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Monday, October 4, 2010

Finding Natural Shelters For Wilderness Survival

Snow scene at Shipka PassImage via WikipediaFinding Natural Shelters For Wilderness Survival

A shelter is crucial to your survival if you are stuck or stranded in the wilderness.  Sometimes, you don't have the necessary tools and supplies to build an adequate shelter or injury prevents it. 

Look around, nature has probably given you something to work with if you stop for a moment to assess the situation.

Don't allow your mind to make the situation more difficult.  Take a moment to stop and really look at your options.  You will probably be pleasantly surprised at the numerous shelter options available to you.

Because the rain, sun, and extreme temperatures are hard on the body, you will need to find shelter quickly.  Your current environment offers shelter to numerous species of animals.   You, too, can also take shelter from the natural landscape.

A simple log, for instance,  can be useful for protection.  If the log is at the right angle to the wind, it becomes a handy windbreak for you to use for protection.  Another fantastic idea is to use another log or stick to dig out a hollow area in the ground, where you can sit or lie down,  to further protect yourself from the elements.

Hollow trees and logs are another option for shelter in a serious survival situation.  Whether the tree is standing or has fallen down, it can provide some shelter.  Broken boughs or sweeping branches can offer protection from the hot sun, pouring rain, or howling wind.

Overhangs and caves can provide a ready made area to rest and relax.  Use some rocks or debris and sticks to form a door to the shelter area for even greater protection from the elements. 

Caves can be home to animals such as insects, snakes, or other dangerous creatures, so be cautious when exploring these areas as a potential natural shelter. 

Even in snowy weather, you can take shelter beneath a medium-sized tree.  Pockets may form beneath the branches near the trunk.  Dig in the snow to locate such areas to use for shelter.  Stay inside an open pocket of snow.  Your body heat will remain in this area, rather than escaping, and help to keep you warm.  This will reduce the risk of frostbite and hypothermia.

If you are in an area that is completely open, sit with your back to the wind.  Pile any supplies or belongings behind you to act as a windbreak for protection.

You should always select your shelter area wisely.  Your shelter must be safe for survival.  Try to avoid dangerous areas with falling rocks or falling trees.  Proper  drainage and ventilation are also key to survival.  Areas that are too close to water may be dangerous due to flooding.

Next time you're out camping or on a hike challenge yourself to see if you can locate a natural shelter. It makes for good practice so you can learn to recognize shelters before your life may depend on it.

You can use logs, hollows, or caves to protect yourself from the wind, sun, and weather.  Even your supplies or broken limbs can offer some comfort. 

Finding a safe shelter to sleep and rest is crucial to your survival in an emergency.  You can use the assets of the environment to protect yourself until help arrives.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Outdoor Survival Kit Considerations

First-aid/Survival kitImage by germanium via FlickrOutdoor Survival Kit Considerations

If you are planning a trek through the wilderness, or simply want to be prepared, it is a good idea to have a survival kit.

Each survival kit should be personalized to meet your individual needs, as well as, suit the particular environment where you will be traveling. 

Many outdoor survival kits are available on the market, but you can make your own at home, or add to the ones purchased from the store.  All outdoor survival kits should include some basic items, plus specific things that will help you to make it through the wilderness successfully.

To reduce the size and weight of the outdoor survival kit, select items that have more than one purpose.  Items that only have one purpose may be crucial to survival, but if a similar product can perform the identical function, plus meet other needs, choose the one that offers the most options.

The outdoor survival kit should be split into two parts.  The part of the kit that stays in a pouch will contain the bulky items that you need to keep handy and accessible.  The other portion of the outdoor survival kit should be pocket-sized.  These are the items you use everyday.

Be familiar with each and every item in the outdoor survival kit.  An item is not going to help you survive if you don't know how to use it properly. 

A quality pocket knife is an essential part of the outdoor survival kit.  The survival knife is compact, so it can be carried with you all the time.  Choose a variety that is comfortable to use.  Various features may also be helpful and reduce the need for other items in the outdoor survival kit. 

Waterproof matches or a flint striker are must haves in an outdoor survival kit.  Fire can make the difference between success and failure, so always have these items available.  Practice using such items at home before you really need them.

Keep with you a small container for purifying drinking water.  This can may be used to melt snow or ice, or as a filter for drinking water.  You may wish to include water purifying tablets in your survival kit, as well.  

First aid items are a must for an outdoor survival kit.  Tape is number one, it can be used for bandages, for example in an emergency.  Include a small supply of necessary prescription medications for severe conditions that you may have, such as an inhaler for asthma.

A compass and map will be very helpful in an emergency.  These tools will allow you to find your way to help quickly and easily.    Rope, fish hooks, and dried foods, hard candy or other items that can be beneficial.

