Why you should not focus only on primitive skills

I’ve been trying to think of ways in which I might have ended up in a real survival situation in actual outdoors activities I’ve been a part of. The idea is to design my practicing of survival skills around realistic potential emergencies.

I usually go into deep wilderness once a year for a week of canoe camping. It is not difficult to imagine being out on a big lake when a storm whips up with no warning. 

The canoe gets swamped and all of our gear drops 50 feet down to the bottom of the lake. 

In the frenzy of getting dumped off the boat and swimming to shore, my knife falls out of its sheath. The lighter I keep in my pocket gets swamped and is useless. I have nothing except the soaking wet clothes on my body. It will take at least a few days of hard bush-whacking to get to a road. 

That same survival situation outlined above would be less dire if I didn’t lose my knife and/or lighter. This is on the extreme end of possible emergency survival situations. I think my survival strategy would be very different with more implements and technology than if I had nothing. In the past I focused all my energy on practicing purely primitive survival skills. 

But aside from intentionally going into the woods with no tools or gear, 

I think very few survival situations would arise in which you had to rely 100% on primitive skills. 

Really, one should practice with a variety of gear combinations.

For example, if you don’t have a knife, it is much more difficult to carve out traditional bow drill pieces. You have to find sharp or abrasive rocks and rough out the components as best you can. So even though a small bow drill kit is (in my opinion) harder to use – harder to get a coal out of, you’d want to make a small kit because it is much faster and easier to construct without a knife. 

I have a mini survival kit in a small waterproof plastic box in my car. I’ve been trying to figure out what the ideal kit would contain. Among other things, it contains a magnesium strip for fire making. One day, while practicing the bow drill technique, I realized I don’t know much about how to use the magnesium strip. I tried to make a fire with it and couldn’t get my tinder to light! 

How goofy would it be to find yourself in a survival situation with a deluxe survival kit, only to find you can’t use the goddamn magnesium strip. 

So I started practicing with the magnesium strip as well as with the bow drill. Again with the Puritanism.

Another example is how to build a shelter with and without various gear. You can build a simple lean-to shelter very quickly. It would be totally useless without a fire though, so you wouldn’t want to fool with it unless you had fire making implements. You’d want to focus more on insulation, which is very time and effort consuming but critical without fire when it is cold. If you have long sleeves and something like a jacket or wool blanket in the summer time (when you will not sleep unless you can escape the mosquitoes), you don’t have to insulate your shelter against mosquitoes because you can just cover your head with the cloth. That would save a lot of time and effort. 

Maybe you’re deep in the woods on a hiking trip and you built your fire too close to the tent. One side of it caught fire and destroyed the tent before you could put it out. But you still have a tarp and sleeping bag. Are you going to fiddle with a debris shelter or lean-to? I sure hope not. A tarp and sleeping bag is pure luxury, all you need. If your improvised tarp shelter isn’t cold- or mosquito-proof enough, it’s easy to improvise upgrades, like stuffing your bag with leaves or lacing the tarp shut.

Your survival strategy in any situation should depend on what implements and gear you have available. 

That means that you should practice making all kinds of shelter and fire with varying amounts of supporting gear.

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