By Peter Kummerfeldt
While reviewing the most recent edition of a popular outdoor magazine I was reminded once again that the magazines and TV shows have got it all wrong. Surviving a wilderness emergency should be proactive, not reactive! The emphasis should be on what you should do to stay out of a crisis, and then on what you need to do in the event that, despite your best efforts, you find yourself in one. The focus should be on preparing for the event, having the right clothing and emergency gear, not on how to improvise what you need from the environment you find yourself in. As I have said so often in many of my programs “It’s a h…… of a lot easier to prevent bad things from happening than it is to deal with them after the fact!” Unfortunately we only read or hear about the people who had a terrible experience. We don’t read about those who were prepared to spend the night out, did so, and then came out the next day with little or no fanfare.
The media skews reality and assumes that people will never have the clothing and equipment they need to survive the night out. They assume that the victims are going to have to use extreme measures to maintain life in the face of inclement weather, isolation, darkness, and injury! The point of departure for most of the survival articles presented in magazines and other media is that people will not be equipped, or adequately clothed, and since this is the case, it is up to the magazines to provide information on how to survive using the procedures and techniques that aboriginal people around the world used, and in some cases, still use, to live under austere conditions.
And another thing that gripes me – the articles never address how all the survival skills and procedures shown and talked about in the magazines can be accomplished by an injured person? A person with a dislocated elbow for example… or a broken finger? When bad things happen people get hurt and very often it is our arms and legs that are injured. Simple tasks become vastly more complicated when only one hand is functional.
It is also my experience that most people are unwilling to accept the reality that they are in trouble until the sun’s setting at the end of the day, the rain is already falling, they are already slightly hypothermic, probably dehydrated and are about to panic. To ask a person in this condition to go out and find or build a weatherproof shelter from natural resources is ludicrous!
As I have said before “There are no new accidents, just new people having the same old accidents.” The “new people” referenced are today less able to cope with their circumstances than those who have found themselves in similar circumstances in earlier times. So where does this leave us?
Well to begin with, the media, in all of its forms, must do a better job of providing practical advice and recommendations. The survival techniques that are advocated must be techniques that are easy to learn and easy for the average person to utilize under difficult conditions – techniques that work!
Secondly, those people who teach survival and outdoor safety skills must ensure that the skills, techniques, and methods they teach are practical, skills that have been tested and found to be “doable” in situations where lives are on the line.
Thirdly, each of us must accept that we might find ourselves in trouble at some point in the future and if this is the case we must prepare for the very event we hope will never happen. We must select the very best clothing and equipment we can afford and test it before our lives are in jeopardy. It is only through thorough practice that we can develop the confidence in our clothing and equipment needed to protect us.
It serves no useful purpose to advocate the use of survival skills, techniques, methods or procedures that the average man or woman would not be able to utilize when faced with spending a night out.