Heat Stroke

It’s hot outside, REALLY hot.  The air burns your lungs as you breathe and the sweat is dripping off your brow in a constant stream.  You run your fingers through your hair and it burns to the touch.  You feel parched even though you just guzzled a bottle of water and even though you’re walking slowly down the road, you’re heart is racing so fast that you can see your pulse in your eyes.  Suddenly, you realize that you’ve stopped sweating and you’re dizzy, you lean over and vomit the little bit of lunch you had onto the ground at your feet.

This is just the beginning of heat stroke and if it were to progress any further, you could very likely die.  Heat related illness is a very treatable illness, yet an average of around 300 people die from it every year.  In a post-apocalyptic environment, your chances of surviving heat stroke are lessened a great deal.  So the better you understand it, the better prepared you are to prevent and treat it.

Symptoms

Heat stroke, the most severe stage of heat illness, occurs when body core temperature exceeds 104 degrees Fahrenheit and your body’s normal heat regulation systems are no longer able to dissipate internal heat.  There are a number of symptoms to look for:

  • Rapid heartbeat even when not exerting
  • Light-headedness
  • Rapid or shallow breathing even when not exerting
  • Nausea
  • Lack of Sweat where sweating had occured before
  • Abnormal irritability or confusion
  • Headache
  • Fainting

If you happen to faint from heat exhaustion and you’re by yourself, you’re pretty much done for unless you get REALLY lucky.

Treatment

If you suspect that you are suffering from heat stroke, you need to immediatly cease any physical exertion and find a shady (prefereably cool) spot to sit.  Take off as much of your clothes as you can to promote evaporation on your skin and splash some water on your skin.  If you have a way of fanning yourself without exerting yourself, do it.  Sip (and I emphasize this) cool water.  If you drink too much too quickly or if the water is too cold, you’ll get stomach cramps and probably vomit.  Avoid anything with sugar or caffeine in it, these are diuretics and will cause you to dehydrate more.

You can take more drastic measures to cool yourself off.  If you are near a water source, jump in and soak in the water (preferably in the shade) until you cool off.  Avoid water that is too cold because this can cause vasoconstriction which will not allow for efficient heat transfer.  If you decide to soak in water, remember that your head dissipates heat much faster than the rest of your body, so stick your head under the water.

If you are sick enough that drinking water, no matter how slowly, causes you to feel sick to your stomach, it may be necessary to feed yourself water intravenously.  This is not difficult to do, but I will not go into it in this article.

Prevention

Urine Color Chart
Urine Color Chart

The most important thing you can do to prevent heat stroke is to drink fluids.  Stay hydrated!  Don’t gauge your hydration on thirst, especially in extreme heat.  By the time you’re thirsty, it’s already too late.  A better judge of hydration is the color of your urine.  On the included chart, you can see what color your urine should be and drink accordingly.  You should avoid drinking anything with a lot of sugar, caffeine, or alcohol as these will cause you to get dehydrated much faster.  You should be drinking 16-32 ounces of water an hour in extreme heat or when physically active.  Almost as important as hydration is salt intake.  If you drink too much water without replenishing salt and minerals this will lead to a condition called hyponatremia which can cause sudden heart failure and death.

When eating, avoid heavy meals and hot foods.  Particularly during the mid-day hours.  These types of foods tend to raise your core temperature and thus raise your risk of heat stroke.

Avoid being in the sun, especially during mid-day since this is when it will be hottest out.  If you have to be outside in the sun, limit your exposure time and level of exertion.  Take lots of breaks and be aware of how you feel.  You should try to wear lighweight clothing that is lighter in color, light colors reflect sunlight and the accompanying radiant heat and lightweight materials like cotton will draw sweat away from your skin and allow for quicker evaporation (and thus quicker cooling).

Avoid enclosed spaces (like a car) if at all possible.  Inside a building (assuming there is no air conditioning) should be okay, but just be wary of buildings that are warm inside.

Protect your head!  Wear a hat that will block sunlight from all sides.  There are hats out there that have vents in them.  Those vents allow for greater air flow, which will keep your head much cooler than a hat without them.

If at anytime you start to feel hot, take a break, dunk your head in some water, sit down and drink some water, etc.  Don’t feel like you ever need to power through it.

Further Reading



How to Fashion a Make Shift Knife

In a survival situation, a knife can be one of your most important tools.  It’s a weapon and an eating utensil.  You can cut rope with it.  You can dig with it.  You can peel bark from a tree to use as fire fuel.  You can skin an animal with it.  It’s a very verstile tool that can come in handy in any number of situations.  You should keep one in your Go Bag, but for some reason or another, if you lose that knife I’m going to show you how to manufacture a field expedient knife to use until you can get your hands on a new knife or can forge yourself a new one.

First of all, a knife performs three basic functions: piercing, slashing, and cutting.  Ideally, a knife will do all three, but in some cases a field expedient knife will only ever be able to do one or two.  You can fashion a knife out of all sorts of material: metal, wood, stone, bone, glass, plastic…  It all depends on what you have available.

