Survival Library: Chapter 3, Practical Outdoor Survival

In “chapter one” of the Survival Library, I recommended a number of books on the subject. Many of these are available in free on-line editions.
In the subsequent chapters, other books are to be examined.
One of the things I will be looking at is if these additional titles offer supplementary information to that in the books from chapter one, or handle common topics in a more easily digestible form.
For chapter two, I looked at “Bushcraft 101” by Dave Canterbury.
For chapter three, I read “Practical Outdoor Survival” by Len McDougal.
I will admit, chapter three has been a long time coming. There are a number of reasons for this:
For one thing, Practical Outdoor Survival is in many respects similar to Bushcraft 101.
Both are mainly written for North American outdoorsmen. Both are essentially “what to do if lost in the woods” books, although other environments such as deserts are dealt with.
I wanted to make a fair review of Practical Outdoor Survival without recent impressions from Bushcraft 101 clouding my recollections.
A second delay was that I acquired two copies of Practical Outdoor Survival, one from 1992 and another from 2008. I wanted to read both editions to give a more comprehensive review.
I will start by saying I do think Practical Outdoor Survival is worth a read. In fact, it nicely complements Bushcraft 101.
The 2008 edition naturally includes updated information. For example, we now know that iodine is not 100% effective against waterborne pathogens.
Information on some new products that have become available since 1992 is also included.
We also see an evolution in techniques: In the 1992 version, Len McDougal was carrying his “survival gear” in an LBE massing around 15 pounds. In the 2008 version it has been realized that a backpack is a better way to carry camping gear. Details of the contents of a “day and a half” pack are given.
I will note that often the initiation of an emergency situation is finding yourself unable to access your LBE and/or rucksack. Then you must get by with what is in your trouser pockets, on your belt and in your coat or jacket.


The shelter section has some interesting ideas.
Using leaf litter to “thatch” your shelter is a good trick.
Another interesting technique is to use a fire to melt a shelter into deep snow rather than trying to dig one in subzero conditions.
In the 1992 edition is the idea of digging a “den” or “bunk niche” into the side of a leeward earth bank (p.62). For some reason this technique was dropped from the 2008.


Sometimes your hands need protection from things other than the cold and rain. McDougal makes the wise recommendation of adding a set of leather work gloves to your outdoor kit.
McDougal also points out that faces also need protection from dust, sand, wind and cold.
Your outdoor kit should already include keffiyeh, scarves, neck gaiters and/or headovers.
One of the woolly hats in your kit should be a ski-mask or the type of balaclava that covers the nose and mouth.

Hunting and Fishing

The sections on hunting and fishing are very good. Adding a “frog gig” to your outdoor gear is a good idea, since such multi-tined spear heads can also be used to fish.
A fishing float improvised from a foam ear plug is interesting.
Unless you are issued them for free, using an ear plug is actually a relatively expensive option. Any small piece of scrap foam, bottle cork or polystyrene could probably be used. Trim corners off kip mat? Use that foam!
Ideally you want a float some distance above the hook, with room to add some shot to weigh the bait down.
Cut a thin slit halfway through the foam, place the line of snood/trace/leader through the slit. Wrap the piece of foam in a few centimetres of bright coloured electrical tape.
I differ with the author on a couple of points:
Carrying multi-vitamins seems redundant. Problems from vitamin deficiencies take months or even years to develop, so you are unlikely to carry enough tablets to make a significant difference. You can avoid “rabbit starvation” by eating your greens!
As an aside, consequences of hypervitaminosis can be very rapid. You are unlikely to get this from most over-the-counter vitamin supplements. Liver from polar bears or bearded seals is toxic because of high concentrations of vitamin A. Since 100% positive identification (seal of approval?) may be problematic, best avoid the liver of any seal.
Carrying glucose tablets for hypoglycemia detracts from the potential of other sugar-containing foods and drinks that are an equally effective or better treatment.
I don't see the point in carrying a glass heliograph that weighs several ounces when there are cheaper, lighter and larger plastic mirrors available.

Rimfire .22 for Survival

The section on a survival rimfire rifle in the 2008 version is very good, but I disagree with the comment that “first guns should not be semiautomatic”.
Money is tight for many of us, and the first survival rimfire may be the only one for many years to come!
A semiautomatic means less body motions to alert sharp-eyed game. Semiautos are also better suited to emergency defensive fire with a .22. Less fumble factor under stress!
I also recommend that at least half of your .22 ammo be solids.
In a genuine emergency hunting situation, your .22 rifle may have to be used against targets larger than this chambering is generally recommended for. Penetration and headshots are a priority. Hollowpoint rounds for 22s are designed for very small game and will lack sufficient penetration for larger targets.
Hypervelocity loadings such as CCI Stingers or Remington Yellow Jackets and Vipers also need to be carefully considered. Some authors have noted that the performance improvements these loadings shon on paper do not result in a similar;y sized increase in performance in the field. Tissue damage (aka “loss of meat”) may be greater but shot placement still needs to be effectively the same as a lethal hit for a standard high-velocity .22LR. Are a few extra yards of range worth what may be a 65% increase in price? Many hypervelocity loadings are also only found in hollowpoint configuration.


