The 5 C's of Survival
Gear Selection and a Day Trip to Siamese Ponds Wilderness - Adirondacks
Whenever trekking into the Wilderness or even a local hiking/adventure spot there are certain items you should always carry with you. Dave Canterbury from Pathfinder School has deemed these the 5 C's of Survival. Anything can and will happen when you are out in the wilds. As the Boy Scouts say "Be Prepared". The 5 C's are the basic few items a knowledgeable person could use to stay in the wilds indefinitely and are what we are going to cover in this article. The 10 C's expand on the basic kit to make things a little more comfortable and easier which we will cover at a later time.
There are many options out there for gear. A plethora of companies are flooding the market with what they call the latest and greatest gear. Some of it will work, some of it will work better, and some of it is crap. When choosing gear it is important to think in terms of multi use. This will lighten your load and make packing things a lot easier. For example - A 32oz Stainless Steel Water bottle vs a 32oz Nalgene Bottle. What does a plastic Nalgene Bottle do? Carries Water, snacks and small supplies without BPA's. Ok, great! What does a Stainless Steel Water Bottle do? Carries water/supplies without BPA's, boil water in it to disinfect, cook meals in it, make char cloth, crush nuts with it...etc. Nalgene bottles don't do well in fire or when cracking open a walnut. Get the picture? Their are many genres of gear available. Modern Outdoor Gear, Bushcraft Gear, Tactical Gear, Traditional Gear and so on. A lot of your choices are going to boil down to personal preference and what appeals to you.
Ever hear of Murphy's Law? Well, Murphy and I are old friends. What can happen, will happen, at the least convenient time. Recently, I went on a day hike to Siamese Ponds Wilderness in the Adirondack Park. My friend and I hiked a couple miles deep into the forest through 1ft+ deep of snow. It was 25 Degrees with a light snow falling. We were both wearing snowshoes as we hiked. At one point rather early into the hike I fell victim to a dreaded Adirondack spruce trap. This is an area where either young Spruce trees or branches from larger Spruce trees are buried beneath the snow. It creates a pocket that when stepped on collapses and swallows you whole. They are even more deadly in really deep snow, especially when hiking by yourself. You might not be able to get yourself out without help.
I didn't think much of it at the time. We both had a laugh, I dug myself out and we continued on. Not too long after, I felt a small but sharp pain in my hip area. It slowly worsened until we found a nice spot to setup a fire, cook lunch and relax. I didn't have to move far in our little camp so I didn't really notice the pain in my hip anymore. My buddy prepped the grub and I processed the firewood.
We had an amazing meal of Venison, Potatoes, Onions, Carrots, homemade bannock and coffee. And saw some really great scenery.
We said our prayer, ate our meal and relaxed for a bit. By God's grace I have been blessed by a pretty amazing internal clock. At a certain point I looked over to my buddy who was recording some video for his YouTube Channel. Knowingly, I asked him if it was 3:30pm. He confirmed it was. We then packed up for the couple mile hike out. We had set up 100 yards or so off of the main trail. By the time we hit the trail I had felt that nagging pain in my hip reappear. It didn't take long before it was excruciating to walk. Standing still wasn't bad, but, when I tried to lift my right leg to walk it was all but unbearable. I'm of Irish and Swedish decent. Inherently, I am a tough and very stubborn individual. I fought through the trek back to the truck having to stop about every 20 paces or so. If I would have had to walk 100 yards more than 2 miles to get to said truck I would have most certainly collapsed. Thankfully my buddy took my haversack from me, much to my chagrin I might add, but it did help a bit. I had the 5C's + of survival with me. Both of us were confident if I couldn't make it back that I would be ok until my buddy could go get help. Here is the kit I was carrying.
1. Cover - Cover from the elements is priority one as far as I and most people in the survival realm are concerned. One thing I hear a lot is " I'm just going on a day hike, I'm not going to carry a tent with me, it's too heavy.". Fair enough, I would agree that a tent might be too cumbersome to carry on a day hike. The lighter, easier to pack options would be a small Tarp or Bivy Sack. You can go from mild to wild depending on your budget. Tarp's are a great multi use item. especially the one pictured below. Besides creating shelter you can use them as a makeshift backpack/carrying sack, water collection device, signaling device or my friend and I could have used it as a drag to get my hurt leg self out of the woods. This is the one I carry in my kit during winter months Grabber All Weather Blanket/Tarp. For your viewing pleasure here is a YouTube video I made about using one for a shelter. YouTube video.
