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Never stop because you are afraid - you are never so likely to be wrong.

                                                                                                  --Fridtjof Nansen 

The 10 ďCísĒ of Survival


Keith McLain


Copyright © 2010-2013 Keith McLain.  All rights reserved.


Last fall I was watching an episode of Dual Survivor with Dave Canterbury and Cody Lundin. In this episode, Dave referred to the 3 ďCísĒ of survival: cutting, combustion, and cordage. He mentioned that when he was in a survival situation, these were the first things he looked for. I fully agree; these are arguably 3 of the most important things to have in a survival situation. This had me thinking: I could probably come up with more ďCísĒ to add to these 3.


The following 10 ďCísĒ make up a list of 10 categories that are very important to consider when you are in a survival situation. These categories can be used as a guideline in creating your survival kit, a guideline for what to carry with you in the woods, or a guideline of how to prioritize your efforts while in a survival situation. While there are specific items listed, this is not meant to be a list of survival kit contents. Nor is it a ďHow to surviveĒ guide. It is a discussion to give you the proper ďsurvivalĒ mindset and should make a good starting point from which you could either expand or streamline your survival priorities.


Cutting - Never go out into the woods without the ability to cut something. Whether it is a tactical pocket knife, a Swiss army knife, or a sheath knife, it is up to you.  Just be sure you have something on you that can cut wood, cordage, or flesh. Redundancy is actually your friend here: 2 knives are much better than one. A great combination is a sheath knife combined with a Swiss army knife. The tools on the Swiss army knife give it multiple uses and the smaller blade is good for up close intricate cutting, whereas the blade on the bigger sheath knife is good for the larger cutting jobs. Additionally, if you have the room, consider other cutting implements such as an ax, a saw, or a machete. The more you use all these different cutting implements the more you will realize that each has its special niche and will be great for some cutting chores and be mediocre on other cutting chores.


Combustion - The ability to stay warm and dry is going to be one of your main priorities in a survival situation. Although you may have already dressed for the occasion, clothing can be lost, destroyed, or soaking wet. The ability to make a fire will keep you warm, dry your clothes, cook your food, sterilize your water, provide lighting, and give you peace of mind. You should always have a couple methods of making fire on you. DO NOT rely on your ability to make a bow drill or find a couple rocks you can make a spark with. These are great skills to have, but are extremely difficult in adverse conditions and in stressful situations. Instead, carry a couple of the following: a lighter, water proof matches, or a ferrocerium rod (flint and steel). Magnifying glasses can make fires, too: but not at night or when itís cloudy and raining. For these reasons, it should not be one of your primary fire starters. In addition to your fire making implements, carry some tinder. Whether it is commercially made, cotton balls covered with petroleum jelly, or just dryer lint, carry enough to start a few fires and keep it dry. The cold of night or during a rainstorm are not the times to be scouring the woods for tinder. It will be difficult enough to find the kindling and firewood you need.


Cordage -  Why is cordage so important? It will help you make shelter, which is one of your first priorities in a survival situation. This shelter should protect you from the elements: sun, wind, rain, snow, and hail. It should also insulate you from extreme temperatures. After building shelter, the list is endless - anything you would use a rope for.  How much do you want to carry? However much you have room for. You donít need a 600ft spool, but anywhere from 10ft to 50ft should be fine. What diameter? 1/8Ē to 1/4Ē should suffice for most of your cordage needs. 550 paracord is worth considering: it is strong and consists of inner strands which can individually be used as thread or fishing line. Additionally, anything that can be used to fasten 2 items together can be placed in this category. Duct tape has a myriad of uses and 10ft of it hardly take up any room at all. If you are a carpenter, you may be comfortable carrying nails or screws. Knowing how to make cordage is beneficial, though more so in a primitive living situation than in a survival situation.


Container for water -  Water is the next priority after shelter and warmth. You need to stay hydrated in a survival situation, because dehydration will make you both physically and mentally weak. The ability to carry water with you is a huge bonus if you are either trying to exit the area or if your shelter is not near a water source. Anything that is watertight can suffice. Plastic bags, dry bags, water bladders, rubber gloves, balloons, and even condoms make useful containers that take up very little room in a survival kit. However, these really should be your back-up containers. The primary container should be something rigid - that is less likely to get a hole in it. Aluminum water bottles and nagelene water bottles are both durable and have more uses than bags and bladders do. They can be used for digging, carrying things other than water, can be used as your drinking cup, and can be hooked on your belt. Additionally, aluminum bottles can be placed directly in your fire to heat sterilize your water.


