Sunday, December 29, 2013

A friend's personal story of survival...

A few days ago I received an e-mail from an old friend from High School, Tony V., who described an outdoors survival situation he'd experienced some time back. Tony has a lot of outdoors experience; he is a B.S.A. Eagle Scout, been a Youth Conservation Corps trail crewman, and a lifelong fisherman and hunter...a real-life rugged guy. He has graciously agreed to allow me to share his story here, stating he hopes others can learn from it. Here's his account of the event just as he told it to me:
"Thought I would share with you. Once when I was elk hunting I had hiked too fast and too far, working up quite the sweat. The temperature had been about 25 degrees. Still not bad until the clouds came in and temperature dropped to 5 degrees. I was about 3 miles from the SUV. Snow was about 6 to 8 inches deep, so I had at least two hours of a walk ahead of me.

I was on a flat lumber access trail coming down the mountain. I had come to an area that had a bunch of old dead cut timber stacked on the trail. I decided to start a fire as I was shivering uncontrollably off and on. The gaps between the shivering getting smaller, while the length of the shivering was growing longer.

So, I built a nice pyramid of dry wood. I found dry wood under the first layer of stacked wood. I had matches, a lighter and a Gerber fire striker. When at 10,000 feet and 5 degrees temp, butane lighters don't work. No ignition…

So, I thought I would try the Gerber striker. Wow, it only took me about four attempts and the fuel/paraffin cube that store in the handle lit perfectly! I slid it under the wood and presto, I had a nice fire going. Total time from stopping on the trail and having a nice fire was about nine minutes.

I was a sales rep for Gerber and had sold hundreds of those items, so I wanted to see if they would work. I have to give it an A+!  I had a big fire, so I warmed up and took off the outer layers and dried them out. I had a snack and drank some water [I should mention, the guy who was with me was shivering all the time and had trouble speaking].

We took about a 45 minute break and then put the fire out and off we went. By the time we got to the SUV the temp had again dropped to -5 degrees. I did manage to bag an elk the next day about 100 yards from the warm up spot.

The Gerber Strike Force is now a permanent part of my survival kit and go bag. I don't even know if they make them anymore. It has been changed to the Bear [what's his name?] strike force."

Tony's life-saving Gerber "Strike Force"

It appears to me that Tony set out to hunt in reasonably good conditions, but got caught in an unexpected and severe weather change; change that then set off a chain of events that resulted in a desperate survival situation. This happens to many people who hike or hunt outdoors. A sad and fatal example of severe weather change and being ill-prepared for such an exigency occurred in January of this past year in Missouri and is reported here:

Fortunately Tony's situational awareness and outdoor skills pulled him through. As we head into Winter, there are a few points presented here that are worth reviewing for those who are planning to venture outdoors:

1. Listen to the weather forecast and plan accordingly. Understand that weather can change without warning and temperatures can plunge dramatically.  Be prepared and plan ahead for the possibility of severe weather changes.

2. Dress in layers, with a wind-resistant outer layer. Wear a hat (a large amount of body heat is lost from the head) and mittens or insulated gloves. Keep your face warm by wearing a scarf, neck tube or face mask. Wear warm and waterproof footwear that fits properly.

3. Avoid over-exerting yourself, wear moisture wicking fabrics, and stay dry. Wet clothing chills the body rapidly. Remove outer layers of clothing or open your coat if you are sweating.

4. Seek shelter from the wind, which can add to the chill factor. Stay hydrated and maintain caloric intake. The body needs to be adequately hydrated in order to prevent cold weather injuries. The human body requires 10% more calories just performing mild work in cold conditions.

5. Have several tools to make fire, and practice fire making skills in advance of needing them. In this instance, 2 of the 3 means of fire making Tony V. had with him failed, but the third method he'd packed in his kit succeeded in making fire.

6. Be able to recognize the onset of hypothermia and immediately take steps to get warm again. In this case my friend recognized that his shivering was worsening by the minute, and that he had to make a fire immediately to save himself and his hunting companion.

Finally, here is a simple acronym you can use to remember steps for staying warm:


C -  Keep skin COVERED and your clothing CLEAN.
L - Wear clothing LOOSE and in LAYERS.
D - Keep clothing DRY.
E - EXAMINE clothing for tears and defects.
R - Keep clothing REPAIRED. 

Special thanks to Tony for allowing me to share his outdoor experience!


Monday, December 23, 2013

Primitive Hunting: The Throwing Stick

In my last blog I discussed slingshots as a bushcraft survival tool for hunting small game. Now I'd like to discuss an even lower tech tool that is easy to make and doesn't cost anything...the Throwing Stick or "Rabbit Stick" as it is sometimes called.