Metal

Your obvious first choice for a knife material, metal is going to probably be scarce and especially metal that is small and thin enough to be used as a knife.  However, if you’re lucky enough to stumble on a piece you will be able to fashion a knife that will last you a very long time and that you can resharpen.

If you don’t have tools to work on it, most metal is nearly impossible to manipulate.  So if you can’t find a piece that is pretty close to what you want you might not be able to make a knife.  You can try hammering the piece into the shape you want, but this will only work on soft metals.

Once the rough knife is in the general shape you want, you need to sharpen the edge.  This can be accomplished by running the edge across any rough surfaced stone (including pavement).  You will get a better effect if you get the stone wet before attempting to sharpen it.

If you want to get a REALLY sharp edge, rub the edge of your knife on unpolished ceramic.  If you look at the bottom of a coffee cup, you’ll notice that rough ring that the cup sits on.  That ring is unpolished ceramic and will even sharpen forged knives, including the knives you have in your kitchen right now.  Yes, this tip applies to non-survival scenarios too!

Stone

Stone is one of the most reliable and sturdy materials to make a knife from.  Since its such a sturdy material, you will need a couple of specialty tools to make the knife:

  • Chipping Tool – a chipping tool is a blunt tool used to break off pieces of stone
  • Flaking Tool – a flaking tool is pointed to break off flat pieces from the stone

The first consideration you need to make is the actual stone you will make into a knife.  You need to use a soft enough stone that you’ll be able to carve it with your tools.  Secondly, it’s totally up to you how long you want the blade, but you need to account for a handle or a tang to attach a handle.  If you can find a rock that’s already close to the shape of a knife you;re in business.  If worse comes to worst, you can use your chipping tool on the edge of a boulder and try to knock a piece loose to make a knife from.

Get the general shape of your knife using the chipping tool.  Strike your soon-to-be knife with one end of the chipping tool repeatedly until the knife holds the desired shape.  Try to keep your knife relatively thin – the thinner it is, the easier to get a sharp edge.  However, don’t get it too thin or else you run the risk of the knife breaking under stress.

The flaking tool requires a little more finesse.  PLace the flaking tool against the knife near the edge and apply pressure until pieces break off from the knife.  Don’t press too hard, or you could end up break off a chunk of your knife that you didn’t want to lose and it won’t have a sharp edge to it.  Continue doing this down the length of one, or both, sides of the knife until you have a blade edge.  Make sure to leave enough unsharpened length to be the handle or tang.

If you choose, you can attach a seperate handle to your knife.  Just tie a piece of wood or some other material to the base of the knife.  Make sure to secure it tightly or else you’ll have problems with the handle coming loose later (which could in turn cause injury).

Bone

Bone is a step up from wood, but it isn’t going to be as easy to find.  So given the choice between the two, go for bone.  Your first consideration is the size of the bone.  If it’s too small, you won’t be able to make a knife out of it.  To make a knife out of bone, you’re going to shatter the bone so a larger bone is going to create more shards.  Once you’ve found a suitable bone, place it on a hard surface and smash it with something heavy like a rock.  Go through the shards and find one appropriately pointy with the potential for a sharp edge.  Sharpen the edge of your shard against a rough surface (like cement).  Don’t forget to leave a portion unsharpened as a handle or tang to attach a handle.

Wood

Wood is easily the most abundant resource you will find in most of the world.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t make for an ideal knife-making material.  If you make a knife from wood, you will only be able to use it to puncture things and the point will go dull fairly quickly at that.  If you look at a piece of wood, you can see the grain is either straight or in a circle.  The straighter the grain, the further from the core of the branch/tree the piece is.  If there is no grain, it means the piece of wood is from the pith (the layer of wood seperating the tree from the bark).  You want to avoid wood that is from the core of the tree/branch and you want to avoid pith.  Both types of wood are weak and will crumble or snap if used as a knife.  Select a piece that’s roughly a foot long and shave the tip down to a point using a rough surface (like cement).  Once you’ve sharpened the point to the desired point, place the blade over a fire and let it slowly dry until it is lightly charred.  This process is known as “fire hardening” and will make the point hard and it will take longer to dull.

Bamboo

Fashioning a blade out of bamboo is very similar to wood.  However, bamboo is capable of holding an edge.  When shaping the knife, remember that the hardest part of bamboo is the out shell so try to keep as much of this layer as possible.  When fire hardening bamboo, only char the inside

Glass

When glass is broken, it naturally make a sharp edge so it is ideally suited as a knife.  Unfortunately, glass is incredibly brittle so you can’t use it for heavy duty work.  All you need to do for a handle is wrap a piece of cloth around the base of the shard.

Ceramic

The ceramic used to make coffee cups is similar to glass so in a pinch you can break a coffee cup and use the piece attached to the handle as a knife.

Plastic

Have you ever stabbed yourself while trying to open up a new piece of electronics?  If not, you’re lucky but if so you are painfully aware of how effective plastic can be as a knife.  You can also sharpen plastic—if it is thick enough or hard enough—into a durable point for puncturing.

