Sunday, December 22, 2013

Independence

Malc asked about first steps in acquiring the skills to be independent.  First steps, always, are to make a list of what those skills are.  What do you need to be independent?  If you are really interested in this, stop reading now, make your own list, then come back.  What follows is my 'first thoughts' list.

The big four for survival are shelter, water, fire and food.  They are in that order for survival because exposure, generally, will kill you quickest and preserving heat is more efficient in the short term than manufacturing heat. Thirst kills you second quickest.  Fire is a tool and, among other things, can make water and food safer. (There is a debate in the survival community about whether fire is more important than water since unboiled water may not be safe).  Most of us can go much longer without food than we realize.

These four have very different levels for different situations and time scales.  Pure wilderness survival, dropped into a pristine wilderness with few or no tools requires one set of skills, and unless you have a time machine you will really have to work to find that situation.  Surviving if your car goes off a road in a blizzard or if the power and water gets shut off to your apartment (blackout and riots, yay!) are different.  Weathering a storm for a few days is different than trying to recreate civilization from scratch (time machine or portal, again).

The principles of shelter, water, fire and food (SWFF) are universal, but sometimes it can be hard to find someone who can teach the principles without their perspective creating blindspots (e.g. so into nature that they won't use litter for natural tools or so into he-man survival that they don't admit sometimes you wait for help.)

Aside-- One of the most important exercises is to live at this subsistence level for a time.  For however long it takes you to be confident you could last forever.  Then you realize how little you really need, and the people (I'm thinking advertisers, but also peer group) who make a living from creating hungers lose power.

And time frame-- wildcrafting food and medicine can take days, but growing it can take months.  A garden, even a little one, eases you dependency.  If it's more than a few days, waste management becomes a critical skill as well.

So, shelter, water, fire, food.  And waste management.
I'd add medicine and defense as critical skills.  Readers of this blog probably have their own ideas of defense, but I'll add this: For any likely disaster (say you live in an earthquake or tsunami zone) you should have a 'defend in place' plan and a GOOD (Get Out of Dodge) plan.  The GOOD plan must include where you are going. Never run away, always run towards. And you must have a plan (and skills) for defending in place and a plan (and skills) for defending on the move.

For medicine, advanced first aid is a minimum.  Go for EMT. There are some excellent home health and medicine books, including Werner's "Where There is no Doctor" and Sehnert's "How to be your own Doctor (Sometimes)".  There are limits-- you won't handle a burst appendix by yourself-- but independence like most things is a path more than a destination.  It's percentage points.

At a more generic level-- literacy.  Including scientific literacy and forensic debate.  If you want to know how you are being manipulated you have to understand what science _is_ (the scientific method, not just technology) how statistics works, and the common logical fallacies.

Statistics and trig are, IMO, the two most useful maths.  Some geometry.

Critical thinking is huge, but like breathing and walking, everyone thinks they're already natural masters and most can't be objective for shit.

With more room and time, I'd love to matrix this out.  For instance, take shelter. At the basic level of skill, it's building a debris hut or burrow. At the basic level of understanding it's knowing that if power is lost you move your whole family to one small room so that the body heat will keep the living space comfortably warm.  At the journeyman level, you are learning to repair or build all the things that make a modern house and at the master level, you can build your own home to your own specs...but can be happy living in a debris hut.

Okay, sources.
For survival skills I've played with Tom Brown's School and the Maine Primitive Skills School. Good skills, but they definitely come with a philosophy that may not be your cup of tea.

My favorite is Toby Cowern.  He's smart, he teaches you how to think instead of telling you what to do.  His skills cover wilderness (which he practices north of the Arctic Circle) to urban, disaster and even some combat.  He only gets to the United States about twice a year, but he's experimenting with on-line and video courses. http://www.treadlightlytraining.com/ 

Local colleges will have EMT training and there is always the Red Cross.  If you're rural, you might be able to volunteer for a local Fire Department and get some good training and experience.  Not just in fire suppression and First Aid-- the ICS (Incident Command System, how I was taught to plan operations) was pioneered by FDs.

