All too often when someone brings up or mentions the word “Survival”, people automatically think about preppers, television shows like Survivor or even the crazy people that believe that the zombie apocalypse is upon us. But the truth is, survival is something that everyone should be familiar with and you definitely shouldn’t allow technology to make you complacent.
While it is true that a lot of us live in or near the city and that roughly 95% of Americans own a cell phone, ignoring the basics of survival can still put you in a bad spot. Within this post, we will cover some of the things that you should take with you or take into consideration in order to avoid the possibility of being thrown into the hurt locker.
Before we jump into this post with both feet, I would like to say that Demographics will play a big factor when determining what you should learn and what you may want to buy. Obviously, we cannot sit here and write about every feasible scenario that you may encounter; if we attempted to do that, it would probably look like all 32 volumes of the Encylopedia Brittanica (even though this post might end up being pretty long, in the end, anyway).
A bulk of the information that we will be presenting to you will pretty much work across the board, however, you need to do a little research on surviving in your particular region in order to be prepared.
The Absolute Basics
Stuff that you should consider getting for a survival pack
- Water – Keep at least a 1-gallon jug or 12-pack box of emergency water packets (also known as a 72 hour supply).
- Mylar blanket – Also known as an emergency blanket or space blanket. These reflect body heat and even if you are in the desert, it can get cold at night. You can also use these as a walking umbrella to keep the sun from beating down on you in case you must travel during the day.
- *Optional Wool type blanket – If you are in colder regions, a wool type blanket (you can find them at surplus/army navy stores) combined with the mylar blanket is great. You can also use the wool blanket to help keep you off of the cold ground inside your shelter if you need to.
- A multitool or locking pocket knife – Do I really need to explain how valuable either one can be?
- A First Aid Kit – Yes, you should keep a first aid kit in your vehicle! At the bare minimum, you can try to keep things from becoming infected if you get cut.
- Some form of fire starter – Whether it is a magnesium and flint fire starter or even a 9v battery and some steel wool, get a good fire starter. Do not rely on a Bic lighter or even a zippo, expect Murphy’s law and the chances that the moment you need that lighter, it might not work.
- 550 Cord – Also known as parachute cord; get a 100′ roll of it and keep it with your gear. The number of things that can be done with 550 cord is almost endless.
- Duct Tape – At least get a small roll of it; it only has about a gazillion uses.
- 1 Condom (non-lubricated), 1 Tampon and a few packs of alcohol prep pads – No, it’s not a joke; you can use the condom for holding/collecting water (also works better if you put the condom inside of a sock; helps prevent breakage). The tampon can be used to help get your fire going (basically use it as kindling); same with the alcohol prep pads, those combined with the tampon will help you to get damp wood burning.
- Signal Mirror and distress whistle – they can be found on Amazon for cheap and they will definitely help get rescuer’s attention.
- At least 1 heavy duty, extra large garbage bag or a small tarp – Multiple uses from keeping clothes and/or gear dry and you can cut it open and use it to help waterproof your shelter.
- Water purification tablets – If you’re not camping, hiking, etc., then water purification tablets can be optional I guess. However, I would rather have them and not need them than need them and not have them.
- 1 Stainless steel Water bottle or canteen cup – Obviously they will hold water, but in cold and/or snowy conditions, you will be able to melt the snow and warm up the water.
- Emergency Food Bars or MREs – Don’t expect them to taste good (some barely have any taste at all) but they will supply calories when needed. I suggest food bars over MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) only because they take up less room and they are cheaper.
- A couple plastic shopping bags – You know, the ones that California is trying to get rid of. Keep a couple of these with your gear; you can use them for a few different things. You can even use them and some duct tape to wrap your feet in case you have to walk through the snow; it’ll keep your feet dry.
Keep your Head in the Game
When it comes to surviving, there are some key points that cannot be stressed enough:
- Protecting yourself from the elements (Shelter)
- Signaling for Help
Attitude is extremely important because it sets the pace. If you allow yourself to panic, you not only make things worse but panicking can lead to serious injury. One of the first things that we were taught was to remember and stick to the acronym SPEAR. SPEAR stands for:
SPEAR is pretty easy to remember and, let’s be honest, it’s pretty straightforward with what needs to be done. You do not want to just head off in a certain direction with no plan. Systematically sticking to the SPEAR mindset will also help avoid panicking and other negative states of mind. Keeping your attitude in check, preventing panic and sticking to SPEAR will greatly improve your chances of survival.
Also, you need to remember the rules of three. The “Rules of Three” basically state that a human can survive:
- Three minutes without air
- Three hours without regulating your body’s temperature
- Three days without water
- Three weeks without food
The Rules of Three will help you remember how you should prioritize your most important survival skills; find shelter, find water then find food.
Protecting Yourself from the Elements (Shelter)
Almost every person who has been in serious ‘trouble’ in a ‘survival’ situation has gotten into that predicament because of exposure to the elements. Those stranded in more arid environments have suffered from hyperthermia (elevated body temperature) while those in colder environments have ended up suffering from hypothermia (drop in body temperature). You must do everything you can to protect yourself from the wind, rain, cold, and/or heat.
