Friday, December 28, 2012

Wilderness Survival Part 4 – Getting Found…, or Not?

There are a lot of philosophies regarding wilderness survival.  Most follow the modern orthodoxy of staying put and surviving until help can find you.  This orthodoxy is the reason why we should always tell someone where we are going and when we plan to be back before heading into the wilderness.  This simple precaution does save life and limb.  This is also the reason why many trail head signs now ask that hikers sign in and out as they enter and leave the wilderness.  These are great precautions.  After all, accidents do happen and some people over estimate their wilderness abilities or under estimate the vastness and power of nature.  Challenging situations can arise.

But I am going to part from orthodoxy just a bit.  While I strongly recommend telling someone where you are going and how long you will be gone, my approach to wilderness survival—my philosophy—mandates that people know enough about living in the wilderness that they will not need to be found.  This requires skill, experience, and plenty of knowledge about the natural world.  The more we know about nature, the more nature becomes our home and our towns, roads, and houses become the other place we go to when we can’t be at home in the wild.  So, is one lost when at home?  Is one lost when he or she has everything needed to stay safely and comfortably in the woods for weeks or even months?  Clearly, we cannot carry months’ worth of food into the woods, and we may need shelter besides the tents we lug in with us.  We may need medicines.  We will need clean water and basic tools.  All of these things are provided by nature.  All that is really needed then is the skill and knowledge to know how to live in and with nature. 

The skills required to live indefinitely in the wilderness are not gained by only reading a blog or a book.  They don’t come from wishful desire to commune with nature.  These skills come from dedication and practice actually living in the woods.  But once these skills are gained, then is one ever lost in the woods?  Granted, accidents can and do happen.  But the more we understand nurturing nature, the less dangerous she becomes. 

So, what does this have to do with getting found?  In brief, you likely will not need to get found if your skill set is adequate not to only deal with challenges in the wild, but to thrive in the wild.  This is no Man vs. Wild or Survivorman episode.  Rather this is an approach that will help you to avoid getting into the situations they create for those shows.  I promote humans harmonizing with nature.  If the situations get too tough, the fellows in those survivor shows either get help or hike out to their pick up location.  Show over.  Disaster averted.  You may not have those options.  A wilderness expert will need to avoid life-threatening situations when at all possible, and understand that there is no film crew or safety team to fall back on. 

But what if you need to get found? 
  • Don’t think that help will find you in time.  If the weather is harsh, the odds are not great.  You must be able to create reliable shelter to use while you wait, and even be able to do so when injured.  If you are not injured, then you likely will not need to be found anyway!
  • Understand that natural shelters all share the same challenge of being excellent camouflage since they are made from the natural materials at hand.  They not only blend in, but they hide people effectively from search efforts.
  • If you need to be found, then you will need to first create your shelter, and then take action to help search parties find you.

Ways to help others find you:

  • Place brightly colored items like clothing or a piece of tarp in open areas near your shelter where they can be seen from the air and from a great horizontal distance.  Use a sapling or a stick to make a flag.
  • Use logs or stones to spell out a giant SOS in a meadow near your shelter.
  • Build a fire and then create LOTS of smoke by adding wet leaves or pine needles to the fire.  Use a blanket to create “smoke signals”.  Simple puffs of interrupted smoke indicate the need for help.
  • Make a lot of noise.  Whistles are good.  Three gun shots can be heard for miles.  Bang on a log with a large stick.  Morse code for SOS is three shorts, three longs, and three shorts (. . . - - - . . .).  And if you spell it backwards, searchers will forgive you for misspelling and still get the message!  Make noise every few minutes.
  • Try to be in a place where you will be seen and heard. 
  • Movement attracts attention.  Wave your flag.
  • Use a shiny surface to reflect sunlight in the direction of help.  You can use Morse code and SOS this way too.  Reflected sunlight can be spotted for many miles in open country.  That cell phone may not have service, but it does have a shiny screen!
  • Stay put.  If you really need to be found, then don’t wander around.  Get yourself to a prominent, open spot, make a shelter, and create plenty of signals for searchers to find.
  • Teach these skills to your children.  Small kids especially tend to hide from searchers.  They hear yelling from strangers, and that is a fearful thing when lost and worried about getting in trouble!  Tell your kids how to get found and be sure they understand that they will not be in trouble for being found!

But prevention is the best solution.  Make wise decisions in the wilderness.  Know how to thrive with nature.  Avoid situations where you will need to be found.  The real fun is learning how NOT to be found when living in the woods. 

Let me be frank.  You should not get yourself into situations you can’t get out of.  Build your skill set.  Know what you are doing.  Learn the integrity of true self-reliance.  Keep in mind that if you need to be rescued, you will be placing the safety and well-being of many others at risk.  This is selfish and short-sighted.  Don’t be nuisance.  Learn to thrive in nature and don’t be stupid.  Believe me.  You don’t want to ever NEED to be found.  But if you do, then make a reliable shelter and take steps to make the search party’s work as simple as possible.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Wilderness Survival - Part 3.5: Snow Caves!

More on Shelter – Snow Caves 

Entire books could be written about natural shelters.  Rubbish huts, wigwams, rock shelters, lean-tos, dug outs, various log huts, thatched and grass shelters, snow caves, and on and on.  Many of these shelters take quite a lot of time to construct.  For long term living in the wilderness, these are great.  But for emergency shelters, one needs something that can be thrown together quickly in poor conditions.  These are the types of shelters we will focus on for our wilderness survival series.  Again, when it comes to survival, think small, dry, insulated and quick.

Since it is winter (or will be in four days), a discussion of snow caves seems timely.  Snow is a wonderful construction medium.  From it one can build shelters as simple as a hole in a drift through mound caves, a-frames, and igloos all the way to ice castles.  These shelters can be surprisingly warm.  But which of these work when time is limited, darkness is falling and a blizzard is moving in?  How can an overdue adventurer create a life-saving shelter in a minimum of time to get through a surprise night in the wilderness?  Most snow shelters take a lot of time to make and they are all dependent on snow conditions.

