Jan 19, 2011

Outdoor Orientation and Survival

I have been a follower of the Upward Trail site from the start of my peakbagging career (lols at the term). I always read survival and backpacking articles of which I used as my basic mountaineering course. I would like to share one the articles in my mountain climbing bible from the Upward Trail site.

How to Pack a Survival Bag

It fits in a one-gallon Ziploc. It weighs just a couple of pounds. It costs a fraction of what one of those GPS-equipped cell phones costs. But this survival kit could save your life. While more complete kits could include everything from fishing gear to first-aid supplies, the 12 items of this one can be used to address all your basic nonmedical needs.

Shelter: Large plastic garbage bags make excellent ponchos. (The bright orange ones used by the Department of Transportation are even better, if you can find them.) With an 8-by-12-foot [2.4-by-3.7-meter] plastic drop sheet and 25 feet [7.6 meters] of parachute chord, you'll be able to build an emergency shelter. (Hardware stores stock all three items.) A pocketknife can be used to cut the cord—and for myriad other chores.
Fire: Double wrap waterproof matches in Ziploc bags, and carry a lighter or flint-and-steel set as well. Cotton balls dipped in Vaseline (store them in a film container) are handy fire-starting aids.
Signaling: The reflection of a signal mirror can be seen up to a hundred miles [160 kilometers] away on clear days. You can purchase one at any decent outdoors store, as well as a whistle (something every child in your party should carry).
Water: One bottle of iodine-based purification tablets can treat up to 25 quarts [23.7 liters] of water. Navigation: Carry a compass. Enough said. A mini-flashlight is useful in many ways—and having light also boosts morale.

Whatever is in your survival kit, says expert Byron Kerns, the fundamental rule is: "You've got to keep it with you." Put it in the bottom of your daypack; put it in the detachable fanny pack from your frame pack. Just put it somewhere.

How to Find Your Way
First, check the age of your map. "The USGS [U.S. Geological Survey] topos that most hikers use can be severely outdated," says champion orienteer Kristin Hall. Over the years, fires, floods, and development may have changed the face of the land. Trails and roads may have been rerouted. Yet these transient features are often the very ones people use to get their bearings.

So, unless your map is absolutely current, Hall recommends orienting yourself using only "the big features that aren't going to change—valleys, mountains, lakes."

How to Predict the Weather

You don't, says mountaineering guide Dave Hahn. A veteran of such weathery places as the Alaska Range, Antarctica's Vinson Massif, and Washington's Mount Rainier, Hahn believes in the empirical school of field meteorology.

"Observations," he says, "are worth billions more than predictions." For example, Hahn says forget the fact that electrical storms are rare on the Seattle side of the Cascades in summer: "Trust the short hairs standing up on the back of your neck and the sparks flying from your ice ax."

In other words, don't let predictions of fair weather lure you into ignoring the storm clouds gathering overhead. Hahn is proud of his ability to notice weather changes "at the instant they occur." Which is a more valuable skill than it may appear, since the importance of assessing conditions is easily forgotten in the heat of battle.

"There is nothing like a view of a summit to make one see silver linings around pure evil storm cells," he says. "Even seasoned climbers will come up to you during perfectly awful, avalanche-inducing, frostbiting, epic-book-writing weather and point up and say, 'Isn't that blue sky up there?' Yeah, too bad we aren't climbing to 60,000 feet [18,300 meters], or we could use it."

How to Signal for Help

If you brought a cell phone, pray that it works. Otherwise, you need to make yourself as visible and audible as possible. When it comes to being heard, shouting is a last resort: It wastes energy, and the human voice doesn't travel far. Ideally, you brought your whistle—quite possibly the most vital piece of survival equipment you (or your children) can carry. The international distress signal is three blasts.

For visibility, start with a signal fire: Choose an open area, get a large, hot blaze going, and when an aircraft comes in sight, throw on green pine boughs or other newly cut plant materials to make a dramatic smoke signal. Also, spread out reflective blankets or brightly colored clothing to help searchers spot you from the air.

How to Keep Warm on Frigid Hikes
How do you stay warm when it's 30 degrees below [-34°C] with a windchill of minus 75 [-59°C]? Stoke the "inner" while managing the "outer," says Ann Bancroft, who endured just such conditions on her 1,717-mile [2,763-kilometer] trek across Antarctica with Liv Arnesen in 2000-2001. The advice applies in milder winter weather, too.

Most people have the outer part of the equation down—insulate with layers of wool, fleece, Gore-Tex, and so on—but the inner is often neglected. Keeping the metabolic furnace roaring takes huge amounts of fuel, Bancroft says, and that includes "all the high-fat stuff you can't eat at home." Every day, the two women consumed granola bars, potato chips, high-fat freeze-dried dinners—and a foot-and-a-half-long [half-meter-long] chocolate bar. They drank cocoa fortified with instant coffee, cream, and sugar.

"At the end of the day, if we'd paid attention to our internal thermostat, we could simply get out of wet boots and into dry socks and sip some hot soup," Bancroft says. "The world changes at that point."

