Monday, June 25, 2012

Survival Defined

Thus spake the Norseman

In the future I plan to have a blogroll up featuring some of my favorite places on the internet. In this post I am going to highlight one of them. This man goes by the title Norseman and is a USMC survival instructor. He knows his stuff, and explains it in an easy to understand fashion. Here is a link to his blog. I believe he is still active duty so he doesn't post very often. One of his youtube videos had a pearl of wisdom in it that
really made lights go on for me. He was giving a lecture to a group of adults about wilderness survival topics.

The bit that really stood out went something like this 4:44 "A survival situation is defined as any time a person or group of people need to meet their basic needs in order to survive... Whenever your plans for shelter, food, water or intended duration of stay fall apart, you are now in a survival situation." That is a fantastic way of keeping your ego in check when evaluating your situation. The first rule of battle is to know when you are in one. Using these criteria allows you to easily determine when your trip is not going according to plan and as he puts, "you need to start paying attention", rather than allowing your ego to convince you that everything is still okay.

The way I typically plan for excursions is to first identify what resources I can expect to have available during my trip along with the expected weather. Then using this information along with the Rules of Three, I'll lay out any gear I feel I might need to make up for my gaps in skills/knowledge and to help cover any likely problems.

For example, I live less than 5 miles from my workplace in a region with typically mild weather. Bringing along MRE's or water purification just doesn't make any sense. If need be I could walk home in less than an hour. I'm not going to die of dehydration or starvation in that period of time. Some extra layers in the winter is all I am likely to need.

Taking my family on a road trip is a different scenario. One of the worst problems there is our vehicle breaking down in the middle of nowhere. In that case bringing extra food, water, clothing, tools and signaling devices make sense. Acknowledging that something has gone wrong is easy if your car breaks down. Even if the solution is simple and not necessarily life threatening (ran out of gas), technically you are in a survival situation. My survival kit for this kind of trip might include water purification, high calorie energy bars or MRE's, a fire kit, emergency blankets, that kind of thing in case the extra stuff we would normally bring is not enough for whatever reason.

Where people can run into trouble is when things start going wrong and they refuse to acknowledge it, or out of ignorance or just plain boneheadedness they do not prepare properly. For instance I grew up in the Sonoran Desert. In that climate it is very easy to become a heat casualty. If your source of hydration, let's say a Camelbak in this case, springs a leak on the first morning of your two day hike and you refuse to "pay attention" to that fact, you may easily find yourself in a life or death situation in the desert when you prematurely run out of water. (3L probably isn't enough to begin with but I digress).

Using the Rules of Three to establish your equipment priorities and Norseman's definition for survival to acknowledge when one or more of those priorities has been compromised is, IMHO, a very effective way to keep your ego out of the equation when evaluating if "shit just got real".


If you haven't heard of the Rules of Three principle, it is a way to determine your most imminent needs for survival. It goes like this:

You can survive for: 
3 minutes without air 
3 hours without shelter (or 3 hours exposed to the elements is another way it is commonly worded) 
3 days without water
3 weeks without food

Sometimes you'll see "3 seconds if you panic" thrown in there as well.

I tend to include clothing, fire, signalling and navigation all in the shelter category. Clothing and fire help keep you warm. Signal and navigation are ways to get you back to shelter.

Your current situation will dictate your most pressing needs. The idea is if you are in a survival situation it does not make sense to start worrying about being hungry if you are already thirsty, darkness is falling, it is starting to get really cold out and you haven't done anything to secure a warm place to stay for the night. Oh by the way, you know that since you are thirsty you are already dehydrated right? Your belly might feel like the most important thing right now, but food can be postponed for a couple of days while you take care of more pressing needs.

The order can be flipped if necessary as well, if a member of your party is diabetic and starts to crash and needs sugar, well food just jumped up in the priority list. You get the idea.

The Rules of Three can be applied even as you sit right now. I assume you are breathing or at least wearing a gas mask or SCBA or something, so air:check. Shelter; you are probably in your residence or nearby it or another structure of some sort (a coffee shop counts). Either way if you are spending your time reading this I doubt you are suffering from exposure. Water, get some from the tap. Food, open the fridge. We have it pretty easy don't we?

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