Listen to the podcast here:
Ultimate Survival Tips with Christopher James
I’m heading up north of the border with a good friend, Christopher James. Christopher had something on Instagram about survival. I went, “We need to do a show about survival.” Christopher, thanks for coming on. You and I have got a lot of experience about surviving, about being in the backcountry, about being in places like in the country right now. I watched the news down in Alabama. F4 was on the ground for an hour and sixteen minutes. It’s incredible and the destruction that it does and cold all the stuff that happens. Let’s talk about the four corners of survival and we’ll see where this thing goes.
I want to thank you. Third time’s a charm being on this wonderful show of yours. I appreciate that you shot me a message there and giving me an opportunity to talk about this. We have a lot of experience here in the backcountry. I’m from Alberta up in Canada, so very similar to Colorado. Even in our little landlocked area for the first time we had an earthquake, a 4.6 in our spot. We’d never had them. Our timing is critical when it comes to talking about survival, whether it’s urban or wilderness. It’s very important talking about the core four and that’s something that everybody should have in their toolbox.
I’m glad you brought up suburban because all of a sudden, the power goes out, what do you do? A lot of my friends were Mormon and they have their closet. They have food, water and whatever they need. A lot of people don’t have that. If the power goes, things aren’t going to go so well because there’s a foot of snow outside or more no power. What are you going to do in an urban condition? Let’s talk about that. Start off right about urban then we’ll go into the backcountry.
You touched on there with a lot of people having a stockpile worth of food and other essentials. That’s more of a prepper community for sure. You’re prepping for the worst or HSTF, that hits the fan situation. I’ve got a little bit of an urban kit that I’ve got going with flame starters that I can do on an interior kitchen or a burner story on. Food and water are critical. As long as you have candles, you have a lighting source, that isn’t a make or break. A heat source is what’s going to keep you going especially in the cold temperatures. We see a lot of water main breaks where your water is shut down. What if water utilities can’t get out there? Are you prepared to be able to go out there and find another resource and source out different water? Food sources, make sure the things are canned or preserved properly. Be it salted or if you go with a little soup, or dry goods where you just add a little bit of heat and it puffs right up.
What you need to do in an urban survival scenario, especially if you’re looking long-term is to make sure that you have enough essentials that are going to last you. We’ll talk about a little bit further the rule of three. The urban is completely different in the fact that you have access to the resources, but everything’s going to be way down. I definitely recommend going to bargain in big bin stores such as Costco or something along those lines and stocking up. If you buy three cans of soup by a fourth and keep it in the basement. If you buy a couple of bottles of water, if you have a big cooler like a Culligan jug or if you buy bottled natural water or even if you just run tap water. If you buy a big Culligan, get an extra, keep it in there. It’s never going to spoil. If you buy flasks of water by an extra one, keep it in your basement. If you go tap water, fill up some of the old water bottles or Pepsi bottles that you have. Keep them in the basement. Keep yourself prepared so that if things do go south, you’re ready to go.
You can go three days without water. You’ve got to figure out if the taps are off, now how much more do you have for how many people? What’s the standard that you should drink per day of water?
Under regular conditions, if you’re not exerting yourself, if the heat isn’t too crazy, if you’re not hypothermic and shivering too much, the average people look at about a gallon of water per day.
You’ve got a family of four at four gallons times ten days. Typically in an urban setting, five days you’re going to have the water back on or there is something worst wrong. Ten days, that is 40 gallons of water.
That’s a lot of water. If you think about it, that’s a tank of a small car. You want to definitely make sure that you have the resources to support that. Realistically it’s 4.4 liters. For those of us in Canada, you’ve got to buy four one-liter bottles just for one day.
Think about that, food, extra cans of soup, you’ve got your shelter. If the heat goes out, you’ve got to do the sleeping bag thing, all huddled together. Close down the house as best as you can and only stay in one room. I’m not a big proponent of propane heaters. On a constant basis, they’re dangerous.
A lot of us who go out in the backcountry, we have generators as well, be it for our trailers or campsites or anything along those lines. That’s something else you’ve got to factor in. If you’re going to run power, you’re going to run a generator to make sure that it’s vented properly. I’m with you as well on propane heaters. That releases a lot of contaminants into the air that you don’t want to be breathing in, especially if it’s cold out and you can’t open the windows. Huddle together and bundle up the best that you can. Run a bunch of candles. I don’t know about you, but if you cook up a bunch of candles throughout the house, it’s going to naturally warm up. Just make sure that you’re huddled together and running the best natural heat sources that you guys can.
People say I live in a suburban setting. I’m not living in a cabin in Alaska or the Rockies. I’m self-efficient already. Those types of people, but I’m talking about the person that goes into the mountains and they’re going fishing, hiking and hunting. How prepared should they be?
