Testing Yourself

Posted by: sparty2005

Testing Yourself - 02/03/07 08:04 AM

Just curious how many of you test yourselves on a regular basis? I have been a survival nut now for about twenty years, read as many books and articles as I can get my hands onto, bought all the toys and gadgets etc. Of that time Iíve only had to rely on learned skills when I was caught out a couple hours after dark while hunting in some really cold, rainy conditions ( Trioxine bars are great! ). Iíve been wanting to test myself, but have hit a couple of obstaclesÖ time ( work and family ), place to do soÖ State land? Any opinions? Most of the times that I have tried to do something revolved around fire, ( which I know is very imported skill on many levels ) But there are so many other aspects of survival that need practice as well. Any drills, exercises or suggestions that you have that donít take up a great deal of time?
Posted by: OldBaldGuy

Re: Testing Yourself - 02/03/07 02:14 PM

Welcome Sparty,

I fear that most (probably all) of us suffer from the same problem. Even retired I find that my current lifestyle (doing volunteer work for various state/federal parks, while living full time in a RV, traveling the country) takes so much of my time that I don't get a chance to play much (other than building a fire from time to time). When my son was in scouts (a long long time ago), I assisted in their working for the survival merit badge, but that is no more. Hopefully someone smarter than both of us will come up with something we all can use...
Posted by: Polak187

Re: Testing Yourself - 02/03/07 03:58 PM

It's hard to do a real test. Anytime I wanted to do a test of my fire making skills when kayaking or backpacking was not really real. If I didn't suceed within first 15 minutes I had 8 hungry guys breathing down my neck to get the fire going. So I would chuck the magnifing glass, coke can, bow and drill and use my zippo/windmill to light up the fire. Maybe after everyone was fed and warm I would play around. But it is different to do stuff on the full belly as opposed to when you are cold and hungry.

But it is my testing ground. Everytime I go hiking, backpacking, camping or kayaking there is always down time. There is always an hour or two of down/sleepy time and everyone just rest or vegetates and at that time I play around with stuff I read about. Is it a real testing knowing that my life doesn't depend on it? To certain extend yes. Going thru the motions and practicing the skill is the way to do it. People learn CPR hoping they never use it but when they do, all this stuff comes back because they practiced it. Did they practice on a real person in a real situation? No, but working with the dummy with multiple repetition at least gave them the advantage over person who never even heard of CPR. I think same goes for survival skills. Just thinking about it, having proper equipment, maintaining it, reading about skills, being informed and implementing the usage of skills in real life is enough of the preparadness. You trying to create a water still or build a shelter when next to you is a gallon of water and your tent will give you an advantage of knowing what would happen and what kind of snags you are expected to hit. I would build a shelter and next morning I would look at it on how it held up. If it was still standing it was a success if it fell down I wanted to know where my weak points are. That way I learned proper knot tying techniques. Actual survival is so unpredictable that no matter how long you practiced brother Murphy will never fail to pay you a visit. But at least you have a knowledge backed up up by some practical skills.
Posted by: justin2006

Re: Testing Yourself - 02/04/07 01:14 AM

Today I decided to test myself by the following:
  • Drive out to favorite area to go snowshoeing.
  • Arrive at dirt road turnoff and put vehicle in 4WD.
  • Drive down dirt road with 1-to-2 feet of snow.
  • Change mind about snowshoeing in this area and play stupid by trying to turn vehicle around instead of backing-out the way I came.
  • Let vehicle tires lose traction, spin out, and dig the vehicle as deeply as possible into the snow.
  • Spend the next 1.5 hours digging out the tires and installing snow chains (not easy to do!).
  • Put vehicle in 4WD LO and turn vehicle around.
  • Change into dry clothing; put on snowshoes and gaiters and go snowshoeing for 5 miles round-trip.
  • Get back to vehicle and drive home.