A comment worth digesting is that “basic orienteering with map and compass can be learned in a matter of minutes”.
The Phillosoph crash course in compass:
1: To find the bearing/heading of a landmark: Point the reference mark of your compass at the landmark. Turn the bezel until the “N” (0 degrees) has the magnetic tip of the needle pointing towards it. The value on the bezel next to the reference mark is the bearing.
Compasses that do not have rotating bezels and reference marks on the body or baseplate are considerably less useful!
2: To find the direction of a desired heading/bearing: Turn the bezel until the desired bearing is next to the reference mark. Move your body until the point of the needle points to “N” on the bezel. The reference mark will be pointing in the desired heading. Pick out one or more landmarks in that direction and walk toward them.
Bonus Lesson: The difference between a bearing and its back-bearing is always 180 degrees.
Method using Arithmetic: If the value of the bearing is less than 180, add 180 to it to get the back bearing. If the value of the bearing is greater than 180, subtract 180 to get the back bearing.
Non-Maths Method: Take a non-ferrous straight edge such as the edge of a map or page. Place the straight edge next to the value of the bearing on the bezel. Make sure the straight edge also passes over the pivot point of the compass needle or card. Where the straight edge crosses the bezel again is the value of the back bearing.
A variant of this technique uses the corner of a page or map to add or subtract 90 degrees from a heading. This may be useful when “boxing” an obstacle.
How to use a map and compass together is another set of lessons. You may like to read my blog on magnetic declination. A number of field manuals explaining how to use a map with a compass are available on-line for free. These include:
FM 3-25.26
RP0505- Land Navigation (USMC)
How To Find Your Way (GTA 05-021-013)
FM21-25 (1944)
I cannot really say which version of Practical Outdoor Survival is better. 2008 is more up-to-date, but 1992 seems to have a few extra ideas and I prefer how some sections are written.
If possible, get both, and read them alongside Bushcraft 101.

Foundation Survival Kits: The Next Level

One of the blogs that I have often referred back to has been that on Foundation Survival Kits.
In that article, I suggested seven items that formed the foundation of a useful emergency kit.
These were:
• A water bottle
• A canteen cup or mess kit
• A fire kit
• A survival knife
• A blanket or poncho‑liner
• A rain‑poncho
Each of these items may also be seen to represent a theme.
In this blog, I would like to expand on these themes and reflect on what further items may be acquired to expand these capabilities.


Water is the cheapest category to address. Buy a couple of bottles of soda. Once you have drunk the soda, use the bottles for water.
Soda bottles are incredibly tough and flexible. If water freezes in a bottle you can bash it around to break up the ice, with very little chance of damaging the bottle enough for it to leak.
When there is a chance that water will freeze, carry any water containers with the cap or drinking tube downwards. Ice floats, so the lowest part of an inverted bottle will be the last to freeze solid.
The soda bottle is a superior choice to more expensive, smaller, heavier and more rigid military plastic canteens. Unlike a military canteen, you can squeeze some of the air out of a soda bottle to reduce the noise of water sloshing around.
The only thing wrong with most soda bottles is the small diameter cap. It needs a little more care when refilling. It also makes it a little harder to shake broken up ice out of the bottle.
The alternative or supplement to a soda bottle is a hydration bladder. Most of these come with drinking tubes, allowing you to drink while on the move. There are drinking tubes for soda and other plastic bottles, but the ones I have seen seem to cost as much as some models of bladder with a tube.
Being very flexible, water bladders allow air to be squeezed out of them to reduce any sloshing noises. This is useful if you want to move tactically, are hunting, nature-watching or just want some peace and quiet.
Soda bottles and large hydration bladders are a great means for carrying water in your pack.
You will need some means to carry water with you when you are not wearing your pack. However, you do not want to constantly carry such a weight of water that the effort increases your water consumption.
There are hydration bladders that can be worn as an independent backpack. You cannot wear these when wearing another pack. Switching to them usually involves some unpacking or detachment.
Depending on conditions, one or two litres on your person will be about right. This may be a soda bottle or smaller, or one or two of the smaller capacity hydration bladders or bottles.
Ideal would be a bumbag/waistpack with a bladder of about 1.5 litres. Sadly, these seem rare at the moment and the examples you can find have a high price tag and are not offered in neutral or natural colours.
See the knots book for a method to construct a carrier for a soda bottle.
“Work from the outside in”. Use the water in your pack in preference to the supply you carry on your person. This policy also applies to other consumables, such as matches, emergency food and so on.
You should invest in some water purification tablets for times when you cannot heat‑treat your drinking water. It is a good idea to have a good stock of these.
There are various brands of water sterilization pumps. Given the importance of clean water, these are worth considering if they are within your means. Viruses may pass through filter systems. Water so produced may still need to be heat or chemically treated.

