Knots for Traps

Today I will look at some knots relevant to yesterday’s blog.

This is the “snare knot”, which I have to admit was new to me. It did look familiar, however! The animated knots website describes the similar poacher’s knot, aka strangle snare or a double overhand noose, as a double overhand on a bight. It also provides the useful information that this is a good knot for high modulus ropes that might fail with knots such as the bowline.

From the double overhand on a bight comes the triple overhand, scaffold knot or triple overhand noose, another strong, useful loop.

While on the subject of loops, twisting a wire loop into a double loop for better locking:

The previous blog featured toggles tied into the middle of ropes. Two methods of doing this, one for a clove hitch, the other for the related constrictor knot.


A Single Trap System

Today I will start with a warning. Knowing how to trap for food is an important component of your knowledge. It should, however, only be used when needed. I do not condone poaching, nor leaving traps set for any other reason than genuine survival needs. Practice building them if you want, but break them up once you are done. If you use this for poaching or unnecessary cruelty you deserve everything that may happen to you.
In my first book I used the principle of teaching by which I concentrated on underlying common principles. For example, rather than trying to teach dozens of different Judo throws I taught the principles of balance and obstruction around which most are based. A similar idea is used in my knot book. You are taught a knot, then introduced to similar knots that have different applications. From the clove hitch it is easy to learn the constrictor, transon, slippery hitch and buntline hitch, among others.
Recently I came across a similar approach to learning trap construction. Rather than try to memorize every design in the survival manuals, learn a single mechanism that could be put to many different purposes. Look for the similarities and common features as well as the differences.
This is the basic mechanism, which is pretty easy to understand. Don’t make the trigger parts from green wood or that which is gummy. You do not want these parts to stick together. The following examples will also give you a good grounding in understanding other types of traps.

Power to the trap can be either by tension or by counterweight. Counterweights are often shown as tree trunks or rocks, but can be a limb used as a lever under its own weight. The constant load may uproot stakes or cause parts of a mechanism to fail, so inspect traps when you check them, even if they have not caught anything. As can be seen with the fish trap, there are applications for this mechanism other than snares. A mechanism that can hold up a weight can also be used to drop it! A crash site or battlefield will have lots of metal and plastic that can be used for trap construction. This option is not shown in most survival manuals. The piece of parachute harness shown should also suggest to you that the hook in most of these diagrams could easily be a ring or loop instead. Use a stone or similar to smooth and taper a peg used for a loop or ring. A toggle on the end of a line can be used to pull a ring from a peg.
The form of the next trigger looks different but the principle is exactly the same. Rather than a hook (or ring) you have a toggle and two pegs/pins. In this particular example the counterweight also acts as a deadfall. The toggle is held by two pegs. These pegs could be spent cartridge cases hammered into the bark. If using nails bend them upwards slightly so the toggle does not catch on the heads. Always test trap mechanisms.

The next illustrations show the same principle again, but a slightly different form. Effectively a notch or hook and a crosspiece. Note that a single trigger can serve several nooses.

These variants are the same as the last, but support the horizontal with two supports rather than one. The first illustration is not a spring snare, but could easily be improved to be one. The stick shown will not slow the rabbit down much, but might hinder it entering its burrow. This may be a considerable distance away, so making a better trap or using a larger/ additional drag would be more humane and better for the survivor too. Do not underestimate how much weight a trapped animal will drag. Secure traps to heavy weights or well-rooted objects in preference to simple stakes.

A horizontal such as this could support multiple snares. Note how one example has the supports orientated so the trap works in either direction. In another illustration the contact areas have been reduced to make the trap more sensitive.
Here is another variation of the basic mechanism. Some might argue it is a different mechanism, but I like to think of it as a toggle tied off-centre. Note how it can be worked with a platform or tripwire, and that it can be used to raise nets or drop weights as well as snares.

The same mechanism, using a horizontal bar. Note use of dual tripwires:

A variation of the above systems. The cord is hitched around the support pole and disturbing the trap releases it. Test to ensure it works smoothly.

This variation holds the toggle between two other parts. This has a passing resemblance to the “Figure-Four” type mechanisms. A small saw, such as that on a Swiss army knife, may be very useful in making these fitted mechanisms.

