Monday, January 28, 2013

Stand Behind Them - Or Stand In Front !

What an amazing opportunity we had recently to spend two days in the bush with the 3RCR Snipers. A skilled group of amazing Canadian Soldiers who are at home operating in the wilderness.

Although the weather played havoc on us during the two days the experience was still great. These guys bring a very unique skill set and a knowledge of the bush that is second to none. 

After a fire starting lesson and an exercise briefing they grabbed their rubble and headed off into the bush to commence the task at hand. As an instructor I found it amazing to watch as these teammates worked seamlessly to get the job done. They were effective and efficient and required no guidance on group dynamics or leadership principles. 

Even more exciting for us was watching each of the 4 teams construct totally different shelters from one another. We instruct and motivate our students to construct the "A-Frame" shelter design but we never steer anyone away from taking the opportunity to perfect a design they're comfortable with. 

As mentioned the weather was terrible and required the lads to prepare for hypothermia type conditions. Warm days, cool nights and rain. Definitely unseasonal and very dangerous. Staying dry and sheltered became a serious priority. This was difficult due to a location that provided very little green resources. 

In the end the experience was great and we feel very fortunate to have been invited to spend the time with some great soldiers.

Team 1
Team 2
Team 3
Team 4
Team 1 enjoying their fire !
Team 4 plus a stow away !!
Instructor John brewing up some lunch !




Sunday, January 27, 2013

If You Could Only Have 2 Items

Whether preparing for a planned backcountry adventure or dealing with a survival emergency the kit you carry has a huge impact on your survival success.  

Last week I polled the blog followers to see what people would choose to carry if they could only carry two items. Obviously a worst case scenario but none the less a realistic issue during a true emergency. 

It was interesting to see the results. A total of 18 votes were received. Here is the breakdown:


  • Fixed Blade/ Fire Starter  -  10 votes
  • Axe / Matches. -  5 Votes
  • Hinged Saw / Tarp  -  2 Votes
  • Tarp / Lighter  -  1 Vote

This is a great discussion piece. Although there was a majority there is no correct answer. Each person will base their decision and vote on their knowledge, skills and abilities. 

I want to thank everyone who took the time to vote. I have posted a new poll and look forward to watching the results. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Fire Tin

In my last post we discussed the very real threat that cold water submersion possess on your life.  Whether it be a full body submersion into a lake during a snowmobile adventure or a thin ice break while crossing a small creek only knee deep.

Believe it or not these two scenarios may seem very different in their threat level but I will let you know that they are not.  Regardless of the amount of submersion you fall victim to you are never the less wet, cold and in immediate need of fire to reduce the effects and save your life.

Fire kits are a premade survival item which you may never need but if you do it may prove to be the most important item you ever travelled into the wilderness with.

I have seen many different styles including everything from manufactured tinder, multiple ignition sources, newspaper, egg cartons, fire sticks, etc.  The list goes on and on.  The mistake I often see when I challenge students to use their own fire kits to start a fire is that they have never tested their kits nor thought of their limitations.

For a quick example I turn to the classic Bic lighter.  A seemingly great piece of kit as your ignition source.  During my first cold water submersion training ex I had that very lighter in my pocket.  In fact I had two.  I hit the frigid water and fully submerged above my head.  After I self rescued I grabbed my trusty Bic lighter and headed for the first Birch tree I could find.  As the wind swept a cool breeze across my hands it became painfully obvious that fine motor skills were no longer possible.  That Bic lighter has a wheel and a push down that must be spun and pushed in succession to work.  It was a sobering experience and one I will never forget.

Another major mistake that people make is thinking that the bigger the fire kit the better.  Wrong.  The smaller the fire kit the better.  For one very simple reason - you'll carry it.

Your fire kit must contain an ignition source, a tinder and most importantly must be carried on you if you ever hope to survive a cold water submersion.

Here are a few pics of what I carry in my pocket every time I hit the wilderness.  Simple and small.  However, I have tested these items more times than I can count and my confidence in these items are second to none.

Kit includes:

  • Altoids Tin
  • Cotton Balls dipped in Vaseline
  • Two pieces of Birch Bark
  • Wood shavings
I wear my Ultimate Survival Technologies BlastMatch Fire Starter around my neck.





Take my advice and create your own fire tin that you make a habit of carrying everywhere with you.  It could save your life or the life of a loved one !

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2 minutes...Ready Set ..GO !

That's all the time you've got !!! Cold water submersion is one of the scariest and deadliest realities of the Canadian back country. 

Each year outdoor enthusiasts take to the rivers, lakes, bush and back country to enjoy their favourite winter activity.  Often these activities have deadly risks rarely acknowledged or respected.  This lack of respect leads to countless incidents of cold water submersion.

I've been fortunate in my role as a Search and Rescue Operator to experience cold water submersion in both a controlled training environment as well as on real searches.

I will spare you the science and human physiology that allows researchers to determine that 2 minutes is the window for survival.  However, I will tell you what happens to you physically, mentally and emotionally when your life is on the line and seconds is all you have.

As your body breaks through the ice of the creek, river or lake that you're on and you quickly find your whole body submerged in bone chilling water.  As you fight to resurface from beneath the water your chest tightens and panic sets in.  At the point of surfacing you gasp for air in terror.  You realize for the first time that you've fallen through the ice and are now treading in ice water.  You fight with all of your might to get out of the water but your energy seems sapped, your clothing is heavy and the ice shelf is slippery.  You kick your feet as fast and as hard as you can and eventually pull yourself onto the ice again.  As you lay there the wind whistles through you stealing any heat that your body might have had left.  You realize that your hands and feet are frozen and that everything around you is starting to slow down.

As your body temperature drops dangerously low your body's core starts to conserve what little heat it has by shutting down flow to your extremities in order to keep warm blood around the heart.  As you struggle to maintain balance and fine motor skills the simple tasks necessary to survive now become extremely difficult.

I think by now you see my point.  2 minutes goes by in a flash.  You must have training, preparedness and the mindset that you will survive.  You must carry on your person a fire kit with at least two means of starting a fire as well as some small tinder.  This kit does you no good if it's anywhere but on you.

Your survival depends on your ability to self rescue, get out of the wind, get to the bush, quickly collect tinder and kindling, start a fire that can be sustained.  It must be done in 2 minutes or less.

In my next post I will display the fire kit I carry on my person while operating on a search and rescue.