Cleaning/deContaminating water -   Drinking water directly from the source runs the risk of ingesting disease or parasites. Anything from fecal bacteria to cryptosporidia to viral contagions can be found in water and drinking these can turn an uncomfortable situation to a disastrous situation. Typically there are 4 ways to clean your water:  filtration, chemicals, UV light, and heat. Filtration is useful, but only filters out items down to a certain size (measured in microns).  If the contagion is smaller than your filter size, you will end up drinking it. Filters are great for particulate matter and the larger contagions. Chemicals are probably the easiest to carry in a survival kit. Iodine tablets or crystals will kill most of what you are concerned with.  Just bear in mind that the turbidity and the temperature of the water do affect itís performance. Also, iodine does have a shelf life that can be reduced by sunlight, air, and higher storage temperatures. Chlorine is also a good sterilizer and household bleach is something you probably already have at your house. It has the same performance and storage issues that iodine does, so for either of these, use more than you think you need and let it sit in the water longer than you think it needs to before drinking. Replace them if you think they have deteriorated. UV light sterilizers will kill everything including viruses. Their main issue is the battery, which if depleted, makes the sterilizer useless. Additionally, UV sterilizers can be broken. Heat sterilization should be something you are already equipped to do: see the Combustion and Container sections. This is one more reason to carry the aluminum water bottle. If you do lack that, scrounge around the area. You may find a discarded beer can or coffee can. Heavy grade tinfoil is worth considering for your survival kit. It takes up very little room and can be shaped into a container to boil water in. The thicker you can find, the better.


Collecting/Catching food -  After securing your shelter and water needs you can start to think about food.  Remember, you can last a lot longer without food than you can without water. Similarly, you can last a lot longer without water than you can fully exposed to the elements (without shelter).  In the wild, food comes in two food groups:  plant and animal. To collect plants you should be using two items that you already have:  a cutting implement and a container to carry the materials. It is important to know which plants are edible. If you have room for an edible plant guide, put one in your kit. If you donít, you may want to consider putting together a cheat sheet that lists the edible plants in the area. Only eat plants which you have 100% positively identified as edible. Collecting/catching food that falls in the animal category becomes a little more tricky as there are many ways to do this. Traps, deadfalls, and snares are probably going to be your best choice in a survival situation. They are force multipliers, meaning that each and every one you set increases your chance of catching a meal. Additionally, they are working while you are sleeping or attending to other activities. One trap isnít going to do it for you; you will need to set out a bunch of them. You should know how to make a couple dead falls, the most common being the Figure 4 deadfall. Collect 3 similar sized sticks and  rock or log, then you can make one in 5 minutes using your knife. Likewise, you should know how to make various snares - either with or without engines. (Engine is a term for stored energy - bent limb or counter weight - to aid in the snaring of the animal and make a quicker cleaner kill). For small game, 3 or 4 feet of wire is enough to make one snare - so if you put 10ft of wire in your kit, you can make 3 snares. For snares, wire is much better than cordage, string, or fishing line - so get wire for this purpose. Another easy method for trapping small animals is using a rat trap from any hardware store. These are big enough to take squirrel.  They take up more room in your kit, but are very effective. Gigging is a good method to collect frogs and fish. Gigs are easy to make if you have a knife and cordage, but you can also carry a gig tip in your kit. For fish, you can use a hook and line - which are a must for your survival kit because they take up almost no room - or you can trap them. Trapping would involve using nets or inserting sticks in the water to make a corral. Donít expect that you will make a net in a survival situation; you would be better off with one that is pre-made. If you have time, making weapons to kill your food should be considered. Bow & arrows, atlatls, bolas, blowguns, spears, Apache stars, and slings can all be made using your knife, cordage, and materials you may find in the woods. It is worth considering carrying a broadhead or two. They come apart and store easily. Plus it is easier to assemble one than it is to flint knapp a broadhead from a rock. A slingshot is very useful too. Carrying the rubber tubing and pouch that are sold as replacements for commercial slingshots is a great idea. They donít take up much room and they actually have multiple uses. Lastly, donít ignore insects. Many are edible and they are a great source of protein. You would probably just need your knife and your container for collecting some.


Communication - Calling or signaling for help -   In a severe survival situation, your ultimate goal is to get help. You may be able to get out of the situation by yourself, but it will be much easier - and you increase your chance of success - if you have help.  How do you get that help? Your first choice would probably be to use your cell phone. Of course, Murphyís law would dictate that you would be out of cell phone coverage. Additionally, whatever caused you to be in the survival situation may have damaged the phone. A satellite phone would be great; so would a SPOT GPS locator. However, both require batteries, take up more room in your kit or gear bag, and have similar fragility issues as your cell phone does. For simple, small, and rugged communication devices, you canít beat the signal mirror and whistle. Although these are limited by the line of sight and the distance of hearing, they are great ways to get someoneís attention that may be up to a few miles away. Reflecting the sunlight into someoneís eyes is physically easier and more noticeable than jumping up and down waiving your arms. Likewise, the sound of a whistle carries MUCH further than the sound of the voice. Additionally, blowing a whistle takes much less energy than yelling. You should always have one or the other - if not both - on you when you are in the woods. Having said this, you really canít go wrong with carrying a SPOT. More and more people are starting to carry them. They are water resistant and shock resistant. A fully charged battery would last  a while. Check out the Specialized Equipment article in the Field Research Manual section to learn more about the SPOT.