For winter adventures, one should plan to spend a minimum of a couple of hours building a snow shelter, and they often take longer than that.  But when time is minimal and shelter is critical, we need a faster solution.

Perhaps the fastest is a simple hole in a snow drift.  This solution may save your life, but it can be cramped, wet, and quite cool.  On the other extreme might be igloos which can take several hours to build, but can last for months and provide plenty of room and stability. 

The Snow Mound Cave

For a medium-fast solution, a snow mound cave may suffice.  I have spent many a winter’s night in these shelters, and have found them warm, quiet, and a little spooky.  These caves depend on snow conditions for stability and some adventurers have died when their poorly built cave collapsed and buried them in their mummy bags.  Not a nice way to go.  When snow conditions are good and there is enough time to make sure the cave is stable, then snow mound caves do provide excellent shelter.  Let’s explore this one in a little more detail.

Snow mound caves can be dug in a snow drift or in a mound piled up for this purpose.  They can only be trusted when the snow is of the right nature to consolidate.  I have had multiple caves collapse on me while under construction because the snow was either too cold and fluffy or had already morphed into sugar snow (hard ice crystals that act more like marbles than snowballs).  If you cannot easily form a quick snowball from the snow, then it will be a challenge to use for a snow mound cave.  For best success, a mound should be built out of non-sugar snow, packed thoroughly layer on layer and then allowed to sit to consolidate for at least an hour before being hollowed out.  This takes a lot of time and only works in emergencies when that time is available.  After hollowing out a cave, heating the cave on the inside and then allowing it to re-freeze will help its stability significantly.  Keep in mind that if you use a drift, you will not know how well packed the snow is.  It might sag down on you or worse during the night.  Also, drifts form in high-wind areas, which are not the best places to build any sort of shelter.

Critical components of a mound cave are:

  • A door a bit lower than your sleeping level.  This allows a pocket of warm air to build up above the door where you will be sleeping.
  • An air vent the size of your arm at the peak of the cave.  This air vent will keep the air fresh and literally save your life.  People can suffocate in snow caves.  This is critical!
  • Walls and ceiling a couple of feet thick or thicker to provide insulation and stability.
  • Room enough to sit up, crawl around, and stretch out for sleeping
  • A door that opens sideways to the dominant winds.  If it is pointed toward the wind, it will act like a wind tunnel and steal your heat.  If it is pointed away from the wind, it could drift completely closed and provide challenges in getting back out.  By pointing the door perpendicular to the wind (or just slightly downwind), the door should not catch the wind nor drift up.
  • The floor of the cave must have a dry tarp or plenty of leaves or pine boughs to keep you from getting soaked by the snow floor.  You will need an insulated sleeping pad to stay warm unless you have a thick pile of leaves or limbs.
  • I usually use a backpack to “close the door” and a candle can be really nice for light and also for heat.

Even on frigid, stormy nights, a properly built snow shelter will maintain temperatures in the 50's just from body heat alone.  This may not seem like the tropics, but it is warmer than a tent, and downright cozy with a winter sleeping bag.

After being warmed all night by body heat, your cave will support many times your body weight, and should last for weeks.
A shortcut to building a mound cave is to dig down into the snow, pile up your packs, and then cover them with about four feet of snow.  Pack the snow as you cover the packs.  Leave the mound to consolidate for an hour or so.  When you come back, dig a low door, and pull the packs out.  This will provide a head start on hollowing out the cave.

Another tip is to bring a complete change of clothes all the way down to the undies.  You will likely get quite wet from sweat and snow while digging out the cave.  Changing into dry clothes is critical for staying warm.

 The A-Frame Snow Cave

The A-frame cave offers some advantages over a mound snow cave, but it is more dependent on the right snow conditions and is not as roomy, making only enough space for one or maybe two people in the best of conditions.  Advantages include being able to build one of these caves without a shovel.  These can be built using only a stick or snow ski for cutting snow.  Also, these caves are lighter, not likely to collapse, and not seriously dangerous if they do.  This shelter is faster to build than a mound cave, and therefore better in emergencies—IF snow conditions allow for it.

To build an A-Frame Snow Shelter, start by packing down a trench of snow about twice as wide as you are and more than twice as long.  Then leave the trench to allow the snow to consolidate.  Even well stomped Champaign powder might consolidate given enough time and the right temperatures.  Warmer snows should pack nicely.  Sugar snow is nearly hopeless for attempting this type of shelter.  Once the trench is firm, cut snow blocks out of the packed floor of the trench using a stick or ski as long as the width of the trench and at least a foot thick and wide.  Once you have cut two, place them on end on opposite sides of the top of the trench and lean them together to form an “A” shaped roof.  Continue making rows of these “A”s until your roof is about a third longer than you are tall.  Then pack any holes in the blocks with plenty of snow and cap the upper end.  Cover the floor of the cave with a tarp and/or pine boughs or leaves.  Make a couple of large blocks for a door.  Be sure to have an arm-sized air hole in the peak of the roof.  The same rules about orienting the door to the wind apply. 

I have used this style of cave a few times, but have found it difficult to build if the snow is too cold to pack well.

The Tarp Trench Snow Shelter

This type of snow shelter is fast and easy to build.  It requires cordage, a tarp, and anchors to hold the tarp in place.  These shelters are warmer than a tent, but not as warm as other snow shelters, and they depend on having enough snow depth to work.  To build one of these, tie cord or rope taut between two trees a couple of feet above the snow.  Then dig a trench about ½ the width of your tarp and a bit longer than you are tall.  The trench should be about three feet deep.  Cover the trench with the tarp over the rope, and anchor the tarp edges in the snow using cord and long sticks or snow anchors.  Then shovel a significant amount of snow on the lower edges of the tarp to seal it up and hold it down.  Use snow blocks to close the head of the tarp and to make a door for the foot.  Again, line the trench with another tarp and insulating materials.

