Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Evacuation Time — Staying Alive

Most people think of evacuation as something that happens in third-world countries when there's a war or when nature runs amok and sends a tsunami rushing ashore. But the truth is there are evacuations taking place around our own country all the time.

Right now, for instance, more than 32,000 Colorado residents are on the run from a wildfire that has engulfed their homes, destroying everything they own. The governor of the state said the region looks like a military invasion, and there is no end in sight as the scope of the fire is growing.

It's the same story in neighboring Utah and New Mexico where fires are forcing residents out of their homes. Where will these people sleep tonight? Where will they go, and what will they have to look forward to in the coming days?

Imagine for a moment that you are one of them. Sometime during the day you are notified that you must leave your home and get out of the area, because there's an official evacuation notice. Or perhaps you're at work or school or out shopping when your neighborhood is overrun by a wildfire, and you have no chance to return to your home to grab anything.

That's the way forced evacuations work sometimes. You might not have any time at all to scramble around, grabbing this and that to take with you. You might have exactly what you're wearing and what's in your vehicle, and nothing else.

So that begs the question of what you're wearing and what's in your vehicle, because that might be the sum total of what you are able to have during the evacuation — if you're lucky.

If you're less lucky, you might not have the vehicle. It might be swept away in a flood, or cremated by a wildfire, or destroyed in the wreckage of collapsed buildings after an earthquake.

Then you have only what you're wearing and what you can grab in an instant.

Getting out alive is the highest priority, even if it means you have no time or opportunity to grab anything at all.

But, if you have prepared an evacuation bag (sometimes known as a "grab and go" bag or a "bug out bag"), you are miles ahead of the game. A well-prepared evacuation bag will be sitting by an exit, where you can lay your hands on it as you're fleeing the building. Or it will be in your vehicle already.

For ultimate versatility, organize your kit in a "backpack" style piece of luggage that has substantial wheels, an extendable handle, and shoulder straps.

Just because you're in survival mode is no reason to live like a heathen. To make life easier when you're on the run or are living in a refugee camp, here are my basic recommendations for items to be included in the kit.

A couple changes of underwear and socks
Long -sleeved shirt
T shirtPants
Rain poncho or rain suit
Billed cap
Spare eyeglasses (if you need them)
Contact lens solution (if you need it)
Bandana or large handkerchief
Work gloves
Power bars
Trail mix
3 or more MREs or Mountain House meals
Folding military-type can opener
Salt and pepper
Paper plates
Backpack stove, fuel, and lightweight pot (JetBoil Personal Cooking System is excellent for this)
2 liters of water
Backpack water filter
1 roll of toilet paper
1 heavy-duty trash bag
Disposable towelettes
Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss
Bar of soap
Liquid camp soap
Shampoo, conditioner
Small towel, washcloth
Hair brush
First aid kit
Insect repellent
Sun screen
Lightweight tent or tarp
Sleeping bag or blanket
Sleeping pad
Emergency-type blanket
Flashlight (hand crank type, or take spare batteries)
Fire starter and tinder
Pepper spray
Signal mirror, whistle
Lightweight rope
Trowel for digging a latrine
Emergency radio (hand crank type like Grundig FR200, or take spare batteries)
Deck of cards to alleviate boredom while in a refugee situation
Roll of quarters (for showers)
Small cache of spending money (keep this hidden)
Photo ID
Pencil and notepad
Prescription medications (rotate to keep these fresh)

This might seem like a lot of stuff, and you might not be able to prepare your kit with everything on this list. But if you can, you will be able to live well and comfortably no matter where you end up after the evacuation.

Monday, June 25, 2012

When The Unexpected Happens

True story from our early days of knocking around the wild places.

Early one evening, our vehicle broke down in the wilds of the vast western desert. When the engine died, it took the headlights with it. There we were, Becky and me and two tiny children, stranded in the desert, miles and miles from civilization. The sun was quickly going down, and there was no way to notify anyone of our plight.

I knew I wasn't going to be able to fix the vehicle until morning, when I would be able to see what I was doing. Right now I had to take care of the immediate needs — making it comfortably and safely through the night.

A short recon of the area led to a suitable stone overhang that would make a good natural shelter. Why not just stay in the car? you ask. We could have stayed in the dark, cold car, but I decided that an outdoor shelter would provide the advantage of being able to get a fire going so we could hunker down next to its friendly glow.