Vary your outdoor survival kit as needed to meet the environment and your skill level.  Also, consider the amount of space you will have to carry such items when making your outdoor survival kit. 

Outdoor survival kits will vary from person to person.  Also, your outdoor survival kit will need to be adapted to the specific environment.  Keep these things in mind when selecting your items for the outdoor survival kit.
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Monday, September 6, 2010

Choosing A Survival Shelter Location

Bachalpsee in the morning, Bernese AlpsImage via WikipediaChoosing A Survival Shelter Location

A valuable outdoor survival skill is knowing how to build a shelter.  It is important for your survival to know the proper techniques to make a shelter that will allow for adequate sleep and rest while providing protection from the elements.

The climate of the environment plays a significant role on the need for a shelter.  Many individuals can only survive a matter of several hours without adequate protection from severe weather conditions.  Extreme heat and cold are very dangerous situations to face without the proper shelter and protection for the body.

The first step to choosing a shelter is to select the location.  The location of your survival shelter must be as safe as possible.  Try to create a shelter that is easily visible.  This will help the search and rescue teams find you quickly and easily. 

Choose ground that is as flat as possible.  The ground should be dry and free of loose rocks and dead trees.  Such hazards may fall on you or destroy the shelter.  Whenever possible, you should make a shelter near water, but avoid becoming too close, for this will bring you trouble with insects and flooding.

If your survival gear contains an extra poncho or blanket, your task of making a shelter is significantly easier.  If not, you will need to use the items in the environment to create a shelter for protection from the elements. 

The natural environment may have made a shelter for you.  Survival does not mean reinventing the wheel.  If a cave, or low limbs are available, use this as part of your survival shelter.  Do not over-complicate the issue at hand. 

If nature hasn't provided a shelter for you, make your own shelter that can accommodate you while you sleep and rest.  The survival shelter should only be large enough to sleep comfortably.  In cold climates, you will need to heat this area, so bigger does not always mean better.

It will take some time to make a shelter that will provide a level of comfort and protection.  Do not wait until you are tired and it is dark to begin choosing your shelter for the night.  Think about your shelter before jumping in and building.

Whenever possible, let the shelter opening face away from the prevailing wind.  This will ensure that you are more comfortable in the cool of the night.  Protection from the wind, rain, and sun is key to feeling well enough to continue.

Selecting or making a shelter is crucial to your survival.  Think about making your shelter early in the process, not after you have become tired and worn down.  Use what items you have with you and the environment to your advantage.  Nature may have provided a shelter for you if you take a good look around. 

A good shelter will allow you to rest and sleep, so you can carry on until help arrives.  Adequate sleep and rest will keep your positive attitude and energy high, thus greatly improving the odds of survival in an outdoor emergency situation.

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Friday, September 3, 2010

Survival Food

Survival Food

Humans need water to sustain themselves, long before food becomes an absolute necessity, but if you have ever pondered a situation where you are alone in the wilderness, you probably first thought about food and shelter.  Learning how to find survival food in the wild is a valuable outdoor survival skill.

We are so accustomed to the luxury and convenience of walking over to the fridge. And grabbing a snack or cruising through the drive-through of the local restaurant that finding food in the great outdoors seems frightening to many individuals. 

In reality, nature often provides foods that are nourishing if you know where to look.  Granted, these items may not taste as delectable and palatable as a cheeseburger or steak made-to-order, but they do provide necessary nourishment and energy to survive.

Plants are a form of nourishment if you know which ones are edible and safe.  Learn about plants and their edible parts by reading up on the topic or taking a hike with an experienced guide.  Be wary of any unknown plants that may cause a harmful reaction.

Do be aware that some parts of plants may be edible while other parts of the plant are not.  Focus on studying specific plants that are abundant in your area of travel.  Learn which plants are edible and what varieties are poisonous in your region.

Animals are another option for food when it comes to survival.  Humans need protein to survive and nature often provides wild animals for this purpose.  If you are alone in the wilderness, you can trap animals for food.  Also, if surface water is available in the area, fishing is a great option. 

If animal trapping and hunting isn't your specialty, it is important to learn about this outdoor survival skill before you actually need it.  Fishing requires some technique, as well.  Learn from watching survival shows, reading from books or the internet, or first-hand from someone experienced in the trade.

Preparation of the fish and game is equally as important as knowing how and where to find the animals.  Learning the fish that are safe to eat, for example is an outdoor survival skill, but knowing how to prepare the fish is a completely different task at hand.  Some fish are safe to eat raw, but others, must be cooked.

Insects and worms are other forms of nutrition in the wild.  These animals are often abundant in most any environment.  Learn what types of bugs are safe for eating.  Worms and insects can provide valuable protein.

