With an ever-increasing desire for folks to get out of the city and 'back to nature', new adventurers are searching the internet for information on surviving in the wilderness, and then taking advice from the first post they see, effectively running the risk of killing themselves.
The problem with blindly trusting a source of information is that you really have no idea who is on the other side of the screen. The same goes for this article I guess, but then again the author can always be contacted for more data on the sources involved.
Recently, I had the good fortune to spend a few hours with a survival and evasion expert from the Legion Etrangere: an elite military unit based in the French city of Aubagne.
Being an avid trekker, camper and always being interested in living off the land, I became enthralled at this man's exceptional bushcraft skills, from making pot holders out of sticks to building completely waterproof shelters from boughs and vines.
It would have taken me years to learn and copy the skills that I saw demonstrated that day, so rather than attempt the impossible, I instead asked this Legionnaire something that had been on my mind for a long time: What is the best thing to put in a survival kit?
The answer I received went something like this:
If you are at a level of training and experience where you have spent years in the outdoors then you should be able to survive overnight, even in freezing conditions with just a blanket and a proper knife. In fact, some bushman can get it all done with just a knife. However, we are not looking at a professional fieldcraft practitioner here, just a regular Joe who may find themselves trapped in the forest overnight.
Bearing this in mind, this is what a member of the French Foreign Legion would send you off with:
Survival bag (space blanket)
Usually made of a hi-tech reflective material, this piece of kit has many uses. It can be used to sleep in or set up as a tarp to give shelter from the rain. It can folded up to fit into your pocket and weighs only a few grams
This can be a butane lighter or a solid flint-type spark generator. Used with tinder, it can crack off enough sparks to create a small fire and then you can build it from there. Legionnaires have a preference for Zippo's but also carry flints in case the lighter gets wet.
It goes without saying that the ability to signal for help is vital. A whistle carries over a much further distance than a shout. The standard rescue signal for a whistle is three blasts followed by a one minute pause and then repeated until help arrives (or you pass out! - whichever comes first!)
As it's name suggests, a signal mirror will allow you to bounce sunlight into the sky or across large swathes of land in the hopes that someone will pick up on it, especially aircraft which may be trying to locate you.
A small button compass will usually be enough to give you a sense of direction, particularly in areas where it is difficult to see the horizon, like in a forest, for example.
The is a strange phenomenon seen in a lot of people stranded: they seem to always manage to walk around in a circle or a wide arc, nearly always ending up back where they started. A compass will help you move in a straight line.
Cord & String
About 5 x 10 metre lengths of nylon parachute cord can give you the ability to tie branches together to make a shelter, or support a survival blanket into a tent-like structure and even dry your wet clothes over a campfire.
Your most vital piece of equipment. It should be either folding or solid tanged. If there is only one item that you invest a substantial amount of money in, then let it be your knife. It's uses are endless and without it, the rest of your survival kit becomes far less effective.
Better than a hand-torch, a head-torch will give you the best of both worlds: hands free operation or hand held if you need to shine it into something. Make sure you check the batteries regularly.
A NATO Canteen & Cup
Made from military grade aluminum or titanium, this will hold your water and the attached cup will allow you to boil it so that you can have a hot drink. However, while there is a psychological comfort in a hot drink on a cold night, it will not have any affect on a hypothermic person. Be warned!
If you do happen to find yourself unexpectedly out in the forest or even the desert overnight, you might want to think about performing what are known as the Three A's: Assess and Act Accordingly.
A few simple steps that could save your life out there!