Monday, 13 October 2014

Practical Survivalism

This post is about shelter-building, but is not about the actual building of a shelter but the practical (and logical) points that need to be taken into account when doing so. There are lots of books out there that show how to build a shelter from just the materials available, but whether some of these work is open to question. This is about a man-made shelter I came across in a woodland in the New Forest at the latter part of the summer of 2014. This was a small shelter made of lengths of dead wood and some cut from the trees around the area; smaller branches had been laid across these and then the whole thing was covered with green foliage. This seems to be a typical shelter used in 'bushcraft'.
Seeing this I took a close look at it and found that the whole of the inside was soaked from the rain that fell overnight. Now, the summer had been hot and dry, the driest for some years now, and it had only just started to rain on the week we went to the New Forest - so this shelter had not been subject to a lot of heavy falls of rain. It was clear that it had been put up recently, since the foliage was green.
My first thoughts on this was that it seemed a total waste of time and energy making the effort to spend so much time on building such a shelter when it would not hold out the rain. Yes, maybe this was a practice, but even then it seems a waste of time practicing something that does not work. The shelter had been really well made, and it must have taken a good deal of time to collect the wood and put it together - so it was not the actual structure that was at fault. It is obviously very difficult to make a water-tight shelter from this type of green foliage.
Going back some years we held a Folk-Moot and Camp in the Midlands at which we were shown by an ex-member of the Special Forces in South Africa how a shelter like this should be built. What he used was a similar type of structure, though his was a tepee-style version, but after putting up the initial framework he searched the area and found some discarded polythene sacks which he used over the framework in an overlapping fashion and then held these in with another structure above them. It was a dry time of the year then and we could not test this structure, but it would seem that it would have stood the test of rain and wind.
I have seen a lot of the types of shelter built in the New Forest and in Sussex, and not one of them that I have looked at has been water-tight in any way. This seems to be rather a waste of practice and the energy needed to build one. Going back to this particular shelter, I then studied the area carefully and found - not 100 yards away - a fallen tree that was totally dry underneath the trunk. In a survival situation it would be far more logical (in my opinion) to look around for a dry spot first, and then build something from what is available that would help even further to stop the wind and the rain - if necessary, that is.
Many areas of conifer trees give far more natural shelter from rain and snow that the indigenous deciduous trees. Trees such as spruce and fir give quite a bit of natural shelter on their own, without anything else. These can be picked as a spot to sleep under, using material around to build a wind-break. This would probably be far more water-tight than a shelter built like the ones I have mentioned.
The one thing that should be remembered is that anyone who is first fully prepared will not need to take a great deal of time building a shelter because the materials are carried with them. This we have done so with a basha, ponch, or small tarp, together with paracord and fittings. This goes into a very small Snugpack Response Pack or similar and can be carried with you. Admittedly, there is a need to practice building shelters without any available material except those in the area, but we have never had trouble finding an old tarp, old polythene sacks or other waterproof material which are in today's 'throw-away' society left lying about. Even pieces of plywood or chipboard are left around, as well as pieces of roofing-felt etc. Any of these will act as a waterproof cover over a structure.

This is a tepee-shelter that we built around three years ago now; it is still in the same area, hidden by being covered with dead branches, twigs and leaves. It has been water-tight and windproof ever since we built it all that time ago. It was built from materials found in the same area, and that includes the tarp which was left lying about in the woodlands. This was also a larger shelter, suited to two (or three small) people so a one-man shelter would not have needed such a large tarp.
Guerilla Survivalism must be about practical methods that actually work; logic tells us that this has to be so. If the type of shelter built in the New Forest does not work because it will not hold the water out, then alternative methods must be studied or thought up. Our work is not done under the same conditions as the Special Forces but is meant as a means of preparing us in case of future problems, or if a situation did arise that would mean we need the knowledge to do this type of thing. But the answer to the problem - in our case - is to go fully prepared taking what is needed with you. Practice over and over again how to build simple shelters with a basha, ponch or tarp so that you are quick in getting a shelter up.
Lastly, a couple of years ago we went on a trek over the South Downs, intending to camp overnight in a forest the other side. We took a rucksack each with a sleeping-bag and ground sheet, but no tent, preferring to use a tarp which we carried instead. It was a really warm and sunny day when we left, and stayed that way well into the afternoon; indeed, we were so warm that we stopped at a village shop (just off the track) to get an ice-cream and drink to cool us down.
About 4 o'clock in the afternoon we put down our ground-sheets to have a welcome rest after hiking for some hours. I was so tired that I began to drift off into a light sleep, only to be woken by spots of rain! Jumping up to get a quick shelter up I found that we had not put the paracord in that was necessary to put the tarp up. What we did at this point was to just cover ourselves with the tarp, sheltering under it until the rain stopped - which did not take long. We then carried on until we got to the edge of the forest we intended to camp in. Just as we got into the forest the rain started to come down again.
We realised this time, from the dark skies all around us, that we would have to set up the tarp properly. As I said, I had forgotten the paracord, but luckily I had on a paracord bracelet given to me by Hamasson some time before, and which I always try to take when we go out into the woods or on the Downs. The cordage was enough to go between two trees to get the tarp over, and with some pieces of cordage and some small straps (used to bind our kit together) we managed to hold the front end of the tarp down. We used a lean-to shelter technique and held the back down with three pegs cut from pieces of twigs in the floor, and added a couple of heavy logs keep the back down.
We got the tarp up and our kit laid out in a very short time, which was lucky because it started to pour down with rain at this point. The whole night consisted of a violent thunder-storm the like have I not seen for years, together with strong winds that picked up overnight. Due to the rain coming on we had to put the shelter up on the very edge of the forest, this part being on top of the South Downs, so the winds were blowing very strongly into the woods at that point. The back of the shelter faced the wind which (luckily) did not change much overnight. In the morning all three of us were dry and the shelter was still as it was when we put it up. We had experienced no real discomfort even with such harsh weather.
The moral of this is to go prepared as best you can, and to take with you what you may need to use. This type of paracord bracelet may seem a 'novelty' but in this case it saved a lot of problems - we would certainly have been soaked and very uncomfortable if we had not been able to put the shelter up immediately! There is yet another practical point to this, since had we have had to build a shelter (like that in the New Forest) it would have been far too late to stay dry and comfortable. This seems to suggest to me that the best way to use your time and energy is to try to find a dry and sheltered spot that exists already, or a place that seems to be dry and sheltered if it is a dry day. The practice of doing this would be far more beneficial than wasting time trying to build a shelter that would be put up too late, or would not be watertight.

****On a very similar point, we have probably all seen the TV series showing extreme survival, which are very interesting and entertaining, so long as we see them as being entertainment for the masses. One point alone should suffice to see what I am getting at. It is hardly practical, under extreme survival situations (or any other survival situation for that matter) to eat uncooked bugs and insects which our body is not used to eating, and which could cause any sort of negative reaction. It is quite possible that eating the wrong thing, or something the body is not used to, could cause severe diarrhoea, which would cause dehydration, something you would hardly need in a survival situation.

The human body can last weeks without food, but only days without water, so such actions could cause more harm than good. The result would be a complete loss of the ability to act because the energy of the body would be drained due to the dehydration - and things would get worse if no water could be found. Better to stay hungry for a while and conserve what energy the body has, using it to find something reliable, or make a hunting weapon  or trap to fish, hunt small animals or birds. This is not to say the eating of bugs and insects should never be done, but that it is not necessary in the normal circumstances that we would face in life. But the necessity would have to outweigh the high risk.