There are more resources out there than ever before.  One more.  FEMA has created Community Emergency Response Teams and I hear the training is good:
http://www.fema.gov/community-emergency-response-teams


28 comments:

TWW said...

I could not help but think it is the big five -- oxygen comes first:)

Michael said...

"Shelter, water, fire, food," is straight out of Tom Brown's school and folks that have been there continue to perpetuate his limited curriculum. Rory you're an expert on violence, not wilderness survival and living.

Anonymous said...

Had to chuckle at Michael's comment.

Lloyd said...

TWW - Oxygen comes first, but youll probably just skip it if you add it into your outlook on things. There arent many situations where you need a model to tell you that not being alive and breathing is bad.

Michael - The model is functional. Limited? How so? What do you want, a log cabin? If you have a point to make, youre gonna have to do better than a baseless sweeping statement.

Michael said...

Sorry, didn't mean to come off rude. I just know from first hand experience what the Tracker School and their ilk are all about, and I know what good survival instruction is and what isn't.

Making blanket statements about wilderness survival and the "sacred order" is limited and pretty much wrong in many places, especially in the boreal forest. Very limited as well. There is a major difference between modern wilderness survival, wilderness living, primitive technology, crafting etc One of the biggest problems with the Tracker School and their offspring is that they teach primitive skills as wilderness survival. As an example when you take the basic class at the Tracker School (Standard Class) you are lectured to in a classroom of over a hundred students generally and are superficially taught several methods of frictions fires, some bogus tracking methods, very limited shelters (the debris hut) etc. But many super basic and vital information and skills are never touched on, or barely taught so when a student leaves those schools they pretty much leave without any real skill set, ie they lack the ability to ignite and sustain a fire in adverse conditions with one match, or the don't know how to dress for all weather conditions, or how to sharpen and effectively use a knife (and what actually constitutes a useful knife). I could go on and on. Yet hours upon hours are spent on such things as ridiculous deadfall traps that are often inefficient and totally impractical, or bullshit pressure releases, on and on.

The premise of having shelter listed first is based on the concept of what called the debris shelter at the tracker school, which is supposed to work by using a lot insulation to keep one warm without a fire. They do work, I've lived in them for months at a time in certain bioregions and times of the year. The problem is they're only effective in some areas at certain times, plus a number of problems that can arise in the process of construction (time constrains, injuries, moisture). If I had to pick a skill that would be the most important (besides dressing right) for northern climates it would be firecraft. A proper built fire and firelay serves as a shelter and a heat source, amongst other things. During many times of the year in the north it's one's only option and it's used in conjunction with certain shelters.

Lloyd said...

Michael, thats much more reasonably presented.

I agree that a sacred order isnt very useful, but it is one of the only ways of putting it into words and systematizing it.

So, if debris shelters are of limited application, what alternatives would you propose? A fire can only keep you warm in certain conditions as well.

If im mistaken, correct me on the following. Most of the guys ive spoken to whove maintained fires in rather cold conditions do so with gear they bring with them. Thats leaning more towards preparedness than wilderness survival. Without that gear, protecting yourself from the elements ought to be faster than trying and failing to build a fire under those conditions.

Primitive skills can be used as wilderness survival. Its not exactly optimal, but nor is having to survive in the wilderness without gear. If all youve got to work with IS primitive skills, wouldnt it be good to have them?

Ill come back now to shelters. Yeah, debris huts are limited. Now what are your alternatives for shelter? Thats why i said the log cabin thing, but now i see youre leaning in the opposite direction to what i thought you were at first.

You said they teach friction fires, but then you complain that they dont tell you how to sustain a fire with a match under adverse conditions. Im taking your word on all that, but what if you dont HAVE a match, and need to make a friction fire?

Dressing for weather conditions is preparedness again. If its winter, ill probably be in winter clothes anyway. You learn that through life, not a class. Normally.

Sharpening and using a knife is cool, but an edged rock can usually do whatever you need.

Deadfall traps arent rocket science. Id sorta like to know more about what theyre doing with that so i can pass judgement on it. Ive used a deadfall trap to catch fish, quite successfully.

Just to be clear, im not having a go at you. Therell be time for that based on your answers :)

VirginiaCombatSystema said...