Cooking and Food

The topic of heat-treating water brings us to the item of a cooking vessel. I have recently written on the subject of cooking vessels, so have little to add about them here.
A cooking vessel will be more useful if you also have some form of stove.
This theme also takes us to considering the provision of food, be it rations or that procured by hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering.
An emergency is no time to worry about the diet! The food in your bug-out bag should be rich in calories, carbs and sugars. It should require very little water, cooking or preparation. It should have a long shelf life when stowed in the bag.
Ideas along these lines have been discussed on various pages on this blog.
If the 72-hour timeline of an emergency is accepted, theoretically your bug-out bag only needs half a dozen MREs or three HDRs, if you have access to them. Obviously, discard unnecessary mass such as the gum or duplicate cutlery. This is, however, an expensive option!
Your food may need to be in a bag or net that can be hung from a tree out of reach of bears. Other items that will attract their interest, such as toothpaste, cooking vessel and refuse will also need to be cached with the food. Keep about 16 metres of suitable cord with your bear bag/net.
MREs may include flameless heating pouches. You will still need your mess kit for water treatment.
Going without a cup of tea for a couple of days will not kill you, but a small brew kit may be good for morale. A hot drink may make the difference in cold weather. In addition to tea and coffee bags (vacuum-packed?), add some variety such as instant hot chocolate, soup and stock cubes.
Inside your mess tin is a logical place to carry a brew-kit.
Living on wild foods is more likely during a longer duration survival scenario.
After plant matter, fish are your most likely source of wild food.
If venturing into the wilds, carry at least ten metres of braided fishing line and a dozen or so no.12 hooks, each already attached to a foot or more of monofilament line. A third to half of those hooks should have some form of lure, such as mackerel feathers. This fishing kit gives you the capability to set up a night‑line.
If you wish, have a small fishing kit packed into something like a 35mm film container that you can easily add to your EDC. A more extensive kit, including bulkier lures, more line and copper or brass wire may be packed in a small tobacco or Altoids tin and carried in your pack. A frog/fish gig head is worth adding to your larger fishing kit, but may need to be modified so it can be used on a field-made shaft.
For active hunting of small game, your priority purchase should be a catapult/slingshot. Potentially, this could also be used to drive off threats such as feral dogs, or knock fruit or nuts from trees. If you do not have such a device, become a petrobólos and remember the ancient art of throwing sticks and stones.
Do not get a model that is too elaborate or bulky. Regularly inspect your catapult for deterioration of the bands.
Like any weapon, this will be of little use unless you put in the practice.
Your first hunting firearm should be .22 rifle, preferably semi-automatic and suppressed. A useful number of rounds may be carried for very little mass and bulk.
Openly carrying a firearm may not be prudent in certain locations. A takedown design that can be stowed in a pack has merit, if it has adequate accuracy. A small game rifle/shooter/ammo combination needs to be capable of reliably taking squirrel‑sized targets.
Many small game and birds have sharp eyes and are particularly attuned to movement. A semi-automatic allows for less body movements that might spook your target.
If forced to use the .22 defensively, the best tactic is accurate rapid fire, which also favours the semi-auto.
Examine the iron sights that come with your .22 rifle, and invest in a good set of iron-sights if you find them wanting. Learn to use your iron-sights, before you buy a scope. If/when your scope gets damaged, you will need those iron-sights.
A survival .22 may be required to defend its user or in an emergency to take targets larger than is customary for this calibre. Both of these possibilities favour high-penetration performance. Hollow‑point “hyper‑velocity” loads such as CCI Stingers are mainly intended for small game. For the survival weapon, the preference is for more conventional high‑velocity solids. These not only waste less meat, but generally cost less!


The fire kit is another low cost item, if you are sensible. Hold off from buying fire-starting gadgets and exotic tinder materials.
The best means to light a fire is a naked flame. Buy some disposable lighters.
Have a lighter on your person at all times. I keep mine in my trouser pocket so that it stays warm. Have a couple of lighters in any fire kits you construct. Add a lighter to each of your outdoor coats, handbag, and other bags you commonly carry.
You should have a lighter or fire kit in your car, boat etc. Do not assume the dashboard lighter of a vehicle will work when you most need it. The car battery may be dead.
For each fire kit, have a water‑tight container or two for tinder. Fill one with cotton wool and Vaseline. Some folks prefer wax‑soaked cotton string. The Vaseline and cotton wool that you do not use to make tinder are handy things to have around the house anyway.
To this fire kit, you can add some birthday cake candles and a Fresnel lens. (Remember that your compass may also have a magnifying lens that can be used for fire‑starting).

Toilet Paper and Hygiene

Toilet paper is a low cost, low mass and relatively low-bulk item. Carrying more than one roll is not a bad idea. Better to have it but not need it than…
Toilet paper leads us to the theme of hygiene. I have already written about washing kits and medical kits.
The common mistake with wash kits is to carry too many items, in too complicated a bag or roll.
My wash kit fits in a small mesh bag, with the toothbrush, deodorant and paste in a mesh pencil case, since it is convenient to have these separate.
Travel towel/home-made tenugui, soap in draw-cord pouch, razor(s), container of shampoo, microfibre facecloth, mini-nailbrush, small mirror, spare comb. Very little else is needed.
With medical kits, it is easy to go for two many specialist items and overload your kit.
Insect repellant and sunscreen may be needed. EDC Pouch Contents
You will probably have several medical kits. I have a few items in my EDC pouch, and a more extensive kit with my travel bag. “Intermediate” kits are in various daysacs and the soft‑core bag. You should have a more comprehensive kit at home, in your car, truck, boat, aircraft etc.
Returning to the toilet roll(s).
Alcohol hand sanitizer is not the magical panacea that some people think. It is, however, a useful item to keep with your toilet roll(s).
You will also need some means to dig a cat‑hole.
This brings us to the theme of tools.


In the preceding article on foundation survival kits, I recommended the acquisition of a knife with “a full-tang fixed blade that is single-edged and not less than seven inches/18 cm”.
Knives and other tools are heavy, and can be very expensive. It is very important to have a realistic understanding of what you need.
You will see certain survival experts claiming that you do not need a big blade. Buy the little (larger profit margin) knife they use, available from the website… They fail to mention they have an axe with their pack, or a full film crew to support them.
In a survival scenario, the primary role of your knife is efficient shelter and fire construction and the ability to easily work any available materials for these purposes. You need a knife that is an effective multi‑purpose wood‑working tool.
Hence, my primary choice is a kukri.
If on a budget, machetes and billhooks will often do the job as well as any expensive custom knife.
A big knife can be handy when butchering large game, although in a survival situation you are more likely to be living on plants, small game and fish. To supplement my kukri, I carry a fixed-blade Mora knife.
Swiss Army Ranger
Another useful acquisition is a good pocket tool such as a Swiss Army knife. This forms part of your EDC, and may be the only tool you have when you really need one.
You will also need the means to resharpen your tools.


