Saturday, January 31, 2009

Outdoor reading - survival

During the summer I buy books on outdoor topics, during the winter I read them. Since I'm not getting out this winter and don't have other topics in mind, I will discuss some topics on backcountry books.

I've been reading more books and articles on survival topics this last year than usual. Possibly the well reported incidents locally (PNW) have piqued my interest or perhaps my increasing age and declining health have made me more aware of my personal risks. Not that I expect to be in a survival situation, I hope to avoid such situations, but I am aware that even in everyday activities I may find myself in a precarious situation.

Most of the books have been about an individual's personal survival stories, interesting but not highly applicable to situations I expect to encounter. I can learn some things from these books, such as to carry appropriate equipment and don't fly in small planes over mountains, but the day to day struggle isn't likely to be similar to what I would encounter. Other books, such as those by Tom Brown, are more specialized than I would usually need and require more time and practice than I'm willing to spend.

One book I read recently is Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales, the subtitle is "Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why". To oversimplify, the premise of the book is psychological factors most strongly influence ability to survive life-threatening situations. I hasten to add that he doesn't imply having a positive attitude is the only thing needed or that one needs a positive attitude, just an appropriate turn of mind. I won't elaborate, I think this is a good book to read both for the survival knowledge and as interesting reading. The majority of the book consists of annotated survival stories, both of those who survived and who didn't, with a final chapter with some advice to increase ones chances of survival. Gonzales includes stories from from non-outdoor disasters, such as the September 11, 2001 planes and other plane crashes and how people coped without emergency gear.

I've blogged before about trying to develop a balanced approach to carrying emergency items with me when hiking. I tend to be the type to take 'everything' and that isn't working when hiking, my pack weighs too much, see I carry lots of equipment in my car and often multiple backup options, like 3 flashlights plus extra batteries. It only took a couple of situations, such as being stuck for a couple of hours on Snoqualmie Pass, with no idea of how long the wait would be and unable to go either direction, before I decided that I would carry lots of stuff including food and blankets in my car but that isn't an option for hiking.

Anyway, I am rethinking what is most useful for me to carry when hiking. I haven't taken my cell phone much of the time since cell coverage in the northern Cascades and many backcountry locations is poor. However, coverage is getting better and even if I can't complete a call, my phone might be trackable by GPS through the cell phone company. I'm also putting together a small emergency kit for my waist pack and making sure I carry a compass, emergency food, and a light vinyl poncho always.



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