Bear Grylls vs. Les Stroud

November 11, 2008

OK. Just for fun…What’s your type? The dashing, risk-taking Brit, or the unassuming, steadfast Canadian? Personally, I love to watch both, as either one has a lot of good stuff to offer.

From Les Stroud, I’ve learned a lot of really cool and useful skills. From Bear Grylls, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to shriek, “YOU’RE FREAKING KIDDING ME!”

Bear’s show is certainly entertaining, but from the first I’ve always been horrified by the choices he’s made on his program. In most survival situations, it’s best to stay put when you’re lost, or at least stay put where you find a safe spot near a good water source. If you have reasonable confidence that civilization is downstream from that water, then go for it…carefully. But leave sign of your direction.

In the first “Man vs. Wild” episode I ever saw, as soon as he found water he jumped right into it, risking serious injury, hypothermia and drowning in order to save time descending to lower elevations. I believe he was in the Sierra Nevadas, an area with which I’m familiar. Having traveled downriver in even the most commonly rafted Sierra rivers, even I know better than to risk unknown whitewater without a PFD. And jumping in without even testing the water? No way. A jump from a high rock, like the one Bear made, risks that involuntary intake of breath one takes when hitting ice-cold water.

Taking unnecessary risks in a survival situation is a bad idea. Even a scratch can become your downfall, as you have little means of staving off infection.

Running off in the middle of the night because you MAY have heard a bear in the area was another move I found laughable. Especially in an area with lots of cliffs. Bears rarely attack people, but hikers frequently kill themselves falling off cliffs or breaking their legs when no help is in reach. Do the math.

Maybe I’m of a certain age when I’ve learned my lesson about rash bad boys. Les Stroud’s approach–slow and steady–doesn’t make for the best entertainment, but pound for pound (or frame for frame) I put more value on the lessons he imparts. Sure, it’s great to know that you can drink the water squeezed from the dung of a Savannah ungulate, but I’d prefer to learn the more likely–and safe–alternatives.

Les Stroud

Les Stroud

Plus, there’s something sexy about bald guys.


One thing I do cluck my tongue at when watching either show is the lesson that both boys have repeatedly ignored: Never leave home without a basic survival kit that will provide you with (or provide the means to obtain) fire, food, water and shelter. The TSA may not allow us to carry our Becker BK7 aboard our flight to New York’s Fashion Week, but the rest of the time we can carry a small kit that would include the basics.

What I do find interesting is that both Bear and Les seem to always have their knives with them, and little else but improvised tools. That improvisation is exactly why both shows are so great, and valuable, but they present less-than likely scenarios for the average Jane.

Bear Grylls

Bear Grylls

Doesn’t matter who’s better, more realistic, more of a showman, which one pronounces “glacier” in a manner that makes me want to shoot the widescreen, or who looks the best wearing his pee-soaked tighty-whiteys on his head. What really makes me happy is that these two shows are on Discovery Channel, and both have a good following. The more people who are interested in self-reliance, survival and preparedness, the better we’ll all be when the excrement hits the oscillator!

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Learn Skills for Cheap Thrills

November 9, 2008
Learn to use a real field compass, and to read a topo map.

Learn to use a real field compass, and to read a topo map.

Bored, but too broke to hit up the latest chick flick? Challenge yourself to learn a new skill each week. Pick something that will save you money, augment your fitness goals, aid in survival or preparedness, or all of the above. Bring a friend on board, or even plan an outing with friends to attend a workshop or simply learn together.

Skills I’ve really enjoyed, especially in the company of friends, include knot tying (get your mind out of the gutter), survival fishing, making snares, identifying and preparing wild edibles, survival signaling and old-school orienteering.

Geocaching with a GPS unit is another great way to get friends and family out of the house and on the trail.

Household frugality skills that have become rusty for many of us include bread baking, intensive gardening, soapmaking, candlemaking, knitting, basic home improvement & maintenance, and medicinal herbs.

Many community colleges or county recreation departments offer inexpensive classes on the above topics. Online resources and printed guidebooks can allow you to learn a new skill in the time it takes to drink your morning coffee.

Learning with friends is the way to go. In my old home city, my girlfriends and I took turns planning outings in which we’d either learn something new, or attend a lecture or reading that broadened our own horizons. In addition to learning something new, you learn more about the people in your immediate lives. A favorite activity was an outing to a rock climbing gym, when one buddy earned my respect for the hard-earned skills she’d built in a few short months of training.