A variation of the mechanism using two pegs in a tree-trunk. Here a nail is used in place of the toggle bar.

This is a commercially made trap, I believe, but illustrates how scrap metal and other “non-woodland” resources can be used. The trigger is simply a hole that fits over a pin.  Weight in the platform levers it off the pin.

Use existing resources where possible. Here a supple tree is simply hooked to its neighbor.

Some more variations of the systems shown. Note, trap is positioned so that the only way to the bait is through the noose.


New Medical Pouch

I decided to give myself a little treat. For decades my travel medical kit has ridden in a silver-grey zip pouch that once held materials for contact lens care. This has worked well enough, partially because it was always stored in the same place. If I needed it and could not get it myself, the directions “front upper pocket of my bag, grey pouch” were clear enough for most. I realized that it would help if the pouch itself were more clearly recognizable as a medical item.
A quick look online secured an item as a tolerable price. As it turned out, this was a fortuitous decision. The top of the TCP bottle had broken with age and would have spilt all over the inside next time my travel rucksac was disturbed.

The new pouch is 14-15 cm square and about 5 cm deep. It holds everything the old pouch did, although it is a little bit more of a squeeze. In truth, my travel kit has acquired a few extra items over the years. I probably should have migrated some of these to other kits.
The new pouch has two internal zipped mesh pockets. The main zip is two-way and already provided with pull-tabs to make it easier to operate if wearing gloves.

I have detailed how to construct your own kit in other blogs. Items of note, going clockwise from top left:
  • Lice comb: Never needed it, hope never to need it.
  • Roller bandage: useful support for sprained or twisted ankles.
  • Bag of alcohol wipes. I probably have more of these than needed. Some extras came with another kit.
  • Olbas oil, TCP, Oil of Cloves.
  • Vaseline. Sleeve of scalpel blades I happen to have.
  • Plasters. Note bottom of the bag they are in has been reinforced so it makes a better water carrier. This was a gift from a friend of mine and has ended up in the medical kit.
  • Dental floss: this is probably a duplicate of an item also carried in my repair kit. I have one in my EDC pouch too. Could be used to construct an emergency bikini for my Brazilian girlfriend.
  • Roll of tape. I only have this because I got it free with another pouch I purchased.
  • Green plastic sleeve contains fine pointed forceps.
  • Bag of safety pins on large bandage. This bandage was another freebie. I would be happy with the plasters and roller bandage.
  • Two pairs of haemostats, one curved, one straight. I had access to these so acquired some. Hopefully will never need to clamp an artery, but they have proved useful for less sanguine tasks.
  • In the centre, a bag containing aspirin and other general medications.
The “hardware” goes into one of the side pockets. Small bottles, Vaseline tin and dental floss into the other. Items most likely to be wanted, the aspirins and plasters, go in the centre.

Survival Headbands

Recently I have been thinking about headgear.

If you are in the military your primary headgear should be your helmet.

The Roman Vegetius reports that Roman soldiers always wore hats so they were accustomed to carrying a weight here. These hats were leather and known as “Pannonian” or “Tetrachic” caps.

Your helmet should be competently camouflaged, which involves more than just putting the latest cloth cover on it.

I will give some additional ideas for helmets in a later blog. In the meantime, think “puggaree”.

My headgear of choice is usually either a watch cap or a boonie hat.
With the watch cap we can include headovers, ski-masks and other items that can be worn in the same way.
A good watch cap is not too thick. In cold weather you do not want to overheat, and one of the merits of a watch cap is you can screw it up and carry it virtually anywhere.
If it is really cold, you can use it in combination with other headgear or another watch cap. A watch cap doubles as a night cap so can keep you a little warmer sleeping at night.
One size fits nearly all, and the cap stays on in all but the very strongest winds.
Your outdoor kit should include at least one watch cap or equivalent. Most of my coats and jackets have a cap or similar tucked into a pocket for when the weather turns for the worse.
Sadly, the watch cap cannot be used for everything, and this is where the boonie hat steps in. It has a brim, which as well as keeping the sun off, keeps the rain off my glasses.
In a previous blog I described how to camouflage a boonie, although it should be understood that these techniques can also be applied to helmets and other headgear too.
Unlike the watch cap, the boonie and many other types of headgear need to be sized to fit the wearer. Chances are most readers do not know their hat size. Even if you do, there is still the chance a size may come up large or small.
Most forms of headgear have very little provision for size adjustment.
As an individual, this can be irritating. For someone like a quartermaster, who must equip hundreds of personnel, it means multiple alternatives of the same item must be stocked.

