This masterclass is taught by Jessie Krebs, wilderness survival expert and former Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) specialist. After she spent years training soldiers to survive in some of the most hostile territories, Jessie received an honorable discharge in 1994. She worked as a camp director, a climbing instructor and a high school teacher. Then she moved into a career in wilderness therapy, a mental-health treatment strategy focused on promoting self-efficacy.
- Focus and Breathe
Many things can happen in a survival situation, for example, if we meet a snake suddenly in the woods. Take deep breaths, so we activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s rest and digestion response when relaxed.
- Check your mindset
Adopt a neutral mindset instead of an over-positivity that does not prepare for unforeseen circumstances or an over-pessimistic attitude that always expects disasters.
- Prepare before you leave
If you fear snakes, you want to condition yourself not to have that panic response. Visualize seeing the snake and prepare your response before going out in the woods.
Five Basic Needs
There are five basic needs of a survivor which help us focus during an emergency:
a. Signaling – Priority to call for help, signaling can be classified into the electronic, pyrotechnic, and ground-to-air signal
b. Take care of yourself – personal protection can be categorized into three lines of defense in the following order: clothing and equipment, shelter and fire
c. Water – sustenance as we can only go on without water for three days but 30 days without food
d. Explore – travel techniques and navigation can bring you to places with resources to survive, like maps and compasses, and techniques to traverse a slope
e. Staying Alive – these include mental health, hygiene, and basic first aid knowledge
– Use electronics to broadcast your location and ensure you don’t need to purchase a subscription
– satellite phone is useful for contacting your next-of-kin to rescue you
– Smoke, fire, and flares are bright at night
– Marine flare can go up 300 feet and explore like fireworks. That is useful in dense jungles or ocean
– During daylight, it is smoke that attracts attention. Collect a massive bunch of green vegetation and throw it into the fire when there’s a plane nearby. The steam, or water evaporating from the vegetation will produce a mushroom of white smoke
– In winter environment, you want black smoke instead, this can be created by burning plastics or tires from your car to make that thick black smokes
– Use bright colors to draw attention from high ground, and use straight lines to create that man-made signal for help instead of the commonly believed SOS
– V: I need assistance, X: I need medication assistance
– Make one letter 30 feet tall
– Signal mirror or any mirror with a flat surface is helpful for signaling the airplane for assistance
Ideal location for landing zone: an area that is flat, open, width of at least 100 feet and has 360 degrees visibility
Shelter and Warmth
When it comes to survival situation that requires bugging out, it is crucial to look for shelter which can keep you away from nature’s unforgiving weather and threats, especially during the winter season. Our first priority should be given to finding dry and warm places. Gather dry leaves and branches for insulation. There are 5 major ways in which we lose heat, these are: Radiation, Respiration (breathing in dry air, breathing out moist air), Evaporation (when getting wet or sweating), Conduction (laying directly on the ground), and Convection (windshield).
Your first priority is to change out of those wet clothes. To do that safely, you’ll need to gather an insulating layer of branches and leaves to protect your bare feet from the snow once your socks come off.
Dress for success
Boost insulation by increasing the so-called dead-air space within your clothing. Heat moves from warmer to colder bodies; creating a buffer slows this process down and traps hot air in pockets. You can do this by adding puffy layers or stuffing your jacket with dry leaves or debris. Add a rain or wind shell overtop to prevent further heat loss. (Pro tip: If your toes are getting cold, wrap plastic bags around your socks or pack debris into your pant legs. The warmer the blood in your legs, the warmer your feet.)
The military has the COLDER principles on how to use your clothing in cold weather. First, keep it clean. Keep your clothes clean from dirt because the dirt clogs up the material and thins the material. Second, avoid overheating, don’t create sweat and extra heat. Next is to keep it loose and add layers to your clothing. D is keeping things dry. You can achieve this by placing your clothes into dry snow to absorb all the water, then beating it against the tree. Putting it above the fire also helps dry the clothes more quicker. Next is to examine your clothing, take good stock of what is happening. If your neck is cold, move your clothing to warm up your neck. Lastly, repair your clothes as soon as possible.
Shelter is your next priority. Pitch your tent or use trees to rig a tarp (one and a half to two metres off the ground if you’re planning to start a fire beneath it). You can also fill a garbage bag with debris and climb inside, sleep in a nest of tree boughs or take shelter on the leeward side of a large log or in a tree well. (Pro tip: Avoid tree wells if there’s any chance of deep snow.)
In general principle, ensure that the entrance to our shelter about 90 degrees to the wind. The shelter shall be in close proximity to your water resources, firewood and signaling site.
Start a fire
Because fires can be difficult and time-consuming to start, they’re one of your last lines of defence. But if you’ve already got your clothing and shelter under control, go for it. Start by gathering three times as much tinder as you think you need. If the dead grass, wood shavings or dried moss you find is at all damp, store it in your clothing as you gather your other fuel; your body heat will dry it.
