The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 78: Counting Up Essentials, part 1

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The ten essentials. Are there ten, and why are they essential? This week on The WildeBeat; Counting Up Essentials, part one.

[Intro Music & SFX; 0:07.6 and under]

News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number seventy eight.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

[Intro Music: 0:04.5 ends]

STEVE: When you start out studying skills for almost any outdoor activity, you'll eventually run into a discussion of the ten essentials. The original list of ten essentials is widely attributed to training by The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based group. But even their spokesman was unsure of the exact origin. What we do know is that since that first list appeared in the nineteen thirties, people have debated and argued what should be on that list, and how many essential items there are. So I contacted Doug Ritter, the executive director of the Equipped To Survive Foundation, about why we need a list of essentials.

DOUG RITTER: There are two major reasons people find themselves in a survival situation. One is they got lost, two is they get injured.

STEVE: The list of ten essentials is intended to answer the question, "What are the minimum items I need to survive when help is delayed?" One person who found out the answer to this question, the hard way, is Amy Racina.

AMY RACINA: It was August of two thousand three, and I had planned one of my, to me, my most exciting backpacking trips ever. It was a hundred and seventy mile loop through King's Canyon National Park, and it would take me through some of the most remote and most beautiful places in North America... I was traveling by myself. I was soloing... The trip was intended to take two and a half weeks, and up until day twelve of my trip, it was everything I'd hoped it would be. It was just beautiful. On day twelve, I was working my way down a steep unmaintained trail around a hillside, the ground crumbled and gave way beneath me with absolutely no warning. I found myself falling sixty feet through the air with nothing beneath me but rock.

STEVE: Amy knew where she was, but a lot of survival situations happen because someone loses the trail.

DOUG RITTER: The ten essentials starts out with a map and compass. And certainly a map is an essential item to have with you. But, unfortunately today, the vast majority of people I find have trouble figuring out even how to find north on a compass. It's not a skill that is widely taught anymore... So from my perspective, if your first goal is to stay found, not get lost, a G-P-S these days is more essential than a map and compass. You can get a mapping G-P-S for very reasonable prices. Carry a spare set of batteries for anything you carry that's electric and battery powered.

STEVE: In Amy's situation, she may have been using an old map showing a route which was no longer safe, or perhaps the limitations of her navigation tools and skills got her off the safer trail. We'll never know.

AMY RACINA: I was extremely glad that I had with me a map and a compass because I knew almost exactly where I was, and as it turns out, I was very accurate about that.

[Fade up stream SFX.]

AMY RACINA: I was certain, during the one and a half to two seconds when I was falling, that I'd be dead when I hit the bottom. But when I hit the rock, I found to my surprise that I was still alive. So the first thing that I did was sort of push myself upright and take inventory of my injuries. I had broken both legs in several places each, including a gaping open wound where my right knee had previously been. It was bleeding all over the rock. I had broken my hip in two places, snapped off a front tooth. My nose was smashed, several fingers appeared to be sprained. But I actually considered that I had been fortunate not to have been more seriously harmed. My backpack had fallen within arms reach of me, and in my pack I had all of the essential gear that I needed to have at least a chance of surviving. So my next question to myself was how could I stay alive? How could I survive until I would be found and rescued?

[Fade out stream SFX.]

DOUG RITTER: Your number one survival tool is your brain. If you don't bring that along, on your hike or your backpacking trip or your skiing trip or whatever, it really doesn't matter how much gear you have. Without your brain along for the ride you're going to find yourself in a lot more difficult circumstances... And it is probably one of the key items that we often see missing when we have to go out and rescue people. You know, if they had engaged their brain before they found themselves in this situation, they would have probably not got in that situation. And once in the situation, if they'd thought about what they were doing, they would not have made it much worse, which is often what happens.

[Fade up stream SFX.]

AMY RACINA: The first thing I did was apply basic first aid to my injuries. And for that I needed the first aid kit that I always carry in my backpack.

[SFX: Unpacking. Fade out stream SFX.]

DOUG RITTER: Next on the list: I would have to list a knife. A knife is pretty far down on the original ten essentials list, I think it's like number eight. But I would put that right up at the top, because a good knife, your next most critical and useful tool, besides your brain.

AMY RACINA: I'm not certain what sort of situation the knife would provide the tool to save your life.

DOUG RITTER: OK. I think the first thing is to imagine doing the things you need to do in a survival situation when you don't have a knife. This can include things like making shelter, of critical importance often times. That includes helping make your bed, helping make your fire, all that sort of thing. If all you have is your bare hands, it's not that you can't survive, it's that you have to work a lot harder at it. Energy management is essential in a survival situation, because you have limited resources and limited energy.

[Fade up stream SFX.]

AMY RACINA: The next thing I noticed about myself was that I was going into shock. I was shaking uncontrollably. I knew that I had to warm my body up, both externally and internally, so I pulled my stove out of my backpack and made hot liquids. I made chicken soup.

[SFX, camp stove.]

[Fade out stream SFX.]

DOUG RITTER: The ability of a fire to both improve your morale, and keep you warm can be essential to your survival. The difficulty with fire is that it can become your enemy just as quickly. We've had a number of occasions where people have tried to use fires as signaling devices and it's gotten out of hand... So you do have to respect fire tremendously. But particularly in colder weather, there's just not much substitute for the warmth that a fire can provide. Next is water. It gets short shrift in a lot of lists. But, if you recall, we talked about bringing your brain along. Well, in order for your brain to function right, it's got to be hydrated. As little as five percent dehydration results in some adverse effect on your faculties, your reasoning ability. And if your reasoning ability isn't working well, you're going to make poor decisions which is going to make your survival situation worse.

[Fade up stream SFX.]

AMY RACINA: I didn't actually need the water because I had fallen next to a small stream. What I did need was my water carrier so that I could reach out and scoop up some of the water and bring it to me... I had about four, five days of food left in my bear canister. I was in so much shock I couldn't really eat, but it was comforting to have the food there.

[Fade out stream SFX.]

DOUG RITTER: Next I would put shelter. This can be as simple as a couple of large trash bags, or as sophisticated as an Adventure Medical Kits Heat Sheets bivy sack, or Heat Sheets emergency blanket. The idea is something that's going to protect you from the environment, reduce wind chill, provide some protection from rain and wind.

[Fade up stream SFX and settling-in SFX.]

AMY RACINA: I pulled on every scrap of clothing I had with me to keep my body warm, and then I pulled my down sleeping bag over me, all in an attempt to keep the body heat that I needed so desperately at that time.

[Fade out SFX.]

[Closing Music: 0:10 and under]

Next time -- Counting Up Essentials, part two.

Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. Please click on the support link to make possible future editions of this free service. The WildeBeat is produced by Steve Sergeant, with help from Jean Higham, as a public service of Effable Communications.

This has been The WildeBeat, program number seventy eight. Thank you for listening.

[Closing Music: ends.]

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