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Outdoor Programs in Desert Survival and Bushcraft
Sunday, February 8, 2015
Many readers email me about the survival skills that show up in movies or so-called reality shows. Being involved in educating others over the past 25 years, I thought I’d mention a few myths & misconceptions that have crept into the field of survival.
1) Can you really get water from a cactus?
There’s a reason you don’t find cactus juice at the grocery store. It’s a noxious substance full of alkaloids that can push a heat-stressed individual into heat-stroke. The few times I’ve tried this method, to glean its supposed usefulness, has seen me nauseous. Carry water with you in the desert or hole up like a cowboy during the heat of the day until you can locate water. A person sitting in the shade in 90 degree F weather will expend six-quarts of water over 24-hours so there’s no substitute for being prepared in the wilds.
2) If the world falls apart, I can just grab my rifle and bug-out-bag and retreat to the wilds for a few years until society re-establishes itself, right?
Living off the land in a solo fashion is brutal. There’s a reason our ancestors lived in tribes- it takes a lot of people on the land to provide sustenance. It is far better to have some supplies on hand at home and then augment your pantry with any wild game, fish, or edible plants that you might be versed in obtaining. Even better than that is to have a like-minded group of family and friends that you can work together with to ride out such a disaster. I wish life in the wilds were like the romanticism found in the movie Dances With Wolves but it’s more like the harsh reality of the film, The Snow Walker.
3) I saw this reality-show where the guy was lost and rubbed two-sticks together to start a fire. Is that possible?
None of us would be here today if our ancestors hadn’t mastered the fine art of friction firemaking but this is a skill to practice on camping trips and backyard outings. Modern survival is about being prepared and carrying at least three firestarters (Stormproof matches, spark-rod, and lighter) with you at all times when in the backcountry. I teach primitive firemaking skills to show my students how to perform the method but find that, even under the best of conditions, it is a challenge and not reliable for most people. This is not the method I want to use if I am lost, injured, or stranded in the wilds with the sun going down! I've worked as a consultant on several reality shows and, with the exception of Survivorman, these shows are heavily-scripted. On one program, there was a crew of 12 people accompanying us, including two staff whose sole job was to drag around coolers filled with double-shot espressos and sandwiches while filming scenes of the host living off the land. That was my last involvement with "reality-TV." There's nothing romantic or fun about real survival- it's only adventure in retrospect.
4) My buddy said that if you’re thirsty, you should put a pebble under your tongue and that will help you stay hydrated. Does that really work?
This simply stimulates the saliva glands which can help get rid of cottonmouth (which in turn helps briefly with your mental attitude) but you’re not actually adding water to your body, only redistributing existing fluids. In the intense heat of the Southwest, I sometimes consume 2-3 gallons of water per day so this is not a viable method for staying hydrated.
5) I have a three-month supply of food, ammo, water, and supplies laid in, just in case there’s a disaster. Is this enough to weather out the crisis?
There are no cookie-cutter answers. It all depends on your region, time of year, weather, family size, budget, and other variables. Having supplies ahead of time is critical but, in the end, it’s people working together and the power of community that often saves the day. Look at present-day examples from around the country and you will see that it is human goodwill that makes life possible after a disaster in addition to well-thought out supplies. All this being said, the six key areas to plan for when preparing your home are: food, water (and water purification), medical supplies, security, hygiene, and alternative power.
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