toward the Earth like this one has.

The sun has become very active in the past several months Scientists are saying that the sun has suddenly roused itself from an extended quiet period in its 11-year cycle of activity. This is Solar Cycle 24, and it's expected to peak around 2013.

The thing for us to take away from this discussion is that we need to be considering how we would live for several years without a refrigerator, lights, air conditioning, furnace, stove, phones, computers, TV, radio, automobiles, medicine, store-bought food, water, or the ability to flush a toilet. That's the short list.

Think on it.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

How to Choose a Sleeping Bag

One of the important items in your evacuation kit should be a quality sleeping bag. I know, I know, why invest in an expensive bag when "real men" can just roll up in an old army blanket and tough it out? I've heard that argument, and I've slept plenty of times in my favorite olive drag wool blanket. 

First of all, not everybody in a survival situation is a "real man." Some are children, some are nursing mothers, others are sick and frail. So all you "real men" out there reading this, just go ahead and wrap up in some juniper bark if you want to. This information is for the rest of the world who might be interested in finding out how to go shopping for a suitable sleeping bag. 

A sleeping bag should be rated for the season and conditions in which it will be used. It makes a difference if you live in Alaska or South Texas. Buy accordingly. 

  • A summer season bag is rated for 35 degrees F and higher. 
  • A 3-season bag will range from 10 to 35 degrees. 
  • A cold weather bag is rated for -10 to +10 degrees. 
  • A winter bag will be rated for -10 degrees F and lower. 
When it comes to temperature rating, keep your personal “thermostat” in mind. Gender affects what temperature bag you’re comfortable sleeping in. Women sleep “colder”, usually requiring a warmer temp rating than a man in the same environment. If possible, search for a bag that is temp rated based on the European Standard, EN13537. This test validates a bag’s construction, specifying what temperature it will keep an average man (Limit Rating) or average woman (Comfort Rating) comfortable.

There are 2 main fill types available in sleeping bags — down and synthetic insulation. 
  • Down is lightweight, packs smaller, offers excellent warmth and is still very breathable. Down bags are more expensive up front, but are durable and offer great long term value. They work well in dryer climates and for excursions where weight or pack size are important. 
  • Synthetic insulation is available in a variety of qualities, weights and pack size. Generally, synthetic fill is heavier than down, but less expensive initially. It also works well in wet, cold conditions, retaining body heat even when damp (whereas down loses insulating properties once wet). Synthetic bags are usually easier to clean than down bags. 
There are 2 basic shapes — rectangular and mummy. 
  • The efficient shape of the mummy cut requires less of your body’s energy to heat excess space. Mummy bags usually include fitted shoulders and a hood, which help to retain heat at critical locations. 
  • Rectangular bags offer a roomy fit, ideal for sleepers who move around a lot during the night. They also offer excellent versatility, allowing couples to create double-wide options, or opening completely for blanket style use. Because of the extra space and wide opening at the top, rectangular bags are less thermally efficient in very cold environments. 
  • Within these 2 shapes, there are variations. Some rectangular bags include a hood, which is usually a looser fit than a mummy hood. There is also a variation of the mummy fit, a semi-rectangular shape, that offers some of the thermal efficiency and weight savings of a mummy bag, with a little more room. 
  • Ensure that you’re getting a bag that fits your height. A good rule is to look for a bag that is 6” longer than your body height. 
  • Also note that many bags are offered in men’s and women’s versions. Generally, women’s bags offer shorter lengths and more proportionate shoulder and hip girths.  
The material your bag is made of can make a big difference. Nylon or polyester ripstop patterns are generally more durable, and good for shell materials. If possible, look for a shell material that has a DWR (durable water repellent) treatment. This does not mean the bag is waterproof, but should help small amounts of water (condensation, for example) bead up and roll off the bag, versus soak through the shell into the insulation. 
  • Some heavier rectangular bags offer a durable cotton blend on the bag’s shell. While these materials generally don’t repel water as well, they do offer a cozy, roomy bag option. 
  • Liner materials should promote breathability, allowing your body moisture to disperse rather than become trapped inside the bag. Some of the most common liner materials are: 
  1. Poly-taffeta – smooth finish and lighter weight. Usually cold to the touch upon first entering a bag, but warm up quickly. 
  2. Pongees and brushed poly-taffeta – while a synthetic blend, they offer a soft feel and warmer entry into the bag than a plain taffeta. 
  3. Cotton blends (poly-cotton, flannel, etc) – softest liner options, warm to the touch and breathable. Generally the heaviest liner options. 
Comfort & convenience features include: 
  • Sleeping pad attachments — A sleeping pad will help insulate the bottom side of your bag, and add cushion. Look for a bag that is compatible with your pad, or has sleeping pad attachment loops. 
  • Zippers and anti-snag treatments – Some bags use a locking zipper slider, which helps hold the zipper in place even if you move around a lot during the night. Many bags also offer dual-sliders, which means there is a zipper pull at both ends. This allows you to open the zipper at the bottom of the bag, for additional venting near your feet. Look for anti-snag treatment on both sides of the main zip. There are many anti-snag techniques in the market, so if possible, test a bag before you purchase it, to ensure you’re comfortable with the ease and speed of the zipper design. 
  • Draft tubes – if you’ll be using your bag in colder temps, look for a bag with a draft tube the full length of the main zipper, and possibly around the neck. Draft tubes are filled with insulation and help to seal locations hat suffer higher heat loss. 
  • Ergonomic footbox – available more often on mummy shapes, an ergonomic design at the bottom of the bag allow a person’s feet to lay in their natural position. 
  • Stash pockets – purely a convenience feature, these pockets help keep valuables easily accessible. 
Storage – most bags should come with a stuff sack or roll straps. If pack size is a concern, look for compression straps to help cinch the bag as small as possible during packing. Some bags also come with a storage sack, which is usually larger and more breathable (mesh or cotton). It’s a good rule to store your sleeping bag less compressed. Long term storage in a looser sack will add to the bag’s longevity. If your bag doesn’t include a stuff or storage sack, you can easily find options in many camping accessory assortments.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tough Enough

