The Survival Handbook: Essential Skills for Outdoor Adventure
HAVING TAUGHT SURVIVAL SKILLS FOR MANY YEARS, I have learned that four elements must be in place for a survival situation to have the chance of a positive outcome: knowledge, ability, the will to survive, and lucie While knowledge and ability can be learned, the will to survive is hard-wired into our survival mechanism and we may not know we possess it until we’re put to the test. For example, people who were fully trained and well-equipped have given up hope in survivable conditions, while others, who were less well-prepared and ill-equipped, have survived against all odds because they refused to give up.
Anyone venturing into the wilderness-whether for an overnight camping trip or a lengthy expedition-should understand the basic principles of survival. I<nowing how to survive in a particular situation will allow you to carry out the correct beforehand preparation, choose
the right equipment (and learn how to use it), and practice the necessary skills. While you may be able to start a fire using a lighter, for example, what would you do if it stopped working? Equally, anyone can spend a comfortable night inside a one-man bivy shelter, but what would you do if you lost your pack? The knowledge gained throughlearning the skills of survival will enable you to assess your situation, prioritize your needs, and improvise any items of gear that you don’t have with you.
Survival knowledge and skills must be learned-and practiced-under realistic conditions. Starting a fire with dry materials on a sunny day, for example, will teach you very little. The real survival skill is in understanding why a fire won’t start and working out a solution. The more you practice, the more you learn (I am yet to teach a course whereI didn’t learn something new from one of my students). Finding solutions and overcoming problems continually adds to your knowledge and, in most cases, will help you deal with problems should they occur again. There are differences between teaching survival courses to civilians andteaching them to military personnel. Civilians have enrolled on (and paid for) a course to increase their knowledge and skills, not because their life may depend on it (although, should they find themselves in a lifethreatening situation, it may well do), but because they are interested in survival techniques in their own right. In contrast the majority of
military personnel who undergo survival training may very well need to put it into practice, but they invariably complete the train ing simply
because they are required to do so. While no one in the military forces would underestimate the importance of survival training, it is a fact that if you want to fly a Harrier, or become a US Marine Mountain Leader, survival training is just one of the many courses you must undertake.
In the military, we categorize the four basic principles of survival as protection, location, water, and food. Protection focuses on your ability to prevent further injury and defend yourself against nature and the elements. Location refers to the importance of helping others to rescue you by letting them know where you are. The principle of water focuses on making sure that even in the short term, your body has the water it needs to enable you to accomplish the first two principles. Food, while not a priority in the short term, becomes more important the longer your situation lasts. We teach the principles in this order, but their priority can change depending on the environment the condition of the survivor, and the situation in which the survivor finds him- or herself.
We also teach advanced survival techniques to selected personnel who may become isolated from their own forces, such as when operating behind enemy lines. The four principles of survival remain the same, but we substitute “location” with “evasion”. The military definition of evasion is recognized as: “being able to live off the land while remaining undetected by the enemy”. This involves learning how to build a shelter that cannot be seen, how to maintain a fire that doesn’t give away your position, and how to let your own forces know where you are but remain undetected by the enemy.
In military training, and with most expeditions, the equipment with which you train will be specific to a particular environment-marines operating in the jungles of Belize will not pack a set of cold-weather clothing, for example; and Sir Ranulph Fiennes won’t practice putting up his jungle hammock before venturing into the Arctic l However, the standard practice of being equipped and trained for a specific environment can prove to be a major challenge for some expeditions. During my career as a survival instructor, for example, I have been fortunate enough to have worked on two of Sir Richard Branson’s
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