When setting up a fire, we must fulfill the fire triangle, made of oxygen, heat, and fuel. Hence, we will need to search for a brace, platform (tree bark) and tinder (cedar bark, dry grass) before starting a fire. Fibrous trees and pitch wood that are insoluble in water make the perfect material for tinder. After that, branches can be collected for the next stage of building a fire. As a general rule of thumb, only collect branches that snap immediately. If it does not snap, scrap it.
Know your tools: Knives and Ropes
Types of Knives include fixed bladed knife, locking blade knife, and folding blade knife. Bevels, the sharp edge part of a knife would be critical for cutting through any material for survival purpose. We would recommend selecting the knife bevels that has about 22 and 1/2 degree bevel.
Knife sharpener tools include: Diamond steel, blade automatic sharpener, stones and even the bottom of your coffee mug. With sharpening, we are taking away the metal from the knife. We can check if the metal is blunt by turning the knife towards the sunlight and check if any glitter shines back, representing a flat spot of the knife. If the knife has a lot of flat spots, use the course side of the stone and lay the bevel on the face of the stone and strike the knife in 22 and 1/2-degree angle.
Ropes and Loops
Ropes are very handy in survival situations, having a survival bracelet would provide you a decent amount of cord to work with so you can utilize the knot for multiple purposes such as hitching a tent for shelter, clinching the knot over the rock to make a bear hang for climbing up the tree. Here are few types of loops that you can learn for survival situation:
STOP A acronym
S: stop moving. Whenever you are lost, take
T: Think. Think about the environment that you are in
O: Observe the area, focus on what we have right here, and make good use of it
P: Plans. Make several plans so that after 1 hour of hiking or finding the trail, sit down for rest and signal for help.
Find something nearby that is recognizable, and make it into a centrepoint such as making a tripod made of sticks.
If you meet new trees after scouting, know how to get back to your center hub. Utilize point-to-point navigation to learn the area well and know how to move back to the centre point. We can determine the direction by looking at where the sun is to determine our direction. Distance can be measured in steps. For example, we can walk 300 steps into a certain direction and back to the center point to scout the area.
Filtering water is of primary concern regarding water sourced from the wilderness. On average, the human body can go 30 days without food but only three days without water. Don’t eat food unless you have a clean water supply available. Conserve your body’s water by slowing down, such as breathing through your nose instead of your mouth.
Symptoms of dehydration:
a. Are you urinating several times throughout the day?
b. If you wake up and don’t go to urinate, that is a red flag for dehydration
c. Are there signs of moderate dehydration, including thirst, lethargy and muscle cramps
Here is a quick guide on water filtration:
Rainwater can be collected and used without additional filtration, but any form of groundwater requires filters to clean out the toxins and heavy metals. If you are in weather below freezing temperature, ensure that your filters are dried before storing, as it will cause micro-cracks destroying the water filtration system.
Pour the collected water into a bandana or handkerchief as the first layer of filter. After, add disinfectant chemicals to ensure the water is safe for consumption. Chemicals such as iodine tablets and 2 drops of chlorine (household bleach) are added to the water collected for about 30 minutes to remove the bacteria and viruses.
Different water purification methods are effective against different hazards.
Rationing Food and Foraging
When we come into a survival situation, we usually have a lot of food. On day four or so, we start to notice that we are running out of food and rationing is required. Divide your food into thirds. Eat the first two-thirds of your calories during the first half of your survival period, and save the last third for the final days of your stay.
Smart rationing is all about smart maths. First, estimate the number of days until rescue. Your roommate isn’t expecting you home for two days, and rescue will likely take two more. That’s four days total. If you have 10,000 calories with you, plan to eat 6,700 in the first two days when you’ll need the fuel most, and your body is recovering. Then, split the remaining 3,300 calories between the last two days.
When checking if a plant is edible, look for abundant plants that do not have poisonous characteristics. Poisonous plant characteristics include milky sap, fine hairs (cause irritation to the digestive tract), umbrella-shaped flower clusters like poison hemlock, waxy leaves, and mushrooms are best skipped in general.
If you are still unsure whether the plant you found in the wild is safe to eat, use the taste testing method to determine what is safe for human consumption.
Berries are a good source of carbohydrates, fibre, and vitamins. Berries that are aggregate (those with tightly packed clusters, like raspberries and mulberries) are 99 percent edible worldwide. Blue, black and purple: 90 percent edible. Orange and red berries are 50 percent edible, so we need to use an edibility test. Lastly, Green, white and yellow are only 10 percent edible. Avoid at all cost.
Alternatively, you can consume insects as survival food. Insects contain seven times more protein than mince and are much easier to catch. Edible insects includes Earthworms, mealworms, Ants (boil first; avoid fire ants), Crickets, Grasshoppers (remove the legs and wings first)
Building your Survival Kit
Your survival kit should be based on the five basic needs outlined: signaling, personal protection, sustenance, navigation and health. In terms of signaling and shelter, carry along a signaling mirror, mylar blanket and survival paracord bracelet as these are essential for survival when bugging out.