Survival is something most people don't think about until it is too late. I learned that the hard way when a Boy Scout day hike turned into an overnight camping trip. Sure, I lived to tell the tale, but I still can remember how it felt to be cold, wet and hungry, with no rescue in sight.
So whenever I come across a book that deals with the subject, I feel compelled to add it to my outdoors library.
The latest addition, John "Lofty" Wiseman's SAS Survival Handbook: How to Survive in the Wild, in Any Climate, on Land or at Sea ($19.95, HarperResource), is an excellent resource for campers, boaters or any outdoor adventurer. Wiseman spent 26 years with the British Special Air Service (SAS) and served as chief survival instructor. The SAS prides itself on being able to send people into any environment, be it frozen tundra or a steaming jungle, at a moment's notice. And although the terrain may differ, the knowledge it takes to make it back alive remains the same.
"It's crucial that we are prepared for any eventuality, and survival training is the best insurance policy you can take out," Wiseman writes in the introduction to his book. "You could be isolated anywhere in the world - from the arctic ice to a desert, from tropical rain forest to the open ocean, and the problems of survival are the same for both soldier and civilian."
Wiseman believes the best way to teach survival is focus on the "survival pyramid," which has three components: kit, knowledge and will to live.
Your "kit," or emergency supplies, is the easiest to master. There are certain items that you should alway carry in the woods, such as matches, compass, signalling device, space blanket, etc.
Years ago, traveling through the Amazonia region of South America, I put together a small survival pack that was no bigger than a baseball. My kit held everything from hooks and fishing line to water purification tablets. I remember a colleague laughed when I told him about my survival kit, but I would rather endure a little heckling than spend another night unprepared in the woods.
Boaters, anglers and divers can put together their own emergency kit when heading offshore. It should contain the obvious (flares, signaling device, etc.) but extra items - a gallon of fresh water, emergency rations, warm cloting - will go a long way toward increasing your chances of survival if something does go wrong.
Knowledge, the second principle in Wiseman's survival pyramid, will help determine how you put together your survival kit. It is always advisable to learn as much as possible before traveling in unfamiliar terrain.
I remember reading about saltwater crocodiles before backpacking through Australia more than a decade ago. As a result, I always took great care around the reptile's habitat, which proved prudent: two people, both tourists, were killed by "salties" during my stay. But the most important element, and the basis for Wiseman's survival pyramid, is a "never say die" attitude.
"The will to live (WTL) means never giving in, regardless of the situation," Wiseman writes.
Mental toughness, or what I call "fire in the belly," is what keeps your going at midnight when the wind is howling, the waves are building, and you can't find a campsite.
Wiseman's SAS Survival Handbook will help you determine what to put in your emergency kit and even arm you with the knowledge it takes to survive in most emergency situations.
The WTL, however, is far more elusive. That is something you will have to find deep down inside yourself.