Tips for the great outdoors

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Pablo Edronkin

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Some tips for people who love outdoor activities and adventure.

Prepare and take care of your body

As important as any sports activity in itself is the preparatory work that athletes must incur in whenever they begin or finish their training routines. Not doing so may represent a health hazard.

This observation includes those keen on outdoor and adventure activities and sports, such as trekking, climbing, kayaking, mountaineering, etc. Some sports demand increased body flexibility in order to advance, become competitive or simply fairly good at what the athlete intends to achieve. However, it is advisable that in the realm of any sports activity or training, coaches as well as athletes themselves - if that is the case of each training program - develop routines for enhancing their flexibility, and practice them indeed.

One reason is to allow the body to pass from calmness to physical work and back, as the athlete begins and ends the training routine, but also to avoid suffering lesions and other physical problems while on sports practice. We have to remember that during strenuous efforts, joints and muscles are subjected to greater than normal efforts, and brusque movements may cause peaks of structural effort that may indeed cause problems. One thing is to move fast or abruptly while you are in a relative calm, and quite another when the body is in action, like during martial arts practice.

Doing healthy things many not be a completely healthy thing to do: if you don’t do your stuff in the right way, what should be good may en up being bad. If you go outdoors and have some pure, fresh, mineral water like this one it may be good for your health, but if you drink too much at once, you may start feeling really bad.

And going back to the case of extreme athletes and outdoor sports, we have to add that at the end of the day, when you reach the place where you will pass the night, don't just fall into the ground like a potato sack. That may hurt you and make you lose valuable time before it gets dark; instead, cool down by doing some domestic work like putting up your tent, gathering wood for your fire and start cooking.

Make your first stop fifteen minutes after starting to walk

There are many different styles when it comes to trekking and walking; some people prefer to start slowly, while others begin trailblazing with no pause at all for a couple of hours, but we prefer a cautious approach.

Whenever one of our exploration groups goes away into the wilderness, its Leaders, Guides and Explorers know for certain one thing: that they will make their first stop every day fifteen minutes after starting to walk, climb or whatever they choose to do that particular morning.

And this is not because we get tired quite soon; instead, we place particular importance to the state of our gear and the way in which it is carried in our backpacks, for if there is a problem, it is better to stop right at the beginning instead of after an accident or many hours away from the base camp.

If someone forgets something, walking the distance that we covered with backpacks usually takes five minutes with no load at all, and if something malfunctions, it is easier to stay there or even return to square one, fifteen minutes away and at an already chosen camp site with all the usual facilities like wood, a place to lit a fire, water and so on.

Double-check everything you carry.

So, we consider these first fifteen minutes as some sort of a test walk to see if everything is okay with our equipment, backpacks and ourselves. In the same token, whenever we begin a journey of exploration, even if not walking, we do the same: for example, after taking off with our Piper Cub, and before committing ourselves to fairly long flights over isolated ground, we spend a little time over our departure airfield or following a route that always takes us over alternative landing places.

In this way we see if the machine works well, if oil temperature and pressure are right where they should be, and so on. Whenever you do anything in the bush or the wilderness, you should also play safe.

Never leave your backpack behind

No matter what kind of backpack you are using or want to purchase for you outdoor adventures, we strongly recommend you that you never leave it behind. The most obvious reason is that in this way you will not be robbed; the second reason is that unaccompanied luggage is assumed to be a time bomb or some item used by criminals.

But the third one, which concerns more to those dwelling into the wilderness, is that if you leave your gear behind, you may never find it again. In mountainous regions filled with rocks, in deserts covered with sand dunes, in the middle of forests with thousands of trees, all looking similarly, and even in open plains, it may become really hard to navigate your way back to a point, exactly.

Take a look: when you see many landscapes, it is difficult to get an idea of the size of each thing unless you can compare your view with trusted references. Rocks and dunes small and large look alike, for example. So, if you leave your precious backpack in some place like that, even if your pack is made out of brilliantly coloured materials, you will be running into unacceptable risks, because you need what you are carrying and the loss of most of your equipment may turn your trip into an emergency.

Whenever you go out with a rucksack, you should carry what you need; no more and no less. If you get the feeling that you will be more comfortable without your backpack, you are either tired - in which case you should rest - or you are carrying to much weight. In the middle of the wilderness, leaving a backpack offers no guarantee of survival; if you carry too much weight, don't make the same mistake the next time you go out, but hang on and resist. You are the only one to blame, but two wrongs will not make one good thing.

But the third one, which concerns more to those dwelling into the wilderness, is that if you leave your gear behind, you may never find it again. In mountainous regions filled with rocks, in deserts covered with sand dunes, in the middle of forests with thousands of trees, all looking similarly, and even in open plains, it may become really hard to navigate your way back to a point, exactly.

A fundamental rule for trekking and climbing safety

Stuff happens, so the best way to avoid the inevitable trouble is not to put ourselves into a position that will make things worse.

