Sunday, 16 March 2014

Basics of Survival

The first thing to consider is the basic needs of survival, and the order in which these need to be tackled -

1. Shelter - this is really the first need here in England due to the weather which can often be wet, windy or cold. Even in hot weather shelter is a necessity and the weather is so changeable that some form of shelter will always be needed.

2. Fire - this is the next thing that would be needed, again because of the weather which can be windy, rainy or cold. This is also needed to cook food on or to boil water for drinking, as well as dry clothes etc.

3. Water - We cannot live without water for very long so this is a must.

4. Food - We can go without food for a few weeks but even so this would weaken us physically and mentally and not help at all in keeping up morale.

If we are clever enough to prepare beforehand for any problems in the future the need to start from scratch can be avoided, though we need to be able to do these things without any kind of equipment just in case this does arise. However, we are not talking here about a situation like the Special Forces would need to prepare for, so how we do so can be very different. Preparation means having the necessary equipment ready at any time, so the first step is to put together a Survival Bag.

The Survival Bag - This needs to be simple and carry only what is needed to do the jobs that would be required. The basic equipment that I use is simple -

A basha/tarp - this can be used to throw up a shelter in minutes; carry this in a bag together with a long piece of cordage (paracord), if possible around 3/8 inch thick, and 3-4 tarp clips (used to mend tarps when the eyelets are damaged) which are used to clip the tarp to the cordage. With this simple equipment you can throw up a shelter quickly and with little weight to carry.

A good knife, preferably with a steel-striker that fits onto the sheath; you should pay around £80.00 and upwards for a good knife that will last you a lifetime. Skimping on this is a silly thing to do, and the cheaper knives are really not good enough for the tasks in hand. This is where craftsmanship comes before mass production, and buying cheaper equipment only means doing so often.

A good axe, which should be something like the Gransford-Bruks or similar which are expensive but which are of the best quality. I use a small backpacking axe which cost around £60.00 but which has done everything it needed to do and has lasted some years already. This takes a good edge. Don't forget to carry a small sharpener too.

A folding saw - I have used a Bahco Saw which is not that dear but which lasts for years and more importantly keeps its edge even under extreme use. The only drawback (I have found) with a folding type is that the ends tend to bend slightly, which is avoided with a bow-saw. But the folding saw is less bulky and the end can be straightened quite easily, and can even be avoided by not going the whole length of the blade when cutting.

A torch - I have used a small lensor torch for years and these have a really good battery life and are also extremely powerful. The torch is a must in the dark of winter especially.

First Aid Kit - This is something that is often overlooked, but is one of the most important things to carry. Mine is made up of bandages, plasters, wipes, headache tablets, pain-killers and would dressings, as well as other important stuff.

Fire-staring equipment - I always carry cotton wool and some small fibre-type firelighters so that I am ready to start a fire in difficult circumstances. You can also carry a tampax which folds out as a firelighter. A steel-striker is carried on my knife-sheath, though I also carry a lighter too as a secondary measure. The cotton wool and firelighters are carried in a small plastic box, and I have cut up half a dozen strips of bike inner tubes which act as 'elastic bands' to hold the lid on, and which can be used to light a fire in the wet.

An mKettle - This is like a Kelly Kettle but it is much smaller and packs away very small indeed. It can be used, like the Kelly Kettle, with paper, cardboard or small twigs and I have used it on hundreds of occasions this way. However, these kettles (the aluminium ones) do tend to warp at the base, so what I do for practice use is to carry a small meths. stove which fits inside the base and can be filled with enough meths to use the stove three times. The stove can make 3 small plastic cups of tea/coffee etc. Another advantage of this one is that it has a plastic stopper and can thus be filled with water and carried. I fit mine into a bag with the cups, spoon and sachets of coffee or tea bags/sugar etc.

This equipment fits neatly into a small rucksack which is not heavy to carry, and can be used as the basis for regular practice work. I think that we would all agree that it is much better to make things as easy as possible and that preparation is far better than having to tackle a situation without any equipment.

Shelter-Building -  I am going to show a few very simple shelters made up from a basha/tarp and which can be put up in a very short time. In cold and wet weather some form of fire is essential with these types of shelter.

The above is a simple basha lean-to shelter using a bungee between two trees and pegging down the back with hand-made wooden pegs on site. The Two logs are there to stop the wind blowing up the back of the shelter. This is one of the most simple shelters to erect and can be put up in a very short time.

