Blog Archive

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Winter Survival Tips or How to Weather Out a Blizzard

Winter Travel Tips

Just finished a long but rewarding season of teaching and guiding. Now, with the colder months here, it is time to start writing more and enjoying the warmth of home.

We recently dug out from a week of heavy snow here in northern Arizona and I have been updating my truck supplies that I carry for roadside emergencies. Each year, there are many tales of stranded motorists having to weather out a night or two on the highway when the interstate is shut down. Being prepared, as you would when hiking in the backcountry, is essential to handling an emergency during the unforgiving months of winter.

In addition to having the usual gear in my truck like a small air compressor, quality jack, a can of Fix-A-Flat, LED flashlight, cellphone and charger, I also have the following items below.

Shelter System

Your clothing is your primary shelter system so dress appropriately when venturing out in the the elements or taking to the road. I once had to change a blow-out on the highway east of Flagstaff while driving home one December morning. I was glad I had plenty of layers as the temps hovered around 10 degrees. So, you may not even be in the wilderness when encountering Murphy's Law.

Here's my "shelter system" that's stowed in the truck:

Winter jacket
Wool or fleece sweater
Wool hat
Sorel (insulated) Pac boots
Spare wool socks
Long underwear bottoms
Sleeping bag
Emergency blanket (not the cheap Mylar blankets)

Once you have spent a few bone-cold nights out in the wilds with the clothes on your back you will see how essential a sleeping bag is for winter survival. Nowadays bags compress down to the size of a loaf of bread so we're not talking about a bulky item here. Slumberjack makes inexpensive bags in this size range or you can get a quality bag from Western Mountaineering. Carry one- you won't regret it if you become stranded on the road! Short of that, carry a few wool blankets.

Minimum of 2 gallons per person in your vehicle. I have a couple of 64 oz plastic juice containers along with two 1-quart Nalgene bottles. One of my Nalgenes is wrapped with black duct tape which will turn the bottle into a snow-melting device. Water is a critical survival item, even in the winter so don't skimp on this.

Yeah, you can go without food for weeks as real-life survivors have, but why?! I've been without food under survival conditions for days on end and it was NOT fun, so why suffer. Bring some quality food not far off from what you normally eat. Remembering that such items freeze in the colder months, I usually opt for M & Ms, a small jar of peanut butter, Lorna Doone Shortbread cookies, and jerky. This is all stored in a small tupperware. High-calorie, high-fat foods are a must in the winter. I also bring along some packets of instant soup and hot cocoa (see below).

In addition to the sleeping bag, I also carry a Nu-Wick candle. This is a non-toxic candle in a tin that comes with 5 wicks that burns for 120 hours. You can add or subtract wicks to boost/reduce heat output and these candles can even be used for heating a small pot of soup or cocoa.

A small cooking pot or enamel cup is essential for melting snow and heating up water. Nothing fancy- mine is a recycled peach can. A small (32 oz) apple juice can would work too or you can buy an18 oz enamel cup at Wal-Mart.

In both our vehicles, we have small first-aid kits made by Adventure Medical Kits. These start at $20 and are quality kits. I also have a small shovel and a canister of cat litter for digging out when stuck in the snow. This has come in handy more than a few times.

What to Do When Stranded On the Road
So, let's say you become stuck on the highway during a blizzard. Use your vehicle as a survival shelter and consider walking out only as a last resort.

Hopefully you topped off your fuel tank before leaving home. To conserve fuel, run your engine 15 minutes each hour to warm up the interior. IT IS ESSENTIAL TO CRACK OPEN A WINDOW! Carbon Monoxide is a silent killer so make sure your exhaust pipe (muffler) outside is clear of snow.

The coldest part of the vehicle will be on the floor as cold air settles so put your feet across the seat. Wrap up in your sleeping bag, put a hat on, have a snack, and settle in. It could be a while before emergency services clear the road or get to you.