Digging tools need deeper consideration than they are sometimes accorded.
Hopefully the survivor will not have to be digging foxholes and bomb-proof dugouts.
More likely reasons to dig include:
• Edible roots and other foods
• Catholes and deeper latrines
• Disposal of biodegradable waste.
• Fire pits and trenches
• Pit traps
• Drainage gutters to keep water flooding your campsite: About 20 cm deep and as wide as your shelter
Indian well: Half a metre deep and wide
• Survival stills: About a metre across and nearly that deep. Will probably need two per person.
• Bank‑bunk/Den/Emergency dugout: A shelf to hold a sleeper, dug into the leeward side of a hill or bank. About two metres long, one wide and two thirds deep.
• Various types of snow shelter: Either digging down into snow or building a wall against the wind. When abundant fuel is available, try melting a hole down into the snow rather than digging it out.
Minor digging tasks may be achieved with a digging stick, throwing stick, tent peg, screwdriver etc.
Lightweight trowels are sold for campers and backpackers. Generally, these are either plastic or a high-tech material with a high price tag.
If on a budget, check out the trowels in the gardening centre before the camping store. The toy department is also worth a look, since beach and gardening sets for children are sometimes found.
My digging implement of choice is a hori‑hori. This is compact and relatively light, yet strong and versatile.
Many of the digging tasks listed can be performed with a hori‑hori. The larger excavations are possible in an emergency if you are methodical. For example, with the bank‑bunk, use gravity to your advantage so clods of earth levered out will drop away rather than need to be lifted.
A hori‑hori is a good choice for light and emergency digging. In certain terrain, situations or seasons, larger excavations are more likely.
Trifold Entrenching Tool
Trifold entrenching tools are probably the best off-the-shelf option for deliberate digging in terms of cost, utility and bulk/mass. Sometimes a hoe/mattock is a more useful digging implement than a shovel/spade. Buy a tool where the head can be set at an angle. Some models include a pick‑blade too.
Although used by the military, these folding tools should not be expected to be as sturdy as larger and/or one-piece tools, so use them accordingly.
For deliberate winter travel, lightweight snow shovels are worth considering. These may be aluminium or plastic, and some will disassemble or are telescopic for easier carrying.
Snow shovels are not much use for digging in hard earth, but can move large volumes of snow or leaf-litter. Items such as slabs of wood, skis, snowshoes, mess tins and frying pans may be used to move loose snow.
Knives with long blades can be handy for cutting snow blocks, although some arctic travellers carry crosscut saws from the hardware store for this purpose. These are useful for wood too. They are not as compact as camping saws, but a fraction of the cost. With a covered blade, such a saw may be slipped down the side of a rucksac’s main compartment,
If you live somewhere that is wooded and often cold, an axe such as a three‑quarter or Hudson Bay style may be a wise investment.
In an emergency, you may have to get out or into a location in a hurry. The crowbar may be a very useful addition to your kit.
Crowbars are very reasonably priced.
Wrap the shank in electrical tape to insulate your hands when it is cold. This also provides a source of tape for repairs.
A crow bar may be used like a digging stick or pick to break up hard earth.
For those with far bigger budgets than mine, there are titanium crowbars.
A screwdriver should be carried with your tent pegs. This may help in both inserting and extracting pegs. It is also a potential prying and digging implement.
Like the character in my novel, you will find such a screwdriver may be used for a variety of useful purposes.
Cordage may be considered to come under the umbrella of tools. Invest in a reel of suitably coloured paracord or similar.
In an emergency, some individuals may attempt to steal your food or equipment, or prey on you for other reasons. To ignore this as a potential possibility is to neglect the hard lessons of several thousand years of human history.
Many of the tools already discussed have potential as means of self-defence.
Since the publication of my book “Survival Weapons”, I have been asked which firearm an individual should consider purchasing first? Should it be a shotgun, or the .22 rifle?
Your first weapon should be compact or sub-compact semi-automatic combat handgun. It may be carried in situations where a rifle or shotgun might draw unwelcome reactions. It may be used to defend both your home and your person. In extremis, such a firearm may be used to hunt small and medium game in the absence of a weapon more suitable.


We spend about a third of our lives sleeping. Our performance when awake is often influenced by how well we slept. Sleeping gear is an important component of your emergency kit and in keeping yourself hale and hearty.
Man in Poncho0liner
In the original article, this requirement was met and represented by a poncho-liner or blanket.
Poncho-liners, as they are issued, are mainly intended as bedding. See my previous blog on simple measures that increase the utility of your poncho-liner as a garment.
A silver surivival blanket, or a more robust all-weather blanket, may be combined with a poncho-liner and pomcho for extra warmth..

Kip Mats

Once you have a poncho-liner, the second item on your sleeping wish‑list should be a kip mat.
Quite simply, “ground chill can kill!”
A kip mat is primarily insulation rather than cushioning.
Shop around, you can sometimes find a better deal on items marketed as exercise, yoga or gym mats. The main problem seems to be finding them in neutral or natural colours.
Some folks claim the black ones are inherently warmer, while some mats are offered with a reflective foil coating. No one seems to offer a foil‑coated black foam mat!
Naturally found materials such as grass, bracken, hay, pine boughs etc can insulate you from ground chill. Use your kip mat over the top of these. It will protect you from any damp materials.
Even when you can find one in a useful colour, it will be monochrome and of a regular shape. Kip mats are light but bulky. If you have to carry one on the outside of your pack, buy or make a suitable camouflage stuff sack. Fittings may be added to this so it attaches more securely to the outside of your pack.
You can roll a kip mat up in a camouflage bivi-bag, although potentially having a bivi-bag on the outside of a pack increases the chance of it being damaged and losing water resistance.
You can trim the corners of a mat into a more “mummy” shape if you wish, but this is not going to make much difference in mass and bulk. If you prefer your kip mat inside your bivi-bag, it may fit better if you shape it.