This one is also a basha lean-to shelter, but this time designed for building where there are no trees close enough to tie a piece of cordage or use a bungee. This one is made from two upright Y-pieces with a cross-piece, and two backward-slanting pieces to hold the whole thing together. The tarp is merely draped across the top of the cross-piece and fixed at the back with hand-made wooden pegs on site. Note that the front goes about a foot over the top of the cross-piece and is held by two guy-ropes; this acts as a canopy for the front of the shelter so that rain does not get in.

This is another lean-to shelter, but this time made up of a cheap small tarp. A piece of cordage is tied between two trees, and the tarp draped over the top, held onto the cordage with two tarp-clips (carried in the equipment). Very simple and easy to get up if it suddenly starts to rain.

This one is a basha lean-to placed over a fallen ash-tree; the need to check the safety of the fallen tree is essential with this type. The basha is draped across the tree-stump and tied around it, whilst the back is held down by hand-made pegs and logs placed across to keep the wind from blowing the back up. A fire is placed in front of the basha to keep the warmth in, since this was done in very cold weather.

(***) There is one point on this, for when a fire is lit in front if softwood is used sparks may burn holes in the basha, and ruin an expensive piece of equipment. Hardwood does not produce so many sparks but even so this can be a problem. For practice we switched to using cheaper tarps which can be mended with a piece of duck-tape.

This next shelter is quite different and once again can be used where no trees are available to tie a cross-piece. This one uses an inverted-V frame at the front; a straight piece of wood is tied to a y-piece at the front and a long stave is tied to these and pushed into the ground at the back. The basha is spread over the top of the frame and pegged down with wooden pegs made up on site.

This one is by far the most efficient type of basha-shelter since it has only one end open and thus keeps dryer, warmer and keeps the wind out efficiently. Again, the whole thing is very simple to put up and takes a short time to do. A bit longer than the lean-to type since the wood needs to be found and cut.

This one is an entirely different form an uses an old fishing-shelter carried without the fibre-glass poles, and thus being folded smaller and more compact. When folded up it is hardly more than a normal basha/tarp but has the advantage of having a ready-made shelter but with only the front open to the elements. Even here the top piece can easily be folded forward and thus blocking part of the front to keep the rain and wind out. Another advantage is that the shelter has its own built-in ground sheet.

It is necessary to carry a length of para-cord to hang the shelter onto, and guy-ropes to tie up at the sides and back. One disadvantage is that in very wet weather the ground-sheet can become wet, and this can prove very inconvenient. This could be got over by cutting a few lengths of logs to the length of the front and fixing them over this to keep the wet out of the bottom.

Since this shelter could accommodate two people at a pinch one could carry a small tarp which could be set up over the front of the fishing-shelter. This way the wet could not get into the shelter and the ground-sheet would stay drier. This one is a very good shelter and the fishing-shelter itself is inexpensive.

This one is another simple shelter, but this time using two inverted-v frames with a cross-piece. The wood for this was already cut for us since a local bushcraft group had been doing the work in these woods (cheers!). Tarp used here is a larger one and we put logs at each end to stop some of the draughts and wet getting in. This one could easily sleep two people. When we built this one we had two tarps, one smaller than the other, so we put the smaller tarp around the back end and thus covered three sides rather than two; we could, of course, have built the back up with logs if we had more time, thus doing the same job with only one tarp.

Using the two tarps makes this into nearly a full tent, and keeps out the weather very well. I can certainly sleep two people easily and keep the equipment dry too. This would take a lot more time but would be worthwhile for a more long-term shelter.

This one started as a lean-to shelter made from an old tarp we found in the area. It has three upright staves at the front tied to a cross-piece, with three back-leaning staves pushed into the ground and tied to the front crosspiece. Another stave is tied to the three backward-leaning staves to hold the tarp steady. Two short pieces were tied across the sides. The whole thing was then covered at the back with branches, twigs and leave to camo. This simple shelter developed in stages.

The next stage was to fill the ends in with short pieces of log cut to size; we always use felled logs and not living trees, so as not to damage the woodlands. This was given a good deal of camo to hide the light blue tarp.

The last stage of this shelter meant that we took off the blue tarp which was rather easy to spot, and replaced it with a larger camo-tarp which was draped right over the top and tied down at the front, thus keeping the whole thing dry and out of the wind. This shelter has stood for nearly three years now and has been left undisturbed all that time; it is also very dry inside even through one of the wettest summers (2011) and the wettest winters (2013-14). It is still dry inside now after all this time and we have even kept some pieces of equipment stored inside it.
The next post will feature the most efficient shelter that we have built - the tepee-shelter. This was put up some 3 years ago and still stands today.