<img src="/images/graemlins/crazy.gif" alt="" />

Posted by: oldsoldier

Re: Testing Yourself - 02/04/07 01:46 AM

Well, I'm kinda glad this came up. I had stated previously when I first joined ETS, that I wanted to start taking my nephew out on weekends and going over some stuff, and taping some of our "exploits". So, starting next saturday, we will be going out EVERY SATURDAY, and practicing something. Lots of times, I am sure it will be more than one aspect. Next weekend, we are gonna do firemaking, to include gathering everything we need. We wont leave the woods till we get a fire going (kindling only, proof of light). Next, shelter building, etc. I am planning a 3 day excursion this spring, with minimal gear. Will keep everyone informed!
Posted by: Chris Kavanaugh

Re: Testing Yourself - 02/04/07 03:00 AM

If you can't hone any skills hone your mind. Most of us 'drive.' I use parentheses since most people are doing anything but. Start by killing all distractions; cellphones, music, personal problems and the blond in the vintage white T Bird ( don't ask.) How many people check traffic reports? How many people are looking at traffic beyond the SUV who thinks vehicle body language ( you could tell I wanted to change lanes) is a legal turn signal? Do you see potential problems several vehicles ahead, listen for sirens or emergency lights behind you? Driving, with all it's increasing frustrations is an excellent arena for creating a mindset of awareness: One we can translate to other activities. Are you observing potential resources on a hike; the really nice rock shelter out of the wind,an old tree full of fatwood, old trashdump? The 'what if' Game can be played anytime, anywhere, one to 100 players, for 1 minute or one day.
Posted by: sparty2005

Re: Testing Yourself - 02/04/07 05:58 AM

Good points... I will definitely continue to hone my mind... It's interesting that you mention that because it made me realize that's something I currently do when I'm out in the field. Looking at tinder sources, natural shelters, etc. when I'm out hunting, hiking, or whatever. I've also thought that there are a couple of things that can be worked on around home, figure 4 deadfalls, practicing and learning different types of knots, maybe even build a solar still in the back yard ( I'm sure my wife would love that! ).
Posted by: OldBaldGuy

Re: Testing Yourself - 02/04/07 06:43 AM

"...maybe even build a solar still..."

From everything I have read and heard, they are not worth the effort to build. But nothing ventured nothing gained.

One of these days I'm going to try making a solar oven, maybe bake a cake or something...
Posted by: Biscuits

Re: Testing Yourself - 02/04/07 01:59 PM

Don't know about testing myself, but I make it a point to practice what I've learned, or try something I've read about when I'm in the field. I think the point is to do things often enough so that when you do them for real, it isn't really a test. Its just doing it.

Posted by: pipedreams

Re: Testing Yourself - 02/04/07 03:35 PM

It's tough to find the time, but I TRY to work on skill or bit o' kit weekly. Last weekend, I worked on fire building with my youngest daughter at our local lake.

Sometimes I just go to the back yard. Here is a back yard fire building session from a couple of months ago:

Cold today. 21 degrees. Freezing rain all last night. Sleet all morning. Perfect weather to practice fire building. I have my RAT-3, OHT with attached BSA Hot Spark and ONE PJ cotton ball.

Here's the deck. I can't get all the ice out of my fire bed (Lodge Grill).

To augment my lone PJ cotton ball, I pry a little pitch soaked bark from the pine tree.

I found a slab of maple to use as a platform to build my fire on buried in the brushpile behind my shop. It was mostly dry at the bottom of the pile. All my kindling came fron the bottom of the brushpile. Everything else is cover in ice. Here are the tools of the trade. Thet went to work splitting some matchstick and pencil sized kindling.

PJ cotton and pine pitch soaked bark ready to go.

One strike of the BSA Hot Spark on the spine of the RAT-3

Slowly feeding the fire. I almost smothered it TWICE, trying to hurry. The sleet didn't help matters, either.

Young fire and tools.

Fire pretty well established. It's taking some damp wood at this point.

This process took about 30 minutes. I was surprized it took so long. The fire needed to be fiddled with constantly to keep going. In the woods, I would have had more access to wood. Here in the yard, there are only 5 trees and the only tree that I can reach limbs on is a Willow. The brushpile was my sole source of fuel. Had fun. Good practice.

I enjoy practicing skills, so it's easier to make time. Good luck!


Posted by: Susan

Re: Testing Yourself - 02/05/07 03:51 AM

You can do a lot of stuff at home. It isn't wilderness (usually), but it's close and exposed to the weather. And if it's hunker-down time after a power outage, a tree comes down on the house, a earthquake collapses your home, you still might have to live in your back yard.