Great stuff as always.

If I can add a recommendation: Boulder Outdoor Survival School. I'm a graduate of their 28-day field course (2007), and think that it's first rate.

If you've never spent time away from civilization, prepare for a feeling of disconnectedness and a calm kind of superiority when you get back.

Josh K. said...

"For instance, take shelter. At the basic level of skill, it's building a debris hut or burrow. At the basic level of understanding it's knowing that if power is lost you move your whole family to one small room so that the body heat will keep the living space comfortably warm."

Rory,

Why? 

I like Cody Lundin's, "98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive."

Survival in the short-term  is about regulating core body temperature. In the long-term, after you met your short-tetm goal, it's all about securing resources water and food.

To me the first line of defense when it comes to regulating body temp is what ever you are wearing and is it layered? To me shealter is anything that helps me regulate my body temp. Keeps me from getting to hot or to cold.

There are Survival Skills and then there are Wilderness Living Skills. Those things that you absolutely need to know to survive, and those things that make living (surviving) easer.

;-)

Kathryn Scannell said...

I think there may be quite a lot of variation in the CERT programs, depending on who teaches and where. There was some good information in the one I went through, but it was extremely oriented toward working in conjunction with authorities (which is good because I'd hate to have most of the people I took the class with operating solo). It spent time on things like what to bring with you when you evacuate, with the built-in assumption that you were going to an organized shelter of some sort, how to help as unskilled labor in a search and rescue situation, some very basic first aid, etc. It's a good start, and gets at least some people thinking, but I wouldn't count on it for much beyond that.

Michael said...

Hi Lloyd,

If you've spent any serious time in northern climates in the winter, or really anytime, but especially winter, you wouldn't be second guessing me. Talk to anyone that lives in the bush long term, fire and a good axe, besides clothing, are number one.

Lloyd:
" Thats leaning more towards preparedness than wilderness survival. Without that gear, protecting yourself from the elements ought to be faster than trying and failing to build a fire under those conditions."

Lloyd, preparedness IS survival. If you're in the bush without certain key items and tools then you have NO business being there in the first place, it's that simple really. I understand where you are coming from, the romantic notion of going naked into the wilderness etc and living is pretty much a myth and has nothing to do with modern survival skills.

As to the primitive skills, well of course they are great. But there is a distinction between the m and training for survival. Like in martial arts you, one trains differently (or should) for say a tournament than civilian self defense, but sometimes the skills overlap. See what I'm saying? When the bush plane you're flying in goes down and you have a broken leg what good is it to know how to construct a clovis arrowhead? I've known many students, especially from Tom Brown's lineage, that can make a bow drill fire in their basement or whatever but when it's freezing rain out and there's four feet of snow on the ground they can't ignite and maintain a fire. Do you see what I'm driving at here? I love making friction fires, one of my favorite skills, but the truth is there are times when it won't work, and is just totally inappropriate (try making a hand drill fire in those conditions from scratch with no tools and under time constraints). It's best to learn solid skills with tools first then learn to get by without them, but to always have them. Going into a situation unprepared is just stupid.

The truth is long term and primitive living/survival is a totally different beast than modern survival. The focus is on staying alive, maintaining body temperature, water, and sleep (a good measure of one's skill actually). The people that were/are the BEST are living in the wild were all of our ancestors and such, and the truth is that it wasn't some utopia, literally whole families and villages could starve to death. Survival is about stacking the odds in your favor, not being a unprepared dumbass. So learn what is an appropriate survival kit for your region, and practice with it over and over.

Lloyd said:
"Sharpening and using a knife is cool, but an edged rock can usually do whatever you need."

I don't mean to be rude, that is literally completely wrong. Try to gather one cord of wood before nightfall in the winter with a discoidal blade...Not going to happen.

Lloyd:
"Dressing for weather conditions is preparedness again. If its winter, ill probably be in winter clothes anyway. You learn that through life, not a class. Normally."

