April 27, 2009
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More Ten Essentials

Remember MacGyver? The mythic TV character was a genius when it came to turning a rock and a wad of bubblegum into a survival tool to save the day. Unfortunately, that was fiction. In order to stay safe outdoors, you should have (at minimum) what I call the Real Ten Essentials.
1. Attitude — This tops my list, because if your attitude isn’t right, your chances of survival a dim. The right attitude is a stubborn expectation that you’re going to survive. If you’re alone, use positive self-talk. If there are others in the party, keep conversations positive and encouraging. Plan your work and keep trying.
2. Shelter — Wind, precipitation, heat and cold are the enemies of human life, unless you are able to protect yourself against them. Choose your clothing well, because it is your primary shelter. Select fabrics that protect the body core temperature by keeping you dry in wet weather, warm when it’s cold, and cool against sweltering heat. Carry an emergency blanket (my personal favorite is the Heatsheets Survival Blanket, made by Adventure Medical Kits (www.adventuremedicalkits.com) and a pocket poncho. These will be very useful if you need to improvise a shelter from these items and whatever nature provides.
3. Fire — Fire is life (one of the few things they get right on TV). With it, you may live. Without it, your chances are slim. Fire not only keeps you warm, but it dries your clothing, purifies your drinking water, cooks your food, operates as a signaling device, illuminates the camp area at night, and keeps you company. Always carry multiple methods of starting a fire, along with some prepared tinder. I carry a Light My Fire Swedish FireSteel striker kit (www.lightmyfireusa.com), a Brunton Helios Stormproof Lighter (www.brunton.com), and waterproof matches, spread out among various pockets in pants, shirt and jacket. In addition, my Toollogic knife has a built in magnesium fire striker. Gives you an idea of how important I think fire is.
4. Water — Dehydration clouds your ability to think and perform tasks efficiently, so you must drink sufficient water. It’s impossible to carry enough water with you all the time, so the best action is to carry a water purification system (filter, chemical tablets) so you can purify water as you encounter it. I keep a Aquamira Frontier Filter Straw (www.aquamira.com) in my pocket for quick access and easy use. Boiling water is the safest method, because it kills organisms that can slip through a filter, but is also the most difficult. If you have no other option than boiling, bring the water to a rolling boil and keep it there for one minute at sea level and one additional minute for each thousand feet of elevation. When the water supply is limited, slow your pace and minimize sweat.
5. Food — You probably won’t starve to death, because that takes a very long time. But if you lack adequate nourishment, your ability to perform necessary tasks will diminish. As your internal fires burn low, hypothermia is more of a problem. Not only that, but too little food will dampen your spirits, leaving you discouraged and depressed. That never helps in a survival situation. If you can fish or set snares or primitive traps, you can add to your groceries. If you are expert at identifying wild edible plants, go for it. Otherwise, you’re going to have to depend on what you carry with you. Always have some high-calorie trail snacks (nuts, M&Ms, raisins, etc.) in a zip baggie. Power bars and similar durable food sources are good to have along. Curtail your need for caloric intake by slowing your pace and minimizing activity. Lay low and signal for help.
6. Knife — One essential tool for survival is a rugged knife. I carry both a folding pocketknife (a Toollogic SLPro2, www.toollogic.com) for small jobs, and a Gerber (www.gerbergear.com) sheath knife that features a hefty spine that will hold up to some pounding when splitting wood, and a combination plain/serrated blade that can skin game and cut rope with equal ease. If the handle is configured to permit easy lashing to a pole for creating a spear, it can be used for reaching otherwise unreachable items that need to be cut (fruit high in a tree, for example), for spear fishing or “encouraging” small game out of its burrow. That said, take care to protect the knife from undue abuse by jamming it into the ground or using the blade for digging.
7. Signaling — The best solution to a survival situation is to get out of it as quickly as possible by successfully signaling for help. Always carry a signal mirror and a whistle. If you think there are other people around (perhaps searching for you) use the mirror and/or the whistle to attract attention. Also use other visual signaling devices that you can improvise, such as laying out brightly colored clothing or equipment in an opening where it can be seen from a distance. Tie a “flag” to a whippy limb that will flap and move in the wind. Improvised audible signals can be made by banging loud items together. Use bright fire by night and smoke by day as a passive signal.
8. Communication — Cell phones may or may not work, but they’re worth having along just in case. Two-way radios (FRS or GMRS) have limited range, and should be carried for communication with others in your party, if you become separated (a euphemism for “lost”). A handheld Ham radio can reach long distances and summon help. I recommend becoming a licensed Ham operator and carrying a radio at all times. The ultimate electronic communication device in an emergency is a personal locator beacon (PLB) or the SPOT Satellite Messenger (www.findmespot.com), because these units will bring in the rescue helicopters when you need them.
9. Navigation — Getting lost is never a good thing. Always carry a compass and a topographic map of the area you are in. Practice using them. A GPS is great, but without the map, you are unable to know what the terrain looks like insofar as steep cliffs, rivers, etc. are concerned, so carry a map even if you are carrying a GPS.
10. First aid kit — It’s easy to suffer injuries in the outdoors, ranging from small burns to cuts and scrapes, to even larger problems. Carry a good first aid kit and take a first aid class so you know how to use the kit. It’s best to assemble a customized kit, or at least disassemble and reassemble the kit so you are familiar with everything that is inside.

With your ten essentials in your pockets or pack, you won’t need to depend on bubblegum and MacGyver miracles to get you through.

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