Utilizing case studies as a method of education is used in a variety of fields. From medicine to engineering, the conveying of information in the form of narrative makes the material accessible and easy to remember. Most people, including me, are visual and auditory learners. If you tell me a story and show me a pictures, I will generally have a high rate of retention of the information. This is something that most of the top survival guys use to educate people in these skills. Les Stroud (Survivor Man) often shares anecdotal survival gone wrong type stories with his viewers, and John Wiseman (author of the SAS Survival Manual) provides lots of good case study examples in his book. So, taking a cue from some of the best guys in the industry we should take a good look at some of these scenarios to better prepare ourselves for emergency situations.
Carrying on from the last article on the topic of survival skills and the current popularity of various television shows, I would like to discuss another TV show that is also very informative. Animal Planet’s I Shouldn’t Be Alive provides various examples of WHAT NOT TO DO, some little tricks that can save your ass, and the plethora of things that can go wrong in even the most casual of wilderness outings. I view the episodes of this show as case studies on the topic of survival. The majority of the people depicted in this show are everyday ordinary folks put into extraordinary situations.
I would like to share with you is the story of Dave. Dave took a solo winter rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. He packed his raft with about 2,000 lbs of equipment including a wet suit, tent, food, stove, sleeping bag, and just about every other comfort item you could think of. However, when his raft capsized and drifted down the river, he is left trapped in the canyon in 40-degree daytime weather dropping to freezing temps at night. He was soaked, barefoot, and wearing only a t-shirt, cargo shorts, and a life jacket. After 4 days of calorie deprivation and intense cold weather exposure, panic set in and he made the rash decision to attempt a barefoot free climb out of the canyon. During the climb, he fell 30 feet, broke 3 toes, and 4 teeth. Fortunately, he landed in the river and survived with minimal injuries. However, he was now wet again. He had no equipment on his person except a small pocketknife, the type you can buy for under $3 at a gas station and a small propane lighter. He was rescued after 7 days, hypothermic, starved, and near dead.
So what did Dave do wrong? First of all, Dave was ill-prepared for such a trip. Not in terms of equipment, on the contrary, he probably could have opened a respectable wilderness outfitter store with the gear inventory that he had on his raft. The two most important things that he lacked were knowledge and preparation. According to the narrator, even experienced rafters consider this run on the dangerous side. Dave, a novice rafter, not only chose to do this trip at the most dangerous time of year with regards to weather, but he also chose to do it ALONE! Additionally he failed to establish a good communication plan with ranger services and a trustworthy relative and friend who could alert authorities when he failed to “check in” at predetermined times. These oversights and poor decisions had a snowball effect that made all the small mistakes have the gravest of consequences, setting the scene for a struggle for survival.
Participation in any trip to the wilderness or other potentially dangerous endeavor should always be regarded as a carefully planned balance between safety/ preparation and comfort. On his first first day of rafting, after successfully negotiating the treacherous Lava Falls set of rapids, Dave confidently removed his cold weather wet suit, life jacket and shoes for comfort. He was not thinking ahead to additional sets of rapids further down the river and as a result, when he capsized and was thrown into the frigid waters of the Colorado River, he had NO thermal insulation.
The body looses heat in 4 ways: evaporation, respiration, radiation, convection and conduction. While not much can be done about evaporation and respiration, radiation, convection, and conduction can be mitigated with a little equipment, knowledge, and preparation.
Radiation occurs as your body naturally radiates heat a a product of metabolism. Conduction occurs as the ambient air and wind temperature carry the radiated heat away from the body. And finally, Conduction occurs when the body is in contact with a cold surface (ie. ground or water). Conduction is often the killing blow in almost all cold weather fatalities. With proper clothing to reduce heat loss and convection, and the knowledge of making or seeking shelter out of the wind with an insulating layer from the ground, you can maximize your ability to thermal regulate without little food and fire.
Fortunately, Dave did understand the concepts of radiation, convection, and conduction and was able to a minimal wind break shelter with insulation from the ground and a fire. If he did not have these minimal skills, he would not have laster the first night. He also had enough composure to build a rock signal for the areal rescue crews who would eventually be looking for him.
Whenever I enter the woods, I always carry the 6 C’s. The 6 C’s will provide the essentials for almost any situation. This is in addition to proper clothing.
- Cutting Tool- There is no tool more useful than a durable knife. Your knife should be sharp enough for fine cutting tasks and of strong enough steel that you can baton small trees.
