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This article discusses a Japanese soldier who survived in the Philippines for 30 years with only his original equipment.
Along the way, he overcame many obstacles and persevered through his cunning and ingenuity. The lessons that can be learned from this story are a fascinating example of what can be accomplished when facing intense odds.
Hiro Onada’s Background
Like many Japanese citizens in pre-WW II society, Hiro Onada was raised by a strict code of honor and discipline. When his country called upon young men to fight, he didn't hesitate to enlist and fight for his homeland. He was trained as an intelligence agent and sent to the South Pacific where his duties would take him to the Philippines.
Onada received training for jungle warfare on the island of Okinawa, which had a lush tropical environment. In the last 50 years, much of it has been cut down for buildings, roads and military bases. This place provided a proving ground for the young soldier, and a served as a precursor to his life for the next three decades.
In the mid 20th century, the Japanese way of life was still bound by a stringent code of honor and discipline. The breaking of this code would compel a person to perform ritual suicide or die before dishonoring their family. This is a crucial aspect of this tale because it was what drove this humble man to fight 30 years in a war that had ended in 1945.
In December of 1944, he and Onada and his men were sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines. Within a few months of arriving, all but three of his men had been killed. Shortly after that, the island was taken over by the Allies, and the Japanese had been defeated. Due to the lack of communication devices and contact with a chain of command, Onada and his men continued to fight a guerrilla style of war until they were adequately relieved.
If you are interested in Onada's story and wish to learn more about this remarkable man, check out this book.
While none of us expect to find ourselves in this unique situation, what is exceptionally notable about our subject is his devotion to duty. Like all Japanese families, he had his family sword which he carried to this wet tropical environment. Anyone who has spent even a small amount of time in a humid climate can tell you how difficult is to keep items rust-free and well-maintained.
When he finally surrendered in 1974 to President Ferdinand Marcos, he appeared in his original uniform with his family sword and much of his original gear still functional.
Hiroo Onoda: The Soldier Who Refused To Surrender For 3 Decades - YouTube
Here are some of the lessons that can be gleaned from this devoted individual:
Discipline and will to survive are key
Onada's mindset and training were not acquired merely through his experience in the jungle, but prior training and discipline had bolstered them since childhood.
His will to survive kept him fighting, even when he claimed for not to have gotten a full night of sleep in 30 years. Find what drives you to push yourself, and focus on that! Once you have met your initial goal, keep pushing and striving to be better. Always be working to improve.
Training is essential
Not only must you train for what you think you are going to encounter, but you also must prepare for the unexpected. If you live in a humid area, train for the desert; if you have never been around the coast, train for that. Your ability to train and vary your regimen to prepare for anything will help you to survive, should the need arise. While going through Air Force Survival Instructor training, we had to build fires in numerous ways. Split wood fires with an axe, knife and metal match (ferrocerium rod), then switch to do the same while raining, snowing, with 30 MPH winds, etc. Each time the standards were elevated, and the task made more challenging.
Around the Air Force: SERE Training - YouTube
Learn to improvise and overcome obstacles. With humidity ever present, and jungle rot a possibility, Onada kept his uniform dry and well mended. He kept it as clean as possible and washed his equipment as the situation allowed. Onada would use animal fats to keep his gear rust free and lubricated.
Never stop learning! As you have read this article, I hope you are inspired to reach outside your comfort zone and explore new survival tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP’s). Start with what interests you the most, or what is familiar in your area, and expand from there.
What other great survival stories do you love? Are you inspired to learn more about surviving against all odds? Let us know in the comments below!
Kids survival gear matters. No matter what age you are, it’s never too early to learn basic survival skills and get used to outdoor gear. Whether it’s learning to use a compass, or breaking in a decent pair of hiking boots, getting the right kids survival gear could be the difference between your child growing up with a passion for self-sufficiency and preparedness, or losing interest entirely.
Kids love stuff like paracord bracelets. They’re an excellent teaching tool for survivalist kids and make for relatively inexpensive gifts. Check out our list of great paracord bracelets here. Or, even better, try making your own! This can be a fun and educational activity. Plus, it’s effortless, and you end up with a great piece of survival gear. Watch the video below to see for yourself.
How to Make the "Corkscrew" Paracord Survival Bracelet - BoredParacord - YouTube
It’s no secret that kids love messing around with flashlights. They’re the most fun survival tools and can be used to teach your kids Morse code. The Dorcy 41-2521 is an excellent flashlight for kids simply because it’s utterly bombproof. This chunky thing can survive being dropped from extensive heights and is both waterproof and buoyant. This makes it perfect for survivalist kids, who tend to drop stuff all the time. It’s also brightly colored, making it hard to lose around the campsite. Lastly, it’s pretty cheap, and can usually be picked up for well under $10. So, if it does get dropped one too many times, it’s not going to cost much to replace. The one downside, however, is that the Dorcy is pretty clunky, particularly for kids with small hands.
For a more compact alternative, the Leafnite SK98 Kids Mini Flashlight beats out its competitors. This mini-flashlight is water resistant and has three different output modes. Plus, it’s small and has an excellent grip. The only downsides are the price and color. Jet-black, the Leafnite isn’t easy to track down when kids lose it. It also tends to cost around $20. For that price, you could just get two Dorcys.
Finding good quality outdoor clothing designed for kids isn’t always easy. Luckily, REI’s Sahara Convertibles are designed primarily for children, with sizes suitable for toddlers and up. They have excellent details, such as color-coded zippers and cinch-up waistbands that are perfect for growing kids.
You can probably already hear the windows shattering. Yes, slingshots are the bane of parents everywhere, but admit it, kids love them. Slingshots provide endless hours of entertainment that will get your young ones away from the television, and out into the fresh air.
Trumark sells good quality slingshots at very reasonable prices. Plus, the ammo can be stored in the handle, so you’ll never forget where it is.
Before setting the kids free with their slingshots, you might want them to learn how to use them without losing an eye. Professional slingshot champion Kenny Cannon wrote Slingshot Sniper with the intention of introducing complete newbies to the sport. It’s an excellent primer on basic safety for survivalist kids and takes the beginner through the basics of how to properly use a slingshot. The accompanying video guide is particularly useful, and offers a more professional approach than the average YouTube video.