If you have kids, bring along extra winter clothes, food, and water. Every winter it seems that there is a disheartening story about a family who decides to take a "shortcut" home on secondary roads and become stranded, often without any supplies. So plan ahead and BE PREPARED!

Take a few minutes to prepare while in your driveway at home and you will be able to handle an emergency should it befall you.

Stay warm and enjoy the wild places,


Thursday, December 31, 2015

Hell Week is now a PermaFree book and is available for purchase on ACX Audiobooks

My well-received book, Hell Week: Seals vs. Zombies is now available as a PermaFree book on Kindle, iBooks, Nook and other digital platforms. If you enjoy audio books, check it out on ACX.

Get ready for a fresh take on the zombie genre when the SEALs fix their crosshairs on the undead and the unsavory. James Enroy, a former Navy SEAL, thinks he is the sole survivor left in L.A. after a bioweapon cripples humanity, turning the infected into pudding-faced zombies. A chance meeting with an old mentor and a young heroine brings the trio into a confrontation with a criminal kingpin who has turned the L.A. Zoo into a gladiator arena, pitting zombies against humans. This short story is the first in a series of post-apocalyptic books. Approximately 102 pages.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Book 4 in the Carlie Simmons Post-Apocalypse Series now available for pre-order

Fort Lewis: the last bastion of civilization left in the western U.S.
The Undead: nearly seven billion hungry flesh-eaters roaming the world.
Carlie Simmons and her elite team: unstoppable and perhaps humanity’s final hope.

With research for the antidote underway, Carlie and her team at Fort Lewis face a new threat from an emerging force in southeastern Washington. A brutal army of former military prisoners, led by demented Lt. Colonel Ryan Mitchell, seeks to destroy all that Carlie and her fellow operators have fought for. Armed with a frightening technology for manipulating the faster-moving mutants, Mitchell will stop at nothing to control the Pacific Northwest. Amidst all of the chaos of open warfare at their doorstep, Carlie must face her own personal battles while racing against the clock to save what could be humanity’s last chance for survival and her own chance for love in a world spiraling out of control. The Gathering Darkness is the Fourth Volume in the Carlie Simmons Post-Apocalyptic Series and is now available on Kindle. Approximately 170 pages.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Book 3 in the Carlie Simmons Post-Apocalyptic Zombie Series is now available!

I've just finished up the third Carlie Simmons book, The Way Back, and will be sending if off to the editor next week. It is listed on Amazon for pre-order and you can pick up a copy now or when it comes out in early June.

This book takes off immediately after the second volume and finds Carlie, Shane, and Jared battling their way through the tropics as they try to get back to the U.S. with the fate of humanity resting in their hands. Eliza Huntington, the president's daughter, has her own harrowing journey ahead when Air Force One goes down in Idaho, and she is forced to adapt in ways she never imagined. Eventually the fates of both parties intertwine in an explosive battle where firepower may not be enough to defeat the unspeakable horrors that await them.

If you haven't read the first volume in the series, Until Morning Comes, it will be Free on Amazon this Saturday and Sunday.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Why Bugging-Out to the Wilds is a Bad Idea

Why Bugging-Out to the Wilds Is a Bad Deal

I get at least one comment in each of my urban survival classes about “if things go to hell in Phoenix (insert large city) then I will just grab my BOB and head to the hills and live off the land until society re-establishes itself.”

Here are some reasons why that survival-forum fantasy would suck:

1. Assuming you got out of the city early enough during that reactor meltdown or EMP blast (the two scenarios most bandied about), you will be on the road with every other dude who is maneuvering his tricked-out Hummer loaded with the latest zom-poc gear and Jack Bauer shoulder bags. This scenario is often accompanied by the comment, “If I can’t make it to my wilderness retreat, I’ll just live out of my rig while evading others and nabbing deer along the way with my suppressed carbine.” First off, when is the last time you went car-camping under non-stressful evacuation conditions while contending with resupplying water, dealing with first-aid issues, field-dressing wild game, cooking your chow over a sluggish fire in the rain, and getting used to all those nocturnal sounds outside your tent that prevent you from getting a decent night’s sleep?

