Getting spotted in a survival situation.

From my last couple of blogs, you will have discovered the importance of getting your priority’s straight upon finding yourself in a survival situation. Getting yourself a shelter put together, and a fire going to give yourself the best chance in the first few hours.

Now is not the time to settle down and wait for the rescue party. Do not get comfortable, there is work to be done. With good planning, the relevant authorities should have been notified ahead of any expedition about your chosen route. Where you are heading, where you are leaving from, and what time you are expected to arrive at the other end etc. It is important to maximize the chances for a rescue team to find you. They may know your planned route, but they will not know exactly where you are if you find yourself in trouble, and furthermore it may take days for anyone to raise the alarm that you have not made contact.

Set out ground to air signals. Weather permitting, it is likely that a rescue party will use a helicopter or plane to try and locate you.

Signal fires.

Building signal fires is a great way to get spotted both day and night as they can easily be modified for both day time and night time signalling. Site them on high ground to give them the best chance of being seen. When materials are available, construct three tripods spaced equally apart in a triangular pattern, this is an internationally recognized distress signal . Remember to dig them in so they will not be blown over in high winds. Add a platform around halfway up to each of these to site your fires on. Using the platforms to get your fires off the ground will help in case of severe wet weather, and also to maximize air flow through the them. Have your fires set with tinder and kindling so they can be lit at the moment you see an incoming aircraft, petrol or other flammable materials will work well if available for speedy ignition. Use green materials over the tripods to cover the fires with such as leafy branches, or pine boughs to help keep any rain off while they are not in use. Also make use of any brightly coloured material you may have, and cover the tripods with these too. This will enhance your chances of being spotted during the day if you happen to be asleep, but remember to remove them when lighting.  For day time signalling, leave the branches on and build up your fire from the side as this will create a lot of white smoke which will contrast against a darker terrain. If an aircraft approaches at night, remove the branches and build up the flames with dry materials so they burn brightly. Fires can be spotted at night from great distances. It is worth noting that if an aircraft is searching, it will fly back and fourth in an over lapping pattern. So if by the time you have got your fires lit, you may think the aircraft has missed you, however the chances are that it will turn and fly back into the area again, giving you an extra chance to get them going. If on snow covered ground, and a there is a vehicle available, use oil and tyres etc. to burn which will create black smoke contrasting much better against the snow.

Ground signals.

Place out marker signals on open ground using any materials you have to hand. Rocks, branches, clothing, even trampling snow or making marks in sand will work. Try to make letters around 40ft long and 10 ft wide with about 10ft between each letter so they can clearly be seen from air. SOS is an internationally recognized distress signal. Or even just use the word HELP. It is important to make signs large enough so they will not be missed from the air. Rescue teams will investigate anything that stands out.

Reflection and light signalling.

Searching aircraft will fly search patterns towards and away from the sun to make it easier for them to pick up any reflective signals you send out. Tin foil, glass, and mirrors will work well to reflect sun light and attract attention. Knowing Morse code will be extremely useful with this technique, however it is not necessary. Rescue teams wont over look any flashes you make if you don’t know the code. Everyone should at least know the Morse code for SOS which is …—… use short flashes for dots and longer flashes for dashes. The same technique goes for flashing a torch. Remember to remove batteries while its not in use to preserve them in case it gets turned on accidentally without your knowledge. International Mountain rescue distress signals are recognized as six flashes (or whistles etc.) per minute with a minute in between and then repeated .

Transmitting signals.

If you have a radio or other transmitter, it is important to preserve the batteries also. Try not to stay on air for to long, but rather send out signals in patterns over a period of time. Again, remove batteries while not in use. Short range beacons should only be turned on when you think rescue parties have entered the vicinity as they will not be picked up over long distances. Before heading off on an expedition, frequency’s should be established with the relevant authorities.

Getting spotted.

When an aircraft has spotted you, it will break from the search pattern and circle the area and flash its lights. Observe the aircraft for any communications drops and await further instruction.

The importance of getting these signals out as soon as possible cannot be stressed enough. you may only be stranded for a few hours before being located, or you could be on your own for a number of weeks, but do not leave it to chance. You need to give yourself the best chance of being rescued. Stay busy. Remember your priorities, and give yourself and others jobs to stay occupied. Sitting around waiting does nothing for mental attitudes and ultimately could result in slipping into a depression and giving up. Do not give up. It is a fact that we can handle more than we believe and thinking clearly and positively will push you through more undertakings than you would think possible.



