Before I was a SF geek, I was a survivalist geek. And yes, I mean that just as it sounds. I grew up in the woods, reading books about everything, but for a long time I gravitated towards books like Julie of the Wolves, Call of the Wild, Tom Brown’s semi-fictional survival guides, Wildwoods Wisdom, and many more. I learned how to survive in different climates – from the Boreal Forest of Alaska to the cool infinitely green Pacific Rainforest – and did a lot of camping with family all over.
I grew up, grew more sedentary, and got out of touch with my wild roots. You’re no doubt wondering what this has to do with writing, at this point? As I was sitting at the table pulling together a pocket survival kit for the first time in ten years, from odds and ends around the house, I was reflecting on the stories that start out with Our Hero thrust into a life-or-death situation.
What tools would she have with her? What could they fashion into useful items? Could he really survive if dropped into the wilderness with only the knife at his side?
These are questions you can build a story on. Man vs Nature. The deadliest, most implacable foe a man can face, because food, water, and shelter… well, at -40F a man can die real quick now if he hasn’t got fire and shelter.
A woman can die even if only a few hundred yards from safety, if she lacks the tools and skills. This sad case caught my eye – we hear about the amazing survivors, or perhaps the massive searches for some person who has gotten lost. But reality is that hiking into the woods carries a risk, one that cannot be fully erased. Of course, commuting to work on the interstate also carries a risk… filling my pockets with basic survival tools is no different than obeying the safety rules of the road, in that sense.
So the first thing to think through is why our character is plunged into wilderness. This will dictate how much or how little they have on them. I’m carrying more than I need for a two-day camping trip in a relatively built-up area. Partly because I want to teach my son. But if they are surviving a crash? Fled some two-leg evil into the woods?
Personally I always carry a pocket knife or multi-tool on me. I’m weird, I hear. But I believe most of my friends practice this… and when hiking I’ll have a belt knife, my multitool (not the tiny one in the box), and a neckknife. Each serves different purposes. None of them are intended as weapons, although they could be – darn near anything could be.
Firestarters that don’t rely on easily dampened chemicals are also good. I snitched one of my husband’s lighters, but the magnesium bar is the best option I’ll be carrying in a survival situation. A compass, and not pictured, a map of the area which is safely enclosed in a ziplock bag for protection. Can also be used the carry water. Also not shown – my son had them when I took the photo – whistles for both of us. Whistles or signal mirrors -mine is long gone it seems- can be used to tell searchers where you are. Or if my son and I separate on the trail. I also have a backpackers tarp, about the size of two decks of cards folded, that could be used for shelter.
Do I expect trouble? Always, and at the same time, not particularly. This is a fun little hike and camp to pass on some lore to my son. And I thought I’d share with my writer friends, too.
So what are your favorite books about survival?
(Header image: Mr Bubbles doesn’t understand why he can’t come, too!)