Indeed, extreme activities should not be performed while on your own, without company; if something happens to you then you will have no one to help and nowhere to go. How would you reach a town 20km away with a broken leg and with no one to assist you? So, going with a group of people, or at least two of them makes a lot of sense in the case of any outdoor activity.

But going with others has its problems too, and one of them is that people seldom know how to keep distance while walking, skiing, kayaking and so on. If you keep a lot of distance, then you will lose visual contact with each other and that may be as good as nothing, or as if you were completely on your own.

Thus, keeping visual contact with your companions is essential. But if you get too close, you may collide with your raft, kayak, bike or body, and that can be problematic too, especially if that produces a domino effect causing more than one person to have a problem like losing balance and falling. Hitting the ground can be hard in any case, but if you are carrying a 30kg backpack, it can also hurt you rather seriously.

If you fall into a turbulent river, aside from the obvious danger of getting drowned, your gear will almost surely be damaged or lost; in the case of some expeditions that would be enough to terminate the venture altogether. In other cases, like walking over snow fields. Over glaciers, frozen lakes or rivers, etc. if one falls down that could potentially cause the fall of those standing or walking nearby.

It is very important to keep distances in steep slopes and while going up or down, for things may fall dragging everyone down. Generally, groups should move diagonally and not directly along the axis of the slope, although in cases such as this particular one, it may not be possible due to the existence of hidden dangers like crevasses in the ice.

Of course, being tied to a rope is desirable to avoid natural traps but it is not always practical; so keeping distance is often the only way to act safely. Always remember that visual contact should be a constant, but never get too close to your companions: the minimum distance should be at least 5m; tat would allow you to take action before the one next to you falls, before he or she hits you.

The same goes for things that may fall, like rocks or sharp pieces of ice. As dangers increase, the distance between people should also become larger.

Mobile phones and adventure

We think that outdoor equipment is fascinating, and so is its evolution and how we get accustomed to include among our gear some things that before were unthinkable.

Mobile phones are a prime example: just twenty years ago cell phones, while already existent, were relatively rare, cumbersome, heavy and totally inadequate for rude treatment.

Now, we don't know what kind of phone to purchase because there are so different makes and models. We, the people or Andinia are not entirely satisfied with this evolution, particularly in the case of cell phones because of various reasons and mainly for the depletion of natural resources in which we are incurring just to call home in order to ask if the French fries will be ready for dinner; however, technology also have some benefits.

Mobile telecommunications for the outdoor adventurer has added new options and safety because in case of emergency, there is a good chance that someone will be alerted sooner. Another interesting and promising aspect of this evolution is the introduction of digital imaging technology.

While having a digital camera may be superfluous in many cases and the quality of the pictures remains nominal right now, this development has potential. Over time it is almost certain that the quality of pictures taken by digital cameras incorporated into cell phones will improve, and video phone will become economically viable; it is already technically feasible, but some improvements in bandwidth usage, as well as those mentioned, related to image quality, still need some ironing.

But one day we will find ourselves calling home not just to say something or by means of an email service; instead, we will be talking face to face and show the people on the other side of the line what we see and where we are. Usually, relatives of extreme sportsters and adventurers feel a little uneasy about our deeds; they may have grown accustomed to the fact, but still there is something lingering on.

So we will show them where we are and what we do; they will see exotic places, or receive live coverage of our paragliding sessions and a first hand description from us. This will change the nature of many things ranging from alert, search and rescue services to journalism and the way in which mass media transmit and broadcast news.

It is tempting to start thinking how people will start calling from the top of Mount K2, Baffin Island or Lae, and how they will say things like 'Mom, I got here, so now take me home!'

But keep in mind that as an adventurer, you must be able to survive without any gadgets.

Optical equipment

Optics are great for a lot of outdoor activities as well as for security and vigilance tasks.

A pair of binoculars in your backpack will not only improve your navigational capabilities out in the wilderness, but will also help you enjoy more your experience by watching birds, unreachable details in the landscape, land and marine fauna, etc.

Amateur and professional photographers can replace binoculars with a good zooming device if saving space and weight is critical: so, if you have a reflex type or good video camera, you may use their capabilities instead of your binoculars.

However, if you are about to carry relatively fragile research, optical or aiming instruments you should purchase a good carrying case if you do not have one already because saving on that department would not be wise: if your expensive optical gear suffers a fall or is hit by rocks or something like that, you will spend a lot more in reparations than in ap good plastic or metal case.

So, purchasing a case is almost mandatory no matter if yours is passive or active equipment, a monocular or binocular device. etc. but becomes more important in the case of IR (infra-red) or light amplification devices, because they must be protected from light in order to protect their sensitive components.

Portable computers and outdoor adventures

The kind of variety, types and nature of applications that people can find for computer hardware and software within the context of outdoor activities is staggering: you can use computers to read cartography, navigate using global positioning systems, write a diary or log, and even communicate thorough the internet, access databases and bibliography, and many more things. In the past, protable gear included expendable ships (see Ships of Adventure, Exploration and Survival). Today even rockets are expendable. So portability and expendability are concepts related to exploration since centuries ago.