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Warmth, morale and protection.

In my last blog, I talked about the immediate aftermath of finding yourself in a survival situation, the basics of making shelter and why its important to make it a priority. In this post, I’ll be covering the next thing on the agenda, Fire.


Probably the most exciting part for any of us about going on a simple camping trip is getting a fire going. There is something about gathering and preparing materials for a fire that really sparks our primitive instincts. It can bring us back  and connect us to nature and our ancient ancestors. Something about fire brings us all together, on any trip, it’s the fire we all sit around, it creates an environment for conversation, it provides us with cooking capability’s,  helps to make any water we have gathered safe to drink, gives us warmth, and generally an all round great feeling. Mastering it gives us a huge sense of accomplishment.

No wonder then, that in a survival situation when it really counts, it gives us a huge morale boost. If you have the right knowledge and skills, getting a fire going increases your chance of surviving the ordeal massively. Not only as mentioned before, does it increase your capability’s in the wild, but it can act also to deter other natural predators. Tribes in Africa know this all too well, and upon hearing lions nearby their settlements, will stoke their fires in the night to keep them at bay.

Fire also dramatically increases our ability to get spotted from a long distance. When built correctly, signal fires create a lot of smoke, and contrasting with the surrounding environment, makes it easier for aircraft to spot you. Mastering these skills, and practising them regularly will most certainly give you the edge in a bad situation.

The fire triangle.

So you’ve got yourself to a safer spot where you can easily be seen, and a basic shelter together, so what next? In survival terms, we use what we call the “Fire triangle”, and what that means is in order to be successful in getting a fire established, it needs three things. Fuel, Heat and Oxygen. If any part of the triangle is missing, then the fire will not ignite. Start by making a base to build your fire on like the one pictured below which will help to let oxygen flow through your fire from the bottom and and keep it off the cold or wet ground giving you a better chance for success.




There are three types of material you need to look for. Tinder, kindling and main fuel. Tinder is fine dry fibrous materials, that will take a spark or ember easily and begin to burn. There are many different types, and some will work better than others. Dried grasses and sages are good to use. Birch bark, you know the one, with the white bark that’s often peeling off the trunk, works particularly well as it contains a lot of natural oils and will burn like paper. Pine wood infused with its resin or Fatwood as its commonly known is also great to use. Look for it by cutting branches off at the base and examining the core. If it is of dark colour, that indicates that resin is present. Getting some fine scrapings from it with a knife, if you’re lucky enough to have one on you, is a simple way to prepare it for taking a spark. Try to gather as much in a bundle as you can to give yourself the best chance.  Alternatively, try to find a sharp stone or other object, to harvest it. Not all tinder sources are natural, and commonly people carry some on them without even knowing. Cotton balls will catch a spark extremely well, but with petroleum based substances such as vasoline mixed with them they work a lot better, and will burn longer.  Now you may be thinking, “Who carry’s cotton balls and petroleum substances with them?” well, if think about it, ladies will often have a stray tampon floating around in their bags, along with a chap stick or lip balm. It’s the same principle. Open and fluff it up to get some oxygen through it, rub the lip balm through it, drop a spark in and you will have a tinder that will burn for a couple of minutes at least. A great piece of kit to carry on you is a ferro rod, a small metallic rod that when scraped with a striker or the back of a knife will produce a shower of hot sparks. Alternatively, you might get lucky and have a lighter which will light the tinder easily anyway. Even lighters without fuel can still be useful as they will still produce a spark which can be used to ignite the tinder.  Look outside the box in a survival situation, take everything you have at hand and in the environment and find a way to make it work for you. If there has been some sort of wreckage involved, or perhaps a vehicle breakdown and it is safe to do so, go though the crash site, and gather anything that will help you.



The next material needed to get a fire established is kindling. Kindling in itself can further be split into stages. Always gather twigs from dead standing wood. Try not to use materials that have been laying on the ground as they will have absorbed a lot of moisture and will not burn effectively. The first stage of kindling is to gather twigs about match stick thickness, these will go directly onto the burning tinder. The next stage up to add to the flame would be sticks around the thickness of your finger. Then once the fire has established enough, start adding larger logs roughly the thickness of your wrist. When it has fully established you can then begin to add larger logs. In circumstances where there isn’t a lot of kindling around, but larger material is present, it’s a good idea to split these down into smaller workable kindling. A great method to use is to make feather sticks. Once you have split a log down into finger sized thickness, take your knife or other sharp edge, be it flint or other stone, and beginning at the top of a piece, slowly move the edge at a downward angle creating soft curls with the wood, stopping just before the end. For each curl, turn the wood a fraction and make another. Repeat this process until you have a large gathering of curls, or “feathers”. This method works great because the wood at the core of any log you use, provided it is not rotten, will normally be drier and the fine feathers will take a flame easily. Make as many of these as you can, and add them to your tinder once it is burning. The drier the material the better. Green wood, or wood that is still alive, again will contain a lot of moisture, and will not burn as effectively.

