Fishing on Windermere

Why are survival skills necessary in 2021?

You may well wonder, why should I bother learning all this when I have a gas stove and a tent, a phone and an emergency service on call. You may feel warm and comfortable sitting at home reading this, but take it all away, turn the rain on, switch the sun off. Still comfortable?

Hope for the best, plan for the worst. It seems simple but many forget the basics. At Green Man Survival we have a checklist before we go on any trip, whether it be to the shops or to Patagonia.

We must be able to deal with the following key areas of Survival:

  • Medical
  • Fire
  • Shelter
  • Water
  • Movement and navigation
  • Communication and signalling

You will notice food is not on that list. Humans can fast for many weeks if not months. In the short term not eating is perfectly fine and should not be feared. The writer has undergone various prolonged periods without food. A week is not a problem and you will probably feel better for it. Most westerners have a bit extra in store anyway!

Maybe we should look at a scenario and ask ourselves if we would be prepared for the aftermath.

We head out for a last minute walk to catch the sunset from a little visited Lakeland peak. It is only a 4km walk to the summit and back from the car so we don’t take our day pack with us.

We sit on the summit and watch the sunset with a feeling of peace and calm, the world is a safe place to be at this moment.

Still daydreaming we wander back to the car down the forest access road. It is getting dark and it seems we have been walking a little longer than we did previously. We soon realise it is now completely dark and we have gone wrong somewhere. Searching for our beloved phone we realise it died when we were filming the view.

It is now raining and you’re not suitably dressed, wearing cotton clothing and no waterproofs. You’re soon very cold and shivering. Panic has set in and you’re walking quicker and quicker into the darkness and deeper into the plantation.

At the edge of the forest you see lights way off in the distance, in your panic you head for them across the fell and into a world of bog and open mountain side. The wind is cutting through your clothing and the rain is still lashing you.

Your trainers are now soaked and traversing a rocky section you slip and break your ankle. Laying on the freezing ground, 6km north of your car, you hold your ankle in severe pain, shivering uncontrollably and wishing you had all that outdoor equipment you left at home because it was only a wee wander to film the sunset.
Mountain Rescue find your body the next day in a hollow on the fell. Phone in hand and only 200m from an old bothy that is clearly marked on the map.

This would have been a very different tale if we had been a little more prepared!

Even with a charged phone it may have taken hours to be found. And it would have still been a very harrowing and punishing period to endure.

Prevention is better than cure!

So how would we have pre-emptively planned and prevented this sad and untimely demise?

Firstly, I always build a mental map when outdoors and even in town centers and shopping centers. Identify landmarks, and remember catching features so that you can return the same way. If I am exploring a new forest I will box things and make sure I keep the sun on one side of my body. I will make a note of wind direction and any large features I cross such as streams and game trails. Basically what I am saying here is switch on. Lift your head up. Look, listen and observe.

The next areas really come into the realm of preparedness. You must dispel the thought that “it won’t happen to me”. Those people don’t make it.

Dress for success – cotton KILLS people

Wear fast drying clothing and if there is any chance of rain wear a waterproof shell jacket, or carry one.
Boots and wool socks. Your feet got you into this, they will also get you out, give them a fighting chance and equip them.

Put that map in your pocket and know how to use it, simply having a quick map study and going back to the last known location would have quickly turned this around.

If you’re heading out in the afternoon, always stuff a small torch in your pocket, one thing is guaranteed in nature, eventually it will get dark!

If you rely on your phone make sure it has full charge or a power bank to give it some juice.

Panicked and in full on fear mode we ran for the lights like a moth to the flame. The forest is your friend. In plantation forestry fire and shelter is almost easy if you have the skills and knowledge to utilise it. Open ground however is brutal!

Spending an unplanned night in the woods is an intimidating thought for many, including a survival instructor. However, with some simple equipment carried in our pockets it can be tolerable, even in winter.

However, I would strongly advise you to carry your day pack as much as you may feel it is unnecessary. It is not just with us for self aid, it may also save someone else’s bacon if you come across someone in trouble.

Over the next two blogs we will discuss what a survival instructor carries in his pockets on a DAILY basis. And the contents of his day pack during a British winter. I hope that this information proves both entertaining and informative. Stay safe, survive and thrive!