To survive, you will probably need to open your mind to new forms of food that are initially unappealing to you.  Getting over the unappetizing idea is one of the largest issues for survivors, but it can be done in an emergency.

To be adequately prepared for an outdoor survival situation, you must learn the survival skills necessary to find food.  Educate yourself about edible plants, wild game, and safe fish.  Once you are knowledgeable about what you can eat, then it is important to learn how to prepare the food for consumption.  This information can save your life in an emergency outdoor survival situation.

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Building A Lean-To Shelter For Outdoor Survival

My shelter in the morningImage by sudarkoff via FlickrBuilding A Lean-To Shelter For Outdoor Survival

If you are stranded out in the wilderness in an emergency, you need to tap into your wilderness survival skills.  Building a shelter is very important to survival in such situations.  People can only last a short while amidst extreme weather conditions without shelter.

You should master the outdoor survival skill of building a lean-to shelter, to be adequately prepared for an emergency.

A lean-to shelter is one of the easiest and simplest shelters to make for an emergency.  This type of shelter is a great way to provide protection from the weather and wind.  Always remember to place the back of the shelter toward the prevailing wind for the best protection.

A lean-to shelter is also great for most types of terrain.

To create your lean-to shelter, pound two large, forked sticks or straight ones into the ground.  About one foot deep.  These sticks should be about six feet apart depending on your height.  A large limb must be placed inside the Y-shaped forks to create the frame for the shelter or lashed to each upright. Another option would be to use existing trees, rocks, etc...

Fill in the roof area with sticks that are tied to the top and stuck into the ground.  This creates the frame for your lean-to survival shelter.  Remember to bury the sticks in the ground to make the shelter sturdy enough to withstand the force of the wind.

Covering the skeleton of the lean-to is the next step to making the shelter.  Use large leaves, bark, pine needles or grass to cover the framework of the lean-to shelter.  Whatever material is available will suffice.

As you cover the lean-to shelter, begin at the bottom and work your way to the top, just like roofing a house with shingles.  If it should happen to rain, the water will run over the joints and not leak onto you.  Staying dry is very important, so take the time to prepare the shelter appropriately.

Don't forget to place some comfortable grass, leaves, or pine bows on the ground inside the shelter for bedding.  Look for items that are soft and comfortable.  Sleeping on the bare ground will sap your body heat quickly.

Also, you can cover up with items such as grass and leaves for more insulation.  If you have a trash bag in your survival kit, you can stuff it with these items to make a comforter. Think of this as nature's blanket for you.

When you are making a lean-to shelter, it is beneficial to use the natural environment to your advantage.  Look for limbs, leaves, and sticks that will suit your needs, that are close by with as little work as possible.

This will reduce the amount of work you need to do and save your energy for other tasks related to survival in the outdoors.  Also build a reflection fire in front of your lean-to shelter to radiate heat into your shelter.

Because the elements are harsh on the body, building a shelter is crucial to survival in an outdoor survival situation.  Practice this outdoor survival skill to master it, before you really need it.

If you are enjoying a hike over the weekend, bring along your camping gear, for instance, but plan not to use it.  Instead of sleeping in your tent and sleeping bag, rough it for a night in your own lean-to shelter.  This will give you the chance to practice your skill while allowing the opportunity for another safe sleeping area as a backup plan.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

New Urban Survival Site

New Urban Survival Site

Because survival is not always in the wilderness and because survival is a passion of mine and certain topics don't necessarily fit on this site, I decided to create a sister site called Urban-Survival-Skills.org

Here's the link: http://www.urban-survival-skills.org/

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Monday, February 1, 2010

Igloo Building

What's An Igloo?

The igloo was developed by The Inuit Indians or Eskimos and was a semi-permanent shelter that was often built on the edge of the pack ice to shelter hunters for the hunting season (anywhere from 3 to 6 months out of the year). It was usually built with ice blocks using a saw. Therefore, it's not the most practical survival shelter and is the hardest to build and you definitely need packable or icy snow. With that said, whenever you talk snow shelters, everyone always wants to learn how to build an Igloo. And with a few tricks they can be built quite efficiently.

To build an Igloo, basically you cut blocks about 16 x16 inches by 8 inches thick and then spiral them up to form a dome. The biggest mistake I see is that people don't lean the blocks enough and can never close the top and wind up with an open-air mini coliseum. That's a whole lot of work, only to get to the end and not be able to finish. Now let's learn the tricks that can make this a lot easier and you can have success every time...

1. Step One
Just like the Quinzee you'll need to stomp out a circle about 6 foot wide (my pack is in the middle).

2. Step Two
Also for an igloo you will need a block mining area, so stomp out another area about the same size and square. Here's what the mining area will look like later after you start taking blocks out (I put a tree branch in and the saw to give some contrast).