How to Build a Fire When It's Wet

Carry a few clean twigs inside the fuel bottle for your stove, says John Gookin, the curriculum manager for the National Outdoor Leadership School in Lander, Wyoming. When all else fails, use a few of the fuel-soaked sticks to jump-start a recalcitrant campfire. "Trust me," he says, "those babies will light."

How to Climb Higher

Pressure-breathe and rest-step: "Together, the two techniques are the best way I know to minimize fatigue when you're hiking up a mountain," says Scott Carr-Morrill, who founded an outdoor-education program at Utah's Brighton Ski Area.

Inhale deeply as your foot comes off the ground, he says, then use the force of stepping uphill to facilitate a complete exhalation, squeezing the carbon dioxide out and setting you up for another breath. To rest-step, drop the heel and completely straighten the leg with each step, which puts the weight on your skeleton and allows your muscles to rest momentarily.

How to Find Water

With luck, you are close to a lake or stream. If you can't find a source of fresh water, there are several possible strategies. First, don't be overly stingy with the water you do have: Many have died with carefully hoarded water still in their canteens. Better to drink when you're thirsty. If you must search or work for water, beware of exerting yourself unproductively. ("Conserve sweat, not water" is the maxim to remember.)

You can try digging in the dry streambeds or looking for rainwater in hollow stumps or pockets in rocks. You can even use a bandanna to blot the dew from plants at dawn and then wring it into your mouth.

The solar still pictured here is a last resort. To make one, choose the dampest sunny spot you can find. Dig a hole about three feet [0.9 meter] across and two feet [0.6 meter] deep, with a deeper indentation at the bottom to hold your water container. Cover the hole with a piece of your plastic drop sheet (See Survival in a Bag) and place a small rock at the center to depress the plastic. Anchor and seal the edges with rocks. (Adding crushed plant leaves will slightly boost the output.)

Water from the ground and vegetation will condense on the sheet, roll down to the center, and drip into the container. But don't get your hopes up. Stills often produce only a few swallows of water a day. You'll need more than one.

How to Build Shelter

Ideally, you have a tent and a sleeping bag. Failing that, you ought to have basic emergency supplies (see Survival in a Bag), including a plastic drop sheet and some parachute cord that you can use to make a simple A-frame tent. But even with no supplies at all, you can still build a basic debris shelter.

First, choose a dry location with plenty of sticks, leaves, and grass around. Next, find a ridgepole—a fallen tree about 12 feet [3.7 meters] long—and a standing tree with a branch a few feet off the ground. Rest one end of the ridgepole in the crook where the branch extends from the trunk (use a rock or stump for a support if you can't find a low branch), then line the pole with sticks, each about a hand's width apart.

After crisscrossing these poles with small branches or thick grasses, cover the completed framework with a thick layer of boughs, more grass, and leaves. Generously cover the ground and pad the interior walls with leaves or pine needles, then slide inside and use boughs or your jacket to seal the door.

Survival specialist Mark Morey once safely spent the night in a debris shelter while a hurricane destroyed his store-bought tent, which was set up nearby. "It was snug and quiet in there," he says.

How to Gather Food
In the best-case scenario, you have enough food for three days. No? Don't panic—most people can go at least a week without eating. Still, hunger is debilitating and makes you more susceptible to hypothermia. So attend to your food needs once other problems are dealt with.

Catching mammals is extremely difficult for the untrained—not worth the energy expenditure. Fishing is much more effective, especially if you have the right gear. Aside from familiar berries, plants are not a good idea unless you're trained in identifying the edible ones, and even then, they don't provide much nourishment.

The best available supply of nutrients is insects. Your most vital nutritional needs in a survival situation are protein and fat, and most insects are rich in both. Slugs, earthworms, ant eggs—all are good. (Avoid stinging insects and spiders; "six legs or fewer" is a good rule of thumb.)

The best method for collecting ants is to find a nest, disturb it with a stick, allow the ants to climb the stick, and then remove them by dipping the stick into a container of water. Grubs (insect larvae) are easy to find in rotten logs, under the bark of dead trees, and in the ground. Most types of bugs can be eaten raw, though roasting them makes the meal more palatable.

How to Start a Fire

Since a nonexpert's chances of making fire by primitive methods (such as with bow drills) are practically nil, you should always carry matches and lighters in waterproof bags. A flint-and-steel set provides extra security, because it still works after being soaked.

To use it, hold the striker—a curved band of steel—in one hand and the flint stone in the other. (You can also use the back side of a pocketknife blade and a chunk of quartz, agate, or jasper.) Hold the steel steady and strike the flint downward against it. Repeat the motion until a spark ignites your tinder—cedar and birch shavings and dead grasses all work well.

In survival situations, there's no such thing as cheating. Cotton balls dipped in Vaseline and stored in an empty film canister make excellent tinder. Fluff them up before lighting; you'll get an immediate, hot, long-burning flame. Small chunks cut from a fake fireplace log will prolong the burn.

For kindling, use twigs and wood shavings. In wet conditions, take dead branches off trees rather than from the ground. Collect about three times as much as you think you'll need.