Sleeping Bag Liner

Your next sleeping acquisition should be a sleeping bag liner. Clean, dry insulation works best. A sleeping bag liner provides a little extra warmth, but its main advantage is that it keeps your bedding clean.
I have talked about sleeping bag liners before, so will direct you to that article. If your budget won’t allow you to buy your sleeping bags for a while, you might consider the warmer examples such as pile liners.
If personal security is an issue, you may need to sleep clothed and in your boots. Wearing a pair of sandbags over your boots saves your sleeping system from damage and dirt.

Sleeping Bags

Yes, I did say sleeping bags (plural)!
The poncho-liner was designed for sleeping at temperatures of above 10°C.
If your breath is fogging, you will need to make more elaborate sleeping arrangements, such as more ground insulation and a better insulated shelter.
Your sleeping gear will most probably acquire some sleeping bags. Sleeping bags are another topic I have addressed elsewhere.
Rather than buying a super‑duper arctic mountain‑rated bag, your money will be better invested in a one‑to‑two season and a two‑to‑three season bag.
Since we are considering items for your bug‑out bag, sleeping bags should be of mummy configuration for lower bulk and better performance.
Some folks prefer zipless. Personally, I find a zip offers more versatility with respect to comfort and ventilation. Ensure your choice, if zipped, has a two-way zip so that you may vent the foot area.
When you own two bags as suggested, you may use either or both together as local conditions dictate.
Your liner will add a little more warmth, and keep your bags clean and warm for longer.
Your poncho-liner will continue to see service as a supplement to your sleeping bags, or on its own in hot conditions.

Mosquito Nets

In many regions a mosquito net for sleeping under is a prudent investment. Working out how to suspend it may be a challenge you don’t need at the end of a long day, so look into free‑standing variants.



The rain‑poncho represents the theme of “cover”, which is appropriate since the rain‑poncho is both a garment and a means of shelter.
I have written elsewhere on the topic of selecting clothing for your “bug‑out outfit”, so I will concentrate on the topic of shelter.
Pocho Shelters
Your poncho probably came with a stuff‑sack. If it did, to this add two three‑metre lengths of paracord or similar. These will prove useful when you rig your poncho as a shelter.
A pair of bungee cords is quicker but less versatile, so may be added later.
If it is particularly windy or cold. one of these cords may be used as a belt around your poncho. The other may be used around your poncho‑liner.
A rain‑poncho and cord is not a complete shelter. You will also need some pegs or stakes. In extremis, your knife lets you carve them from sticks.
There are a number of ways to do without pegs, or for use when pegs won’t hold. I will deal with those some other day.
To your shelter kit add a small bag of pegs. Most shelters you can construct with a poncho or basha need four to six.
Add your screwdriver to this bag. This may be used for covert pegging, or as a spare peg. The screwdriver may also be used as a “T‑handle” to pull pegs up again.
Many of the shelters you may construct with a poncho require some means of support.
You cannot rely on convenient trees or even branches always being present.
Hiking/ski poles and bicycle frames have been used instead.
In addition to the above, your kit should also include a couple of tent poles, each with an extended or assembled length of about one metre.
The rain‑poncho “hooch” is a very basic form of shelter.
It is relatively low cost, even more so if you have ponchos issued to you.
Some servicemen carry three or four ponchos: one for wear, one or two for shelter and another as a groundsheet.


A common upgrade is the “basha sheet”, which is a waterproof sheet of around 1.7 by 2.5 metres. It is similar to a lightweight tarp, although tarps tend to be three to four metres square. You will still need the rain‑poncho as rainwear.
In some previous posts, we saw how the American Civil War soldier used his gum-blanket as a groundcloth, shelter-cloth and rain protection. The basha is probably the closest modern equivalent.
Most basha sheets encountered these days have a camouflage print. However, the scale of the print is such they tend to show as a regular pattern.
A poncho/basha/tarp shelter may be improved by rigging two canopies, one below the other.
The inner canopy may be another poncho, a space blanket or even a suitably large non-waterproof cloth.
The double canopy retains more heat in cold conditions. It also insulates the occupant from the heat of the sun in the desert.
In the latter situation, the outer canopy may be a space blanket or similar reflective item. This also makes your shelter highly visible, which may or may not be desired.
This brings me to the topic of security.
One of the reasons the infantry use ponchos or bashas where possible is they give better situational awareness. They are also easier to vacate in an emergency.


A purpose‑designed tent may be warmer than a poncho/basha hooch, but also may make you more vulnerable to two‑legged predators.
This is something to think about when considering what form of shelter to include in your emergency or outdoor kit.
If you do opt for a tent, make sure that you buy a design that allows you to pitch the flysheet (outer) first and take it down last. Do not let any salesman con you that “flysheet pitches last” is an advantage. I have put up and taken down enough tents in the rain to know better!
When you buy a tent, the fly and inner probably packed in the same bag. Buy another bag and pack them separately. These bags should be distinct so that you know if you are reaching for the inner or the fly.
Avoid single layer tents unless they are made of a material that is both waterproof and breathable, such as Gore-tex. The latter are usually either bivi-bags or one‑man tube tents.
Single layer tents made from other synthetic materials either have condensation problems or let the rain in.
Single layer tents made from canvas/cotton duck etc are better, but tend to be heavy.
If you do opt for a tube‑tent or bivi‑bag. you will probably need a poncho or basha as well to give you a sheltered space you can dress or cook in.