Further Reading

How to Build a Shelter

Shelter is one of the most underrated and important aspects of survival.  A shelter provides you with three things: protection from the elements, a place to hide from predators, and a place that provides psychological and physical comfort.  Face it, you’re going to need to sleep some time and which sounds more appealing: a tent and bed of pine needles or laying under the stars on miscellaneous twigs and branches?  If you’ve never slept on the ground with no padding, let me tell you – it sucks!  You get poked in the back all night by twigs and rocks, you get cold and shiver yourself awake, and you wake up as tired as (if not more tired than) when you went to bed.  Building a shelter, however paltry, will improve your condition phenominally.

Shelter Site

More than the materials you use, the site you build on is important.  Nature can be a bitch and ruin the best established shelters. 

It’s pivotal that you stay dry overnight so you want to avoid being too close to water sources or potential water sources (like dry river beds).  It could rain and the water source could flood and get you wet or you could drown if its bad enough.  Insects tend to reside near water also, so you could have a big problem with them if you’re too close to the water.  You also don’t want to be too far away from water sources either.  The further from water you are, the further you have to travel to get water and food (indirectly).

Look for a place with a lot of fallen, dry wood if you can.  You can use this wood to build your shelter or for firewood.  Dead trees could potentially fall at any time so be wary of setting up to close to them.  However, a fallen tree can make a superb backbone for a shelter.

Avoid ravines and valleys.  Low ground like this can collect moisture and become incredibly damp and soggy at night.  Cold air sinks too, meaning that you’re going to be sitting in all the accumulated cold air while you’re trying to sleep.  You also need to be mindful of wind and how to avoid it.  Large logs, boulders, and dirt berms are all good ways to block wind.  Your shelter will only do so much against the wind and the more you can block it outside your shelter, the better.

You’re basically looking for a dry, well drained area that is either flat or on top of a hill.

Basic Guidelines

No matter what type of shelter you build, there are some basic guidelines and suggestions to follow when building.  First of all, make your shelter no bigger than necessary.  The larger the shelter, the harder time you’ll have holding in the heat.  Fir tree branches make excellent insulation so use them as the roofing of your shelter if feasible.  If you are building a shelter in sub-freezing temperatures, pour water over the roof of your shelter if it’s thatched.  The water will freeze and create an insulative layer.  You may be tempted to use scrap metal you found to build a shelter.  This is not a good idea.  Metal is reflective, which means it will reflect most of the heat from the sun when you want it to be absorbed.

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, snow is one of nature great insulators.  The more you use it, the greater the amount of body heat you’ll retain.  Why do you think the eskimos built shelters out of snow (igloos)?  It wasn’t because of it’s pretty white color!

If you plan to have a fire inside your shelter, make sure you have some sort of ventilation in the roof of your shelter.  Smoke inhalation isn’t fun when you’re out in the woods.  If you don’t plan on having a fire inside your shelter, you can always heat some stones up on a fire outside and then bring them into the shelter with you for warmth.  You won’t have to deal with smoke or potentially burning your shelter down, but they won’t stay warm as long as a fire will.

Don’t leave the opening of your shelter wide open after you enter it.  Have some way of closing yourself off from the outside world.  Be it a large boulder, a snow plate, or just a few tree branches every little bit counts.

Bedding

As I said before, sleeping on the ground saps the heat right out of you.  80% of your body heat is lost to the ground while at rest.  Grass and pine needles make an excellent mattress and insulate against the cold ground very well.

If it’s dry, you can simply dig a hole in the ground and cover it with large sticks, followed by smaller, dense boughs.  If it’s raining or wet, avoid burrowing in a hole and get off the ground. If this isn’t possible at the time, make cover on flat or sloped land so rainwater can drain.

You can build a cot to keep you off the ground if you have the time, energy, and resources.  Find two long, sturdy branches and roll them into whatever you are using to lay on (a poncho, tarp, blanket, etc.) like a long scroll leaving about a foot of wood exposed at each end.  If you don’t have any material to do this, you can lash branches perpendicular to the long branches (this will look similar to a ladder when finished), and use grass, pine needles, and any other plant material as a sort of bedding on the cot.  Then simply lash the cot to trees a few feet off the ground.  If there are no trees to accomadate, you can use branches stuck firmly into the ground.  This is particularly useful in a swamp or other damp environment.

Debris Hut

A debris hut is a very basic shelter that is great if you are in an area with lots of dead wood available.  The basic design mirrors how animals build their dens or nests in the wild.  To build a debris hut:

  1. Find a long sturdy branch to use as the central pole of your hut.  This is called the ridgepole.  Place one end on the ground and the other against a tree, stump, boulder, etc.  If there is a fallen tree that makes the same angled shape, you can use it as your ridgepole.
  2. Create a ribbed frame by leaning branches against, and lashing them to, your ridgepole all along its length.  Make sure to leave enough space between two of the ribs so that you can fit through (this will be your entrance).
  3. You will eventually be placing insulating materials over your frame, but before you do that you need to create a lattice that will hold your material.  Place smaller sticks crossways over the ribs of your hut.
  4. Now, when you start putting leaves and pine needles on your frame, it won’t fall through.  Pile this stuff on top of your frame so that it’s at least 2 feet thick – the thicker, the better.  This is where the name of the shelter comes from, because you can use whatever debris is laying on the ground.
  5. Find something to cover the entrance to your shelter: a rock, a pile of debris, etc.

