Survival Skills

Advanced Survival Shelter

If you have a group of people and a fair bit of time, you can move up from debris shelters to a more advanced, permanent shelter.  We spent about 8 hours constructing a 10 x 8 shelter that would easily sleep 6.  We used double, stacked debris walls and a ridge of about 6 feet.  We were very fortunate to have a lot of available resources both from a previous shelter and some trees that were recently felled.  Even though there was a huge supply of goldenrod stalks for thatching, we were really surprised at how much was needed.  We only got it half thatched, and had to resort to a tarp.

The boys ended up sleeping in ot in about 0 degree weather.  Without a little more work on the roof, it didn’t do much for keeping in heat.  We have to tweak the design a little.

Click on picture for larger version.

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Tracker Scout Skills – Camouflage

Of all the wilderness skills, the Apache Scout skills of camouflage and stealth are the most inclusive of all, integrating all other physical and awareness skills together to one purpose.  This past weekend we made a beginning in these skills.  It tends to get messy, but is always a lot of fun.

IMG_1537wwIMG_1552wwIMG_1539wwShiny hair is a no-no.

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Catching up on pictures: Sept. 2014 to May 2015

So, as I said below, I haven’t kept up with the pictures from the earlier camps from the new Phoenix 4.0 group.  They’ve been busy and very successful over the past year.  Before embarking on our big Smoky Mountains trip in two weeks, I though I’d do a little catching up.  Many of these have appeared on Facebook, but I think it is worthwhile to put them here.

Early spring had the group’s first trip to the Crown Land site, complete with 100% successful solos.

IMG_0803wwIMG_0806wwIMG_0828wwPart of Sunday’s program was to build a cooking tripod for the fire, including a workspace.

In sharp contrast to that, during the winter the boys built snow shelters, again with everyone completing and sleeping in them.

IMG_0698wwIMG_0704wwIMG_0711wwIMG_0751wwThere is a video as well, but I have to trim it and post it on our YouTube channel as WP doesn’t support direct uploading of videos.

Our Primitive Weapons camp is always a favorite.  We made survival bows with arrows (limited success for a first attempt) and also atl-atls.  We also spent some time with real bows doing some archery with some interesting targets.

IMG_0781wwIMG_0778wwIMG_0798wwOne of our first camps was the traditional Warsaw Debris Shelter camp.  Once again, batting 1000, all of the boys constructed and spent the night in their shelters, -many learning the importance of having something between them and the ground.

IMG_0527wwIMG_0559wwWe also did some bowl burning in the evening.

Those are the highlights.  I’ll try to update the videos and link to them here.

I’m sure we will have many more pictures to put up during our journeys over the next month.  Follow our exploits here.


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Winter Survival Shelter

The Snow Coffin is a winter survival shelter which is superior to the traditional Quinzee.  I have written an article about its advantages and about the construction HERE.

Last weekend the Phoenix group had the perfect conditions for building these shelters.  The stages were captured on video and are shared here.

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WalMart Camping

Over the past two extended road trips in the U.S., I’ve done a fair bit of camping in WalMart parking lots.  I’m almost reluctant to post this, as I’m sure it is one of those situations where increased popularity of this practice may cause WalMart to change their policy.  As it stands now, WalMarts allow and even encourage people to park trailers, cars or trucks in the parking lots of their 24 hour Superstores for overnighting.  Here are some do’s and don’ts for this economical way of traveling.  On a road trip, crashing at a WalMart can save you $50 to $100 a night in campground or motel fees.

If you visit a 24 hour WalMart any night, especially the ones close to major highways, you will see an array of camper trailers, cars and trucks.  They are usually parked in one of the back corners of the parking lot so as not to interfere with regular customers.  There are security cameras throughout the front of the stores to discourage any vandalism problems, and some stores even have security cars doing regular sweeps.  The washrooms inside are always clean and accessible.  WalMart is an excellent and cheap source of breakfast, whether you’re looking for McDonald’s, or buying apples and yogurt.  Sometimes it can be a little noisy, especially if you’re unlucky enough to hit a night when they’re cleaning the parking lot, but on the other hand I’ve stayed at many campgrounds located beside highways that are just as noisy.

Most WalMarts have two entrances and it is worth noting that one of them is usually locked after midnight.  So if you anticipate having to use the washroom in the middle of the night, locate yourself on the side of the parking lot with the unlocked door to avoid a very long walk.   Sometimes there are benches or even lawn furniture set up (in the summer) in front of the store, usually under lights, so you can sit and watch the customers, read a book or just socialize.  This is handy if you don’t have a trailer.