Sometimes, a life or death situation calls for extreme measures. That's when you find out if you're tough enough to do whatever it takes to survive. In the case of 61-year-old retired logger, Jon Hutt, it called for self-amputation.

Hutt drove his semi tractor-trailer alone into the Colorado forest to retrieve a load of felled trees to be used for winter firewood. That's when it happened — an accidental slip of the 6-ton trailer pinned his right foot by the toes.

He cried out for help, but there was no one to hear him deep in the forest. His cell phone was in the cab of the truck, so he couldn't call for help. But even if he could have reached the phone, there was no cell coverage in the area. He was truly stuck, with no one to help him, and no way to summon assistance. He had told his wife that he would be gone for several hours, but didn't know when she might start searching for him.

After struggling in vain for 30 minutes to free his foot, Hutt came to the conclusion that the only way for him to get loose was to cut off all five toes. With a 3-inch pocket knife, he cut away his boot until he could see his toes. Then went to work sawing them off, one toe at a time.

"It hurt so bad," he said. "I would cut for a while and then I had to rest."

Once he was free, Hutt wrapped the foot in a shirt to stop the bleeding, then hobbled to the truck and drove himself toward his home. When he got to an area where there was cell coverage, he called for help and an ambulance met him on his way home.

The lessons for us:

  • Don't go alone to engage in an activity that might result in an injury. Of course we never expect that to happen, but it does. It's wise to have a helper on hand. 
  • Use a personal locator beacon (PLB) or a SPOT Satellite Messenger. One press of the button will bring rescue. 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sixty Five Million

What happens when 65 million people are all bracing for the arrival of a potential disaster? All we have to do is look at the East Coast right now, because the report is that 65,000,000 residents along that coast are trying to prepare for Hurricane Irene to hit.

One report is that the stores are empty. If you don't already have it, you can't go out and buy it. Oh, you might be able to find a fancy pair of high heels, but those are useless. In fact, that's exactly the reason you can find them — 'because nobody really needs them right now.

But if you want to buy something useful like bottled water, food or a power generator, you're a day late and a dollar short. When the crisis is looming, there might be folks willing to part with the extra generators they went out and bought in anticipation of a rush on the market. The price will double or triple, or more. Some people call that price gouging, but you would be happy to pay the price when you really need those items.