But the problem found in most of these cases is that computer hardware currently on the market has been designed usually for an office environment. Plus, applications like those required outdoors, especially in a scientific realm, require a lot of computing power. Both factors demand quality computer equipment: if you are travelling thorough a glacier in Greenland or Patagonia, if you are at a research base or outpost in Antarctica, or crossing the Indian ocean in a sailboat, and you depend on computers, they should operate and remain reliable all the time.

This means that you do not need just the basic, usual equipment, like a notebook computer, a battery and a leather carrying case. You will have to protect your hardware and instruments from environmental aggression in the form of heat, cold, dust, moisture, bumps and even falling rocks; you will also need to feed your batteries with some sort of re-charger using solar, hydraulic or wind energy, and even tools to perform basic repairs.

Thus, the purchase of such equipment for outdoor usage requires an additional budget, and in the case of people working for official institutions or others that require discriminated numbers, this budget should be thoroughly prepared well in advance.

Water purification: Things to do before anything else

Water is more essential for survival than food or anything else; humans survived without controlling fire for millions of years yet, no one can stay alive more than a few days without liquid. Thus, learning how to purify water is a must.

In the event of a disaster such as hurricane Katrina as well as while traversing a jungle or finding an oasis in the middle of a desert, water may be available but whether it can be consumed directly or not is quite another question. Water can carry minerals that could cause severe digestive problems and more serious intoxications: lead and other heavy metals cause very serious health problems to those unlucky enough to get intoxicated with them. Plus, bacteria and parasites of all kinds lurking inside the liquid could become the cause for yet more troubles.

So the first rule for water consumption during an emergency is not to hurry; take some time to purify and filter the liquid before drinking it. That will not kill you, for it would take not more than half an hour to have it ready even for your five o’clock tea. Lack of self-discipline and judgment during extreme situations can be as dangerous as anything else.

The second rule is to think in a conservative way: if you are in doubt about some water pond, don´t use it at all. There are some kinds of contaminants that are very hard to eliminate, folter or degrade to a safe level for human use, so don’t put all your faith in pills and filter; one good rule of thumb is to watch animals approaching the pond. If they come, drink and stay alive after a while, then the water might be safe to drink, but don’t forget to process it nevertheless. Don’t consume water that has an oily appearance, smells bad, has dead animals or corpses floating, foamy residues or has suspicious looks. Water found near destroyed ships, factories, sewage plants and other industrial facilities may not be safe either.

If you don’t take these precautions you will be gambling with your life. Only after you have selected a reasonably good water source you should attempt to prepare it for consumption.

Sightseeing? Your Feet Are Important!

Sightseeing means walking a lot, going in and out of vehicles, going up and down, in and out, and your feet are doing almost all the effort, so take good shoes with you, and make those shoes perform.

It is a proven fact that the state of our feet is a factor that defines our mood; if you feel pain, cold, lack of comfort and so on in your feet, you will indeed feel badly, you will not be in good humor and your day may even become miserable.

That is bad enough, but if you are spending your holidays whining about your feet instead of – say – visit Bavarian castles, it would be a real pity. We have the whole year to complain about our jobs, gas prices, taxes, noisy neighbors and other suburban, rampant plagues; so, vacation time should be left only for pleasure.

You will need your feet right in order to feel right during your walking, trekking, hiking or sightseeing holidays, and for that you will need indeed some good footwear. No matter what kind of shoes you choose to buy or to take with you, make sure about these two things, and you will be right:

Don’t travel with brand-new footwear; it can be very uncomfortable to break-in your shoes, so do that at home, at least two weeks before departing.

Never walk with moistened footwear: as you walk thorough fields, small trails and so on, your shoes will absorb moisture. That can be pretty unpleasant and your feet will certainly get cold plus, moisture there is a sure way to get unwanted blisters.

How many people should go trekking with you?

There are two extreme postures concerning the number of individuals that should take part in any expedition, trekking party or hike. Some prefer to travel alone, while others would like to have a bus load of friends around them. The truth is that both ideas will usually get you deeper in trouble once you are in trouble.

If you travel alone and suffer any inconvenience it will be up to you to solve your problems; if you are climbing, flying or sailing alone, doing some caveing, scuba diving and so on, some problems will be very difficult to solve. Well-disciplined teams cause less trouble and travel faster.

Suffering an accident is just such a case: if you cannot walk and there is no one around to help you linger or just to go back to town and ask for help, you may be doomed; it would be rather silly to die because of the romantic idea of the “solo” adventurer: real adventurers do things quite differently, and you just have to look at documentaries, news and historical data. It is very rare that an explorer or professional adventurer will go alone into the wilderness.

A bus load of people, however, is very difficult to control; unless you are an army officer and all those coming with you act under your orders, so many people will cause more problems than good. Some will want to go in one direction while others will want to stay or go back; some will want to eat when others want to go on trekking, others may think that rafting down a river is a better choice than trailing along it, etc.