Weather Sayings

Red sky at night, sailor's delight.
Red sky at morning, sailor take warning.
Swallows flying way up high means there's no rain in the sky.
Swallows flying near the ground means a storm will come around
If smoke goes high, no rain comes by.
If smoke hangs low, watch out for a blow.
When grass is dry at morning light, look for rain before the night.
When the dew is on the grass, rain will never come to pass.
Mackerel scales and mares' tails make lofty ships carry low sails.
Circle around the moon, rain or snow soon.
No weather's ill if the wind is still.
Cold is the night when the stars shine bright.

Finding Your Way Without a Compass - Watch method.

Hold your watch flat. Place a short twig upright against the edge of the watch at the point of the hour hand. (This method will not work with a digital watch.) Turn the watch until the shadow of the twig falls exactly along the hour hand - that is, until the hour hand points toward the sun. A line from the center of the watch, dividing half the angle between the hour hand and the numeral 12, will point south. (Note: this method requires standard time. If your watch is on daylight savings time, turn it back 1 hour.)

Keep Yourself Safe Around Snakes

Although poisonous snakes are common in some parts of the country, bites from them are rare. Snakes try to avoid humans, usually striking only when cornered. Few bites result in death.

Still, you must be alert when you walk through areas where snakes may live. Use your hiking stick to poke among the rocks and brush ahead of you. Watch where you put your hands as you climb over rocks and logs or collect firewood. Many snakes are active at night; don't walk through camp barefooted.

Snakes seldom strike very high, so leather hiking boots will offer protection. When swimming or boating in southern states, watch for cottonmouth snakes sunning along the shore or on tree branches overhanging the water.

Compass practice

Here's a good three-step exercise for taking compass bearings and following a route:
1. Push a stick into the ground beside your foot. Turn the compass housing to any bearing - 15 degrees, for example. Orient the compass and sight along the direction-of-travel arrow to a land mark. Walk 50 steps toward it. 
2. Add 120 degrees to your first bearing and set your compass again (in this example 120 + 15 = 135 degrees). Walk 50 steps on the new heading.
 3. Finally, add 120 degrees to that second bearing (120 + 135 = 255 degrees). Take a bearing and take 50 steps.

If you have done everything right, you will be standing beside the stick where you started.

How to Climb Higher

Pressure-breathe and rest-step: "Together, the two techniques are the best way I know to minimize fatigue when you're hiking up a mountain," says Scott Carr-Morrill, who founded an outdoor-education program at Utah's Brighton Ski Area.

Inhale deeply as your foot comes off the ground, he says, then use the force of stepping uphill to facilitate a complete exhalation, squeezing the carbon dioxide out and setting you up for another breath. To rest-step, drop the heel and completely straighten the leg with each step, which puts the weight on your skeleton and allows your muscles to rest momentarily.

How to Fix Gear in the Field

Always carry dental floss, says Annie Getchell, the author of The Essential Outdoor Gear Manual (McGraw-Hill). Getchell is something of a backcountry Mary Poppins: She totes a small, magical bag filled with oddments—from electrical tape to hose clamps—that can see her through any mishap.

Floss comes in handiest, especially for sewing together thick materials such as the neoprene of wet suits, the leather of hiking boots, and the nylon of backpacks.

Daylight Remaining

I have found myself at times being a great distance from my camp and the hours of daylight are quickly passing. I have used this simple and fairly accurate " trick/skill" to determine how many hours of daylight are left. This way I can decide if I should quickly establish an overnight camp or if I might have time to walk back down to base camp in the daylight.

To "estimate", the hours of daylight remaining all you need are your hands to approximate this time frame.

    * Extend your arms completely outstretched at face level.
    * Bend your wrists inward so your palms face you.
    * Place one hand on top of the other with fingers pointing in opposite directions and with the bottom of your lower hand even with the horizon.
    * Raise your top hand fingers one by one until the bottom of the sun is on top of one of your fingers.
    * Each finger below the sun and above the horizon represents about 15 minutes of daylight remaining.
    * Everybody has different width of fingers, so for better results practice at home and time the sunset to see if your fingers represent 15 minutes, 10 minutes or maybe even 20 minutes.

Outdoor Essentials

updated by : Mountaineering: The Feedom of the Hills(7th Edition)

    * Navigation
    * Sun protection
    * Insulation(extra clothing)
    * Illumination
    * First-aid supplies
    * Fire starters
    * Repair kit and tools
    * Nutrition(extra food)
    * Hydration(extra water)
    * Emergency shelter

PS: Top survival gears on my "to bring" list on a climb are headlamp and raingear. Based on experience, these are the two things that I fervently prayed for during my life and death experience in Mt. Isarog. Added to that is the magnetic compass and whistle. More important than food, more important than water, more important than anything. Well almost anything. (Although lack of water and food can really get you disoriented, situation I have both experienced).


  1. will keep this in mind! really helpful! thnx for sharing! :)

    keep exploring!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Hi gael,

    this is just a borrowed article. thanks for dropping by. :)

    (had to repost this comment, mali ata spelling ko ng name mo. hehe)

  4. awesome article! thanks for sharing this...

  5. Hi, thanks for dropping by. I am also glad to have found this article by Upward Trail. Very helpful indeed.