Saturday, November 26, 2011


What do I consider the single most important survival skill  I'd have to say that awareness, the simple state of consciousness of your surroundings, potential opportunities, actual or perceived threats and your own physical and mental condition and levels, is, without a doubt, the one thing  that can contribute the most to one's success.
In a survival situation you must be aware of a host of different and ever changing conditions and possible situations. When to build a fire, the best shelter, whether to travel or hunker down, drinking water and food needs - the list is almost endless - and your decisions and actions may mean life or death.

Survival situations demand the ability to remain calm, flexible and to make rational decisions even while under very stressful and unfamiliar conditions.  When pushed to the limits and totally outside your comfort zone it can be very difficult to make quick decisions that may have such grave results. It's at times like these that awareness can contribute the most.

Is awareness a skill that can be learned?  Absolutely!  Awareness can be developed by training and practice just like any other skill. Once you recognize the need, that is - become aware of, its importance and how it can effect or even direct your decision making you'll be on your way to learning this as a skill. It's an important and essential skill that can aid you in everyday life whether functioning in the modern world or in the wild.   
Here's a simple example what I mean: Let's say you are totally lost, no hope of finding your way back to camp before dark and have decided to hunker down for the night. Right then and there you are faced with a number of quick decisions you'll have to make. Do you need to build a shelter? How about a fire? Where's the best place to spend the night and why? If - during all that time leading up to and previous to this exact moment in time, you were paying attention- that is: aware of: your surroundings, the environment, weather conditions, your physical condition  etc., etc., the decision and next course of action would be easy. 

You'd already have it figured out and know exactly what to do. Why? Because you were aware. You had already made a mental note of the weather conditions, what materials you had available for a shelter, how much time you had to accomplish the tasks and the best possible course of action. In other words: You were practicing awareness.

Can you take this to higher levels. Most certainly and, again, it's by training and knowledge.  Ethnobotany and Primitive Skills are two perfect examples of skills that will help greatly in developing awareness.  The more you learn about nature: plants, trees, animals and their uses the more aware you will become of not only your surroundings but of their many survival uses. If you are hiking through the woods and know that certain plants can be used for making fire, others are great sources of food, others for shelter, cordage, etc. the more awareness you will practice and develop.  When you walk through a forest and can't see the forest for the trees as the old saying goes - you can't really " be aware" of anything but the most basic - Yep, duh, I'm in the woods. Your goal should be to be aware of and be able to make use of  all that nature can provide. That Willow Tree you passed - that's medicine, fire, shelter, baskets, cordage, all there for the taking. Those Cattails next to the pond: more food ( lots of it), shelter, fire, medicine. Those rocks you tripped over: fire, heat, weapons, tools.

Once you become aware of what nature can provide and just as important - how to use it,  then the more aware and better prepared you will become.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Garbage Bag Emergency Shelter

Garbage Bag Shelter Field Test

This is the last night of a 2 week visit to my favorite State: Colorado, and tomorrow we drive into Denver, spend the night in a hotel and fly back to Florida. I'm hoping the temperatures are below the boiling point as it's now mid Oct. You know, Fall, leaves turned to gold, a crisp to the air. Everywhere except South FL that is.

The first night out here we woke to about 3 inches of snow and temperatures in the mid 20's. The high that day was 29 degrees and when you factor in the wind chill that's made it around 10 degrees, give or take. A long way from Florida weather.

Luckily it warmed up to the high 60's the following week and the wife and I got to do a lot of back country hiking and a little gold prospecting. Actually, we were looking for areas where we good do some gold panning and run a small sluice box when we come back next spring.  We found lots of very promising high country creeks in the Pike Natl. Forest and my research shows that they were all gold producers back "in the day". We also did a little gem hunting and found some nice feldspar, milky quartz and a very nice topaz crystal. These little gems didn't come easy folks. I'm talking 2 miles straight up, both ways, and at 10 thousand feet plus altitude that's a hike.

Enough of the vacation slides, (anybody remember those).  This blog is to report on some field tests I made using a 3 mil, 55 gal. garbage bag for a quick emergency shelter. My test conditions were with temperatures at 30 degrees F. and a north westerly wind at about 15 knots. Factor in wind chill and we're talking 9 degrees.  My first exposure was wearing just a pair of jeans and a thin tee shirt. Standing directly in the wind I lasted about 5 minutes before I started to shiver. BTW - this was at night, no sun to help with the warming. 

After warming up inside the camper I cut a small hole in the garbage bag to peak through, pulled it over my head, set my timer and stepped outside.  After about 30 minutes of star gazing I started to get a chill and noticed myself trying to avoid contact with the cold plastic. Remember, all I had on my torso was that tee shirt.  I didn't actually start to shiver.  I was just starting to get uncomfortable and supper was ready so I called that test and went inside.

After eating a warm meal and warming back to normal I decided to try another test, this time wearing a light fleece jacket over the tee shirt. Same drill - I slipped the garbage bag over my head, set my wrist watch timer and resumed my star watching.  By now the thermometer was reading 29 degrees and the wind was what I'd call "very sharp". One hour later, and approaching my bed time, I called it quits. I was just the slightest bit cold. Could I have made it another 12 hours or so? I think so but it would certainly have been a long night.
These tests were out in the open, fully exposed to a very brisk and cold wind.  Doing nothing else besides getting myself out of that cold wind made a huge difference. I tested this by simply moving to the lee side of my camper, out of the wind.  Almost immediately I could tell the difference.  My body was now able to produce enough heat that I could feel it warming up inside the bag.  Adding a big bed of leaves or pine boughs to nestle down into would have made a huge difference, maybe even a life or death difference.

