The biggest challenge came as a surprise though.
How little gear do you need to live in the wild?
I set out to challenge a few of my fellow survivalists / bushcrafters encouraging them to bring less gear than they normally would. 4 things only to be specific.
The challenge started on Saturday 22. of August at 13.00 and ended 24 hours later. You could choose to sleep in a tent, you could bring a rain coat or you could challenge yourself and go more primitive like I did. The choice was yours. The only rule was: EVERY item counted as one of your 4 items. Even your backpack if you chose to bring one. This was the Undepend 24 Hour Challenge:
The idea was not to test whether you could survive or not. Everyone can survive 24 hours in the wild during summer in Denmark. Even without food and water. The idea was to encourage the participants to challenge themselves. To get them used to get by with less gear than normal and learn from it.
It’s all about priorities.
24 hours isn’t a long time. It is long enough for you to start feeling the effects of no or only a little food however. And it’s long enough to feel miserable during the night without a fire. Or to catch a cold without a shelter. Every participant was allowed to bring 2 liters water.
At 13.00 we all met up in Gribskov in Denmark on the specified location which was right next to Lake Esrum. After a short chit chat and exchange of thoughts and strategies we went straight to work. My approach was to follow the priorities of the rule of 3: Shelter first. Water was already taken care of so after I had built my shelter I went out to forage the area.
Building my shelter and a fire.
It took me about three hours to finish my shelter. And I didn’t even bother to make it completely waterproof all over. The weather forecast had said it was going to be a clear sky all weekend and there wasn’t any signs that it was going to change. My main concern was insulating myself from the ground as well as getting out of the wind really. It always takes a while to find the right materials and I think it’s a valuable routine to know by heart. You don’t want to get caught by darkness before you’re done with your shelter. I built a classic lean-to using a young tree as one of the poles. For cover I used fern leaves. They’re easy to harvest and they effectively cover large areas. The advantage of this kind of shelter as opposed to an A-frame is that you can use it both as place to sit as well as a bed for the night.
Before heading out to forage I went to collect some birch bark to use as tinder. I would rather get a fire going first and risk not having any dinner than to have to sit in darkness all night. It turned out I had plenty of time for both however. When building my shelter I cleaned the branches in the vicinity of my camp. So I had plenty of small twigs at hand for building my fire. Mind you I didn’t cut down fresh branches. It is also easy to find small twigs with no bark on in the forest. You just want to make sure they’re completely dry when using them to start your fire. If conditions are wet you may want to look at the bottom of spruce trees instead of picking twigs straight off the ground. These were dry conditions though and I had brought my fire steel as one of my items. So getting a fire going wasn’t a big deal. I built it to a level where I was sure to have at least a coal burning when I returned from foraging.
Foraging for food.
It’s funny how you’re able to set aside your body’s needs when your mind is focused on other things. I wasn’t particularly hungry after building my shelter even though I spent a lot of energy doing so. I had also just been without food for about 3 hours so far. But I figured it wouldn’t be long before my inner clock would strike dinner. So I went to look for whatever edible plants I could find. In a real survival situation I would probably have dug out som spruce roots to use as snares as well. That would be both illegal and unnecessary in my present situation of course.
I managed to find quite a few blackberries, wild raspberries as well as some other edible plants such as wood sorrel and some nettles. I had expected to find a lot more mushrooms than I did though. I know that mushrooms are not recommended as survival food in general. However if you can positively ID them they are a very nutritious and can provide you with both moist and vitamins.
I had planned on giving ants a chance on this trip but I just didn’t get around to it really. It is still something I’m keen to try however. I’m not picky when it comes to food in general and I’m not appalled by the though of eating insects.
I can’t exactly say I was satisfied when I lay myself to sleep later that night. But I wasn’t starving either. I had managed to collect quite a few berries. And even though they didn’t fill my stomach they kept my spirit up.
Everything was good when I decided to go to sleep. I still had a fair amount of wood left from when I built my shelter that I could use as firewood. On top of that I had collected enough big logs to keep my fire going through out the night.
At about one o’clock I woke up however. My fire had died out and the night was much colder than I had expected. Being restricted to only four items I hadn’t brought an extra jacket or a blanket. So I had to build my fire again. This time I moved it closer to my shelter to make sure I would get more heat from it. I hadn’t built a reflector so I wasn’t getting the maximum heat return from the fire. It was sufficient to feel comfortable though. The rest of the night went on like that. Me waking up every hour freezing because the fire had died out. Rebuilding the fire then going back to sleep. Until about 5 o’clock where I decided to get up. I wanted to go out and get myself some breakfast as well as some more firewood.
Foraging some more and watching the sunrise.
I was away for an hour or so. It was a really beautiful morning. The sun was coming up in the horizon as the mist was still hanging over the lake. At this point I was getting hungry. It had been 18 hours since I had my last proper meal. I found a fair amount of berries as well as a couple of small penny buns (Boletus edulis). The berries kept me going but I was missing some protein. I went back to my camp and fried the penny buns. Or rather cooked them. I had no fat or butter to roast them in so I added a tiny bit of water to avoid them sticking to the pot which decreased their culinary qualities. Since food was scarce I found myself drinking more water than I normally would. I wasn’t running out of water but I had to ration it a bit. In spite of the other participants bringing food, I was still the one with the least amount of water left. I think I consume a bit more water than the average person actually.
Hungry and facing a surprising challenge.
As we entered the 22nd hour everyone was running out of pastime activities and I was really feeling hungry now. I guess it’s a psychological thing. You’re hungry and you know feeding time is getting closer so you start focusing on getting a proper meal. There was nothing else to do. I had nothing to pack basically, my camp didn’t need any attention, I had no food to prepare and I didn’t bother collecting more berries. Everyone was just waiting it out really. But two hours is still a long time so we decided to take another walk. We basically just walked around. It’s really interesting how boredom gets to you. We even talked about breaking up earlier because we had already “made it”. This would have meant failure in fact, but I guess it’s the same thing that happens when lost people die after they have been rescued or found. It is common knowledge among SAR Officers that many people give up mentally when they think they have been rescued. They simply stop fighting too early.
We walked back to our camp and had a little talk about what we learned from this trip and what we would have done differently. It was an interesting talk that made us forget about time for a while. But the last hour of this challenge was a long one. Everyone just hung out. We were ready to leave. As the clock hit 13.00 we were on our way and I was looking forward to get some proper food.
My four items were a hatchet, a knife, a fire striker and a pot. The other participants didn’t go quite as primitive. One brought: A tarp, a lighter, a blanket and some meat. Another one brought: A poncho, a sleeping bag, a knife, a lighter and a can of food.