The Tarp Trench Snow shelter is more susceptible to wind noise and wind failure.  However, there is no real concern about collapse, and they can be built in minutes rather than hours.  If time is of the essence, and you have a tarp on hand (after all, it is winter and you would never head into the wilderness without a tarp in the winter, right?), then this life-saving shelter might be your best bet. 

All of these shelters depend in degree on the snow conditions.  If there is not enough snow to build a snow shelter, then opt for a rubbish hut.  In all cases, the key is to start your shelter early – before you need it.  Don’t wait until you are battling hypothermia to get started.  Build the shelter while you are still warm, then relax knowing that the night will pass safely if not comfortably.

With all of these options, choose a location that is sheltered from the wind to build, and one that has plenty of snow.

These snow caves are a lot of fun to build, and if built correctly, a lot of fun to sleep in.  Try making some without planning on spending the night and experiment with different types of designs to accommodate varying snow depths and types.  Get out there with your kids teach them these basic skills.  Nature provides.  Enjoy it!

Please comment with your own snow cave tips.  Do you have any funny snow cave anecdotes to share?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Wilderness Survival - Part 3, Shelter

Once one has calmed one’s nerves and relaxed (see part 2 of this series), the next imperative for wilderness survival is shelter.  The reality is that hypothermia kills quickly.  Hypothermia in simple terms is just a cold body.  I am not talking about cool skin or a mild case of the shivers.  Hypothermia means that heat is leaving your body faster than your body can replace it.  If this goes on for very long at all, weird things start to happen. 

According to Wikipedia, these are the stages of hypothermia.


Symptoms of mild hypothermia may be vague[13] with sympathetic nervous system excitation (shivering, hypertension, tachycardia, tachypnea, and vasoconstriction). These are all physiological responses to preserve heat.[14] Cold diuresis, mental confusion, as well as hepatic dysfunction may also be present.[15] Hyperglycemia may be present, as glucose consumption by cells and insulin secretion both decrease, and tissue sensitivity to insulin may be blunted.[16] Sympathetic activation also releases glucose from the liver. In many cases, however, especially in alcoholic patients, hypoglycemia appears to be a more common presentation.[16] Hypoglycemia is also found in many hypothermic patients because hypothermia often is a result of hypoglycemia.[17]


Low body temperature results in shivering becoming more violent. Muscle mis-coordination becomes apparent.[18][19][20] Movements are slow and labored, accompanied by a stumbling pace and mild confusion, although the victim may appear alert. Surface blood vessels contract further as the body focuses its remaining resources on keeping the vital organs warm. The victim becomes pale. Lips, ears, fingers and toes may become blue.


As the temperature decreases further physiological systems falter and heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure all decreases. This results in an expected HR in the 30s with a temperature of 28 °C (82 °F).[15]
Difficulty in speaking, sluggish thinking, and amnesia start to appear; inability to use hands and stumbling is also usually present. Cellular metabolic processes shut down. Below 30 °C (86 °F), the exposed skin becomes blue and puffy, muscle coordination becomes very poor, walking becomes almost impossible, and the person exhibits incoherent/irrational behavior including terminal burrowing or even a stupor. Pulse and respiration rates decrease significantly, but fast heart rates (ventricular tachycardia, atrial fibrillation) can occur. Major organs fail. Clinical death occurs. Because of decreased cellular activity in stage 3 hypothermia, the body will actually take longer to undergo brain death.[citation needed]

Paradoxical undressing

Twenty to fifty percent of hypothermia deaths are associated with paradoxical undressing. This typically occurs during moderate to severe hypothermia, as the person becomes disoriented, confused, and combative. They may begin discarding their clothing, which, in turn, increases the rate of heat loss.[21][22]
Rescuers who are trained in mountain survival techniques are taught to expect this; however, some may assume incorrectly that urban victims of hypothermia have been subjected to a sexual assault.[23]
One explanation for the effect is a cold-induced malfunction of the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates body temperature. Another explanation is that the muscles contracting peripheral blood vessels become exhausted (known as a loss of vasomotor tone) and relax, leading to a sudden surge of blood (and heat) to the extremities, fooling the person into feeling overheated.[23]

Terminal burrowing

An apparent self-protective behaviour known as terminal burrowing, or hide-and-die syndrome,[24] occurs in the final stages of hypothermia. The afflicted will enter small, enclosed spaces, such as underneath beds or behind wardrobes. It is often associated with paradoxical undressing.[25]

I told you it was weird.  So, first you shiver, then you get disoriented, then you stumble, your lips turn blue, you start slurring your words, and then you can’t think straight.  You start to walk like a zombie, and then you start thinking that the solution is to take off all your clothes.  Huh?  Take off your clothes because you are freezing to death.  Ugh.  Next comes the terminal burrowing.  Wait! Rewind!  Terminal burrowing?!!  How about live-saving burrowing!  That needs to start way, way back in the “I might not get to the car in time so I think I will build a shelter” phase.  This will eliminate the rest of the symptoms.

I had a friend who died outside of her half built snow cave.  Terminal burrowing.  This is no joke.  What is shelter, really?  What does it look like in the wilderness?  If people would just burrow BEFORE they are freezing to death, then they would not freeze!

The simplest shelter does not seem like shelter at all.  The first shelter is simply insulation.  The animals have fur and feathers that they fluff up to stay warm.  Being the nearly hairless human kind, we can’t fluff up our hair.  Oh we try.  That is what goose bumps are for.  But with our limited hair follicles, goose bumps don’t quite cut the bill.  We need to use our gray matter rather than our fur.  If you don’t have enough layers on (you should have planned for that with a fleece and shell in the pack), then it is time to stuff it.  Stuff your clothes with lots and lots of light, DRY, fluffy stuff.  Tuck your shirt into your pants.  Tuck your pants into your socks.  Fill up your clothes with dry fine grass, or cattail fuzz, or dry leaves, or whatever is available.  This will create a very warm cocoon for you.  But don’t stop there.  If you doubt getting to the car in time, then build a shelter early.  Right away!  Don’t wait until it is too late. 