I always say know your environment before you go into it. Do your research. If you’ve never been into the Rockies, if you’ve never been into the Sierra Nevada’s, if you’ve never been into these environments, do your research. We don’t expect you to become experts in any situation but definitely be familiar, especially with the climate. Whether you’re working topographic maps, you understand the sun and the solar-lunar rotation, you can gauge things a little bit better. Strong working knowledge of the location, especially the route would be the best bet. Above and beyond that, if you’re not familiar with it, make sure you have common knowledge on first aid. If for example, you go off the track or the wind blows or you get lost. You take a tumble or spill or anything could happen out there, that you have the basic mindset and the knowledge behind you to prepare and vantage yourself up to the best that you can so you can get off of that mountain or out of that climate or that environment before things get worse.
If you are going fishing, hiking or hunting, if you’re going into that environment where you normally don’t go, that’s why I have a day pack, that’s why I have a fanny pack. I’m climbing fourteeners here in Colorado and I’m amazed at what people don’t have. Their lack of knowledge that 2:00 every afternoon, there’s going to be either snow showers, thunderstorms, rain squalls, winds going to come up. Something’s going to change almost every single afternoon and there are people in their shorts, in their t-shirts and I’m going, “Hypothermia,” this or that. They are so exposed plus up at 14,000 feet you’re exposed. There’s no place to hide.
Once you look at a mountainous range and I’ve written an article about it for the fact that people climb these mountains and they are ill-prepared there. Just because the trail is glazed, it doesn’t mean you can be lazy against it. It doesn’t mean that you should do it in flip flops. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t bring trail poles. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t bring a backpack, water, fanny pack, first aid kit. It doesn’t mean you’d go in there because millions of people have walked it before, you could be that one. Make sure that you always have a basic idea. Be it a blade, a means of a signal, a fire, a first aid kit. Do what you’ve got to do so that if things do go south, a trail could get closed, rain squall could kick up and a trail could wash out. How are you going to get out of there if you’re walking around in Crocs? We want to make sure that people are definitely prepared especially in higher elevations where food is a lot more scarce. Bring granola bars, bring a couple of bags and nuts, mixed nuts, nonperishables like beef jerky. Bring little items like that and it’s going to be able to run you through.A human body could go three minutes without oxygen, three days without water, and three weeks without food. Click To Tweet
I’m with you. I see people going up there and they’re in LuluLemon pants and flip flops. They’re astonished as to if this is a long hike and if things were to go sideways, what would you do? A lot of these people don’t have the answers. We’re not expecting professionals. They hire those guys to go out there and find people in blinky lights, but at least be a little bit somewhat prepared, especially for those rescuers who are in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains. We know what it’s all about. We get those all the time, warnings left, right and center. We see what goes on in these mountains. It’s not just the environment, it’s the animals as well. Definitely, make yourself prepared.
The only situation that whitetail hunters, I’m not even going to talk about elk hunters, but whitetail hunter since that’s a problem to my audience. You start thinking about they’re going to their 40, the farms are 200 acres, there might be some swamp. They’ve been on the land forever. I’ve got a good friend that had an accident with his tree stand and he lived had it been for his cell phone. He was on a climber. The climber went upside down. He was hanging and the cell phone hit the ground and the last call was dialed. His wife heard the whole call. That’s what saved his life. The odds of all that happening aren’t good. I’m not talking about the safety harness and the guide ropes and all that. Just basic safety of when you go into the woods, what happens if you turn your ankle, break your leg and somehow your cell phone doesn’t work? You can’t call for help. What are we going to do?
The biggest thing is you’ve got to remember the rule of three. Rules of three are paramount when it comes to it. We’re going to get into a little bit more as far as getting your way out of it. The human body on a normal non-strenuous situation could go for three minutes without oxygen. They can go three days without water, three weeks without food. You definitely want to remember those rules. That’s under extenuating circumstances. If you’re panicking and your oxygen stores are going to be severely depleted. If you’re shivering or if it’s a hotter climate, your water sources are going to be severely depleted. It goes even further than that. Say your cell phone’s broken or you don’t have the range or anything like that. The rule of three also applies on how to get yourself out.
If I’m trying to teach a wilderness survival course through a bunch of people or kids, the biggest thing that I try and tell them is if you’re going to set a signal fire, set three. If you’re going to set signal flags, set three. If you have a whistle, blow three times. If you have a boat horn, blast that horn three times. Three blasts of anything or three flashes if you have a signal mirror is the international sign of distress. For example, you have a signal mirror or you’re burning fire and somebody is flying over you with a helicopter and they see three flashes off a signal mirror or three plumes of dark smoke or three flags, they’re going to recognize that as somebody being in distress. I recommend the rule of three across the board whenever you go into that situation.
