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Thread: What good is having survival gear if you do not know how to survive?

  1. #1
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    Default What good is having survival gear if you do not know how to survive?

    For years I have carried survival gear thinking I could survive if I got in trouble and when it did happen or tried to use my gear, I found I had nothing but useless gear. I read books on survival and went to every class I could find. When it came to the real world (surviving in Alaska) the books and classes only told how you could survive under the best of conditions not the worst. I read about how to build a Quin-ee or snow cave and one man shelter. It was not until I built one and realized what the books did not tell you. If you did not know what you were doing the building of a snow shelter could cause you to loose a finger or two from frost bite and that was the good news.

    Being able to make and keep a fire going in the winter is extremely important, have any of you ever looked around when you were out snowmobiling and did you see any wood to burn? Have you ever tried to start a fire in the winter? I dare you to do it!

    Have you ever done any winter camping? If you have you know there is a learning cure that you go through to determine how to keep warm and that all the gear you can carry. In a survival situation you have nothing.


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    Member Frostbitten's Avatar
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    From my experience, the books tell you how to do it, but they don't adequately tell you how much hard work it will take to do it. The steps in building a snow shelter are easy to read, but the amount of work involved can't be imagined, it has to be experienced. That holds true for most every other survival skill.

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    Member EagleRiverDee's Avatar
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    Many books will tell you to practice it when your life doesn't depend on it, and I agree. I took a winter survival course offered by UAA and we had to do 5 overnighters as part of the course. We learned navigation with map and compass, avalanche safety, how to build multiple types of shelters- and then we had to sleep in them. I highly recommend taking such a course- the hands-on practice is invaluable. Second to that I'd say, read the books, and then practice the skills. By actually doing it, you cement it in your mind and learn any special tricks to whatever skill you're attempting. Just reading about it, you could forget key skills when you need them most.

    You're absolutely right that starting a fire in winter would be hard- locating wood, finding wood dry enough to burn, locating tinder...that would be tough. I carry a can of sterno with me and a 12 hr candle which both can be used as a source of heat or to melt water. I carry matches and a lighter and a magnesium bar, but I also carry road flares. The bottom line is in the winter starting a fire would be hard. The road flare is my last resort to starting a fire. I've been able to start some pretty wet wood with a road flare before.

    Here's just a smidgen of the things we learned by doing:
    -A snowcave roof must be rounded for structural support, smoothed to prevent drips, and ideally glazed from the heat of a candle so any condensation runs down the walls and doesn't drip right on you.
    -A small candle can heat the interior of a snow cave to a very comfortable 50 degrees.
    -Building an igloo is really hard- and don't build the base too big in diameter or you won't be able to reach the roof to put the final cap on. Having a tall person in the team is helpful.
    -Boil water before bed, put it in your water bottle, put the water bottle in a hat and take it to bed with you. The heat will keep you warm, the hat keeps the bottle from burning you, and the water will be there for you to drink, cook with etc. in the morning.
    -If you do store water outside, store the bottle upside down in the snow- ice forms in the top. This will keep the lid ice free.
    -When you build a Quinzee hut, the snow needs to "set" for several hours after you pile it up. Do that first, do the rest of your camp needs second. Sticks of a uniform length poked into pile of snow will give you an idea how thick your walls/roof are as you're digging it out so you know when to stop.

    My main goal any time I'm packing my survival gear is to know I can safely spend the night and keep reasonably warm if I have to.
    "If snowmachiners would adopt the habits of riding one at a time and not parking at the base of avalanche prone slopes, the number of fatalities would likely be whittled by at least a third, if not by half." ~ Jill Fredston, in the book Snowstruck, In The Grip Of Avalanches.

  4. #4

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    There are some people who have survival kits that have never used or practiced with its contents. The only thing that the kit really gives them is the confidence to exceed their personal capability/experience level. The time to learn and get experience is NOT during a life threatening crisis. For the average person, if you're really smart, you will avoid needing your survival kit because if you actually need it, you've exceeded safe operating parameters and you're riding the edge of injury/death. Being skilled at employing your equipment is always a good safety measure!

    Just my 2 cents.

    AJ

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    Member Erik in AK's Avatar
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    Good topic.

    The most important survival tool you can carry is knowledge. Reading is a good start but skill and confidence comes from practice. Fire craft and shelter craft are the two most important skills to master for adventuring about in Alaska because combined they provide the greatest margin of survivability.

    Some will argue for advanced medical training. I disagree with that point because generally if you're hurt to the point where you need to self-administer complicated medical procedures you're probably already incapacitated to the point where you can't. You probably couldn't build yourself a fire or shelter either so when "what if'ing" it's best and most practical to stick with scenarios that test your abilities not overwhelm them.

    I suggest practicing firecraft at every camping trip. Most folks have a fire anyway so why not use that opportunity to test yourself. Try building a fire with only your non-dominant hand--this tests you and your choice of firestarting tools. Try timing yourself--this simulates the hypothermic friend scenario and was the standard to which I and many others who've attended any of the USAF's survival schools were trained--Knee High in 5. Another good cold weather simulator is if you're on/near a river, immerse your hands in the water until they're painfully stiff/numb then try and build a fire as fast as you can.

