The power goes out and you’re sheltering inside the house. Outside, the temperature plummets, the wind picks up and it starts to snow. You don’t know when the power will be restored. It might be hours or days. How will you stay warm and safe? How do you get started?
This post was written exactly 4 years ago, on my Facebook page. I still stand by it. Rich Fleetwood – February 7, 2012 · Riverton · Watching “Doomsday Preppers” on NGC this evening, with an as objective as possible viewpoint. I’ve been doing this stuff myself for 20 years, and in my position and experience, with the […]
The snowmobilers were stuck in the waist-deep snow and lost in a blizzard. They tried to walk out. By morning, one was dead, and the other had severe frostbite.
by Leon Pantenburg
The happened in 2007, about 15 miles from my home. It’s easy, in hindsight, to point out mistakes people have made, and we can never know all variables. But in that case, the ability to make a shelter may have saved a life.
One really important backcountry deep snow survival skill is knowing how to make a shelter. A snow cave can save your life, but if you don’t have the time, tools and know-how to build one, you’re wasting your time.
Don’t depend on a snow cave for your emergency shelter. You are much better off packing a sleeping bag and tent with your survival gear.
Building a snow cave sounds simple, and according to some survival manuals, easy to do. Reality is a lot different.
There is a lot to know about these shelters. Probably the best place to start is by reading “Snow Caves For Fun and Survival” by Ernest Wilkinson. This book gives a practical approach to the subject, and I highly recommend it. Wilkinson’s snow cave construction technique is discussed here.
But there are some considerations about snow caves to think about before you desperately need to build one! You can’t just dig sideways into a snow drift.
- You will have to remove between two and three cubic feet of snow.
- The snow will packed and not easy to remove.
- You will need proper tools to make the job easier.
- The idea is to avoid getting wet and cold while working on the shelter.
Here are some tools to take along:
Block cutter: Boy Scout Troop 18 here in Bend, OR, has several snow block cutters, and these work really well for building igloos and caves. They look like cutting boards, being about 12-inches by 18-inches. A thick handle on top allows shoving them down and pulling them out of the snow after cutting a block.
Machete or snow saw: Nice to have. You can miter and trim blocks more easily to make them fit in a snow shelter.
Shovel: Necessary. Always take some sort of shovel along when cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or snowmobiling. If your machine gets stuck, you might be able to dig it out. You will also need the shovel to help clear out loose snow from inside the shelter, and to dig the cold well and fashion the sleeping benches.
Sled: I like to take along a small plastic toboggan, like kids use on small hills. I use it to carry my gear, and it works superbly for moving snow blocks. One person can use the block cutter to excavate sideways into the snow bank, placing the blocks on the toboggan. Another worker can slide the blocks outside, which eliminates handling and reduces the chances of getting wet.
Insulite or closed cell foam pad: This item should go along on every snow outing. It provides a place to sit or lay upon without losing heat to the ground. It is also great for kneeling upon when excavating the interior of the snow cave.
Long burning candle: It’s surprising how much heat can be generated inside a snow shelter with one candle. But the best use is for lighting. It gets dark early in the winter, and once you get the cave built, some light will be really appreciated.
Deck of cards: Strictly optional, but you may end up spending a very long, dark night in the shelter. Playing a familiar game will go a long way toward dispelling fear and panic.
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A Pop-Up House That Will Fit In Your Bug Out Bag This awesome design is very innovative and actually can be used not just for survival situations. Imagine if you had one of these for a festival or a campout. Designed by Martin Azua, Basic House is a foldable, inflatable, and reversible quasi-tent that provides …
If You’re Going To Bug In, Do It Right: DIY Bunker Plans Do you have concerns about having adequate shelter for you and your loved ones in case of sudden survival situations? Is bugging out not a viable solution for your family? Maybe you wish you could have an underground bunker but the cost of […]
The post If You’re Going To Bug In, Do It Right: DIY Bunker Plans appeared first on SHTF DAD.
Emergency Shelters: How to Make Yours Last There is more to prepping than simply stocking up on bottled water (though that is a big part of it). For the serious prepper, getting ready for a disaster also involves activities like building emergency shelters and storage spaces and outfitting them properly. Here are some tips on […]
You don’t have any wilderness experience, but you want some. So what do you take along to make sure you get back?
by Leon Pantenburg
One of the most common questions from wilderness newcomers is: “What gear will I need?”
