Friday, December 31, 2010

The Rule of 3

When we speak about survival and self rescue in the Canadian wilderness we quite often talk about the importance of fire.  The ability to start and maintain a fire in a wilderness survival emergency is arguably the most important skill that you can have that may save your life.

When I discuss this survival skill with people I will often ask what they carry with them when they travel into the winter wonderland that will help them start a fire.  The responses are varied but include the usual responses:

  • lighter
  • matches
  • waterproof matches
  • magnesium and flint
  • ferro rod
  • etc.,
However, very rarely do I receive a response that includes more than one of the above.  So it begs the question - Do you trust your life with that single source of ignition ?.

Your ability to make fire is directly related to your training, confidence and preparation.  If you are like many a lost person, you will be located by a search and rescue team who will observe no fire, no attempt at signal, and no prepared shelter.  Yet that same search and rescue team will find that you possess many of the items necessary to survive and self rescue but failed to train or prepare for your winter emergency.

The Rule of 3 applies to many things in life, and your ability to start and maintain fire is no different.

During advanced winter survival courses you may find yourself lucky enough to complete cold water submersion.  A requirement for all highly skilled Search and Rescue Teams around this Country.  Cold water submersion forces the student to break through the ice into the icy cold water of a lake or river at which time they must self rescue and pull themselves out of the water.  Once out of the water the real clock starts ticking.  Your body has but a precious few minutes to start a fire that can save you from immediate hypothermia and sure death.

During these cold water submersion tests the student will learn very quickly that the necessity to start fire becomes a life and death situation.  

Take it from me, when you pull your freezing cold, soaking wet body from the water and the bitter wind strikes against your hands you will be rendered near useless.  This is not the time to realize that your rotary wheel lighter requires fine motor skills, which are gone, or that your water proof matches won't strike and light against the soaking wet match box.

So now is the time to prepare.  If you snowmobile, cross country ski, hike, snowshoe, etc. in the Canadian Wilderness you will at some point cross a river, creek, stream, or lake.  The danger is very real.  Remember the Rule of 3 and carry with you 3 implements to start fire.  Practise with them, submerge them in icy water and see how they perform.  Submerge your hands in icy water and see how they perform.

A real life survival emergency is not the time nor the place to find out that your gucci $60 butane jet fuel lighter does not work.

Take a flint or ferro rod striker, cotton balls dipped in Vaseline, and some waterproof strike anywhere matches and place them in a Ziploc bag.  Keep them in your pocket and hope  never to have to use them. 

But be prepared to !                      

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

One Kid, One Match

As parents we are entrusted with the most important job in the world - to teach our children.  Our children are the future and they need us to provide them with a well rounded set of skills.

These skills set will vary usually depending on what their parents are interested in and are willing to expose their children to.

Here in Canada we are blessed with a wilderness playground unmatched in any other place in the world.  As a result Canadian children will grow up exposed to an amazing amount of outdoor activities ranging from sports, camping, hiking, skiing, hunting and the list is truly endless.

With all these amazing activities which help us get our children out of doors and away from the video games we must teach them.  We must teach them to respect themselves, others, and the amazing wilderness playground which mother nature has provided us.

With the great percentage of time spent enjoying the great Canadian wilderness it becomes very important to teach our children the skills necessary to survive.  You are mistaken to believe that your children need not know or practise these skills because they will never go camping, hiking, or back country skiing without you.  These will undoubtedly be the times when your child may be put in the position where his or her skills could save your life.

If you suffer a mobility injury, a head injury or become hypothermic you will be dependant upon your child to make fire, construct a shelter and signal for rescue.  These tasks have proven difficult and often exhausting for physically fit adults.

So the next time you're out camping, skiing, tobogganing or hiking take the time and teach survival skills to your children.

The next time you decide to make a fire, allow your child to prepare the fire site, gather the supplies, and with your guiding hand take that one match and light the fire.  It will be an empowering moment for your child.  It will be a bonding moment that requires very few words spoken.  It will provide you an opportunity to teach them respect for themselves, respect for others, respect for the great Canadian Wilderness and above all the importance of learning skills that could save their lives or yours.

One Kid - One Match.  Teach them, so that they may one day teach their children and ensure that many generations from now our families can still be enjoying this amazing land we call home.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Dressing for Survival

It goes without saying that when we prepare to go out of doors to enjoy our favourite winter activity we rarely believe that we will become lost, injured, snowed in or suffer from severe hypothermia.

However, these are real possibilities when we venture off into the unpredictable Canadian wilderness.

Thus, it becomes all the more important to dress for survival. 

Dressing for survival is based on a 3 layer system.  The 3 layer system consists of a base layer, a mid layer, and the outer layer.  Each layer plays a role in ensuring your comfort as well as your safety.

