There have been many articles written about the folly of bugging out into the wilderness in a TEOTWAWKI event. However, if you want to see what it will be like to bug out alone in the wilderness to try to survive, then you need to watch the History Channel’s new show Alone. The concept of the show is to drop 10 survival experts off on Vancouver Island alone, with minimal supplies. The last man on the island wins $500,000. You can read the ten men’s bios and the list of the 10 survival items that each chose on the History Channel website http://www.history.com/shows/alone. Most of what I relate in this article has already been written about on countless blogs and in articles and books. I’ll just try to put them into the context of this survival experiment.
Remember that these ten men are trained survival experts. Many have faced serious danger as members of the armed forces. These are MEN. The fifth episode takes us through day eight, when there are only four men left. Five trained survival experts lasted from one night to four nights alone in the wilderness. The sixth survivalist left on the morning of day eight. How long do you think that you, the weekend survivalist, would last?
To be fair to these men, let me describe Vancouver Island. It is like a tropical rain forest. It rains all of the time, and everything is wet. The constant wetness causes several problems. First, making fire is difficult. All tinder and fire wood sources are wet. Fire brings comfort and confidence when you are alone in the woods. Fire can repel predators and is essential for purifying water. The four men who remain have solved that problem. The competitors have learned to process tinder by collecting and drying it. They store tinder and firewood in their shelters to keep it dry. One enterprising competitor made what he called char dust. It is made using the same method that is used to make char cloth, but his medium is cedar dust that is created by shaving a cedar stick. He used the metal tin that contained his fish hooks to char the dust in the fire. By using the char dust as tinder, he was able to get an ember with just one strike of his fire steel. Before, using tinder gathered in the forest, it would take 100+ strikes to ignite the damp tinder.
In addition, the island is home to 200 wolves, 7000 black bears, and 1000 cougars. It is a predator-dense island. Predators have been the reason that four of the six men left. Bears and cougars would walk right up to the men’s tents at night, and one was actually charged by a bear. A few of the men are armed with bows; most have axes, and all have knives and bear spray. That’s not how I want to face a bear or cougar!
The men who have tapped out so far are:
Josh (Day 1) – was dropped into an area with a heavy population of bears. He said that his camp was surrounded by bear trails.
Chris (Day 2) – heard wolves attacking and tearing at their prey just yards from his tent on the first night. Left the next morning.
Joe (Day 4) – after three days of not being able to make fire due to wet conditions, Joe moved his camp to the beach and succeeded in making fire and boiling water. He also succeeded in losing his ferro rod. He would have had to stay with his fire to keep it going, thus limiting his ability to find food or sleep. He tapped out due to the stress of surviving in the rain without fire for three days with the loss of the ferro rod being his tipping point. He tapped out on day four.
Wayne (Day 5). Wayne was charged by a bear on a trail. He also had one or more bears sniffing around his tent and camp most of the night. He tapped out in the early morning hours of day five. Wayne had been showing signs of stress before this, due to loneliness and the survival conditions.
Brant (Day 6) – After many days of looking for a water source, Brant finally locates water. Brant had not been able to make fire, so he tried to purify water by filtering it through moss. After have been without water for several days, he drank about 10 quarts of this “filtered” water. That night, he experienced severe stomach cramps and hallucinations. It turns out that he was drinking brackish water. Brackish water happens where sea water and fresh water mix. The water contains more sodium than freshwater but not as much as seawater. The sodium levels are extremely dangerous. He had to tap out because he was thirsty and didn’t investigate his water source carefully enough nor boil it. Even experts make mistakes when under duress.
Dustin (Day 7) – After surviving a day and night in his tent during a severe storm (winds up to 50 mph), Dustin tapped out. He said that it was scary being in a tent in the woods and hearing trees crashing down in the woods due to the 40-50 miles per hour winds. Dustin had also been showing signs of stress before this, but the storm and its inherent dangers were his tipping point.
Four men remain: Sam, Alan, Lucas, and Mitch. Each of these men, while suffering from extreme loneliness, have shown a stronger mental state. They have been less bothered by the rain, dealing with it as just another survival problem to solve. They may have been luckier in their drop sites than the other men, but they have all built adequate shelters, made fire, and found food. Alan frequently eats sea slugs and kelp, because they require little effort to catch. Mitch used his gill net to catch a large trout one day. He enjoyed a great meal, though a cougar checked out his camp that night, coming within ten feet of his fire. The smell of the trout may have attracted the cougar. Sam has dined on small crabs and kelp. I have not seen Lucas catch food, and he has expended a lot of calories, first trying to build a cabin and then on a canoe. He spent four or five days on the canoe but was successful. He can now fish in the bay or explore some of the rivers.