Not one for the little tots, the Gerber Bear Grylls Fire Starter is nonetheless a great idea for older kids who are responsible enough manage a fire. While there’s plenty of fire starters on the market, Gerber gets marks for its large, easy to use design. It’s a bit bigger than most fire starters, but that makes it much less difficult to master. So along with being reasonably sound quality, it’s also a great training starter. It comes with a lanyard, so hopefully, it won’t go missing. As for the obnoxiously-sized Bear Grylls logo on the flank, I suppose it’s up to you to decide whether or not that’s a selling point.
Learning how to use a compass is an essential skill for anyone, and is a critical piece of any kids survival kit. Teach your survivalist kids the basics with the BRUNTON TruArc 3 Compass. An excellent general purpose compass in its own right, the TruArc 3 also happens to be a solid entry-level choice for kids. It’s pretty reliable, and boasts a global needle. Moreover, at just $13, it’s a financial steal.
Over a decade ago, KEEN revolutionized the outdoor footwear market with its trademark hiking sandals. Now, they’ve done it again, producing what is arguably the best hiking shoe for small children. The KEEN Pagosa Lows are waterproof, boast a fixed bungee lacing system and reasonably stiff soles. They’re the perfect first pair of hiking shoes for small kids and toddlers. If you’re looking for a way to get your kids comfortable in the outdoors from an early age, then this is it.
What do you think? What survival gear do your kids love? Let us know in the comments below!
Chewing coca leaves might not sound like the best idea in the world, but in Bolivia and Peru, it’s an art form. For centuries, these leaves have been boosting the energy of Andean farmers, laborers, and explorers; keeping them going through the hard times and the good. However, like any art form, there’s a trick to it.
Dispelling Misconceptions About Coca Leaves
It’s Not Cocaine
Before we get chewing, it’s worth pointing out that there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding the coca leaf. First, coca leaves are absolutely nothing like cocaine. Instead, they're more like a shot of espresso, if the caffeine high lasted half the day. Your heart will get pounding, you might sweat a bit and suddenly feel the urge to climb a mountain. Your mouth may also go numb. That’s about it.
It’s Still Illegal Pretty Much Everywhere
Despite being widely consumed across much of the Andean region, coca leaves are illegal under international law. The United Nations, 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, prohibits the use of coca leaves for everything except scientific and medical purposes. However, this prohibition is ignored in Peru and Bolivia. Countries who have been lobbying for the leaf to be legalized internationally. Along with these two countries, possession of the leaf in small amounts for personal consumption is legal in Argentina and Colombia. The leaf is technically banned in Paraguay and Brazil, though enforcement against individuals with small amounts is unusual. Even so, respect for local laws should always come first.
In virtually every other country on the face of the Earth, coca leaves are treated no differently than cocaine. While coca tea can be found on sale in commercial, neat little boxes in Peru and Bolivia, you’ll face possible arrest and drug trafficking charges if you try to take them to a country like the United States. There are more than enough horror stories of innocent travelers being treated like criminals in the U.S. for merely carrying coca tea, so don’t risk it. Only chew coca in the countries where it’s legal.
You Won’t Feel Much…At First
Many first-time coca chewers are disappointed after their first try, with the effects being mild at best. This is because, like many substances, coca leaves just don’t seem to give users much of a buzz until your system has gotten used to them. So if you’re not getting anything, try again in a few days. However, scientific evidence that proves coca leaves improve physical performance is shaky at best, leading many researchers to conclude the leaves don’t do much at all. This, of course, flies in the face of the experiences of generations of Andeans. Either way, don’t be surprised if you don’t find coca leaves anywhere near as stimulating as you may expect.
Not All Leaves are Equal
After sampling a few coca leaves, you might notice some massive variations in effectiveness. This is normal, and as a general rule of thumb, you can expect leaves to be pretty mediocre around tourist areas, such as Cuzco. Generally speaking, the best leaves are fresh, dark green, and flexible.
Photo by Logga Wiggler
It Can Have Some Nasty Side Effects
On the flip side, if you chew coca leaves while hiking in South America, you might still experience some adverse side effects. Some of these include exacerbating asthma, worsening heart conditions, and raising blood pressure, while potentially impacting the sugar levels of people with diabetes. If you’re pregnant, stay away from cocoa, and even after giving birth, don’t chew coca leaves until long after you’ve finished breastfeeding.
How to Chew Coca Leaves Like a Native
While we’re on the topic of hapless tourists, my first experience of coca leaves was pretty unpleasant to watch. On a hiking trip in Peru, I watched a fellow gringo shovel a few handfuls of coca leaves into his mouth, and munch them like a koala. A few minutes later, he was outside, face covered in green goo, coughing up stems. Part of the problem comes down to the language barrier: you don’t chew coca leaves per se. Instead, your objective is to suck on the leaves, gumming them to draw out the alkaloids.
Once you’ve got some nice, pliable leaves, the first thing you’ll want to do is remove the stems. Do as locals do, and fold each leaf in half, peeling the bulk of the stem from the end. Try to get as much of the stem as possible, without breaking the leaf in two.
Having a Ball with the Catalyst
Now, select somewhere between 10-15 choice leaves. Pile them neatly, and add the catalyst. Traditionally, powdered limestone is used, though I’d strongly recommend against this. Limestone can strip the enamel off your teeth, and cause a real headache for both you and your dentist. Instead, opt for something gentler, like a bit of bicarb soda. Bicarb does a perfectly good job of activating the alkaloids, and won’t destroy your dentistry.
Once you’ve added a small amount of catalyst, roll the leaves up like a tiny little cigar. Fold the ends if needed, and keep the package nice and tight – again, without damaging the leaves. What you should be left with, is a little ball of leaves packed around a small amount of bicarb soda.
Be a Sucker, Not a Chewer
Finally, you’re ready to try your coca. Insert your little package of leaves into the corner of your mouth. Ideally, you want it lodged between your cheek and molars. Leave it there for a few hours, giving it a bit of a loll or gentle chew every so often. Throughout the day, expect your mouth to go numb and get filled with bitter flavor. It might not sound fun, but the boost of energy can be well worth it and may save your life in a survival situation. After a while, you might even start to enjoy the taste.
