Work hard but don’t overwork. TV contestants usually follow one of two schools: work themselves to death, or do nothing. Neither makes sense. In hot climes, you need to start work before dawn, when it is cool. Go check your traps and snares. Do some fishing.
After dawn, work on your shelter and other high priority survival “products” roughly in this order: abundant clean water, fire-making and firewood, land and fish traps for food, vegetarian food, cordage, sandals, containers for boiling and cooking, baskets, fire reflector, hat, hand-fan, primitive clothes, mats, cloths, blankets, and new tools such as a walking stick/spear, spoon, fork, shovel/digging stick, tongs, punkah fan, atlatl, throwing stick, hunting boomerang, sling, staff sling, etc. Aim to make a new useful “survival product” every day or two. Take a nap during the hottest part of the day.
Then get active again, through late evening. By firelight, do small tasks such as making cordage or weaving baskets, like the millions of women in poor villages all across the developing world. Pace yourself, but don’t subscribe to the “lay around dying” school. That’s not real survival. Identify and use your local “master plants.” These are plants or trees with thousands of uses. Three wonderful examples spring to mind: bamboo, palm trees, and Western Red Cedar (or their local equivalents). Bamboo is incredibly strong, and can be used for shelters, flooring, roofing, spears, arrows, traps, rafts, containers, shovels, and even pots. Yes, you can fill a bamboo joint with water, stick it right in a fire, and it will survive and boil your water, tea or rice.
Palm trees can supply young coconuts for their water, older ones for their meat and oil, husks for tinder, leaves for hats, clothes and roofing, trunks for building and burning, shells for cups, and guinit (brown mesh fiber) for primitive cloth.
Palm guinit was even fashioned into pith helmets by the Philippine Constabulary in World War II. Learn to climb a palm tree, by looping rope around the soles and tops of your two feet, then wedging your feet around the tree, and bouncing up the tree like a kangaroo. If you can make good, pure coconut oil, you can try “oil pulling” – swishing a tablespoon of oil around your mouth every day for ten minutes. My colleagues in Vanuatu swear by it. Their teeth are perfect, while mine have paid for my dentist’s yacht! You may return from your adventure with better teeth than when you started.
Western Red Cedar was used by the northwest Indians for cordage, shelter, canoes, hats, clothes, baskets, water containers and mats. The most useful part of the tree is the inner bark – learn how to peel off big sheets of this.
Other “master plants” around the world include date palms, rattan, yucca, pine trees, birch trees and banana trees.
Study the natives’ survival and living techniques in your assigned local area carefully, before you go. They have been surviving there for thousands of years, while all you need is a few weeks or months.
Learn from survivalist Dani Beau of “Naked and Afraid,” and watch and trail animals to learn from them about local resources like drinking water, food, and shelter and insulation items. Learn at least six ways of making fire — practice them regularly. Some of the major methods include: fire saw, fire plow, fire piston, fire bow drill, fire hand drill, magnifying glass, parabolic reflector, matches, flare, lighter, flint and steel, knife or parang and ferrocerium rod, char cloth, steel wool, and battery plus aluminum foil.
As soon as feasible, make some sandals. Very few TV contestants make these, and thus most suffer needlessly. Your feet are very important!
Lure fish by feeding them a few worms each day around dawn and dusk, at exactly the same time and place. After a few days they will become accustomed to this feast. Then it will be your turn.
Cut out a small (one meter wide) hole in the bank beside a river or stream. Leave a narrow entrance. Let the stream water flow in. Put leafy branches over the hole to create shade. Fish love holes like this. Wait overnight, then sneak up at dawn and block the entrance. Breakfast is served.
Build a fish weir. These go back 8000 years, and are mentioned in Magna Carta. Such weirs can be huge, but you can start with a small one perhaps 30 feet long. Make it from sticks or stones thrust into the mud or sand, between the low and high tide marks.
The weir should be 1-3 feet high, shaped like a longbow, with the curve pointing out to sea, or downstream in a river. Put a onefoot-square hole in the middle, blocked with a fine mesh net or vine fish trap, to catch your prey. This automatic fishing machine will give you protein – crabs, fish, octopi – with every low tide.
Dig for shoreline food. None of the contestants on Alone in Canada ever once dug for razor clams, mussels, oysters, sand crabs or geoducks, even though they had huge tidal mudflats right in front of their campsites.
Why not? It’s a lot easier to catch a defenseless clam that stays in one place, than a fast, ferocious cougar with big claws and a bad temper.
Lew and Susan Toulmin live in Silver Spring, and have sailed on every ocean.