While not essential, a groundsheet will help protect the bottom of your tent inner. It may make the interior of a hooch more pleasant too.
If you carry your bedding items on the outside of your pack, the groundsheet may be used as an abrasion and water-resistant cover .
A groundsheet for a tent should be no bigger than the tent’s floor. Any material outside this area will channel water underneath. Similarly, a groundsheet for a hooch should be no bigger than the sheltered area.
Currently, several sources are offering cheaply-priced foil-coated sheets that have interesting potential as groundsheets. During the day, these could be staked out as reflector panels to attract attention. The sheets of silver material sold as reflectors behind radiators may also have potential.
These could be combined with a sheet of waterproof, puncture resistant material.
I have, on occassion, used my all-weather blanket as a groundcloth and insulation. When the cheap tent I was in started leaking in the alpine rain, I flipped the extra width over myself and stayed dry for the night.


A bivi-bag may be thought of as a raincoat for your sleeping bag, or a one-man tent without the poles.
Being a single waterproof layer, they need to be of a breathable material such as Gore-tex, which ups their price. Gore-tex items tend to have a finite life until they stop keeping water out.
Bivi-bags are useful when you lack a kip mat or groundsheet to keep the damp out. They may be combined with shelters such as bashas and ponchos.
The bivi-bag provides a little extra insulation, so in warm weather may be used on its own or with a poncho-liner. In very cold weather it adds an extra layer of insulating air.
When inside the rucksack, a bivi-bag may be used as a water-resistant bag to store your sleeping system in. This puts your sleeping system in its own bag, rather than at the bottom of a rucksack-liner with all your other gear.


In this article I have built upon the foundation introduced in my blog on Foundation Survival Kits.
Some of these requirements may be easily met, with very little outlay.
In other cases, I hope this discussion has helped you prioritize your acquisitions.
There are a number of sundry or related topics, but these I will save for another day.

Survival Fishing: Part One

A friend of mine requested that the blog has something about survival fishing.
The section below is adapted from a book chapter by myself that was never published.
Many survival guides will explain how to catch fish in greater detail that I have room for in today’s blog.
They usually include ways of fishing without using a line such as trapping, lassoing, tickling, spearing etc.
Some of these techniques are described in my book on Survival Weapons.
Today’s blog will manly cover the selection of items for an emergency fishing kit, but we will include some information on their use, since many people find the depth of knowledge given in fishing books confusing. Also most such books are written from a sporting perspective: when the alternative is going hungry. your methods may not be so elegant.
This blog is about survival fishing for food. Using some of these techniques when your survival does not depend on them may result in prosecution.

Where to look for fish:

  • Weirs ( a good place all year round)
  • Edge of reed beds
  • Eddies in streams and rivers or known deep pools
  • Overhangs of trees (Watch your line!)
These are usually the places fish congregate most, but use your eyes and look for them.
Some cunning may be required and creeping up to the water's edge may be necessary to see and catch fish. Keep low so as not to skyline yourself.

The Minimal Fishing Kit

  • At least 10 m of line (10 to 15lbs), possibly wrapped around a half of matchstick or held in a coil by a rubber band or wire tie.
  • Pack of hook to nylon size 12. Depending on how these are carried, the points may need to be taped over.
  • Small assortment of split shot (BB are probably the most useful size).
This minimal kit will all pack into a 35 mm photographic container or similar and the outside of the tube can have a length of brightly coloured tape wrapped around it.
There will probably also be room for a spinner, wire leader, swivels and a small cork/piece of foam/old ear plug to act as a float (cork of about ½ x ¼ x ¼" drilled with a 2 mm hole).

The kit in my personal emergency kit also includes:

  • A coil of braided fishing line, turquoise in colour, carried in a loose coil. The rings of the swivels carried should be large enough for the braided line to pass through. Likewise the rings of the loose hooks and lures are of sufficient size they can be fitted onto the snap links.
  • A small tube filled with BB split shot.
  • About 10 metres of 6 lb test monofilament line, wrapped around the tube of shot and secured with a piece of tape. In retrospect I'd have the monofilament in a looser coil.
  • Five wire traces, about 18-24" with a swivel at one end and a snap swivel at the other. Wire traces can be brought though mine were made from brass picture hanging wire, unbraided into four or three strand pieces. These can be used as snares but do not look as suspicious as custom-made snares.
  • Various hooks, most of them small (size 12), attached to monofilament with a swivel at the other end
  • Loose hooks.

The hooks and hooks on nylon fit in the little plastic wallets the hooks came in, and these fit in a plastic bag with the wire traces as well.

The knots attaching the hooks and swivels to the line are varnished over for added security.

When you are cold, wet and hungry is no time to be trying to tie fishing knots.

I prefer to sit in the warm comfort of my home and attach as many hooks as possible to a short length of line, tying a loop in the other end that can easily be slipped through a loop tied at the end of a longer line.

For some useful fishing knots see my free on-line book on knots.

A Mepp-type lure (above) with a little silver spoon that spins around and attracts fish is also in the kit. It also has a piece of red rubber covering the shank (most fish and sea birds have their vision biased towards the red end of the spectrum).
White and/or red “mackerel feathers” would make good additional lures, as do hooks with sections of tin can or tin foil added. A piece of white plastic cup will also make a good lure.
See a later blog for more on fishing lures.