What do you think? If you’ve tried coca leaves for yourself, then we’d love to hear about your experience. Let us know in the comments below.
Maintaining your hiking boots is the last thing you may want to do after a long hike, but getting into this habit matters more than you may think. Cleaning boots can make them last longer, saving you from unnecessary expense when your favorite boots fall apart. For this instructional, I’m focusing on hiking boots with full grain leather uppers. Fabric boots and other types of leather (like Nubuck) require different approaches. To be specific, I’m working with the Scarpa SL Activ, though the method below will work with any similar boots.
Before you start cleaning your boots, you’ll need to do some prep work. First, remove the laces and liners. These must be cleaned separately. Then, give your shoes a quick, preliminary inspection. Look for any rusty eyelets, holes in the uppers, split soles, and other signs of wear and tear.
Read the Label
Every type of boot is different, and some can have some surprisingly intense cleaning demands. Be sure to read the label inside the boot heel before beginning the process.
Cleaning the Boots
Cleaning Hiking Boot Soles
I like to start boot cleaning by tackling the soles. After all, the soles tend to be the dirtiest part of the shoe, and cleaning them later can quickly ruin your freshly cleaned uppers. At this point, I only use water, without any soap or special chemicals. You’re just scrubbing off dirt and grime, so there’s no need to go overboard making the undersides of your boots shiny.
Use a medium-stiffness, long-bristled brush to scrub the soles. Pay careful attention to the treads, where stones and debris can build up. As this material collects, it can cause stress on your feet as you walk, and eventually damage even the toughest Vibram. Speaking of which, I also find the Vibram label on the underside of the boot can be a paradise for little bits of dirt. Clean it and similar tags thoroughly.
While cleaning the sole, you may also want to scrub the rand (the rubbery strip that covers the first few centimeters of some uppers. Just make sure that you don’t allow your brush to make contact with the uppers. Stiff-bristles can easily scratch leather, defeating the entire purpose of maintaining your hiking boots in the first place.
Cleaning Hiking Boot Uppers
Once the soles are pristine, it’s time to turn your attention to the uppers. While elbow grease is everything on the tread, I strongly recommend a gentle approach to the uppers when maintaining your hiking boots. To clean, I use a toothbrush and water, without any soap. Scrub firmly but gently, as you would your teeth. If your toothbrush is dead after just a few passes, then you’re scrubbing too hard.
Scrub every inch of the uppers, paying careful attention to creases, eyelets, and stitching. On the stitching, be gentle but thorough, as this is one of the areas the boot will show early signs of wear. Dust and dirt love to creep into the stitches and cause friction when you walk. I also invest some extra time in cleaning the part of the boot where the rand gives way to the uppers, as this is also a common problem area. If your shoes don’t have rands, then focus your efforts on the joint between the uppers and sole. Finally, the heel can likewise be a problematic area, where I recommend being very thorough.
While scrubbing, be on the lookout for any signs of wear and tear. Splits that don’t penetrate all the way through should be gently scrubbed and washed. If you find any holes, then make an appointment with a shoe repair shop immediately. Some people like to try fixing their boots themselves, but I think it’s better to leave that work to the professionals. Unless you seriously know what you’re doing, your backyard glue-job will do more harm than good.
Speaking of repairs, keep an eye out for any rust on the eyelets. Avoid using harsh chemicals that can damage the surrounding leather, and instead opt for a Q-tip with a bit of cooking oil. After using the Q-tip, you may want to grab the toothbrush and gently scrub the eyelet.
Once you’ve scrubbed down the shoes with your toothbrush, you should grab a sponge and give the boots a once-over. Using plenty of water, wipe down the uppers and soles, keeping an eye out for any stray dirt you might have missed.
Wash the Insides
If you’re a regular hiker, it's most likely that your boots have built up quite an odor. To remedy this, fill your boots with warm water after the initial clean. Some people use soaps or detergent, though I try to avoid chemicals that can have unintended consequences for the leather. Either way, at this point, just fill the boots with water, and leave them for 20 minutes or so to soak. While you’re waiting …
Apply a Waterproof Wash
At this point, your boots should be reasonably clean on the outside, and full of water inside. This is the perfect time to apply a waterproof wash. This step is necessary, regardless of whether your boots are untreated or came waterproofed like Gore-Tex. Either way, a waterproof wash can increase the lifespan of your boots dramatically. I like Nikwax, though I’ve heard Scarpa HS12 works just as well. Nikwax is best applied to mildly damp (not soaked) leather, with either a sponge or fingers. As always, pay close attention to damaged areas, seams, creases and the like. This rule applies to any wash, not just Nikwax.
Most washes need to sit for at least a few minutes. So at this point, you should have the insides soaking in warm water, and the uppers covered with Nikwax or a similar waterproofing agent.
Wash the Laces and Inners
Laces can get pretty grungy, so this is the one time when detergent makes a lot of sense. Make the laces frothy with soapy water, then grab hold tightly to one end. Then, pull your hand down the length of the lace, bringing as much water and soap with you as possible. Rinse, then hang to dry.
Inners rarely demand much attention, and can usually settle for a quick rinse. Apply some baking soda if they have an odor. Remember: in maintaining your hiking boots, looks aren’t everything. Smell matters – a least for the rest of your family.
With your laces and inners hanging out to dry, you should be ready to return to the boots. Tip out the water, and inspect the insides with a small flashlight. Spot clean with a toothbrush if necessary.
Once you’re finished with the insides, return to the uppers. By now, the Nikwax or other waterproofing agent should have soaked in, but there might be some streaks of residue on the leather. This isn’t just unsightly; the streaks are magnets for dust, and if you don’t get rid of them, you’ll just have to wash your boots again in a day or two. I use a clean, medium-damp sponge and water, and wipe gently.
Congratulations, you’ve just finished washing your boots! How did it go? Got any other tips? If so, let us know in the comments below!
Cattails, amaranth, clovers, and dandelions are all typical plants of choice for the survivalist, but what about the frailejon? If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry; most people outside South America have never even seen one before. These amazing survival plants are only found in a very specific region of the Andes, where the climate is just right for them to flourish.
For hikers, explorers and other outdoor enthusiasts traveling in this part of the world, frailejones can serve as a critical survival and medicinal plant. When the going gets tough, these plants are your best friends. Or, you could use your knowledge of frailejones to impress fellow travelers next time you’re hiking in the Andes.