Protecting yourself from the elements can involve everything from staying in your vehicle, finding natural shelter (such as caves, rock overhangs, hollow logs, etc) as well as building shelters from natural materials (lean-tos made from branches, debris huts/tipis, and/or snow shelters) or man-made materials (using discarded trash such as tires, wood boards, plywood, etc).
It is important that you consider a few different factors when building your shelter.
- Heat Source – Are you able to build a fire and are you able to build it safely?
- Location – Build it away from hazards and near materials or supplies.
- Insulation – Is it going to protect you from the wind, rain, and ground?
- Individual or Group – Is the shelter going to be just for you or will it be for a group of people?
It is crucial that you do everything that you can to find or build a shelter that will help you regulate your body temperature. Once your body temperature gets out of control, especially in a survival setting, it becomes quite difficult to get it back to normal.
Water – That’s high quality H2O
Okay, enough with the Waterboy references but on a serious note, as I’ve mentioned before, the human body can only go three days without water before things go south real fast. The flip side of that coin, however, don’t take shortcuts and drink potentially unsafe water for fear that it will be the only water that you might find. If you didn’t heed my advice of keeping at least a gallon of water or a case of emergency water packets at hand, there are other ways of obtaining that precious life source (I attempted to figure a way to interject a General Ripper quote from Dr. Strangelove, but I failed on that part).
You can always use the garbage bags or tarp to collect water from rain, streams, rivers or snow.
One of the biggest things that you need to keep in mind with cold environments is that being wet and cold is a big no-no. Being cold is one thing but the minute that you get wet (either from sweating, rain/sleet or from snow itself) things start going downhill fast. You need to do whatever you can to keep warm; you do not want to become hypothermic. In a lot of cases (where you accidentally get stranded in your vehicle), you can simply use your vehicle as a shelter instead of trying to find something or make one. The only downside to a vehicle is that you cannot always just stay with the vehicle. You may need to venture from the vehicle in order to find help.
If it is just cold (no snow) you need to either find or build a shelter to keep the wind off of you as much as possible. Using the trash bags or tarp with the duct tape and 550 cord will allow you to build a windbreak and also help prevent the possibility of getting wet (in case it starts raining). This is also where I suggest having both a mylar ’emergency’ blanket and a wool blanket; using both of them will help you stay as warm as possible, however, don’t overdo it to the point where you start sweating.
In snowy conditions (I actually prefer snowy conditions over just cold), you can use that to your advantage. In areas like Northern US and Canada, you can use heavy snow coverage to create your shelter. Mounding snow (somewhat similar to igloos) and evergreen branches can help you keep the wind at bay. It is important to keep in mind that you must clear all of the snow from where you want to try and make your fire. I cannot recall how many people skipped that step when we were in survival training and quickly ended up regretting it.
Another thing to keep in mind is using the plastic grocery bags in snowy environments. A lot of people that have never been in a survival or a stranded situation don’t think about walking through the snow. Unless you are wearing waterproof boots, walking through the snow will result in cold and wet feet. If you are wearing anything other than waterproof boots, take the plastic grocery bags and duct tape, place a bag over each foot and wrap them with the duct tape. The duct tape will reinforce the plastic bag and keep snow from getting into the bag; it’ll suck when you try and get the bags off, but it is still much better than dealing with trench foot or frostbite.
On a side note, for those of you that do that thing called ‘camping’, during the winter months just keep your sleeping bag in the vehicle. Every winter I throw my old Army modular (5 in 1) sleeping bag in the bed of my truck, just in case. I’ve never had to use it, but at least if I need it, it’s there.
Don’t ingest snow! It is actually something that has resulted in the death of people who have been stranded in the winter. Yes, snow can be a great source of water, but you need to heat it up first. Ingesting snow without heating it up will only add to the risk of hypothermia (not to mention that your body has to heat up the snow in order to turn it into a liquid). In addition, ‘dirty’ snow can contain bacteria and other organisms that can make you sick. Melting the snow with a fire and then adding water purification tablets (if you cannot find a good source of water and/or you didn’t listen to the stuff that I said you needed to pack or you ran out of your emergency water) would be your best bet.
This is where MREs and/or emergency energy bars are important. Your body automatically starts burning through calories in order to produce internal heat to protect itself from the cold. In addition to this, stress from attempting to survive in the cold will also diminish fat reserves to produce immediate energy for potential fight or flight scenarios. Finally, working in the cold (building a shelter, gathering firewood, moving snow, etc) will also burn through calories like there is no tomorrow. On average, the physical demand of performing tasks such as the aforementioned points can burn between 400-700 calories an hour. While that doesn’t seem like too much when compared to running or swimming when you are stuck in a survival situation burning those calories without putting them back can lead to a dangerous situation.
Being hypoglycemic can cause mental confusion, affect your decision making and even lead to cardiac arrhythmias. All of which are extremely bad for survival. In order to avoid hypoglycemia, you have to eat plenty of simple sugars and carbohydrates.