Compass - In some survival situations it is best to stay where you are and wait for help to arrive, while in others it may be better to vacate the area. Which tactic you follow depends on you and your abilities, your physical condition, and the situation itself. If you decide to vacate the area, you need to have a route planned. You canít afford to wonder around aimlessly hoping to bump into somebody. Having view able geographic features will help in your route planning and of course, being familiar with the area is indispensable. Having a compass will help you when you are lacking these two criteria. If you know what general direction help or civilization is, you can set a bearing for that direction - and if you are true to that bearing you will eventually get to where you want to go. It is vital to have a compass in your kit, your gear bag, or you pocket - even if it is just a lowly button compass. As long as it will point to magnetic north it will be useful. Speaking of magnetic north, the magnetic poles are currently migrating at a faster rate than they used to. Keep this in mind when you are looking at the declination on your map. Try to get the most recently updated map that you can as magnetic north on older maps could be off by a few degrees. Of course this is not an issue when using a GPS device. GPSís are great; in fact they have almost entirely replaced the aged map and compass. However, they are not without their flaws. Batteries can be depleted, circuitry can malfunction, and overhead cover can keep them from linking with the satellites.  When they are functioning properly they cannot be beat, but when they arenít they are just dead weight. Also worth noting is using celestial objects to find true north. The north star is the most common one to use. Most people find it by way of the Big Dipper, but it can be found with other constellations - most notably Orion and Cassiopeia. The Sun is the next most common celestial object to use. 15 minutes and a couple sticks in the ground will get you a solar compass. Additionally watches can be used as a makeshift solar compass. Lastly, the crescent moon can be used as a similar way as the solar compass, though not as accurate. Having all of this knowledge is indispensable, but still - carry a compass.


Candlelight -  As there is a significant chance your survival situation will occur at night, having the ability to see in the dark is crucial. If there is any chance you will be out in the woods after dusk, you really should carry a flashlight. Since the advent of the brighter white LED bulbs, flashlights have gotten smaller, more rugged, and longer lasting. Should you have one of these in a survival kit? By all means - just check it periodically for battery depletion and battery corrosion. Another great light source to have in your kit is the candle. Candles may be outdated, but they have features that do well in a survival situation. They can be used as tinder (long lasting tinder), can provide warmth, and donít affect your night vision as badly as flashlights do.  It really is great to have both flashlights and candles in your gear bag. Along those lines, Zippo, Imco, and Peanut style lighters are good to have. All 3 are refillable with lighter fluid and act like candles once lit in that you do not need to continuously hold down the flow button like you would on a butane lighter. The one drawback is that the lighter fluid will evaporate even if they are closed, so they need to be refilled periodically. The Peanut lighters hold the lighter fluid the longest, followed by the Imcos, then the Zippos.


Comfort -  Who says a survival situation has to be uncomfortable? The more comfortable you are, the easier it will be for you. In other words, putting your body at ease will put your mind at ease. Comfort can be had in many ways; here are just a few. A tube tent or a space blanket will keep you warm while keeping the wind and rain off of you. Both are inexpensive and can pack up really small. Your favorite candy bar will keep the hunger pangs at bay and make you feel that the situation you are in really isnít all that bad. Your favorite hot beverage (hot chocolate, coffee, tea...) will do the same. Itís always good to have a packet or two of these. A small pack pillow or a butt pad will go a long ways to comfort you while you are sitting on cold wet ground or sleeping on a rock. Of course a reclining lawn chair would be great, but that may be a little too big to carry around. A hat or neck gaiter will keep your head warm and wonít take up too much room in the gear bag. The head is one of the major points of heat loss on the body. Even a book is good to have; it will keep your mind occupied. As you can see, this is an eclectic list. The point is that you need to ask yourself: ďIf I were stuck out in the woods with no help coming anytime soon, what would I like to have to make the time pass easier?Ē. If it is something reasonable, bring it with you.


Conclusion - (the 11th ďCĒ) -  So there you have it; the 10 basic categories you need to consider for surviving in the wild. Each situation is unique and may require different knowledge, tools, or prioritization to get out of. How your body deals with deprivation is worth pointing out here. You have probably heard of the ďRule of 3ísĒ - but they do bear repeating... You can last 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food. Think of this when you are prioritizing your survival chores. Donít take care of one priority at the expense of another. For example: donít eat you shelter. Donít swim across a freezing river to get to food or a nice looking shelter. Lastly, remember your underlying goal in the situation - get help.


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