Obviously there was nothing scientific about that test and you have to take into account individual tolerances to cold and also the clothing one would be wearing.

Regardless, that simple, inexpensive garbage bag could easily prove to be a life saver and I plan on carrying one in my personal survival kit.

Monday, August 1, 2011


Why use snares to procure food, fur and hides rather than the steel  leg hold and body gripping traps? There are many valid and compelling reasons, especially for those that are on a limited budget, have limited and quite often little free time to devote to making and setting somewhat complicated trap sets that are required by standard trapping methods and equipment.

Snares were probably one of the first tools that early man utilized. By 15,000 B.C. snaring was already a sophisticated and commonly practiced art. Cave art in Europe and Africa show ancient hunters using snares as tools to gather food.  Of course, there’s a big difference between the snares used by our ancestors and today’s modern steel snares. Likewise, the techniques are much different, and in my humble opinion, much improved.

Snaring is quiet, very efficient, low cost and very simple to do once a few very basic guidelines and basic methods are learned. The tools required to set a snare are simple, lightweight, inexpensive and easily transported in a small backpack or possibles bag and in most cases can be found and collected right at the site.

Unlike steel leg hold and body grip traps, snares are easily made as needed by the trapper and can actually be made up while in the field to suit specific situations and/or target animals.
Just like steel traps, snares are out there working for you 24/7. Once the simple basics of properly setting traps are learned a survivalist can set dozens of snares in a fraction of the time it would take to make and set the common leg hold type sets,  and with much less effort.  Meaning much less time expended, fewer calories burned and much less energy wasted.

Of course the big difference, especially for someone thrust into a survival situation, is that you can make your snares from natural materials. Try making a steel  leg hold trap from scratch!!  I know of no where on the globe, the source being plant and/or animal, that one cannot find some natural material to make a snare.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wants and Needs

In true survival situations, as well as in life, it is very difficult for anyone to completely separate themselves from their “wants”.  From years of habit, conditioning and self indulgence, we have come to think of our ‘wants” as our “needs” and now-a-days, we all have a lot of self perceived “needs”.  If we find ourselves in a situation or circumstance where we are denied these “wants”, our lives can completely unravel or at least, become very uncomfortable to the point that we are thrust into a survival mode.

What are our actual wants and what are our actual needs? Let’s kick this around being as pragmatic and reasonable as possible. Our actual “needs” have not changed since man first walked the Earth. Not in the least.  Two million years ago our “needs” were the same as they are today. To survive, man, and all animals, has three basic requirements. Please keep in mind that I am talking individuals and short term.  Not propagating the species, reproduction and not long term survival of the species. Just the most basic needs someone surviving in the wilds would need. Those three requirements or “needs” are:  shelter, water and food. That’s it. That’s the way it has always been. That is the way it will always be.

That order, shelter, water, then food, is not carved in stone. There are a lot of factors that can effect and switch that order of importance.  If the weather and surrounding ambient temperatures happens to be perfect, then shelter is, for the time being, of lesser importance.  If there is an abundance of clean, pure drinking water, but it’s snowing and cold as a ditch digger’s belt buckle, then obviously, that order has changed.  Regardless of the order, those three specific needs have to be considered and complied with fully, or we die. A lack of one, or more likely a combination, of those three basics will result in death.

What is a shelter?  The answer is anything that will maintain our core body temperatures at 98.6 degrees F. That’s it. Whatever satisfies that very basic and simple requirement?  End of discussion.  What is water? What is food? Of course we all know those answers and I do not intend to enter into that long, never ending discussion on calorie in-take, daily water consumptions, proteins verses carbohydrates etc. Those issues have been beaten to a frazzle and for the most part, never fully address, and sometimes cloud or ignore the basic and core issues.

So what about our wants?  All those things we confuse with, actually consider as needs.   I want a hot meal and a cold beer.  I want a soft bed and my TV.  I want to be surrounded by four strong walls, with family photos hanging on them. I want a fridge filled with food. I want to push a button and get ice. I want, and I now expect, a hell of a lot of things.

What do I actually need?   Very little. Just those three simple aforementioned things. Are those things easily obtainable?  Maybe, maybe not. It may well depend on your training, knowledge and ability to cope.

If your training,  basic skills and knowledge is limited to “modern”  techniques, materials and tools – plastic for shelters, chemicals for water treatment and fire steels to make a fire, as examples,  then you’d better hope that those things are at hand, and maybe even in abundance or else you are going to find yourself  “out in the cold” (pun intended).

If the only way you know how to start a fire is with a cigarette lighter, matches or a fire steel – modern implements - there is only a slim chance you’ll be able to build a fire using a friction method.  If you have never considered or practiced filtering and/or purifying water using only natural materials and methods and you find yourself without fire or chemicals, how are you going to do that? 

How about natural shelters?  Think you can just throw one of those together?  One that can maintain that core body temperature  around 98 degrees?  Not very likely folks.  Especially if you cannot make a fire.

So the point here is simple.  If your training and skills are limited to basic,  modern survival methods than it would be a smart thing to make sure you are never caught  in a true survival situation without modern tools and materials.  If the only thing you have ever made an emergency shelter from is a piece of plastic, you might want to make sure you carry that. If you have only started a fire using fire steel and a cotton ball soaked in petroleum jelly,  you’d best have one in your pocket if and when you need a fire.

I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. To be truly prepared for any survival situation you need to learn and become proficient in primitive skills.   Those skills that our ancestors used daily for  thousands of years. The only skills that can get you through any and all real survival situations.