Survival Part 2 – The Survival Tin and Fire Misconception

Survival tin with fire content

It’s always a good idea to stick to basics like the 5 Cs of survivability by Dave Canterbury. It’s good to remember that hypothermia kills before dehydration, which kills before hunger. Also, I’d strongly recommend taking a map, a compass and learning some basic navigation skills before going on a solo hike. But relying solely on this kind of ‘wilderness insurance’ sometimes isn’t enough.

Many survival manuals will list fire as one of the most important things you should think of when lost or forced to stay in the field longer than you planned. I understand that and often practice starting fires in many different ways as well as building various fire types for different applications. But that doesn’t mean you can’t survive a short episode without a fire. In fact, sometimes you may have no choice.

Desert Death Valley Dolina Smierci  Swinica mountain
Areas such as deserts or high mountains will often have little or no firewood to keep you warm on cold nights

I’ve seen many examples of experienced survival and bushcraft instructors failing to make a fire, sometimes even with a ferro rod. It was either too wet or they didn’t have enough firewood, and it took them longer than most people would be willing to go without a fire in such conditions. Sometimes you’re simply unable to light a fire. At least as quickly as you need it.

Scotland   Sea
Moorland, sea shore and open sea survival can be equally challenging when it comes to keeping warm using fire

That’s why I don’t make lists. I try to learn to react and respond to changes as they happen. And that is also why I decided to take on the ’48h with a survival tin’ challenge created by a friend of mine from Bushcraft Poland. The challenge is simple – survive 48 hours with just your clothes, a small pocket size survival tin and a 3″ knife/multitool, covering at least 10 miles in the process.

Let’s imagine for a moment my car broke down far from civilization, I have no reception, no backpack and only a rough idea on how to get back by following the unpaved road I drove before I got stuck.

This is obviously just a funny little competition using an imaginary scenario. But it’s a good training and reality check at the same time. I’ve already heard people claiming that 48 h is way too short and you can go without water, food and sleep for two days straight. Great! I’d like to see you try 🙂 I’m not implying it would be impossible. I’m just pointing out that saying is not the same as doing and that not drinking, eating and sleeping at home may be ‘a little’ different from trying the same trick when lost out in the field.

Another problem with such approach is that in real life you can’t be sure when or even if you’re going to be rescued. Even having a beacon or a satellite phone does not guarantee good weather, suitable for helicopters or ground team to find you in time. In this light, sitting on your butt, waisting your time for two days may not be the best strategy. It wouldn’t be a bad idea in a desert, if you had no idea where to go but knew someone’s eventually coming for you. After all, in desert survival staying put is usually your best bet anyway.

In most other cases, a much better idea would be to have your survival tin full of fire starters and relying on fire for water purification, cooking, warmth and signaling. Good solution but I want to kick it up a notch and go without fire altogether, to see how difficult it would really be. We know it can happen, at least for some time, so why not find out how bad it can really get? That obviously means no proper food either. I ain’t eating raw meat if I don’t have to, and raw plants are not really gonna provide enough calories unless you’re willing to spend 8 hours a day on munching like a gorilla.

Survival tin no fire content

What about water? Well, I’ll pack my tin in a 2 litter plastic bag and use it to purify water with tablets. How am I gonna keep warm at night? By walking until it gets bright and warm again, and only resting by day. I can try and not eat but I’m not intending to go two days without sleeping. Combined with lack of food, this could get me in serious trouble causing hallucinations or nervous breakdown.

Apart from keeping me warm, walking at night will help conserving water and protect me from the heat. But I can only do that because I’m following a road and have a flashlight with a good supply of batteries. Trying to walk at night in thick forest with no visible trails and no sense of direction would be close to suicide.

I will also have a space blanket to use as an improvised shelter in case of rain. Nothing else I have at home fit’s the tin as nicely as that. Besides, the Mylar blanket can also provide some protection from cold weather should I need it.

So let’s find out how hard it is to fast for two days, catching only a few hour mid-day naps, drinking stinky water, while traveling at night.


Survival Part 1 – The Two Main Reasons Why Shit Happens

John Muir ForestReading real life survival stories makes me think that in most cases finding yourself in a survival situation isn’t something to be proud of. Unless, of course it’s caused by unforeseeable events. It seems like survival situations can surprise us in remote (wild) places as well as urban areas and are caused by two main factors.

1. External – natural phenomena, accidents and armed conflicts.
– Earthquakes, tsunami, mudslides, avalanches, tornadoes, fires, floods and so on.
– Broken or otherwise injured limbs, sudden illnesses, animal attacks etc.
– Terrorist attacks, wars etc.
Not really your fault and there isn’t much you can do to prevent them. However, you can and should know how to survive should any of those disasters happen.

2. Self-generated – mistakes and miscalculations.
– Recklessness, lack of forethought and insufficient preparation.
– Lack of experience or practice.
Usually our own fault, which doesn’t mean we deserve to die and shouldn’t try and fix things. These often accumulate as a chain of, seemingly harmless, bad decisions with serious consequences, leading up to worse and worse situations.

So how do you prepare for everything? You don’t. It’s simply impossible to predict every likely and unlikely scenario. The best solution is to stay flexible and openminded. Ready to improvise and react quickly to changes.

I’m deliberately not digging deeper into the psychological aspect of survival and mental preparation. I do realize it is probably the most important part of every survival story but I am not a psychologist and honestly wouldn’t know what to tell you. My methods of motivating quitters tend to be a bit rough and wouldn’t suit everybody.

I practice survival skills for fun almost everyday. Hand drill, bow drill, feather sticks navigation… I also try to stay in best possible shape, pushing myself physically and mentally on long hikes, I try to do once a week. I understand this isn’t for everybody but I like it. Keeps me healthy and happy. It’s like going to the gym, which I do as well, only this one is free and the views are a lot better.

Planning your trip and carefully selecting your equipment is just as important as staying fit. Here’s one example of what not to do if you want to make it out of the wilderness on your own.