You can practice fire-building in rain or with one hand.

Try some nonfancy outdoor cooking (without the propane or briquets). Got edible plants like cattails nearby? Why not collect some and cook them?

Had to take a tree down or clean up some large fallen limbs that fell in the last storm? Use them to build a shelter. Even if you don't spend the night in it, you can see how it holds up in wind, how much rain got inside.

How many ways can you collect water? Can you create an above-ground solar still with the stuff you carry in your vehicle?

Posted by: Glock-A-Roo

Re: Testing Yourself - 02/05/07 03:56 PM

Great topic, and one that is certainly under-addressed.

IMO practicing your skills is extremely important. True, your life is not on the line during practice. But if you can't do it in practice under low-pressure, how do you expect yourself to do it for real under high-pressure? Matt's analogy with EMS training is exactly right. Before placing my first ET tube on a live patient, I had only done the procedure on manequins. But if I hadn't done the "classroom" training I sure couldn't have done it right when it was for real.

Some think that they will magically do great when the shiite hits the fan. But I urge those people to remember a proven adage from the world of combat: "you will not rise to the occasion, you will default to your level of ingrained training".

Note that we are talking skills here, not the proverbial mom-becomes-superman and lifts the car off of her baby. No amount of "oh God this is for real" + adrenaline will enable you to build a fire or construct a shelter with skills you never knew.

Please understand I am not discounting improvisation and the ability to make-do with what you've got in an admittedly unpredictable crisis situation. But I believe we need to apply a concept used by explorers, soldiers & others who venture into the unknown: be really good at what you CAN control and it will free you up to better deal with what you CAN'T control.
Posted by: raydarkhorse

Re: Testing Yourself - 02/05/07 04:04 PM

You wrote "you will not rise to the occasion, you will default to your level of ingrained training". I used to say almost the exact same thing every week for 5 years as I was teaching PPCT and firearms to police and correctional officers, but unfortunately when it comes to my survival skills I haven't paracticed what I preach. Gonna have to change that SOON! thanks for the reminder
Posted by: Blast

Re: Testing Yourself: Humbled - 02/05/07 07:04 PM

So Saturday afternoon I decided to actually take my BoB on a 1.5 mile hike through thick, untrailed woods and spend the night camping out.

End result: Being a cheap-ass is bad. My gear weighed a ton (~40 pounds) and carrying that up and down through brush-filled gullies wore me out really fast. Even after getting a 2" thick self-inflating pad I spent the night shivering in my sleeping bag (no tent used). 32F is really cold. Water weighs a fricken' ton. Four knives and a machete are overkill...

The only thing that worked perfectly was my fire-building. One match and the fire was still burning 14 hours later.

This really showed me that my plans to walk home if I get caught far away need serious re-evaluation. If you are going to rely on gear to get you home it'll need to be extremely light and durable otherwise it weigh too much and break too soon. My low-priced stuff will NOT cut it.

If you are planning on "brush-shelters and boiled water" then plan on going really slow. It takes a while to get things like this set-up and it's very difficult (for me, anyway) to do it in the dark.

Of course, all this being said I still did have an absolutely great time!

-Blast, who discovered five feet of waterproof cannon fuse makes great tinder.
Posted by: Meline

Re: Testing Yourself: Humbled - 02/05/07 07:18 PM

Well at least you had a learning experience, before your buns where on the line <img src="/images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" />
Posted by: oldsoldier

Re: Testing Yourself: Humbled - 02/05/07 10:47 PM

I am doing something similar thursday night. Although, I AM goona cheat. I will have a BD megamid with me, a stove, and my 0* sleeping bag. My intent isnt to "survive", but, to try out my bag (I havent had a good chance to try it in real cold conditions). I will, however, practice my firemaking skills, and, perhaps water boiling (if I can get through the ice).
I am taking my nephew shelter building on saturday. I just ordered him his own Mora knife <img src="/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />. I plan on getting some video of thrusday, and pics + vids for this weekend. Stay tuned!
Posted by: Craig_phx

Re: Testing Yourself - 02/06/07 05:40 PM

How about like this:

or like this (high of 36F low of 15F):

Posted by: Glock-A-Roo

Re: Testing Yourself: Humbled - 02/06/07 05:43 PM

Great job, Blast. Sounds like you got some excellent insights from your practice.
Posted by: Susan

Re: Testing Yourself - 02/06/07 07:04 PM

That looks nice and homey!