New York Mayor Bloomberg ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city, ordering residents to get out of town by 5:00 p.m. tomorrow.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that public transportation in the city will shut down at noon tomorrow. The talk is about prior storms, like the one in September 1821 that brought a storm surge 13-feet high that flooded all of Manhattan south of Canal Street. That area now includes Wall Street. It's anybody's guess what's going to happen this time around.

A FEMA spokesman told the Associated Press, "We're going to have damages, we just don't know how bad. this is one of the largest populations that will be impacted by one storm at one time."

Bigger than Katrina? Yup, in terms of population being affected. And if it weren't for the population, the storm would come and go and be of very little importance. It's the populace that turns a storm (or an earthquake, etc.) into a disaster. It's the fact that the people are unprepared to take care of handling their own needs. That's what creates a disaster.

The more prepared you are, the less you have to depend on outside agencies to take care of you. To the degree that you fail to prepare, you become part of the problem.

The East Coast, right now, is learning that the time for preparation is not when you're staring down the barrel.

Tarp For The Tent

Let's keep going on the earlier post about having a good tent. No matter how tough the tent floor is, a rugged plastic ground cloth (tarp) will help extend its life and keep the floor from damage and soiling.

Carry a second tarp and some rope so you can rig up a roof for the camp kitchen or dining area.
  • String the rope tightly between two trees, about as high as you can reach. 
  • Drape the tarp over the rope forming the a ridgeline.
  • Use rope to secure the corners to other trees, keeping the “eves” lower than the ridge for drainage.
If there are no grommets along the edges of the tarp, tuck a small pebble into the material and fold it over. Then loop a simple overhand knot over the tucked pebble and cinch the line tight. That creates a grip point so you can "guy" the lines out to keep the tarp taut. 

If you have no tent at all, a tarp (or even a piece of lightweight plastic sheeting) can be rigged up to provide good shelter. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Good Tent

If you are forced to evacuate for any reason, you'll need someplace to go. Depending on the situation, one option might be to seek isolation from the masses of other evacuees. In that case, it's a good idea to have a tent in your evacuation kit to serve as primary shelter.

Granted, in a survival situation you need to know how to improvise shelter from whatever is at hand, but having a tent puts you miles ahead of the game.

Tent size will depend on the number of people in your group and their ability to carry gear. For example, if your family includes teens or able-bodied adults, have them carry additional tents so everyone doesn't have to crowd together.

When it comes to design, dome-style tents are simple and work well, but they don’t offer as much headroom as a cabin-type tent, and the sloping walls reduce usable interior space. I have both types and like both of them, but the cabin tent is easier to live in.

A tent that is designed to be free-standing without the need for guy-lines is easier to pick up and move if the need arises (like suddenly water starts to puddle in your campsite). If the tent requires the support of guy-lines, everything will collapse when you try to move the tent.

For every style, pegs are used to hold the floor fully stretched out. But free-standing tents can actually be erected and used without the pegs. Guy-lines are needed for the rain fly, but if you need to move the tent it is only the fly that will collapse, and that can be quickly re-set.