While I was thinking about this, another train of thought intersected with it.

In the classic movie “Seven Samurai” it is notable that the farmers who are defending their village have scarves bound around their foreheads. We see this in other movies, with some samurai wearing headscarves beneath their helmets. It is a common practice in kendo too.

This has practical applications. Fighting is a physical activity and a scarf keeps the sweat from running into your eyes. Also keeps your hair out of your eyes.

Logical enough, so it is perhaps surprising how rarely we seem to see fighting men using headcloths. There is Rambo, of course, and a few individuals in pictures from Vietnam.
If you are a regular reader, you will have a bandanna in your EDC, and such is handy should you find yourself sweating more than you expected. If you know you are likely to be sweating, you should have made some preparations.
In hot weather, a neck gaiter may be repurposed as a sweat band.
In the vast, echoing expanse of my mind, two ideas collide!

Take an elasticated headband, as made famous by Bjorn Borg, and sew it into your boonie hat, patrol cap or whatever else you favour:

  • Your hat is now more size-tolerant. Don’t worry about ordering a new hat that may be too big. Order it a size bigger and fit a sweatband.
  • Your hat now stays on better. It hugs your head like a watch cap.
  • You will be bothered less by perspiration running down into your eyes.
Only problem with this idea is most elasticated sweatbands are in very un-tactical colours. You may be able to find grey, but these are still a bit light. It may be possible to dye grey and white with tea or diluted acrylic paint.
What is really needed is for some smart company to manufacture sweatbands in a useful colour such as “light coyote tan”. I’m sure someone will demand them in “tactical” black! Very dark grey may have applications for police headgear. A friend of my suggests sage or olive might suit some police uniforms.
Such headbands would have dual use. Firstly, they can be sewn into headgear as described above.
Secondly they can be worn as a stand-alone item, either on their own or under helmets.
And here is a third use. Take a sweatband and use it for the foundation of a hat. Sewn a bag of light, neutral-coloured cloth to it. It doesn’t have to be that neat or regular, quite the opposite. Then sew a net or similar to the bag and camouflage it as described in the articles above.
You can wear this as a hat on its own, or over something such as a watch cap if it is cold. If you made it big enough you can use it to camouflage a boonie or even a helmet.
In the latter application it works rather like the Israeli “mitznefet/clown-hat”, but with the added improvement of some textilage and the provision to add natural foliage.

Canteen (cup) Coffee

I have been using the past few months productively. I may not be able to go out much, so why not use the time to finally get around to all those little jobs that stack up? I have washed my down jacket, replaced the zips in two jackets and the cuffs in another.
It is also a good time for various experiments! I love my coffee, and I do mean coffee, not the horrible instant chemicals that masquerade under the name. It seems a great shame that our young men and women risk their lives serving their country and the last thing they may drink is such crap.
While researching how to made a decent cup of coffee in the field, I came across this interesting website. How you go about making coffee (or tea, for that matter) can have a considerable influence on the taste. Relatively recently my coffee machine broke down and I went back to using a cafetiere (aka “French Press”). The first few cups I made were unimpressive. It makes all the difference if you wet the grounds with a small volume of boiling water and let them “bloom” for 30 seconds. This is probably a good technique to try with coffee bags.
Coffee bags seem to finally be becoming more widely available. Your brew kit probably already includes tea bags, so there is not reason not to carry coffee bags instead of sachets of foul smelling instant muck. But what if you cannot get coffee bags?
This page has a very useful description of five ways to “Make coffee without a maker”. This includes ways to improvise filters and coffee bags. Adding a piece of cloth to your brew kit is worth considering.
Many of these methods work best if you have one vessel for boiling water and another for drinking or brewing in. Let us assume you have listened to all my advice on saving weight and just have a canteen cup.