I suppose I should mention that of course, you have a nice warm sleeping bag in your pack, and the dry body heat of two people will keep them much warmer than one.  Get off the cold wet stuff, and get in that bag together.  Don't be shy.  Get rid of anything that is wet and save a life; skin to skin.  Alright guys, I know what you are thinking.  Don't get your girlfriend hypothermic just to use this solution.  You need to be a bit more suave and a little less reckless if you want the relationship to grow!

But lets assume you may not have that bag.  You might need to depend on nature to survive.  Even with the bag, how can you stay dry?  Now what?

Take the time to learn about rubbish huts, lean-to shelters, snow caves, and the like.  They all are similar in that they turn water or snow and create insulating walls.  It takes longer to make these shelters than one would think.  That is why it is imperative to start early--right after you have stuffed your clothes with lots of dry, itchy stuff.   The key is to create a dry, insulated space, and fill it with dry, light stuff, like leaves.  Crawl into that pile of leaves and pull the door closed.  One can survive and even be warm in rather crude piles of leaves and sticks in incredibly cold weather.  Just a note….  Lean-to shelters are great for warm rainy nights and not a lot else.  If it is cooler than warm, you will need a shelter that is more substantial.

We will expound more on shelters in future blogs.  But in short, think small, dry, insulating, light, and breeze-proof.  A stack of pine boughs against a log covered and stuffed with leaves will save your life.  Really.  When it is critical, don’t try to build a palace.  Make a small shelter that will stop the wind and turn the rain.  Fancier shelters can be made in the sunshine. 

And the number one rule is to be DRY.  Moisture sucks away body heat.  If you are soaked, then you will have to get dry clothes, even if those clothes are just a scratchy, THICK pile of leaves.  Stay dry.  Get dry.  Nude and dry is better than wet.  Number two rule for staying warm is to drink plenty of water and eat high energy foods.  Staying warm burns a lot of fuel.  But if you don't have these at hand, get dry and sheltered and worry about the food in the morning.  The cold will get you before hunger or thirst.

Okay, okay, I can hear you asking, “What about fire?!”  I leave fire out of the survival equation.  Unless you have a shelter to catch and keep the heat from a fire, it really offers little value for staying warm.  Sure, you can roast one side while freezing the other, getting soaked to the bone, struggling to keep the fire going all night long with wet and wetter wood.  What is the point of that?  Make a shelter rather than a fire, and stay dry and insulated.  You can build a fire for fun in the morning.  Use it to signal for help or cook up a trout, but don’t depend on fire to keep you warm. 

Wilderness survival:

Getting found

There is more to come as the series continues.  One unmentioned key to wilderness survival is to get out there in the woods and practice skills when the weather is fine and all is fun and games.  Build several types of shelters.  Be familiar with materials that can be used for insulation.  Be accustomed to the time it takes to build a shelter.  Learn to plan ahead and work with nature’s bounty.

Do any of you have a survival shelter idea or experience to share?  Please post a comment.  You might save a life!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Wilderness Survival Part 2

 “For lack of knowledge, people perish.”

What is the single most important wilderness survival skill?  There is a hint in the somewhat misleading title.  Wilderness Survival.  Wrong attitude!  Right from the start there is a conflict.  Wilderness survival implies that the wilderness is out to kill people.  It is declared an enemy to overcome.  Again, this is a wrong attitude which, at best, will cause one to misunderstand nature.  At worst, it could kill you.

In our first blog, we discussed flowing with nature rather than hiding from her or battling against her.  Now is a great time to review that post (see October 20, 2012).  If flowing with nature is important when there is no threat, it is twice as important when conditions create potentially dangerous situations.

Nature is neutral.  Sure, nature can dish out some amazing experiences and people do die when they do foolish things.  But nature is no more out to kill than to nurture.  All one needs to live and even thrive is found in the wild:  food, shelter, clothing, clean air, fresh water, and spiritual nourishment.  Humans lived in and from nature for hundreds and thousands, of years.  Our modern world has removed us from the ancient knowledge and sheltered us from nature’s lessons.  Nature seems foreign.  But nature should be most familiar.  Nature is family.  Nature is our true home.  Nature connects us with our source.

The single most important aspect of thriving in the wilderness is attitude.  Attitude, attitude, attitude.  If a person is scared senseless thinking that he or she is lost or about to die, then odds are good that person will suffer some real hardship.  If one instead finds an inner strength of rest and a practice of observation in nature—a real attitude of working with nature rather than against her—then survival is almost assured.  One can even enjoy and learn from the challenges presented.

What are some dangerous attitudes?

Lost.  Lost is not a condition.  Lost is an attitude.  Lost is only a perspective.  One is only lost if he or she has a deadline for getting somewhere and does not understand how to rest in nature’s arms.  There is little harm in people not knowing their exact location as long as they can be comfortable right there, where they are.

And fear….  Wow!  Fear is an emotion generated by what has not yet happened and will not happen as long as one keeps his or her scruples.  Fear is the fruit of imagination and not reality. 

What are some safe attitudes?

Restfulness.  Rest in nature’s arms.  Observe.  Think.  But don’t over think.  Once relaxed, briefly ponder what next to do and listen to your intuition.  If you feel tension or uneasiness about a course of action, then that option is not right.  Take time and realize that we are not apart from nature.  We are not foreigners there.  Remember, nature is our true home.  It belongs to us, and in a way, we belong to it.

Confidence.  (But not prideful ego.)  Rather, assert an attitude of confidence that all will be fine in time.  Enjoy confidence that you have what it takes to thrive in the wild; confidence that good will come from your current challenges.

Attitude.  Attitude, attitude, attitude.  The correct attitude will save your life when you are in dire straits.  But more than that, attitude will enrich your life and your communion with the natural flow.

In my next post, I will share how to work with nature to secure protection and safety.  But for now, I leave you with a hierarchy of priorities that help not just to survive, but to thrive.