There are many plants helpful for survival that you can grow at home, check out our list here.
What is Frailejon?
Frailejon is immediately recognizable. While exploring the foggy flanks of the northern Andes, you’ll no doubt catch glimpses of shadowy, slender figures dotting the landscape. These silhouetted forms can look like other hikers in the fog, but on closer inspection, you’ll find something much stranger.
A plant, anywhere from a few centimeters to a few meters high. It might look like a cactus at first, but the leaves are soft, and the spines feel more like fur. The twisted stalk gives way to a spongy mass of leaves bunched at the top, and you might see yellow flowers poking up here and there. Botanists call this wacky-looking plant the espeletia, but most locals simply call them frailejones, or friars. Indeed, they certainly look priestly, with their shaggy forms vaguely resembling cassock-clad monks in dim light. At night, the frailejones can be a bit of an otherworldly sight when hiking in the Andes.
Where Can You Find Frailejone?
In areas where they’re endemic, frailejones can cover the landscape like a spongy blanket. They’re most commonly found in Colombia, along with the western highlands of Venezuela and Northern Ecuador. Failejones also grow in some parts of Peru, but are not particularly common. In all four countries, you’ll only see frailejones on the paramo.
The paramo is a high altitude tropical ecosystem. It is usually wet, windy, and cold, and sometimes resembles moorlands. As for the frailejones, they typically grow on paramo at altitudes of 1800 to 4700 meters. However, this height can vary, depending on the specific climate of the paramo. In general, however, you can expect to find frailejones on any high altitude slopes in wet and cold regions. In some places, it’s hard to walk without stepping on one; elsewhere, it can be challenging to find even a single plant.
General Survival Uses
Frailejones have a surprisingly diverse set of applications for campers and survivalists. Next time you’re in the northern Andes, try out a few of these for yourself. Bear in mind, however, that the frailejon is considered endangered due to agricultural clearing.
In some areas where the plant is plentiful, it can seem harmless to take a few leaves for yourself, but keep in mind that frailejones grow exceptionally slowly. So if you need to harvest the plant for yourself, do so sparingly. Only take a few of the outer leaves from limited plants where permitted. In some areas frailejon harvesting is banned, while in others it is entirely acceptable. When in doubt, play it safe and refrain from picking this plant.
The rocky, wet terrain of the paramo offers very few spots for the weary traveler to sleep for the night. Luckily, the frailejon can save the day. The wide, spongy leaves of the frailejon make an excellent camping mattress or pillow. Simply harvest dry leaves, evenly pile them, then lie down to compress them a bit. Stuff them inside a plastic bag to make a decent pillow, or heap them under your tent for a little extra comfort in the night.
In Venezuela, you’ll often see local hikers harvesting frailejones by the armload, piling them into ridiculously high improvised mattresses. Don’t copy this wasteful behavior. Instead, take only what you need, and do so sparingly.
Frailejones make an excellent addition to any improvised shelters, such as a lean-to, wedge hut, or round hut. Packing them all over the walls will offer protection from the wind while helping keep the precious warmth inside.
Along with being suitable construction material for bedding and improvised shelters, frailejones also purportedly have some serious health benefits. They are believed to ward off altitude sickness. An attribute that makes them quite a popular survival plant among travelers hiking in the Andes.
A common folk cure for altitude sickness, frailejon leaves can be used to make a bitter, but tasty tea. Boil washed leaves vigorously for at least 10 minutes, then drink hot. You should use roughly one medium-sized leaf per cup of water. Cinnamon is also traditionally added for a bit of flavor. I’ve tried this myself, and find it can be pretty refreshing and helps with the symptoms of mild altitude sickness.
Boiling the tea further will lead to the liquid forming into a thick mess of bitter yellow syrup. It might look gross (and ruin your cooking pot), but Andean locals claim it can help with asthma and other respiratory problems. At altitudes like these, anything to make breathing easier is welcome.
Bonus tip: frailejon nightcap
As a final ode to the glorious frailejon, let me introduce perhaps its greatest application: as booze. On a cold Andean night, a frailejon nightcap can work wonders, easing sore muscles and helping even the most restless traveler get their Zs on.
To try it for yourself, begin by making the frailejon tea described above. Add a tablespoon of cinnamon, two tablespoons of sugar, a dash of cardamom and a bit of nutmeg, depending on taste. Simmer for a few minutes after the initial vigorous boil, and add either aguardiente (basically moonshine) or a spirit of your choice.
In Venezuela, I’d opt for their excellent rum, while in Colombia you’re better off sticking to an aniseed liquor. In Ecuador, trago de caña will do the trick.
After a total of 15-20 minutes of boiling, strain the leaves and drink hot. You’ll thank me.
So what do you think? Will you be keeping an eye out for this legendary plant on your next trip to the Andes? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Camping hammocks have exploded in popularity in recent years, but are they all they’re cracked up to be? Over the past year, I’ve been toying around with my camping hammock, to see how it measures up to my tent. The results might surprise you.
At first glance, the camping hammock seems far more restrictive than the traditional tent – at least regarding finding the perfect spot to crash for the night. Surely it’s a pain in the backside to find the perfect pair of trees, right? Wrong. On most popular wilderness hiking trails, there’s never a shortage of trees.
Most national parks have plenty of trees, and even relatively sparsely vegetated regions still have plenty of spots to string up a hammock. You just think that they aren’t there because you haven’t been looking.
If you’re still unconvinced, then try this experiment: next time you go for a walk in the wilderness, try keeping a count of how many suitable hammock camping sites you see. Odds are, you’ll count far more than you expect. So in the tent vs. camping hammock debate, trees just aren’t as much of a factor as you may think.
That means more campsites!
In practice, I’ve found that locking in a good hammock camping site is usually much easier than finding a tent site. While trees are everywhere, so is uneven, rocky ground. This is particularly true of wooded areas, where tent campers have roots and stones galore to contend with.
How many times have you settled down in your tent at the end of a long day, only to have some sneaky rock jab you in the back? What about those moments when you discover the ground isn't nearly as even as you thought it was, and now you’re stuck sleeping on an annoying slope?
