BLOG 80. A Smart Survival Kit For the Northwoods
by Cliff Jacobson
|Stuff happens: Steel River, Ontario|
My first job after college was as a forester for the Bureau of Land Management in Coos Bay, Oregon. It was 1962, long before GPS and cell phones. One rainy January morning I was re-marking the cutting line that defined the area of a timber sale. It was Thursday and I had Friday off and big plans for the weekend, so I hurried to get the job done.
Space doesn’t permit details other than to say that in my haste, I became hopelessly lost. And lost in an Oregon rain forest is a very big deal. Here, huge trees cloud the sky and downed trees and winding vegetation limit walking to at best, one mile an hour. Visibility is measured in feet; only occasionally can you see the sky. Walk a few yards off a beaten path and you may become hopelessly lost...and never found!
Since it was Friday, no one from the BLM would look for me until Monday when I didn’t show up for work. So instead of waiting for help, I decided to find may way out. I had these “survival items” on my person:
· A Thermos of coffee and lunch
· Matches and a Zippo cigarette lighter
· A Silva Ranger compass
· A sturdy pocket knife
· A roll of yellow surveying ribbon (to re-mark the sale area)
· A red cowboy bandana
· Pencil and spiral notebook
I was wearing a cotton T-shirt, a medium-weight wool long sleeve shirt and a Filson cruiser’s vest; Filson tin-pants, a two-piece rain-suit, metal hard hat, and corked boots for safety while scrambling over logs. The air temperature was about 50 degrees with occasional light misting.
Most important, I had a “mental map” of the area: For example, I knew that highway 101, which parallels the ocean, was about 20 miles west of me. If I headed west, I should make the highway in a few days. I thought about backtracking to the winding, unimproved mountain road where I’d parked the Jeep (about a mile away) but decided against it. Without a proper compass heading, my chances of intersecting it were small. Besides, the road did not run parallel to my position.
Momentarily, I panicked and ran a few feet. Then I sat down under a tree, poured some coffee and formulated a plan. I decided to go for the highway even though it was two days away. I figured I could make about eight miles a day. It was January (the rainy season) so there was standing water everywhere. I wouldn’t be thirsty. And I had packed a big lunch—enough for two days if rationed.
I set my compass for due west and started walking. When it became dark, I cut some Douglas fir boughs, piled them up and crawled between them. Surprisingly, I was reasonably comfortable and not cold. I headed west as soon as the sun came up.
On the morning of the third day I intersected a logging road which I followed to the tiny town of Remote, Oregon. There, I hitched a ride back (on a logging truck) to my jeep which I drove home. I never told a soul. Why? Because foresters don’t get lost!
A commercial “survival kit” would not have helped me. It’s what I had in my pockets that saved the day! A positive mental attitude (PMA)—knowing you’ll survive—beats any commercial box filled with clever stuff. That highway 101 was within reach was the fuel that kept me going. Without this belief, the most complete survival kit would have been useless. Indeed, in a real emergency, a kit (box or bag) may be left behind or lost in a canoe capsize. More than likely, you’ll have to rely on just “what’s in your pockets”.
Commercial survival kits commonly contain these items: waterproof matches and fire-starters, a single-edged razor blade or cheap knife, a near worthless miniature compass, a lightweight space blanket, fish-hooks, fish line, aluminum foil, signal mirror, whistle, sewing needle and thread, band-aids. Maybe energy bars and salt. And of course, an “instruction manual”.
Contrast this with what wilderness paddlers should always have on their person:
· Waterproof matches and/or a waterproof butane cigarette lighter (I carry two butane lighters).
· Sturdy knife—fixed or folding blade (in a sturdy sheath or on a lanyard)
· A seriously good compass, preferably with a mirror (for signaling)
· A paper map—or at least a mental map of the area
· Large colorful cowboy bandana
· Insect head-net (if tripping in the north country) and bug dope
A SMART SURVIVAL KIT FOR THE NORTH WOODS
Assume you're solo canoeing a remote northern river where help is days away. Here’s what I would carry. All will fit into a small fanny pack that buckles around the waist:
In Your Fanny Pack:
· SPOT satellite messenger. Extra batteries. All sealed in a Loksak® waterproof plastic bag.
· A few heat-tabs (fire starters)
· Disposable butane lighter—sealed in plastic wrap (this is in addition to the lighter(s) in your pocket)
· 50 feet of 1/16” inch diameter nylon cord, cut into 10 foot lengths.
· Two Band-Aids
· 3 feet of duct tape or Gorilla tape wound around a pencil stub.
· Two sheets of paper torn from a small waterproof notebook.
· Two fish-hooks and one jig. 50 feet of high-test fishing line.
· 2 ultra-compact space blankets (each, about the size of a pack of cigarettes)
· Small roll of bright orange or yellow plastic surveying tape.
· Small stainless steel or titanium cup—a Sierra cup is ideal.
· Some bouillon cubes in a Loksak® waterproof bag.
· Optional: small coil of snare wire
· One or two energy bars if space permits.
On Your Body:
Knife, matches/lighter, compass, multi-tool, head-net, bug-dope, bandana, whistle
Add the above items (which should be on your belt or in your pockets)” and you’re good to go. Note that I prefer the SPOT over the DeLorme inReach for use in a survival kit. Why? Because SPOT is lighter, more compact and less expensive to buy and operate. If the weather permits a good fix, it will bring rescuers fast. Use the surveying tape to create a trail rescuers can follow if you wander. Boil water and prepare bullion soup, spruce or fireweed tea in your metal cup. Fish you catch can be hung from a tripod over the fire, grilled over green sticks or boiled in your cup. The space blankets can be taped together and rigged to provide shelter. An insect head-net can be used to catch crawdads and minnows.
If you’ve ever been lost or, as Daniel Boone once said, “I was never lost, just confused once for three days!” I’d love to hear your views on survival stuff.