Getting found

     And remember, one is only lost if he or she believes it to be so.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Wilderness Survival Part 1

The next several posts will be on wilderness survival skills.  No matter how you enjoy the wild places, from simple afternoon hikes, to car camping, to extreme treks at altitude in winter, you may find yourself benefiting from knowing wilderness survival skills.

What do we mean by survival, though?  Survivalist?  Who is a survivalist?  One who does not die is the one who survives.  Aren't all healthy people survivalists?  Isn't the desire to survive implicit in our nature?  Don’t let the fringe cause confusion.  We are all survivalists.  But what about wilderness survival?  Wilderness survival simply means being self-reliant and capable in the woods.  A wilderness survivor is one who is prepared to withstand—even enjoy—nature’s fury.  A person doesn't have to be an extremophile to need wilderness survival skills or to be a wilderness survivalist.

So what is wilderness survival about?  On the surface, wilderness survival is about getting out of a tough situation in nature, alive.  But it is so much more than that.  Wilderness survival in its truest form is about working with nature in all seasons and in all conditions not to only survive, but to thrive.  People don’t die in the woods from the attacks of the wilderness.  People die in the woods out of ignorance and by taking unnecessary risks.  The wilderness is not the enemy that is trying to kill us.  The wilderness is just a wild place subject to weather and other uncontrolled conditions.  Our skills determine the danger of the wild places.  The fact is that most people are quite ignorant of nature today.  Ignorance is the threat rather than nature.  So wilderness survival is about knowledge, practical sense, and skill.  Nature kills the reckless and unprepared and that is our fault.

And this is great news!  This means that we can eliminate the dangers of ignorance and then we are not subject to the threats of nature!  This changes our perspective.  We can learn natural skills that will allow us to work with nature rather than hiding from her.  With such skills, we need not fear the worst that the wilderness throws at us.  Rather, we can laugh at the storm and learn from our experiences.

These skills start with proper attitude, observation, and simple, self-protecting techniques. 

Attitude matters SO much in nature.  Understanding that we are a part of nature and not an alien in nature is the first step.  Then knowing that nature has much to teach us is the second.  We can learn amazing, critical life skills from nature.  Knowing that we humans are an integral part of nature rather than separate from nature or a threat to nature is another major attitudinal break through.  But the correct natural attitude also eliminates fear by replacing it with knowledge and wonder. 

Observation then follows as a key to gleaning what information nature offers us.  From learning to see—really see, naturally—we can begin to benefit from nature’s instructions.  And sensing what nature is getting ready to throw our way gives us the “heads up” we need to respond in advance of the coming threats.  Knowing how to respond to these threats changes the threat to an experience.  And experiences make one experienced.  But more than that, when we are tested by nature and found sufficient, we learn something even more important about ourselves. 

Simple, self-protecting skills follow allowing us to respond to nature appropriately to enjoy the changing conditions, weather, environments, and seasons.  Once we know how to use nature to live in nature, then we can relax and flow with the natural rhythms.  Being “one” with nature—knowing our place as a part of nature—is the beginning of amazing experiences and a fascinating education.

Learning basic survival skills is very beneficial not only for safety but for gaining the ability to really benefit from the lessons that nature offers us.  In the following blogs, we will discuss specific wilderness survival skills.

So, what are some surprising lessons you may have learned from nature?  Have you discovered a part of yourself that you did not previously know?  What do you think being a part of nature rather than living apart from nature really means?  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

180 Tack Products

Hello from 180 Tack!

Alright, so this blog is about all things outdoors, but we are 180 Tack.  It is time for a quick rundown of our line of natural fuel, compact, light-weight backpacking and emergency stoves.


Above is the 180 Stove.  Note that it stows away into a self-forming case that keeps any smoky parts on the inside.  Customers have given this stove raving reviews.  They report boiling 16 or more ounces of water in under 5 minutes.  Field tests have resulted in going from ice in the water to boiling in under 7 minutes.  Just a handful of twigs and soups on!  Uses minuscule amounts of natural fuel and leaves behind very, very little ash.  Push a little dirt to the side, then cook, douse, and cover.  Leaves no scars.  Accessory ash pan also available (see below).
  • Weighs 10.1 ounces – lighter than micro-stoves and one small fuel canister.
  • Cooking surface as large as range at home.
  •  No hinges, rivets, welds, bolts, nuts or screws.
  • Environmentally friendly.  No toxic fuels to spill.  No canisters for the landfill.
  •  Lighter than the competition.
  • Very compact.
  •  Much more stable than other backpacking stoves.  Can securely hold even the largest cooking hardware and supports dozens of pounds.
  •  Generous, easy to load firebox to maximize performance and safety.
  • Make fantastic emergency stoves!


Above is the 180-VL.  VL is for “very light”—and it is at less than six ounces.  This stove offers customers a lower price point and is the stove of choice for customers who are concerned with pack weight as a priority.

  •  Weighs 5.9 ounces – lighter than micro-stoves and one small fuel canister.
  •  Cooking surface is generous.
  •  No hinges, rivets, welds, bolts, nuts or screws. 
  • Environmentally friendly.  No toxic fuels to spill.  No canisters for the landfill.
  • Very, very light. 
  • Very compact.
  • Much more stable than other backpacking stoves.  Can securely hold even the largest cooking hardware and supports dozens of pounds.
  • Easy to load firebox.
  • Make wonderful emergency stoves.

Above is the Two Piece Snow and Ash Pan.  Fits both the 180 Stove and the 180-VL.
  • Weighs 6 ounces
  • Allows for cooking on snow.
  • Environmentally friendly.  Protects sensitive soils.
  • Very light. 
  • Very compact, fitting around the self-forming cases of either stove.
  • Accessory item for both stoves.

We utilize re-usable stand-up pouches for our packaging so nothing is wasted.

Since our products are made in the USA, we have very high quality.  We proudly warranty our products against any manufacturing defects.