Then why is that the most common cause of death in wilderness situations is generally from people dressing poorly? The truth is most people spend the majority of their lives in climate controlled settings (house to car to work and back) and get only brief glimpses of weather and can simply get back to a warm shelter if they get wet and cold. Most people don't know how to dress for seasons and weather. Like I said before survival is about stacking the odds in one favor. Case in point some bush pilots in Canada and AK will keep a down sleeping bag within arms reach of their seat so that if they crash and are pinned they can grab and live.

Michael said...

Lloyd said:

"Deadfall traps arent rocket science. Id sorta like to know more about what theyre doing with that so i can pass judgement on it. Ive used a deadfall trap to catch fish, quite successfully."

No they aren't, but they do take skill and practice and LOTS of time to use effectively (and strong knowledge of animal habits, habitat, trailing, trapping is skill in of itself.). Time that can be spent elsewhere, and calories that can be saved. Ok listen up. In a survival situation essentially if you are not meeting your basal metabolic rate then you shouldn't be eating, you should be fasting. Considering most survival situations last 48-72 hours deadfalls etc are in fantasy land. MOST people can live 40 plus days without any food. For a good account of this read "Hey I'm Alive" by Helen Klaben.

Someone mentioned BOSS and Cody Lundin. They're great. Cody learned from the best, Mors Kochanski, I recommend him for the north.

Michael said...

I just realized I forgot to respond to your question about shelters. I'll try to make this brief. If one is prepared, and I'm focusing on boreal regions which are my main experience, then one should be able to stay alive with just the clothing on their back for at least a couple days. But that pretty much is never the case. Now if you have a proper survival you would be carrying your vital shelter components with you, which should proper be some polyethylene and some parachute cloth, mylar is handy too. With those, or just the poly you can stay warm in cold ass weather, -50 etc.

Actual shelter designs and layouts there are so many possibilities and options. If one has the aforementioned components all the better. Various designs, but the main structural principles you'd be working with are domes and A frame structures and the various offshoots of those. One of my favorites is called the supersheler (Mors Kochanski designed it). Without those components many of the same principles still apply. If you want an in-depth look at that read anything by Paul Provencher (he was the real deal) or anything by Mors Kochanski of course. Snow shelters can be useful, but often they are not for a variety of reasons. And again as I mentioned a fire alone can be enough to keep one alive through the night, without a shelter. But yeah, essentially a bough bed with an open faced shelter and parallel fire lay is what you'll be doing. By the way it's one or the other, if you have a warm enough bag with you then a fire won't be needed and really can't be used with a bag and shouldn't be needed. Rory mentioned the Maine Primitive School. I know most of the instructors there, most of them are very skilled and knowledgeable in their respective ares but still lacking in certain basic survival arenas. Case in point a few years back they ran a winter survival course and taught what they called an "arctic leanto" which was horribly constructed, and had their students trying to sleep in it with sleeping bags and a parallel fire lay. You can find those pictures for an example of how not to do it.

Toby said...

Thanks for the shout Rory! 2014 will see me expanding on even more things Survival related... Lots of good things in the pipeline :)

Josh K. said...

We kind of drifted of topic.

Independence is a mindset, first and formost, that influences the skills that you will aquire to achive it.

There are two types of people those seeking freedom (independence) and those seeking security, reassurance... a guaranty that it will be alright. It doesn't have to be reality. They will settle for just the feeling of security.

Do we look within ourselves first or to others to solve lifes problems?

Josh K. said...

Rory,

The paralyses of Hope....

Lisa said...

Michael, I have a question. What is the basis and the evidence for the idea that if you can't eat enough to surpass your basal metabolic rate, you shouldn't eat anything at all?

Lloyd said...

Michael,

I see whats happened here. Yes, preparedness is survival. But im pretty sure thats not what you should expect to get out of somewhere that focuses on primitive skills.

"If you've spent any serious time in northern climates in the winter, or really anytime, but especially winter, you wouldn't be second guessing me. Talk to anyone that lives in the bush long term, fire and a good axe, besides clothing, are number one."

Ill second guess anyone, thanks :) I know people like that, although their time in the north is limited.

"I don't mean to be rude, that is literally completely wrong. Try to gather one cord of wood before nightfall in the winter with a discoidal blade...Not going to happen."

