Why the big fuss about Basic Wilderness Survival Skills?
Basic wilderness survival skills are just like car insurance. If nobody rear-ends you, or your windshield doesn’t get cracked by a baseball-sized rock, on your way to work, no problem, … right!
But if you come out of the bank or the grocery store and you are minus a tail-light and your rear side panel looks like you’ve just finished a demolition derby, you begin to really appreciate the value a carrying a good vehicular insurance policy.
In British Columbia, Canada, where I live, car insurance is a provincial matter, and the percentage of people that drive around without insurance is in the neighborhood of 1%. This varies from region to region, in different parts of the world, but you get the point. Almost no one in their right mind wants to drive around uninsured.
Now, this is just a vehicle and you are in a city or town, surrounded by thousands of people. Someone will show up to help you. A good Samaritan, the police, an ambulance, or a tow-truck driver, will soon show up to offer some form of assistance should you have a mishap with your vehicle.
What if you’re lost in the wilderness, it’s dark, and worst of all possible scenarios, … you are alone? You have been separated from your friends, or you left for the day, by yourself, and no one knows where you are. How important is an insurance policy now?
Are YOU more important, to your family and friends, than a few thousand pounds of metal, rubber, and glass?
That’s why you need to carry an insurance policy when you venture into the wild spaces.
That insurance policy is your wilderness survival kit and your skills in wilderness survival.
Now, can you see why it’s so important to carry a survival kit, properly supplied, and to know how to use it?
Your survival has to center around the basic requirements necessary to sustain life, and these are food, clothing, and shelter.
In the following series, parts 1 through 10, I am going to describe the most important skills you need to learn to survive your night in the wilderness.
What is the most important thing to address if you are lost?
In previous posts, I’ve said that my theater of operations is the Boreal Forest or Taiga. If you live in other parts of North America or the World for that matter, your food, clothing, and shelter requirements are more or less the same.
You need shelter to maintain a proper core-temperature of 98.6°F or 37°C.
This is not the exact temperature of all human beings. It is an average temperature and varies slightly throughout the day. Normal temperature range is 97.7 to 99.5°F.
Above 99.5 and up to 100.9°F means that you most likely have a fever, caused by an infection or illness, and this is called Hyperthermia.
A body temperature of less than 95.0°F or less than 35°C means you are hypothermic and this condition is called Hypothermia.
This is the big killer in my neck of the woods, and why I consider building a shelter to be so important.
In a previous post, I mentioned what you need to carry in your basic wilderness survival kit to address the building of your shelter.
What do you need to build a Shelter?
The First skill you need to learn, in the Boreal Forest, is how to construct a shelter. We can argue later about fire-building, once we are out of the rain, the snow, or the wind. The shelter that you build, will keep you protected from the elements, whether this is the rain, the wind, the snow, or the cold temperature.
Building beautiful natural shelters, that look very “outdoorsy” on social media, is a skill best left to seasoned survivalists. Believe me, that they require a lot of effort to build and are very hard to waterproof, especially in the Boreal Forest, where there are no giant banana leaves.
I always recommend carrying a “tarp” or piece of heavy construction plastic, 10 feet by 10 feet. Why 10 feet by 10 feet, you ask? This size of tarp can be easily handled by one person under most conditions and is relatively light-weight and easy to deploy. Unless you work in construction, stick to a tarp.
Easy-Peasy! … All big-box stores carry these tarps, and a 10-foot by 10-foot tarp can be purchased for 10 to 15 USD, all in.
Colour is an important consideration. Available colours are usually white, blue, green, and orange. Camouflage patterns are also available but expect the cost to double or even triple, for the same protection. Since you are probably lost, orange may be your best colour option.
Now that you have a 10′ x 10′ tarp in your day pack, let’s throw in some paracord and what I call carpenter’s string line, into your daypack.
What do I do, Now?
Tie a length of your Paracord between 2 trees that are 12 to 15 feet apart, as high as you can comfortably reach. This is usually in the 6 to 7-foot range. Don’t forget to scan the ground area that will be your floor, after you have covered it. In the forest, it’s usually easy to find a nice dry area free from rocks and debris and covered with fir or pine needles.
Throw the tarp over the paracord that you have tied to your 2 trees and you are halfway there. Next tie down the 4 corners to a sharp stick that you can find on the ground if you look around. Congratulations, you have just built yourself a basic shelter, that will protect you from the rain and the snow.
This is the very basic of shelters. Unless you can master this skill, there is no point in thinking that you can build complex shelters, under more adverse conditions.
If you have one of these to bundle yourself up in, under the shelter you have just built, you have significantly turned the odds in your favour.
This is if you are not too wet and cold, and the ambient temperature is not below the freezing mark.
Either way, you are now in greater control of your situation.
What do I need to Build my Shelter?
Let’s review what we’ve used so far. What have we taken out of our daypack?
1) 10 x 10 tarp, 2) Paracord, 3) carpenter’s string line or bank line, 4) emergency shelter
These 5 simple items, including your daypack, (#5), weigh less than 5 pounds and turn the odds in your favour, immediately. Easy to carry, easy to acquire, and easy on the pocketbook.
Read my lips. No More Excuses!
You can start by practicing this skill at home, in a local park, or on your next day hike. Once you’ve done this 3 or 4 times, it will only take 10 or 15 minutes to complete, without trying to win the race or kill yourself doing it.
How can you upgrade this Shelter?
Here are a few things you can do to upgrade on this concept.
1) Lower one end of your “ridge rope” to give the roof a slope and make it easier to shed water.
2) If it is raining, and you don’t have easy access to a creek or other water source, get your water bottle or metal pot out of your day-pack and place it strategically in a position to collect this precious rainwater.
3) When you slope your roof, position the low end into the wind, closing that door, to the wind blowing into your new home.
4) Another method of spreading your tarp over the “ridge” of your shelter is on the diagonal. This will create a different architecture that can be used to build a fire at the front of your shelter. More on this in Part 2.
What have we learned here?
We have learned that building a shelter, to keep you warm and dry, isn’t that difficult, when you know how.
We are also learning that the materials you need, are not expensive, and are not heavy to carry in a small daypack, that will weigh less than 10 pounds when we complete this 10-part Basic Wilderness Survival Skills course.
If these Basic Wilderness Survival Skills save your life, or the lives of you and your friend(s), will you consider it to be a good insurance policy?
Remember that this is about your survival in the wilderness.
As you gain more experience, your confidence will grow as well. This confidence will translate into all your day to day activities, and facilitate the acquiring of the other essentials of wilderness survival.
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Keep an eye out for Part 2, … How to build a Fire to Warm-up your new Shelter.