~ "I just received your 180 stove, man is this thing awesome!!! Rolling boil in my kettle in just under five minutes! I also wanted to say that being made in America was a huge part of my decision making process. There were a few different stoves I was looking at. Most of which seemed over complicated or too much of a "whiz bang" kind of mentality. I like your stove for the simplicity, the use of stainless steel, incorporation of packaging, and the overall mindfulness of the total product. Well done." - Ben

~ "Your 180 stove has arrived and I am more than pleased with your product. It is exactly what I have been looking for.  I have tried other lightweight wood stoves and found them to be too small and unstable.  I have been cooking with twigs for 35 years and enjoy doing so; with your 180 stove all of my problems with the other stoves have been resolved. The lightweight, sturdiness, and ease of assembly makes this the ideal cook stove I have been looking for for many years." - Rodney


~ "I have been concerned about the "what if" question. No power, no electricity and I need something portable that doesn't require limited fuels. This is the answer! Small, portable, easy to setup, and can use fuel that is around me! I would recommend this to anyone wanting a simple solution to a difficult problem. There are cheaper solutions however I like how it's easy to feed the fire and has plenty of room for cooking. - D. Morgan (Wisconsin)

~ I took the 180 STOVE camping two weeks ago, it worked great! We were very impressed with its performance. I like that I can use it in a variety of ways. I actually used it as a wind screen and pot support for one of my canister stove and it worked great. - Clayton

~ "Its a very innovative design and well made" – Malcom  

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Some Quick Camping Tips

The goal for this post is to be a short and packed with wilderness tips.  Some may be fairly common, but hopefully you will pick up a few tools that you will find useful.

Simple tricks to use in the woods:

1)  To wash a pan, use mud and sand to scour the pan, then rinse (NOT dumping the water into the stream), and reheat the pan until it is hot to kill any germs.  Additionally, a sprig from a pine tree makes a fantastic scouring pad.

2)  Pine sap is non-polar.  That means that water will not dissolve it.  Rubbing alcohol will take it off in a jiffy.  If you are in the woods without alcohol, then rub dirt into the sap.  It will not take it off, but it will take away the sticky.  Also, you can use sand and mud to remove it with a little scrubbing.

3)  Pine sap and ashes will make a nice epoxy.

4)  For fire starting, the inner bark of a cedar or cottonwood rubbed between your hands will make a nice ball of tender.  So will milkweed fuzz.

5)  If you know what time the sun rises or sets, you can tell the time by measuring "hands" held at arms length from the sun to the horizon.  Each finger is 15 minutes.  Each hand (excluding the thumb) is an hour.  This is quite accurate.

6)  Flashlights cause night blindness.  On all but the darkest nights, leaving the lights off will extend one's vision considerably.

7)  A bit of smoke from a fire will help to keep mosquitoes at bay.  Mud rubbed on exposed skin will also provide significant protection.  But try not to scare the tourists!

8)  Polaris, the north star, is easy to find and always indicates north.  Simply find the Big Dipper (Ursa Major).  Many confuse this with Orion, so it is worthwhile to distinguish the two.  The two stars in the pan that are opposite the handle point out of the top of the pan straight to Polaris which will be the brightest star in that part of the sky.  If the big dipper is under the horizon then it helps to know that Cassiopeia is on the opposite side of Polaris from the dipper, and the "W" opens generally toward Polaris.

9)  If you get caught without a coat and the temperature is falling, tuck your pants into your socks, and your shirt into your pants.  Stuff your clothes full of the lightest and driest material around (grass, cattail fuzz, leaves, etc).  This will provide amazing insulation and might save your life.

10)  A "can do" attitude is the number one survival skill when faced with challenges.  Consider threatening circumstances to be an adventure that you know you will learn from.

11)  To get more sleep, wear a stocking cap that is long enough to pull over your eyes.  Not only will it keep you warm, but it will keep the five AM light out of your face.

12)  A bandanna has many uses in the woods:  sun shade for your neck, hankie for your nose, wash cloth for cleaning up, signal flag for getting noticed, hot pad for cooking, bandage for first aid, a pouch for collecting, etc.  It only weighs a ounce or so.  Always have one on hand.

13)  When making a fire, know that a stick needs a buddy to burn.  Stack sticks "log cabin" or "tepee" style with about an inch between them, and the heat from each stick will help it's neighbor to burn.  Stack them closer and you will choke the fire of needed air.  Stack them farther apart, and the fire may not maintain enough heat to easily burn.  I find "log cabin" stacks to be better for starting fires and "tepee" stacks good for adding to fires.

14)  Insulation is much better for staying warm than a camp fire.  If you are using a fire, then make sure you are between the fire and a back drop that will help reflect the heat.  Better yet, use a small fire for cooking (with a 180 Stove of course), a medium fire for fun, and a sleeping bag for warmth.

15)  Stay hydrated.  Drink before you are thirsty, especially in winter.  Dehydration not only causes heat stroke but also makes it difficult to stay warm.  Drink, drink, drink.

And last and MOST important.  Make love-based decisions when alone or with a group.  Leave the earth better than you found it.  Encourage others.  Be forgiving and lead by example.  Don't mistake ignorance for intent and seek to share rather than to criticize.  We go to nature to recharge our batteries.  Don't be a drag.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Pile of Rocks

A pile of rocks.  It catches the eye.  The stones, almost timeless, here pushed up thousands of feet above the sea.  The foundations of the Earth thrust higher and higher.   Breaking.  Splitting.  Bending.  Then resting.

Follows wind and rain; ice and snow.  Baked by sun.  Day and night.  Heaped.  Thaw and freeze.  Blow and wash.  Floods.  Sand storms.  Polished and split.   

Finally, stacked.  Carefully.  Precarious balance.   A pile of rocks.

Piles of rocks.  They have been used to mark boundaries.  Properties.  Nations, even.  Piles of rocks.  Precarious piles.

They have formed alters for ancient worship.  Precarious piles.

In the wilderness, we call them cairns.  Way-finders.  They show us how to go where others have set the course before.  We stack them higher until only pebbles fit on top; homage to the way-finders.

