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72 Hour Survival – Part 2

July 1, 2012


There are two main ways of staying warm in the wilderness:

Number 1 – retain the heat that your body is already producing. Your body is a natural furnace.  It is producing a near constant 98.6 degrees of internal heat. If you prevent this heat from escaping, you will stay warm.

Number 2 – create an outside source of warmth (i.e. fire) that will replace any heat that radiates away from your body.

Your first layer of defense against heat loss is your clothing.  Dress in layers.  Polypropylene  long johns, a flannel shirt, wool pants, a wool sweater, a Gortex windbreaker, and Gortex wind pants for your body.  Cotton or nylon inner socks, wool outer socks, and sturdy boots or shoes for your feet.  Wool mittens for your hands, and don’t forget a hat.  40% of your body heat is radiated out through your head.  By dressing in layers, you can add or remove clothing to maintain a comfortable body temperature and avoid sweating which can cause chills.

Your second layer of defense is your reflective Mylar solar blanket.  Although it is very thin, the solar blanket will reflect your body’s heat back on itself and keep you warm.

Your third line of defense is to build a survival brush shelter.  A properly built shelter will keep you warm and dry in sub-freezing temperatures.


The survival brush shelter is built entirely of found materials.  No tools are necessary.

1. Find a long pole, about 10′, to use as a ridgepole.  Lay the ridgepole in the crotch of a tree or on a stout limb that is about 4′ off the ground.

2. Lean shorter poles against the ridgepole at a 45 degree angle to form a series of ribs.  The short poles should be about 6 to 8 inches apart.  Leave an opening about 2 to 2 1/2 feet wide at the high end of the structure for a door.

3. Cover the entire structure with a layer of boughs.  The purpose of the boughs is not to seal the shelter, but to provide a base on which you can pile leaves and needles.

4. Gather dead leaves, pine needles, dead grasses, and any other debris that you can find and pile one to two feet of this material over the entire structure.  If you are in the structure and can see any light coming through, you need more debris.

5. Gather more short poles and lay another layer of ribs on top of the debris.  This is to keep the debris from blowing off of the shelter in a storm

6. Fill the entire interior of the structure with clean, dry leaves and needles.  Burrow into the interior leaves and needles to sleep warm and dry.  The leaves that you are laying on will compress, so make sure that you have at least 6 to 8 inches of compressed materials between you and the ground.


Fire is a powerful psychological tool against the despair of being lost in the wilderness.  Fire can keep you warm in cold weather.  Fire can be used to signal for help.  For all of these reasons it is important to be able to build a fire.  There are four main elements to a fire.  they are: (1) tinder to catch the initiaal spark, (2) kindling to catch the flames of the tinder, (3) fuel which is the larger logs that will produce the heat that you are seeking, and (4) an ignition system   to get the whole fire process started.   Of course all of these materials must be laid out in the proper way in order to insure a successful fire.  Here’s how to build a fire:

1.  Gather tinder.  Very dry dead grass, very dry dead leaves, very dry dead pine needles, and shredded cedar bark all make good tinder.  Shredded paper, an old bird nest or mouse nest, and your emergency fire starter can also be used.  Pitch pine is an excellent tinder.  Look for a dead and fallen pine tree.  Check the rotted stump. It may have a hard, golden brown center.  If it is pitch pine it will have a strong turpentine smell.  Pitch pine will light and burn in the wettest weather.  When your tinder is gathered and prepared, lay it on the ground preferably on top of a piece of dead tree bark.  This will keep the tinder from absorbing moisture from the ground.

2. Gather kindling.  Kindling wood must be dead and dry.  One good source of small kindling is “squaw wood”.  Squaw wood is found on standing live trees. Squaw wood is the small lower branches that have died, but not yet fallen off of the tree.  Squaw wood will generally be dry even in a rainstorm.  If the wood doesn’t snap when broken from the tree, it is not dry enough.  Small kindling should be toothpick size.  Medium kindling is pencil thickness up to little finger thickness.  Large kindling is about an inch in diameter.  take your smallest kindling and lay it in a cone or pyramid shape on top of your tinder pile.  Leave a small opening where you can light the tinder when the time comes.  Continue laying kindling onto the pyramid with each layer of kindling increasing in size.

3. Gather fuel.  It will take a lot more fuel than you think to keep a fire going all night.  Fuel logs should be dry, dead wood, 2 to 4 inches in diameter.  Hardwood (oak, hickory, ash, elm, etc,) is the best, but anything will do in a pinch.  Lean 5 or 6 small fuel logs against your pyramid.

4. It is now time to light the fire.  Reach in with your match or lighter and ignite the tinder.  It is best to light the fire on the side from which the wind is blowing.  You may want to blow gently into the center of the initial blaze to feed oxygen to the fire.  If you have done a good job, flames will spread throughout the materials and you will have a good fire.

Improve the warming efficiency of your fire by building a reflector in back of it.  An 18 inch tall wall of rocks or green logs in back of the fire will reflect more of the heat towards you.  Conserve your fuel by keeping the fire relatively small.  Remember the old Indian adage, “A White man builds a big fire and stands back; an Indian builds a small fire and sits close.”



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