Throwing sticks are a primitive technology that were used for centuries by aboriginal peoples around the world. Probably the most well known throwing stick in the world is the "Boomerang" as made famous by the aboriginal hunters of Australia. Here in California, aboriginal hunters also used aerodynamically shaped throwing sticks, some naturally curved and others bent to shape using heat [For further on native California throwing sticks, refer to the excellent book SURVIVAL SKILLS OF NATIVE CALIFORNIA by Paul D. Campbell].

Basically, a Throwing Stick or "Rabbit Stick" is just a piece of wood, about wrist diameter and about as long as the span from your arm pit to your wrist. It can be curved or straight. For close range throws it needn't be aerodynamically shaped to work effectively at harvesting small game animals. I would suggest processing the stick and sanding rough bark off so that it will slip smoothly from your hand when thrown. Smoothing will also so make for less wind resistance [friction] and noise when the stick is in flight.

Throwing Sticks

You're not looking for a "clean kill" Per Se [though that certainly can occur],  but if nothing else you want to stun or disable a small game animal long enough to run up on it and humanely and quickly finish it off with a hard blow to the neck behind the head. Once harvested, the game animal can be cleaned, cooked, and consumed. Always remember that it is completely wrong to kill animals for the sole purpose of what you harvest is the rule for an ethical hunter.

There are essentially 2 ways to throw a Throwing Stick...vertically and horizontally. Both throws begin with the stick resting on your shoulder in the primitive hunter position while you move quietly stalking game. By being raised in a ready position, you remove the additional movement needed to set the weapon for a throw and thus telegraph your intent to the game animal. Remember that most animals rely on smell, sound, and movement to detect danger. They will react instinctively and seek the safety of cover if they detect a predator in the vicinity.

If you are in a wooded area, you'll want to consider throwing the stick vertically so it doesn't strike a tree and be deflected or stop altogether en route to the target. This is also a good throw for say, a bird or squirrel that is perched on the side of a tree.

If you are in an open area, such as in low desert scrub or open meadow, the horizontal throw [sometimes called sidearm] is best because it can skim across the ground, and can even bounce up and still hit a target if you misjudge the throw. This is the throw you'd use for a squirrel sitting atop a log for instance.

One trainer I am aware of has suggested a third throwing technique, the diagonal throw, which they cite as a compromise between the horizontal and vertical throws and claim to have the best chance of hitting.

Like anything that involves throwing [Frisbies, baseballs, etc.], practice is required to become proficient. I can tell you, throwing a stick and hitting an object even just 7 yards away is not easy for many people. I guarantee you'll hold onto some sticks too long and overthrow and others you will release too soon and under throw...practice is essential. Have several throwing sticks available so you don't have to retrieve a single stick every time you throw in practice.

For best practice results, I recommend making a "throwing range". I use the one depicted in the photograph below:

Throwing stick practice range
I've driven a willow stake into the ground as a point from which to throw. A second stake is driven into the ground 21' [7 yards] away. An old plastic bottle or apple juice bottle is placed with it's mouth over the stake to act as my target [keep the target close in size to a squirrel or rabbit, so it is realistic for the game you may have to hunt]. Finally, I have driven a third stake 21' further beyond the target stake. I've settled on 7 yards because in my experience, it is about the closest many animals like rabbits will allow you to approach before spooking. Too far and the animal may perceive the object in flight and evade being hit.

Generally as I practice throws, the throwing sticks come to rest at or near the distant stake. I re-set the target as I pass on my way to gather the sticks and then throw in the reverse direction. In this way, you get twice the practice for one effort, rather than gathering and returning to the original throwing point.

I've also seen folks practice by stretching a rope between 2 trees and throwing at suspended bottles or milk jugs. I think that would be a good system for practicing the vertical method. Either way, anything that helps train and develop your hand-eye coordination for throwing is good.

Finally a word about safety: When you are at practice, make certain no one is within range of being hit and injured by a throwing stick. A stick weighing around a pound or so contains a lot of energy and can cause significant injury. Keep observers and pets a safe distance behind you when throwing and stop throwing immediately if someone wanders into range.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Slingshots for bushcraft

A slingshot can be a handy and silent tool for harvesting small game when backpacking or in a survival situation. Some commercially available models have even been modified to project an arrow. Many bushcraft practitioners carry one in their woods trekking bag for such uses, as well as fun camp recreation. The purpose of this blog is to discuss the history and safe use of slingshots and to perhaps inspire you to give them a try.

Slingshots have been around since the introduction of rubber in the late 1830's, and were widely in use by the 1860's. Projectiles of the period included lead musket balls or shot as well as round stones. Initially they were a self-crafted tool, but by the early 1900's commercially manufactured slingshots were available for purchase. In the 1960's the next big evolution, the "Wrist Rocket", arrived with a frame that incorporated an integral arm brace and used surgical rubber tubing to power the slingshot.

