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Using Technology to Survive in The Wilderness Isn’t Cheating, It’s Planning Ahead.
Most survival kits look like something from the 19th century. In actual fact, they’re older than that. The assumption is that in any wilderness environment without the luxury of electricity, technology, and modern conveniences, we simply must revert to primitive, past practices. But if you reduce survival to fundamental needs, it’s not too hard to find modern solutions that fit the criteria of those “old” survival kits.
Better yet, they satisfy standard survival kit benchmarks including sustainability, portability, and dependability.
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Basic Wilderness Survival Needs
Any survival kit is designed to help satisfy basic survival needs. They include basic equipment to provide:
- Fire for heat and cooking
- Water purification for drinking
- Shelter for protection from rain, snow, and cold
- Tools like a knife, compass, signal mirror, cordage, and other items to improvise additional survival solutions
In addition, a good set of fundamental survival skills was always a standard recommendation for anyone spending any amount of time in remote areas including:
- Building, starting and sustaining a fire for a variety of situations from winter to locations requiring stealth
- How and where to locate and harvest and purify water
- Fundamental wilderness shelter construction
- Wild foraging in summer and winter
- Primitive hunting skills
- Primitive cooking skills
- Wilderness first aid solutions
- Orienteering and basic navigation skills
- Understanding how to read the signs in nature to predict the weather and the time
These are very old skills that have sustained us for thousands of years going back before the caveman days. But for some reason, we often assume we need to rely on the same tools a caveman would use to survive from flint and steel for starting a fire to the ability to craft a torch for light. There might be a better way and it revolves around a piece of technology that emerged recently:
The Solar Power Bank
A solar power bank is a small solar panel with a series of rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries sealed in a case. There are plug-in ports around the power bank for USB cables and most have a built in flashlight and some even have an embedded compass.
What the solar power bank enables is the ability to use sophisticated equipment that is typically worthless without electricity. On a fundamental level, it allows you to recharge a cell phone up to 12 times before the solar panel needs to spend more time in the sun to recharge the batteries.
It also allows you to recharge an electronic lighter that can make starting a fire fast and easy.
Most importantly, it provides sustainability. A cell phone in the wilderness may be one of the most critical survival tools you can have with you. The common caution is that the battery will die and it won’t work. The solar power bank solves that problem.
Cell Phone Signal Boosters
Another caution from critics is that there is often a loss of signal to a cell phone in remote areas. That’s not as true as it used to be but still possible. There are signal boosters that can be attached to a wireless phone to find a signal in remote areas.
Between the power bank and the signal booster, you have the simplest technological solution to get out of a jam in the wilderness. But even if help is on the way, it still may take time, so there are additional solutions to consider.
The common addition to most survival kits for starting a fire are waterproof matches, magnesium fire sticks, or even a disposable lighter. There are also many other ways to start a fire using primitive methods but the easiest solution may be an electronic lighter. Zippo has a version and yet another product has emerged called Tesla.
They showed up a few years ago and like cell phones, need to be recharged. Here again, a solar power bank can handle that and the result is you’ll always have a reliable way to start a fire as long as the sun continues to emerge in the sky to recharge your solar panel. If the sun ever fails to show up in the sky, recharging an electronic lighter may be the least of your worries.
But What About Water?
The most critical survival need is water. Fire is certainly important especially in winter but none of us will last 3 days without water. There are many ways to collect and purify water but a new and very simple solution is the LifeStraw.
It’s not new technology, but the concept is relatively new. All of the components required for water filtration are contained within a straw, so you can literally dip the end of the straw into any water source and be reasonably reassured that what you end up sipping is safe to drink.
Unfortunately, the LifeStraw won’t turn salt water into fresh water and will not remove heavy metals like mercury or lead. If the water source is fresh water and has not been polluted with industrial waste, you should be safe. The good news is that most wilderness areas are not contaminated with industrial, heavy metals, so the LifeStraw is a safe bet in most cases. In fact, even boiling water won’t remove heavy metals.
But Wait, There’s More…
These may not be a product of the 21st century, but there are innovations that emerged from technology that can satisfy a variety of survival needs.
Mylar Emergency Blankets
When they first showed up, they were called “Space” blankets. That’s because they were developed by NASA and they have remarkable properties including a very light weight and the ability to reflect heat and repel water. They can be used not only for heat but adapted to a variety of other survival uses:
Rain Catcher for Water Collection
Improvised Canteens for Water Storage and Transport
Wild Forage Collection Bags
A Sleeping Bag
A Solar Reflector Oven
A Home in the Wilderness
Cordage may be one of the most valuable tools you can have in a survival situation because it lets you improvise a number of solutions from shelter construction to ways to bind and contain things for water and food transport, snares for hunting, even a tourniquet in an emergency.
Nylon is another modern invention and is lightweight and strong and the best thing to look for is something called “Paracord.” If it’s strong enough to string parachutes, it should be more than strong enough to help you suspend a space blanket to collect rainwater or tie some Mylar into a bag for a canteen.
It also takes up little space, and 50 feet should be enough for most of your needs and you can find exactly that at the dollar store for a buck.
Thank the Swiss Army knife for this concept. A knife is an important survival tool, but the bundle of tools you can find in some modern “Multi-tools” can make any wilderness area a workshop. There are a variety of multi-tools from the Leatherman to others. One even has a small hammer and hatchet built into the tool. Find one you like and add it to your kit.
Back To That Cell Phone
Even if you can’t call home for a rescue, there are a variety of apps for cell phones that can give you the ability to effectively survive. Some of these require a signal to function and others can reside on your phone’s hard drive to still provide you with valuable survival information.
Here are the apps that require a signal for various expanded functions. Check your phone first. Some of these apps may already be installed. If not, your phone’s menu should be able to direct you to additional apps or click on the links below. Most are free.
Maps and GPS
No Signal – No Problem
If in spite of your best efforts you can’t get a signal (even on high ground with a signal booster), you can still store valuable survival information on your phone to use as reference. A lot depends on the amount of memory on your phone but if in doubt, download the “lite” versions. They use up less space and provide good, basic information and most are free.
Here are apps to consider:
First Aid by American Red Cross
St. John Ambulance First Aid
Wild Foraging and Edible Plant Identification
U.S. Army Survival Guide
SAS Survival Guide
There’s also an App called “Panic Button” that allows you to send an emergency call for help to pre-selected contacts identifying your GPS coordinates.
It’s Not All Technology
Some basic needs still need traditional solutions. It also makes sense to have some backup in case your cell phone and solar power bank end up at the bottom of a lake or river or you lose your LifeStraw.
Here are some basics things to think about tossing into your survival kit that technology can’t improve or as a fallback if your technology fails:
- Basic first aid kit
- Waterproof matches
- Basic compass
- Fish hooks and fishing line
- Water purification tablets
- Metal water bottle or canteen
Is This Really a Good Idea?
Anyone who has been in a desperate wilderness survival situation would most likely agree that a cell phone and the ability to recharge it would have been their first choice. They would also be quick to agree that some of the other solutions we mentioned seem to make sense.
It’s up to you. If you want to tough it out naked and afraid in the wild, best of luck. For those of us who have had our share of close calls, it all seems like a very good idea.
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