Today I want to discuss something that is a very important issue to me regarding survival situations; and that is, survivability. By survivability, I mean the probability that you will actually survive a given scenario. Now, survivability is defined as being "the ability to remain alive or continue to exist" and in most situations, specifically in survival, we find ourselves trying to do exactly this, simply exist/remain alive; but I want to take this notion further and venture to push the idea that there are certain things that WE can do to increase the chances of survival; for instance, mental preparedness/planning, survival kit on your person, skills prior to your adventure and equipment such as a knife and cordage. The first and most important aspect of survival that we can actually affect is our mindset.
The brain is by far THE most overlooked set of tools/equipment listed when people list what they believe can help increase a scenarios survivability. Your mind and having your wits about you is the key to whether or not you will be able to survive an even such as getting stuck on the side of a mountain in a blizzard or flipping your canoe while on a big game hunting trip in the Yukon. Your mind, like your knife, must be sharp and honed so that it can work to bring you out on the other side alive. Let me half for a moment and say, mental preparedness does not start at the moment disaster strikes, it begins the moment you think about going out into the bush, the moment you are thinking about planning the trip.... If you don't put into place a "plan of action" before ever leaving the house you've already decreased your chances of survival. Going into a wilderness area which is sparsely populated without a plan for possible mishaps is not only unsafe and poor practice but incredibly naive. Simply stated, it comes down to the 6 P's, "Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance!" In my service in the Marine Corps we called it "SMEAC", Situation, Mission, Execution, Admin/Logistics and Command and Signal... All of these things come into play when we venture out into the unknown or even places we are extremely familiar with and it doesn't just apply in a combat environment but in all of our adventures. Acknowledging that possible danger DOES exist is the first step and should the occasion arise that something goes wrong, you already have a game plan; you've studied your route of travel, you've given several friends/family your trip itinerary and times to be expected at destinations and you've also studied the surrounding areas (what resources & hazards exist in the local area). The second step is maintaining a survival mentality or as I call it your PMA (Positive Mental Attitude). You have to believe that you are going to make it out of this situation and you must always continue to fight for your or your group's survival no matter how bleak the outcome may seem. There have been countless reports of people who were found only only yards from potentially life saving avenues of travel/high traffic areas or life saving resources but because they were mentally defeated, they sat down, became the victim and gave up it cost them their life.
The next thing we can do as responsible outdoorsmen/women is to have a survival kit on hand. Let us say for the sake of portability our kit is in an Altoids tin. Each scenario is different and each location will dictate what you actually place in your kit but there are a few things that are basic and never change no matter where your find yourself, whether its the desert, deciduous environment, swamp or mountains; these things are:
- being able to make fire
- finding, containing and disinfecting water
- finding/creating shelter to protect from the elements and predators
- finding/processing a food source.
Second, containing and disinfecting water; one great item to have in your kit is water purification tablets... they're small, lightweight and easy to find at any outdoor or camping store/outfitter. For containment and carry of water, it is important that you have a canteen, hydration bladder (ex: Camelbak) or metal water bottle. I prefer having a metal water bottle as you can carry your water to your fire and place it directly into the flame for disenfection/boiling and your container won't melt. However, let us stick with the Altoids tin theme and say you don't have a container, put an impermeable piece of plastic with twist/zip ties or a baggie into your kit folded up, this is better than nothing.
Next, shelter; you don't necessarily have to carry anything in your basic kit that will provide shelter if you possess the skills to make a basic living space from the resources available in your immediate area. The best kind of shelter is one that nature provides to you, that costs very little Calories to produce, i.e. fallen trees and caves. If you do carry something, however, I suggest placing a small folded space/thermal blanket in your tin. There is a multitude of products on the market which are compact, lightweight and highly portable.
Last, it will be important to find a sustainable source of sustenance, preferably one which also requires very little expenditure in Calories. For me, this also falls under my mental preparedness category as well because having a knowledge of wild edibles and food resources in your area is absolutely imperative to increasing survivability. You can find pamphlets, cards or even make your own from note cards which will fit into your kit; this is customizable to the environments you will be heading into.
Two of the most useful tools that you can have on your body when going out into the bush are a good, sharp knife and 550 cord (aka parachute cord or paracord). With these two items alone, provided you didn't have any of the above mentioned items, you could find survivability of your given situation increasing drastically. Both of these tools have multiple uses ranging from shelter building, weapon crafting, snare building, pack/container building, trap making and fishing line... the list is nearly endless. I have found that paracord is by far one of the most important pieces of equipment I keep on my person at all times. I used 550 cord as a United States Marine while in combat in Iraq and I use it here at home in the U.S. when camping, hunting, hiking, rafting etc. Keeping stashes of paracord on you when you are traveling light isn't always easy but I found several creative ways to store on my body while I was in the Marine Corps. I started making paracord survival bracelets and often found that it more than satisfied my needs for cordage in any situation, it certainly helped out in the survivability department several times over. Now, when I go out into the woods I always have at least one bracelet on my wrist, usually two. Even when I am driving to the other side of town or just leaving home to go up the street I always have my survival bracelets on me... I make a point of putting them on before even stepping out the front door. Recently I thought to myself... "but what if I need this cordage faster, nearly immediately?"... so I sought to develop a better way to keep my paracord in a bracelet form, thus I developed the Diamondback™ bracelet which makes my paracord available is less than half the time it takes to unravel the traditional style bracelet. Let me say, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the traditional style survival bracelet, it works great and provides a much needed resource in dire situations, but sometimes you may find yourself requiring that cordage much quicker than the traditional style allows and if you find yourself in this situation you don't want to spend 20 minutes unraveling a bracelet. When survivability is the name of the game, don't use your life as the game piece by leaving it in the hands of probability and hoping things will come out great; be prepared, have the right equipment and gain the knowledge and skills you will need for that one "Uh OH!" or "Oh man, what do we do now?"