The reality is, once you switch to a camping hammock, you’ll find you usually have more flexibility than tent campers. For example, when was the last time you tent camped right next to your water source, or up a slope to the side of a crowded campsite?
Speed of set-up
This one may be contentious, but I’m going to say it: hammocks are quicker to set up. Between spending less time looking for a site, clearing a square, smashing those pegs in and the like, tents take a few minutes for even the pros to get set up.
Camping hammocks, on the other hand, just involve clipping straps around two trees. You’re done in mere seconds, and it couldn't be easier. Cleanup is a breeze too. Put simply, the question of which camping method is quicker to set up is well and truly settled.
Protection against the cold, wet ground
Who enjoys waking up to discover they’re camping on slush? We’ve all had those nights when the rain comes down, and all of a sudden that perfect campsite becomes a mushy, wet, mess of misery. You won’t get that with a hammock. Ever.
Overall, hammocks are more comfortable than even the best camping mattress. Maybe you’re hardcore and like to say you don’t care about comfort, but let’s be honest. Deep down inside, all any of us really want is a decent night’s sleep, and camping hammocks provide that much more consistently than any tent. So concerning which is more comfortable, the hammock wins every single time.
Perhaps not the most important factor for everyone, but camping hammocks are a bit cheaper than most tent set-ups. My cheap hammock set-up cost me less than $100, while my tent was a few hundred. Evidently, there’s a lot of room for variation here, and the price difference may not even matter to most campers.
Disadvantages of a hammock
Frustrating learning curve
I’m not going to sugar-coat it: my first few camping hammock escapades were pretty lame, mostly because I spent half the time wrestling with a somewhat uncooperative hammock. I’m not alone. Most campers are used to tents, and switching to a hammock can a learning curve. Getting the height right and making yourself comfortable takes a bit of practice, not to mention a time investment.
While it’s possible to make a camping hammock set-up lighter than the average tent, it’s not easy. In fact, the most significant complaint new hammock campers have is the additional weight. The hammock itself isn’t the problem; it’s the tarp, the bug net, the straps, and other gear that ends up making this set-up just a few kilos heavier than a tent. Unfortunately, hammocks lose in the weight department, though perhaps not all of the time.
When a camping hammock is better
Casual camping on well-trodden trails
For casual camping trips to your average national park, camping hammocks are just so much better than tents. You’ll never have trouble finding somewhere to sleep in even the most cramped of camping sites. Not only that, but you’ll sleep better than anyone else.
When you’re camping in woodlands
Any heavily wooded areas lend themselves well to hammock camping. While tent dwellers are struggling with the afore-mentioned roots and rocks, you’ll be chilling a few feet above the ground in style and comfort.
When to stick with your tent, and avoid camping hammocks
Perhaps it’s just me, but I’ve had no success with beach hammock camping. It might sound idyllic to merely find a few palm trees and sit back with a beach-side piña colada, but odds are it won’t work out that way. In reality, you’ll end up miles away from the shore, trying to find a half-decent tree by the roadside. For beach bums, tents are way better.
When you’re doing a serious hike at over 4000 above sea level, camping hammocks are pretty much useless. The extra weight will drag you down, and good luck finding a single tree. Even if you do manage to find somewhere to camp, you’ll be knocked around all night by the wind. Stick with your tent for intense hikes.
What do you think? If you’ve had your own experience with hammock camping, let us know in the comments below.
Learning how to mark trails isn’t as difficult as you may think. With a few basic pointers, anyone can mark a path from scratch and provide a reliable route for hikers for years to come. All you need is a hatchet, some paint and a sense of care and interest.
Basics of Trail Marking
Whether you’re creating a leisurely hike through your property or planning a survival route, knowing how to mark trails correctly can make a big difference. There’s nothing in the world better than a well-marked trail, and nothing more frustrating than the opposite.
This article looks at the basics of how to mark trails. We review the most commonly-used methods, and how to apply them to your paths. Bear in mind, however, that just because a process is listed here, that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate in all contexts. Keep in mind that while you’re generally free to do whatever you like on your land, the same cannot be said for public property – not to mention other people’s backyards. If you start smearing paint on other people’s trees, or hacking blazes on public land, you're just asking for trouble.
Once you know that you’re free to make a new trail, actually marking it can be a fun experience. To get started, all you’ll need is a hatchet or machete, and durable paint. In no time at all, you’ll know how to mark hiking trails with ease.
Use Appropriate markers
There’s much debate over what exactly makes the best trail marker. Should you use cairns, cut blazes, or leave a colored flag? In reality, the best tag is the one that is most appropriate for your specific need.
For most people heading out for a day hike, chalk is king. It doesn’t permanently scar the wilderness, leaves no trash behind, and will wash off after a day or two. Chalk is especially useful in national parks or on private property, where you can get into severe trouble if you needlessly vandalize your surroundings.
2. Environmental material
However, chalk isn’t always the best option, particularly in wet weather. The next step is to use material already in the environment. Rock cairns are a classic, along with sticks and pine cones. Slashing or painting marks in trees is also effective.
3. Dedicated markers
Finally, you’ve got your dedicated markers. Trail ribbon is a popular choice, while reflective tacks are a good idea if you plan to return after dark. These methods should only be used under appropriate circumstances, such as long-distance trips far off the grid.
Personally, I like to use trail stakes when appropriate. Bamboo skewers or similar can be fitted with colored plastic flags and placed at regular intervals as you hike. They’re easy to see and can be collected effortlessly on the return trip. After a long hike, fiddling around with a knot of ribbon is the last thing you want to do every few hundred meters.
Remember though – and I cannot stress this enough – to be careful with how you mark, even with chalk. Landowners can understandably get frustrated with hikers leaving their markers behind or vandalizing their property. Inappropriate use of markers on private land can cause enormous headaches for the various organizations that maintain trails.
One rude hiker can cause a landowner to close their property to trail maintainers; effectively ensuring the closure of the path. So be conservative with your markings, and if ever in doubt, bring along a GPS or smartphone. If you don’t know how to mark hiking trails respectfully, it's best not to try.
Cairns and duck rocks
Both ducks and cairns are extremely common forms of trail marking around the world. They’re easy to recognize, easy to make and simple to understand.