The fire served a couple of purposes — to allow us to see what we were doing, and to help calm any growing anxiety about being stranded in a strange and wild place. To make the most of the soft light, I positioned the small blaze near the stone wall of the overhang. The illumination reflected off the wall and the overhanging ceiling, spreading light over a much wider area than a fire sitting alone in the middle of an open space could have done.

In an emergency, the light from the fire could have been arranged to signal for help. If you attract the attention of someone who can rescue you, you don’t need to spend a lot of time in a survival situation. Signal fires are useful both day and night. By day, you want the fire to produce lots of smoke (add bits of green or damp foliage to produce white smoke, burn oil or rubber to make black smoke). A column of smoke is visible for miles, and stands a good chance of attracting the attention of someone in the vicinity.

By night, smoke is less visible, but the smell of smoke might still arouse the attention of someone. Of course, the best use of a fire as a signal at night is a bright blaze that puts a lot of light into the sky.

For safety, a signal fire should be built in a clearing where there is no danger of setting the whole landscape on fire. Actually, rather than one big fire, a trio of smaller, more manageable fires is even better. Three fires arranged in a triangle make an internationally recognized distress signal. Besides that, you can position yourself between the fires to stay warm all the way around— which brings us to the next topic.

It didn't take long after the sun went down before our night in the desert became dramatically colder. We hadn’t planned on the car breaking down and having to camp in this remote spot (no one ever thinks an emergency is going to happen, right?), so we didn’t have camping gear with us — no sleeping bags, tent, or warm coats.

As the darkness deepened, the cold became a concern. The way things were going, this was shaping up to be a long and miserable night. So, in addition to providing light, the fire suddenly became very important as a source of warmth. But that little campfire wasn’t going to be much of a heat source — unless we modified it.

A campfire is famous for toasting one side of you while allowing the “dark side of the moon” to freeze, so we needed to come up with a solution.

One way to solve the problem is to position the fire a moderate distance away from a reflective surface (like the rock wall at the back of our overhanging ledge, for example), allowing enough room for us to get between the blaze and the wall. That way, the wall reflected some of the heat onto the side of us that was not facing the fire. To improve the situation even more, I erected a stone wall on the far side of the blaze, to turn even more heat back toward us.

There we spent the night. Becky and I fed wood into the blaze continually to keep us surrounded by the glow and the warmth of the fire. When morning brought the light of a new day, I was able to fix the vehicle and get us on our way again, this time with a small adventure to add to our life experiences.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Top 5 Survival Clothing Priorities

Any time you're outdoors — away from such luxuries as thermostats, solid walls around you, and a roof over your head — clothing is your primary shelter. You might find yourself hunkering down for a cold, wet night in the forest with only your clothing and some kind of rudimentary shelter made from natural materials to protect you. If I were to choose the top 5 priorities in survival clothing, they would be as follows:

Stay Dry — If you can't stay dry, you can't stay warm. Wet clothing acts like a "swamp cooler" air conditioner, as evaporation inexorably drains the warmth from your body core. A simple pocket poncho can be a life saver in wet conditions. Waterproof/breathable clothing is even better, though it is expensive. The ability of the clothing to release perspiration into the atmosphere is a huge benefit not afforded by a plastic poncho. Hypothermia doesn't care whether you got wet by falling in a river or by sweating. All that matters is you're wet. So if you rely on plastic to keep you dry, pay attention to ventilation to release perspiration from your body and clothing.

Insulation — Trapping a layer of body-warmed air next to your skin is the purpose of insulation. It's the same principle as a diver's wetsuit, wherein a thin layer of body-warmed water helps protect the diver from the colder water around him. The best insulation is natural, such as wool or down. The problem with down is that when it gets wet, it quits insulating and becomes an almost worthless lump. Wool tends to wick moisture away from your body and continue to insulate even when wet. I like merino wool because it isn't itchy. Man-made insulation materials are almost as good as the natural, and are generally much less expensive. I like fleece as an insulation layer beneath a shell that turns away the wind and precipitation.