Rest a little in order to perform better

All sorts of activities requiring a physical or mental job require energy and have an accumulating effect on your mind and body; after sufficient time, this makes people err and in some cases, it is even a cause for accidents and other problems.

The wilderness is great, extreme sports, adventure tourism are great too. But almost anyone who has been trekking, sailing or climbing knows that once you get too tired – even while doing the things you like most – the fun washes away and situations may turn problematic: a mountaineer may get lost in the forest that he has to cross and climb, a pilot may become absolutely fed-up with flying his airplane thorough turbulence just when he has to lad in a crosswind, or you may feel your arms falling apart as you need them most to paddle and steer your kayak thorough the most difficult part of your journey.

Those things not only take the enjoyment out of your activity; they can also produce serious and even dangerous situations; most accidents are the consequence of human errors, and if extenuation may produce accidents due to lack of attention and an attenuation of mental and physical abilities then it is not difficult to see the cause – effect relation between good planning and safety in any kind of hazardous activity.

If you cannot take a rest of ten minutes every hour, then your activity has been so poorly conceived and planned that you should not have commenced it in the first place.

It has been demonstrated that people will not work at a hundred percent capacity after five hours of continued activity; between the sixth and ninth hour, efficiency falls at least 30% and soon afterwards, it barely reaches 50%. So it is useless to extenuate anyone with work, athletic training or even fun after seven hours; individuals exposed to such efforts will simply cause more trouble than good, and if you are tied to a rope while crossing a glacier, or learning sky diving, or simply working at the office, the seventh should be your magic hour to stop, always.

In the case of some professions, like within the aviation industry, this has even been regulated and pilots shall not fly more than a certain number of hours in any given period of time. But in most outdoor activities that is not the case.

So, if you don’t have tales or regulations to refer to in this regard, the safest possible way to act is to follow the 50 – 10 rule. This means that for every 50 minutes of activity you should rest at least 10. With reasonable physical and mental training, any outdoor enthusiasts will be able, by following this rule, to perform quite well during a whole day of activity.

The 50 – 10 rule for more fun

People get tired whatever they do; we may get tired after long hours at work, or we can get tired of reading, doing some gardening or visiting castles while on holidays. Does it make sense?

After extenuation takes control of our mind and body we are no longer capable of doing anything right and we will not pay attention in the same manner so, what would be the point of vacationing if poor planning turns us into extenuated tourists every day?

The explorers that perform all research tasks here at Andinia always follow the 50 – 10 rule, which says that for every fifty minutes of physical or mental, and even while doing very little, a person must rest for ten minutes. Even if you are sitting in a bus, you should stand up and perform some movements, walk around or visit the toilette every hour; if you are walking thorough a city that you are visiting, stop for a while at a park or a restaurant and take things easily.

Resting is a necessity, not a luxury. easoned explorers and outdoors people know that the human body needs rest and even great treks should be planned realistically.

In this way you will be able to take more advantage of your precious days away from the workplace. There is no point in trying to run to visit every little place commented in your tourist guide, only to get more tired than back at your job.

If you are driving your car or taking your family with you, then it is especially important that you stick to this rule because you are indeed responsible for them, but also because the fact that you may be enjoying your pace doesn’t mean that your six years old son or daughter will too, or perhaps your wife would like to do some shopping; who knows? But doing things always in a rush is not the best way of planning things anyway.

Never forget that you are human

As Roman generals and conquerors paraded in front of the subjects of the empire and they applauded their hero, a slave going along with the man of the hour, in the same chariot, used to repeat in a whisper that simple phrase. It was wisdom of deeper implications than most of our present-day leaders can impress us with.

But the implications of the phrase are not only related to megalomania or undue political aspirations developed while riding a war chariot; those words really mean that we are all frail as humans can be, even during our finest hour, or our busiest one. Going on an expedition or an extended trip means that while you will probably keep yourself and your companions busy, there will be moments in which anyone will start to think a little about the deeds of the day, week or month, and these thoughts can be positive or negative.

No matter how busy the group remains, there will be some moments for meditation and private thinking, and if the situation among the members of the group is not very good or if extenuation begins to take its toll, the thoughts of most participants will turn out to be increasingly negative.

Tour guides, group leaders, etc. may use routine, amicable conversations to gauge the sate of mind of all excursion participants.

People need to rest even while they are resting, much as you need to turn your the bed after you spent a couple of hours sleeping on one side of your body.

Simple and easy to carry games are an excellent alternative to solve this problem, especially in the case of trips that are longer than three weeks; these rather long situations tend to generate routines in people, the kind of behavior that usually leads sooner or later to grumbling and whining. Games will work very well to break the routine that exists in any escape of routine, as holidays really are.

The batteries we take

Considering what kind of backpack to take in any outdoor excursion is important, but equal consideration should be given to what actually goes inside it, including the batteries that we need for our navigation equipment, cameras, torch lights, etc.