I own and use 2 slingshots, a DAISY F16 [no arm brace] and a MARKSMAN folding slingshot with an integral arm brace:

Slingshot kit: Slingshots, shot, carrying/storage box

Assuming you have purchased a quality slingshot and shot, you need only find a safe place to practice and a safe target to shoot at. You will have to develop a style that works for you, but here are some *generic* tips for shooting a slingshot that may help you:

- Grasp slingshot with support hand, draw bands with dominant [strong] hand.

- Point in on the target with the shoulder of the arm holding the slingshot.

- Draw the bands straight back; Don't cant the slingshot...keep the yoke arms perpendicular to the ground and the bands parallel to the ground.

- Use a consistent anchor point on your lower jawline. NEVER draw the bands to your eye level, as they can break and cause injury and/or permanent damage your eye.

- Practice at varying distances and learn how to use the slingshot arms/yoke as a reference to adjust your point of aim.

- Gently relax hand and release the shot pouch when you are sure of your shot. There is no need to "explosively" release the shot pouch!

- Use protective eyewear for safety. Observers should also wear goggles or protective eyewear.

- Be sure of your target and what is behind it; Never draw and aim a slingshot at anything you don't intend to shoot; Never horseplay or intentionally aim a slingshot at another person.
Use consistent weight/size ammunition for practice, such as commercially made shot, for best results [Interestingly, a good friend of mine uses "Skittles" candies for practice ammunition. He states they actually make "good practice ammo", are inexpensive for a large quantity, are biodegradable and are pretty consistent in size and weight].

Left: MARKSMAN folding slingshot; Right: DAISY F16.

In the photograph above, you can see that the MARKSMAN has a 3" wide yoke, and the DAISY has a 4" wide yoke. I shoot better with the DAISY, bracing my index finger and thumb on the arms of the yoke [The smaller 3" yoke on a non-wrist-supported slingshot would work better for me...the DAISY is a bit of a stretch for my fingers, but I shoot well with it].

More than anything, becoming proficient with a slingshot requires a LOT of practice. Be prepared to invest some time, to lose some shot, and to not be disappointed if proficient skill doesn't immediately come to you. Be patient and persistent!  Become proficient at several distances. I shoot at 21, 30, and 40 foot distances every time I practice.

When choosing a place to practice, you should select an area that allows safe shooting and no chance of a stray shot hitting someone or damaging property.

Also check local laws and ordinances to confirm it is lawful to use a slingshot in your community.

I like to practice at some horseshoe pits in a nearby public park. The pits are situated in a large open field, far from the roadway and picnic areas, and allows a good 360 degree view of the area for safety:

  The horseshoe pit allows a solid backstop.  

You should only shoot against a safe backstop that won't cause a shot to ricochet. For increased safety, I use a piece of carpet hung over the backboard to deaden the impact and greatly reduce chances of a ricochet [ALWAYS REMEMBER: A Sling-shot is very powerful and can cause serious injury!]:

Tin can badly dented by impact of shot. Obviously
Such impact could cause serious injury or even the 
 loss of an eye were the projectile to strike someone.

Care should also be taken to regularly inspect the bands of your slingshot for tears or damage that may result in failure and then injury to you. If the bands appear old or dried out, you should replace them with fresh rubber bands, or a new shot pouch if it is worn or damaged.

Finally, if you do use the slingshot for hunting small game, harvest the animal humanely. Never take a shot unless you are sure you can make a clean kill. If you do take an animal such as a rabbit, clean, cook, and consume it. Killing game animals for the sake of killing is inhumane and completely unacceptable.


Friday, December 13, 2013

The "Fire Bag"

One of the most important skills a trails hiker must possess is the ability to make fire. Fire is critical in a survival situation. It allows you to avoid a cold night lost or injured on a trail and thus becoming hypothermic, to disinfect water by boiling, and can be used to signal for rescue.

Fire is made by careful preparation and progression: Tinder, Kindling, Fuel.
The purpose of this post is to simply point out the importance of having several different means to ignite a fire. Gathering tinder, making kindling, and progressing a fire until it will burn fuel [logs] are skills that should be practiced, understood, and mastered by means of real outdoors experience.

With the possible exception of the Doan's Bar [Magnesium bar], no single means of making fire works 100% of the time. I strongly suggest that all trail hikers and backpackers assemble a dedicated "Fire Bag" which contains several means of making fire, and then place that bag in your trail day pack or backpack and carry it with you always.

Many people opt to just carry a lighter, and call it good. Lighters can be useful, but they can also fail. If they become wet they won't work until dry again. You could suffer a fall and lose or break them.

