better safe than sorry

There are those who seek to prove themselves in a wilderness survival situation outfitted with no more than a knife and a loincloth.

There are those who seek to prove themselves in a wilderness survival situation outfitted with no more than a knife and a loincloth. Well, perhaps also a bit of wire and a rifle.

The idea, I suppose, is to be so skilled that in an emergency situation in the bush, food, heat and shelter can be procured with minimal equipment. Pitting one’s mind and scarce resources against the enemy of nature, or something along those lines.

It always seems to me that it would be a bit of a nuisance, having to fiddle with setting up rabbit snares after taking a fall and breaking a leg kilometres from the closest human habitation. Maybe others would enjoy the challenge of it.

Personally, in any kind of emergency situation, I would rather have the proper gear with me that would allow me to focus all of my energy on the problem at hand instead of wasting time on staying dry, warm and fed.

Admittedly, the “always be prepared” mindset can be a real drag, especially in winter.

My summer survival gear that I hoist around with me on every walk fits nicely into a small daypack. The winter kit, unfortunately, is a lot more bulky and requires an actual backpack. Not a big one … but still.

It has the annoying feature of being perfectly situated on my shoulders to catch and trap all the snow that I dislodge from tree branches and melt it against my back. Every year when the time comes to switch gear, I procrastinate and the knife and loincloth philosophy briefly seems very appealing to me.

Then I give myself a good talking to — after all, limiting the equipment can one day mean limiting my life expectancy, and with a big sigh of disgust I give in to my beast of burden role.

The one big risk in our situation of living in the bush is some sort of injury that would make getting back to the cabin a very slow and painful process. Getting lost is an unrealistic scenario, given the dog entourage with GPS functions (always capable of leading us back home) and the multiple compasses we carry.

So it is against the event of becoming partially or totally immobilized while out and about that I prepare.

When both Sam and I are home, we can rely on each other and an emergency is bound to be easier dealt with. But those times when one of us is out, leaving the other one as a recluse of the woods, require extra caution.

In a dry bag that goes into my backpack, I carry a complete set of winter clothing, including boot liners, a handheld radio, handwarmers and first aid supplies. Also a metal cup, spoon, matches and knife, plus a one-time use emergency stove and rope. Not to mention high-calorie food that can be comfortably stretched over three days. You begin to see where carting all this stuff around ceases to be fun.

Food had always been a somewhat overlooked item in my pile of gear — oh sure, I usually had a couple of granola bars with me, but reasoned that it’s not what you’d call a vital item. After all, starvation is not something that sets in from one day to the next. But after one winter where I got the snowmachine stuck in overflow and went on a 12-hour march home with nothing more than a skimpy oatmeal bar to munch on, I made some changes.

Apart from feeling hungry, I tend to become very irritable and unfocussed when going without food. In an emergency situation, that can lead to bad decision making. Precisely what you don’t want.

So I’d rather lug around the extra weight of some camping meals with me, knowing that they will go a long way towards keeping my mind sharp and alert.

All in all, I’m obviously a poor candidate for any sort of minimalist survival competition. But being out in the wilderness is neither a game nor a test of macho qualities to me. It’s a way of life that calls for plenty of respect to Mother Nature and realistic preparation beyond a knife and loincloth, so you can live to tell the tale.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.