The Base Layer

This layer is the clothing that sits closely to your body and has two very critical jobs.  This layer wicks moisture away from your body as well as insulate.

This layer's ability to wick moisture away from your body ensures that sweat does not freeze close to your skin and cool your body's core temperature.

If your base layer is wet and cools it will not matter how big your winter parka is, you will suffer.

The Mid Layer

This layer is worn over your base layer and is critical in insulating your body and creating that dead space that allows the moisture being wicked from your base layer to evaporate and not freeze against your skin.

The best materials for the mid layer are fleece and wool which provide great insulating values and can wick that moisture out towards the outer layer for evaporation.

The Outer Layer

This layer must be capability of a laundry list of tasks.  It must be able to insulate, be windproof, waterproof, repel other moisture and wick away internal moisture.

Dress for Survival

The three layer system is a proven method regardless of your winter activity.  It allows you to remove layers depending on your level of exertion to moderate your body's temperature.  Once you complete your task or finish your activity you can replace the layer and maintain warmth and comfort.

Next time you go out plan to dress for survival.  Hypothermia is a real danger and has taken the lives of many outdoor enthusiasts.  Be prepared - stay alive !.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Power of Fire

Since man first discovered the fire, human beings have been mesmerized by its majestic beauty and undeniable power.

The fire as been the focal point for many a great scouting adventures, boogie man stories, marshmallow roastings and hot dog cooking. If you've ever sat close to a fire in the open wilderness setting you have most definitely found yourself staring intensely into the hot bed of coals or watching the flames dance slowly across the dark nights sky.

For those who have ever spent a scary winters night lost, injured or snowed in that same fire becomes much more important.  It is no longer there for pleasure or tradition.  That fire now becomes the single most survival priority.

That fire keeps you warm, provides light, keeps animals away, provides the ability to purify water, makes signal fires for rescue, dries out clothing and assists in keeping you mentally sharp and believing you can survive and self rescue.

For these reasons it is absolutely necessary for anyone who travels into the winter wilderness for any reason whether employment or enjoyment to have the knowledge, skills and supplies to start a fire - anywhere, anytime, for any reason.

Other than your own survival mindset, fire is the single most important survival priority.  Without it - you may parish.

Fire is both powerful and primitively peaceful.  There is no greater connection with our ancestors than the warm glow of a fire.  Prepared, maintained and enjoyed the same way and for the same reasons since the first fire was ever lit.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Survival Instructors...

If you can remember as far back as high school it won't take long to name the teachers you loved and the teachers you could have done without.

No matter what level of education you completed or what level of training you have received each and everyone of us have experienced the amazing power of a great teacher or instructor.  The power to engage their audience and deliver the material as if they lived it and truly believed in it.

It is true for anyone who wishes to instruct any topic to a group of people - you must be personable, articulate, organized, experienced, passionate about the topic and above all else a humble student.

A survival or bushcraft instructor is no different.  There are a great many people that I have met who possess a wealth of wilderness knowledge.  People who have spent a great majority of their life playing, working and discovering the majestic beauty of the wilderness.

However, many of those people would not make great teachers.  Whether it be for an inability to verbalize techniques or for a lack of patience towards the beginner.

A great survival or bushcraft instructor is an individual who believes that any great success will come from mentoring the students and not from teaching them.  The general public learns a greater amount of information from a hands on approach where it is their hands completing the task rather than the instructors hands.

As an instructor I feel a great satisfaction when I observe students succeed at a task after several failed attempts from their own hands.  The humbling experience from failure and the exuberance that comes from success brings with it self discovery. 

That humbling self discovery helps a true instructor articulate in few words that the wilderness is not there to beat or control but rather to experience and respect.  A lesson often forgotten and overlooked when people attend survival courses.

The great outdoors can be a placed filled with amazing adventures and terrible tragedy.  Those who understand to respect and use what mother nature has provided often leave the bush filled with satisfaction and a great sense of self awareness.  Those who attempt to tame her mighty powers are often those who leave frustrated, injured, cold wet or some who don't leave at all.

When you're choosing a survival school or instructor be sure to ask about their philosophy.  In the end there are thousand of qualified people to teach you the skills necessary to survive but few who endeavour to show the way of self discovery, the survival mindset and above all else the knowledge that you if you attempt to tame her, you will get bit.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Why take a Survival Course

When most people think of the outdoor winter activities they enjoy and trying to improve their skill level the last thing they think of is survival training.

If your a cross country skier you will take a course to improve or learn new techniques.  If you're a down hill skier you will take refresher training on techniques at the start of the winter season.  Each and every winter activity has courses and seminars available to educate and improve your understanding, techniques and equipment usage.

Well, survival training is no different.  Its focus is to provide the student with the knowledge, skills and mindset necessary to survive an emergency wilderness situation.

Although there are survival enthusiasts who venture out to locate and participate in survival and bushcraft training it is obviously overlooked by the general outdoor enthusiast.