3. Step Three
With your shovel, dig a hole in the center of your circle about waist high and cut your first block out. [NOTE: The trick here is to take blocks out of the center of the shelter, that way you are working down as you build up or working double time. You're multiplying your efforts and what normally takes five rows of blocks, you can do in three rows this way. A huge savings in time and effort.]

Now cut the first block. When it comes to cutting blocks a saw is easiest, but you can do it with a shovel and I've even seen people use a straight piece of plywood or even a stick.

4. Step Four
Set the first block on the edge of your circle, lean it in and cut it at a 45 degree angle from end to end.

Here's the cut and I laid my glove on the top of the cut to give some contrast.

5. Step Five
Now cut whole blocks out of the middle and set them around the circle perimeter for your first complete row. Again, make sure you lean the blocks in, I just can't emphasize this enough, the first row is the foundation and if you don't lean them in you will never close the top. There's always three points of contact, the bottom two corners and the top corner that touches the last block set. LEAN, LEAN, LEAN!

Remember that you must leave a bed and any other features you want as you cut blocks out. In this picture I'm leaving a bed and a shelf.

The first complete row of blocks! Notice that I'm already two rows high and I've only finished the first row. That's what taking the blocks out of the bottom does, now only three more rows to go. Start the next row up the ramp and around.

6. Step Six
Finish setting the next two rows. Keep them leaning in and when you're done taking blocks out of the inside cut a door and get the rest of the blocks from your mining area. Notice that it's only three rows high compared to the traditional five row igloo. Again, that's because you're building down (by taking blocks out of the center) while building up.

Here's the door cut out. Again make sure the top of the door is going to be a few inches below the bed for warmth. Also, I should probably mention my dog Jenna, she's not a bear just a black Lab that won't have any staying at home when there's adventure to be had in the outdoors. By the way the shelf in photo 3 of Step 5 was for her and the gear.

7. Step Seven
Now it's time for the final block or cap stone block and if you've leaned the blocks properly you should be able to bridge this gap, if not you'll know. You've probably broken your share of blocks by now, but the last one usually takes a few broken ones to get it right, so don't despair. Here's a look at the hole to fill.
By now you've probably figured out that building an igloo is a lot easier with two or more people. Especially when you try to set the last block, but I did build this one by myself, other than Jenna barking at me to hurry up. So you can do them solo but it's nicer with two.


8. Step Eight
Now chink or put snowballs in the big holes and then shovel some snow on the outside to fill all the little ones.

9. Step Nine
Punch a vent hole into the side about the size of a softball, at a 45 degree angle, halfway up the wall and not over your bed. Here's the inside view of the vent hole.

10. Conclusion
Igloo's are probably the hardest of the snow shelters to build, but also one of the most satisfying. Here's a picture of the finished product and my dog Jenna ready to climb in. I'm looking up a pretty steep slope but photos never show the angle very well, so I'm down below the shelter.

Here I am inside the igloo. You can see the outline of the blocks, make sure to smooth out any rough spots for dripping. There's also a lot of steam from working inside the shelter, it should settle when you slow down and it acclimatizes a little.

Here's a view from my bed at the doorway (remember from the past posts on snow shelter criteria to make sure the top of the door is lower than the bed area) also you can see part of the shelf where my pack is and Jenna will sleep, along with a little shelf for my water bottle and a candle for a little more warmth (again look at the former posts).

Final Thoughts
You can use a lot of things to cut blocks with such as a stick, snow shoe, board, shovel, etc... But a snow saw is sure handy. This is a picture of a homemade one that I used.

Now let's rap it up, starting with the most common mistakes when building Igloo's... Common Mistakes

  • Not Enough Lean. Remember Lean, Lean, Lean. The most common mistake with Igloo's is not leaning the blocks in enough.
  • Too Big. Remember, keep it small it requires less energy and it's easy to build.
  • Jagged Ceiling. Smooth the ceiling to prevent drips.
  • Doorway to High. Remember to keep the beds higher than the top of the doorway to trap in heat, also make sure the door is not on the windward side and round.
While Igloo's are not the most practical shelter to build in an emergency, they can be fun. Remember, a lot of people never practice their emergency skills or use their emergency gear until a true emergency happens. The only problem with that approach is that it's a bad time to find out something doesn't work or you're not sure how to do it. I can't count how many times a student broke one of those wire saws from their survival kits or had one of those 99 cent reflective blankets rip in half in the wind. I've always emphasized that my students use and test their skills and gear to find out what really works, so when the time comes that they truly do need them, they can count on them.

Remember, "repetition is the mother of skill" and after you build a few you'll be an old pro.
See you on the trail,

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