A battery does not seem important: most campers and trekkers take these for granted and think that purchasing a pack at the local supermarket would be enough for them. Maybe, they are enough, but that does not mean that such is the best or more efficient solution. For reasons related to efficiency and environmental conservation, batteries should be considered a little more carefully.

Today, the most common AA and AAA rechargeable batteries are those known as NiMh or Nickel Metal Hydride batteries, available in various charge power ranges (1600mAh, 2100mAh, 2300mAh, 2500mAh, etc.); the biggest this number, the more energy that these batteries will pack and the longer they will last. These batteries are commonly in use with electronic devices which are small but have a high rate of consumption, like digital cameras, music players GPS receivers, etc.

It is important to consider that these rechargeable batteries can be used about a thousand times; when you compare this with your regular alkaline batteries that are not rechargeable, it is easy to see that just by using reloadable ones we may contribute seriously to the improvement of our environment. Plus, the batteries cost all almost the same, so even if we consider the cost-effectiveness side of the issue, it makes far more sense to use rechargeable than alkaline batteries.

Besides, rechargeable batteries can be reloaded to a small extent by placing them near sunlight; by warming them up you can extract a little more energy from apparently dry batteries. This may be crucial in the midst of a survival situation.

Plastic vessels for storage in caches and survival stashes

Storing things for future use is survival wisdom; ships have life rafts, many aircraft do have them as well. In Antarctica there are shelters along many routes between research bases, and in many mountains you will see cabins placed at strategic spots.

Sometimes, storage means leaving things like food, which could become targets for animals like rodents, insects and even larger ones; thus, building a cabin or placing a life raft with a survival kit inside your yacht will not be enough to guarante that these items will be ready if the need arises. This means that you should place all your items inside some sort of unwanted-company-proof container to keep them safe.

We have been using plastic containers with wide lids for years; you can leave them in a stash or cache for long periods of time and provided that the contents (food, for example) remain edible or usable, no animal will be able to penetrate inside. You should get a container made out of reinforced, opaque plastic; transparent containers are not good for this purpose because manu items will begin to degrade because of the presence of light, so keeping them in a dark place will increase their shelf life.

You can hide your containers and mark their position using your GPS; it is better than trusting just in your memory, because you will be able to find your cache during the night or under the snow.

It is better not to place all items of the same category in the same containers, just in case. If one of your containers disappears or becomes unusable for whatever reason, then you will lose its contents. One thing would be to lose - say - 50% of your survival food, and quite another 100% just because you had placed all of it in the same can or box.

By spreading your gear, equipment and provisions, you will place yourself at a less risky position. It is not just a matter of becoming angry as you discover that you have lost 2kg of rice or your army MREs boxes; the lack of provisions could be fatal.

Before using any sort of container to store equipment or provisions for the long run, make sure that it actually does the work; it shoud be mechanically resistant, it should not suffer from rust, and it must be waterproof. You will probably also want it to be easily transportable and as inexpensive as possible.

There is a lot to say and experiment in this regard; we have been using such items for years, and we have written a number of articles and reviews about our experiences.

The significance of navigation techniques for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds

Being able to navigate correctly and proficiently is a matter of safety and survival while performing almost any sort of outdoor activity. Aircraft pilots and mariners know very well how to navigate and in fact, practicing navigation is one of the key elements that should appear on any pilot’s logbook if he or she is willing to get a job or additional licenses or certificates. To become a commercial pilot, for example, almost 60% for the 200 or so hours required must have been logged on relatively long-haul flights which are almost exclusively navigational exercises.

Walkers and trekkers may thing sometimes that considering that they move slower, mastery of such techniques does not apply to them but it is a mistake; knowing how to go from one point to another using not only a comfortable and handy GPS but a compass, map and other equipment is a must. There are, of course, differences between sailing, flying and trekking; speed, the kind of navigational aids, reference points and so on, although the basics remain always the same.

One of the first hurdles that prospective navigators should pass is that of the measuring system used: in navigation, the English system ahs little real or practical value. More often than not, metric and nautical systems are used. If you think that metric is complicated, think again: it is a decimal system used worldwide, even in third world countries, so if anyone can learn it, you should be able to do so too. To put it succinctly: almost everyone uses it so, if you don’t want to commit gross mistakes abroad that may even cause an accident, you should learn it, period.

Regarding the nautical system, it seems the most preposterous of the three, but it has been designed specifically for navigational purposes and that's the realm where it finds its real use. Measuring the distance to the nearest cinema in nautical miles is something feasible, but of little practical value. However, since a nautical mile over the surface is equivalent to a displacement of an arc equal to a second, in terms of latitude or longitude, its practical value becomes instantly obvious: distances can be measured almost instantly on the basis of coordinates (Ver Ships of Adventure, Exploration and Survival).