A one man shelter is very similar to a debris hut, the only difference is that a one man shelter uses a poncho, tarp, or some other similar material to cover the frame instead of debris.  You could very easily combine the two concepts to create an even better shelter.

Tree Pit

If you find yourself in a deep snow environment, a tree pit may be the best possible shelter you can use.  By deep snow, I mean snow deep enough that it reaches the bottom branches of a tree.  To build a tree pit:

  1. Find an evergreen tree that has low hanging branches that reach out far enough to cover you.  The snow needs to be deep enough that the branches are essentially touching the snow.
  2. Break away one or two of the branches so that you have access to the underlying snow.
  3. Dig away the snow under the tree to a depth and diameter that is comfortable for you.  Just remember the smaller the space, the more easily you’ll retain body heat.  One thing to keep in mind is that cold are sinks, so it might be wise to build a platform to sleep on that is at least a foot higher than the floor of the pit.
  4. Pack the snow on the walls of your shelter as tightly as possible to avoid a collapse.
  5. Use the branches you broke off earlier and any other found branches to cover your entrance.

Beach Shade Shelter

A beach shade shelter is exactly what it sounds like: a shelter to provide shade on the beach.  Obviously, this shelter is ideal for the beach, but is also useful in any hot, sandy region.  To build a beach shade shelter:

  1. Dig a trench in the sand running in a North-South direction.  The direction is important because it minimizes the amount of sun exposure inside the shelter.  Make sure that the trench is big enough for you to lay down in comfortably.
  2. Mound the sand you dig out of the interior of your shelter on three of the four sides of the shelter (the fourth side will be your entrance).
  3. Lay wood or other materials across the trench to make a framework for the roof of your shelter.
  4. Lay a blanket, tarp, poncho, or grass over top of the trench to make shade inside.

Further Reading

How to Set a Bone

Face it, if you get injured you never really think its a big deal.  Everybody these days has suffered a broken bone at least once and are not worse for wear.  That’s because we have advanced medical knowledge and antiseptics.  Imagine if you were to break your arm right now and you were the only person you could rely on.  The quicker it heals the better off you are, and if you can get the bone placed properly then you won’t have any lasting effects from the break.

First of all, you need to recognize when a bone is actually broken.  Obviously, if a piece of bone has punctured the skin and is jutting out, its broken; and if the bone is bent in a place it shouldn’t be bent at, it’s broken.  But, minor fractures have a way of hiding themselves (and if you’re like me, you refuse to acknowledge injury and insist on “toughing it out”).  You need to check for bruising, swelling, or sharp tenderness at a very focused point.  Feel the area for any breaks on the bone (this will feel like a crack or the bone will have some “give” to it).  Likely, if a bone is broken you won’t be able to move it much because of the pain.

For non-compound fractures (those where the bone is not protruding from the skin), you need to align the bone to the position it should be in.  To avoid causing more breaks or damage, lightly pull the bone fragment away from the fracture site while realigning it.  Once the bone is properly aligned, put it in a brace or some other contraption to immobilize the bone.  You need to make sure that the bone stays as still as possible to ensure quick and proper healing.  Monitor the break site constantly to ensure that there is no infection or internal bleeding.

In the case of internal bleeding or a compound fracture, the best advice is to seek out a medical professional.  Compound fractures are nasty and typically require surgery in order to save the limb.  There are tendons, ligaments, veins, arteries, and all sorts of other tiny little things that can get caught, pinched, ripped, or otherwise damaged.  But assuming that you have no access to a professional or won’t have access to a professional anytime soon you can do the following.  I must emphasize right now that if you have even the possibility of medical assistance, just leave the fracture, bind the wound and get to that assistance because what I’m about to suggest is the last ditch and is probably going to do more damage.

That being said, in the end-of-the-road, last-ditch, last-man-on-earth scenario, here’s how you deal with a compund fracture.  You need to realign the bone in the proper place.  In this situation, the two bone fragments are essentially sitting next to each other and you need to move one on top of the other.  This means you will be doing the same thing you would do for a simple fracture, but more extreme.  You need to pull the one bone fragment hard enough that you can replace it at the end of the other bone fragment and then line everything up.  If you are doing this yourself it is going to hurt… a LOT (it’s going to hurt anyway, but you need to account for the pain if you do it yourself).  At this point, bind the wound and place the bone in a splint.  Keep it immobile until its healed.  Since this was a compund fracture and you just essentially used a chainsaw where a scalpel was needed, you need to be VERY deligent in checking the fracture site.  You can assume that the area is infected, take a lot of antibiotics to try and combat the infection.  You can assume that you ripped all the tendons, ligaments, veins and arteries to shreds at the fracture site, assume that you won’t ever walk quite right again.  Be especially watchful for bruises from pooling blood (i.e. internal bleeding).  If worse comes to worst (and this might be a more viable option for the beginning), you can always amputate.  Again, let me reiterate: IT IS A BAD IDEA TO TRY TO TREAT A COMPOUND FRACTURE YOURSELF.