Cairns are piles of rocks used to mark trails, particularly in areas with limited trees or other natural markers. They should be around 2-3 feet high, and tall enough to see through fog or snow. To indicate a turn, add an accent in the given direction. An accent is just a fancy word for an extra couple of rocks to one side. Make sure to keep the emphasis clean and distinct. Otherwise, it might just leave you with a wonky looking cairn. Alternatively, you can use sticks to make an arrow in the desired direction. Arrows are universally understood, and more suitable than accents if your marker needs to be interpreted by less experienced hikers.
Ducks are pretty similar but are usually just three or more rocks heaped on top of each other. These are quicker and simpler than Cairns but can be easy to miss if you’re not careful. It’s for this reason that many hikers have a distaste for ducks, which some people say are lazy and ineffective.
In my opinion, ducks aren’t all bad. For one, they can make good reassurance markers. When constructing either option, make sure the rocks are stable, but try to keep them tall and thin. Wider or lopsided cairns can be easy to mistake for natural formations, so don’t be afraid put pride in your work and add distinctive flourishes.
As mentioned before, blazes are simple markers consisting of a slash or painted mark on a tree. The simplest way to make a blaze is with a machete or large knife, by carving a clear, distinct indicator into a tree. Paint is an acceptable alternative if you are concerned about harming the tree. Either way, place the mark around eye level, facing inwards toward the trail. Make sure your signs are visible from both directions. Keep in mind, next time you pass, it will be from the opposite direction. Consider adding some additional marks to indicate turns. For instance, turning your blaze into an arrow.
As with all such intrusive markings, blazes should be used sparingly, and only when you have permission from the landowner. Acceptable distances between blazes vary, but anywhere from 200 to 300 meters apart is normal. Make each blaze count by sticking to prominent, eye-catching trees that come into view easily from the desired directions.
Understanding blaze code
While most trail markers are intended to be universally understood, blazes do have meanings of their own. In the US, a single vertical line means you should continue straight ahead. Two vertical parallel lines with a third stacked above and centered indicates the start of a trail, while the inverse (two parallel vertical lines above a single vertical line) indicates a trail end. A single vertical line with a second vertical line above and to the right of it indicates a right turn. As you might expect, a vertical line with a second line to the top and left is a left turn. Lastly, two vertical lines on top of each other, plus a single line to one side suggests a spur leading to a different trail. Keep in mind, however, that while these general rules often apply, different organizations have their own blaze codes, and they can even vary from trail to trail.
Making your mark count
If you’re trying to make a permanent trail marker, then make sure your mark counts. For blazes, this means cutting a flat surface into the tree to remove the bark, then painting over. In the US, hatchets are commonly used, with one hand on the handle and the other firmly holding the back of the head. Cut upwards in controlled movements, and keep the blaze as smooth and straight as possible. Then, cover the cut with a durable oil-based paint. The National Parks Service sells paint suitable for marking.
Don’t go overboard
However you choose to mark your trail, don’t go overboard with your markers. As mentioned before, 200-300 meters between markings is ideal, but this depends a lot on the terrain. Realistically, markers like blazes should come in predictable intervals, spaced an hour hiking time apart at the very most. If you can see two markers at the same time, then they’re definitely too close. Making trail marker the wrong distance apart is a common beginner mistake, and can lead to confusion – especially when you get lazy and start spacing them out later on.
Learn hiking lingo
If you’re marking a trail, you might also want to know what type of trail you’re making; getting your terms right could save both you and other hikers a lot of confusion. So, in the interests of marking trails correctly, here’s your basic list of lingo essentials:
Trailhead: The point where your trail begins. This should be marked prominently.
Loop trail: A simple trail type that loops back on itself, returning the hiker to the trailhead.
Spur trail: A minor trail that splits off from the main hike. It might head to a lookout, a campground, or even another trail. Either way, these trails should be marked as spurs, with some identification to indicate exactly they’re going. For example, if you’re making a spur trail to a camping area, a distinct picture of a tent will help plenty of weary hikers later on.
Thru-hike: A hike from one end of the trail to the other. If somebody is doing a thru-hike, it means they plan on covering your entire trail, end to end.
Switchback/Hairpin/Dead man’s curve: A sudden, extremely sharp turn. Such turns are common on steep routes. These are points in the trail where it’s easy for hikers to get lost. If you’re trying to mark your trail correctly, make sure to indicate these turns clearly and consistently.
Out-and-back: Sometimes called an “in-and-out”, these are simple trails that head to an endpoint but don’t loop back to the starting place. To return to the trailhead, hikers, need to follow the same trail that they followed on the way out.
See how others are marking trails
Even if you think you know what you’re doing regarding marking trails, there’s nothing wrong with seeing how the pros do it. I highly recommend visiting a few popular hikes, and observing how local maintenance staff marked trails. Pay attention to their blazes, what kind of symbols they use for indicator signs, and any other tidbits of trail marking that you can pick up.
Now that you’ve learned the basics of marking trails let’s talk about how everything you just discovered will one day become obsolete – maybe. Augmented Reality, or AR, offers instant information about your surroundings through your camera-enabled smartphone. Forget maps, compasses and the like; just download an app, and use your phone as your guide. Some AR apps even allow you to leave virtual markers, which only you can see on your phone.
These breakthroughs have the potential to save trailblazers a lot of trouble with landowners while keeping the physical environment pristine. For now, though, most serious hikers still use physical maps and rely on markers. Whether this will change in the future is anyone’s guess.
If you'd like to try experimenting with AR and similar virtual trail apps, check out this list here. A personal favorite of mine is Marmota, an app that instantly identifies any mountain peak you might happen to stumble across. It’s a great way to impress your friends with your seemingly expert knowledge of the mountains.
Do you have any trail marking tips we missed? Let us know in the comments below!
Finding the best ready-made meals isn’t always easy. With so many on the market, it can be hard to know which ones will actually taste good. So, we’ve put together a list of some of the best ready-made meals out there, both for outdoor activities and survival preparation.
The Best Ready-Made Meals
The best ready-made meals are more than just bare sustenance. Sure, nutrient bars and bare gruel might keep you going, but when SHTF you’re still going to need a decent meal every so often. That’s what this list is for. These ready-made survival meals are among the best you’ll find, whether for weekend camping trips or for survival preparation.