Good Footwear — Your feet might be your only mode of transportation, so you must take good care of them. The worst thing is a pair of new boots that haven't been broken in yet, as they can cause disabling blisters. Trail shoes or boots that are nicely softened and fit your feet perfectly are the right choice. But even the best boots aren't enough. Good socks are essential. My favorite socks are made by a company named Point6 ( They fit like a second skin, are made of merino wool, and are very durable. It's a combination of qualities that help prevent blisters, and keep the feet at a comfortable temperature in both warm weather and cold.

Head Covering — Most of your body heat is lost through your scalp. An old woodsman saying is, "If your feet are getting cold, put on your hat." Sounds goofy, but it's true. The body starts to shut down the delivery of warm blood to the extremities such as the feet and hands as the body core cools. If you lose too much core warmth through your scalp, the feet will be the first to know about it. Any head covering is better than none, but a hat with a wide brim and the ability to shed water is the best, as it provides protection against both the sun and the rain. Hint: if your hair gets wet, dry it as soon as possible, or else you'll lose heat quickly due to evaporative cooling.

Leather Gloves — Second only to your feet, your hands need protection. Injure your hands in a survival situation and you will seriously limit your ability to perform life saving tasks. Not only that, but if you get an infection through a cut, abrasion, or a splinter, it can become a life-threatening injury as your weakened body and immune system are not able to fight it off. George Donner, leader of the ill-fated Donner Party, didn't succumb to starvation the way so many of the pioneer group did. Nope, he died because of a small injury to his hand that became infected. He was still alive when rescuers arrived, but was too weak from the infection to be saved. A pair of lightweight leather gloves can become treasured survival gear.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Surviving A Failed Economy

In these economically-troubled times, there are people all over the world trying to figure out how to survive in an urban environment that has run amok with failed economies and weakening currency. In the wilderness, currency is only good for starting a fire. But in “civilization” the economy lives or dies by the strength of currency. We can take a lesson from some of the folks in Greece.

Greece has been at the forefront of economic news recently because of their financial crisis. While politicians sit around lavish tables endlessly discussing the theories and options, the folks back home need solutions. And they need them now!

The town of Volos is a good example of a Greek community that has taken the bull by the horns in seeking a way to keep living in spite of the failed national economy and high unemployment. Their solution: Barter — trading goods and services in exchange for something else. That is, after all, exactly what we do — trading our goods and services for a piece of paper (money) that we can then trade for other goods and services.

In Volos, residents are exchanging their chickens and eggs, or homemade bread, or used clothing and jewelry, or carpentry skills. The residents have come together in a cooperative enterprise, establishing what appears to be a cross between a flea market and a farmer’s market, with stalls displaying fresh produce and other wares.

The people have come up with an alternative currency that they use as a substitute for the euro. When members of the “co-op” sell their goods or services, either online or at the marketplace, they collect this new currency into an account that can be tapped to buy stuff from other members. Virtually anything can be purchased, including yoga classes.

This system has developed into a comfortable and stable substitute for the national economy. One resident, a school teacher named Irene, said, “It’s very nice, I think. I don’t have stress. When you have to buy something in euros you’re always in stress. But now I’m okay.”

Could there be something in all this for us to learn? In the event of a financial meltdown, here is a model that shows how we can keep things going. Barter of hard goods, or working though an alternative currency are two options that can be made to work.

But it will work only if the community comes together in an organized way that is acceptable to everyone. Something like this could be done in smaller scale, say with the population of a neighborhood, a church group, or people of like mind. It doesn’t have to involve an entire city, necessarily, although the more variety of goods and services that are available, the more functional the system becomes.

Barter — it's a possible solution to tuck into the back of our minds as we prepare for an ever more doubtful economic future. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Dying In A Freezer — A Lesson In Situational Awareness

When Jay Luther stepped into the walk-in freezer at his restaurant, he fully expected to come out alive. Unfortunately, he didn't.

Here's what happened:

On Friday, there was a power outage that affected the restaurant owned by Mr. Luther. Employees, concerned about keeping the food safe, place dry ice inside the freezer to keep everything cold.  On Sunday, the power came back on and Luther walked into the freezer to get some supplies for cooking.
The door closed behind him, and he was trapped.

About now, you might be thinking Jay Luther froze to death while trapped in his own freezer. But according to the official report, the probable cause of death was asphyxia as carbon dioxide gas was released by the dry ice into the tightly sealed freezer compartment.