Yeah, obviously. So you do something else instead.

"Then why is that the most common cause of death in wilderness situations is generally from people dressing poorly?"

Because they dont expect to be caught out under unfavorable circumstances. Generally speaking i would favor preparedness mate. Im just addressing how that relates to the original topic.

"Like I said before survival is about stacking the odds in one favor."

I agree, but that also gets to include improvisation if for some reason you dont have your gear. Better than suicide out of hopelessness.

"No they aren't, but they do take skill and practice and LOTS of time to use effectively (and strong knowledge of animal habits, habitat, trailing, trapping is skill in of itself.). Time that can be spent elsewhere, and calories that can be saved. Ok listen up. In a survival situation essentially if you are not meeting your basal metabolic rate then you shouldn't be eating, you should be fasting. Considering most survival situations last 48-72 hours deadfalls etc are in fantasy land. "

Well... on a 48-72 hour basis you dont need food at all. So, a deadfall trap would be a neato passtime.

"If one is prepared,"

Yeah, ive been getting that. This is where weve hit a wall. IIf you wanna talk about preparedness, we can have all kinds of circlejerks. But that doesnt relate to someone whos teaching primitive skills for wilderness survival.

Youd have to be pretty stupid to deliberately unequip yourself in a situation like that, so what if you dont have a choice, then find that all your skills relate to using gear?

"Now if you have a proper survival you would be carrying your vital shelter components with you,"

See what i mean? So what if youre not? Apparently you should just surrender, by the sounds of it. Obviously your odds arent going to be as good, but thats no reason to allow yourself to perish.

And this is why i questioned you, see. Were disagreeing on less than you might think. Its just that youre doing the equivelant of saying a hammer is better at a rock than hammering and therefore using a rock as a hammer is irrelevant to survival.

Jim said...

Lots of good commentary. I think the "shelter, water, fire, food" is a useful model -- but only a model, and it must be adapted to the actual situations. That begins with the question of why we're having to survive. It's a different situation if you are stranded by a plane crash, got lost while hiking, or got fed up with society and have decided to disappear into the woods. The interpretation gets shaped by the situation and location. Fire may come up a lot quicker in Alaska in December than in the Bahamas in June. And the application may take a different form; one environment may simply need a way to keep the sun off while another needs to contain and minimize the loss of every bit of heat. Depending on the specifics, I might add something along the lines of "signalling" -- and may even put it first. If I know that I'll have someone looking for me if I'm overdue, and they know roughly where to look, then I might be able to reduce my "survival" to essentially "hanging out, waiting for a ride." Alternatively, if nobody has the slightest idea where to even start looking for me -- well, then I'd better set myself up for the duration. If you're simply trying to survive at home through a massive power outage that's lasting days... then the priorities get shifted differently, again -- and the applications are really different. For example, I have two campstoves and fuel. I'm not frightened by a moderate-term power outage with regard to cooking. (They'd suck as heat though...) But that listing gives you somewhere to start and adapt from -- which is often the biggest key to surviving.

I do agree that primitive skills are often mistaken for survival skills... but that's far from saying there's no overlap. That's also not to say that you don't need some actual hands on practice rather than a bunch of theory. And that a couple of matches don't beat hell out of the slickest fire drill or flint & steel combo...

As to skills for independence... I think Josh is right. It's mindset and will more than a collection of skills. Start by defining "independent." Do you just want to be able to get by without NEEDING anybody or do you want to be able to walk off into the sunset with little more than the clothes on your back? How much do you need other people around you? And, like Josh said -- who are you expecting to solve your problems?

Drew Rinella said...

Perhaps survival and independence should start by taking an interospective inventory. Do I want to survive to help others and make the world better? To spend more time with my children? Or so I can live to totally pwn everyone in the comments section of someone else's blog?

Scott said...