The tent must be durable and easy to erect. You don't want a tent that can't stand up to the rigors, or one that's a mystery every time you pull all the pieces out of the storage bag. Here are some other specific characteristics to look for in a quality tent: 
  • DAC aluminum poles linked with lightweight shock cord make assembly easy. Aluminum poles are generally a little larger in diameter but are stronger and more durable than fiberglass poles. 
  • Double-needle seam stitching throughout will help keep the seams from coming apart even after years of use. 
  • All tent floor and rain fly seams should be sealed so water won’t leak through where the stitching thread penetrates the fabric. I re-seal my seams every year. You can buy seam seal at any sporting goods store. 
  • The tent floor must be tough, waterproof and “tub” shaped with floor material that extends part way up into the sidewalls. A good waterproof coating will measure something on the order of 1500mm thickness. High-denier rating for the fabric means better resistance to wear and tear. 
  • The best wall materials are waterproof and breathable (Gore-Tex, ToddText, Klimate and MemBrain are some brands), so condensation created by living in the tent can migrate through the fabric to the outside. But for general camping use, there are perfectly good (and much less expensive) tents made of polyurethane-coated polyester taffeta that are not breathable. For non-breathable tents, ventilation is very important (see next item). 
  • Zip openings with bug screen material on all sides (and maybe even in the ceiling – which would necessitate a rain fly for foul weather use) provide ventilation to control both interior temperature and condensation. Screened windows and doors also gives you the ability to see outside while keeping critters out. Solid zip panels for doors and windows take care of privacy issues. For best access, the entryway screen should zip open across the bottom, top and one side, so you don’t step on or snag the screen when entering or exiting. YKK zippers resist snagging adjacent material and are more durable than other zippers. 
  • A rain fly made of 1500mm-coated polyester that extends over the windows and entry doors will prevent rain from sneaking inside through those openings. The fly allows you to have an open screen in the ceiling without risk of rain getting into the tent. 
  • A vestibule is a small external sheltered area where you can store your boots or other gear overnight out of the rain. Sometimes this is built into the tent itself, or sometimes it is a design feature of the rain fly. 
  • Inside the tent, look for handy mesh pocket organizers attached to the sidewalls where you can stow a pair of glasses or other small stuff up off the floor while you sleep.


As I write this, hundreds of thousands of folks are evacuating their homes on the East Coast in anticipation of Hurricane Irene making landfall, or at least a close fly-by in the next few days.

They're smart — they're getting out early. But with that many people trying to get out of town at the same time, there is likely to be some gridlock even though they are leaving ahead of the storm. It's hard enough when you're trying to move a couple hundred thousand vehicles during normal rush hour, and it gets worse if you're trying to move those vehicles when there's a touch of panic in the air. The closer to the hour of crisis the residents come, the higher the stress is going to be. That's why it's always a good idea to see the handwriting on the wall and make your move early.

One thing that makes evacuation a lot easier is being prepared to simply grab an evac kit, throw it in the car, and in 30 seconds you're gone. If you have to slow down to gather up survival supplies, look for a way to carry them, and figure out how much of this and that you're going to need, the whole process gets mired down and costs precious time.

Even if you're evacuating to a relative's or friend's house several hours distant (a much nicer idea than evacuating to a FEMA refugee camp), you still need to be prepared with all your own personal supplies. You don't want to have to borrow someone else's toothbrush or underwear, if you know what I mean.

Everyone, whether they live in a hurricane (or any other kind of disaster-prone) zone or not, should have their own personal evacuation kit already prepared and ready to grab and go. The kit should have everything to meet your basic needs for at least 72 hours (longer is better).

The concept is that after that much time, life will probably return to normal and you'll be able to go back home. However, that may not be the case. Sometimes there's nothing to go back to where wildfires sweep through communities, or earthquakes knock everything down, or tornados obliterate whole neighborhoods, or floods wash everything away. That's when the evac kit might need to keep you going for months.

Think about that, and plan your kit accordingly.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Prolonged Water Shortage

Any number of emergency situations can result in a prolonged water shortage. If there is a power outage caused by a natural disaster such as a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, etc. the municipal water system will not be able to pump water. If that disaster also causes the breakup of the water treatment system, there could well be major contamination to contend with.

In a report about Critical National Infrastructures by the government's EMP Commission, the issue of how an EMP might adversely affect community water systems was raised. Keep in mind that his report is about the destruction of electronic equipment to operate pumps, not a simple short-term power outage.

"Demoralization and deterioration of social order can be expected to deepen if a water shortage is protracted. Anarchy will certainly loom if government cannot supply the population with enough water to preserve health and life. The many homeowners with private wells also would face similar problems. There would be fewer workarounds to get their pumps operating again, if the pump controller is 
damaged or inoperable. Even if power is restored, it is unlikely the average homeowner would be technically competent to bypass a failed pump controller and figure out how to power the pump with bypass power lines. The first priority would be meeting personal water needs. Federal, state, and local 
governments do not have the collective capability, if the water infrastructure fails over a large area, to supply enough water to the civilian population to preserve life."