If that is a food bag suspended from the tree branch, and you are in the tent below, do you think a bear might use you as a step to climb the tree to try for the bag? <img src="/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" />

Posted by: samhain

Re: Testing Yourself: Humbled - 02/07/07 01:28 AM

Thanks for the insight.

I have a lot of respect for someone who'll stand up and say "this is where I screwed up" and allow others to learn from it.

I'm curious Blast. What was your rationale about not using a tent or tarp cover of some sort (weight vs testing out what it's like without vs the kids had it, etc)?

Not criticizing, just trying to incorporate what you've learned into my own planning.

Do you carry some sort of stove in your BOB?

Thanks for the lessons.

Posted by: samhain

Re: Testing Yourself - 02/07/07 01:49 AM

Good point Sue,

I'd rather practice at home initially where I have a backup (shelter, hot shower, microwave, pizza delivery, etc) in case Murphy throws too many curve-balls at me before I "take it on the road".

Being familiar with the home and surrounding environment is a good idea.

If you think about it, most car accidents occur within about 2 miles from home (I remember reading it, just can't cite the source).

That's because that is where we spend most of our time and is most likely where we would be when "stuff" happens.

I live in the 'burbs. My disaster plan is centered around bugging IN rather than out. I do have an out plan as well, but most of my planning is involved around getting home.

It would take a chem plant going kablooie to justify leaving home.

Posted by: Blast

Re: Testing Yourself: Humbled - 02/07/07 05:07 AM


The main purpose of the outing was to play in the woods, but my choice of gear was based on testing the gear I have with me if I were trying to get home from a remote work location. It was inspired by raydarkhorse's post on this very concept. I always planned on walking home if TSHTF but hadn't really done anything more than pick over my hiking gear. I guess technically it wasn't my BoB, more it was my Get Me Home Gear (GMHG?). A cheap bag filled with Walmart gear worked for my day-hikes and seemed reasonable for longer situations.

Unfortunately, gear of this sort probably won't get me 1,000+ miles to home.

About not using a tent, mainly I'm lazy. I don't like the weight of tents (well, any I can afford). I don't like the time and trouble of setting up a tent. I don't like trying to find a spot big and flat enough for a tent. Also, being 6'5" it's rare that I can find a tent that I really fit in. Plus, I can't drag a tent out to work spots with me, but a tarp of some sort can be easily scavenged. I'd rather just throw up a tarp or painter's dropcloth over a hammock. I didn't use the hammock his time as I was on a sandbar with no good place to hang it.

Now when my wife and kids are along we use a tent. A huge, annoying, complex beast that my wife absolutely loves (it has a ceiling fan and a potty).

As for a stove, I use an old (15+ years) Gaz S-200 butane-canister stove for the BoB mainly because I've found it to be rugged, effecient, and goof-proof. One canister will cook quite a few meals, Replacement fuel canisters can be found at Walmart. Sidenote: If I'm flying this stove stays home and I'm limited to cooking over fire. That's not a problem but I had some new cookware this time and I wasn't ready to get it all sooty.

You can see pictures of my test at my blog linked at the end of this post.

Really, what I wanted to get across was two things with these posts:
1. Load up your pack and go for a long walk! It's easy to assume you'll have no problems but reality will probably be very different. I do a lot of day hikes with a fair amount of gear, but this was the first time I humped my GMHG farther than across an airport terminal and those times it was usually strapped to wheeled luggage.

2. Certian things you juust can't take the cheap path and expect to be okay. My $20 sleeping bag may as well have been a hankie. My backpack could have been used as a torture device. My space blanket...well, I don't even need to go there with this crowd. Sure, some inexpensive things are great but if you want low weight AND high performance you'll usually have to pay $$$. I'm already saving up for a Wiggys sleeping bag and a real backpack.