A good friend & mentor, Bill Hay [] was a student of the late Dr. Ron Hood [a knowledgeable and respected survival instructor and founder of], and is a member of the HOODLUMS outdoor survival group/forum. Bill offers the following thoughts:

"Lighters also fail in the cold, and the plastic will shatter in the cold. They run out of fuel. I've seen them discharge all their fuel in a pack. Oops! No fire tonight! They are not as easy to start a fire with as you might think, it's not a magic tool. Carrying dry tinder, Fatwood & a sparking rod is way more reliable."

[Bill has kindly posted his own kit here: ].

As stated, nothing works 100% of the time, and having multiple fire making options [redundant systems] significantly improves your chances of surviving a cold night should you become lost or injured on some trail. Carrying some dry tinder and Fatwood kindling dramatically increases chances of making a successful fire.

In the photo below, I've displayed the contents of my own "Fire Bag":

CLOCKWISE FROM BOTTOM: Butane lighter; 3/8" USAF ferro rod from [] with a kydex striker from Hardwood Hollow Tactical ; Burning lens; Flint & Steel kit; Matchsafe with waterproofed matches; Doan's bar [ferro rod dismounted and epoxied into antler tip. CENTER: selfmade leather pouch containing Fatwood kindling. Note the hanks of paracord attached to the USAF ferro rod for use in constructing a bow drill set.

Having tools is pointless unless you know how to use them. It is critically important to practice firemaking on a regular basis. You should also know a few ways to make fire by primitive means in case you lose your fire kit:

Self-made bow drill set made with local materiel.


Practicing primitive firemaking [bow drill] on a backpacking trip.

One final thought: It is also very important to practice doing so in less than ideal weather, so that you can experience the difficulties of making fire in wet conditions, with cold, numb hands, or in high winds for instance. Nothing replaces real-world experience, and it also serves as "stress innoculation" to mentally prepare you should an actual trail mishap occur.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

"Survival" Knives

One of the questions people often ask is regarding the so-called "Survival" knives; whether they are a good choice for hiking, camping and outdoor activities. Firstly, I would tell you that a "Survival Knife" is whatever blade you have on your person when a survival situation presents itself.   Usually the humble slip joint pocketknife is what most folks carry, and it will answer most trail and camp chores satisfactorily:

Common slip-joint pocketknives

A fixed blade sheath knife with a 4 to 5 inch blade is very useful for chores requiring a heavier, stronger blade, such as carving tent or tarp pegs or splitting kindling [batoning]. A knife with a full tang is an excellent choice. Two that I own and use are the traditional KA-BAR fighting utility knife of U.S. Marine Corps pattern and the Gerber "Bear Grylls Ultimate Knife". Both have a strong tang inside the handle that will withstand heavy use:

Ka-Bar 1211 knife [USMC pattern], 7.5" blade 

GERBER "Bear Grylls Ultimate Knife", 5" blade

Some folks choose hollow-handled, sawback [HH/SB] survival knives like those made popular by the RAMBO movies of the 1980's. These knives often incorporate a compass into the pommel cap and the handle is equipped with a few survival necessities, such as matches, and some fishhooks and line. As can be seen in the photo below, these knives have a very small tang which fits into a hollow handle. Usually they fail under heavy use and separate at that critical blade/handle joint. The knife below was broken by me after only a few minutes work chopping a limb for kindling: 

Inexpensive hollow-handled "survival" knife

Personally, I really like HH/SB knives. The problem is, I've never owned one that could hold up to the work I assign it...they seem to be either very cheap and poor construction or very expensive custom-made knife [beyond my budget]. I've yet to find an affordable "quality" HH/SB that could perform hard use tasks.   

As stated before, if I am going in harms way, I'll take a full tang knife, usually my KA-BAR 1211. I don't need a hollow handle to carry matches and water tablets [you should be carrying an ALTOIDS kit in your pocket with those things anyways].

I'm also fond of having a neck knife for small chores. These are a small [sub-3" blade] fixed blade knife that is worn around the neck and easily accessible:

KA-BAR "ESKABAR" neck knife, 3" blade
KA-BAR "Acheron" neck knife, 3" blade
Something else to consider: There's a saying that "Two is one and one is none", meaning you should carry a spare in case one is lost or fails.I would also state you should consider having a slip joint pocketknife, a multi-tool, or a large hard-use folder on you to back up your heavy duty sheath knife.

One final suggestion: Keep your large knife attached to your pack when not in actual use. If your fixed blade is on the dresser at home it will do you no good when you need it. By keeping it attached to your pack, it will be readily available whenever you decide to go trail hiking or camping and less apt to be forgotten at home.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Dayhike at Santa Margarita Lake, California

Recently I started a new job which starts work at 2:30 in the morning and finishes around 11 a.m. and involves split days off [if you guessed retail/night stocking you are correct]. This really threw my outdoor activities a curve. However, I did manage to get in a day hike two weekends ago.