Making Greek/Turkish coffee is a little involved, so the method of choice for canteen cup brewing is “cowboy coffee”.
How I did it was thus: Fill your (metal!) canteen cup to about a centimetre above the second mark. I am using a Crusader 2 and each mark is equivalent to about a mug-full. Try this at home in the kitchen. Put your canteen cup on to boil. I will assume you are only using your canteen cup. If you boil up the water in a more efficient vessel the volume you add to the cup will need to be less.
Wait for your water to boil. If you think a watched kettle takes ages, a watched canteen cup takes longer! Wait for a “rolling boil”. This is the point where the surface of the water gets stirred up by bubbles. Remove your cup from the heat and dump in about two and three-quarter tablespoons of coffee. Some say wait 30 secs before adding the coffee. Good coffee needs water at about 90-95 centigrade rather than full boil. Give each spoon of coffee a good stir so the spoon/ spork comes out clean each time. Cover your canteen cup and let it sit for about four minutes. It needs time to brew and it will be too hot to drink yet, anyway.
And it is ready! Ideally you can decant the coffee into another cup for drinking, but in our canteen cup scenario that may not be possible. Most of the grounds will have settled out. They will not be a problem unless you try and drain the cup to the bottom. In some westerns they mention settling the grounds by adding crushed eggshell to the coffee. Good luck finding one of those out in the field! “Jack Knife Cookery” also suggests you can use “spotlessly clean gravel” to settle the grounds. More practically, a dash of cold water will settle the ground and cool the coffee to drinking temperature. I don’t usually bother, but you may feel different if you have to drink direct from the hot canteen cup. Remember, a little bit of foil over the cup edge can save burnt lips.
“Jack Knife Cookery” gives a slightly different method for making coffee. Take a fistful of coffee for each individual and add cold water. Allow to sit for a while. Then bring your coffee just to the boil. Remove from heat and place the pot at a distance from the fire so that it is just simmering.
A couple of tricks inspired by Greek/ Turkish coffee are worth mentioning. This coffee is often made with coffee ground to very fine powder. This seems to help the grounds settle at the bottom. If you like your coffee sweet, add the sugar to the water before you make the coffee, like the Turks and Greeks do. Stirring and coffee grounds do not mix, or rather, it does!
The Scout Handbook of 1911 gives an alternate method for campfire coffee:
“For every cup of water allow a tablespoonful of ground coffee, then add one extra. Have water come to boiling point first, add coffee, hold it just below boiling point for five minutes, and settle with one fourth of a cup of cold water. Serve. Some prefer to put the coffee in a small muslin bag loosely tied.”

Around The World In 30 Litres

Decades ago I wrote a piece called something like “Travelling the World with a 30 Litre Pack”. This was so long ago it was on a floppy disc and it only ever got read as a print-out. That article is long since lost, but the experiences that contributed to it has also fueled many of the articles on this blog. I was asked if I could attempt to reproduce the article, since much of it is still relevant to travelers today.

Firstly, I will point out this was not intended for wilderness expeditions or camping trips, but for holidays in areas where youth hostels or similar accommodation was available. On the trips where I expected to also do some camping, I carried a larger pack and more gear. Thinking back, I never personally made any of my trips with just a 30 litre pack. My daysac was smaller, and I already owned several larger packs. Money was often tight so I never got around to buying myself a nice 30. That said, one of the people who read the original article was inspired to spent nearly a month traveling around India with just a small pack.
One advantage of a larger pack is that you can carry a packed daysac inside it, which saves a lot of unpacking and packing when you want to dump the gear you don’t need for a few hours of sightseeing.

One of the products of my travels was “Uncle Phil’s List”, so I will use its categories for the following description.

The first category was “shelter”, which divides into shelter, sleeping and clothing.
Accommodation was in hostels or budget accommodation. The former were preferred for their social aspect, and I have many fine memories from such stays. The only thing I needed to carry for shelter was a credit card and a YHA membership card.
My daysac carried (and still has) an all-weather blanket, which over the years has been put to many uses.

