Introduction to Surviving Outdoors
(Cutting Through the Chatter)
Definition of praxis (credit Merriam-Webster online dictionary 2018)
plural praxes play \ˈprak-ˌsēz\ 1:action, practice: such as a: exercise or practice of an art, science, or skill
The other day I read an online article the premise of which was once you wander into the wilds and forget how to get back to camp, in short you are lost, and you are unprepared, backtracking yourself is the only chance of making it out of the wilderness.
I had some major issues with that article and left a fairly long comment to that effect there. I could have left a much longer one but saw no reason to be a complete asshole. To the site owners credit he published the comment and for all I know he may have some really good articles to share on other topics, just not this one, at least based on my knowledge and experience. He’s not the only one. There is a whole host of people on the web sharing utter bullshit. I’ve read things from folks that would have you waking up dead if you followed their advice.
Before we continue some things need to be clarified. This is mostly directed at the same group of people the fellow referenced above was targeting, folks that are undereducated in bushcraft. I’m also mostly CONUS centric or maybe I should say Pacific Northwest centric. If you’re in the jungles of South America or wandering the interior of Africa or any of a million other places around the world, well I haven’t been there and can’t speak to those environments. Want to talk survival at sea – I’m the wrong guy. Even here in the U.S. there’s plenty of places I’ve never left a boot print. Yet, while the small details will be different than where I normally knock around I’ll wager my skills set would see me through in most places if I ever found myself in trouble there. Finally this is more an intellectual article than an absolute hands on discourse.
My bona fides to even presume to discuss outdoors survival is I’ve survived hiking, backpacking, camping, hunting, fishing, guiding, misadventure and done more than a little SAR in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest for the better part of fifty years. I would claim sixty years but the first ten years or so of my life I was mostly focused on getting myself into trouble. My youth and early teens were spent living what can only be described as survival based existence and we lived so far back in the boonies it cost twenty bucks to mail a penny postcard. I’ve also helped a lot of folks gain knowledge and develop skills over the years. I’ve trained folks formally in a classroom environment. Other times I’ve hosted seminars. Sometimes that training occurred informally on a mountainside or stream bank. An additional consideration is after seemingly countless outings over the years I have never brought anyone home dead. Though you don’t know any of them, and as a result this is mostly hollow words, my closest friends express if they ever found themselves put to the test, the one survival tool they would want above all others is me. This endorsement suffers the same shortcoming being known as an expert has. All too often all you need to have, for people to consider you an expert, is a little more knowledge than they posses. Just so you know I don’t claim to be an expert in anything but being an asshole. I also want to let you know that I don’t know everything. I am a big enough boy to admit that. To that end when I reach the end of my knowledge you’ll hear me say, well write, “I don’t know”. I also tell you to verify every bit of information you get from anyone, myself included.
I deliberately chose the title of this piece and its format for the simple reason I believe it is better to avoid getting into an emergency situation than surviving an emergency situation and that’s why it’s not called Disaster Survival or Emergency Tips or something like that. Besides if you are reacting to an emergency most the fun of surviving outdoors is negated and let me tell you, knocking around in the wilderness is a heck of a lot of fun. I won’t be sharing any big secrets here because there aren’t any, most of being safe in the outdoors is gaining knowledge, developing skills and using your head for something besides a hat rack.
Throughout this article you will find me stressing knowledge, skills and preparation because that is what saves your ass if everything goes upside down for you. This article is not going to be of much use to the person that has wandered off into the wilderness without a compass and map and now finds themselves lost. We won’t be talking about how to use which side of the tree moss is growing on to determine which direction is north as a route finding trick, that’s what a compass is for. Besides in the PNW, and I surmise many other regions, the simple fact is moss grows on all sides of the trees.
I arbitrarily organize survival, wilderness or otherwise, into three time periods – short term, mid term and long term. The reason is that though our needs remain the same throughout these periods our methods and resources change. The only one of them that has any real time constraints is short term survival which runs from a couple of seconds to several days at the most. If you want to visualize a true two second survival event, try standing on river bank when the one hundred foot tall clay and rock bluff to your back decides to collapse around you. Two seconds of time might be generous.
I’ll use food to demonstrate how needs remains the same but methods and resources change. In the short term I may get by with some off the shelf product, say a candy bar or two, some survival bars, a small bag of GORP and dried fruit, a hunk of cheese, some deli meat and a few hard rolls. Perhaps I’ll toss in a freeze dried meal or two from Mountain House. Also short term food is something that is packed with me, all the time.
Mid term food requirements are not going to be met by a few energy bars and freeze dried food packs. While mid term food requirements could be met with crates of freeze dried food, for us it is where we move into food stores we’ve put up and established, you know those shelves of home canned food and veggies and freezers full of the same, with maybe some cases of something we picked up from the local bulk food warehouse on the shelf as well. Mid term may extend from several days to a couple of years the end of which is mostly determined by how large our food store is. Mid term duration can also be affected by other factors such as being forced to relocate. Mid term food is much too large to be taken with us other than by vehicle and in that instance we are mostly likely not surviving the outdoors.
Long term is that period of time when our stocks of stored food have been exhausted and we are growing and raising our food supplies and this becomes a whole other discussion.
All of these periods may see us augment our food with foraging, fishing and hunting. These will be explored more later on if there is interest in that type of article.
This article is focused on short term survival, the period of time that extends from two seconds to several days and while short term survival can begin for you in the comfort of your favorite chair in your living room our focus is on wilderness survival in the great outdoors.
It seems there’s always one more thing, though I may mention the name of a product or manufacturer it is not necessarily an endorsement, I’m merely using it for illustrative purposes. Also I have no affiliation with any company, especially any that may be mentioned in this article. Further I have received no remuneration nor consideration of any type from anyone or business or product that may be mentioned in this article. In the rare instance I do recommend some product I’ll come right out and express, “hey get this one, I feel it’s the best”.
Caveat Lector – Further, just to get it out of the way for the rest of this article, a lot of what I share here is IMO (in my opinion) so if you do it different or believe different no harm, no foul. It is also written from a personal perspective so you’ll also have to put up with more than a little of my recounting a story about this and that.
Even though my DD214 is dated before a lot of the folks that read this were born most of what I share here is from a civilian perspective rather than a military perspective. I don’t discuss knives from a fighting perspective, rather from a utility perspective or fitness or a particular job. I use an azimuth compass rather than a lensatic compass. They both do the same thing, the approach is just a little different. I’m not big on tactical bags and tactical load outs for the simple reason those really serve to fulfill a different objective. I don’t use a chest rig as I don’t like the look and feel. What I will use instead is a top end fishing vest. It has a million pockets for organizing gear, wraps my whole upper body and distributes my load while staying above my waist line where I carry other tools that I may need quick access to. Enough of the chitchat I better get on with it.
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