I made a day hike at Santa Margarita Lake [San Luis Obispo County] California where our bushcraft group [CENTRAL COAST BUSHCRAFT/Facebook] had planned to do our 3rd annual gathering at the lake's Khus back country campground. Unfortunately things fell apart and we decided to call it an outing and do the annual later.

A few members still decided to go out and have some fun. Not wanting to let them down, I decided to hike out and visit for the day, having to be back at work the following night.

The hike to the campground was 4.4 miles. I took my day pack with all necessities in case I changed my mind and decided to stay over. Pack load went around 20# total. The lake is very low due to the drought, but still the Fall season was beautiful:


 As we reached the cutoff for the campground, my buddy snapped my picture:
On the trail in we encountered a new member and his son hiking out:

I am not sure if he has a BCUSA handle so I won't use his real name. He and his son had spent the night. As I said, the hike in is 4.4 miles [8.8 round trip] and this young bushcrafter managed his own pack. I was very impressed with him and it is so good to see a Dad raising his boy up right in the woods tradition. I admire them both very much.

We encountered a horsewoman on the trail and she told us she'd seen a young man with a kayak encamped at the campground and we were pretty sure it was one of our newer members [again I do not know if he's on the forum either]. When we arrived at camp we found him there as we'd suspected:

Now I really admire this young man too, because he paddled 90 minutes from the marina with his pack load in an inflatable kayak to reach the campground and was scraping bottom the last several yards. Even had to walk through mud to reach shore, but he did it! He set up a nice campsite for the night:

The Khus campground was really nice. Grills, a very clean solar latrine, and a nice fire circle with benches. The only downside to this campground is it is heavily used by riders and there are corrals and hitching rails and thus it is somewhat smelly from horse droppings:


We are thinking of having a gathering their in Spring 2014 and we'll post that up on the BUSHCRAFTUSA.COM forum if anyone is interested in coming out.

Hopefully we'll get some rain this winter and the lake level will come back up and then we could maybe have some fishing too.

Kind regards,

Goblin Ranger


Sunday, October 27, 2013

No Such Thing as a Day Hike; Personal Emergency Preparedness for Trail Hikers



Incidents involving lost and/or injured hikers are common. In any given month there are at least a couple of news articles describing a tragedy involving a trail hiker. The purpose of this article is to discuss proper preparation for a trail hike outing, and ways increase our chances of survival, should an unexpected event occur on the trail.

Recent Examples:

Here are two tragedies that have occurred just since the start of 2013. I have highlighted learning points in the text of each article:
FOX NEWS January 14 – Caught in freezing rain, Illinois man, 2 sons die while hiking on remote trail in Missouri: “On a weekend trip that was a surprise anniversary gift for his wife, an outdoors-loving Air Force veteran ventured out with two of his sons for a hike on a remote trail. Clad only in light jackets and sweaters, the three apparently didn't know how rapidly the weather would turn ugly… and that proved deadly. The cold had killed them….It was nearly 60 degrees Saturday morning when Decareaux and his sons set out on the popular trail…they were ill-equipped as the temperature sank into the 40s, and a storm that would drop 2 inches of rain set in, making the trail all but impassable…A passer-by spotted the hikers more than three hours into their journey and asked if they needed a ride but Decareaux declined, telling the man they could make it back. The sheriff said, "They just missed their turn back to the lodge. When it's dark you can't see the back of your hand.” The [overnight] temperature had dipped to the upper 20s by sunrise. No autopsies were planned, and the deaths were attributed to hypothermia.”

L.A. TIMES January 14 – Hiker recovering after rescue from Angeles National Forest: “An Arcadia man was in the hospital Monday after he was rescued from the frigid Angeles National Forest, where he had been hiking with friends. He survived 26 hours in the freezing cold, said Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials... [The man] and two friends went hiking in the West Fork area of the forest and attempted to go north on a trail in the late afternoon Saturday…. [The man] got separated from the group about 6 p.m. and endured below-freezing temperatures overnight as searchers tried to locate him…[the man] had only a light jacket and no flashlight, but search-and-rescue personnel found him walking.”
As you can see, any discussion of hiking safety has to begin with acceptance that mechanical accidents can occur, that weather can change rapidly and severely, and that we can become disoriented and lost. There is no room for over-confidence or arrogance when dealing with nature.
About 68% of missing hiker incidents occur in wilderness areas. With training and proper preparation, we can minimize our risk, and increase our chances of survival and rescue, should an unexpected event occur. As Canadian Bushcraft Instructor Mors Kochanski puts it, "The bush [woods] is neutral. It is neither for nor against me. My comfort depends on what I can do for myself and how much I know about using the bush materials around me."

