I’m a sucker for a new how-to-survive book and can’t resist the urge to buy it when I see one that isn’t already in my library. So when I came across “Show Me How to Survive” by Joseph Pred and the editors of OutdoorLife magazine I ordered it in hopes that maybe, just maybe, there might be something worthwhile in it. My hopes were dashed yesterday when the book arrived in the mail.
The first thing I am always interested in when I pick up a new survival book is the author’s credentials. As printed on the back cover of the book Mr. Pred is a trained EMT, firefighter, and disaster-management specialist whose expertise also encompasses public health, outdoor survival, and fire arms safety. He is the head of all public safety and emergency services for the annual Burning Man festival, and lives in San Francisco. I didn’t know what the “Burning Man” festival is so Googled it and found out that “Once a year, tens of thousands of participants gather in Nevada's Black Rock Desert to create Black Rock City, dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance.” Sounded like “Woodstock West” to me! I’m not sure how this qualifies Mr. Pred to provide recommendations on how to survive a backcountry emergency?
With these credentials Mr. Pred has written a 175-page book that is broken into three categories – Protect, Help and Prevail. I will leave it to others more knowledgeable than I to comment on the advice given in the Protect and Help sections but will share a few thoughts on Mr. Pred’s recommendations on how to “Prevail” in the outdoors.
Recommendation #121 – light a fire with chocolate. Unwrap a chocolate bar. Rub onto soda can bottom. Focus sunlight onto tinder. Use tinder to light fire. So let’s think about this for a minute. You are being asked to polish the concave bottom of a soda can into a highly reflective mini-parabolic reflector using chocolate as a grinding compound. And then use the reflector to focus sunlight into a point sharp enough to ignite tinder with which to light larger fuel. It takes hours of polishing to brighten the surface enough to reflect sunlight. And even then it is not bright enough, except under ideal conditions, a hot sunny July day for exam, and a lots of luck, to light tinder. You don’t need a fire on a hot sunny day! You need one in November when, at the end of the day, you find yourself faced with a night out. You better have something with you better than a soda can and a chocolate bar to get your fire going!
Recommendations #122 and #123 - fire drill and a fire plank. Put these in the “too hard to do” category for the average untrained, unpracticed person. Any of the fire-by-friction techniques of fire building require years of practice for you to become reasonably proficient. Those people who can routinely produce the needed coal to start a fire are people who have spent a life-time practicing - people who carry the components for a fire-drill in their day-packs much as you or I would carry a cigarette lighter or better still a metal-match in our emergency gear.
Recommendation #127 – get water in the desert. Commonly referred to as a “solar still” this process does not work except in those rare conditions when the desert soil is saturated with water – after a thunderstorm for example. In order for this process to work there must be moisture in the soil. Typically, desert soil contains no water regardless of how deep you dig. The work involved with digging the hole in the hard packed desert soil, covering that hole with plastic, weighting down the edges of the plastic with rocks and more soil, is not repaid in water! It is most likely that you will loose more water sweating while digging the hole than you will recover from the apparatus!
Recommendation #146 – impale an elk. Dig an elk-sized pit and add thick pointed sticks to the bottom. Cover the pit’s mouth with branches and leaves. Presumably the elk is dumb enough to step on the materials covering the pit and fall into the hole skewering itself on the pointed sticks! I don’t think so! How much earth has to be excavated to produce a hole deep enough and wide enough to contain a six hundred to a one thousand pound elk? What is the survivor going to dig this hole with?
Recommendation #152 – remove a botfly with bacon. In a jungle survival situation, Note botfly larva (infestation site). Wrap area in bacon. After three days the botfly will burrow out. Remove bacon. OK. I give up. Where is the bacon going to come from?
I could go on but I won’t. This book is going back to the publishers on Monday. It is one more in a long line of similar books that are full of totally inappropriate, impractical advice. Most of the recommendations are based on the skills that aboriginal people develop over a lifetime - skills that a survivor would not be able to develop just by reading this book! As with most how-to-survive books the assumption is made that the survivor is able-bodied. Surviving is tough enough when you are fully functional but becomes very much more difficult when you are injured. Show Me How To Survive, like so many other books, makes the assumption that the survivor is not going to have any tools to work with and therefore must live-of-the-land and improvise the equipment that is needed. Wouldn’t it be better to have the equipment you need and then spend an inconvenient night out rather than a life threatening one because you couldn’t get a fire going by rubbing sticks together or because your debris hut leaked?