Wilderness art.  Art with meaning and history primordial.  We stack the rocks and we think we have done something.  It takes effort, planning, carrying, collecting, and skill.  A pile of rocks.  We did not know these rocks until we came and picked them.  They became chosen.  Suddenly, they exist—to us.

If they could observe, remember, and think…, would they laugh?  These stones billions of years old?  How long will they stay stacked until the wind, rain, freeze, and thaw scatter them again?  Mere seconds in time immemorial, when they were a memorial.

A pile of rocks.  I like it.

P.S.  If you try to cook on a pile of rocks, you will spill your dinner.  Get a 180 Stove!  Ha!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Our hearts go out to all those impacted by Hurricane/tropical storm/super storm Sandy.  Reports this morning detail flooding, electrical power out to 6.2 million people, fires that burned out of control, and snow measured in feet rather than inches piling up along the Appalachians.  More than 40 people are reported killed in the U.S. eastern states alone by Sandy.  And it is not over yet.

In New York City, some areas have no running water, and Governor Cuomo is telling residents to not just clean but to sterilize everything that was exposed to flooding.  The concern is that the flood waters contained raw sewage. 

Along the New Jersey coast there is devastation.   Locals report that they don’t expect the coastal areas will ever be the same. 

Again, we are reminded how important it is to have at least basic emergency supplies on hand.  It will be several days before some people get electricity back.  We have seen this time and time again in recent years.  Hurricanes have stripped away our modern conveniences.  Earthquakes have downed power lines.  Blizzards and ice storms have shut down power for not just days but weeks.  Tornadoes have leveled towns.  As much as we would like to think that we are above all this devastation, the reality is that nature is bigger than we are. 

We are humbled this morning as we continue to hear reports of the damage caused by Sandy.  As those in the East are helping each other and starting already to rebuild, we in the rest of the nation should ask what we can do.

One of the best ways to help in times of emergency is to be prepared in advance of the hard times.  That way you will not be a burden to disaster relief efforts and you can even help others out.  It really does not take that much to make a huge difference.  Have some spare food, clean water, first aid supplies, and the ability to take care of necessary tasks like cooking and boiling water without depending on electricity and natural gas.  Then find some neighbors in need, and be part of the solution rather than the problem.

Mother Nature has shown us over and over again in the last few years that she is not going to spare us.  While we see yet another saga of her fury playing out back east, let’s do what we can to get ready for when she throws her darts in our direction.  Be a part of the solution rather than the problem. 

Our thoughts and prayers go out to those in need.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tips for Winter Backcountry Fun

Sledding in the park around the corner from your house has probably taught you a few things.  First, snow is tons of fun.  Second, wet equals cold.  Third, hot chocolate and a warm house are really useful once the wet and cold have set in.

What does that say about going deep into the backcountry in the winter time?  Yep, it is LOTS of fun.  Yep, wet kills.  Third, that hot chocolate and the warm house are not an option anymore.  There may be no easy escape from the elements.

There are plenty of safe ways to enjoy the backcountry in the winter.  But you have to think ahead.  Planning equals surviving.

Planning at home:

Before you leave, do your homework.  Where do you plan to go?  What sorts of conditions might you encounter?  What is the weather forecast?  Will you have LOTS of snow?  How long will you be gone?  How will you get there?  Who have you told the details of your trip to so they can watch for your return?

Life savers:

·         If you are going any significant distance from the car, take a zero degree sleeping bag along.
·         If you are going to be around slopes, especially slopes steeper than 30 degrees, get avalanche training before you go.  This is a MUST.
·         Always--not most of the time--not just when you are planning the big trip--ALWAYS pack a reliable snow shovel.
·         Have extra layers and replacements for mittens and socks.  Remember, wet kills.  Even sweat can kill.  Several layers of material that insulate when wet, along with a waterproof shell are much more effective than one heavy coat.
·         Understand the warning signs of hypothermia and know how to treat it without the warm house and hot chocolate!
·         Know how to build a variety of snow shelters that can be adapted to a variety of snow conditions.
·         Wear eye protection.  Goggles are best, but at least have sunglasses.  Blowing snow and ice can really claw at your eyes, and the sun WILL blind you by burning your retinas. 
·         Will you need an ice ax?  Snowshoes?  Crampons?
·         You will need gators.  Count on it.  Wear gators.  They could save your life but at least they will save your toes.
·         Take a face mask (even if it is just a bandanna).  The wind will turn your nose and cheeks into frosty the snowman very quickly.
·         Avoid tree wells.  Tree wells?  Yep, that deep pit of soft snow around the base of a tree that is sometimes invisible to the eye.  These can be more than twenty feet deep.  How would you like to be buried upside down in one of those?  It happens.
·         Snow caves make you invisible.  If you want to be found, then put up a flag, make a lot of smoke, or otherwise be seen.  You will not be found in a snow cave.

Helpful tips:

·       ·         Get warm before you get cold.  This means that if you feel yourself starting to cool, or if you are slowing your activity for a while, then put on additional layers while you still feel warm.  Don’t wait until you are cold to take action.
·        Warm hands and feet by doing the snow dance.  Swing your arms vigorously and clap your hands while stomping your feet as quickly as you can.  This will bring life back into the fingers and toes quickly.  It does take energy though.
·          Keep your hat on.  No duh, huh?  Seriously, just do it.  Trap that heat that is trying to escape.  Why do you think you have (had?) hair anyway?  It is not just to look pretty.
·         Drink before you are thirsty and eat before you are hungry.  Seriously.  In the winter we don’t feel as thirsty due to the cool air, but dehydration makes it hard to stay warm.  It takes a lot more fuel to keep warm too.  Stay fed.  If your pee is yellow, you are NOT drinking enough water.
·         You WILL need a way to melt snow for drinking water.  While you are at it, why not drink that water hot?  Keep in mind that lighters don’t work well in the cold or when wet.  Also, many types of camp stoves don’t work well in the cold.  Know your stove, and consider the value of using a 180 Stove with a snow pan.  It provides plenty of heat from natural fuels regardless of the temperature.  It does not have any valves or O-rings to fail in the cold.  It is as reliable as your ability to burn twigs.
·         Shelter is everything.  Wind sucks heat away from your body.  If you are taking a break, then find a sunny place out of the wind.  If you are setting up a snow camp then do the same.  I know it can be tempting to camp where the views are vast and the snow has drifted into nice “snow cave” mounds.  But you will have to contend with the wind if you do.  Choose a spot a few paces into the trees where the wind does not blow.
·         Mittens are much warmer than gloves.  This is because fingers need a buddy to stay warm and the airspace holds heat better.  Likewise, don’t wear tight clothing and make sure your toes have room to swim a bit.  That wiggle room really helps.
·         As you hike, expect your trail to be hidden by blowing snow.  Can you find your way back with no trail?  Can you find your way back in whiteout visibility?  Watch the lay of the land and memorize major land marks.  Use a compass to know what direction you are going and know how to use it to get back out.
·         Take a tarp.  It will provide a wind break when critical.  It will give you a dry place to sit.  If you are spending the night, it gives you a dry place to sleep.  You can use it as a roof on a snow pit.  A lightweight tarp with the reflective “thermo” side has a hundred uses in the winter if it has one.
·         Stay dry.  Did I mention that already?  Stay DRY.  Rule #1.  STAY DRY.  If you get wet, then GET DRY NOW even if that means standing naked in the snow for a few moments.  GET DRY.
·         Oh, and if you need to “go”, then do it.  Don’t lie in your warm sleeping bag all night dreaming of a cozy toilet.  Just do it.  Get up.  Get dressed.  Put on those snowshoes.  Take the effort.  You will get more sleep in the long run.

What else might you need to know?  Start small and work your way up to the bigger trips.  You will learn lots about snow conditions and how they impact skis or snowshoes.  You will also learn that in the winter, you don’t need to go as far to escape the people, and everything looks pristine with a white blanket of snow.  Experience will be your best teacher, but make sure you let someone know where you are going and when you will be back and take a friend.  Everybody needs somebody sometimes.  Most of us could use a friend most of the time!

Oh, and have fun!  Get out there!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Flowing With Nature

Have you ever tried to swim upstream in a river that had even a mild current?  Sure, it makes for great exercise, but it is a bit hard to get anywhere.  How much more pleasant is it to drift with the current and enjoy the changing scenery?  Your journey becomes nearly effortless.

Why the river talk?  We can approach nature in two general ways.  We can swim upstream, fighting against nature.  Or we can flow with nature. 

Some enter nature with a little bit of fear.  After all, at first, nature can seem foreign and even somewhat threatening.  There are no walls or locks to hide behind.  And natural areas can be really BIG.  What is out there?  Might one get lost!  What if bad weather comes or wild animals?  As one lady put it, “There is not even anyone around to hear me scream!”  Such apprehensions are real enough and not entirely unfounded.  Nature is very different from the cities and houses that most of us live in.  And the unfamiliar can be scary.

The uneasiness of the inexperienced often leads them to overcompensate and try to make nature as much like our closed-in kitchens and bedrooms as possible.  This struggle against the “real or imagined” threats of nature can really diminish the experiences we have when we first experiment with hiking or camping.  Swimming upstream is good exercise, but it makes it hard to get anywhere.

There is another way.  Flow with nature.  Work with nature, building the understanding that the natural ebbs and flows of wild places can not only carry us to new and wonderful experiences, but they can even be nurturing.  But to flow with the natural world we have to learn a fair deal about it.  We have to become more familiar with the rhythms of the land.  We need to develop wild skills and understand how nature can provide perfectly for all our needs. 

One of the best ways to do this is to STOP DOING so much.  Sit down.  Breathe.  Observe.  Watch the leaves as they dance in the wind.  Enjoy the changing light as the sun slips from the sky.  Enjoy the antics of the squirrels and birds.  If you are really blessed, you might get to watch deer or coyotes as they go about their business.  What can we learn from such experiences?  Volumes, that’s what.  But at first, we may only learn to be still and to breathe.  Seems simple enough doesn’t it?  But I know many who struggle extremely to do nothing. 

Once you find your balance and meter, then you will start easily learning the other skills you will need to flow with nature.  This is a life long journey and one of the most rewarding journeys anyone can take.  Be careful though.  You might just fall in love.

When hiking just above tree line one late spring morning, a wild snow storm blew through.  I had a light day pack and a jacket and all I needed to weather the storm (at least if one counted all the resources that nature had to offer).  But I observed the weather carefully, and found little threat in the passing storm.  So I hiked on enjoying the absolute wonder of the snow and the wind and the changing scenes.  It was a glorious experience.  Had the weather been more dangerous, I was prepared to take shelter.

The storm stopped just as I approached a small rock cabin perched near a high mountain lake.  The cabin had been built to provide shelter from the rages that nature often throws at this particular collection of high peaks.  Out from the cabin came two rangers who had hid from the storm.  They were burdened with heavy packs stuffed with enough gear to make a camel cower.  Upon seeing me approaching wearing shorts and with only a light pack, they thought it necessary to teach me a lesson.  I received quite the reprimand for my lack of preparedness.  I was warned of hypothermia and many other (very real) dangers that do in the unprepared.  After delivering quite a tongue lashing, the rangers continued struggling down the steep, slippery  trail with their mountainous loads.

What the rangers failed to see was the gear that I carried between my ears.  The storm was no true threat and I had enjoyed it immensely.  And I was prepared.  I carried less weight on my back because weighty knowledge is light.

The rangers were right.  Sudden storms have killed the unprepared.  Hypothermia is very dangerous. 
But they were also wrong.  Nature offered plenty of insulation and shelter for one who knows how to work with nature.  And I had an experience that I have treasured for the last 20 years; hiking free and light in that glorious storm. 

They hid.  I flowed.  I wonder if they have treasured their memories of the same late spring morning….

Don’t be reckless, but learn to work with nature rather than against it.  Gain the skills to encounter nature on new levels.  Be self-sufficient and free by storing up the gear between your ears!