Many youth hostels do insist you have a sleeping bag liner. Mine got accidentally placed in the laundry on my last day at a hostel. My current one was sewn from the sheets the apologetic warden offered me as replacement. The top of the bag has some very distinctive cloth added to the top, to avoid this happening again. If I have to unpack in the dark the texture helps me orientate the bag. There are silk liners, which look really nice, but again, I have never been able to justify the expense.

I also carried a Merlin Softie one-season sleeping bag. This packs to the size of a rugby ball without using compression straps. Very useful when the bedding provided was not up to standard, or when I had to sleep on a bus, train or ferry on an overnight journey. Overnight trips were a useful trick when traveling on a tight budget. Saved on a night’s accommodation and got you to a new place to see.

Careful selection of clothing can save you lots of weight. I encountered travelers who were carrying 20+ kg of clothes!
The trick is to select items that were easy to hand-wash, and just as importantly, quick to dry. I was fortunate that about the time I began traveling there were lots of reasonably priced silk shirts on sale. My basic travel wardrobe was two long-sleeved silk shirts and two short-sleeved. Theoretically, if it was cold I could have wore a short-sleeve under a long, but don’t ever recall this need arising. Denmark was a little chilly, so I brought a thin woolen jumper to supplement my usual gear. I did not know about ranger rolling back then. I could probably have packed things even smaller.
Underwear was three pairs of black swimming shorts, the sort with pockets and inner liners. If the day was hot I could easily remove my trousers and be already in shorts. Due to the odd climate inside airliners, for the flight out I found cotton underpants more comfortable. These would probably not be worn again until the flight back. I might wear a cotton tee-shirt for the flights instead of the silks. More commonly, I wore a casual cotton shirt that served as a light jacket for the rest of the trip.
The markets no longer seem to have reasonably priced silk shirts so as mine have worn out I have replaced them with the newer microfibre synthetics.
Just before a trip I would treat myself to some new socks, usually white cotton sports socks. Three pairs of these would go in the bag and a fourth pair worn on the trip out. When I began to get pains in my legs when flying I added a pair of compression socks to my load-out.
I carried two pairs of trousers, basically a “wear and a spare”. Cargoes’ would be fine, although one of my pairs was “smarter”. On some trips I hooked up with friends I had made on other trips. This often involved a family dinner so being able to smarten-up was useful. At the airport I often needed my passport and boarding pass readily to hand, and the large thigh pockets of the cargo trousers was very useful for this.
Since I was carrying a pack, and sometimes had to deal with rough terrain, including cobbled streets within towns, ankle support was a priority. Most of my trips were to hotter climes, so footwear of choice was canvas hiking boots. Honourable mention goes to my Hi-Tech Sierras. I only wore these during holidays, but they did so many miles the soles were treadless by the time I had to retire them. I was most disappointed to discover the line had been discontinued. The Hi-Tech Trilogies I brought as replacement nearly crippled me. My tendons bled and my toes too, if I recall correctly. Brand new white cotton socks soaked in blood. I have a different set of canvas boots now. Unlike the Sierras these have gore-tex. You don’t need gore-tex for what I am using them for, but finding canvas boots without it no longer seemed to be possible. In addition to the boots I also carried a pair of espadrilles or kung-fu slippers. If you have been wearing boots all day it is nice to slip into these when you head into town looking for dinner and a beer.
An important item was a rainproof jacket, ideally a lightweight one that packed into its own pocket or small pouch. The latter quality was far more important than it being breathable or some wonder fabric. I discovered that breathable waterproofs have a finite life, and you get to know that time is up the hard way, during a rainstorm!
I carried a lightweight jacket of some synthetic material for some protection against the wind. One of these had a cotton liner which I replaced with one made from a silk shirt. I don’t recall using these jackets much. Often I would use my cotton shirt, fleece or rainproof. I carried a fleece for colder days and evenings. This had a more windproof outer than most fleeces, so was more practical for outerwear.
Clothing included a boonie hat for sun protection, and several bandannas, one in a trouser pocket, the others in the pack. I carried a pair of gloves, although seldom needed them in hot climates.
The secret to carrying so little clothing is being willing to clean it during your trip. You will notice that most of the items I carried are quick-drying materials such as synthetics or silk. The cotton socks are an obvious exception, but these dried pretty well in the climates I traveled in. In such conditions putting on slightly damp socks was not a health problem.

