How you can obtain water in the wild.

It’s an obvious one. Everyone knows we need water to survive, and in most cases we will only last around 3 days without taking any on board. What may not be so obvious though, is finding it in the wilderness, and equally as important as finding it, is making it safe to drink. If you are lucky to have a water source nearby, or you are experiencing rain, then you are at a huge advantage. Collecting it will be a fairly simple task using any containers you have to hand, and then treating it appropriately. It is likely, however, that in a survival situation, you will not have such luxuries, and will have to be prepared to put in a little bit of graft to get it. If you do struggle to find any for some time, then you should avoid eating, as digesting food uses up fluids in our bodies. So with out water, do not eat. The way to think about it is, everything that is alive, will need some amount of water to stay in existence. Therefore, if you are surrounded by green vegetation, then you know for a fact that water is present in that area. Happy days. Even in hotter climates such as the desert, some plant and animal life exists, and if you come across these signs, again this must mean that water is present. Even happier days if you are stuck in the desert! Since humans are so reliant on water sources, it is worth remembering that if you follow a flowing water course, there is a high chance that it will lead you to other human populations. So how do we get a hold of it?

We’ll start with the easiest supply’s of water.

Rivers, Streams, Lakes and Rain.

So if you’ve got yourself a base camp with shelter and a fire set up at a safe but reachable distance from a decent water source for the foreseeable future, then you’re chances of surviving have massively increased. But just because you have found water, doesn’t mean it is safe. Even if it looks and tastes clean, it could still hold some nasty surprises. Running water is usually a good sign, as opposed to ponds or lakes. Still water sources will tend to be stagnant, and harbour some horrible pollutants and parasites, which would be disastrous for you if you contracted an illness from them. Any water collected, should be treated thoroughly by filtering and boiling. Some chemicals can also be used such as chlorine or iodine tablets, but using these will leave an odd taste. Personally I would try to steer away from using chemicals for obvious reasons, and go for filtering and boiling methods when possible, however in a survival situation, this may not be possible and it would be better to drink chemically purified water as to go without. Water sources with no green vegetation or which have animal carcasses around them should be viewed with caution. Always treat water before you consume it.

Solar stills (above ground).

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If the area you are in has tree or plant life present, then you can take advantage of them by letting them gather the water for you. Using a clear plastic bag, place it over a leafy branch, with a corner at the lowest point. Tie the bag around the top and let nature get to work. As the sun light hits the bag, the leaves will produce moisture and the heat will evaporate it. The moisture will then be trapped by the edges of the bag and turn it back into liquid water. The water will then run and gather in the bottom of the bag. It is important to remember to tie the bag over the branch to keep the heat in and also to stop the weight of any water from pulling it off the branch. Use as many of these as you can as they will only produce a small amount of water. Only use this method with non-poisonous specimens.

Solar stills (underground)

In hotter climates where there is only a small amount of vegetation present, it may be best to use a solar still below ground. Dig a hole, around 1m x 1m  x 1m, and place a container in the centre to collect the water (digging another small depression will help to stop it from tipping over). Place a clear plastic sheet over the top of the hole and seal it all the way around the edge with earth. Placing a stone on top of the sheet directly above the container inside will direct any moisture that that evaporates onto the sheeting into the container. If you also have any sort of tubing available, you can place one end in the bottom of the container, and the other outside of the still so you can collect the water without disturbing the still. This method will work better if you can put any non-poisonous vegetation inside it (it works the same as the above ground solar still). Or alternatively you can urinate in the hole to dampen the earth inside (make sure to do this before placing your container inside). This will evaporate the water from the urine giving you pure drinking water. It sounds disgusting, but it might just save your life. This type of solar still might also trap some insects providing you with a little food. Take advantage of everything you can. Again make as many of these as possible to gather as much water as you can.

Non-flowing water.

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Water that doesn’t flow will often harbour harmful parasites and bacteria that if you get into your system can, on occasion, kill you. In a survival situation, sickness is extremely serious. Contracting an illness such a dysentery or typhoid which will result in high fever, vomiting and diarrhea will waste valuable fluids, and give you a real bad time if it doesn’t kill you. So it is so important to treat water before drinking. Even though these harmful things can be present in still water, it can still be collected safely using the still method. For example, over a small stagnant puddle, using clear plastic sheeting, make a tent shape over the water, and roll the bottom of the sheet under itself around the edges. Tying the top to an over hanging branch or other similar improvised mechanism such as a makeshift tripod will help to hold it in place. Weigh down around the bottom with rocks or logs and as the sun evaporates the water it will hit the plastic and run down and collect in the sheeting at the bottom. With this method it is tricky to collect the water, but carefully lifting one side, and letting it run to the other, the sheet can be upturned and the water will pool in it in the centre.

Filtering and boiling.

It is essential to firstly filter any water you can collect. Filtering will help to remove any nasty particles which you wouldn’t want to end up in your system. It’s simple enough to do. for example, if you take a sock, fill it with a layer of sand at the bottom, then a layer of charcoal from your fire (this will absorb toxins contained in the water), a layer of moss or grass, and a layer of pebbles at the top. Pour your water through this and collect it in what ever container you have. This will help to clean the water, however it is still not safe to drink. You must boil it to get rid of any nasty parasites and germs which will slip through the filter. Boiling is also a fairly simple task and can even be achieved with a plastic bottle hanging over a fire. You would be forgiven for thinking a plastic bottle would melt, but the water inside will prevent this. Even a container made from bark such as birch will not burn if there is water in it and you can still achieve a boil. An even simpler method you can use for filtering is to fold a piece of cloth into about 8 layers and pour the water through it. It will still need to be boiled however. The length of time you should boil water will vary depending on your altitude. The higher you are from sea level, the longer it will need. A rule of thumb is to boil for 1 minute at sea level, and for every 1000 feet, add a minute. If you do not know how high you are, boiling for 10 minutes will always make it safe.

There are many ways and places to find water in the wild, and these are just a few methods which you can use. Practising as many techniques as you can as often as you can will really help if you find yourself in a tight situation. We all take it for granted in our technological society that it flows so freely from a tap. But when things go wrong as they occasionally do, knowing where to find, how to collect it and how to treat it is crucial.

Al.

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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.

Al.

 

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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.

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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.

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Tinder.

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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.

Kindling.

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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.”

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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.

Al.

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