I Survived Survival School, and Here’s What I Learned to Take with Me on a Hike
These are the items that survival specialists recommend carrying on your next hike, all of which will fit in a small pack.
When I spoke to Thomas Coyne, the founder of the Thomas Coyne Survival School, for our recent print issue, I was completely inspired by how he empowered people to get into the outdoors, but also slightly taken aback by the stat that the most common victim of outdoor emergencies is actually the casual day hiker. With little to no gear in tow, common injuries and getting lost can turn quickly into survival scenarios. Oftentimes, help may not just be hours but days away, which is why it’s so important to have the proper skills and tools to survive. During our one-day critical survival skills training course, our field Instructor Adam Mayfield gave us a rundown on the essential survival items you have to have to pack for hiking. It should go without saying that a tool that you should always have on you is a Leatherman, of course. Beyond that, here’s what they recommend.
For Fire Building:
Exposure is the number one killer in the outdoors, and the ability to make a fire in the field is indispensable. It will keep you warm, signal your rescuer, boil your water, and cook your food—not to mention prove a sense of safety and security. Rather than rely on the bow method, which even seasoned survivalists can have a hard time nailing on the first try, our instructor recommended getting these incredibly powerful starter cubes and waterproof matches, which even stay lit when placed in a glass of water. (Try it; it’s a fun party trick.)
Weber Grill Starter Cubes
Crush up these white briquettes for an instantaneous fire, which burns at 120°F for over 10 minutes minutes. It lights easily with a fire steel or match.
UCO Stormproof Survival & Emergency Matches Kit
Stormproof Matches are windproof and waterproof. They also light up quickly and consistently in driving rain, heavy winds, and falling snow with a burn time of up to 15 seconds. Plus, they will relight after being submerged in water. Each kit includes 25 Stormproof Matches, three strikers, and a cotton ball inside a waterproof case that floats.
As Thomas Coyne mentioned in his interview with us, signaling is crucial, and in fact, it’s the one skill he wished more people knew about. “If you’ve trained with us, you know we push this hard,” he says. “Should things go wrong when you’re far from help, you want to get rescue started as quickly as possible. Have a way to signal searchers both on the ground, and in the air, day or night.”
SOL Emergency Whistle
While the acronym of these whistles might make you chuckle, these Survive Outdoors Longer emergency whistles are essential for signaling. Be sure to make your whistles in rounds of three, the international signal for distress.
As with any gear, none of it does any good unless you know how to use it. We practiced aiming this mirror at targets and doing the signals of three, which you can learn to do on this YouTube video.
There are over 10,000 search and rescue teams in the West at any given time, and most of them do fly-overs at low elevation when searching for missing persons. That means that it’s super important to make a signal they can see from the air. Make triangles with a combo of this tape and sticks—again employing the rule of three for signaling distress—so that rescue planes flying low can see you. You don’t need to bring the entire roll along, just some wrapped around the butt of your knife will do.
Orion Signal Flares
Traditionally used for boating, these can be used with your other signaling, particularly when you may hear a plane passing over or see activity nearby. Use them wisely, as they are not reusable.
For Water Purification:
Humans are made up of 70 percent water, and as such, H2O is a survival essential. During our survival course we learned how to locate riparian zones by noticing key flora like watercress and yucca. But you also have to purify water because of the presence of bacteria and viruses. Below, these were the preferred filters, chem tabs, and containers mentioned in our course.
Sawyer Products SP129 Squeeze Water Filtration System
There are lots of water filtration systems on the market, and lots of knockoffs, too. When it comes to purifying your water, especially in survival situations, you really don’t want to take risks considering the potential presence of illness-inducing bacteria and viruses, which can cause diarrhea and further dehydration, something you really can’t afford in critical situations, or ever, really.
Our instructor prefers the Kleen Kanteens because you can actually put them over a flame and boil water in them, since they are made with stainless steel and aluminum and there are no BPAs and no insulation with chemicals. He also took a luggage strap and hooked it to the metal loop at the top, making it a very snazzy hiking murse.
Water purification tabs for viruses is essential, and these tablets are awesome. Our instructor preferred a combo of the water filter and iodine tablets, but these are also great.
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