How to Gather Water

Let’s face it.  You won’t survive a week if you don’t have any water to drink, and you won’t last much longer on contaminated water.  So not only is it important to get water, but clean water.  You should be drinking roughly 2% of your body weight (generally around 1.5 liters) in water every day.  If you are in a situation where you are sweating more than normal you should be drinking that every hour.

The obvious choice for clean water, is bottled water.  As a society we have become obsessed with drinking bottled water, and as much as you may disagree with that it will certainly benefit you during the apocalypse.  So look at a supermarket, convenience store, or any other store or restaurant really and you’re bound to find bottled water.

As with everything else, bottled water is not sustainable.  Eventually, it’ll run out and you’ll have to find another way to get water.  There are many things in nature that naturally hold clean water.  For instance, bamboo is hollow in the center so it catches rain water and hold it for a long time.  You just need to punch a hole in the the bamboo to access the clean, clear water.

However, you may not be lucky enough to be anywhere near any of these types of plants.  You’ll need to manufacture your own gathering system.  The easiest of these is probably a dew trap.  To create a dew trap, dig a hole in the ground 2 feet deep, lay some vegetation like palm fronds or grass on the bottom of the hole, lay rocks on top of that, and then more vegetation on top of the rocks.  Leave this apparatus overnight and first thing in the morning, the rocks with be covered in dew.

You can also build a rain catcher.  You need a sheet of waterproof material, like a tarp or (preferably) a poncho.  Make a hole in the center and hang it outside.  Put a bucket or other receptacle under the hole and when it rains you will have a bucket full of water.  Don’t drink this water straight though.  This water will likely be clean, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

If you’re in a snowy region, you are literally surrounded  by water.  Most survival experts will caution you against eating snow because it lowers your core temperature and, if the snow is cold enough, blister your mouth and cause ulcers.  In my opinion, if you’re thirsty, you’re thirsty, just eat a little bit at a time.

If you don’t trust yourself to not gobble down the fluffy white stuff, you can make a Finnish Marshmallow, which is simply a snowball on a stick set over a cup near a fire.  It will melt fairly quickly and you’ll have a nice cool glass of water.

The same principle can be applied while you’re on the move.  Fill a canteen or bottle with snow and keep it inside your jacket to let your body heat melt the snow.

The Last Resort

You just drank the last of your water and none of the above applies to you right now.  What can you do for water?  Some really gross things, that’s what!  These options are last ditch efforts, not only because they go against our fundamental sense of decency, but because they are potentially harmful to you.

First of all, you can drink your own urine as long as its fresh and you are relatively hydrated to begin with.  Essentially, if you’re still peeing clear, you’re okay to drink your pee.

Elephant dung is a combination of both undigested and digested (yuck) vegetation.  This makes it a spongy consistency that contains water.  It can have harmful bacteria in it (after all it IS feces) but if you need water it will help, just don’t drink a large quantity of it.

How to Avoid Infection During an Outbreak

One of the possible world-ending disasters is a global disease pandemic.  Depending on how infectious the disease in question is, it could affect the world population in a matter of days to a matter of weeks or months.  In heavy population centers, the disease will spread faster.  There are certain things that can help you avoid infection.

Be Immune

In the case of most diseases there is a percentage of the population that will be unaffected by a particular disease.  While there is nothing you can do to make yourself immune (unless you’re a brilliant doctor with access to a lab), it is the best defense against disease.  That being said, we are talking about disease.  Whether viral or bacterial, it is likely to mutate at some point, if this happens it’s possible that those that were previously immune are no longer immune.  Because of this, it’s best to adhere to the following suggestions in order to avoid infection regardless of immunity.

Social Distancing

The most likely way to contract the disease is through contact with others.  The logical solution, then, is to avoid people as much as possible.  If you can’t avoid contact with others, try to avoid physical contact or getting too close to them.

Protective Gear

In the case that you cannot avoid contact with other people, you should wear some kind of protective gear to prevent infection.  Disease are spread on many different vectors.  Your best bet is to wear a biohazard protective suit.  These suits essentially negate the fact that you were in contact with someone else.  However, in the case that you don’t have one of these suits, you can wear a respirator to block airborne pathogens, or you can wear glasses or goggles and medical gloves to protect against contact pathogens.

Wash Your Hands

Your mother always nagged “Wash your hands before you come to dinner!” for good reason.  You have no idea what you’ve been exposed to throughout the day and you could end up with a pathogen on your hands.  This is a good practice regardless, since you don’t know what nasty little things you may pick up on your hands and in a post-apocalyptic world like this you can’t rely on doctors to cure something we consider trivial nowadays.