Luther's commercial freezer had a safety release button on the inside that was supposed to allow anyone inside to open the door. But the button was evidently broken.

So, what we have here is a death that can be attributed to a failure of situational awareness. Had Mr. Luther been aware that the safety button was broken, and had he taken steps to have it repaired, he might be alive today.

Even though the "agent of death" might be asphyxia, or hypothermia, or an 18-wheeler that clobbers you as you step off the curb, the real cause of death is often a lack of situational awareness.

Maintaining situational awareness is a core principle of survival. Here are a few ways to do it.

Keep eyes and ears open — watch what people are doing around you.

Be aware of danger zones, and stay out of them.

Test safety equipment to make sure it works.

Check the weather, and take appropriate precautions to stay dry.

Inspect vehicle gauges before taking off.

Is your zipper up and shoes tied? Is your slip showing (for those of you who wear slips)?

Turn around to see if there a mountain lion following you.

Check your backtrail for landmarks you'll use when hiking in the opposite direction.

Inventory your bug-out-bag often.

Be sure of your footing before shifting your weight.

Ask yourself where the will blade go if it slips — make sure it isn't into your flesh.

Look both ways (twice) before crossing.

Find out what that noise is.

Pay attention to sources of water, food, shelter, and essential supplies.

Maintain general awareness of what's going on around you.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Wolves Don't Attack Humans … Really?

You might be forgiven for thinking that wolves raised in captivity from birth, and habituated to contact with humans on a regular basis, should be like pet dogs. Big, beautiful, impressive, lovable pet dogs.

In fact, of all the animals who have ever lived in our family, the one I remember with greatest fondness is a Malamute-Lab-Wolf mix who became my constant companion when outdoors. We raised him from a puppy so small I could hold him in the palm of my hand. I've never known a more non-territorial, gentle, loving animal who was friends to everyone and everything that walked by. He loved the snow (Malamute), loved to play in the water (Lab), and would sing with me a favorite Wolf song when the moon came up. He lived with us for 11 years, until he became ill. His final act of compassion for me was that he, in typical wild animal style, went off to die by himself — and in spite of my 2-day search for him, remained hidden from view. I never did find his final resting place, and I wept as if I had lost a child. Still today, I have momentary fantasies about him showing up at the doorstep, having found his way home.

I mention all this only to convince you that I am not prejudiced against wolves. I believe they are among the most magnificent canines on the planet. Still and all, a wolf is a wolf. And there are folks who make it their pseudo-religion to believe that wolves simply do not attack humans. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Wolves DO attack humans, sometimes killing them. But so do Pitbulls and German Shepherds and other large domesticated breeds. Horses sometimes attack and kill humans, so do bovines that are raised by and habituated to people.

So the point of all this is not to single out the wolf as a particularly deadly animal — but only to put to rest the myth that wolves do no attack and kill humans.

In point of fact, just yesterday a female zookeeper was attacked and killed by wolves at a wildlife park in Sweden. These wolves had been raised in the park since birth and were in contact with humans on a routine basis. The keeper was a longtime employee and had worked with this particular group of wolves since they were born. So they knew her, and she knew them, and was experienced in working with them.

It's not clear yet what prompted the attack. All that is known is that she entered the compound to "maintain contact with the wolves," and was found dead later with evidence pointing to wolf attack.

With wild wolf proliferation on the rise in the American west, the issue must be raised about the safety of humans in wolf habitat. If wolves that have been raised since birth in the company of humans will attack and kill their keepers, what are wild wolves capable of?

Maybe this can put to rest the ridiculous myth that wolves don't attack humans. Farley Mowat was evidently not working with (or perhaps didn't care about) complete knowledge of the facts when he wrote Never Cry Wolf — a book that leans on the philosophy of "never let the facts get in the way of truth." Unfortunately, the facts don't substantiate his version of the truth.

For us, the lesson should be that when you're in wolf country (or bear or cougar country), you're in their house. Don't underestimate them — or any other wild animal (you should see what a moose can do when he takes a dislike to you). Respect these animals, understand that they are wild and likely view you as an uninvited intruder in their world. Be able to protect yourself, if necessary.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Wildlife Attack

Michael and Lindy Chamberlain took their 9-week-old daughter Azaria on a camping trip to Ayers Rock, the famous monolith in the Australian desert. It was August, 1980. Sometime during the night of August 17th, little Azaria disappeared from camp. Her body was never found.