Here are some “don’ts” that you should remember:

1.  You  can’t pitch tents or set up chairs.  The most recent group I traveled with misunderstood what I meant by “WalMart Camping”, so when I returned from the washroom, I found the scene shown below.  In spite of the fact that WalMart allows camping, it is probably a good idea to still maintain a low profile.


2.  You can’t unhook your trailer and leave it for any period of time.  This is meant for overnight stops on a road trip only, not a home base.

3.  On one occasion we did have a security person ask us to leave, saying that this WalMart was an exception to the rule.  He actually directed us to another WalMart nearby which he said wouldn’t mind.  However even in this case we managed to convince him to let us stay as it was very late at night.  (This was in Boulder, which perhaps explains things.)

4.  Of course it pays to be considerate and not do anything that will jeopardize this good will from WalMart.  All it would take is a few people to be inconsiderate or do something stupid like dump their waste water in the parking lot in order for this policy to become unpopular with the stores.

Here is a good site that comments on this policy.


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Zombease – Emergency Heater

Fighting zombies and other adversaries, and general survival tactics often overlap, so this zombie perpetration site, ZOMBEASE,  has a lot of good ideas.

A new take on an old, simple idea is the construction of a heater using a can, toilet paper and rubbing alcohol.  Check out the other ideas on this innovative site.  You’d just need a good supply of fuel.

I also really like their all purpose, do it yourself melee hammer:

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Debris Wall Shelter

So, unfortunately our recent weekend outing didn’t have the chance to experiment with snow shelter design as the snow had all melted.  (I was also disappointed that we ended up not having time to experiment with reflectors.)  This is shaping up to be a strange winter.  But that brought up the question, “How do you make a shelter if it’s a strange winter?”  How do you cope with cold weather, possible freezing rain and no snow?

So we decided to get ambitious and build a major debris wall shelter, using materials from an old tipi and another larger shelter built long ago.  The readily available materials made it very easy, which was a good thing as the 8 or so people working in it only had about 7 hours on the Saturday if we were going to try to sleep in it overnight.

We were lucky in other ways as well.  The ground wasn’t frozen, which made pounding stakes in a lot easier.  There was a leaf pile from Autumn raking, so between that and a generous layer of pine needles on the ground we had plenty of debris to stuff between the double walls.  Ideal conditions, which never hurts when you’re trying out something brand new.

The final structure ended up being much larger than really needed.  We started with the perimeter of the tipi and it kind of grew from there.  When finished, we decided that it easily could have been half the size and still fit half a dozen people.  Probably easier to heat then too.

What definitely would have been easier if it were smaller would have been the roof.  As it was so big, several tarps were necessary, and the evening’s rain did manage to get through.  Unfortunately it was dark by the time we got to the roof, and the design modifications that seemed necessary weren’t able to be done, although it wouldn’t have been too difficult if we’d had more time.

All in all it was a terrific success and a great learning experience.  We’ll probably revisit it to improve it.

To see photos, go to

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Years ago I wrote an article which criticizes the use of Quincies and supports the new “Snow Coffin” design that we developed.  The design is always evolving, but the basic idea doesn’t change.  The original article still has all of the most important points that should be remembered when considering a snow shelter.  This will hopefully be the topic of a camp this winter, and I’ll post any refinements (because I have a few in mind) afterwards.  The only problem is that in more recent years there has been less and less snow in the winter, making this construction more difficult.

The original article can be found HERE, on the fantastic Wildwood Survival site.


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I am no fan of those thin survival blankets that are made out of mylar.  I find that they rip very easily and on the few occasions I’ve used them, they haven’t done much to keep me warm.  Admittedly there are people who disagree with that and say that they’ve been warmed up by them, so don’t take my word for it.

However, at a recent camp some of the boys had them and when were discussing their possible uses we hit on one that might just be a life saver.

When I’ve learned and taught how to make winter fires for warmth, we’ve always tried to construct a reflector on one side to reflect heat and hopefully provide more heat on one used side.  Like this:

It works middlin’ well at best.  Unless you’re lucky to have nice white birch, the reflecting value of the wood is very limited.  If you put it close enough to be more effective, it tends to blacken.

So, I’m interested in finding out whether a better reflector can be constructed using a survival blanket or something similar.  There are the mylar ones, the heavier, more durable ones (which are much bulkier) and then there’s good old aluminum foil.  At one of our upcoming camps I’m going to suggest that we do some experimenting with these.  How easily does the mylar melt or burn?  How can a few sticks and some duct tape help?  How large a surface area is optimal?

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I’ve found that the secret is using the existing fire to dry out the stuff you’re going to add next.  It’s all about timing.

The article in the link is OK, but nothing beats dirt time.  For firestarter, don’t forget that pitch burns really well.


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