How to buy a survival knife

Knifes are essential tools form most outdoors-oriented people; you can use one to hunt, you can use it to clean fish, as a shovel, weapon, wood cutter, to make traps, to cure wounds and as many different uses as you can possibly imagine. But there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution in this regard. Knifes are designed with specific uses in mind and while they will always cut, they may or may not be well suited for specific tasks because they have been designed for a different thing altogether.

For example, a bayonet will make a good fighting knife because it was designed as an item that converts any military rifle into a spike or spear for battle use, so the idea of wounding and killing can be carried over to had-to-hand combat with acceptable limitations.

Not a classical survival knife design, but one that is finding more adepts each day that passes

Multi-purpose tools are finding their way into the standard gear of most outdoor enthusiasts, and they can also work as survival knifes.

But a bayonet would not make a good survival knife for a pilot, or for survivalists in general: the classic survival knife design that sports a heavy blade, a jigsaw cutter section and a hollow handle was designed specifically for pilots: the saw is to be used to cut your way out of the thin foil of a metal fuselage, and the hollow handle was originally intended to carry light signaling devices such as small flares for an eventual, quick rescue. Downed military pilots usually must be rescued quickly to avoid their capture because being qualified personnel, intelligence officers from the adversary may extract a good deal of information.

Thus, these knifes have been originally designed for a short-term, quite aggressive use; they found their way into the mainstream public and became the most evident symbol or icon of survival practice, but they too have their limitations; for example, they will be relatively weaker than other blades at the handle and within the context of certain uses, like as spear blades thrown at a distance. They will break sooner than other designs if they are consistently used in such a way.

Knifes designed for throwing as well as stilettos are good fighting weapons and generally cheaper than survival knifes, and while one ? any - blade is better than nothing, there are better choices for outdoor enthusiasts. All in all, probably the classical survival design will be the most suitable for people with average survival training and skills, while experts will probably prefer their tool to be made integrally from one piece of steel, with no fancy things on it.

Don't make a huge investment before you actually know what to expect from the kind of activities you prefer, and what you would like to have in a knife. Take into account that a knife, as any survival tool, including firearms, is of no use if you don't carry it with you all the time. So, if you think that buying a knife for survival purposes boasting a blade almost as large as a machete is good, think it over: it will be to no one's advantage to carry such a cumbersome piece of gear while you trek, only to leave it inside your tent all the time because it is bulky. If that is the case and you go walking around, get lost and face a real survival scenario, you will have nothing at hand, literally.

A pocket knife supplements perfectly a big one for small missions. These small knifes are perfect for delicate tasks and can be carried with much ease; they are not bulky and very functional.

Perhaps a good thing to do would be to invest less money in a rather cheap knife and submit it to some testing in order to see how you can use it during one or two expeditions or trips into the wilderness, and once you know what you want, take out your credit card for something more substantial.

So before buying a knife, consider what you will use it for, what kind of money you are ready to pay, your skills and training. It would be of little practical value to spend lost of money in a first-rate knife if you don't have a clue on how to use and care for it.

Do assault weapons have any real utility?

Assault weapons originated during WWII among many other technological advances created by German scientists seeking to give their armed forces more firepower and efficiency. The Stg-43 or Sturmgewehr 43 (which literally means Assault Weapon, year 1943, a name created for political reasons of the time) was the forefather of all present-day selective fire military guns that are capable of firing either in automatic or semi-automatic modes.

In most countries, civilians are not allowed to have such weapons, in others is possible and in others like Switzerland, Israel and Iraq, it is actually quite normal to have at least one of these very powerful portable weapons at home.

The main issue with them comes from their firepower: aside from the fact that the ammunition itself is very powerful and can even penetrate thick steel plates and walls like butter, the fact that bursts of about 700 shots per minute can be fired very easily turn them into guns that are vastly more powerful than your average hunting rifle, pistol or revolver.

Only with the exception of big-bore machine guns and automatic shotguns at close range, assault rifles are unsurpassed as killing machines that can be carried by a single person. So the question is: are they really needed for some sort of outdoor or survival use?

Most people would say that absolutely no; there is no imaginable use for those weapons in the case of average campers. However, for people really venturing into the unknown and taking aside what gun fans say (they will always say that such weapons are useful, safe and fun, of course, because they are fans after all), there are practical uses for such combat weapons within the context of real and dangerous exploration.

But the main problem with this is that in order to fire an assault rifle efficently, you need a lot of training; it is easy to spend the ammunition too fast and with little efficiency because the idea that firing automatically will make a target easy to hit is quite common, but that is not part of reality.

And then, of course, you have all the legal issues associated with ownership of these guns that often run circles around what the best police forces have in their arsenals as well as the terrorist fears that in recent years have been growing around the world.

Tides, caves and flash floods

Tides are variable in different parts of the world; in places like around Mount St. Michelle, in France, and in the coast of Patagonia, in Argentina, tides produce impressive variations in the level of sea water. The French fortress was built entirely around this concept and strolling around it without the advice of a local guide can even be dangerous.