Lindy and Michael reported that their baby had been dragged away by dingos — Australian wild dogs the roam the desert regions, hunting prey at night. The authorities didn't believe that story, because the popular beliefs were that a dingo was not dangerous and would only attack if provoked. Not only that, but the theory was that a dingo was not strong enough to carry away a baby human.

An initial coroner's inquest found that a dingo had taken Azaria. A second inquest (after some of the baby's clothing was discovered in the desert) ended with Lindy being charged with murder and Michael being charged as an accessory. Lindy was accused of slashing her daughter's throat with nail scissors and making it look like a dingo attack.

Lindy was prosecuted for murder, was found guilty, and was sentenced to life in prison with hard labor. Ultimately, she spent more than three years in prison before being cleared of those charges when further evidence was found that backed up her story. But in spite of being exonerated, public opinion ran strong against the Chamberlains for years. Some spat on Lindy, others gathered outside her home and howled like dingoes.

A third inquest came to no conclusion one way or the other. At that time, no similar dingo attacks had been verified.

Then new evidence emerged of dingo attacks, including three fatal attacks on children that happened after the third inquest. A fourth inquest was held, and Australian authorities finally made it official that Azaria was killed by an attack of dingoes.

In an interview, Lindy said, "No longer will australia be able to say that dingoes are not dangerous and only attack if provoked."

This outcome is important for two reasons. First, it finally and officially clears the parents of the heinous crime they had been accused of.

Second, it illustrates to the world that the "Disney" version of life in the wilderness is not true. Nature is not all warm and fuzzy. It's harsh. Predators are always on the hunt for their next meal, and sometimes they will attack humans.

For those of us who enjoy being out in "nature" this is a clear signal that we need to take precautions to avoid a tragic encounter with wildlife.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Panic — A Contagious Breakdown in Judgment

People sometimes behave in curious ways when events happen that are out of the ordinary, and by doing so they can turn a non-disaster into a disaster all by themselves.

An example — a moderate earthquake shook the buildings in Turkey recently, causing a small amount of damage to a couple of mosque minarets.

So, how did the local residents react to the quake? Gripped by fear that evolved into panic, some of them decided to jump off of buildings and out of windows, injuring themselves and causing a bit of a local emergency medical crisis.

No one else was injured by the quake, which illustrates how poor judgment and misguided reaction to a situation can cause problems that didn't need to exist.

Panic is an interesting reaction that can become almost like a contagious disease. If you yelled "fire" in a crowded theater, then got up out of your seat and raced for the exit, there's a good chance the rest of people in that room would react as if there were some danger, joining you in the race for the exit. Pandemonium would erupt, people would get injured, and you would end up in jail because it's illegal to create a panic. Then you would probably get sued by all those injured folks. A bad idea all around.

But back to Turkey. If bystanders feeling the quake watched someone jump off the building, some of them might think that was a rational survival strategy and follow like a bunch of lemmings.

The lesson for us is to learn to think for ourselves, analyze the situation, examine rational options, then decide on a proper course of action. Don't let the unhinged reactions of other people cause you to make poor judgments yourself.

In order to be able to make good judgments when unusual circumstances present themselves, learn as much as you can about how to survive a variety of situations. Think about what you would do if… (fill in the blank to describe the scenario).

Maintain situational awareness, so you don't get caught by surprise, and can act rationally. Study the lay of the land (so to speak) and look for alternate exits or escape routes, sources of supply, and potential tools or weapons you could use if necessary. That will give you a more solid psychological foundation, and help resist the urge to panic.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Tinder Tales

In my ongoing research about fire-starting materials and techniques, I recently tested the value of dry cattail heads as a tinder material.

The old seed heads dry out late in the season and can last through the winter. They stand there all brown and fluffy, tempting anyone in need of fire-making tinder to snatch it up and use it. But here's what I found.

Cattail fluff is mostly just that — fluff. There's not much body to it. When I struck my spark into the pile of fluff, it instantly flashed into flame, giving me hope … then just as instantly the flame died out. Only the outer tips of the fluff would ignite, and they burned so fast and furiously that the flame was gone again in a heartbeat. No matter how hard I tried, huffing and puffing, manipulating the rest of the pile of fluff and encouraging it to join in the fun, it wouldn't work. I could get a coal to last for a while deep in the pile, but that coal required constant attention and air flow to stay alive. And no amount of work on my part could make the rest of the fluff pile ignite.