All four men frequently describe being very lonely and missing their families. Several have missed significant events, such as birthdays. Several have even let out their stress by crying. This seems to have helped with their stress levels, because they have then been able to push on. Last Thursday’s episode took us through day 14.
Mental Side of Surviving Alone
I’m not sure how you prepare for being alone except by heading out into the wilderness for a few weeks at a time with no books or entertainment to occupy your time. The stress of being alone has contributed significantly to most of the men tapping out. The stress of survival is bad enough, but add loneliness and seemingly survivable events become the tipping points that cause the men to tap out. My lesson is one that has been continuously preached: network and form a survival group. Your chances of surviving in the woods increases exponentially with other, trusted people. Imagine how much each man’s mental condition would improve if one man could stand watch while the other slept? Or how much better it would be to just have a companion for conversation instead of talking to the camera? Rare will be the lone wolf who can survive. I would have thought that all ten men had the survival mindset described in so many blogs, but it appears that only a few of them do.
I also watch other shows where people live in extreme conditions. Very few of them go it alone. Most who do have neighbors that live nearby who can drop in to help or at least provide some human contact and conversation.
Several men struggled to find a source of fresh water. Going several days without fresh water, or without a fire to purify the water, caused much stress among the men. After several days without water, Brant didn’t investigate his source of fresh water and did not boil it to purify it. It turned out that he was drinking brackish water, which caused intestinal distress and hallucinations. Death could have followed had he not called for help. Mitch had to move his camp to find freshwater. Joe also moved his camp but more to find dry tinder and wood to be able to purify water. My lesson learned is to be careful in finding freshwater and never drink it without purifying it. If you choose to bug out, have multiple methods for purifying water. Also know several methods for collecting or finding water in the area that you plan to bug out to. Mitch collected rainwater from his tarp, while he searched for a freshwater source. This was just enough water to sustain him.
Fire brings comfort, protection from the elements and some predators, as well as is one method to purify water. Even though most of these men knew friction methods for making fire, Vancouver Island is a rain forest. Conditions were too wet to use that method. The men basically only had one method, a ferro rod, to make fire. One contestant recovered a jar from the beach that may have been used as a magnifying class to start a fire had he needed it. The men had to adapt to the conditions by learning to dry their tinder (or create tinder in the form of char dust) and fire materials. The lesson learned here was to know many methods for making fire and take many easy methods into the woods with you. Matches, lighters, fire steel, magnifying glasses (or your eye glasses) are just a few of the ways to start fires. In addition to taking tinder sources with you, know how to find dry tinder, even in wet conditions. I have seen many articles online on how to find tinder and build fires under wet conditions.
Be prepared to deal with predators, both four- and two-legged ones. You say, “I will have my trusty AR and several handguns with my stash of ammunition.” However, first, I wouldn’t want to face a bear with a .223. I’ve seen feral hogs run away after a solid hit with a .223. There aren’t any bears in your area? Good. Still, facing any predators alone has small odds for your survival. Cougars hunt at night where they have the advantage. Wolves hunt in packs, again to their advantage. The human predators are probably the ones that you have to fear the most in a TEOTWAWKI situation, and they also hunt in packs. The lesson learned is that a survival group is better suited to face predators. More people may keep a predator from even approaching your camp. You have someone to watch your back while getting water or looking for food. A survival group may also have a wider variety of weapons to use on larger predators. As a “lone wolf,” you may not be the apex predator in the woods.
I recommend watching all episodes several times to in order to glean as much information as you can. The History Channel site also has several interviews with some of the men who tapped out early. They describe the conditions and the impact on their mental state. You can learn much from these interviews. To put it bluntly, surviving alone is tough, even for survival experts. If you have been one who thought that all of those articles describing how “lone wolves” will not survive in the wilderness did not apply to you, then watch Alone. Six survival experts lasted less than a week, and four of them lasted less than four days. They had a satellite phone to call for rescue. In a TEOTWAWKI event, there will be no rescue.