Another was a CPR class I took with my family before we embarked on a three-month boating trip through Alaska’s inland passage, by way of Canada’s San Juan Islands. (After that, I learned to suture pickled pigs’ feet and administer insulin injections into oranges, woo hoo).

My general philosophy is to make preparedness and self-reliance a natural part of my life. Never be ashamed to admit you know how to field dress a rabbit, make glue from pine pitch or change the oil on your Subaru.

Building good skillsets benefits your self-confidence as well as your self-reliance, and makes you more interesting at social gatherings. You may be tempted to demonstrate bushcraft firestarting at your cousin’s wedding reception next summer, and I’m here to let you know that that’s a bad idea. Knowing how to use your emergency suture/fishing kit to fix the bride’s bussle, on the other hand, will make you the belle of the ball.


The Lady’s B.O.B

November 5, 2008
This one could use a few extra MREs in her BOB.

This one could use a few extra MREs in her BOB.

Ever check out a firearms or preparedness forum? Threads abound where members show off or list the contents of their bug out bags. It’s the male equivalent of Ally Sheedy dumping out her purse in The Breakfast Club.

What’s a BOB? Well, it’s pretty much a grab-and-go 72-hour (or so) survival kit that you would take with you into unknown conditions in the case of a major emergency–anything from a house fire to massive evacuation to flat-out armageddon. Assembling a BOB is actually a lot of fun, if you’re into gear, gadgets and doodads.

There are variants on the basic BOB, such as the “Get My Arse Home from Work To My Real Bug Out Bag” bag, which you might carry in your vehicle, or the “I’m At Lockdown At Work” bug-IN bag, or maybe the “I’m Stranded in my Car for Weeks” bag. But the true BOB is equipped to provide warmth, a change of clothing and footwear, personal protection, shelter and the very most basic of survival tools.

When planning your primary BOB, take into consideration the most likely catastrophies that could strike your area. Factor in local climate, and whatever plans you and your family have for rallying in the case you have to bail from your home.

And factor in the fact that each person has his or her own requirements to keep safe and sane in a stressful scenario. Especially if you’re female.

I’m not going to list absolutely everything you should have in your BOB, since you can find that information anywhere. But, true to the mission of this blog, I will add a few things you won’t find in the typical survival blog or forum. That’s right–GIRL STUFF!

Feminine Protection: Well, DUH! Of course you’re going to want to pack along stuff to prepare you for the Invasion of the Red Army, if you get my drift. If you’re not familiar with applicator-free products, give them a test run and seriously consider adding them to your bag. Most brands make a multi-pack. Note in my Welcome post, I celebrate the OB tampon as one of the best survival tools due to the compressed volume of fire-starting cotton and bonus prize of 12″ cord.

For longer-term emergencies, consider reusable pads or cups, but ONLY if you’ve familiarized yourself with their use well in advance. Having to bug out is bad. Having to bug out while on the rag is horrible. Having to bug out and all you have to keep yourself tidy is some weird miniature toilet plunger is a catalyst for a meltdown.

You’ll also want to carry scent-proof baggies, or the more rugged and less-disposable O.P. Sack to transport soiled reusables.

Chocolate: I’m not being divine here, I’m serious. Chocolate has positive neurological effects that would be beneficial in a BOB situation, and it’s also a good energy boost. Problem with chocolate is that it melts, so use caution when packing in a BOB that will be stored in your car, for example.

If you have kids, chocolate is a great motivator. Looking after the psychological well-being of you and yours is often overlooked in emergency preps, and attitude is everything.

Toiletries: Along the same line as chocolate, toiletries will help your sense of morale. I’m not a fan of beauty magazines, but you can always rifle through them for sample packets or perfume strips, which are easy to pack and will help you feel better after a few days away from your shower and Spin Spa. Go easy on the fragrances, as an overdose of eau d’parfume can be more offensive than body odor.

I love witch hazel packets and baby wipes. But lacking these, a steaming hot bandanna rubdown is the best part of waking up to a back-country morning.