Following these steps won’t guarantee you stay safe from viral infection, but it can increase your chances of safety.

How to Cope with Loneliness

So, civilization is in shambles, anarchy is the order of the day, you’re fleeing whatever catastrophe zone you were in when disaster struck. You’ve survived off the land and have been making steady progress toward a safe place to survive. You haven’t seen a soul for weeks and the loneliness is starting to weigh down on you like a slab of marble on your chest. How do you cope with being alone for an indefinite period of time?

The reaction to loneliness is called a “coping strategy” and fits into one of four categories: active solitude, spending money, social contact, and sad passivity. Active solitude is where you stay active, perform tasks to keep yourself mentally and physically active. Spending money is more about getting out of your normal environment and acquiring new things and less about the actual act of spending money. Social contact is striving to talk to people and have social interactions with others. Sad passivity is when you sit around feeling sorry for yourself, partaking in activities that exacerbate the empty feeling of loneliness you have.

Most experts agree that keeping yourself mentally and physically fit is the best way to cope with loneliness. In a survival situation it’s important to conserve energy, but if food and water are plentiful it can’t hurt to do a few calisthenics first thing in the morning. If you are in a stable situation, you can go for a jog or a walk.

Mental activity is just as important as physical activity. Putting your thoughts to paper is probably the best thing you can do. It allows you to reflect on your day, what happened, what you were thinking, thoughts, hopes, fears, etc. It allows you to process any difficult things from the day. The problem is that you need paper to write on and a pen to write with. Even if you have these things, how long will they last? By no means am I saying you shouldn’t keep a journal, you just need to be aware of your supplies. Whether you brought one with you or you find it in an abandoned gas station on your way, reading a book can keep your mind active. Teach yourself a skill, or practice one you already know. Not only will this keep your mind active, but this skill may come in handy later on when re-establishing society.

You can befriend an animal, a domestic cat or dog is best, if you need that social contact. Wild animals can be dangerous to try this with, where domestic animals were born and raised around humans in a civilized environment. It may sound crazy, but if worse comes to worst, start talking to yourself. Its not a very good strategy, but tricking yourself into thinking you are interacting with others is better than nothing.

Prolonged periods of isolation can be incredibly dangerous. In prisons, it has been proven that solitary confinement has lead to suicide, depression, chronophobia and Ganser syndrome. If you want to survive Armageddon, you have to learn to cope with isolation.

Further Reading:

How to Make a Torch

In an end of the world/limited supplies situation, it can be a benefit to know how to make a torch.  A torch may be used as a long-lasting light source or a small heat source.  In an environment without electricity, a torch is an easy way to light an area.

Makeshift Torch

In a survival situation, you may need to improvise a torch for one reason or another.  In this case you need to use your environment to make a torch.  There are three basic components to a makeshift torch: the handle, the wick, and the fuel.  The handle is the part you hold on to and attach the rest of the torch to.  It is commonly a 3-4 foot long stick that is about 2-3 inches thick, but it can be any material you can find that won’t melt or fall apart.  The wick is the part of the torch that you light on fire.  This can be anything from dry grass to leaves to twigs: as long as its flammable it will work.  In fact, the more flammable the better because that means it will be easier to light.  The fuel is what is doing the “heavy lifting”, so to speak, of the torch fire.  You can use animal fat, wax, tree sap, or (should you be desperate enough) chapstick.

You need to coat the wick completely in the fuel, make sure that everything is covered.  Wrap the wick and fuel around the top of the handle and tie it with something: a strip of cloth, flaky bark, vines, roots, string, wire, etc.  Once you light this, it should last for a fair amount of time, but this depends on how much fuel you put into it.  It should be noted at this time that these torches are not very stable and it is possible that it could begin to fall apart and you may even burn yourself, so be careful!

Birch Bark Torch

There is an even simpler way to construct a torch, though it won’t last nearly as long.  This is a birch bark torch.  To make one of these, you need to pull a sheet of bark off of a tree with papery bark like the birch tree.  Your sheet should be about 2-3 feet long.  Wrap it at an angle to form a cone.  Make sure it is wrapped tightly, but not so tightly that it isn’t hollow in the center.  Tie it in several places down the length with string, wire, vines, etc.  This type of torch will only last a little while, but its a great way to get light quickly.

Permanent Torch

If you need a more permanent torch, you need to use more permanent components.  For the handle, use something like PVC pipe or a metal post.  The best solution for wick and fuel is string and lamp oil.  You can make an oil reservoir using an old soup can and an old tuna can.  Punch a hole in the bottom of the tuna can and feed a string (or actual candle wick) through it, then fill the soup can with lamp oil.  Turn the tuna can upside down and place on top of the soup can.  Duct tape the two can together and attach your reservoir to the top of your handle.  This torch can still be leaky, especially if it isn’t held upright, but it offers a more permanent, reusable solution.