So, what does all that mean? In my opinion, it means that cattail fluff is a useful addition to a normal tinder bundle. Because it so readily flashes into flame, it can be considered a natural "accelerant" material that might enhance the ability to ignite the rest of a tinder bundle.

But on its own, it's not much good. For tinder to do its job, it must sustain a flame long enough to ignite fine slivers of kindling. And for kindling to work, it must sustain a flame long enough to ignite the fuel wood. Cattail fluff doesn't maintain a flame long enough to be considered good tinder on its own. But, again, I would readily add it to my normal tinder bundle because of its ability to be easily provoked into flame by a small spark.

So, by all means, add cattail fluff to your tinder bundle and see if it helps with your fire starting technique.

By the way, another material that is tempting to use is dry pine needles. My experience with these is that they don't work well. In fact, it's hard to get them to burn at all. It's as if they contain a natural fire retardant.

My favorite tinder materials are dry grasses, juniper bark, or cedar bark, shredded and worked into a birdnest shape.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Survival Story

Alec Brown and Erica Klintworth, both 21-year-old college students from the U.S., took a hike into the mountainous wilderness of New Zealand's South island — where they promptly got trapped for nine days.

The plan was to hike and camp for a few days near a hot springs. But you know how plans sometimes run amok. This was one of those times.

Torrential rain turned to sleet and then to snow, then back to rain. The foul weather continued for days on end, pinning them down beneath a makeshift tarp shelter hung over their sleeping hammocks while the river rose to a threatening roar.

Unfortunately, they weren't prepared for a 9-day stay in the wilderness. If they had been prepared, it would have been nothing more than an extended camping trip. But as it was, this turned into a dicey survival situation as they rationed their meager food supply and hoped the weather would break.

One day, it was a biscuit and jelly, shared between them. The next day, it was even less. Rations were running out, and still the storm raged, getting worse with each passing day.

After 8 days of no sign of the couple, a friend finally notified authorities and a search was begun.

When the weather abated, Alec and Erica decided to attempt to hike out of the mountains. They crossed an icy stream and were concealed by the dense forest canopy when they heard a helicopter. Eventually, they came to a road, and encountered the search and rescue team.

In the debrief, some interesting points were raised.

  • The couple exercised good judgment by staying put in their survival camp during the stormy weather. If they had left the shelter and tried to hike out of the mountains in the storm, they might not have survived the exposure to the elements. 
  • They didn't attempt to cross the river when the water was high and the current strong, and that was a good choice. 
  • Alec made the comment that he relied on past experience hiking and camping and was confident that they would survive. But in my opinion, past experience should have prompted him to go better prepared for the the unexpected. "I believe when you go into the bush," he said, "that you take your life into your own hands and need to be prepared to handle whatever conditions occur." Then he added, "We could have been more prepared."
The good news is that they got out alive, and hopefully with a fresh perspective about what it means to be prepared for the unexpected.

On the negative side, Alec sounded flippant about the helicopter, stating, "We were climbing the mountains under dense tree cover when we first heard the helicopter we assumed was looking for us. The copter never saw us and we walked out just fine and met up with the search and rescue by the road."

What he apparently fails to understand is that the helicopter wasn't out there for a joy ride. Men and women on SAR teams risk their lives to try to save people who have gotten themselves into trouble. If you hear a helicopter, don't just stand there picking your nose — get to a clearing and do everything in your power to make yourself visible to the crew. They're out there looking for you, so don't let your ego get in the way of their rescue attempt.

Testosterone overdose is a dangerous thing. And in this case, he was responsible not only for himself, but for Erica as well. Time for him to take the next step in his maturity as an outdoorsman.

Father's Day Gift Ideas

For all of you who have dads that are outdoor enthusiasts, here are a couple of recommendations for Father's Day gifts.