And that’s a really good question! Walk through any sporting goods store and you’ll notice a bewildering array of gear, stuff, doo-dads, knick-nacks and junk. The buyer must decide which is which.
Depending on what store it is, and the salesperson, you could end up buying some very expensive – and unnecessary – items. In some stores, the salespeople work on commission and push high-priced gear. Or you might end up with a clerk who is covering the counter for somebody at lunch.
So, here’s where to start. The Boy Scouts of America have been preaching the gospel of survival common sense for 100 years. Who actually coined the term “Ten Essentials” is probably unknown. But there is no question that a facsimile of this basic list is the basis of all emergency preparedness kits. Get your Ten Essentials first.
Here is a list of the Boy Scout Outdoor Essentials, and product suggestions. Check out the links for more info on any of the topics. Look at these ideas, and then decide what will work best for you.
- Knife: The best knife is up to your personal preference, but you must have some sort of cutting edge along. The only survival knife you have is the one you have along!
- First Aid kit: (A first aid kit should go along on every outing, even if you never use it.)
- Extra clothing: (This will depend, of course, on the climate, time of year and where you are. Clothing needs for my high desert area are much different than for those people in the tropics.)
- Rain gear: You have two choices for protection from the rain: rainsuit or poncho. I use both, depending on the circumstances. I hiked the John Muir Trail with a poncho for rain protection. It rained nine days straight! The poncho kept me dry, even though I was expending a lot of energy to hike. I prefer a rainsuit while hunting or fishing, because it won’t flap in the wind, and a rainsuit offers better protection while sitting or standing for long periods of time. Decide what’s best for your needs.
- Water bottle: Water is an absolute necessity. I generally carry a Nalgene or other rigid water bottle to drink out of. In my pack, I’ll carry several soft bottles to replenish my Nalgene. The soft bottle are protected in the pack, and
when empty, can be rolled up. The softies weight virtually nothing, and take up hardly any space. And if you find a water source, and need to re-supply, you’ll have ample containers along.
I’m not a big fan of the water bladder systems, for no really good reason, but they are great for kids because the drinking tube encourages drinking. (And the novelty of using a bladder water system will keep them well-hydrated until the newness wears off!)
- Flashlight or headlamp: (I field-dressed a deer shortly after darkness fell one evening, holding my mini-maglite in my teeth. It was pretty gross – talk about drooling on your gear…) Anyway, ever since that experience I carry a good headlamp. A headlamp leaves your hands free if you are spelunking, end up walking out to the car in the dark, scrambling over rocks etc. Besides, if the lamp is on your head, chances are less that it might be dropped and broken.)
- Trail food: This is another personal preference. I like to make most of my own, because of my inherent cheapness and a Depression-era mentality inherited from my Dad. But in all my packs, I have several Clif bars, some jerky, sardines, and hardtack. The gourmet food comes from the Dutch oven. The emergency food is fuel.
- Matches and firestarter or other methods of ignition – you should have several different types.
- Sun protection Sunscreen is an item that needs to be in every survival kit, regardless if you’re in the arctic or the tropics. I carry the tube type, because it is less messy to apply.
- Map and compass A GPS is also useful, but not without a map and compass! Always include spare batteries for your GPS!
This is the bare bones list, and you should expand and add categories to fit your individual needs. For example, my Ten Essentials includes some method of shelter, such as a tarp, trash bag, bivey sack etc., and I always carry at least 50 feet of parachute cord or light rope, and four aluminum tent stakes.
Neither the scouts, nor I, recommend including fishing gear as a survival tool! Many of the items, such as the knife, first aid kit and Clif bars, have multiple memberships in my different specialized survival kits. Another necessity is the proper size spare batteries for any device that is battery-powered. It’s a good idea to get battery-operated items that all use the same size.
Your outdoor essentials list can also vary seasonally. I always include a snow shovel and insulite pad on my winter showshoe treks.
My summer and winter extra clothing choices would also be different. An extra stocking cap is always a good thing to have along, but in the summer, a broad-brimmed hat for sun protection is a necessity.