Of course, the best solution is to just scavenge a tiki torch from the Walmart near you.  While chintzy, the $5 tiki torches in the Outdoor department at a Walmart or similar store are better built than most things you can put together “in the wild”.

Further Reading

How to Read a Map

Nearly ever day, you do land navigation without even realizing it.  When you drive your car, you use known land features (street signs) to get where you are going.  When you use a road atlas to determine your course for a long road trip, you’re performing land navigation.  While not necessary, a map can play a vital role in land navigation.  But you need to learn how to read a map before you can properly use it to navigate.

If I can teach you one thing, let it be proper map maintenance.  You can’t fathom how important it is to keep your map properly folded and clean until you’re trying to read what the map says underneath a mud stain.  The best thing you can do is keep the map folded and in a ziploc bag unless you need to use it.  There is a lot of detail in some maps, especially topographical maps, and the tiniest discoloration or marking can really ruin your day.  If you get something on your map, try to get it off as quickly as possible.

There are several different types of maps.  Physical maps show general physical features such as mountains, desert, water, etc.  Political maps show the boundaries between political entities.  Road maps, as you would expect, shows roads.  Resource maps show economic or natural resources represented by small icons.  Climate maps use color coding to indicate the climate in an area. Topographical maps are highly detailed local terrain maps.  Essentially, most of the maps I described are totally useless for land navigation.  Road maps are only useful if you’re following a road (which is a legitimate strategy), physical maps are only good for getting a general idea of where you are, and resource, political, and climate maps may not even be drawn accurately to scale.

Every map has the same features that you should be aware of.  First of all, the top of every map is always North.  Why is the top always north?  Unfortunately, the answer to the has been relegated to the past so all I can say is that it’s that way because it has always been that way.  There is usually a compass rose (indicating cardinal directions) and a legend.  The legend is key because it defines the symbols used and what they represent, which can vary from map to map.  The color blue is typically reserved to represent water, so if you see blue on a map its probably water.

Topographical Maps

Given the choice of maps, you should always go for a topographical map.  These maps are highly detailed terrain maps and are updated fairly often (often enough that they are usually dated).  For that matter, there is a ton of information written in the margins of topographical maps.  The state and county that the map is in is usually displayed in the upper right hand corner.  In the lower right hand corner is information about roads within the area of the map and a picture depicting where the map is in relation to the state it is in.  The area that the map represents is called a “quadrangle” and is designated a name or label by the United States Geological Survey.  Each adjacent quadrangle is labelled in the margin of each topographical map.  This is convenient if you need to plot things out on more than one map.

Colors play an important part in the topographical map, they define features in a way that is easily discernible from each other.

  • Brown lines show the terrain contour and are called “contour lines”.  They show the shape of terrain and the elevation.
  • Black lines indicate man made features like roads, trails, etc.
  • Blue, as you would expected, indicates water features.
  • Green is used to show vegetation.
  • Red is used for highways and land grids.

Because topographical maps are so detailed, a specific set of symbols was developed to represent a great deal of information in the smallest amount of space possible.

Terminology

When referring to maps (especially topographical maps) there are some terms that will crop up from time to time that you need to know.

  • contour lines – On a topographical map, each contour line represents a specific elevation.  It is called a contour line because when placed all together they show the contour of the terrain feature.
  • contour interval – The contour interval is the space between each contour line.  The interval is a uniform change in elevation.  This means that contour lines can be space close or far depending on the change in elevation in the area.
  • index contour – Index contour lines are the contour lines that represent the base elevations.  For instance, the index contours on one map may be every 100 feet, or every 1000 feet.
  • ridge – A ridge is a relief feature that is a series of hills in a chain.  This feature looks similar to the knuckles on the top of your hand when closed into a fist.
  • hill – A hill is a feature that rises up from the surrounding terrain.  Each of the knuckles on your hand look like a hill.
  • saddle – A saddle is the depression between a pair of hills.  This is represented on your hand as the space between your knuckles.
  • valley – A valley is a depression in the surrounding terrain that usually extends in one particular direction.  On your hand, this is represented as the space in between your fingers when they are extended.
  • depression – A depression is an area that is sunken in from the surrounding terrain.  If you cup your hand, palm up, it forms a depression.
  • spur – A spur is a minor ridge that extends from a larger ridge.  If you look at your fist, the tops of your fingers are the spurs to your knuckles.
  • draw – A draw is essentially a valley formed in between two ridges.  If you make a fist with your hand, you form a draw in between your fingers.
  • cliff – A cliff is a sudden drop off in elevation, think the side of your hand.

Further Reading

How to Use a Compass

In the modern world, most people don’t have to think about how to get from point A to point B.  The most difficult thing anybody has to do is look at a road atlas.  While land navigation has become more of hobby than a skill, in the event of an apocalypse, those who do practice it would have an advantage over those who have mostly depended on GPS to get them where they’re going.  Of the two basic skills that encompass land navigation, reading a compass is the more difficult but by far the more rewarding.