Regardless of your activity it is a very real possibility that you could become injured, lost or exhausted before you meet your destination.  Without the knowledge, skills and mindset to recognize the situation and commence the construction of an emergency shelter and fire you may surely parish in the daunting Canadian wilderness.

A survival course will provide you with the knowledge and skills required to survive and self rescue from any emergency situation.

These survival courses are not designed for the hardened bushman.  They are designed to provide the outdoor winter enthusiast of any activity with the skills necessary to enjoy their activity knowing that they are prepared to survive any emergency and to assist their loved ones in that same emergency.

Invest the money in a survival course regardless of your chosen winter activity.  It may be money well spent one day.  Almost all lost persons in Ontario become lost, injured, or exhausted while enjoying their winter passion.

The course may save your life or the life of the ones you love.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Living by the Edge

Living by the edge simply means that if you intend to survive or have the best chance to survive and self rescue from an emergency situation you may have no greater friend than the knife or axe you carry.

That edge will provide you the ability to build your emergency shelter, chop and limb wood for your fire as well as construction of your signal fire tripods.

That same edge can be utilized for hunting, skinning and food preparation.

Just as important as having that edge with you - is choosing the right one.  There are thousands of knife manufacturers who claim to have the best, hard use, gucci blade that will do it all.  Well, they lie!!

That makes it very important to research and find a great dealer who can provide advice and match a blade to you.

So when you're trying to decide where to spend your hard earned money you must know what you're looking for and what you plan to do with it. 

A great research tool for choosing a manufacturer and blade is which is an internet forum dedicated to knives and the people who use them.  It is rookie friendly and there are an amazing amount of people eager to help answer your questions.

After you choose be sure to visit which is an outdoor equipment dealer in British Columbia.  This business is owned by Paul who is passionate for the outdoors and the gear required to enjoy and survive all of your adventures.  His customer service is second to none and his prices are great.

The great thing about WorkWear Canada is that Paul does not carry or sell equipment that he has not tested or gear that he does not believe can handle the harsh Canadian wilderness.

The next time your packing your kit for an outdoor wilderness adventure make sure you have your blade.

You may really need it one day.  Practise your skills and be prepapred.

Friday, December 17, 2010


As the majority of winter enthusiasts venture out on their snowmobiles, cross country skis, snowshoes, or any other means of leaving the grid - most will forget one vital element of trip planning...Preparedness.

Often when planning a winter excursion folks will check their skis and poles, ensure that they have the newest and most high tech clothing, pack a lunch, load the car, fill the gas, etc.  Often however folks fail to prepare themselves for the worst case scenario.

Those who know will tell you that if you fail to plan - you plan to fail.  Although no one plans to get lost, stranded, injured or hypothermic - 100's of people each year in Ontario do just that.

Most of those people when they are located have very little equipment necessary to survive.  Even fewer who do have some form of survival equipment - have any knowledge or training in its use.

So you ask what is a PSK.  Well folks it's a Personal Survival Kit.  It's not a backpack filled with firewood and tents.  It's a tin as small as an Altoids mint tin.  This tin fits in any pocket and is light weight.

If it's bigger than that most people won't carry it or it will end up burried in your backpack.  The idea of the PSK is to carry it on you.  Accessible by both hands at any time.

The tin is there to carry items necessary to aid in your survival and self rescue.

The items that I have in my PSK are :
  • Tea light candle
  • Water proof matches and box.
  • Werthers Candy
  • Assorted bandaids
  • balloon for melting snow(water)
  • 5 ft 550 cord
  • Wet Tinder
  • 2 cotton balls dipped in vaseline
  • whistle
  • signal mirror
  • snare wire
With these items I can do many things in a survival situation.  The most important of which is starting a fire.

Overlooking a PSK is a serious oversight and unless you are versed at primitive living skills, it could mean the difference between life and death.

So make one and carry it everywhere you go !


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Let it Snow

Anyone who loves winter camping or winter survival yearns for this time of year.  For some the winter months are filled with poor road conditions, freezing cold temperatures, and cooped up children complaining of nothing to do.

However for the very few that view the snowfall, freezing cold temperatures, and poor roads as mearly signs that our season has arrived, here we go !

Like snowmobilers and skiers alike we pray for the early and often dumping of the white stuff so that we can chase our winter passions.

Well it's here !!  In like a lion as they say.

The recent accumulation of snow allowed for us to strap on the snowshoes, the packs, and a trusty wool toque and travel deep into forest.  This became an opportunity to shake out the winter skill set after a long and tiring summer working schedule.

Although there was no large scale shelter construction there was the usual division of tasks that has become second nature and needs very few words.  Within 15 minutes four snow walls, one birch tree bench, a roaring fire and some simmering snow water marked the start of another beautiful winter season !

Let it Snow..