Some items you shouldn’t cut costs on are boots or hiking shoes; a sleeping bag, and a reliable shelter.
Use this Outdoor Essentials list to form the basis for your own survival kit, then read and research to get new ideas. Your survival kit, if it’s anything like mine, will probably end up being an evolving project. After every outing, think about what you used, what you didn’t need, and what you wished you had. Then adjust accordingly.
The best survival kit or gear in the world is worthless if you don’t know how to use it, and just having a survival kit won’t save you. In fact, it might give you a false sense of confidence that could be deadly!
Start your wilderness preparation by reading a credible survival book, or taking a class from a competent instructor. Be wary of any survival-related internet blog or website. Just because someone has a website, doesn’t mean they know anything! Don’t get your survival training off a prime-time survival “reality” show.
Then practice with your equipment. Learn how to make a fire, or pitch your shelter in your backyard. Try out your sleeping bag on a chilly night on the deck to make sure it’s going to be warm enough. Make your mistakes at home, so you won’t in the backcountry, where a screw-up can kill you.
And let this be your mantra: “My survival kit won’t save me. My equipment or gear can’t save me. I will save me.” And include common sense with every outing!
If we are to believe the survival manuals and the “how-to-survive” articles published in the popular outdoor press, building a shelter from natural shelters in an emergency should be a piece of cake! After all, look at all the trees, bushes, bark and other natural materials you have to work with!
by Peter Kummerfeldt
Based on what we read there should always be a convenient hollow tree, rocky overhang or cave a person in trouble could use for shelter. It’s strange how when you are not in trouble any number of suitable shelters can be found but when you really need one – they are in short supply. Murphy’s Law I guess!
I have always believed that if you are going to need a shelter you had better have the materials with you to build it! I also believe that it is impossible for the typical survivor to build a waterproof, wind proof shelter from natural materials!
Consider this: When does a survivor first realize that they need a shelter?
Usually when the realization first hits that they are going to have to spend a night out that they hadn’t planned on. It’s late in the day, (maybe even dark already!) the temperature is dropping, the wind’s picking up, and it’s beginning to rain! This is not the time to be scrambling around the countryside trying to find the natural materials to build your home for the night – especially if you are injured!
Have you even wondered how you would build a shelter from natural materials if your arm was broken? Shelters made from natural materials require time, natural resources, a cutting tool is helpful and a fully functional survivor who has practiced building survival shelters in the past! These commodities are often in short supply in an emergency!
The survivor needs a waterproof, wind proof shelter now! Being able to protect yourself from inclement weather quickly is a fundamental requirement if you are to survive.
Mylar Space blankets and bags. Mylar space blankets are light weight, inexpensive, compact and largely USELESS in an emergency! Again consider the scenario I laid out earlier – it’s late in the day, cold, rainy, windy and the survivor is injured, hypothermic – or both!
Space blankets are difficult to get out of the package, they are difficult to unfolded and drape around yourself – especially if you are one-handed in a windy situation! They are usually too small for an adult and require the use of both hands to keep yourself enclosed within the blanket. They are very noisy; (which might preclude you from hearing the rescuers) and tear very easily if nicked or punctured. Bags made out of the same Mylar plastic are also available however, other than the fact that they are a “bag” these devices suffer from all of the same flaws that blankets suffer from. I do not recommend products made from Mylar plastic for emergency shelters.
Thermal blankets are similar to space blankets but are made from heavier material reinforced with fiberglass threads and with grommets in each corner. Thermal blankets can be used as a body-wrap but once again, depending on the size of the person, they are often too small to completely protect an adult. Some survivors have attempted to use a thermal blanket as a shelter roof by tying lines off lines to each corner and stretching the blanket between various anchor points. In benign conditions this may work, but with any wind loading or snow loading the grommets pull out very quickly and the blanket is destroyed.
Tube tents are another emergency shelter option. Tube tents are generally eight feet long, and provide a tubular shelter three feet to five feet high when erected, depending on the brand. Tube tents can also be pulled over the body to provide a quick shelter from the elements or they can be used as a “pup tent.”