The most interesting question to me is, how do you become independent from other peoples' preferences?
The aside: Experience with subsistence affords confidence with having very little, and thus freedom from some forms of group think based on false scarcity.
Early Buddhism was spread by people who had committed to only eating what was put in their begging bowl by others.
While a self-reliance approach has its merits, if you want to be free of other peoples preferences you have to have a strategy for giving up your own first. Otherwise you have no way of sorting out what is really you and what is group think. Otherwise you just strengthen what you are good at. Self-defense has this same problem. True survival skills are hard to teach because no one has the motivation to keep upping the risks and dangers without a backup plan.
So I would suggest people also try the opposite method, go for maximum dependence on others. And/Or make your decisions by rolling a dice or one of the more developed daily/hourly astrological calendars of good and bad auspices.

Josh K. said...

Independance doesn't equal doing with out, but providing for yourself.

Drew Rinella said...

Getting awful quiet in here. Uhh.. AR is better than AK.. Ford is better than Chevy.. sharpened rocks are the best fighting knives known to man.. vegemite is better than marmite... Ducks, Beavers... Miracle whip... Pepsi... Israel... Star Trek... .45 ACP... Team Lachey.

Rory said...

Interesting. How many of you noticed how closely this mimicked style wars in SD? People trying to establish their bona fides; what we study is real, what they study is fantasy...
Any problem with primitive survival skills? Nope. But a 99 cent lighter trumps hours of practice. Any problem with extreme camping skills? Nope... but if you don't have the gear...
Any problem with living off the grid through your adolescence? Nope, but that's not the whole equation either.
Absolute minimum, a matrix would include: equipment (naked to full kit); Time frame (lost for bit versus rebuilding civilization); resources (pristine wilderness versus urban).

And thanks, Scott, for hitting this from left field.

Ben C said...

CERT taught me triage and how to properly use a fire extinguisher for free.

Anonymous said...

CERT is taken very seriously in Houston, and well taught and supported. It is a good introduction to disaster response and covers a wide (very wide)range of material.

It focuses on helping yourself and your neighborhood during the first 72 hours post disaster.

It's intro level stuff, but if you've never had it, important. Light firefighting, light medical, light search and rescue, light incident management, light terrorism, light NBC, disaster psychology, PTSD, and more, culminating in a mass casualty drill. In the end you will get a backpack (bookbag) full of gear (entry level, basic stuff) and an official ID. You will also then be qualified to take some additional higher level courses. CERT training and equipping is paid for thru taxes and grants. Free to participants. It is usually eight 4 hour sessions, once a week.

One of the most valuable things you won't get elsewhere is an introduction to the Incident Command System, and how disaster response is structured. Knowing what the 'other' 'official' folks will be doing during an incident, and how they will be doing it, can give you valuable insight into your own plans.

I would encourage anyone to take the CERT classes. "The most good for the most people."

Josh K. said...

Rory,

To start off, to build your matrix, at the bare minimum don't you need to know the why – the goal.

You have been known to say, "Fight to the Goal!"

In any type of survival situation, wether it's mother nature or a person trying to kill you, to mount an effective defense you need to understand the whys.

To understand the why you need a clear(er) perception of the situation – to be able to see the world and the possibilities that lie with in it.

To have clear(er) perception you have to live in the moment. To not be affected by past assumptions or future possibilities. To be comfortable with ambiguity, that it's imposible to have all the answers. So, don't let that stop you from making a decision, and never stop asking why in persuit of a *clearer* vision.

Goals are the end product of asking questions. First you ask why. Then you ask how.

The title of this post is "Independence." – The one before that "Finger Prints & Scars" – The one before that "Your Nature" – The one before that "Perception Controls Possibilities".

There's a pattern a central theme of focusing on the individual, and how much of our identity (? not sure if this is accurate enough descriptor. Maybe... self... nature) is determined internally or outside of ourselves. At lest that is what I have gotten out of them.

Hmmm...

Goals? What are my goals? How can I achieve them? Will I need help?

Josh K. said...

Correction:

To have clear(er) perception you have to live in the moment. To not be so tied to past assumptions or future possibilities that we can't see what is in front of us. To be comfortable with ambiguity, that it's imposible to have all the answers, so don't let that stop you from making a decision, and never stop asking why in persuit of a *clearer* vision.

God's Bastard said...

...and the idiot city kid here is just wondering why trig is more important than geometry, or basic physics...