24 Hours in the forest with no food.

The biggest challenge came as a surprise though.

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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.

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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.

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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. It wasn’t until after more than an hour of foraging before I found a small cluster of puffballs (Lycoperdon caelatum). 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.

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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.

The night.
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Undepend 24 Hour Challenge
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.

 

 

Upgrading my kids’ wilderness survival skills

posted in: Bushcraft, Knowledge, skills, Survival | 0

3 days of practicing knots, shelter building, axe handling and more.

May is supposed to be fairly warm in Denmark. But the last few years the climate has been really messed up. This year May felt more like autumn than late spring. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go camping bushcraft style of course.

The trip wasn’t well planned. I had thought about going with my two sons aged 6 and 8 but it wasn’t until the day before I decided to actually do it. So I went to a local Silvan (a Danish DIY store) to buy two tarps measuring 2×3 meters. They sell them for only DKK 13,95 (about $2). A few days earlier I had taken both of my kids to a surplus store where we bought a pack of paracord for each of them. I let them choose their own colour which resulted in us walking out of the store with one neon green and one triple coloured blue paracord. Not exactly my favourites but whatever motivates them I guess.

You see I had a little plan in store for the two who are more than used to primitive camping. This time I wanted them to build their own shelter. The younger one just learned how to tie his shoe laces recently, so I wasn’t expecting him to be able to make everything himself. I felt quite confident that the older one could do it though. I wanted to give them an understanding of how simple it is to make a shelter and at the same time boost their self confidence. I wanted them to be able to build a simple structure that would get them out of the wind and the rain.

At about 12 o’clock we got off the bus and after a short hike we arrived at the camp site which was right next to a lake. My kids were more concerned about playing around. I normally let them run free in the forest. They know the rules: Their knife must be in its sheath and they must wear their whistle around their neck. It’s amazing how fast kids become responsible when you show them that you trust them.

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I went straight to work though. I unpacked my knife and my hatchet, put both in my belt and headed out to find some suited material for building my own shelter. After a short while I asked my kids to come and help me. I told them that we needed to collect some branches for our shelters and that they would need to carry their own. They had no objections about that although they did argue a bit about who was to carry the heavier branch of two. I told the older one to take it. After a while we had plenty of material and I was well underway with my shelter which I also wanted to work as a place where we could all sit if it was to rain. My kids were still playing around.

Had it been a little warmer I would have left it to their own sense to get going with their shelters or I would have let them sleep on the ground. But with only 7° C at night, windy conditions and possible rain I wanted to make sure they were safe during the night. So I asked them to get going with their shelters as I started to clear an area for our campfire. I showed them the principles of a standard A frame lean-to and how to lash the branches together. Amazingly what they did afterwards was to work together and help each other build their shelters. The younger one lashed his tarp to the frame using the same knots he just learned to tie his shoelaces with. To me however the most important thing is that now they have an understanding of how to make a basic shelter for themselves should they ever need to. Even if we didn’t make the shelters with all natural materials, we talked about how to do it during the process.

While they were finishing their shelters, I had build a small fire. So now our camp was ready.

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The next day we took a stroll in the forest and on the shore of the lake a few hundred meters away from our camp we found a natural shelter that someone else had built. So again we had a talk about how it was made with no cord, no tarp or anything. All adding to their understanding of how to make it themselves. The big difference is that even though they have seen me build a shelter a thousand times, it is not until you try doing it yourself that you start to learn properly. And with kids the key thing about learning is that it has to be fun at the same time.

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All in all it was a great trip where we also got the chance to do both some foraging, some fishing as well as some hatchet practice. The weather forecast said the last day would be rainy. And although the kids loved sleeping in there own shelters they missed the cosiness of us sleeping together. So I rearranged my shelter to fit all three of us. I then used one of the kids’ shelter for storing some dry firewood.

The next day when I woke up the weather was still dry so I made myself a cup of coffee and enjoyed the silent morning. While I was still finishing my coffee the rain started dripping though. I then moved the shelter I had used to keep the firewood dry with over the campfire to protect it a little from the rain. Often when it rains in Denmark it is just sporadic showers of rain. It was the same this day. After a while the rain paused, and when the kids woke up we roasted a final sausage over the fire before packing up. The only real downside of the rain of course was that we had to pack all our gear in wet conditions. But everything went well and we finally hiked back out as the rain quietly fell.

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