If you’re a cheapskate like me, you like free stuff. Save complimentary hotel toiletries, or even better, write to the manufacturers of your favorite products and request free samples. Now, you can pack the stuff that works for YOU. Don’t go overboard, though; you want your bag as light as possible, and in spite of the importance of morale, comfort and hygiene, your favorite hair gel will need to be 86’d if it comes down to that or emergency food rations, water purification or first aid items.

Sports Bra: Do you normally subject yourself to underwire, or otherwise less-than-comfortable undergarments? Get yourself a breathable, moisture-wicking, non-cotton sports bra, like this one, to stash in your BOB. It will help regulate heat, prevent chafing, and provide comfort while carrying a heavy pack.

Self-Defense: Whether you’re bugging out over road or trail, you must have some basic unarmed and armed defensive skills. Don’t rely on pepper spray alone to get you through a rough spot. Get a firearm and learn to use, carry and draw it. Get a good survival knife, and take a class in blade fighting. Contact your local police department, city college or YWCA to find out about effective, affordable women’s defense courses that teach simple physical and verbal techniques. I specify women’s defense courses because some of these offer techniques that are rarely taught to men, and I strongly believe that women-only classes allow participants to focus better on learning.

Train, and practice, and remember that you’re worth fighting for.

MISC: It’s a good idea to pack along pharmaceuticals and herbals that will help you if you’re bugging out with Aunt Flo, in addition to a basic first-aid kit. If you’re menopausal, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the shelf life of your medications, and have an extra month’s supply on hand to rotate into your preparations.

The necessities for a woman’s survival pack differ than those for a man’s, and there’s no shame in admitting it. Plan to take care of yourself.


Prepping for Pets: An Intro

November 3, 2008

Most of us have at least a rudimentary BOB (Bug Out Bag) or, as I like to call it, a GOODY (Get Out Of Dodge, Yo!) bag for ourselves and other household members. What about our pets?

Regardless of the scenario, you’ll need to make accommodations for your animals, and I’m hammering out a series of posts that will take into consideration the non-human members of your little tribe, focusing primarily on domestic pets rather than livestock.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, The Humane Society of the United States cited a Zogby International poll that found that 49 percent of adults say they would refuse to evacuate if they couldn’t take their pets with them. Those who did leave their pets behind doomed their animals to exposure and starvation, and in the  emergencies of long durations–such as Katrina–even beloved, gentle dogs can pack up and become dangerous marauders.

Should you have to evacuate your home, how will you handle your pets? Think long and hard about this question, because your decision will have an emotional impact on you and your family, as well as an impact on the well-being of your animals and the community at large.

What about longterm “bugging-in” scenarios? You’re probably already working out a longterm food storage program for yourself, but how will you feed your animals?

Whether your pet is a pocket Chihuahua a-la Paris Hilton (erk) or a working breed, you’ll benefit from the topics currently in the pipeline:

1. Dog Packs: Great for hiking trips as well as buggin’ out, a well-fitting pack will let your dog carry a portion of her share of gear. We’ll discuss proper fit, materials and appropriate suggestions for what your dog can carry, as well as conditioning your pet for short and long packing trips.

2. Small Animal Carriers: Need to haul your kitty cross town? Maybe you’ve got a bird, ferret or pocket pet. We’ll discuss carrier options, as well as accomodations that will make your pet more welcome if you end up couch-surfing, camping or–heaven forbid–in a shelter situation.

3. Long-Term Pet Prepping: We’ll discuss alternatives to the relatively short shelf-life of dry kibble, and the importance of vaccinations and current vet records.

4. Common Emergency Preps: We all have a plan to evacuate pets during an earthquake, fire or other more common emergency, right?

Bookmark this blog, and check in soon for more on these topics. In the meantime, be sure to check out my Amazon store, where you can find emergency food rations for dogs and cats, as well as other useful pet supplies.


Welcome!

November 2, 2008

Let’s get something clear: I am, by no means, an expert on survival and preparedness. You’ll probably learn stuff here, but most of what I’ll be sharing will be observations on established techniques, ideas and schwag from the perspective of a female. A female who, as a matter of fact, is too cheap to dish for a fake Prada bag, much less a real one, and who wouldn’t want one anyway. Let’s face it; I prefer Hoppe’s Number 9 to Chanel No. 5.

I was inspired to start this blog after reading post after post on forums exalting the virtues of firestarter kits. Kits that include the ubiquitous wad of cotton dabbed in Vaseline. For crying out loud, I kept thinking to myself. Just use some fluff from an OB Regular and a bit of Chapstick! Everyone carries that in their survival kit, don’t they?