To erect a tube tent shelter, tie off a line to an anchor point (a tree), run the line through the length of the tube tent and tie it off to second anchor point. The tent is then spread out along the length of the line. The height of the horizontal line above the ground should be such that the tent can spread out enough to accommodate the occupant. The plastic that tube tents are made from comes in a variety of thicknesses. With one popular brand the plastic is only one mil thick which tears very easily.
In order to withstand the abuse, and better meet the needs of a person having to spend the night out, the thickness of the plastic should be at least three mils – four mils is better. Tube tents can be improvised from large household trash bags by opening up the closed end of one bag, sliding it into the open end of the second bag and then duct taping the seams together.
Tarps. Sheets of Visqueen plastic, painter’s drop cloths, canvas or other similar materials can be used to erect a wide variety of effective survival shelters. “Blue Crinkly” tarps are a readily available, inexpensive products from which emergency shelters can be quickly built. These tarps can be purchased from most hardware stores, come in a variety of sizes and are usually blue on both sides with grommets in each corner and at intervals along the sides.
An eight foot by ten foot tarp is needed to provide the protection needed by an adult. Tarps of this size weigh about twenty six ounces and can be rolled up into a tube six inches in diameter by twelve inches long, which makes them very convenient to carry on the outside of a daypack or fanny pack. Tie ten feet of parachute line to each corner grommet before you go outdoors to expedite erecting the shelter when time is short.
Tarps can be erected in a number of styles depending on the weather conditions that the survivor is exposed to. To erect a lean-to tarp shelter first select a line long enough to stretch between two trees far enough apart for the tarp to be stretched tight. Using a Timber Hitch, tie off one end of a line, about chest height, to an anchor then, rather than passing the line through the grommet eyes, insert a bend in the line through the grommet eye and place a short stick through the eye in the line.
Repeat this process for each grommet stretching the tarp tight each time.. With the tarp attached to the line, tie off the other end of the line to the second tree, again stretching the line as tightly as possible.. The lower edge of the tarp is then pegged to the ground or anchored with large stones or a length of log.
If possible orient the shelter so that the lower edge points into the prevailing weather however if a fire is to be used in front of the lean-to, the front of the shelter should be parallel to the prevailing wind. Oriented in this manner the wind will carry the smoke away the shelter rather than into it.
Plastic bag shelters
Large, heavy grade, (3-4 mil) orange plastic 55 gallon drum liners make good short-term, emergency shelters. It may be difficult to warm-up and dry out after becoming cold and wet and consequently you need a shelter that you can crawl under, or better still, crawl into quickly when weather conditions deteriorate. A large plastic bag serves this purpose very well.
Totally encapsulating yourself inside a plastic bag is not a good idea. Apart from the need for oxygen, the water vapor contained in the air you exhale and your perspiration will condense on the inner surfaces of the bag and the occupant can get quite wet.
To minimize this problem, cut an opening in the closed end of the bag just large enough to allow the user to pass their head through. The bag is then passed over the survivor’s head until their face aligns with the hole and the moist air is exhaled to the outside. When creating the hole, cut the plastic at ninety degrees to the fold to reduce the likelihood of the bag tearing along the seam. The hole should be just big enough to pass your head through when you are getting too warm and need to cool down.
Being able to protect oneself from the onslaughts of the weather is a fundamental survival skill. Not to do so is an invitation to dying from hypothermia! Too many people venture into the outdoors without carrying a shelter, or the materials to make a shelter, thinking that they will be able to build one from whatever natural materials they find. Many of these same people find out too late that the clothing they are wearing is adequate when they are active but totally inadequate when they are stationary.
Sheltering, i.e. defending your body core temperature from dropping below 98.6º F, begins with selecting appropriate clothing. With good clothing you may not need any other shelter. With inadequate clothing you had better have something in your gear to protect yourself from precipitation, wind and temperature extremes. Inadequate clothing places a premium on a survivor’s ability to find or construct a shelter and on their ability to build a fire.
In the final analysis the only shelter you can count on is the shelter provided by your clothing. Pick it carefully! The only heat that you can count on is the heat your body is producing. Don’t waste it!!
Peter Kummerfeldt has walked the talk in the wilderness survival field for decades. Peter grew up in
Kenya, East Africa and came to America in 1965 and joined the U.S. Air Force. He is a graduate of the Air Force Survival Instructor Training School and has served as an instructor at the Basic Survival School, Spokane, Washington; the Arctic Survival School, Fairbanks, Alaska, and the Jungle Survival School, Republic of the Philippines.