  • The Ultimate Survival Manual is divided into three major sections — Wilderness, Urban, and Disaster — covering 333 survival topics in brief, easy to understand segments. If you want to know how to survive an alligator attack, when the beast has grabbed you and dragged you to the bottom of the swamp for a death roll, that's #48. Or how to survive a home invasion (#253) or a hostage situation (#292). Or survive a wildfire (#160). This book's got it all. Number 40 tells you how to tell a black bear from a grizzly — important knowledge, because they respond differently to a human encounter, and what you do next can mean the difference between a happy ending … or not.  
  • Rich Johnson's Guide to Wilderness Survival. This book is written in traditional chapter format with in-depth information about all the most important wilderness survival subjects — from the psychology of survival to how to forecast the weather, to building fires and shelters, to hunting and trapping for food. There are chapters to guide you through the most common wilderness medical emergencies, how to navigate your way to safety, signal for rescue, and what kind of equipment to choose for your outdoor adventure. This one is a "must have" book for anyone who loves the backcountry. 
Both of these books are available on Amazon at discounted prices, and will make great gifts.

Here's the link to the Ultimate Survival Manual:

And for the Wilderness Survival book, the link to Amazon is:

Monday, June 11, 2012

Evacuation — When It's Time To Run

Over the past couple of days, hundreds of residents have been forced out of their homes as they flee wildfires in Colorado and New Mexico. If history repeats itself, the same will probably happen again this year in southern California, as the wildfire season matures. The scene of people scrambling to get out of the path of disaster might be duplicated in the southeast and along the eastern seaboard, if the hurricane season becomes unruly. And it could take place across the midwest as tornados tear thing up.

There is hardly any place in the country where raging weather or geologic or manmade disasters can't turn  our lives upside-down. Sometimes it's possible to hunker down and do the best you can where you are. But sometimes the best course of action is to get out of the area. That raises the subject of evacuation, and how to safely get away from a disaster site.

There are five primary factors when considering evacuation:
  • How to prepare your home before you go
  • When to leave
  • Where to go
  • How to get there
  • What to take with you
In some cases, you won't have a chance to do anything to prepare your home. If the crisis is at your door, you might have to just scramble to save your life, leaving all your worldly goods to fend for themselves. But if you do have time, work from a personal priority list of what you want to make sure is safe — perhaps family photos, journals, heirlooms and such. If the problem is a flood, move these items to the highest point in your home (maybe the attic). Everything else can be replaced, so focus on getting yourself out alive.

It's best to evacuate ahead of the official order for evacuation, so you can get out of the area ahead of the crowd. Listen to radio and TV reports about the advancing crisis, then make your decision early about leaving. If you get out of the area early, you can probably choose your route. If you wait too long, the highways might be clogged with traffic, making evacuation impossible or at least much more difficult.

Plan ahead to have alternative destinations in the event of an evacuation. Talk with distant friends and relatives who might take you into their home if you have to leave your own. Locate the official shelter sites in your community, so you will know how to get to them when the time comes.

Have alternative methods of transportation. If the roads are blocked, underwater, or broken up, you might not be able to use a car or truck. A motorcycle or bicycle will go places a 4-wheel vehicle cannot go. It might come down to walking, so have good walking shoes that will protect your feet from sharp or hot objects, and allow you to hike for several miles in comfort.

Prepare an evacuation bag that contains basic personal items. You don't want to end up in a community shelter and have to borrow somebody else's toothbrush. Take season-appropriate clothing, a water filter, some energy bars, basic toiletries, prescription medications, a change of underwear and socks, a flashlight, fire starter, emergency blanket — stuff like that will go a long way toward making your life as an exile more bearable.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The New Ten Essentials — A System Approach

The point of the Ten Essentials list (developed by the Mountaineers Club, with origins in the climbing course taught by the Club since the 1930s) has always been to help answer two basic questions: First, can you respond positively to an accident or emergency? Second, can you safely spend a night—or more—out? The list has evolved over time from a list of individual items to a list of functional systems; the updated Ten Essential Systems list is included in Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, 8th Edition.

Ten Essentials: The Classic List
  1. Map
  2. Compass
  3. Sunglasses and sunscreen
  4. Extra clothing
  5. Headlamp/flashlight
  6. First-aid supplies
  7. Firestarter
  8. Matches
  9. Knife
  10. Extra food
Ten Essential Systems
  1. Navigation (map & compass)
  2. Sun protection (sunglasses & sunscreen)
  3. Insulation (extra clothing)
  4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
  5. First-aid supplies
  6. Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candle)
  7. Repair kit and tools
  8. Nutrition (extra food)
  9. Hydration (extra water)
  10. Emergency shelter (tent/plastic tube tent/garbage bag)
1. Navigation — Always carry a detailed topographic map of the area you are visiting, and place it in a protective case or plastic covering. Always carry a compass. Climbers may also choose to carry other navigational tools such as an altimeter or global positioning system (GPS) receiver; other aids include route markers, route descriptions, and other types of maps or photos.