The only laundry gear I carried was a small nail brush. The same soap I washed and shaved myself with served as detergent. Washing socks generally involved putting them over my hands and “washing my hands”. The brush worked well on collars. Often I would step into a shower wearing a silk shirt and clutching a bundle of other items to wash. Hang a silk shirt on a hanger and it dries without needing ironing. In fact, the same is true of cotton tee-shirts!
Moving on to other categories: I carry a lighter as part of my EDC, which covered the requirement for fire. My daysac carried a water-bottle, although this might be moved to the outer pocket of a larger pack if I was carrying one. On more recent trips this has been one of my Platypus bottles, often the larger one with a drinking tube. On some trips I simply brought a large bottle of soda in a local store, then used the bottle for water once the soda was drunk. For most of my trips you could trust the local tap-water, but I did acquire a cup device that chlorinated water passed through it. You might wise to include a bottle of purification tablets instead.
I was seldom anywhere where I could not purchase food. The times I was, a few hours hungry would not kill me. Thus I carried nothing to cook with on hosteling trips. The bag soon acquired some local foods such as fruit, salami, bread and cheese. I can still recall sitting outside the Parthenon, making a sandwich with my penknife and surrounded by feral cats sunning themselves. I learnt to carry a bag of boiled sweets (aka “hard candy”). These provided an energy boost when climbing hills: most sights to see seem to be up hills or high up! And I will admit that offering a sweet to a fellow traveler was a great ice-breaker and gained me some very memorable companions over the years.
My travel medical kit I have described elsewhere. Medication appears in my current load-out, but I did not need such things in my younger days! My daysac included a bottle of sunscreen and one of insect repellent. These days you will have to ensure that the volumes of these are less than 100mls if you intend to travel by air. Another item for your daysac is a roll of toilet paper in a plastic bag. Over the years I refined and optimized my wash kit. This is described here.
My tiny sewing kit has seen a lot of use over the years, so is something it would be very foolish not to carry. My “spares and repairs” includes a couple of spare rucksac buckles, electrical tape, string and a tube of superglue.
Documents included my passport and any visa needed. Plane tickets: no e-tickets on smart phones back then! In Europe I carried the E111 medical treatment form, but these may no longer be valid. A zipped pouch such as a pencil case proved very useful to hold documents and other miscellaneous items. Traveler cheques, although I doubt modern travelers carry these. A photocopy of my passport, and record of the traveler cheque numbers went in the pencil case. I did have my cheques stolen on one trip, and got all my money back, since I had the numbers to cancel them. Wisely, I carried my credit card in a different place so that was not stolen. A couple of guide books, usually borrowed from the local library at home. Have more than one, since entries can be misleading or inaccurate. A phrasebook. A novel or similar to read while waiting for trains or just sitting in the sun. A notepad in a plastic bag, and something to write with.
I carried my penknife on my person, and often it has proved useful. My daysac included a flashlight of some form, in an outside pocket so it was readily accessible. A telescopic hiking pole was a blessing on steep terrain or when tired.
One of the first things I would do when reaching a new town was locate the tourist office and acquire any street maps they had. My EDC includes a Suunto Clipper compass and this has often proved useful when navigating a strange town. 
An item conspicuously absent from my original article was a mobile phone. They were only just coming in, they needed frequent recharging, and you were unlikely to find facilities to charge them, back then. My trips were an escape, so I made a point of leaving all my electronic devices at home, which probably would have been a Walkman back then! Not really being a photographer, I also never bothered carrying a camera.
Few backpacks are totally waterproof, so the contents should be in one or more plastic bags. These needn’t be anything expensive, just intact. If you are traveling with just one pack I suggest you divide the contents with at least two bags. One bag holds your bedding, wash-kit and most of your clothing. The other bag has the items you may need during a day’s sightseeing: medical kit, guide books, raincoat etc.