For twelve years, Peter was the Survival Training Director at the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado. He retired from the Air Force in 1995 after 30 years of service.
In 1992, concerned with the number of accidents that were occurring in the outdoors annually and the number of tourists traveling overseas who were involved in unpleasant and sometimes life-threatening incidents Peter created OutdoorSafe.com
He is the author of Surviving a Wilderness Emergency and has addressed over 20,000 people as the featured speaker at numerous seminars, conferences and national conventions.
by Todd Walker
From the biblical perspective, sin is “missing the mark.” In wilderness survival, not hitting your target in one skill doesn’t have to mean certain death. However, fall short in these three critical survival skills, and, dude, you’re screwed!
You won’t get a second chance to see your family again if you can’t stay warm and hydrated. Core Temperature Control (CTC) is the redeeming factor.
Cold and Wet: The Perfect Storm
Your body does a remarkable job regulating core temperature. However, add moisture to the equation, drop the temperature slightly, and you’ve got a perfect storm for hypothermia.
Water saps body heat 25 times faster than air. And 70 to 80% of your body heat is lost through your head and neck. The remaining heat loss goes through your fingers, hands, and feet. The simple act of breathing in cold air and expelling warm air will chill your body.
A slight change in core temp, even by a degree or two, will affect your bodily functions. Shivering, lack of coordination, slurred speech, and numbness in the extremities are signs of hypothermia. Decrease to 91.4ºF (33ºC) and you lose consciousness. Complete muscle failure occurs at 82.4ºF (28ºC).
Core Temperature Equipment
This article is not addressing wilderness living skills or long-term self-reliance. We’re talking about surviving. You can’t very well pursue long-term stuff if you’re not equipped to survive the a short-term storm. And, by storm, I mean – when you need immediate help and none is available – in the wilderness or urban setting.
The first step to being equipped is to always carry equipment. No matter how many debris huts you’ve built, you’d be a stupid survivalist, and possibly a dead one, to not pack some sort of emergency shelter option, fire kit, metal container, cordage, and a knife.
Below is my emergency kit I carry no matter how long I plan to be in the woods.
- Emergency Space Blanket ~ The best 12 ounce item in my kit for core temperature control. I also carry two contractor grade garbage bags – too many uses to mention here.
- Fire Kit ~ Three different ignition sources – open flame (Bic lighter), spark ignition (ferro rod), solar ignition (magnifying lens), sure fire (diy and commercial), duct tape, and a bit of dry tinder material.
- Knife ~ There is no such thing as “The Best Survival Knife”. However, your cutting tool should have multipurpose attributes and be hair-popping sharp.
- Metal Container ~ A metal water bottle can be used to boil water, make char cloth, cook meals, and perform self-aid duties.
- Cordage ~ I carry both 550 paracord and tarred mariners line.
These items are my bare bones kit and go with me camping, hiking, backpacking, and hunting. Don’t think you’ll ever need these kit items? Think again. Read this real-life survival story of an injured hunter in the Idaho wilderness.
Core Temperature Control Skills
Conserving body heat is the key to survival. Your body produces heat from biochemical reactions in cells, exercise, and eating. Without a furry coating like lower animals, insulation to maintain a body temperature at 98.6 degrees F is critical.
It all starts with…
Skill #1 ~ Shelter
Sins of Sheltering: Not carrying an emergency space blanket and wearing improper clothing.
While having an emergency space blanket is important, your shelter is built before you ever step over the door sill of your warm and cozy home. Your clothes are your first layer of shelter.
Ever see men with Sasquatch hair at the beach. No matter how thick it appears, that rug won’t insulate when wet and cold.
To trap body heat, layer your clothing. Layers create dead air space much like the insulation in house walls and attics. Layering is activity-dependent. But the basic concept applies to any outdoor cold weather activity.
Here’s my layer system…
A.) Base Layer ~Your base layer should fit snuggly to your body. Long sleeve shirt and underwear made of polyester blend for wicking perspiration away from my body. Sock liners go on first before wool socks. Thin wool glove liners are worn inside my larger leather mittens.