2. Combustion - Fire is life. In order to survive for any given period you need to have fire. Obvious reasons being to stay warm, keep predators at bay or cook food/boil water. The secondary benefits are to keep your mind occupied while tending the fire as it makes a great companion. To affect fire you need spark/friction, fuel and oxygen. In higher elevations oxygen is a premium. If at all possible move to a lower elevation. If that's not possible you are going to want make sure to carry pocket hand/toe warmers and a space blanket like the ones seen in the kit pictures above. Most of us are adventuring in the lower elevations most of the time so we only need to think about Spark/Friction and Fuel. Spark and Friction can be achieved many different ways. You should always carry a backup for your backup in this case. Redundant sentence? That was the point. Modern cigarette lighters will work just fine in most cases to affect flame. Even though they might be considered blasphemous among the hardcore bushcraft and survival folk. Should they get wet, too cold or run out of fuel...no fire for you. You should always carry a Ferrocerium Rod (Ferro Rod or Fire Steel) and a striker. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. From simple to custom like the Fire Steel I made, seen here. I use the spine of the knife to strike a spark across the rod.You could also use a steel striker that comes with most readily available ferro rods. If you are feeling squirrely you can go really old school with flint and steel shown below.
In the above pictures are great examples of natural tinders that you can use for your base fuel to build a fire. There are also many sure fire tinders that are commercially available. A book could be written on tinder alone. You can probably take a class in your local area like the ones we will be giving at our store location to get familiar with natural and man made tinders and fire craft. Here in the Northeast a couple really good places to go and learn about natural tinder among a whole lot of other bushcraft and survival skills are Raven Wilderness School in Mass. and Roots School in Vermont. Another really great resource no matter where you are in the world is the online forum for BushcraftUSA.
3. Cutting - If you spend any amount of time in the wilds you are going to need a knife. You can accomplish a gargantuan amount of tasks with the right knife. Cutting cordage, processing food, processing firewood, carving wooden tools/camp implements or getting a splinter out of your finger to name a few. You don't want to cheap out on this one. The right knife will hold an edge with minimal maintenance and serve you and your descendents well for years to come. I always suggest a fixed blade knife over a folding knife as your primary tool. As a mechanic by trade I know all too well of the failure potential of moving parts. I'm not saying you shouldn't carry a folding knife or multi-tool as they can serve their purposes well. A fixed blade is more rugged and less prone to breakage under hard use. Great examples are the offerings from Morakniv.
4. Container - Two types of containers are essential. One to carry gear and one to carry life giving water among other things. A quality backpack will last a lifetime. This also runs into the personal preference realm of things and what your intentions for the adventure are. Their are Fanny packs all the way up to 75L monstrosities. I generally carry a backpack and a haversack. The haversack I have is made by Malcolm at The Hidden Woodsmen. My backpack varies and is always one that we sell in our store. I keep bulky items like sleeping gear, extra clothes, food and cooking equipment in the backpack. All of my Go To Items are placed in the haversack that conveniently hangs at my side at waist level for easy access.
There is a lot of style factor to consider when choosing the right pack for you. However, you want to make sure it is going to be comfortable to carry and rugged so you don't end up using your tarp to carry your gear. Here you can find some examples of different packs in the traditional, tactical and hunting world. A waxed canvas bag like the ones we sell from Frost River have the added benefit of excellent waterproofness. They can be used as a large water container for either bathing or washing gear at camp. There are a bazillion options in packs so chose what works best for you.
We spoke a little bit about water containers at the beginning of the article. To me the best option is Stainless Steel and I believe Dave Canterbury would agree seeing as we sell his Stainless Steel Cooking sets in our store location.. Rugged, food grade and multi-use. Note!!!! I am talking about Single Wall stainless steel bottles. This is very important. Yes, it is a nice convenience to be able to keep liquids or foods hot or cold for extended amounts of time using a double wall vacuum bottle. The major downfall there is the possibility of turning your container into a shrapnel bomb by placing it in the fire. Heat makes air expand. In a sealed space this is no good. Here is pic of a single wall stainless steel bottle in action.
5. Cordage - We can talk for hours about the uses of cordage and how you can make it from different plants and such from the wilds. There are far too many uses to list. To keep it simple I'm going to talk about two primary types that are most popular to carry in your pack for general use. Paracord is exactly that. It was designed for use in the sport of parachuting. Most commonly comprised of an outer nylon sheath with numerous smaller strands of string inside for strength. The more strands the stronger the cord. The most common is 550 Paracord. The 550 means that it can handle up to 550LBs of breaking force. It is very strong for a small diameter cord. The advantage of paracord lies in the strands hidden by the outer nylon sheath. You can cut open the sheath and pull out the inner strands to use for smaller tasks like making fishing line or repairing clothing and packs if need be. The other very useful and somewhat forgotten type of cordage is what we call Bank Line. It is a braided or twisted, tarred nylon twine. It was primarily made for Marine use. This stuff excels in not only making nets but many different lashing objectives as well. It is strong, tough and weather resistant. I carry both types of cordage in my pack for redundancy and options when needed. Here you can find both Paracord and Bankline.
The 5 C's are the basic items needed for survival, whether it is an overnight scenario or extended stay in the wilderness. Sure, you can make stone tools, "rub sticks together" to create a friction fire or use natural materials to make containers, shelter and cordage. In a short term survival situation you need the 5C's and you need them right now. Like the saying goes, it's best to have them and not need them, than need them and not have them. I hope you enjoyed this article. We have lots of these products available in our online store and even more available at our physical store location in Clifton Park, NY. Thank you for reading.
-D.H. Peterson, Vice President of Wilderness, Water and Woods Trading.