But even in the event of a more "normal" power outage than one caused by an EMP, the report had this to say:

"Storm-induced blackouts of the electric grid have demonstrated that, in the absence of electric power, the water infrastructure will fail. Storm-induced blackouts have also demonstrated that, even in the face of merely local and small-scale failure of the water infrastructure, the combined efforts of government agencies at all levels are hard pressed to help."

  • Don't expect the government to supply you with water (or anything else)
  • Become as self-sufficient as possible, especially with regard to your water supply, storing as much as possible on your property
  • Locate sources of freshwater that you can access when the municipal system fails
  • Be prepared to purify all water that you'll consume, cook with, or wash dishes with
  • Learn to conserve in the use of water, so you will already know how to live through a severe water shortage

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Will To Survive

As I review case after case of survival situations — whether it's in the wilderness, or in an urban setting after a disaster, or in an incident involving conflict such as an abduction — there is one common thread that ties all of them together.

It isn't luck.

It isn't age.

It isn't gender.

It isn't physical fitness (although that never hurts).

It isn't survival skill (although that doesn't hurt either).

It isn't experience in prior survival situations.

The one common element in all successful survival incidents is The Will To Live. The will to survive is what keeps people alive. It's the inability to say, "I quit."

It's some kind of motivation that creates an unwillingness to give up and die. That motivation might come from thinking about the family and having an overwhelming desire to live long enough to be with them again.  It might be raw stubbornness. It might be a wonderful faith in God that everything will work out okay, if you just keep going.

Whatever it is, you need to have it if you want to survive. Those who don't possess the will to live are the ones who die without a fight.

So, how do you develop a powerful will to survive? You have to be a fighter, a scrapper, a person who doesn't give up easily. Some folks seem to be born that way — they come out of the womb and hit the ground running. Others must work to develop these qualities.
  • Discover something about life that you just can't live without. It's your passion, your driving ambition, the reason you live. 
  • Develop self-confidence by thinking about all the successes you've had, and knowing that you can also succeed at whatever you're facing right now.
  • Work on a plan for what you're going to do when you get back home safely. See yourself actually doing those things. 
  • Take command of yourself, your thoughts, your attitudes, your actions. Don't lay down and play the victim. 
  • Learn to endure pain and misery without whining about it. Whiners whine so someone will feel sorry for them, and come to take care of them. They live an entitlement lifestyle, and they are not survivors. 
  • When things are tough, get up and do something about it. Plan your work, and work your plan. 
  • Do a little bit every day to improve your situation, then reach out and help someone else. 
Don't wait until you find yourself in a survival situation to develop a powerful will to live. If you're alive today, prove it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Deadly Amoeba

In a survival situation, it is imperative to have access to freshwater to drink. But you can't simply bend down and suck water out of a pond or stream with impunity. There are organisms in the water that are dangerous to human health, the most common of which are giardia and cryptosporidium. 

But it gets worse. Consider the case of 16-year-old Courtney Nash. Two days after she went swimming in the St. Johns River in Mims, Florida, 44 miles east of Orlando, she died of an infection that she contracted from the water in that river. 

Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the killer was a deadly amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri. Brevard County health officials said they believe the parasite entered Courtney's nose while she was swimming, and worked its way to her brain where it caused a lethal infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). 

The disease spreads rapidly, leaving the victim suffering symptoms that include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, loss of the senses of smell and taste, and a stiff neck. In most cases, death occurs within 3 to 7 days. The good news is that the disease cannot be spread from one person to another, because the amoeba itself has to enter the victim's brain in order to do the damage. 

The bad news is that the amoeba is commonly found in lakes and rivers. A health advisory issued by the State of Virginia warns that the amoeba proliferates in stagnant freshwater lakes, ponds, streams and rivers when temperatures climb into the 80s. 

Officials advise safety precautions when swimming:
  • Shower with soap before and after the swim
  • Be careful not to swallow pool, lake or river water. 
My issue with these precautions is that, if the amoeba gets into your nasal passages, a shower is not going to stop its destructive trek to your brain. The safest course of action is to keep your face out of the water altogether. If you are camping or in a survival situation and want to wash your face, do it with water you have boiled and then allowed to cool. Boiling will kill all organisms in the water, leaving it safe to use for ingestion and hygiene.

If you must cross a body of water where the stated conditions exist, take every precaution to make sure you don't get your face in the water.