- Combustion Tool- If you are a high speed Eagle Scout Ranger SF Recon guy who can make fire buy rubbing 2 sticks together, Congratulations. Now, proceed to place at least 3 methods for starting a fire in your pocket. I carry a flint, lighter, and waterproof/ strike anywhere matches along with Vaseline soaked cotton balls for tinder. All of these items are carried in a waterproof container in my pocket. Even under the most ideal circumstances, primitive fire starting methods are difficult. Now try it in a rainstorm in the dark. Go ahead, we will wait…
- Container for Water- This is obvious but cannot be overstated. You can live 3 minutes without oxygen, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food. So Breathe… and drink plenty of clear running water. A minimum of 1 liter is recommended for low activity, however 3 liters is ideal if you are doing a moderate amount of work. If you are low on water, do not conserve the water; conserve your sweat. Walk slower and pace yourself in all physical activity. I carry a military canteen with a steel canteen cup that can be used to boil water. There are also a variety of water treatment tablets that can be carried and used to kill the various water borne pathogens that have had million of years of evolution and practice to become quite adept at killing. The only other concern is industrial pollutants. There are a variety of filters on the market for removing these contaminants (petroleum, lead, mercury, arsenic, other heavy metals, etc). The majority of these are activated charcoal based.
- Chord- any string will do. I prefer to use parachute chord. It has a tensile strength of 550lbs and can be gutted to extend the amount of chord available. Parachute chord is comprised of a nylon sheath (300lbs) and 7 strands of nylon chord contained in the sheath (35lbs each).
- Cover- this is the most flexible category in the 5 C’s. The necessities of cover will be dictated by terrain, temperature, and weather. However, I suggest the carrying of a military poncho and mylar survival blanket at minimum. The mylar blanket is thin and can be folded and stuffed in a cargo pocket. These little miracles of modern technology reflect back 90% of radiated heat. They are ideal in cold weather as a blanket and in hot weather; they can be used as a rooftop for a shade shelter. The mylar will reflect back the majority of heat from the sun. As for the poncho liner, this adds another layer of insulation. The poncho can be used in a variety of waterproof shelter constructions. If you examine the image and link below, you can see the riveted eyelets around the entire edge of the poncho. These are used for lashing cordage to the poncho to make shelters easy to construct and highly durable. With the addition of a poncho liner, you can combine these components to make an effective field expedient sleeping bag in cold weather. Obviously if you intend on being out in the woods in winter weather, you should adjust your kit accordingly.
Please Note: I typically do not recommend cammo patterns for wilderness/ survival gear because, when things turn for the worse, you want to be visible. However when it comes to the poncho and poncho liner, I have not found anything in the civilian market comparable to the quality and durability for the price. To compensate for this, you may consider carrying a hunter orange signal panel to create a more visible profile when needed.
- Calories- In “old school” survival kits, you will generally find addition of a chocolate bar. This is true from from the Boy Scouts to the Green Berets. However, today we are fortunate to have a few more substantial options for emergency food. Most sports nutrition stores and grocers sell a variety of meal replacement and body building snack bars that are great for an emergency food supply.
A good example is Met-Rx Big 100 bars. They provide 400 calories (30g protein, 10g fat, and 47g carbs). A box of 12 bars will set you back about $25, but provide you with enough calories for 4 days. I prefer Powerbar Harverst bars. Regardless of preference, they are an extremely convenient and portable source of calories. A few bars in your waist pack or cargo pocket will provide you with enough energy to stay motivated and alive until you can be recused, self-rescue, or figure out other means of subsistence.
Please Note: There are a variety of emergency calorie bars. I have seen 3600 calorie bars priced anywhere from $6 to $10 per bar. I have not tried these and I am not sure of the portability of these items. If anyone has first hand knowledge of these, please leave some information in the comments section.
If you are frugal, this type of kit can be assembled for under $60 dollars. Military Surplus stores are a great source for the poncho and canteen gear. If you can get them used, you will save big bucks. Just be sure you check them for damage first. While it seems like a lot to carry “just in case,” the total list of items, with water in the canteen, will weigh in at less than 10 lbs. You can wear the canteen and knife your my belt, mylar blanket in a pocket, and the poncho and liner can be rolled and tied to your belt, chest, or back in a Hudson Bay Pack configuration. If done with a little care, you would not even know it was there.
So, if Dave had taken a few safety precautions, planned ahead, and avoided Bear Grylls styled injury-causing activities, perhaps his survival situation would have only been a minor inconvenience, or what I typically call an impromptu camping trip. Remember this, if you FAIL to PLAN, you have PLANNED to FAIL. Next week, I will go a little more in depth into the actual implementation of wilderness skills and the priorities of work in an emergency/ survival situation.
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Please check back next week for more on this topic as we gear up for what I would like to be annual FMA Camp and Survival Skills weekend in the Nashville TN area.
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