B.) Insulation ~ Yes, I wear cotton, and sometimes fleece, on top of the base layer. This is dependent upon my activity. If I’m really active in really cold weather, I wear a wool sweater. Wool is my favorite insulation layer. Here’s why…
- Wool fiber absorbs up to 36% of its weight and gradually releases moisture through evaporation.
- Wool has natural antibacterial properties that allow you wear it multiply days without stinking up camp. Not so with synthetics.
- Wool wicks moisture, not as well as synthetics, but better than cotton.
- Wool releases small amounts of heat as it absorbs moisture.
- Wool contains thousands of natural air-trapping pockets for breathable insulation.
Remembering the importance of dead air space, your insulation layer should fit loosely and be breathable. Apply the acronym C.O.L.D. to your insulating layer…
- C – Keep CLEAN
- O – Avoid OVERHEATING
- L – Wear loose LAYERS to create dead air space
- D – Keep DRY
C.) Outer Layer ~ Waterproof is not your friend. Yes, it will keep rain and wetness out, but it will also seal perspiration in eventually soaking your insulation. Wear a weather-resistant shell that allows moisture to escape. The main concern for this layer is to block wind.
Your head, hands, and feet are included in this layer. I’m partial to wool hats to keep my bald head warm. In subzero temps, I wear my shapka, a Russian red fox winter hat, I bought in Siberia in the early 90’s.
Cold feet are deceptive. Frostbite can happen before you know the damage is done. Wear polyester sock liners with wool socks inside your footwear of choice.
D.) Waterproof Shelter ~ Again, for emergency essentials, you can’t beat a good space blanket to block wind, rain, and reflect heat back to your body. Combined with a plastic painter’s tarp, a Kochanski Super Shelter can keep you warm in subzero condition in street clothes.
Use two large contractor garbage bags can be filled with leaves, wet or dry, for an insulating ground pad. They don’t add much weight or take up much space in your kit.
There are many more options for waterproof covering. The above list is for your emergency kit.
Skill #2 ~ Fire Craft
Sins of Fire Craft: Not carrying multiple ignition sources and all-weather fire starters.
Fire covers a multitude of ‘sins’ in your survival skills. Even if you deliberately commit the offense of not packing emergency shelter, fire forgives your lapse in judgement. Scantily clad in the wilderness? Fire covers your wrongdoing. No matter how you “miss the mark” in skills or equipment, fire can redeem you.
If you’ve spent any amount of time in the woods I’m sure you’ve heard Mother Nature humming these classic lyrics…
“… Like it always seems to go, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
Are you a fair-weather fire crafter?
That’s a good place to start. Nothing wrong with learning in the most fire-friendly conditions. You’ve got dry tinder, kindling, and fuel to burn. This may not be the case when your life depends on making fire in the wind, rain, and snow.
Cheating is NOT a Sin
There is absolutely no such thing as cheating when it comes to building a life-sustaining fire. Who cares what Bushcraft purists think! Your loved ones aren’t worried about style points in fire craft. They want you home alive. So cheat!
For the weekend camper or woodsman, carry these foul weather fire cheats…
Fire Cheat #1 ~ One of the most overlooked fire starters that should already be in your pack is duct tape. Loosely wad up about 2 foot of tape and ignite it with an open flame. A ferrocerium rod will ignite duct tape. However, you have to shred the tape to create lots of surface area. This isn’t your best option if your fingers are losing dexterity in freezing temperatures.
Fire Cheat #3 ~ Always carry enough dry tinder material to start a fire in sucky weather.
Fire Cheat #4 ~ Know where to find the best possible tinder material and how to process it to create surface area. Dead hanging branches, pencil lead size to pencil size, provide kindling even in the rain.
Fire Cheat #5 ~ Fat lighter’d (aka – fatwood, resin-rich pine wood) is my lifesaver in the south. Discover your best natural fire starter wherever you’re located or plan to travel. I keep this stuff in all my kits. It’s abundant where I live.
Fire Cheat #6 ~ Dry wood is available in all weather conditions if you know where to look. Standing dead Tulip Poplar (Magnolia) is one of my go-to fire resources. The trick to getting to the dry wood is splitting the wood down to tinder, kindling, and fuel size material. The inner bark makes excellent tinder bundles!
