One just needs to look out the window to see how blessed we are to have such unbelievable wilderness to explore and play in. Majestic mountains beckon from our doorstep, lakes and rivers call out to us to be swam in, canoed, and fished, and countless trails lead us though the lush green forests and show us what nature really is. Every year thousands of us head out into the woods, and every year courageous volunteers of search and rescue teams have to save those who venture out unprepared. We will see too many stories on the six o’clock news about unprepared hikers who spent a cold, wet night on a mountainside. The fact is no one ventures out into the backcountry expecting trouble, but emergencies do happen.
It can happen to you.
Being prepared is so easy there is literally no excuse. The choice is yours, do you want to be huddled under a tree freezing your ass off all night or do you want to be watching the hypnotic dancing of flames from your fire in your warm shelter sipping a cup of tea? I’m not an “expert” but I have studied this topic for many years and am confident that my skill level and my survival kit will serve me well if I happen to run into trouble in the bush. This article is just my advice to you before you decide to explore all that the province has to offer. Ultimately it is you who must decide what works for you and what you are comfortable with. After all if you find yourself in trouble it is you and only you who will affect your immediate situation.
First and foremost you need to have basic bushcraft skills. The magic of YouTube provides endless opportunities to watch and learn these skills. I recommend checking out the Wilderness Outfitters channel, where there is a wealth of knowledge and where I have learned many new-found skills. Just typing in wilderness survival will give you more information than you will know what to do with. Learn to make fire, build shelter, tie knots, gather and disinfect water, navigate by compass, read a map, signal for rescue, do first aid, and anything else you want to learn. Then practice these skills so you are not doing it for the first time in an emergency.
Don’t say you have no time either; if you have time to check Facebook you have time to educate yourself on how not to become a statistic. When you need the skills it’s way too late to learn them. Bringing along a survival manual will do nothing but help you if you find yourself in dire need. The U.S. Army Survival Manual FM 21-76 can be bought online or your local surplus store. Also the SAS Survival Guide is a great book which is on my bookshelf right now. Both come in paperback versions that take up little space in your pack. In case you are wondering the answer is, yes, there is an app for that. That being said, you should assume your smartphone will fail when you need it most, so don’t pin all your hopes on an app.
I promise that learning basic bushcraft will not be a determent to you; no one has ever woken up in the morning wishing they didn’t know how to make fire and shelter. No one has ever wished they could not read a map or use a compass. Knowledge is power and it’s easy to learn, so learn it.
Secondly, make and always bring with you a survival kit (the pocket survival kits are not good enough). There are more survival kit lists and philosophies out there than I could possibly list. You can decide what you want to do; I will only tell you what is in my kit.
My kit is very basic and is comprised of basically the 10 Cs of survivability: cover, container, combustion, cordage, cutting tool, compass, candling device, cotton, cargo tape, and cloth sail needle. The only item my kit lacks is the sail needle. You can do your own research and find what works for your situation; these are just what my emergency supplies are.
- Cover: I have a SOL sport utility blanket which is silver reflective on one side and bright orange on the other. Inside the package I’ve put 25 feet of orange military paracord, four metal tent pegs, and four large garbage bags. Also I carry a camouflage military ranger blanket, which is bulky but I’m used to it and really like it. There are many other more compact options for a blanket that one could choose.
- Container: simply a stainless steel water bottle with a nesting cup. A metal container is important so you can boil water in it to disinfect it. Boiling water for a minute or two will kill the harmful parasites that make you sick. You should have a water bottle anyway so why not make it a metal one?
- Combustion kit: contains a magnesium fire starter, magnifying lens (not pictured), an Altoids tin with char cloth, a Bic lighter, and strike-anywhere matches. My plan is to add a ferrocerium rod or similar fire starter as well.
- Cordage: just 50 feet of nylon thin rope from Home Depot, more than enough for an emergency situation. I also have paracord on both knives and my keychain.
- Cutting tools: a Cold Steel SRK (on my belt), a new style Swiss Army knife (in my pocket), and a Grohmann Russell #3 knife (back-up knife in my pack) I will often carry a Gerber multitool as well. If I’m fishing I have a specific knife for that which hangs around my neck.
- Compass: a cheap Sunto compass with adjustable bezel ring so I can shoot bearings and navigate in a straight line.
- Candling device: a Streamlight ProTac AA flashlight which is ridiculously bright and has a strobe function for signalling. I also have a regular candle which I keep with my combustion items. A headlamp would probably be better but I don’t as of yet have one.
- Cotton: a forest green Shemagh which measures about 42 inches by 42 inches has too many uses to list.
- Cargo tape: just one-inch Gorilla tape.
All of these items can be packed into the bottom of a daypack and left there until needed. When the worst-case scenario does happen at least you can set up a shelter, get a fire going, boil water, and keep warm until you are found. It’s not perfect but is far superior than just the clothes on your back.
Other items I carry always are: a Zippo lighter, two whistles, toilet paper, a small first aid kit, a small “brew kit” (with tea, bullion, and cup-a-soup), a warm jacket, extra socks, some food, and a wrist watch. Other items go into my pack as the situation requires. Bottom line is you should always be ready to spend a night on the mountain and be comfortable doing it. Mother Nature is unforgiving and if you cross her she will win. I guarantee it.
One very important thing to do is to always tell someone the following:
- Where you are going including your route in and out;
- Who you are going with;
- How long you will be gone;
- When you will be back and make contact by;
- What to do if you have not made contact.
Do not deviate from your plan! Having search and rescue look for you is pointless if you are not where you said you would be. If you get yourself out make sure to tell someone so they can stop looking for you. Remember these are volunteers so don’t waste their time.
This is just the kit I carry and some advice I have. It works for me and could be used as a template for building your own kit. I am confident with what I carry that I can stay put and comfortable for several days if I had to and that’s the mindset that I go out with. North Shore Rescue’s website also has information on what to bring and what to do when lost. Google can also be a great resource for further information.
Go out, enjoy nature, explore, play, and have fun, but above all be safe and prepared.