LAC’s Wilderness Survival Weekend: Wilderness Survival Basics
It’s time to stop running and take a few minutes to STOPA! STOPA is a survival acronym taught over the weekend at the Life Adventure Center (LAC) hosting a Wilderness Survival Weekend. This weekend class was taught by Kentucky Native, Craig Caudill of Nature Reliance School (NRS) out of Winchester, KY.
Stop, Think, Observe, Plan, Act (STOPA) is a survival technique that can be used to stay alive if you get lost while in the wilderness and is the first thing taught to our class. The worst thing you can do when lost, or in a survival situation, is panic. Panic can quickly turn an unfortunate event into a tragic event. Using STOPA will aid in panic prevention.
Our lessons and exercises followed the Law of Three known and taught by many instructors.
The Law of Threes
1. Three minutes without air.
2. Three hours without protection from the elements.
3. Three days without water.
4. Three weeks without food.
5. Three months without social contact.
Not meant to be a replacement for First Aid training, and not a level of Wilderness First Aid, but Rule 1 starts with some First Aid situations which one could find themselves thrust into out in the field. In teams of two, we were given events to deal with, Hyperthermia, Hypothermia, broken finger, torn ACL, head trauma (“It’s Christmas and I see snow”), eye injury and a worst case scenario: abdominal puncture. Tasked with using items from our First Aid Kits, many of us quickly found that our First Aid Kits were lacking in some areas. But part of this rule is also to learn that you can adapt and if you STOPA – you realize that there are elements which you can use from your pack and from the environment about you.
Protecting yourself from the elements is the second topic of the weekend. Different types of tarp shelters, tents, lean-to devices are all methods to deal with the elements. Having materials with you helps quite a bit, but in the event that do not have any resources, you need to use the landscape to keep yourself drier and warmer/cooler. Our weekend was excellent weather wise; even with Saturday morning drizzle, yet the over night lows were close to 55 degrees and when you are wet, that is a recipe for disaster.
Having a fire is part of the second law as well. In this rule it is used to help regulate your core body temperature and while it prepares you for Rules 3 and 4 it is essential to survival. There are a number of ways which work, and a few ways which are just impractical to attempt. Our instructor states that he carries at least two different ways to start fire on his person daily. The cheapest and easiest is a BIC lighter; they are just to easy to carry around and use, even for someone that doesn’t smoke. Second choice is one of many different forms of a Ferrocerium Rod. Ironically, I found a Scout Fire Steel near the fire ring from a previous class held here. After nearly a year in the elements it still works, just brush off the dirt and leaves, and it’s ready to go.
Now that you have ways to maintain your core body temperature it’s time to talk about water. While you may be extremely hungry, know that your body must have water for digestion. Don’t just start eating stuff if you don’t have enough water to drink, as this can lead to dehydration. There are several places to find water when in the field. You did bring some, right? No – well again, just STOPA and you’ll be fine.
Here in Central Kentucky and much of the eastern part of the country, we have seen quite a bit of rain recently. This class had rain Saturday morning, so there are places to find it if you know where to look. In our location was an active spring, a stream bed and of course trees. There are a good number of productive ways to find and collect water. There was some debunking of what does and doesn’t work from actually applied devices such as the Solar Still, from trees or using a piece of cloth and mopping up from rain soaked or dew covered grass. Rain water can generally be drunk without concern, but other water should be treated by one of many means. Our discussion of what does and doesn’t work for this purpose covered the spectrum of cheap (boiling) to the extremely expensive and high tech (UV treatment). When you head out, you may have grabbed that plastic sports bottle, or even found a plastic bottle in the field. While these can be used to boil water, it’s better to have a Stainless Steel container as you can boil your water with no worries. Incidently, boiling water in a stainless steel container is the cheapest method of treating your water. Your dirty water may not look pretty, but survival isn’t always pretty.
If rescue hasn’t arrived yet, now it’s time to deal with next critical item – food. Craig explained that some types of food are zero or negative gain items. He goes onto explains that if it takes 50 calories to capture a 100 calorie critter and your body uses 50 calories to consume it you have a net gain of zero. There isn’t any positive gain here and you do yourself a disservice. We were introduced to obtaining the ‘critter’ component using three simple traps and other devices, it’s also suggested to go after less mobile ‘game’ - wild edibles. Several simple and easy to identify examples of wild edibles from this area were shown.
As each plant is identified and explained, Craig reminds us to be a conservationist as well. Take no more than you need and be respectful of the amount available in the area. One plant discussed was the Mullein plant; this plant has several comfort and medical uses, but as there was only one example in the area, it was left standing. <
The rest of the class was a test, broken down into groups, we were set with a situation that a small group or family, could easily find themselves in. Hiking out a trail, only to get turned around, lost and now there is a storm moving in.
Enacting our training we begin with STOPA and the Law of Threes. We receive curve balls from time to time; a broken ankle, amputated digit, hyperthermia, lost members of the group and a lost hiker who hasn’t been seen for two days, who comes into the group and is confused, delirious and semi-violent. << there are no degrees of violence and non-violence. I would use “aggressive”
Tasks are divided and conquered and all participants survive the “survival situation”. We gather back together and discuss what we learned over the weekend, what worked and what plainly didn’t. <
It was an excellent weekend for this class and the instructor presented the information in a manner which was easy to grasp and practical to apply. While the tone was serious – being lost is serious – survival is serious; it was fun to learn in a challenge format. I believe we gave as much back to the others as we took from Craig. While I expect all members of the class will be reviewing mental and written notes over the coming days, I also am reviewing my notes of what did and didn’t work for me personally, as well as what I need to replace or acquire.
I highly recommend, if you enjoy hiking, camping, hunting or generally being outdoors, to take Craig’s class. Reading a book or watching someone ELSE do things is not the best way to learn these skills. You should have a knowledgeable instructor and you must try it and practice it. I highly recommend you check out Nature Reliance School and take one of their offered classes. I hope you never have to employ those lessons, but should you need to, you’ll be better off knowing what to do.