In Patagonian coastal areas you will find people who would guide you only infrequently: just looking at the Atlantic southernmost tip of the inhabited world you have more than 7.000 of sandy beaches and cliffs, almost completely desolated. Low tides can deceive unwary visitors into thinking that they are standing on firm, dry ground.

What is interesting about tidal variations in such places is that they allow you to take a look at things that are normally under water, including caves. These are to be found mostly at the base of cliffs, and can be very interesting to visit.

Speleology is a whole discipline, and in such areas you should also combine it with scuba diving to gain flexibility and safety, but tides permitting, even an average tourist may be able to visit such holes in the ground.

The two biggest issues to care about are indeed, the natural schedule that tides follow, and always having an escape route. Tides can vary quite rapidly so you must know how much time you have, take a look at the hour in which you enter the tidal area ? the part of the beach that will be covered one the tides get high enough ? and count the time it takes you to reach the farthest point you want to visit, or put yourself a time limit -; then, consider that returning may take you double time: you may get lost, you may want to take pictures and so on.

Be inflexible with your schedule; if you have any doubts, turn away, and never leave your vehicle, if you got there with one, in an area that might get covered with salty water coming from the ocean. There have been cases of individuals coming back from a nice walk thorough the beach, only to find out that their precious cars were ruined.

Getting inside cliff caves is another matter on its own. There you will need some knowledge about climbing, speleology, orientation and other important areas; don't venture there if you don't know what you are doing, especially in caves that may get flooded. Remember that the fact that a cave isn?t flooded when you see it doesn?t mean that such things doesn?t happen because there may be natural drains that help the water vacate the premises when sea level gets lower due to tidal variations.

There is an island in southern Chile called Madre de Dios (a.k.a. Mother of God); this island has a lot of fascinating caves but a brutal weather; nobody stays in there despite that they offer tempting shelters because every single cave in the island suffers almost daily flash floods. So be always be careful with anything showing a tidal behavior!

Plastic sheets for improvised shelters

Bags may not be toys, but they can become your home indeed, at least when nothing else is available. There are many ways to camp other than carrying a bulky tent; you can use some of these techniques also for survival situations of various kinds. One of the best ways in which you can be prepared to confront such scenarios and also in order to camp faster and most of the times, more conveniently than by carrying tents or looking for cabins around your way is to use a plastic sheet.

You can purchase these at a very low cost, it can be carried with almost no trouble and will serve you in a variety of different ways (you can also use a poncho, the concept is the same); when you buy your plastic sheet, the vendor will cut it for you. Ask it to be at least 2,2 m. wide so that a person will easily fit under it. For each person that you plan to protect using it, calculate 1 m in length. So, a sheet designed to shelter three would be 2,2 x 3 m in size, and there will be plenty of room left for your backpack, boots, etc.

Two handy items that you should carry are also duct tape and parachute cords. The tape will allow you to make any repairs easily and the cords will be very useful for attaching the plastic to anything that you may want to use to give your shelter some height. You can, of course, just get your things under the plastic and wait under the rain or snow goes away, but you will need to fasten it to something if there is wind, anyway.

Tree branches are fine as long as the wind won’t move them too much; bamboos are much better and resistant. They will take almost any punishment and keep your shelter in shape. O course, it is advisable that you learn something about knots to tie up the cords in a way that will not cause you further trouble.

Walking around some mountain lakes, fjords and bays

There are places where lakes, fjords and other coastal areas are surrounded by dense forests that have been there for thousands of years. As trees die and their trunks fall, some reach the water and get carried by it: the wind, currents and other factors may roll dice in order to determine where they will land: there are some rumors indicating that Columbus got the idea of crossing the Atlantic after he learned that in the Canary Islands, a small canoe containing the remains of two people of unknown origin had been found.

So logs end anywhere just at random, but after a while they begin to pile-up over the sand or pebbles of many beaches, and it becomes quite a job to clean those areas so that tourists and strollers may walk for a while. In isolated areas of course, nobody does that and huge deposits of rotting wood begin to form. Beaches filled with logs are usually swampy and stinky, ladden with insects and also low vegetation.

If you have to walk thorough these areas, keep in mind that it will take you a long time. It is not easy, you have to be careful with your steps and the whole thing is covered either with logs massive enough to force you to climb them, or shaky like silly putty. You will almost never stay on firm ground in these areas unless you find a patch of sand or a long trunk to walk on.

It is highly recommendable to carry boots to protect your feet instead of common shoes or sandals, and to use a long stick for better balance; take your time, be patient and look carefully before taking even the smallest step. Don’t jump and use your stick to probe every place you are not sure about in terms of firmness and stability.

You can, of course, take a boat or a kayak, or walk around the bay or fjord, but you have to have the required items in the first place: if you don't have a vessel and you don't know how to improvise a raft and use it prudently, you will be of course stranded. Then, your options would be either to continue walking thorough the log-covered beaches or to take a detour and move inland; don't count on finding trails, but if the area is somewhat inhabited, you will ? perhaps- find one. These trails will take you thorough a much longer but easier trek.