Fishing Methods

Passive fishing is to set up a rig and leave it unattended although there's no reason why you can't sit and watch it if you like.
The most common way to do this is to set up what is termed a “nightline”.
As the name suggests, this can be left overnight and any catch collected in the morning, which is useful if you spend the daylight travelling to safety.
There's no reason why you can't rig up a nightline during the day, of course.
It's a good idea to check the line several times during the night, since some beasts such as frogs and turtles can break free if left long enough.
Attach one end of the line to the bank and the other to a weight, and attach leaders with baited hooks at intervals along the line.
Throw the weighted end into the water. This is easier if you use a forked stick since it prevents getting caught by your own hooks.
Drive a stick with a notched top between the water and the anchor point on the bank and run the line over the top. Movement of this stick will show something is hooked. Placing a pebble or chunk of mud on top of the stick provides further visual clues: if it has dropped off, you've caught something!
Alternately, run the line over the water between two points, like a washing line with the baits suspended at different depths.
An improvised bell (empty tin can) can be used to signal a catch.
Vary the baits and take note of which ones seem to be taken most often.
You can also hang lines from branches overhanging the water.

Active Fishing

Active fishing involves you holding onto the line and sometimes actively moving the bait or lure.
Such fishing prevents you from doing anything else, so is best considered if you have to remain in the same location, such as near a crash or a broken down vehicle, or are with a companion who can't travel.
Active fishing and other methods will be described in following blogs.
I never did get around to posting the second part of this article!
Rather than have the two parts separated by hundreds of other posts, I have decided to add the rest of the chapter below.
Some of my ideas on the topic of survival fishing have evolved in the decades since I originally wrote this. I think many survival manuals and kits put too much of an emphasis on active fishing with a line.
See my post on trot lines (coming soon!).

Part Two

Active Fishing

Active fishing involves you holding onto the line and sometimes actively moving the bait or lure. Such fishing prevents you from doing anything else, so is best considered if you have to remain in the same location, such as near a crash or a broken down vehicle, or are with a companion who can't travel.
In the fishing kit detailed above, you use a hook to nylon attached by the swivel to the braided line, or a wire trace with a hook on the end attached to the braided line if you are after sharp toothed prey, such as pike or turtle.
A nice thing about braided line is it is a lot less fiddly to tie when you're cold and tired. You have several hooks, so there's nothing to stop you placing several traces on the handline, so you can vary the bait or depth you are fishing at.
The most basic method of angling is to put your bait on a hook and line and just dangle the bait in the water.
Some bait will float on the water, such as an artificial fly or lump of bread and will be taken by surface feeders. If the bait sinks, it will be taken by fish that feed at the level the bait stops at. You can control this by adding weights. That's it really.


Spinning is done with lures or any bait that is highly visible.
What you're doing is pulling the lure through the water to make the fish think that the moving bait is a swimming fish. The line is lightly shotted, just enough to take it down to a depth predatory fish may be at.
Cast your line as far as you can, or beyond were you suspect fish, then reel it back in, passing any reeds where predators like to hide, and pausing occasionally: fish seem to like a jerking progress.
In fast moving water the lure may appear active enough without you reeling it in.
This method is a lot easier with an improvised reel: usually a stick or some other object you can wind the line around as you take it in.
A “classic” improvised reel is a tin can, a plastic bottle or similar on a stick. The line slips quite easily from its large diameter, so it can be used as a casting aid.
Attach the other end to the stick, or better still your belt in case your hand slips.
You can also throw out your line as one would a grappling hook, fire it by catapult etc.


Ledgering uses a weight at one end of the rig.
When using a rod, the weight may hang in free water but when using a handline it will usually rest on the bottom unless you are directly above where you are fishing. The diagrams illustrate several ledgering rigs for different waters.
When using survival fishing kits, it can be confusing as to where the large weight comes from.
One answer is the link ledger weight illustrated, which is a piece of line and several BB split shot.
Or you can use lead or stones in a piece of leaf, woven grass, hide or cloth. Some stones can be tied to the line directly with a Killick hitch.
The film canister used to carry the kit can be packed with earth or gravel and used as a weight.
Steel or brass washers have also been used as weights, and have the advantage they are relatively compact and will fit nicely into some fishing kit containers.

Float Fishing

A float is a buoy to suspend your rig from and also acts as a visual signal of a bite.
Just as anything that sinks and will remain attached to the line can be a weight, so anything that floats and stays attached can be used as a float.
The film canister can be taped or tied to the line. So can twigs, feather quills, porcupine spines, bits of polystyrene cups, inflated condoms etc.
A floating branch can support several lines.
Coloured tape can be added to floats so they are more visible.

Fly Fishing

You can do this with or without a rod.
Flies can be made from thread (frayed cloth from clothing), fur, feathers and hair, so can be field improvised.
You can use real insects too: anything that will sit on or float in the surface layer of water.
Think of when you used to play in the paddling pool on sunny days and insects would land in the water.
Remember the weird shadows they created on the pool bottom? Dark ovals outlined with silver?
This is because they deform the surface layer of the water, refocusing the light. This is really visible to fish under the water, who know this means something edible.
For fly fishing, don't shot the line and use a monofilament trace. The braided line will be too heavy.
Greasing the line so that it floats may be advisable since we won't be using special fly trace.
Best place to fly fish is where you can see real flies and fish disturbing the surface of the water to take them.
Try to imitate the flitting motions of the flies.