If you have no items at hand to create a spark or a flame, then the bow drill method, in my experience, is one of the best ways to create an ember using only natural material which you can gather. It is made up of three pieces of wood, the bow, the drill and the hearth. The bow unlike when using a bow and arrow, should not be too flexible. Find a piece of wood, around the thickness of your wrist, slightly curved, and the length should be approximately the same as that of your hand and forearm. To string it up, you could use a shoe lace or any other cordage you have at hand. Alternatively if you do not have anything to hand of that nature, look around for natural cordage. Spruce roots work well as they are very strong. When stringing up the bow, it does not need to be too tight, as you will need to twist it around the drill later. The idea for the bow drill method is that the drill is made up of hard wood, and the hearth is made from soft wood. Rubbing these together will cause a lot of friction and a lot of heat creating an ember. You can identify the difference between these woods by using your thumb nail to try and make an impression in the wood. The softer the wood, the deeper the mark will be. The drill should be as straight as possible, with the bark removed and around 8 inches long. Sharpen one end to a point (where less friction is desired), which will be the top, and make the bottom end round and blunt (where a lot of friction is required).  Both the drill and hearth should be as dry as possible. The hearth should be made from a flat piece of softer wood. Make a round impression on the edge of the hearth, to fit the rounded end of the drill. Twist the drill once into the bow string so it will spin when being used. Use a stone or other item with a depression in it on top of the drill to minimize any friction and to protect your hand whilst using the bow drill. Place your foot on top of the hearth to stop it slipping, and begin making even strokes, using the whole length of the bow. Short strokes will be less effective as longer even strokes. Apply even pressure with your other hand on the drill to “burn it in”. Once you see some smoke and blackness appear on the hearth, stop and cut a small “V” notch into the hearth. this will collect the dust that will create the ember. Begin again with long even strokes. Once you have a lot of smoke coming from the hearth, apply more pressure on the drill, and make the strokes more vigorous. A minute or so of strong drilling should produce a small ember. You can stop once this is formed. A lot of people tend to rush at this point so the ember doesn’t go out, but in reality, you should leave it to air and grow for a few minutes. You should have your tinder ready and at hand in the shape of a birds nest, to carefully drop in the ember. When it is securely in the tinder, you can begin to gently blow on it to grow it. It may take a few minutes. The more smoke you see, the harder you blow. Soon the ember will ignite the tinder and produce flames. From here you can add your match stick sized kindling.

An old saying from native American origin goes something like,

“We build small fires and sit close. White man builds big fire and sits far away.”


To me, there is a huge wealth of information we can learn from their ways. And that quote says to me that perhaps we have a tendency to get carried away with our fires, reducing our capabilities with them. After all, it is easier to cook and boil water over a smaller fire, than it is over a roaring bonfire. In a survival situation we must be careful with the resources available to us. Making a huge fire is all well and good at first, but it may not be sustainable over a long period of time, and who knows how long it will take to get rescued. We must try to find the balance. The only exception I will make to having a larger fire is with signal fires. However that will be covered in the next blog.

Finding shelter and getting that first crucial fire going is essential, and greatly improves our chances of surviving the ordeal. It’s critical to boosting our morale, and if we are to stand any chance, we must do everything in our power to keep our spirits high in the face of adversity. We must concentrate on the job at hand, and try not to slip into any sort of a depression. Our minds are as important as any tool we possess in a survival situation, and it is essential that we protect it.


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Make shelter a priority.

If you become lost or stranded in the wilderness, without any doubt, the first thing that mother nature will throw at you is the elements. Mother nature is a beautiful thing, but if you don’t respect her and read the warning signs, such as the dark clouds forming on the horizon, sudden change in wind speed, or the subtle temperature change, just the small details, she can turn on a penny to work against you.What started out as a beautiful day in the mountains has the potential to become a disaster. Don’t get me wrong, I believe we all should be getting outside more and exploring our world with our eyes and senses instead of through our screens, but I shudder to see people walking in the mountains in trainers, t-shirts and shorts with no food or water on them. Failing to prepare even just a little day sack with some basic kit is asking for trouble.

