Every seasoned adventurer has encountered a misadventure while paying his dues, yet most weekend risk-takers aren’t prepared for impending disaster. Google "outdoor accident statistics" and even Wikipedia has a page dedicated to the “hazards of outdoor activities,” featuring general safety measures, dangerous circumstances, specific accidents, and ailments. It’s an insightful outline of cautionary scenarios.
For enthusiasts who regularly push the boundaries of off-the-grid adventuring and the limits of their own personal bests, it’s important to have a game plan when things unravel. Enter Tim MacWelch and his new book, “Prepare for Anything Survival Manual: 338 Essential Skills.” In it, MacWelch introduces 338 skills that problem-solve a wide variety of doomsday scenarios—some, you’ve considered (setting a broken bone, signaling to rescuers, cougar face-off), but most are eye-opening (improvising medical supplies, scrounging for nourishment, covering your scent).
Divided into three main categories—gear, skills, and survival—each section features illustrated pages of step-by-step instructions that arm you with the confidence and know-how to avoid the slippery slope of doom. We had an opportunity to connect with MacWelch and asked him for the lowdown on the best ways to get prepared. This is what he shared.
What are three things that are vital to remember during any disaster situation?
First off, you need a positive mental outlook on the situation, no matter how grim. This gives you the calm and peace of mind to look for solutions, rather than just becoming a victim of the problems. Secondly, you'll need to remember to secure some physical provisions. Humans can't last long without shelter, water, food, and first aid. If you don't have a supply of provisions, get some before the stores run out. And finally, you'll need to remember to avoid panicking. Panic can lead even the best-prepared survivor down a road of bad choices and worse decisions.
What are the biggest threats to identify and try to overcome immediately?
Obviously, physical threats are at the top of the list in emergency scenarios. Exposure, dehydration, violence, and other vehicles for harm will need to be identified and dealt with before a person can begin to get their life moving again. But mental threats, often from within, pose one of the greatest risks in survival scenarios. Pessimism, laziness, panic, and other negative mental states can be a stumbling block for any survivor.
Stubbornness is a huge threat. Being too stubborn to face reality can be a huge threat to a person's survival. Understand that change is a constant in nature, but humans don't usually like change. We have to come to terms with the changes that have occurred during an emergency and move forward. Otherwise, our stubbornness will keep us from grasping the new reality and performing the necessary tasks of survival.
We read somewhere that survival isn’t about stuff, it’s about skills. What are three to five essential skills that we need to commit to memory?
First aid: Because EMS may be overwhelmed in a disaster or unavailable in a remote area.
Self-defense: The same crisis that derails medical response can keep the local law enforcement busy too.
Water procurement: Your cases of bullets and MREs won't help you if you're dying of dehydration. Learn several ways to find and disinfect water, and have the gear on hand to assist in this daily chore. This is a critical skill set in the wilderness.
Food gathering: This can be harvesting wild edible plants, growing your own vegetables, raising livestock, hunting, fishing, or all of the above.
Shelter: This skill set can keep you warm when it's cold, or cooler when it's scorching hot. Learn how to make, build, and find shelter in a variety of conditions and scenarios.
Five everyday items that can be game-changers in a pinch are:
A flashlight: For nighttime emergencies and power outages.
A pocketknife: For a basic survival tool and weapon for self-defense.
A water bottle: To carry water, and as a vessel to disinfect more water.
Some cordage: There are 1,001 uses for a length of cord.
A tampon: Can be used it to start fires, filter water, as a dressing on wounds, and many other useful survival hacks.
Three indispensable items to have on your person at any given moment and why:
Your cell phone: To call for help in the event of an emergency.
Some cash: For emergency spending, bribes, transportation, and to buy what you need if the power is down and electronic purchasing isn't an option.
A lighter: To give you fire and light to see by.
One survival strategy/skill to always have at the ready:
Fire building: You never know when you'll need to build a fire for signaling purposes, to boil water, to cook, or for emergency warmth. You should practice fire building often and during terrible weather. Generally speaking, the worse the weather, the more you'd need that fire.
Your top 10 essentials for every weekend warrior's first aid kit:
Dressings for larger wounds. Medical tape for many uses. Gauze to bind dressings in place. QuikClot for bleeding control. Antihistamine tablets for allergic reactions. Disinfectant for cleaning wounds. EMT shears to cut away clothing and other material to treat wounds. Non-latex gloves to protect the first aid provider. A headlamp to provide light for first aid in dark conditions. Antibiotic cream for wound treatment.
What are your personal non-negotiables for preparedness?
Multiple lighters must be on my person and in my gear, because fire starting by rubbing two sticks together isn't going to work if I'm injured or the weather has taken a bad turn. Communications are another item. There must be a charged cell phone on my person and a method to recharge the phone accessible during an emergency. First aid is another non-negotiable. A fully loaded medical kit can mean the difference between life and death. Why NOT carry one around?
Do you have any specific tips that women should make note of?
Don't doubt your innate survival skills. Women have been surviving in the wild just as long as men have. Even though survival skills may seem like a macho guy thing, trust your judgment and do the tasks that you know need to be done. You can do it. And don't be shy about carrying a wealth of feminine hygiene products around. Pads can be great field dressings for wounds, beyond their intended use. And tampons are a good fire starter material.
What do you advise in terms of how to talk as a group and to resolve conflict during chaos?
There is always an alpha in any group. Often it’s the most outspoken male, who steers things in the direction of their own ideas. But it could be anyone that emerges as a natural leader. If this temporary leader is lobbying for some poor decisions to be enacted, then it’s the group’s responsibility to come together as a majority and make the right decisions. In a survival situation, tempers will be short and emotions will be running high. Fighting and conflict are almost inevitable. And this just wastes precious time and energy. If you are the most survival-savvy person in your group, it’s your job to stop the fighting by giving people a course of action to follow.
Plan ahead: Figure out the group's needs, prioritize them into a plan quickly, and make it happen. This means shelter, water, fire, food, and signaling for help.
Stay focused: Remind everybody that they are all on the same team with the same goal: survival! Then work on a task together.
Prepare for the worst: Have a plan ready for each possible issue that you and your group can imagine.
For additional tips on gear, skills, and survival tactics, pick up the book here.
About Tim MacWelch:
MacWelch is an outdoor writer for numerous publications and has been a professional wilderness-survival instructor for the past 18 years. Follow him on Twitter: @timmacwelch.
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