Bear in mind that we’ve decided to mostly steer clear of bulk long-term storage options, as they’re a whole world of their own. This list also excludes homemade survival meals, so once you’re done stocking up on the best-packaged food, consider checking out DIY options. Making your own granola is easy, or try our recipe for Civil War fire cakes.
Lastly, while we’re limited to commercially available ready made survival meals, we’ve tried to include something for every taste. There are freeze-dried hiking pouches, MREs, and even some surprisingly good alternatives to the average pack of ramen. To top things off, we've even included dessert.
Admittedly, with so many ready-made options available, it was difficult to narrow down our list to just a few top picks. In general, meals were selected based on a mix of nutrition, value for the money, and just plain old taste. See what you think, by checking out the list below:
Mountain House MCWs: Ready-Made Meals with Variety
It’s pretty hard to talk about the best ready made meals without mentioning Mountain House (and yes, their products will appear again). These guys often top the list with their freeze-dried ready-mades and are extremely popular among hikers in particular.
The reasons are obvious: they’re easy to use, super light-weight and don’t take up much space in your pack. Best of all, they offer a great variety of fairly good tasting ready-made meals. Their line of cold weather meals (MCWs) are marketed as military grade. The company says it produces them for the US military, and that certainly doesn't surprise. Their line of MCWs come in a variety of flavors good enough to satisfy a platoon or two. Some highlights include the Turkey Tetrazzini, breakfast skillet and the beef stew.
On the downside, their ready-made survival meals with rice can come out a bit gluggy, such as the Mexican rice and chicken. Nonetheless, that’s to be expected among even the best ready made meals, so don’t let it bother you too much. Overall, at around $12 a pack, Mountain House MCWs are good value given the quality.
Personally, I recommended stocking up on a mix of flavors, and rotating them so they don’t get boring. Including the varieties mentioned above, there’s 12 to choose from in total. So even if you don’t happen to like one or two, at least you know you won’t have to eat the same meal again for nearly two weeks! Check them out here.
Arguably Mountain House’s toughest competitor in North America, Augason Farms has a fairly good line up of freeze dried ready-made meals, not to mention single ingredient pouches. However, they’re at their best when it comes to their freeze dried beef chunks, which make a great addition to any ready-made survival meal. Sure, they’re never going to compete with a choice cut fresh off the barbecue, but they’re certainly not bad.
I like to throw these beef chunks in with a simple stew, and eat it straight from the pot with some bread rolls. On a cold night in the middle of nowhere, it’s a five star meal. The only one problem is that the smallest pack is 1 lb (454 g), which sells for around $60. In other words, these beef chunks are extremely expensive, and perhaps best suited for groups or long term storage. See for yourself here.
French RCIR Varieties
It’s French, so you know it has to be good. In the world of ready to eat combat rations (MREs), the French have reigned supreme since the days of Napoleon. During international operations, the French Combat Ration Individual Reheatables (RCIRs) are highly prized.
For example, according to internet rumors, a single crate of RCIRs trades for an entire US field cot, which is apparently a big deal. That’s just one of the many legends surrounding the RCIR; another being the persistent rumor that they come with a small bottle of French wine. While that sounds awesome, it’s unfortunately not true.
Instead, you’ll have to settle for the likes of duck paté, stewed lamb, sauteed rabbit and pork cheek ravioli. The menu varies considerably depending on the specific model, but almost all are astonishingly good. Find out more here.
Not to be outdone by the French, Italy puts up one hell of a fight with its combat rations, the Razione Viveri Speciale da Combattimento (RVSdC). The RVSdC varieties typically come with a good mix of meat, fruit bars and enough coffee to keep you running all day long. However, the RVSdC’s real claim to fame is its' shot of booze. For novelty alone, the RVSdC is worth trying.
Backpacker's Pantry: Ready-Made Meals with Flavor
Backpacker’s pantry is a pretty common sight on hiking trails, and for good reason. Their line of ready made meals is a few notches above run-of-the-mill ramen noodles. The chana masala and Cuban coconut bean and rice mixes are both pretty flavorsome, while the Southwest corn chowder isn’t bad either.
However, if you really can’t live without your noodles, don't panic. Backpacker’s Pantry offers a fantastic ready-made pad thai. Admittedly, it’s not exactly up to Bangkok standards, but it’s the best Thai food you can get in the middle of the wilderness. At the very least, it’s a welcome change from instant ramen. Check out all Backpacker’s Pantry ready-made meals here.
MaryJanesFarm Organic Shepherd's Meat Pie: It’s ready made shepherds pie!
Ever since I was a child, I’ve had a bit of a soft spot for shepherd’s pie. Admittedly, MaryJanesFarm’s organic shepherd’s pie isn’t quite how Mom used to make it, but it’s not terrible either. For one, it’s the only shepherd’s pie I’ve found that can be eaten straight from the bag.
Just pour in some hot water, wait a few minutes, and you’ve got a mush that tastes reasonably good. You can tell it is made with real meat potatoes, not to mention a generous amount of cheese. It’s not bad, and REI sometimes has packs on special deals. Have a look here.
H2 Mi Goreng: Yes, it’s a Ready Made Meal in its Own Right
As an Australian, I’d probably be charged with treason if I didn’t mention this next one. Indomie’s mi goreng noodles are a staple diet for all Australian university students and proof that instant noodles can be a genuinely good meal in their own right.
Americans, forget what you think you know about noodles. Mi Goreng isn’t just a square of noodles with one lousy sachet of chemical flavoring. Instead, it’s a square of noodles with one lousy sachet of extremely addictive chemical flavoring, plus soy sauce, oil and even a little pack of fried shallots. They’re designed to be dry noodles, so either strain them or boil in just a little water. Either way, they’re incredible.
Mi Goreng is easy to find if you happen to be in Australia, New Zealand, some parts of Indonesia and (for some reason) Nigeria. In North America, you can try Asian specialty stores, but you’re probably better off ordering them online. While you’re at it, check out Indomie’s other flavors as well. The soto mie, barbecue chicken and rendang are all worth your time, while the other flavors are nothing to write home about.
NongShim Shin Ramyun: Now That is Spicy!