2. All of the survival forums involve a bug-out situation with a lone-wolfer who is versed in shoot-and-move skills, advanced paramedic training, and has the trapping know-how of Jeremiah Johnson (the real one not the wink-at-the-camera, square-jawed Robert Redford). There’s never any mention about how, on the frantic drive away from the mushroom cloud, that you stopped at your parent’s house to grab them, their old black lab, and their satchel of prescription meds which is nearing their refill dates. Yeah, so what if your family wasn’t into the whole prepping thing and never gathered up any supplies, though you argued the merits with them after every disaster headline in the news- are you really going to duck out on them when the pigspoor hits the flywheel (PHTF)? I had one guy tell me he was gonna hoof it solo to his land in New Mexico to ride out his days there and then proceeded to ask me if I could go through his BOB and explain some of the items he had hastily packed off some forum recommendations.

3. It’s late January and you just got done working the third-shift after another twelve-hour day. Now you have to grab your kin, your gear, your pets, and negotiate traffic on your drive to the wilds to begin your post-apocalyptic campout while contending with hypothermia issues, deep snow, and a lack of wild game and edible plants (which you were going to resort to after your week-supply of yummy MREs were depleted). There are no guarantees in bugging out that you will be doing so during the day, in warm weather, when you are feeling 100% physically or mentally, you will be uninjured after the evacuation effort, and the area you end up in will have decent natural resources. It’s called survival for a reason and it’s only adventure in retrospect. There’s nothing fun or romantic about having your world torn apart by a disaster and then having to contend with life on the road or in the wilds trying to stay alive, provide security, food, water, and meet one’s most basic needs. Add to this that you have to comfort your unprepared brother in-law who has never gone without his daily energy drink (with the extra Taurine) and who thought hunting and gathering was like walking down the produce aisle but is now eyeballing your freeze-dried Thai-chicken packets. Furthermore, when was the last time that you put all your bug-out gear through the ringer and spent a night afield when the rain was pouring down to test out what worked or tried your hand at foraging and fishing?

4. Speaking of living off the land, the survival class you had a few years ago where you learned to make a snare from an SAS commando wire-saw now comes into play as your grub is running low. Only you’re scratching your head on day two after seeing the empty snare and wondering why it worked so well for that guy on the reality show-the same guy who sells bug-out bags with his patented tactical slingshot. Keep in mind that most professional trappers have years of experience on land they know extremely well, have 30-50 steel traps on them that they spend half a day setting out over a few miles of gnarly terrain, and know intimately the habits of the wild animals they are pursuing.  And even then they sometimes go home without any meat.

As escapist as it sounds to grab your go-bag and four-wheel it up to the remote mountain encampment beside the trout stream while flailing your zombie machete at anyone who squints crazily in your direction, there are a lot of negatives to retreating to the wilds. I’d rather look at bugging-out as a temporary solution to an immediate need for evacuating from your home or city, in my case, mainly due to seasonal wildfires. Statistically, you are far more likely to have to deal with hunkering down at home because of a blizzard, tropical storm, or rolling black out. If something else heads my way, I’m not going to retreat to the forest and set up a perimeter of booby traps but head to a family member’s house or hotel in another city or state until the smoke clears. Living in the bush for weeks on end with only a knife and a small survival kit is challenging under the best of conditions and with the right group. I’ll pass on the groundhog hoagies and Red Dawn E & E tactics in favor of meeting up with my family and friends at their homes and away from the mercy of the elements.

But then that Hollywood-embedded imagery in our western culture rears its head: you know the one about the ending of the world as we know it, where we are all reduced to a pioneer-era and wear buckskin robes with a an improvised rebar shank hanging off a braided 550-cord belt. Fortunately, I’ve already invested in a solar-powered, red-dot sight for my crossbow and know how to bake a mean raccoon potpie.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Common Survival Myths & Misconceptions

Many readers email me about the survival skills that show up in movies or so-called reality shows. Being involved in educating others over the past 25 years, I thought I’d mention a few myths & misconceptions that have crept into the field of survival.

