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I began the seminar with the statement, “Get wet and you die”. The campfire amphitheater was packed with men whose eyes were focused forward. They wanted to hear of strategies that could save their lives. There is no better place to conduct a wilderness survival workshop than in Alaska. There, death is only one mistake away.
The misconception is that death in Alaska is most often ushered in when a grizzly chews your ears off. Fact is, so few people die from bear maulings every year that is not worth worrying about. The real killer in Alaska is water. To make matters worse, water is everywhere. We have almost daily rain plus over 3-million lakes, more ocean coastline than the entire contiguous 48 states combined and countless glacial rivers and streams. Each filled with icy cold water.
I explained that, “Getting wet, where the average temperature during the summer hovered around 50-degrees F, is the perfect recipe for hypothermia.” This silent killer is the result of your body temperature dropping below 94-degrees. Below 94, our bodies can’t self-heat and recover. There is a slow slide into death waiting for you if your temperature dips below that point.
For Alaskan hunters, I recommend a small survival kit, which fits into a pack and weights under 2 pounds. The contents are as follows. One 55-gallon heavy duty garbage bag, a magnesium match and striker, a 35mm film container filled with 20 Vaseline soaked cotton balls, a survival whistle, a metal cup and a pack of jello. Doesn’t sound like much but you need to remember that you’re not wintering out there. You need to survive for an average of 48 hours or until you are rescued.
Shelter is the key to a comfortable survival experience. The big orange plastic bag is a simple and effective shelter solution. Cut a corner out of the bags bottom and pull it over you like a giant sweater. Place your head in the opening so the bag can vent and not sweat. You can lean against a tree and stay dry for days in the rain in this shelter. If Bear Grylls wasn’t showing off for the camera he’d rely on one every night.
The above kit doesn’t sound like much but it is all you’ll need. Realize that real survival is a decision and not a technique. The most critical part of the kit is in your head. Most calamities where death is involved are a result of poor decisions and lack of preparedness. The majority of those decisions occur before you leave the truck or camp. It is critical that you prepare for survival with the very clothes your wearing. You have to practice to survive.
The most important part of your “Clothes Kit” is your rain gear. Rain gear is the foundation of survival in Alaska. Choose wisely when picking and caring for your rain gear. I rely on expedition grade breathable fabric. You need a top with hood and pants. It is critical that it beads water. You can ensure this by washing it in Sport-Wash detergent and then if it is not beading treat it with Silicone Water-Guard. Fail to prepare here and you’re toast…wet toast.
Base layers need to be of a high quality. I rely on a brand called XGO. It is what our military special forces rely on. Then layer up with fleece and a wind proof layer. Remember a warm stocking hat. My nylon quick drying pants are treated with Permanent Waterguard, which you can find at www.atsko.com
Fire is a man’s second best friend. You need to practice making a fire just like you’d practice shooting your bow prior to a hunt. There is no better fire solution for starting a blaze than a magnesium fire stick and treated cotton balls. During my demonstration, I place my mag. Stick, striker and Vaseline soaked cotton balls in a bucket of water. I reach in, remove them, shake them off and start the cotton ball on fire with the magnesium spark within 10- seconds. That’s real adverse conditions. The cotton ball will burn for about 6-7 minutes. I carry 20 of them in my kit.
The metal cup I carry is for heating water and the jello for energy. Just add a bit to a cup of hot water and you have something Starbucks can’t deliver in the wilderness. Don’t worry about Giardia protozoan’s or other waterborne bugs. If you’re lost drink plenty of liquid and stay hydrated. Giardia doesn’t show up for about 7-10 days and can be fixed with simple antibiotics. I’ve had it twice. It feels like you overate bean burritos…not life threatening.
If you feel like you should panic and begin screaming, save your breath and signal with a rescue whistle. Its 5X louder and won’t make you hoarse. Also, remember that screaming like a little girl will likely attract a grizzly. That will keep you quiet. If you plan on getting lost in Alaska or just plan on taking a short hike remember to pack 2- pounds of survival in your backpack and some in your head.