While we’re in the noodle department, let’s talk about NongShim’s Shim Ramyun. Again, we’re talking instant noodles, so skip ahead if you don’t think this counts as a ready-made meal. These chunky noodles are designed to be eaten in their steaming hot broth.
Without doubt, this broth is the single most flavorsome item on this list. It’s spicy, rich with flavors of kim chi and chili. You also get a little sachet of dried Asian vegetables. If you’re not into spicy food, then you’d better avoid Shin Ramyun. In terms of cost per serving, I’d say it’s perhaps the best ready-made meal available. You can buy it online here.
Good To-Go Thai Curry: A Ready Made Curry with Flavor
If you happen to have a taste for Asian food, but don’t want to eat instant noodles all day, then I’d suggest having a look at Good To-Go’s range. They’re a relatively small Maine-based company mostly aimed at the hiking crowd, but also appealing to survivalists as well.
I recommended their Thai curry; it’s a spicy coconut curry mix that’s easy to toss into an overnight pack. Find it here. Alternatively, their smokey three bean chili is also extremely good. While the Thai curry contains fish, the three bean chili happens to be completely vegan.
Augason Farms Stew Blends: Ready Made Meals to Stew Over
Augason Farms provides one of the better stews for long term storage. Their vegetable stew blend is surprisingly good, especially given the price. For around $20, you can get 40 servings of decent stew.
It tastes fine, but the consistency might need adjusting, depending on your personal preference. I personally find it a bit thick, and usually add more water than advised. Also, I’d steer clear of their chili cheesy enchilada mix if I were you..
As with all Augason Farms products, you can save a lot by buying in bulk from their website.
Vegetarians will be happy to know that Augason Farms has a good meatless option. The taco meat substitute is noticeably better than Augason’s other foray into Mexican food, and is a good addition to soups and stews. Have a look here.
Mountain House Freeze Dried Desserts: Prepare to Have Your Mind Blown by These Epic Ready Made Desserts!
I’ve saved the best for last. I hinted that Mountain House was going to make another appearance, but did you expect dessert? Most survivalists tend to neglect dessert, as if a sweet treat at the end of the day is supposedly only for snowflakes.
Well, call me a snowflake, because frankly, a good dessert can do wonders to lift spirits after a rough day. It’s for this reason that I consider Mountain House’s line of freeze dried desserts among the best ready-made meals out there. The New York style cheesecake bites are reasonably good, while the raspberry crumble pouches are enjoyable.
However, the ice cream pouches really take the cake. These pouches don’t need to be frozen, thanks to the un-meltable ice cream within. Believe it or not, the icecream actually tastes like…well, ice cream.
To make best use of Mountain House desserts, I suggest making sure everyone in your group has either the ice cream or one of the (raspberry or apple) crumbles. With a bit of trading, everyone can have a slither of crumble with a side of ice cream. So what are you waiting for? Get yourself over to their website, and stock up on survival ice cream.
Got any good, ready-made meals of your own? Let us know in the comments below.
Blade-Tech Industries focuses on what their customers need in blade technology. They supply members of law enforcement and the armed forces as well as hunting enthusiasts and survival experts. Blade-Tech Industries is ever increasing their research and development. As an American manufacturer Blade-Tech Industries puts their country first and supplies only the best. With this in mind, here are three Blade-Tech knives you need for survival.
The RipTide Karambit
The RipTide by Blade-Tech Industries is a Karambit style knife and rapidly deploys via a lever located on the back of the blade itself. This knife is also assisted by a kicker so the blade is easily deployed with the tip of the index finger. The belt clip is an ambidextrous belt clip allowing left-handed individuals all the same benefits as right-handed individuals. The finger well is smooth and not oversized making the RipTide a great hunting and self-defense blade in cold weather while gloves are worn. The RipTide by Blade-Tech Industries also features the Emerson “WAVE” and “IKBS” patented systems which can be pulled from the pocket, forcing the blade out both quickly and safely for the user. The RipTide by Blade-Tech Industries also features:
Blade Steel AUS 8
2 ¼” blade length
5” overall length
Ambidextrous Tip-Up/ Tip-Down pocket clip
For hunting, the RipTide blade is a great blade to have on hand for on-the-spot cutting. For self defense the RipTide by Blade-Tech Industries is a must have for everyday carry because of its rapid deployment for instant use. With an extremely sharp edge and fine point, the RipTide blade by Blade-Tech Industries is a great tool to have for everyday survival.
The Pro Hunter blade by Blade-Tech Industries is a trusted folding knife amongst seasoned hunters and professionals in the law enforcement and military communities. An ambidextrous clip allows for all individuals left or right hand dominant to have quick access in a moment’s notice to their blade. The textured handle increases grip while the Blade-Tech V-Hole ensures rapid deployment of the blade even in cold weather while gloves are worn. The Pro Hunter by Blade-Tech Industries also features:
Blade Steel S30V Flat Ground
3 5/8” blade length
4 ¾” overall closed length
5/32” blade thickness
8 3/8” overall open length
Ambidextrous Tip-Up / Tip-Down pocket clip
The Pro Hunter blade is an excellent choice for all hunters but still remains one of the most popular knives amongst members of the armed forces. From police to special forces the Pro Hunter blade by Blade-Tech Industries is more than reliable and a top pick for everyday carry.
The Pro Hunter Jr., much similar to its counterpart the Pro Hunter, is a smaller version but still packs just as hard of a punch. The textured handle allows for increased grip for this E.D.C knife as well as both left and right-handed individuals will be satisfied by the Pro Hunter Jr. due to its ambidextrous clip. The blade itself features a Blade-Tech V-Hole which ensures a rapid deployment even while gloves are on. The Pro Hunter Jr. and the Pro Hunter are both designed by Tim Wegner founder of Blade-Tech Industries. The Pro Hunter Jr. also features:
Blade Steel AUS 8
2 ¾” blade length
2 7/8” overall closed length
6 ¾” overall open length
Ambidextrous pocket clip
By itself, the Pro Hunter Jr. blade by Blade-Tech Industries is an excellent hunting knife and everyday carry knife. The pocket clip allows the Pro Hunter Jr. to be attached to your belt for quicker reach. Designed with all the needs a hunter could ever ask while simultaneously exceeding the needs of members of the law enforcement community and armed forces branches the Pro Hunter Jr. is one of the most trusted blades available on the market.