In extreme climates, we can expect to last only around 3 hours without adequate protection. Here in the UK we are fairly lucky with ours, that’s not to say that some parts of the country don’t get it bad. Even still, with our fairly mild climate compared with other parts of the world, it can be bad enough to get us into trouble. I read quite recently that a school group were on an expedition in the Mourne Mountains when deteriorating weather conditions took its toll on the group resulting in some members suffering from mild hypothermia, whilst one member suffering from severe hypothermia lost consciousness. Thankfully our mountain rescue team along with other emergency services were able to locate, treat and guide the group off the mountain safely. The rescue team commended the groups actions that evening stating,

Clearly had it not been for the outstanding efforts of the young people in this group, this situation would have been much much more serious.” (source )

This goes to show that even a very capable group of individuals can be over come by the elements, and so the right kit, knowledge and preparation is essential for expeditions.

Firstly, if you have survived some form of disaster, the main priority is to get yourself and others away from any potential danger zone, i.e an aircraft wreckage, forest fire, avalanche etc. If there was a vehicle involved, it is best to move out of range of any potential fire or explosions that may occur, however you should remain in the vicinity of the site as it is much easier to spot a vehicle/wreckage from the air than it is to see a person. Once you have removed yourself from any further danger, you should begin to treat any injuries were possible on yourself and others. When you are in a position to do so, find or make shelter.

Shelters do not have to be complicated, in essence they need to keep the elements off you. In open areas, where there appears to be no shelter/materials available, then try to stack any equipment behind you to at least keep you out of the wind. It is essential to keep your body insulated from the ground. Make a note of all available materials in the area, a simple hollow in the ground with branches overlaid and covered with foliage could be enough to get you through the first night, pine branches, bracken, and grasses etc. should be used to insulate your body from the ground. If there is plenty available, do not skimp in the ground insulation, it will compact with body weight so bare this in mind.

You need to stay as dry as possible. We lose heat around 25 times faster when we are wet. It may seem to contradict the senses, but if your clothes are soaked, it is best to remove them from the body and dry yourself, and try to get the clothes dry with a fire before putting them back on. Where materials are more readily available, its it easy to make up a lean to shelter. Two posts just over body length apart with a cross bar running along the top, can be used to lean other vertical branches along the length. Interweave smaller more flexible branches horizontally between them to lock them in place and give you something to help add foliage to. Start from the bottom and work your way up to make the structure rainproof. Dont forget to add the all important ground insulation. Build your fire to the front of the structure and make a heat reflector behind it. This will help to direct the heat towards you and make you that bit more comfortable. I’ll cover fire in the next blog.

At first, keep it simple, build a simple shelter to begin with to get you through the first night. Then you can work on something more substantial. Shelter in my opinion is a main priority, as we are looking at only surviving for hours without it. We can usually go three days without water and three weeks without food, however without shelter, we stand no chance of making it that far. In a survival situation, getting your priority’s right is the difference between life and death. That’s why we have the rule of 3’s. Generally we can last 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter (in extreme climates), 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food.  If you are an outdoors type of person, you should at least know the basics of these skills, because what you don’t know, can hurt.



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The story so far…


My name is Al Murray. I’m from Northern Ireland and I have a massive passion for the outdoors, especially wilderness survival. This is my story so far.

When I was young, my dad had a set of book shelves in our living room above the TV. It was packed with books as he’s always loved reading. Of all the books on the shelves, only two really stick in my mind. One was a massive RAF book which had pictures and descriptions of every aircraft they had, and I spent hours flicking through it, and trying to draw my favourites. The second book I remember however, made a massive impression on my life, and I still refer to it now and again for inspiration and direction. That book was Lofty Wisemans SAS survival hand book. Little did I know, that the first time I opened the cover, it wasn’t just going to be a book, but it was about to set me on a journey.

I grew up in a rural area, in an old house that my Granda had bought back in the 60’s. The house itself dated back from long before that, and has since been renovated by my parents, however, it still has a lot of the original stone in the walls. Looking back I cant imagine growing up anywhere else. It was the perfect home. Surrounded by fields and farms, I spent my childhood exploring and adventuring with my older brother and a few good friends. We camped, built forts and dens, played cricket and football in the fresh cut fields, the summers seemed to last forever. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been drawn to the natural world. I could name every bird in the sky, every animal on the ground, and every tree.

