Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Survival Handbook - Don't Leave Home Without It

How to Stay Alive in the Woods: A Complete Guide to Food, Shelter and Self-Preservation AnywhereOne of my favorite books as a kid was Bradford Angier's How to Stay Alive in the Woods. I read it more times than I read Black Beauty (and as my parents can attest, I read that one over and over). What can I say, I was a weird kid. How to trap and hunt animals (despite the fact that I cry if I step on an ant), building a shelter, orienteering, what plants are safe to eat...I was hooked. I've always been a how-to junkie. I've always been a freak for anything regarding nature, whether it was plants, critters (especially and always critters!) tracking, any of that.

So far I haven't had to use any of the survival training that I learned. But you never know....

The Survival Handbook: Essential Skills for Outdoor Adventure
So when The Survival Handbook: Essential Skills for Outdoor Adventure by Colin Towell fell off the shelf at me, I had to take it home. Great stuff. It contains the "usual" information on everything from procuring water and food, signaling; to the safest way to move over various terrain, making shelters, first aid, you name it.

What makes this book special and well worth having is that unilke several other wilderness survival books I've read this one is extremely well illustrated. If you don't understand exactly what they're talking about by reading the text, the pictures will make it clear.

Another plus in this book is the excellent handling of "cordage" (rope and stuff) and the detailed explanation of a few simple but highly effective knots. I'm rope challenged. Just the other day I needed to tie the yaks' corral closed and I made a definite bungle of it. The darn thing took forever to untie again.

"If you give someone with little understanding of knots a length of cord and ask them to complete a task, they will invariably use the whole length of cord. If, however you teach someone two simple knots and set them the same task, they will invariably ue only the necessary amount of cord."

Yep, that would be me. Point made. I'm going to study these knots till I get them right! It doesn't require a survival situation for this information to be useful.

So far only two flaws:

1) This book presumes that you have a knife with you. Being female, and having for some reason worn skirts for the past decade (after a childhood of rebelling from skirts I went back to them because they're COMFY) I almost never have a pocket to carry anything in. Until I moved to Colorado, the only pair of pants I owned was my karate gi. Now I've added a pair of sweatpants to my wardrobe. If I ever get a chance to find a real store (there are few stores in Hicksville here) I should buy a couple pair of jeans. So having a knife at hand is something I've done without for a long time. Which is doubly strange considering as a kid I never went anywhere without a pocketknife.

Okay, if you knowingly go into a potential survival situation, you're an idiot if you don't have a knife with you. Except lots of people end up in situations like this without even dreaming that they will. For instance if your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere.

Moral of the story. Carry a damn knife. Even if you never use it. Stick it in your glovebox or purse or whatever. I'll agree with the author that besides your mind, a knife seems to be one of the important survival tools you can own.

2) On the chapter on wild plant foods, no pictures. Of all the places where pictures are important, being able to identify plants and tell one that is edible and will provide nutrition from one that could kill you if you eat it... Why the heck no plant pictures?

Never mind the flaws though, the cover states that "this book could save your life."  I have zero doubt that its true. Important though - either carry this book with you or read it several times and APPLY the knowledge and practice it before you go into a survival situation. I suggest both.

As the author states, you DO NOT want to try to build a fire without matches for the first time when you're cold, scared and in danger.

The Survival Handbook is not only fascinating, if like me you're intrigued by this sort of knowledge; it's a comprehensive guide covering survival in numerous terrains and climates and might - such as the chapter on cordage - even have practical applications in your day to day life. Read it. memorize it. Take it camping. Take it backpacking. Stick a copy in the backseat of your car. You'll never know when it might save your life.

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