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Ramblings Of An Old Hiker - The Rule of 3

By Steve Grant

Bear Grylls (in true TV drama style) talks about the rule of 3; you can live 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water or 3 weeks without food.  I would modify that; depending on the conditions you only live 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water or 3 weeks without food.  Based on this if you are planning on meeting the unpredictable scenario that keeps you in the forest overnight; how do you prepare.

Whether you are a fisher, hunter, day hiker or a backpacker the misadventure could find you;

1.A fisher traveling an unmarked trail between the vehicle and a fishing hole, especially on the day that he/she carelessly takes the straight line “shortcut” through the woods at the end of the day and the road is no longer where you left it.

2.A hunter that is head down tracking a deer, not looking behind them as they travel through the forest (the forest always looks different when you turn around and head back).  Darkness sets in and it is too late to find your way back to your vehicle.

3.The day hiker that carelessly walks off the trail in what they feel is familiar territory but things don't look familiar very long, darkness is closing in and he/she is not getting back to the trail-head before dark.

4.The backpacker that for some reason is now without his/her backpack.  A tumble into a river where the only way to safety was to shed the pack and swim for shore of there is a stare down with a large animal like a bear or a pack of dogs where the best strategy was to drop the pack (that smelled like food) as a decoy, back-up and make a getaway.

A wild rosebush in New Brunswick

I'm sure there are a hundred other scenarios that could put you into a survival situation that depending on the weather (temperature, precipitation) and your personal condition (are you wet, cold or injured?)  According to the rule of 3 above, your priorities need to be;




If the weather is cold and/or raining (or is going to rain) then shelter can be urgent.  If you are cold and wet, it can be difficult to get warm without fire (not on the list) and if the environment is hot and humid then 3 days without water might be difficult but the above order doesn't change.

If all you have with you is that shiny pair of fingernail clippers and your boot laces, 95% of the population won't pull off the challenge.

Think for a minute that someone warned you that you were going to be selected for the challenge but anything you took with you needed to be hidden in your pockets; what would you take?  And why don't you go into the forest as if you expected it to eventually happen, it is just a question of time?

Steve never leaves home without his survival kit

I crossed this bridge a number of years ago and built my own survival pack that I carry in pocket (usually a cargo pocket).  I've updated the pack several times but this is the present state;

1.1 - Emergency blanket

2.1 - Knife & Firesteel Combo

3.1 - part box Weatherproof matches

4.2 - food storage bags and twist ties

5.3 or 4 cotton balls

6.8 to 10 Aquatabs

7.6 to 8 poplar wood strips 1” X 3” (from old strawberry boxes)

8.3 Waxed poplar wood strips (dropped in melted candle wax)

9.A few feet of Twine

10.All of this fits into a Coghlan's 5” X  7” waterproof pouch

The complete kit weighs less than 7 ounces and fits comfortably in my pocket.  Now lets attack the problem above.

First lets select the right spot; if possible I always like to select a place that is fairly flat, with trees and near water (running water is always best, a lake second and a swamp, beaver pond or stagnant water last).  Sometimes you don't have choice, where you are is where you stay.

Shelter:  It can be as simple as hunkering down under the survival blanket or as complex as a lean to with the survival blanket making it waterproof.  You have a knife to cut branches and some twine to lash them together to make a framework.  Cut some spruce bows to put on, cover it with the blanket and put some more bows on top to stabilize and protect it from the wind.  You now have a waterproof shelter.

Water:  If you have water near by then fetch it in a storage bag, drop the appropriate number of aquatabs in (probably 4), tie it up with a twist tie and set it aside for an hour (be on the safe side – if there is turbidity in the water it will take longer to purify)

Handmade survival pan provides a place to boil water and store his kit

Fire: Interestingly enough, a fire will not only keep you warm and intimidate most animals but will provide companionship (don't doubt this until you have spent a night in the wilderness without fire, it is stark and lonely).  Gather as much firewood as you can, if you intend on keeping a fire all night then when you think your wood pile is high enough, build it 5 times higher.  Gather some birch bark (don't peel the bark all the way down to the wood and kill the tree if you can help), old man’s beard, dead spruce/fir tips and small (as dry as possible) twigs, this will allow you to start a fire with your fire steel and save your tinder and matches in your pouch if possible.  If you need though the cotton balls with light up like kerosene and the poplar will save your butt if everything in the forest is wet.  Keep you fire small, there is no sense perishing in a forest fire.

Food: Most times, if you are just spending the night and once daylight comes either you can find your way or someone can find you then food is not a real concern.  The other point I'd like to make is that the non-outdoors people believe that the wilderness is like the grocery store but nothing can be further from the truth.  The chance of finding a porcupine or catching a squirrel are slim and though there are strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries in great abundance in the right areas, each ripe for a few days per year and plan on the birds and bears getting them first.  If you can find dandelion leaves (there are more on your lawn than there are in the forest) or plantain then you have some greens for supper.  Cattails have a bulb on the root, pith in the stem and seeds in the mature head that can all be consumed.  Open the mature head of the cattail, collect all of the seeds (before the fly away), light the fluff and after it burns off you have something similar to red river cereal.  If you happen to have a stainless steel water bottle with you (which I never have because they are just too heavy and akward for hiking) then you can gather some spruce tips and boil up some tea or cook your greens.

One of my hobbies is working with metal and I've gotten fairly good at building with sheet-metal.  I designed and built a pocket pan out of 1/16th aluminum plate that has a fold in handle that also weighs less than 7 ounces.  By design the survival pouch fits inside,  it all drops in a lightweight ditty bag and fits neatly in my cargo pocket.  The pocket pan will hold 2 cups to the top so will comfortably heat up 1 ½ cups of water making it possible to have a tea bag, a bit of instant coffee, a cup-a-soup and/or an envelope of oatmeal in the ditty bag.  You could eat like a king with a total pocket weight of about a pound.

One of these days I'm going to put my pocket pan / survival kit in my pocket with a bit of coffee, soup and oatmeal and I'm headed into the wilderness for the sole purpose of testing my theory.  Of the hundreds of times I've been out in the wilderness I've never had to spend more time than I had planned.  Not that I've never stepped off a trail or got turned around but I've always been prepared enough to navigate back to a place where I have my bearings back but it's just a matter of time.  When I head out for the test I will be sure to take a camera so I can share the experience with you.

Until next time my friend,


2017-04-25 05:49:05


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