Fish will take artificial bait such as flies, lures, feathers and bits of wool or shiny metal.
Worms are not as common in some environments as you might expect, so often your best bet is to split open a rotting log and take your pick of the grubs and beetles you find.
Caterpillars are also easy to catch.
Bits of entrails from a previous catch or an animal you've trapped are good too.
In both cases you're turning something you probably don't want to eat into something you do.
Many fish are quite fond of berries, so when in season these should not be overlooked as bait.
[When I was originally writing this, there was a story in the press that fishermen were finding that female pubic hair was an excellent bait. This is supposedly something to do with the oestrogen so it needs to be fairly recently “collected” and isn't something you can keep in your kit till needed. Some of you reading will have a ready supply, so I'll pass the idea on though I can't testify to if this really works. If someone manages to get a meal out of this bait, maybe they'll let me know.]
The above all turned out to be bogus newspaper BS, but pubic hair (male, female or preferred identification) may be a useful material for making fishing flies.)

Rod Fishing

Dave (my intended co-author) is a far keener fisherman than I and uses the following rig for passive and active fishing.
In addition to hooks and spinners, this requires tape, a spool of line and a 4" piece of coat hanger wire or large paper clip.
Dave has used such a rig often, though being a Signalman his “rod” was often the antennae of a land rover.
If possible select and cut a length of sapling/wood for the use of a rod approx. 8 to 9 ft in length and inch to inch half in diameter.
With the wire, fashion a loop at the top end and secure this with your tape and short piece of line. Then attach the reel to the other end***(diagrams were to explain and show how)*** Now run the line through the loop and attach a hook to the end with a weight attached, Hey presto, you a ready for the off to go fishing!!
A rod needn't have eyelets and a reel.
The roach pole is a long pole used for float fishing with a fixed length of line attached to its tip, usually up to half the length of the pole.
This setup needs a little “give” to absorb the energy of a strike, and this is done either by the springiness of the rod or by including a section of rubber band in the trace. A couple of rubber bands can be used to hold together some of the items above. Or you can use knicker elastic.
The trick to using the roach pole is to always keep the tip over the float.
An improvised tenkara rod is another possibility. In Bushcraft 101 by Dave Canterbury, a “lillian braid” for a tenkara rod made from the mantle of some paracord is suggested. The “lillian braid” is how the rigging is attached to the rod.

Dave's Fishing Kit

Dave suggests the following as a kit suitable for carrying in a backpack, and suitable for both survival and recreation fishing.
1. 50 metres of line (10 to 15 lbs)
2. 3x Mepps (small spinners)
3. 1x container of split shot (assortment or BB)
4. 4 inch piece of coat hanger wire or large paperlips.
5. Packet of size 12 hook to nylon
6. 3 small traces
7. An assortment of other hooks large and small (loose)
8. 3 treble hooks about size 12: used for live bait.
This equipment to be packed into 35mm photographic containers and bound together with electrical tape (1 metre).
There are several options with this kit.
If you are going to carry 50 metres of monofilament line you might as well carry the spool you brought it on.
Loose hooks and maybe spinners can be taped to the side of the spool if desired.
Gluing a small length of dowel to the spool will help in using it as a reel.

Sea Fishing

For sea fishing, other elements come into play such as tides and conditions.
If one is going to be near the coast then you must be prepared for this eventuality.
By this, I mean carrying stronger lines up to 30 lbs test, larger hooks and swivels.
Weights pose their own problems but these can be substituted by stones from the beach.
Methods vary somewhat to those of freshwater fishing by using the tides.
Wait till low tide, wade out and lay a long line of baited hooks. Leave them secured to the bottom and return after the tide has come and gone and see what you have caught (Not very labour intensive!)

Fishing Kits for Life Rafts and Ditch Kits

Fishing is obviously one of the main ways to get food if in a life raft, but the kits often supplied are insufficient in both quality and quantity.
If you hook a big fish such as a shark, your safest option may be to cut line, rather than try to get it in the raft and kill it.
You may also have to rely on this kit for months, so plenty of spares make sense. So too does the extra expense of stainless steel hooks.
Another thing that is often lacking from kits but will prove useful is some form of winder, such as those used for kites.
Suggested fishing kit contents (courtesy Doug Ritter of Equipped to Survive):
400 ft. – Monofilament Fishing Line, 20 lb. test
36+ – Barbed Hooks, size 2/0
36+ – Barbed Hooks, size 2
24+ – Barbed Hooks, size 6
6 – Barbed Treble Hooks, size 1
6 – Barbed Treble Hooks, size 6
6 – Barbed Treble Hooks, size 8 or 10
24 – Nylon Leaders w/ Snap Swivels, 10-12 inch
12 – Wire Leaders w/ Snap Swivels, 8 inch
24 – Snap Swivels
24 – Assorted Sinkers
12 – Chrome Spoons and Lures
3 – Straight Shank Hook, size 9/0 (for gaffing)
2 – Winders
1 – Waterproof Fishing Instruction Booklet including illustrations of fishing knots

Fishing Nets

A net or fish trap is often better than a line if you can make one.
An “instant” net is a lady's stocking or tights. A fish becomes easily entangled and damaged in these, so this is a survival only technique.
When she was living in Brazil, my girlfriend regularly fed herself by fishing. Her father was a fisherman who had worked on the ocean-going boats. Her father would fish with a handline, but my lady preferred a net.
The net she used she calls a “pulsá”. It was round and had hooks for bait in the centre. It sounds like a lift-net in form, but she used it by throwing it into the sea and then hauling it in, which sounds like a type of trawling.