If you don't find a trail, be conservative and never lose the water of the lake, river, bay or fjord as a visual reference; you will need it as a navigational reference because you will be following a semi-circular course, which is harder to achieve. Always keep visual contact with the water.

The danger of getting lost is much higher in these circumstances and while distances may not be great in these cases and you may think that backtracking may be easy, it is not: remember the difficulties that you are enduring just to walk thorough these coastal areas, let alone find the way where you came from.

If you suddenly can?t see it anymore, turn back unless you know exactly what you are doing. If the forest opens a little and it becomes easier to pass thorough by all means, follow a route which will take you approximately over your original course, taking into account that you may encounter cliffs on your way.

Vertigo, weather and optical effects

Many believe that when you start seeing optical illusions and hallucinations you should be taken ASAP to a neurologist or a psychiatrist, or both. But the truth is that while the use of drugs, some sort of brain damage and other problems such as sleep deprivation may cause washing machines to suddenly start talking to you and entire forests go to the Oktoberfest for a beer, optical effects that make us see things that are not really what we perceive them to be, are more common than we think.

In the case of some outdoor activities, especially within the realm of mountaineering, marine navigation and aeronautical sports, optical illusions occur almost daily: pilots are, for example, well aware of the jokes that roads, clouds and changes in ambient light can cause. There is a common case of death among pilots who suffer vertigo, and is called the spiral of death; by this effect, an airplane can be sent spiraling at high speed into the ground while the pilot believes that everything is all right.

There are too many factors that intervene in such trickery; it would be too long to discuss every single one in detail, but for example, distant things approaching at high speed directly at the observer remain undetected until they “blossom” at the last minute: the fact that during a dark night on the road you see two distant points of light and suddenly you are confronted by a fifteen ton truck blaring its horn has a lot to do with this issue related to the internal structure of our eyes.

And there are others, but for the outdoor enthusiast, probably the most important group is that of the optical effects caused by weather: increased or decreased visibility that makes us think that what we see in the distance is closer or further than really is can be counted as the commonest form.

And yet another thing that can be dangerous, is to believe that the horizon or vertical line defining Earth's tangential plane over which one is stepping or walking is not really where it really is. This can happen if the contour lines and shapes of things visible, with no common spatial references such as the sea level or a flat valley, are such as to give us wrong ideas.

With no reliable references, you will not be able to determine where the true horizon is, and since the natural mechanisms that we have in our bodies that help us maintain our posture and equilibrium can be tricked in many ways, losing all balance and suffering vertigo is just at the turn of the corner. This condition is extremely dangerous in an aircraft, and is the reason why the attitude indicator or artificial horizon was invented.

A camp or a mess?

After trekking a whole day people are usually tired, and as the group guide tells everyone that they will stop for the day, some take out their backpacks, and some fall to the ground. Extenuated people usually don’t care much for the preparation of their night camp, especially if they know that they will not use it more than one night.

It is easy just to pretend throw the sleeping bag somewhere and go to sleep for a while as others do the job of preparing the camp and dinner, then wake up mumbling for some time, have supper and go back to sleep, leaving others to clean up everything. This is normal behavior for a lot of people, invariably inexperienced and with little team spirit. Those left to prepare diner and wash the dishes are probably as tired as we are.

But not being willing to take part in the preparation of the camp, even if it is to be used just for one night is not only a matter of manners and consideration; it is a security issue for in some parts of the world where there are wild animals like bears, for example, leaving an unprepared camp, with food scattered near your sleeping matt and backpacks open is an invitation for disaster to wake everyone up in the rudest way possible.

Finishing the trek of the day doesn’t mean that discipline should disappear; begin to prepare your camp by placing your gear somewhere in a tidy fashion.

Of course, military people will also point out that such sloppy behavior is also an invitation to capture or destruction by enemy forces, and they would be pretty right saying so: undisciplined, noisy, smelly platoons of unprofessional combatants have fallen prey to well-trained adversaries all thorough history. And then, some hard-core combatants even used ostensible sloppiness as an attractor for enemies to come – thinking that they will get the catch of the day – and butcher them; sloppy soldiers immediately call the attention of enemy forces!

And then you have weather conditions: you just throw yourself to sleep, and then rain, or worse, snow begins to fall during the night. You lost the opportunity to prepare your tent or shelter with the light of dusk. Now is 2:45 AM and water is coming down from the sky, temperatures are getting down and your precious gear is all wet. You could even freeze to death or at any rate, spend a miserable night just because of too much laziness, so much that it hampered any rational attempt to work for ten minutes building up your tent and putting all your goods and equipment under proper cover.

Our advice: never let anyone – including yourself – fall prey to extenuation or laziness while in the wilderness; if you reached the place where you will build your camp, you will indeed take a rest and sleep lots of hours, but spend just a couple of more minutes to secure your position before anything happens. While camping you will be more vulnerable than while hiking because your will not be paying attention and it will be dark. Remember that predators are never lazy and the weather doesn’t have a public relations’ department.

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