Hopefully y'all will be inspired to test your stuff out. Sadly, having gear and using gear are worlds apart...

Posted by: TomApple

Re: Testing Yourself: Humbled - 02/07/07 12:57 PM

About not using a tent, mainly I'm lazy. I don't like the weight of tents (well, any I can afford). I don't like the time and trouble of setting up a tent. I don't like trying to find a spot big and flat enough for a tent.

Personally I like the versatility of an Army poncho. It's good wearable raincover, it can snap into a sleeping bag shape, works as good groundcloth or lean-to cover, and if a companion has one too, they can be snapped together to form a larger shelter. They are fairly compact and lightweight. The addition of the poncho liner makes it even better for sleeping.


Tom A.
Posted by: norad45

Re: Testing Yourself: Humbled - 02/07/07 02:36 PM

Some nice writeups here. I also like your blog. What kind of backpack were you using?
Posted by: OldBaldGuy

Re: Testing Yourself: Humbled - 02/07/07 04:07 PM

With a poncho you can always make an Alpha tent. Not nearly as good as a real tent, but all you add to your load is two cut down tent poles...
Posted by: Blast

Re: Testing Yourself: Humbled - 02/07/07 06:05 PM


I used a $30 daypack (Magellan Ranger) from "Academy Sports",the local sports/outdoors chain store here in Texas. The pack works well on day hikes and I suspect it'd be okay for warm weather overnighters. But it was pretty much filled up when I had both my regular sleeping bag and a fleece bag stuffed in it.

I'm glad you like my blog. Sometimes looking at it's pictures is the only thing keeping me sane at work.

Posted by: Blast

Re: Testing Yourself - 02/07/07 06:09 PM


I like those setups. Is that a heavy-weight space blanket in the second picture? Does it really add much heat or is it just a convinent wind-stopper?

Also, why have the tubetent on top of your pad? Wouldn't things stay together better if everything were inside the tube?

Posted by: samhain

Re: Testing Yourself: Humbled - 02/09/07 02:49 AM


I hear you about going to play in the woods. I'm plotting/scheming my next weekend escape as well in the next few months before I go nuts.

Quality is the best policy. I'm still using my Kelty pack I bought about 19 years ago. She's tattered but sound.

Looking forward to playing with my beer can stove I just made. It works well in the kitchen and the backyard; now time to see how this baby burns in the woods where Murphy lurks.


Still playing with making a different stand for it.

As far as tents go, I have fallen very deeply in "like" with my Hennessy Hammock.

It's nice not having to worry about trying to find relatively flat/dry ground to try and pitch a tent on.

Here in S. Louisiana I need some sort of shelter/cover or the skeeters will drain me dry regardless of how much Deet I coat myself in if not drive me insane buzzing around my ears.

Thanks for the tips.
Posted by: OldBaldGuy

Re: Testing Yourself - 02/09/07 03:45 AM

Today, since it has been a while, I took out my signaling mirror and made sure that I could still aim it. Must be like bike riding and sex, once you learn it you never forget it.

We were also clearing trails through the wooded part of the campground, and while I didn't have time to actually build one, I spotted several locations where I could easily build a decent shelter with nothing but the available materials mother nature had provided. As I did that, it dawned on me that I pretty much automatically do that all the time when I am in anything approaching "the boonies."

But, other than getting stranded while on a day hike or dirt road drive and needing to stay for a while, I am more of a bug in kind of guy, and I already know well how to use everything I have there...
Posted by: Craig_phx

Re: Testing Yourself - 02/10/07 10:04 PM


I have never slept in the Coghlan's Survival Bag. I wanted to give it a try. My sleeping bags were too big to stuff in there and sleep comfortably; I bailed on the bag.

I had a campfire going. I did not feel like I was getting a lot of reflected heat from the fire with the HD Space Blanket. It did make a fair wind brake and helped keep the snow off of me. The Heatsheet was great to keep the snow off of my sleeping bag. It also blocked some of the light and smoke from the fire.

The cold makes you need to urinate more than you might otherwise. It was nice to be able to get up without worming out of a bag.

I now think a good survival setup would be a Heatsheet or HD Space Blanket for cover and an AMK bag to sleep in. Maybe a second Heatsheet for the ground.