And that brings us to the next skill that forgives survival sins…
Skill #3: Knife Skills
A knifeless man is a lifeless man.
The “survival” knife market is full of gadgetry. Gadgets are for gawkers. You don’t need a Rambo knife to survive. You just need a solid knife and some skill.
Carry a good knife and practice with what you carry. Your knife may become your one-tool-option. Here are a few characteristics I look for when selecting my main knife…
- High carbon steel blade that is non-coated. Coated knives can’t be used to create sparks off the spine with a rock to ignite charred material. Carbon steel is easier to sharpen in the field than stainless steel.
- Blade length between 4-5 inches.
- Full tang (solid metal under the entire handle) lessens the chance of breakage when an ax is not available to split wood and you have to resort to the baton method.
- A 90 degree spine is useful to strike ferro rods, process tinder, scrape wood shavings for fire, and many other uses.
- Most importantly, your knife should feel right in your hand as you use it. The best “survival” knife is the one you have on you and are proficient with.
Knife Sins: Carrying a knife but never becoming competent with your blade.
You’re not going to be carving spoons and bowls in a short-term survival situation. Your cutting tool will be used to make shelter and fire to control core temperature. Knife skills can be easily developed and honed in your backyard.
Since fire is the most forgiving if you “miss the mark” with proper shelter, we’ll cover the cutting tool’s use in fire craft first.
Have Knife, Will Burn
Even if you’ve committed the first two survival sins, your blade can save you. A knife in skilled hands can create fire from scratch. I don’t rely on friction fire as my first choice but do practice the skill in case I run into unknown unknowns.
With my buddy Bic in my pocket, I still need to process sticks to make fire quick. Both the cutting edge and spine of your knife are used to create surface area needed for ignition.
Remembering that you’re cold and wet, your fine motor skills are probably suffering. Pretty feather sticks are for style points. Style won’t save you. Fire will!
Split a dead wrist-size stick with a baton and knife into thumb size pieces to get to the dry stuff. Split a few of those pieces into smaller kindling. Grip your knife with a reverse grip (cutting edge facing up) and use the spine of your knife to scrape a pile of fine shavings off one of the larger split sticks. If you’ve got fat lighter’d, scrape off a pile of shavings the size of a golf ball. Ignite this pile with a lighter or ferro rod and feed your fire its meal plan.
Here’s a demo of a one stick fire in the rain…
Knife and Shelter
Debris shelters can be built without a knife. Sticks can be broken to length between two trees without a cutting tool. Keep in mind that this type of shelter will take a few hours and lots of calories to construct correctly.
The role of the knife in emergency shelter building is secondary compared to its importance in making fire. You won’t even need a knife to set up a space blanket shelter if you prepped your emergency kit ahead of time.
Blades are expedient in cutting cordage, notching sticks, harvesting green bows for bedding, making wedges to split larger wood without an ax, and a number of other self-reliance tasks.
Basic emergency knife skills every outdoors person should practice include…
- Safely handling a knife ~ cut away from your body, avoid the triangle of death (the triangle between your knees and crotch), cut within the blood circle when others are nearby (an imaginary circle made with your outstretched arms as you turn 360 degrees), never attempt to catch a falling knife, keep it sheathed unless in use, and keep your blade sharp.
- Creating surface area for fires ~ splitting sticks, feathering sticks, and shavings.
- Grip and body mechanics ~ standard grip, reverse grip, chest lever, knee lever, and thumb assisted grip for push cuts in fine carving tasks.
- With a piece of quarts, chert, or flint, use the spine of your high carbon steel knife for spark ignition on charred material.
All three of these survival skills are needed for emergency core temperature control, but I’d place fire on top of my forgiveness list. Fire can make water potable for hydration, warm poorly clothed pilgrims, cook food to create body heat, smoke signals, illuminate darkness, and comfort the lost.
What’s your top skill for controlling your core temperature? Share if you don’t mind.
Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,
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Natural Disasters and Hospital Safety During times of meteorological disasters, citizens often make it a point to head to local hospitals in the hopes of finding safety from the storm. After an investigation by Consumer Reports, it has become apparent that flocking to nearby hospitals may not be the safest option, especially when so many […]