This past weekend, Mr. T and I took a wilderness survival course which allowed me to to satisfy one of my lifelong curiosities – making fire from scratch! Did you know there are 30 ways to make fire?! Holy moly! And not only that, it’s seriously HARD to make fire. Our arms are still sore from trying for over an hour!
Anyway, learning how to survive in the wild is something that’s peaked my interest after watching one too many episodes of Man Vs Wild. Although I’m a city girl, I am convinced that if anyone were to be stranded in the middle of an unforgiving forest or a scorching hot desert, it would probably be me (I just have dumb luck like that). So, why not be prepared? Hence, we signed up for the 5 hour crash course on wilderness survival, rolled up our sleeves, made our own shelter (yes, out of grass, branches, and leaves… in fact, the finished product is the above picture!), and learned the secret to making fire (it’s all about your posture!).
Here are the top 8 things we learned:
1) Conservation of Energy
The number one rule is to conserve energy! Everything you do will expend energy and without food or water, you’re going to run out of energy fast, which significantly decreases your chances of making good decisions.
2) The Rule of Threes
You can survive without air for 3 minutes, water for 3 days, and food for 3 weeks. Use that as a guide to prioritize what you should be spending energy on.
3) Shelter Takes a Long Time to Build
We had a team of 8 spend one hour to build our shelter and the big “ah-ha moment” was how much energy it took to build a shelter for just one person! Imagine if you had to build more! If you think you’ll be stuck in the wild for a while, work on finding/building shelter immediately – it’s essentially a race against the sunset.
4) Principles When Building Shelter
- Avoid building shelter at the bottom of a hill or next to a river. You’ll be screwed if the place is prone to floods!
- Put enough “cushion” to be two feet off the ground. The ground sucks heat. If you’re above it, you’re more likely to stay warm.
- Make sure the “roof” of your shelter has an arm’s length worth of insulation. You’ve done a good job if the inside is dark (i.e., if no sunlight can get in, neither can rain nor wind).
- A slanted roof allows rain to slide off more easily than a round or flat roof.
Forget trying to make fire from scratch. It takes way too much energy and it’s plain hard. If you’re headed into the wild, bring half a dozen lighters. Also, venture outside of your “campsite” to collect sticks/branches/timber for keeping the fire burning. Save the ones in your “campsite” for when you’re too tired to venture out.
6) Insects and Animals
Smoke ’em out of your “campsite” and forget about them!
Moving water is better than still water. Water that’s passed through rapids is better than water that hasn’t. Don’t forget to boil the water, if possible! Avoid water that animals are drinking from or that contain animal feces. If you can’t find water, consider using your tee shirt to wipe the dew off the plants in the morning; once the tee is “soaked” enough you can wring it and drink the excess. If you still can’t find water, you can drink your own urine as long as it’s passed through your system no more than twice (ugh, let’s hope no one ever gets to that point).
Grass is edible everywhere in the world. Berries are a toss up so unless you know what it is, don’t even try! Similarly, avoid anything that is bright in color (I imagine this rule is just as applicable for the animal kingdom as it is for plants). Pine needles (the light part) and pine cones (the seeds, anyway) are edible, too. Acorns are edible but since they are so bitter, you should boil them first. If you’re headed out in the wild, it’s better to learn the things you must avoid eating than all the things that are edible since most things in the wild are either: 1) edible but with no nutritional value or 2) are edible with some nutritional value.
8) Don’t Over Think
Adults tend to over think a situation or are convinced they know the way back to civilization. Inevitably, they just get more lost. It’s better to stay put (see tip #1) and wait for help. In California, lost hikers are usually found in 3 days — just long enough for you to find some water and short enough that you don’t have to eat insects!