Most experts agree that, no matter how many pieces of gear you carry or how many tiny items you can squeeze into a used Altoids tin, nothing will ever replace the three pounds of grey matter in your skull.
The will to survive and the right mindset are huge factors in a true crisis, but having the right gear will also help save your life. I recently caught up with three of the world’s best in the field of survival and tracking to hear their views on what gear they won’t leave home without on a daily basis and while out in the bush.
“Knowledge is critical for survival, and different situations and terrain dictate different things,” says Mike Perrin, instructor with Randall’s Adventure and Training (RAT) and co-author of Adventure Travel in the Third World!
When I asked Mike about the mental aspects of survival in the jungle and what the biggest fear out there is, he was quick to answer, “Fear of the unknown.” A person lost in the wilderness is just as vulnerable and open to danger as a person in the wrong part of a big city. There are many misconceptions about being in the wild, whether it is the woods or a South American jungle. Mike said, “Sounds and noises will play on peoples’ minds and create all types of fears that are completely unnecessary.”
Mike’s everyday carry (EDC) gear is simple: a pocketknife and cell phone. I agree with Mike that, in this day and age, having a cell phone is invaluable for many reasons. If not just for yourself, it can be used to call help for others. Many cell phones today have GPS built into them. You never know when a cell phone can come in handy as an emergency light at night or to start a fire using the battery inside.
When Mike heads into the jungle, his one other must-have item is a machete. There is nothing like a machete for jungle survival. More than a compass or signaling mirror, a machete will help provide everything. Water can be obtained from large vines that need to be cut with a machete. Shelter can easily be constructed with a machete.
If you are lost in the jungle, signaling is not your best bet. This is due to the dense jungle canopy that will block light and smoke from a signal fire. Your best chance of being found is to move along water. Tributaries will lead to bigger rivers, which are a highway to civilization. A raft can be constructed, but without a machete, it would be almost impossible. A machete can easily make the difference between life and death.
Mike’s advice: Planning is the key element in any outdoors excursion and one of the easiest things to overlook.
Planning is the key element in any outdoors excursion and one of the easiest things to overlook.
I asked Jimmy Dunn, one of the world’s leading trackers, how tracking can be utilized in a practical way in the outdoors. With some helpful tips and a little know-how, a person can easily get an idea of who or what has been in the general vicinity and perhaps how long ago. Tracking can give a brief history of the activity on a trail. This is a skill sought by hunters and law enforcement officials alike.
“The biggest tip I can give for becoming a good tracker is learn to be patient. Time constraints are the enemy,” says Jimmy. “When a person is learning to be a tracker, the best thing he/she can do is take off the watch and forget about what is going on later in the day. Tracking is sometimes slow and tedious, so you must track in the ’now.’ Supervisors of LE/MIL trackers should take heed also. Not putting a time frame on a mission may pay huge dividends in the end.”
I asked Jimmy what gear he carries on a daily basis, in the field, and why. EDC tools on an active follow-up or surveillance are the same for Jimmy. He usually has a TOPS or RAT Cutlery knife on him, along with a SureFire flashlight, for the same reason: They have proven themselves 100% reliable in the field. As for survival kits, Jimmy said, “I have a RAT E&E kit stashed in my gear too. It’s well thought-out and can make an emergency stay in the woods quite comfortable.”
The last and maybe most important EDC item for Jimmy is a gunshot kit. He carries the Ventilated Operator Kit (VOK) from Tactical Response. Like the E&E kit, it is well thought-out and has everything he needs should things go bad.
Jimmy’s advice: The psychological aspect is that of the hunter versus the hunted. As the hunters, we’re tracking or watching someone who is potentially armed and therefore very dangerous. Obviously, the one(s) we’re tracking can spring an ambush and/or fight back. The fugitive or the hunted feels just that hunted. It adds a new dimension to the chase.
“We’ve all heard that survival is a state of mind. Believe you can do something, have the skills to back it up, and you are good to go,” says
Ron Hood, survival expert and creator of the Woodsmaster video series. Ron is an advocate of turning junk found in the woods into utilitarian items. According to Ron, and as demonstrated in his videos, an old aluminum can can be fashioned into a cooking can or even a lantern by using a candle. Any type of plastic or glass bottle can be a water canteen, and trash bags can become water reservoirs.
In fact, Ron has found many uses for trash bags, especially the dark-colored contractor bags (heavy mil). They can be used for gathering food and water or as an emergency poncho. In foul weather, there is no better way to protect gear than to wrap it up in a garbage bag. I often line my pack with a garbage bag to keep its contents dry, and also for the “what if” emergency factor.
Ron’s EDC and wilderness gear are pretty simple: a Swiss Army rucksack with a small sharpening steel, P-38 can opener and firestarting rod attached to a lanyard. Ron also carries various TOPS knives, an Olight T10 flashlight, an Idaho Rod firestarting tool and, if on an extended overseas expedition, a SPOT satellite messenger.
Ron’s advice: The motto of Ron’s company is “Live Longer,” which encapsulates the goal of survival. Concerning the thousands of students he has led into the wilderness, Ron said, “I’ve come to believe that there is nothing we cannot do if we maintain our sense of self-confidence, fill ourselves with knowledge, and feel free to utilize innovation. Survivors are free thinkers.”
Keep the words of these three survival experts in mind when planning and executing your next outdoors excursion.