Oh, wait…

Truth is–and here’s your very first tidbit of useful information–I’m convinced that OB tampons rate right up there with multitools for Things You Can’t Leave Home Without. With a Swedish FireSteel purchased from the wonderfully darling and brilliant Ron Fontaine of Survivaltopics.com, a rough metal blade, a bit of oil or wax-based beauty product and a nicely shredded (and absorbent!) OB, you can light a fire that would put Texas A&M to shame. Not to mention the nearly 12 inches of string you’ll have on hand for such things as hanging snares, repairing gear or maybe flossing that chunk of cattail tuber out of your teeth.

(Sigh). OK, so I know that any guys reading this might be a bit shy about carrying feminine products around in their gear. It’s not like you’re going to get sudden urges to get the Hello Kitty AR-15. But most of you already know how sanitary pads make great wound dressings right? Well, they do!

OK. So back to the purpose of this little blog. Which is…

  • To add a little bit of female perspective to the somewhat testosterone-sodden subject of survival.
  • To share what I’ve learned in my research and experience with survival and emergency preparedness.
  • To remind my gentle readers and myself that, as serious as the subjects are, life is what’s happening now…keep a sense of humor, keep your attitude positive, and make it fun.

(If some of you guys happen to find this site handy when introducing your better halves to the sport/hobby/obsession of bushcraft/survival/preparedness/tin foil hats, all the better.)


Shaking the Dust Off

November 1, 2008

Admit it. As much as we all know that any situation requiring the “for reals!” use of all the gear and preps we gather would be quite dire, and that none of us is actually looking forward to NEEDING our bug out bags, food stores or hard-earned skills, from time to time we all fantasize about SH-ingTF.

If you’re like me, you picture yourself prevailing against all odds with nary a bead of sweat. In our dreams, we’re all gods and goddesses of fitness and backwoods wisdom. We already know that if the excrement hits the oscillator, we’re better off than the vast majority of the population, right? We have mad firestarting skilz, we know how to secure clean, potable water, and we’ve trained our gag reflexes against the evils of MREs…but the truth is, if all our armchair survivalism remains just that…we’ll have to add Rascal Scooters to our Bug Out manifests. Not good, kids.

Today, I actually went outside, and learned just how much I’ve neglected the most important part of preparation: Fitness.

The beau and I shut down the computers, shut off our cell phones and headed to Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge. We figured we’d take a quick scramble up the 2+ mile trail to the top of the 620-foot falls, take some photos and enjoy the fall colors. No problem, right?

Oh my.

Let’s just say that I saw really old ladies in houseslippers on that trail, doing better than we did. I saw a man in a SUIT on the trail, doing better than we did.

But we did it, and we felt fantastic for pushing to the top, where a couple happily obese women chatted about how easy this trail was. We sat there wheezing, shaking our heads at each other, probably because we couldn’t catch our breath enough to tell them to take a flying leap off the observation deck.

OK, so it wasn’t THAT bad, but I for one felt the strain. It’s been a couple years since my last obsession with weight training, and I think it’s time I became reacquainted with the local hiking and biking trails. Both weight and cardio training are important for overall fitness, and I’m a firm believer that when you’re in decent shape, you can handle psychological stress better, too.

Testing gear is a fantastic way of making preps an integral, healthy part of your life. While I wasn’t going to build a fire bed or set rabbit snares along this high-traffic sightseeing trail, I got the chance to shake the dust off my hiking boots and day pack, and to give some attention to trail clothing. I was given a reminder of why I’d always carried moleskin, and on my many stops to gasp for air, I got to examine the various edible plants along the way, including some very nice boletes.

We’re also planning a winter weekend trip to the Oregon Coast Range with another whack-job survivalist friend of ours, where we’ll spend 72 hours with nothing but our very basic “goody bags.” (As in, “Get Out Of Dodge, Yo!” Bags)

And tomorrow, I get to go shoot a bunch of evil pumpkins, and simultaneously initiate a bunch of gun virgins.

So if you’re still reading this, get off your butt and get outside. You’ll get more value out of your bags if you use them in the good times as well as the bad, and you’ll help fend off the preparation burnout that hits all of us at one time or another.