Here is what it looked like the next morning when it was 15F. Had a couple Boy Scouts share my cooking fire.

Posted by: Blast

Re: Testing Yourself - 02/11/07 02:25 AM


Ah, thank's for explaining!

Posted by: JIM

Re: Testing Yourself - 02/12/07 07:22 PM

Last night I was repacking my hiking-kit and desided I'd try to make a fire using the stuff in it and what I had in my jacket/keychain.
It was pretty cold outside but dry, so I put on my headlight and went outside.

The fire-starting components:


1 BIC-lighter
1 Fire-Steel+striker
30 Coghlan?s Wind/Waterproof matches + striker strip
15 Coghlan?s Emergency-Tinder
4 small candles
2 ?Camp-Heat?
1 Esbit folding stove with 20 fuel tabs.


1 'Light my fire' army fire-steel (used with Leatherman Wave file)
5 waterproof coghlan's matches (UPSK)
6 waterproof coghlan's emergency tinder (UPSK)
1 BIC-lighter
1 Gauze pad (FAK)


1 ferro-rod (used with Leatherman Squirt blade and file)
1 small piece of cotton wool

Conclusion: I have a lot of fire-starting gear <img src="/images/graemlins/blush.gif" alt="" />

First I simply tryed to light a piece of emergency-tinder with my fire-steel.
I prepared the tinder according to the instructions and it lit on the first strike.
Next I tryed to do the same with the gauze pad.
After some strikes I fluffed it up and it caught fire almost immediately.

Next I tryed to do the same using some cotton wool ,but I discovered it was synthetic, so it just melted. Not a smart move, isn't it? <img src="/images/graemlins/blush.gif" alt="" />
(with the 'normal' cotton wool it did work)

Then I tryed to lite a piece of tinder using just the equipment on my keychain, so I used the file of the Squirt: barely any sparks!
Next I used the blade, same results. Finally, using the file on the Wave it did work.

Finally I wanted to lite the solid fuel tabs that came with the esbit stove. I knew a spark wasn't going to do that,
and neither would a Coghlan's wind/waterproof match. (guess due to the short burn-time of the match.)
After some trying I put 2 of the matches on the bottom, placed the fuel tab on top and then used
another 2 matches to form sort of a roof-construction on top of the fuel-tab. When lighting one of those matches with yet another match,
a huge 'fire-ball' lit the fuel tab almost immediately!! Maybe a good tip if you got enough matches?

Lessons learned and equipment changes:

- Preparation is the key to a fire!
- Always pack enough matches!
- When using solid-fuel, use the above setup!
- Fire-steels are great!
- I replaced the synthetic cotton with real cotton wool.
- I added a short piece of hacksaw-blade to the keychain to use as a striker for the ferro-rod.

Now I guess I have to try this in the rain <img src="/images/graemlins/cool.gif" alt="" />!

Have a great day!

Posted by: oldsoldier

Re: Testing Yourself - 02/12/07 10:07 PM

Blast, I stayed out thursday night in the cold as well. I videotaped part of it, until the camera died (too cold to film).
My long term BoB has, much to my chagrin, turned out to be my old military rucksack. As much as I hated it in the army, I find that, for winter, it is ideal for holding gear. The other 3 seasons I have a goLite frameless pack (I am an ultralighter at heart...I swear!).
I like to get out once a week, usually just for dayhikes. Although, as of late, I've taken to overnighters. My nephew is coming with me this saturday, for his innaugural fire making class (and my practice <img src="/images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" /> ).

PS, if anyone can hostr a 160 meg vid, let me know <img src="/images/graemlins/laugh.gif" alt="" />
Posted by: Blast

Re: Testing Yourself - 02/12/07 10:23 PM


Getting out is great. My only New Year's Resolution for 2007 is to sleep outside at least one night each month.

Can you break the video down into sections and then upload it to www.YouTube.com?

Also, may I add a link to your blog on mine?

Posted by: Blast

Re: Testing Yourself - 02/12/07 10:24 PM


Gee, and I thought I carried a lot of fire-makey! Thanks for the write-up, it makes me realize I better confirm my cotton really is cotton!