Monday, September 17, 2012

The Questions I Get Asked

Every week I receive emails from people asking my advice on a particular subject.  Questions that relate most commonly to equipment or procedures that the writer come across and are unsure of.  

Here's a sampling of this past week's questions:

Question.  I have a compass but I have been in situations where a compass is not dependable (high magnetite deposit areas and the like). I wondered if can find where north is on a cloudy day and had no compass? I do know of the moss thing but that is not always dependable for the north east in this age of acid rains. 

 Answer. I know of no improvised, reliable ways of determining north under the conditions you describe.  On a sunny day find a thin 18" stick and drive one end into the ground while pointing the other end directly at the sun. Position the stick in such a manner that there is no shadow.  Wait for 30 minutes and then you will find a shadow leading away from the base of the stick.  This shadow always points east.
Question.   I wondered about the water issue. what is the best way to clean water? 

Answer. The most effective way to disinfect water is to boil it but boiling requires a container and a heat source.  The most practical way to disinfect water is to add chlorine dioxide tablets NOT iodine tablets or drops to water.  Check out Katadyn MP-1 tablets  Should you decide to boil water all you have to do is bring it to a boil, regardless of altitude, and you have killed all of the harmful pathogens you are likely to find in the water.  Boiling it further wastes fuel and evaporates the water!

Question.  What's the quick way to get rescued?

Answer. Always leave a trip plan and having left a trip plan stick to it.  Even with a trip plan it may take hours for people to find you.  You can die in hours so a trip plan is a good start but you need more.  In this day and age you should carry either a SPOT personal messenger, a Delorme In Reach beacon or a 406MHz Personal Locator beacon.  There's no excuse not to carry one of these devices and in the event that you do need help in a hurry all you have to do is activate the device and an emergency signal, with your latitude and  longitude. embedded, is being transmitted to the authorities.  You still have to survive until they get there but getting rescued is going to be a lot quicker because they know exactly where you are.

Question.  I never seen (other than in a dictionary) the word "survival" defined - what is your definition? 

Answer.  At the most fundamental level survival means being able to defend your body temperature - i.e. maintaining 98.6 degrees F. for as long as possible!  That means having a shelter of some sort with you - something you can crawl into or under to protect yourself from the wind and precipitation.  I recommend a heavy duty blue, 55 gallon, 4 mil thick trash bag.  I categorically DO NOT recommend Space Blankets or Bags or anything that looks like them!  I also recommend a silicone impregnated tarp as long as you take the time to seam-seal the tie-off tabs where they are attached to the fabric.  If you don't they may leak.  A tarp can be erected in many ways and an 8'x10' tarp will provide a lot of protection.

Question.  Well what about fire?  Isn't a fire necessary for survival?

Answer.  It depends on the situation.  In some some scenarios (cold, wet and windy) it could be crucial.  Surviving also means being able to get a fire going.  To that end I carry a metal match (also known as a fire steel or ferro cerium rod) and two match cases filled with cotton balls that you have saturated with Vaseline.  A maxi sized cotton ball that is heavily soaked in Vaseline will burn for about ten minutes in very wet, very wind conditions.  I don't know of a better tinder.   To study further on the art and science of building a fire I recommend going to my website  http://outdoorsafe.comand ordering my book "Surviving a WIlderness Emergency"  and while you're also there consider ordering my eBook A Better Way to Build a Fire.  These two sources will help you a lot.


  1. Hi Peter,your DVD is a must " A Better Way to Build a Fire"
    Out in wildness and yes all the information was used and bingo fire for tea.
    Had rained the night before all the wood was wet and damp .

  2. I like the bit about the stick: pointed directly at the Sun,I presume. Similar to a Sundial Gnomon. One can also do that with the Moon. There are many ways to find direction without using a compass, or relying upon "natural features".