Lessons learned from life on the trail long-term
Having spent extended periods of time ranging from 21-90 days living off the land in wild regions or under primitive conditions (no sleeping bag, tent, stove, firearms, food drops, etc…), I’ve jotted down a few things that were discovered along the way.
Life in the wilds is about sweat and calories. You only need a handful of bush essentials to transition from surviving to living and those few tools can be critical. The following list is not about my 72-hour survival kit or EDC but gear that would augment that and can be useful for long-term life in the wilds where resupply is limited, non-existent or in an extended grid-down situation.
1. A sleeping bag is a great asset for reducing calorie expenditure and allowing the body to recuperate during those precious 8 hours of warmth at night. Being on the move in the constant search for food and then having to build a shelter wears on you physically after a while and eats up valuable time that can be spent on making more traps, hunting, gear repair and so on. I will take a small, down sleeping bag any day as part of my survival kit.
2. A poncho and 550 cord for making shelters, windbreaks, sun-protection, rain-collection, carrying bedding material (pine needles, leaves), and improvised pack. This will provide you with so many shelter variations. I prefer to string mine up in a diamond shelter or if wind is an issue, then as an A-frame or pup-tent style. The poncho and 550 are companion items.
3. Quality footwear is essential. You can abuse your feet with poor footwear on a short dayhike near home but long-term, don’t skimp on quality boots. Going barefoot may look nifty on the theatrics of a TV show but the last thing you want to have happen in real-life is to have your feet shredded and mobility reduced to zero while they recover. If you lose your ability to move, you lose your ability to procure food and also hamper the efforts of the rest of the group while they wait on you to heal up. Find footwear that works for you and make sure it’s well broken in. My preferred for the past ten years are the SWAT Original Desert Boots and they continue to serve me well but it took many different brands to find one that suits my particular set of feet. You probably have your favorites too. Lastly, as any combat soldier will tell you, the inserts are as important as the boot. Toss out the inserts the boots came with and spend an extra $20 to get some decent shock-absorbing inserts that match your arch and foot contours. SuperFeet is one brand to consider.
4. Leather Gloves- same as protecting the feet, you want to have a few pairs of work gloves to reduce the punishment of your primary tools: your hands. For years I went without ever using gloves while living and working outside. Your hands will develop a tough exterior after weeks in the elements but it only takes one mishap and then your ability to work is comprised. I once suffered a nasty gash deep into the muscle of my palm while breaking up juniper branches for firewood and had to do everything one-handed for the next four days. A lightweight pair of garden-type or leather gloves is a must-have item in my kit now.
5. Spark-rod firestarter: 500 fires in one rod, works when wet, works when you are down to gross motor skills from hypothermia, works one-handed, just plain WORKS- Enough said!
6. Small tin of Bag-Balm salve. Long-term you feel the effects of the wind and constant campfire heat on your dried out hands and cracked lips, especially in the arid Southwest. Sure I don’t need this to survive, but it sure helps with my PMA and helps the hands recuperate from constant punishment and cracks. Heck, my ranching friends use it every day so don’t worry about losing your rugged, calloused hands- it’s for maintenance of such hands.
7. A small cooking pot is a good friend. Sure you can coal-burn bowls, use gourd containers and cook on a spit but these methods take time to become proficient at and require maintenance. I have used 64 ounce coffee cans for all of my meals on several 21-day survival trips and a stew is a good way to go for conserving nutrients and providing a constant broth to add to the next night’s dinner. 32 ounce Pineapple and juice containers are a good size for one person and will allow you to nest a water bottle inside. A handle of (22 gauge) snare wire or a metal coat-hanger affixed to the can will give you a handle and allow the pot to be suspended over the fire. Short of that I have my metal canteen cup that is always in my kit.
8. Needle and Kevlar thread. I’ve temporarily mended torn clothes and boots before with duct tape which is good for a day but, long-term, it helps to have a small sewing needle and a few yards of Kevlar thread. The last thing you want is grit seeping in through a split in your leather boots or gloves comprising your skin over time. The Inuit in the Arctic thought a simple sewing kit important enough that every man, woman and child carried a bone needle and shredded caribou tendon-thread for repairing damaged footwear and parkas- necessary in an environment where flesh can freeze in seconds when it’s bitter cold. I carry two heavy-duty sewing needles in my waterproof match case for ease of extracting when needed. The inner strands of 550 cord can work but the Kevlar is fine material, mighty tough and affordable.
9. Tabasco, brown sugar, and bouillon cubes are must-have ingredients to spiff up meals of a repetitive nature (such as rabbit or squirrel for the 9th night in a row). Out of these three, I’ll grab the Tabasco first if I had to choose. We ran out of this once towards the end of a month-long trip and all we talked about at dinner for the last three days was that red elixir and the magic it imparted to our meals. Both Tabasco and bouillon will also impart much-needed sodium to your diet.
10. If weight and continual movement are not an issue such as when holing up in a permanent basecamp for a few weeks, the following tools are most helpful:
-a bucksaw or a folding pruning saw
-Japanese whetstone for honing my Mora knife and other camp blades
-collapsible woodstove: sure is nice to have one in an earth shelter, shack or canvas tent and is 100x more fuel efficient than having an open campfire. You will sleep better, feel better, and burn fewer calories gathering firewood. Again, this is for a fixed basecamp. I have a mini-galvanized stove that is 20” long by 12” wide and 10” high and have used this in small hogans as the primary heat source. It has been with me on extended trips and even winter treks via a toboggan. I’ve slept out on many a cold night for weeks on end with a lean-to/campfire combo and other primitive shelters and they eat wood constantly- on the average of ½ cord of wood some times and that’s not even below zero! A small woodstove is a critical piece of gear for a long-term scenario in a permanent basecamp.