2. Sun Protection — Carry and use sunglasses, sunscreen for the lips and skin, and clothing for sun protection.

3. Insulation (Extra Clothing) — How much extra clothing is necessary for an emergency? The garments used during the active portion of a climb and considered to be the basic climbing outfit include inner and outer socks, boots, underwear, pants, shirt, sweater or fleece jacket, hat, mittens or gloves, and raingear. The term “extra clothing” refers to additional layers that would be needed to survive the long, inactive hours of an unplanned bivouac.

4. Illumination — Even if the climbing party plans to return to their cars before dark, it is essential to carry a headlamp or flashlight, just in case. Batteries and bulbs do not last forever, so carry spares of both at all times.

5. First-Aid Supplies — Carry and know how to use a first-aid kit, but do not let a first-aid kit give you a false sense of security. The best course of action is to always take the steps necessary to avoid injury or sickness in the first place. At a minimum, a first-aid kit should include gauze pads in various sizes, roller gauze, small adhesive bandages, butterfly bandages, triangular bandages, battle dressing (or Carlisle bandage), adhesive tape, scissors, cleansers or soap, latex gloves, and paper and pencil.

6. Fire — Carry the means to start and sustain an emergency fire. Most climbers carry a butane lighter or two instead of matches in a waterproof container. Either must be absolutely reliable. Firestarters are indispensable for igniting wet wood quickly to make an emergency campfire. Common firestarters include candles, chemical heat tabs, and canned heat. On a high-altitude snow or glacier climb, where firewood is nonexistent, it is advisable to carry a stove as an additional emergency heat and water source.

7. Repair Kit and Tools — Knives are so useful in first aid, food preparation, repairs, and climbing that every party member needs to carry one. Leashes to prevent loss are common. Other tools (pliers, screwdriver, awl, scissors) can be part of a knife or a pocket tool, or carried separately—perhaps even as part of a group kit. Other useful repair items are shoelaces, safety pins, needle and thread, wire, duct tape, nylon fabric repair tape, cable ties, plastic buckles, cordage, webbing, and parts for equipment such as tent, stove, crampons, snowshoes, and skis.

8. Nutrition (Extra Food) — For shorter trips, a one-day supply of extra food is a reasonable emergency stockpile in case foul weather, faulty navigation, injury, or other reasons delay the planned return. An expedition or long trek may require more. The food should require no cooking, be easily digestible, and store well for long periods. A combination of jerky, nuts, candy, granola, and dried fruit works well. If a stove is carried, cocoa, dried soup, and tea can be added. There are many possibilities.

9. Hydration (Extra Water) — Carry extra water and have the skills and tools required for obtaining and purifying additional water. Always carry at least one water bottle or collapsible water sack. Daily water consumption varies greatly. Two quarts (liters) daily is a reasonable minimum; in hot weather or at high altitudes, 6 quarts may not be enough. In dry environments, carry additional water. Plan for enough water to accommodate additional requirements due to heat, cold, altitude, exertion, or emergency.

10. Emergency Shelter — If the climbing party is not carrying a tent, carry some sort of extra shelter from rain and wind, such as a plastic tube tent or a jumbo plastic trash bag. Another possibility is a reflective emergency blanket. It can be used in administering first aid to an injured or hypothermic person, or can double as a means of

Adapted from Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills, 8th Edition by The Mountaineers, The Mountaineers Books, $29.95 (paperback), $39.95 (hardback).

Keeping in mind that the list was generated by and for mountaineers, and is being used by search and rescue organizations, it also has application for all outdoor enthusiasts. With that in mind, I would add an eleventh category — Signaling / Communication. When you're in a survival situation, the faster you can establish contact with the outside world, the faster you get out of the survival situation. Items to include in the additional category include such things as a signal mirror, whistle, 2-way radio, cell phone, personal locator beacon.