Part 1: Teaching kids wilderness survival

2008-04-22T00:00:00Z 2014-12-20T05:21:20Z Part 1: Teaching kids wilderness survivalJenn Fox Daily Herald
April 22, 2008 12:00 am  • 

Are you one of those parents who takes your kids out hiking and camping during the summer, enjoying the outdoors and the time spent togetherfi We take our kids out as well, breathing in the sights, getting a bit of exercise and fresh air, and enjoying the overall beauty of our local surroundings. But are you really preparedfi I mean, sure, you have your stove and tent, and sleeping bags, if you're camping. You have your cooler packed with the basics - hot dogs, condiments and s'mores supplies. If you're out for just a day hike, I'm sure you are carrying enough water for you and your kids, you know where the trail starts and you've got your hiking shoes on.

But, again, are you really preparedfi I have always thought of my husband and I as taking all of the precautions necessary to keep our kids safe and prepared for the outdoors, but I found out otherwise in a recent visit with Greg Davenport, a well-known outdoor survival expert and author of six books on wilderness survival. Let's just say, we have a few items we, as parents, need to address with our kids before our next excursion.

"It really is amazing to me," Davenport said. "A parent will take their child and put them on a trike and then a bike with training wheels and then they'll teach them how to take the training wheels off that bike. But when they take them to the outdoors they put them in the car, they drive to the wilderness and then they start hiking, and they assume that the child has innate survival skills and innate outdoor skills. And the fact of the matter is that Daniel Boone even had parents who taught him how to survive in the outdoors, and as parents we need to take the time and be responsible to teach our children those skills that will keep them alive if anything should happen."

Getting started

When you are talking about teaching your kids survival skills, Davenport has broken it down into three simple steps. The first one is to stop - stay put. The second is to meet your needs, and the third is to keep the faith.

The first one is common sense even for adults. As soon as you realize you are lost, stop. Don't try to find your way back.

"The biggest mistake people make is they do not stay put," Davenport said. "They assume they know where they are and how to get out. They look for that familiar rock, they continue to look for the trail instead of staying put, and that does lead to a great frustration for search and rescue because they come in looking in that last-known location and you're not there. So that's the biggest mistake."

A good example of this occurred here in Utah just a few years ago when a massive search for a missing Boy Scout eventually located him five miles from where he was last seen. You can imagine how many miles he must have aimlessly wandered before ending up that far away. And then when search-and-rescue teams were trying to find him, he didn't know to blow a whistle or pound on a tree or to do something that would help attract attention to his location. That's why the first rule is to stop - the first place searchers will look is in your last-known location.

The second step is to meet your needs. Your needs are simple. This step also can be broken down into three areas: You need to avoid exposure injuries, stay hydrated and signal for help.

Avoiding exposure injuries begins with your clothing. First off, Davenport advised, don't wear cotton. When it gets wet, cotton compresses and it loses its ability to insulate. Once it loses the ability to insulate you, it can no longer trap dead air, which keeps you warm. It will actually keep that moisture next to your body, and that is just going to make you cold.

According to Davenport, a better option for your upper layer is polyester. A good combination to consider is a polyester T-shirt, a polyester shirt, a wool or fleece middle layer and an outer layer of nylon - something treated, like a windbreaker that will protect you from wind and rain. Your middle layer is insulating, trapping warm dead air and keeping you warm. The inner layer not only traps dead air, but wicks moisture away from your body. By using this formula you create layers that you can use to your advantage. If you are over-heating, you can take off the middle layer and if you're getting cold, you just put it back on.

Your windbreaker plays an important role in the layering system. Wind takes heat away from your body. If the wind is blowing hard you want to keep that heat close, and if it's raining, it also protects you from getting wet. You're trapping dead air, keeping you warm and also protecting yourself from wind and moisture.

A common mistake people make, Davenport said, is not wearing a hat, or taking their hat off.

"One of the talks that I give when I go on a lecture circuit is I talk about the myths of surviving," he said. "One thing that I see people do time and time again is when they overheat they take their hat off. And you know what, we lose 50 to 75 percent of our heat through our head. And heat is calories, why would we do such a big calorie lossfi It makes no sense.

"So what I advocate is wear your hat, and in almost all situations the hat should be on and you should take off the middle layer, put it in your pack, put your coat back on and leave the hat on. In hot weather you need a hat that's going to trap that cool air and keep the heat away. In the cold weather you need a hat that's going to trap that warm air and keep the cold away, so either way you still need the hat. So clothing is really important as part of something to keep you protected."

Click here for Part 2 of wilderness survival.

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