    MyTime nailed it...almost. Being skilled at employing your equipment is always the BEST safety measure.
    Select items for your kit based on simplicity and reliability first, then practice using that item in as realistic a situation as you can.
    If cave men had been trophy hunters the Wooly Mammoth would be alive today

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    Member cdubbin's Avatar
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    When I was in boy scouts back in central Idaho, we'd do winter survival training that consisted of sleeping out in subzero weather, sometimes in the open, sometimes in snow shelters; the next day there'd be competitions with teams running an obstacle course, then starting a fire from scratch. Whichever team cooked a pancake the fastest over the open fire, won. These were 10, 11, 12-year old kids. I've been able to draw on those early lessons to start fires in all kinds of weather-blowing rain, dumping wet snow, whatever.
    "– Gas boats are bad enough, autos are an invention of the devil, and airplanes are worse." ~Allen Hasselborg

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    First of all this is a great topic, secondly there is some great tips here as well.
    I believe one point here has not been covered and that is keeping your head in the game. There is a lot of great gear out there now that will help you sustain for a short time out on your own.
    If you don’t know how to use it then why have. If you do not practice it when you don’t need it then you will not be able to effectively deploy it when you do need it. The old phrase “we fight the way we train”
    Knowing how to conserve energy and maximizing what you have will go a lot further in a survival situation than not following basic rules.
    Having a basic level of Medical will be very helpful; it will also help you see your own limitation.
    Learning curve in Alaska wow I would agree, but life is a learning curve as well. I do a fare bit of winter camping when I am home but I do remember the first couple of time I went out. As a rule of thumb carry two of everything because chances are one will break when you need it. Case in point while out camping on my snow machine I had a small propane stove that I planned to use for meals -14 degree propane does now boil to a gas very well. I had a whisper lite gas stove as a back up and it saved the day.
    Remaining calm and level headed will most likely get you thru most problems that you will encounter out there.

    Good luck

    Sweepint
    Wasilla, (when not overseas)
    '' Livn' The Dream ''
    26' Hewescraft Cuddy, twin 115 Yam

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    Member fullbush's Avatar
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    I think it should be mandatory every human be put in a survival situation w/o training. Its called the natural selection. the human gene pool would be whittled down, common sense would prevail and the world would live in harmony and bliss. We hypothetically would be idiot-free
    Since this philosophy is mean and crass and you bleeding hearts would flag my post, I have to give Rutting Mooses idea a thumbs up and thank him for bringing this up. You should challenge yourself like he said. Or read Jack Londons "To Build A Fire", that'll give you some understanding of living on the edge


    I just thought of something I should mention so I came back to edit---I worked on the slope for 5 winters from '95 to '2000 and I used to scoff at all the safety crap they drilled in our heads. Haha We're getting paid for more stupid survival training I would say. People were encouraged to write near miss reports, stuff like a "a rock chipped the windshield" or " I almost ran over a pallet w/ the forklift" The boss would ask me how come I never wrote a near miss report, I said where I come from if you come out of your coma or if the bleeding stops, we write up a near miss. Well when I had my boat fire in PWS in nov of 2000, I wouldn't be here right now if it were not for the "stupid" things I learned in those meaningless safety classes....ok i'm done

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    Moderator LuJon's Avatar
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    Definitely a good topic. That said I wonder what the FWT would think of my teaching my kids how to use our emergency fish net on some remote stream.

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    Member cdubbin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LuJon View Post
    Definitely a good topic. That said I wonder what the FWT would think of my teaching my kids how to use our emergency fish net on some remote stream.
    Maybe if you BYOF, lol!
    "– Gas boats are bad enough, autos are an invention of the devil, and airplanes are worse." ~Allen Hasselborg

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    Member Vince's Avatar
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    speaking of snow caves.. anyone teach ya's how to do it here in the interior? at -20 the snow is a nice sugary powder that wont stick together.. no matter how hard you try.. takes two-three days of heaping it in a pile.. to get it firmed up enough to hollow out even.. Most don't have that kind of time.

    what makes getting a fire so difficult is that every thing has a flash point in that the temp it needs to reach before it will combust..

    you need a sustained heat source to keep the fire going, as well a way to keep the fire itself hot.. at -40 a small fire can loose heat faster then it can generate it thus preventing it from growing or igniting MORE tinder.

    birch bark at -40 will not light and burn with a lighter like it will at 40 above. the oils in it need to get hot, and sustain heat to burn.

    candles will scorch the surface of tinder and may make some smolder.. but the tinder may well cool faster then the candle can heat it and never really burn.

    the fire needs to be enclosed in a depression, coffee can, or anything that will trap its own heat and reflect it BACK into the fire.. a snow mound will work in a pinch but will also. melt back into it thus COOLING and extinguishing the fire..

    fire needs three things

    fuel
    O2
    heat..

    the fire triangle... remove one side you do not have fire... the ambient air can remove the heat faster then you can provide it.. the colder it is the harder to do.

    i have dumped 5 gallons of diesel on brush piles in the winter.-40 and colder. only to have the diesel burn off and go out.. but at zero or warmer ignite the brush.
    "If you are on a continuous search to be offended, you will always find what you are looking for; even when it isn't there."

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    Member Rock_skipper's Avatar
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    Vince, I have been on cat trains at -40 or below that and had no problem starting a fire. That being said, it is harder, but not difficult, with what nature provides. The under brush of even a Black Spruce with some help from some birch bark will get it going. If its to cold, stick it under your arm for a couple of minutes. ( just saying )

    What do you carry in your kit?

    It doesnt hurt to carry a small tarp, a hatchet, and with those two things you can build a yurt of sorts,( a little rope helps at times ) Build a burrow out of whatever is around, spread the tarp over it and cover it with snow. ( Leave a smoke hole)

    My 2 cents, been there.

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