Have a Hiking Plan:
Before we ever set foot upon a trail, we should obtain a map of the area and trail we intend to hike. Often maps can be found online, at regional Park Ranger offices, and at hiking and camping related businesses.

We should thoroughly familiarize ourselves with the trail we intend to hike and make reasonable estimates of how much time and effort your hike will require and plan our trip accordingly. We should also check updated weather reports for at least a day or two in advance of our hike, so that we can be aware of any changes, especially forecasts of severe weather. For safety, ALWAYS cancel if severe weather is forecast.
We should prepare a written hiking plan and leave a copy with a friend or family member. The plan should include essential information such as the date and time of our departure and return, as well as a “deadline” to notify search and rescue personnel.

Once you have established a hiking plan, it is extremely important that you not deviate from the plan whatsoever. Doing so could send searchers in the completely wrong location and delay rescue.
Hike with a Partner:
Whenever possible, it is very advisable to hike with a friend. If either you or your friend become injured, a second person is there to render First Aid or go get help. Having a companion is also safer for thwarting potential attacks by both 2 and 4-legged trail predators.
Priorities of Survival:
“The Rule of 3’s” is a common tool used in teaching survival: We can survive 3 minutes without Air, 3 hours without Shelter, 3 days without Water, and 3 weeks without Food. Air is a given, so if we become lost, our immediate priority is PROTECTION [shelter from weather, possibly fire making to maintain correct body temperature for conditions]. Our next consideration should be RESCUE [signaling], next is WATER procurement, and finally FOOD. British survival instructor Bear Grylls uses the phrase, “Please Remember What’s First” as an acronym to teach those four priorities of survival.
Start with Proper Clothing:
Clothing should be worn in layers. In that way, clothing can be removed or added as needed for the given weather conditions. Our goal is to maintain a core body temperature of 97-100 degrees and avoid overheating [Hyperthermic] or becoming too cold [Hypothermia].
Protecting your head from heat and cold is crucial. In cold conditions a wool pullover is an excellent choice. We lose about 20% [some claim as much as 40-50%] of our body heat through the top of our head, and a wool cap will keep your head warm, even when wet. They are inexpensive and available at camping and surplus stores. Always carry one in your kit in case of weather change. In hot conditions, a broad-brimmed hat with a tall crown will create shade and protect you from sunburn. The tall crown will create an air gap that will keep your head cool.
Gloves are a wise choice. In cold or wet conditions, wear woolen gloves with a wind and water proof outer glove shell. In hot conditions, wear a thin pair of leather gloves to prevent sunburn and protect your hands from thorns and thistles as you hike through vegetation.
In cold or wet weather, a wind and water-proof hooded jacket or coat is a good choice, with a light fleece or wool pullover, and a light shirt beneath that. These layers create “dead air” spaces that insulate you and help maintain warmth. A scarf helps conserve heat loss around the exposed neck. Pants should be a tight weave fabric to repel wind and water
Footwear should be a lightweight hiking boot with water-proof qualities [tennis shoes will not protect your feet from cold and wet, or impact with rocks in the trail]. The boots should be sized to permit you to wear 2 pairs of socks for comfort and to prevent blisters from forming. Wool or wool blend socks should be considered, as they will help
Minimal Kit for the Trail Hiker:
Wilderness survival instructor Dave Canterbury [, Discovery channel DUAL SURVIVAL] teaches that survival is all about “conservation”…conserving calories, core body temperature, and body fluids until rescue can be affected.

When it comes to trail kit, Canterbury teaches what he refers to as “The 5 C’s of Survival” – Five kit items he feels are absolutely essential and must be carried whenever you are hiking or trekking. Canterbury states that these items will help you to survive being lost for a period of 24 to 72 hour. They are as follows:

1. Cutting tool – A good quality knife large enough to cut down a sapling, but small enough to perform fine carving tasks as well. A fixed or folding blade knife with a 3-4” blade is usually adequate [see APPENDICES 4].

2. Combustion device - A good Ferro cerium fire steel will give you fire for many hundreds [or even thousands] of strikes. An alternative would be a magnesium bar with a Ferro rod built into it.

3. Cover – Protection from inclement weather or the sun. A disposable poncho and/or an emergency “Space Blanket” are very good choices, although even a paint drop cloth or shower curtain from the DOLLAR STORE can also be used for the purpose of shelter if money is limited. A wool blanket is also an excellent choice as wool retains its insulative qualities even when wet.

4. Cordage – Cordage is essential for many uses such as lashing a shelter frame together, snares, etc. Personally, I like carrying a roll of Jute twine, which can be broken down into two or three smaller strands, and can also be used as a fire tinder when unraveled and teased into a nest. 550 Para cord [sheath and 7 inner strands and tarred Bank Line also work well.