Unfortunately, those kind of skills weren’t very useful when it came to school time. I couldn’t stand school. I learned real quick that being stuck in a classroom for the best part of the day was not for me. I’d constantly get shouted at by teachers for day dreaming looking out the window. Simply put, there was nothing to hold my attention, all I wanted to do was get outside and back to doing something useful. At home my Mum and Dad encouraged my interest in nature. I loved sitting up with my Dad on my days off watching all the David Attenborough documentary’s, absorbing all the information I could. I loved it. I’m not sure of the exact year, but at one point we took an extended holiday to Cornwall to see my two oldest brothers who both lived there. The oldest was running a survival school on Bodmin moor, and he’d invited us to go out and give him a hand to set up for a course that he had coming in. I was in my element. There i was, in a medieval woodland, surrounded by nature, and this was my brothers job! I was hooked. Shortly after I discovered the Army Cadet Force through school, sounded right up my street so I joined. I learned a lot of useful skills, and finally I could pursue my passion again for the outdoors. I spent the next couple of years heading away to various Army facility’s training. After a while however, certain things in life started to get in the way, and so with a heavy heart, I left. I still had the passion though. My oldest brother, who had the survival school, came to visit from Cornwall, and began to show me some basic survival techniques. How to make fire, some wild plants you can eat etc. That was it. That is exactly what I wanted to do! I remembered the SAS survival hand book on my dads shelf and I began to study and practice. I couldn’t get enough.

Fast forward some years, and I’d just left school. It was 2006, and I was finally free, or so I thought. That was an awesome summer. We quit school at the end of May, and I didn’t have to do anything until September. Finally I could do anything I wanted with my life. It seemed so simple, but life had other ideas. During my school years, there was no real need to be an expert on nature, and others in school thought it was a little bit weird. So to protect myself, I sort of just locked it away. So the summer of 2006 came and went, and my GCSE results were nothing to get excited over. So what was I going to do? I had to do something but I didn’t have a clue which direction I wanted to go. Having come through school, and having to lock away my passion, I felt I had to do something that would look good in the eyes of other people my age, a huge mistake when I look back now. We were 16/17, and I was flicking through the leaflet explaining all the different courses available in the further education collage. My brother was watching PIMP MY RIDE on the TV and there in the leaflet was a course that didn’t really require too many qualifications to get in to. Vehicle Body Paint and Repair. I’d never really had any interest in cars but the clever editing on that show convinced me to go for it. I spent the next 2 years training and HATED it! It was nothing like the TV show. I just didn’t have the heart for it, there was no passion. I was about to enter my final year, which meant my employer would start having to pay me a wage, and when I rang him to see if I should go in that morning, I was secretly relieved to hear that there “just wasn’t enough work” to take me on. I was annoyed at first that I wouldn’t be able to finish the course on paper despite being fully capable of doing the job already but, I was free again.

Meanwhile I kept practising. I read books, watched videos, got on the internet, watched the TV shows, I couldn’t get enough. Any chance I had to get outside, that’s where I was, practising everything I could. Over the next few years I drifted from job to job, but nothing seemed to do it for me. I got married in 2012 to my childhood sweet heart, and together we had the most beautiful daughter. Life was just about perfect, except for one thing. I didn’t have a career I loved, and I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do. I was lost. So one day after a bad day in work, I asked myself the question,”If money didn’t matter, what would you do with the rest of your life?” I thought on it for a while and the only answer I could give myself was, “Get outside again. Do what it is you love and find a way to make it work for you.” I remembered who I was supposed to be, the only real thing I was good at and putting aside what anybody else thought, that’s what I was going to do. So I created Primal Survival Northern Ireland as a side project to build up, and share and connect with like minded people, people who love the outdoors, and try to make something with the only thing I’m really good at. I spoke to my brother to get some advice from his experience, and he said two words that gave me a huge confidence boost, “It’s possible.” he said. The ball began to roll, and here I am. I’d found a clear direction in which I want to go. I’d found my freedom again and learnt a valuable lesson. Be yourself, and do the thing you love.

So that’s a brief history about myself, and how I got here, and what I want to accomplish. I’m aiming to use this to share the knowledge I’ve gained over the past 15 years or more with everyone who’s interested in wilderness survival and the outdoors, and I’ll be updating it with what I get up to while I’m out and about.

Find me on Facebook at Like Share and Comment and I look forward to connecting with you.

Thanks, Al.