1) Can you really get water from a cactus?

There’s a reason you don’t find cactus juice at the grocery store. It’s a noxious substance full of alkaloids that can push a heat-stressed individual into heat-stroke. The few times I’ve tried this  method, to glean its supposed usefulness, has seen me nauseous. Carry water with you in the desert or hole up like a cowboy during the heat of the day until you can locate water. A person sitting in the shade in 90 degree F weather will expend six-quarts of water over 24-hours so there’s no substitute for being prepared in the wilds.

2) If the world falls apart, I can just grab my rifle and bug-out-bag and retreat to the wilds for a few years until society re-establishes itself, right?

Living off the land in a solo fashion is brutal. There’s a reason our ancestors lived in tribes- it takes a lot of people on the land to provide sustenance. It is far better to have some supplies on hand at home and then augment your pantry with any wild game, fish, or edible plants that you might be versed in obtaining. Even better than that is to have a like-minded group of family and friends that you can work together with to ride out such a disaster. I wish life in the wilds were like the romanticism found in the movie Dances With Wolves but it’s more like the harsh reality of the film, The Snow Walker.

3) I saw this TV show where the guy was lost and rubbed two-sticks together to start a fire. Is that possible?

None of us would be here today if our ancestors hadn’t mastered the fine art of friction firemaking but this is a skill to practice on camping trips and backyard outings. Modern survival is about being prepared and carrying at least three firestarters (Stormproof matches, spark-rod, and lighter) with you at all times when in the backcountry. I teach primitive firemaking skills to show my students how to perform the method but find that, even under the best of conditions, it is a challenge and not reliable for most people. This is not the method I want to use if I am lost, injured, or stranded in the wilds with the sun going down! I've worked as a consultant on several reality shows and, other than Survivorman, these shows are heavily scripted. On one program I was hired for, we had a crew of 12 people accompanying us, including two staff whose sole function was to tote around coolers filled with double-shot espressos and sandwiches while filming the host to make it look like he was living off the land. There's nothing romantic or fun about real survival- it's only adventure in retrospect.

4) My buddy said that if you’re thirsty, you should put a pebble under your tongue and that will help you stay hydrated. Does that really work?

This simply stimulates the saliva glands which can help get rid of cottonmouth (which in turn helps briefly with your mental attitude) but you’re not actually adding water to your body, only redistributing existing fluids. In the intense heat of the Southwest, I sometimes consume 2-3 gallons of water per day so this is not a viable method for staying hydrated.

5) I have a three-month supply of food, ammo, water, and supplies laid in, just in case there’s a disaster. Is this enough to weather out the crisis?

There are no cookie-cutter answers. It all depends on your region, time of year, weather, family size, budget, and other variables. Having supplies ahead of time is critical but, in the end, it’s people working together and the power of community that often saves the day. Look at present-day examples from around the country and you will see that it is human goodwill that makes life possible after a disaster in addition to well-thought out supplies. All this being said, the six key areas to plan for when preparing your home are: food, water (and water purification), medical supplies, security, hygiene, and alternative power.

Monday, December 29, 2014

New Non-Fiction Survival Book by Tony Nester (JT Sawyer)

JT's new non-fiction book is now available on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and other digital platforms.

Can you really get water in the desert from a solar still? Should you ever attempt to suture a wound, Rambo style, in the backcountry? What is the best treatment for a rattlesnake bite? How do you distinguish cougar tracks from dog tracks? Should you drink from your swimming pool during an urban disaster? How do you survive a night in the snow without any gear? These are just a few of the many questions survival instructor Tony Nester (JT Sawyer) answers in his informative, and at times, humorous book. Culled from the past twenty-five years of teaching, writing, and responding to readers of his popular Practical Survival book series, Tony delves into the Q & A of survival as it relates to forest, desert, jungle, and urban settings along with the often misunderstood realm of living off the land. Survival Q & A is now available as an eBook on Amazon and other ereaders.