5. Container – A steel cup or single-walled bottle that can be used to gather, boil, and disinfect water is essential. If you cannot make fire it may be advisable to drink untreated water rather than to risk death by dehydration before rescue.

In the photograph above, we see examples of the 5 “C” items that should be considered absolute minimal trail kit for a day hiker, including: a CONTAINER [A steel canteen. Water can be gathered and boiled and thus purified in it]; CORDAGE [Jute cord which, when unraveled, makes a very good fire tinder nest material]; COVER [a disposable poncho shelter in rescue orange and a “Space Blanket” for warmth]; COMBUSTION [2 means of making fire for protection/signaling/warmth, specifically waterproof matches and a magnesium bar shown here]; and CUTTING [a multi-tool knife with saw]. Also shown in the photograph are a Flashlight and a Light stick for signaling or finding your way in darkness]. All of these items can easily fit into a fanny pack or a daypack.

I would also recommend adding a good quality compass, a signaling device [whistle and/or mirror], and a small First Aid kit to your trail kit. A few water purification tablets and some tissue for field-expedient latrine would be good additions as well.

Many of these items can be found at garage sales. Old U.S. G.I. stainless steel canteens are common and can sometimes be bought for .25 cents or so. They can be heated with the cap off and a boil achieved to sterilize water. Place the warm canteen against your kidney [outside your clothes] and you can warn your blood as it circulates. Another source is the DOLLAR STORE.

Recently, I was perusing the shelves at the local DOLLAR TREE store and I saw items that could be used to easily make a 5' C's Trail Kit for under $10.00: 1.) COMBUSTION: Cotton balls/Petroleum Jelly [Fire Tinder] and Penny Matches. 2.) CUTTING: Paring knife with blade cover. 3.) COVER: Shower curtain. 4.) CONTAINER: Aluminum water bottle, single walled [can boil/sterilize]. 5.) CORDAGE: Cotton Twine, 420' [can be braided] or Nylon clothesline. Hmm, that's only $7.00 so we can add a mini-First Aid kit and a whistle or mirror and still have money left for the sales tax.
If you are planning for a full day excursion, you should consider an expanded trail kit [an expanded kit is shown in APPENDICES 1-4]. You should already be wearing layered clothing that is appropriate to the weather in your area, but you should add gloves and additional clothing to an expanded trail kit.

Something to avoid is “Kit Mentality” – this is a tendency to become so caught up in gear and equipment that it becomes the driving force for the outing. The purpose of getting outdoors is to enjoy nature and relax. Too much gear is heavy and noisy and will ruin your outdoor experiences.
What else should I carry?

Besides the items listed above, you should carry any medications that you may need, such as for allergies or asthma. If you wear prescription eyeglasses, it is wise to carry a spare pair in case you fall and damage the pair you are wearing.

It is also highly advisable to carry a form of identification with emergency contact information. This should also include any medical conditions you may have and list any medications you may require and/or be allergic to.

Another item worthy of consideration is an ALTOIDS TIN MINI-KIT. This is a back-up survival kit that is carried in a pocket, on your person, at all times [The kit fits into an ALTOIDS mints tin, hence the name].The intent of this kit is to provide you with the means to survive if you lose your main trail kit or pack, such as being swept while crossing swift-moving water.

Finally, a hiking stick is very useful. It helps maintain balance on rocky or loose ground, and can be used as a pointer or for retrieving a dropped object [rather than reaching into brush and getting stung by nettle or snake bit].

In this photograph, we see an ALTOIDS tin containing the following items: [Left vertical row] Brass snare wire, Jute Cordage, Waterproof matches, 1 qt. bag [water collection]; [Center vertical row] Signal Mirror, Button Compass, Whistle, Pocketknife, Ferro cerium Rod/Striker; [Right vertical row] Fresnel Lens [solar fire making], Band-Aids, Pencil, Air-to-Ground Signal Sheet.

Lost or Injured…now what?

If you become injured, your first step is to remain calm, assess the injury, and determine whether it is POSSIBLE and/or ADVISABLE [two very different concepts] to hike out. If the answer is no, such as a severe laceration from a fall, your next step should be to treat the injury/treat for shock, seek shelter, and await assistance/rescue.
If you become lost, you have two choices: attempt to back-track your trail, or shelter in place and await rescue. Many people continue to keep walking on the same course in the hope of finding their way out, but most often this will only result in becoming even more lost. The rule is, if you are not sure, STAY PUT!
Wild Animals:

One of the questions that frequently arises is concern about wild animals such as Mountain Lions or Bears. The chances of being attacked are very small. You have a much greater likelihood of self-inflicted dangers [dehydration, mechanical injury or becoming lost] than an animal attack. However, we still need to practice awareness. I have written a document on this topic [“Wildlife Encounters - what hikers need to know”] which will help answer your questions regarding potentially dangerous wildlife.
PMA – *Positive *Mental *Attitude:

Having some survival knowledge and equipment to survive a trail accident is not enough. Having a Positive Mental Attitude [PMA] is hugely important to surviving being lost or injured in the wild. The ability to remain calm and work to meet priorities, improve your situation, and enhance your chances of rescue are critical.
A friend of mine served with a SAR unit in the San Joaquin Valley and described finding a missing bicyclist who appeared to have panicked after becoming snake bit. They located his body by following a trail of abandoned trail gear [common], including his hydration bladder. He was found to have died from shock within a mile of a community. This is truly a tragedy because he might still be alive today had he remained calm, thought through the problem, and kept a PMA.
Building your skills:

There are many good books and online sources, such as YOUTUBE videos, that can help you learn self-reliance and wilderness skills

In my opinion, the single best way to build your skills is to perform outings close to home. In my case, there is a state park with a dedicated campground for hikers and bikers. It charges a low fee for a campsite [$5.00; E-sites at MDO are $25.00]. At least twice a year I hike there and spend a day and night to try out new gear and practice fire-making skills. This helps sharpen my skills for outings to more isolated locations, and helps build confidence and comfort for staying out-of-doors. You should always try to practice at least one primitive skill set when on any outing.

Resources: A free forum for persons interested in learning bushcraft skills. The site is family-friendly and moderated for clean content. They also offer bushcraft skill lessons for free on a section of their forum.

BUSHCRAFT OUTFITTERS: Quality outdoor gear for the serious woodsman. Visit their website at

CENTRAL COAST BUSHCRAFT: San Luis Obispo based group. Lots of good tips and information. Visit their FACEBOOK page. 
OJAI SEARCH & RESCUE HIKING PLAN: This is a really nice hiking plan pdf available from Ojai Search & Rescue. Fill one out and leave with a friend or family before you go out. Besides information of use to SAR personnel, it also includes a box for a map drawing of your planned hike.

SELF RELIANCE OUTFITTERS [PATHFINDER SCHOOL, LLC]: Premier bushcraft school and supplier of bushcraft and survival equipment. Owned/operated by dave Canterbury [co-host of DISCOVERY CHANNEL'S "DUAL SURVIVAL" television show]

“SAFETY TIPS FOR TRAIL HIKERS” by Manny Silva, Central Coast Active magazine article: A discussion of personal safety from 2 and 4-legged predators on the trail

SURVIVAL RESOURCES, INC: Excellent source for trail survival gear. Visit their website at


APPENDIX 1: Advanced Trail Kit [Left] fleece jacket, knit cap, wool gloves, leather gloves. Cap is especially important as you lose 50% of heat via top of your head; [Centre, top clockwise] 25' nylon rope, AMK 2.0 bivvy [4 oz.], Space Blanket, Emergency poncho, map/pencil/notepad, toiletries, Sierra cup/water purifying tablets, canteen and cover, flashlight/spare batteries, monoscope, energy food/drink mix, signal mirror [US MK3 Type 1], fire making kit; [Right] Daypack, First Aid/Trauma Kit, crash shears, POCKETMASK rescue breather. All items displayed on a blaze orange poncho, which makes excellent signal panel [NOT SHOWN: Knives, compasses].

APPENDIX 2: Fire Making Kit Tin containing Flint/steel, char cloth and jute tinder; 2 tinder sticks; magnesium bar/striker; match safe with matches and jute tinder; USAF 3/8" Ferro cerium rod mounted in deer antler. Dave "Pathfinder" Canterbury suggests having five means of making fire at your disposal [include 2-3 primitive skills in that] as nothing ever works all the time, every time.

APPENDIX 3: First Aid Kit Basic First Aid kit in green box at bottom; Emergency blanket, crash shears, pocket-mask, and lots of trauma dressings are essential for the trail. Trails have lots of perils [slides, falls, falling rock, etc.]. You or a member of your party [or a stranger] may require wound dressings for a fracture or laceration.

APPENDIX 4: Every Day Carry [EDC] Every Day carry or EDC, are those items that should always be carried on your person at all times….a knife and a spare means of making fire. In the photograph above we see a waterproof match safe, a small flashlight wound with Gorilla tape and a can opener is attached by Para cord. Knives [top to bottom] are: WESTERN 932 6" clip blade with saw blade; Gerber APPLEGATE-FAIRBAIRN folder; LEATHERMAN "Super Tool 200"; HARTZKOPF lock-blade pocketknife with saw blade; VICTORINOX "Spartan" pocketknife. Any of these knives are a good choice for urban or trail uses.