Basic Usage

A typical compass face

In general, using a compass is fairly simple.  Most compasses have a floating needle that always points to the north magnetic pole, but there are some (usually cheap keychain compasses) that the face is the floating piece and the needle doesn’t move. Either way, all you have to do to get your “bearing” is to point the north end of the compass in the direction you are facing and read the little number on the outside ring of the compass that the needle points to.  This is called the bearing and gives you an accurate idea of which direction you are heading in.  Most compasses are numbered from 0 to 359 (for the 360 degrees of a circle) and each right angle (0, 90, 180, 270) is a cardinal direction.  Once you’ve taken your compass bearing you need to adjust for magnetic declination (discussed next) to get your map bearing and then you can navigate yourself very accurately anywhere in the world.

If you look at the face of a compass, you’ll notice that the face appears to be backwards.  This is because the needle always faces north.  So if you turn east the needle is still pointing north, but on the face of the compass the needle is pointing at east.  When using a compass, be aware of your surroundings – metal objects and electrical objects can have an effect on your reading.  Anything from power lines (which can affect your reading from within 55m) all the way down to jewelry (which practically have to be touching the compass to affect it) can have an adverse effect on your readings.

Magnetic Declination

Magnetic declination is the term used to describe the difference between “true north” and “magnetic north”.  Where true north lies at the top of the world, the north magnetic pole lies in the Arctic Ocean just above Canada.  The north you read on a compass is actually magnetic north and because of this, you have to account for the difference between the two if you want remotely accurate readings from your compass.  There is no easy formula for figuring this out because the north magnetic pole moves.  Most topographical maps will display the magnetic declination in the legend, but in the case you only have your compass, or your map is more than a few years old, you can take a reading at night of either Polaris (the north star) if you are in the northern hemisphere, or based on the Southern Cross constellation if you are in the southern hemisphere.  Taking a bearing from the Southern Cross takes a little more effort because you have to visualize a point in the sky.  Basically, you find the Southern Cross and draw a line down the long end of the cross, then find the bright pair of stars to the left of the Southern Cross and draw a line that runs perpendicularly to them.  Now the point you want to aim at to get your bearing is the point at which your two imaginary lines meet (see picture).

How to find due South in the southern hemisphere
Picture from http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/southern-cross/2/3

The Lensatic Compass

A lensatic compass
A lensatic compass

There are a number of different types of compasses, but the compass you will want in a survival situation is a lensatic compass.  The lensatic compass was designed for use by the military.  They’re durable and incredibly accurate.  One of the most important features of the lensatic compass is that it uses a copper induction dampening system.  Where most compasses suspend the needle apparatus in a liquid in order to keep it free floating, a lensatic compass does not, so it can be used without fear of the liquid freezing or changing pressure because of temperature or elevation.  If you plan on purchasing a lensatic compass, be careful in your purchase!  Lensatic compasses are expensive, so there are a lot of imitation compasses on the market that don’t work quite right.

Center-Hold Technique

Proper center-hold technique
Proper center-hold technique

The Center-Hold technique is the most common way to hold a compass and get an accurate measurement.  This technique can be used with any compass and can be performed while walking.  It is less accurate than some other techniques but perfectly acceptable if you are only trying to go in a general direction.

To perform this technique, rest the compass on both thumbs at waist level and parallel to the ground, held between your index fingers (as pictured above).  To take a reading, just look down at your compass.  The needle will be pointing in the direction you are facing.  The reason this is ideally suited to taking readings while moving is because while you are walking you can simply glance down to see what direction you are walking in, but this will only give you a general idea.

Compass-to-Cheek Technique

Proper compass-to-cheek technique
Proper compass-to-cheek technique

If you have a lensatic compass and you need a more accurate measurement, the Compass-to-Cheek technique is a much more suitable technique.  It is far more accurate than most other sighting techniques, but it takes longer to get your reading and must be done from a stationary position.

Open the rear sight and cover of the compass to form a front/rear sight configuration.  Hold the compass level and against your cheek.  Line the rear sight up with the sighting wire in the front cover and then line the sighting wire up with the landmark you are trying to get a bearing on.  Without moving, look down through the lens to get the bearing of the landmark.

Reverse Sun Dial Technique

If you find yourself without a compass, all is not lost.  Did you know you can use your wrist watch to tell directions?  Take your watch off and orient it such that the hour hand is pointed in the direction of the sun.  Visualize a line on your watch directly between the hour hand and the twelve o’clock line.  This is the north/south line, where north is in the direction furthest away from the hour hand.  What you are doing is essentially reversing the premise under which a sun dial works.  Instead of using the suns position and a general understanding of directions to determine the time, you are using a known time and the suns position to determine a general direction.  You don’t even need an analog watch for this to work!  You just need to be able to visualize the angle at which the hour hand would be at any given time and where the 12 o’clock line would be in relation.

Alternatively, if you have time to do this, you can put a stick in the ground, mark the tip of the shadow, wait 15 minutes and mark the tip of the shadow again.  If you connect point A to point B you have created the east-west line.  West is always in the direction of point B to point A (the direction the sun is moving).

Further Reading