There I was twisted my ankle and I’m a mile off the road. How do I take care of myself?
It all depends on how bad the ankle is and what the resources are. If we’re talking whitetail hunting, whitetail hunting is primarily done within the transition. You go from one environment to another, be it from forest to field, from field to swamp or forest to greenery, something along those lines. The bulk of whitetail hunting or any deer hunting is done within transitions. When there’s a transition, that means that there are natural resources for you. We see it in Calgary. We don’t routinely have deer walking through downtown Calgary. You’re more likely to be in a natural environment. You will have sturdy sticks. You will have things that either prop you up and you can make a makeshift cane. You can support your way, settle yourself out of there and you’re able to most likely take a belt off. Most people wear belts. Take your belt off and strap on a stick on either side of your ankle. Make a makeshift splint, wrap it with your belt, not too tight. It’s not a tourniquet, but make sure that it’s wrapped and support it. Just basic first aid of what you would do to get yourself out.
If it’s progressively worse, if you have an open wound, then definitely you want to clean it the best that you can with a water pack or if you have camel pack on your back or a water bottle. Makeshift a tourniquet. If you have to tear up a sleeve off your shirt to wrap it in nice and tight. Make yourself available, but all of that is fine and good if you have no other resources and if you’re ill-prepared. We touched on it. Bring a day pack whether it’s your fanny pack, throw a first aid kit in there. Most outdoors stores that are out there now have day packs or fanny packs that are built in as a first aid kit based on the environment that you’re doing. They will have a hiker pack with a lot of the resources that you’re going to need in a first aid scenario if you were to get injured as a hiker. They have a mountain hunter, anything along those lines, high altitude situation, be it a rock climber or sheep hunt. They have high altitude first aid packs geared specifically for that. They’re inexpensive. That could be ultimately what makes or breaks you figuratively and literally.
For shelter, if you drive along highways and interstate, you see these big trash bags. They’re huge and they’re heavy plastic. I have a friend, Peter Kummerfeldt, who was a survival instructor for the Air Force for a long period of time. He had a company called OutdoorSafe. He put together that garbage bag and make that into a poncho. You can split it and make it into a tarp. You create that shelter, a barrier between you, yourself and the elements. Then he had a magnesium fire starter with cotton balls and petroleum jelly, a great fire starter.
It’s a fantastic one. I carry it with me anywhere I go.
The Aspen bark is a great fire starter. What are four corners that we’re going to jump into and chat a little bit?It is essential to be prepared. Know your environment, especially the climate. Click To Tweet
We’ve touched on a lot of it. The core four that I look at as far as survivability is shelter, fire, food and water. Everything else is luxury at that point. If you’re in a true survival scenario, as long as you hit those core four, you can make yourself out of it. The heavy garbage bags, it’s relatively cheap, you can get a roll of 25 of them for $3. They don’t take up any space. They’re not too heavy for a couple in there. It goes even further than that. You can use it to trap. If you bind it up, you’d make a trap out of it. You can use it to filter water. You can use it to collect water. Being out in the woods is not cheap, to begin with. If you’re able to find cheaper means or even fashion a thing called bushcraft and you’re able to make cups and everything along those lines in the woods or chopsticks or find means around that, it makes life a lot easier. The core four would be shelter, food, water and fire for sure.
You already know three weeks without food, three days without water. The first thing that I always do, if I know I’m going to stay out, it’s just I’m not going to get back to camp for whatever reason. I killed an elk. It’s not going to happen. We’re going to spend the night in the bush, which is in the right situation is fun, but with the wrong weather, it’s uncomfortable.
If you should be going elk hunting, you so in fall. That can get cold quickly at nights. It’s not like you’re doing a spring grouse hunting or anything on those lines, it gets gold.
The biggest thing that I remember and taught this long time ago, underneath all the evergreens are the dead tinder. Start collecting those and you have a huge pile, not a little pile. Then you go and start looking for logs. You probably don’t have a chainsaw with you or bow saw or regular saw for your elk. You start getting logs and timber to make it through the night. The worst thing you want to do is for your fire to go out during the night. You’re going to be sleeping by your fire in that small lean-to that you made with your garbage bag. You are going to be fine. You’re going to have fire and you’re going to have shelter. Now the next thing is, “How much water did you bring?” If it’s snowing, then I forget the ratio, how much snow do I have to melt in order to get a gallon of water?
There is a lot of ratio there. I don’t believe in it. A lot of it is definitely very different based on the show itself. They do say as I said, I don’t remember, but it should be quite a bit of snow because it melts down. Snow is about 70% air. If you’d melt all that down, that’s what you’ve got to look at. If you’re going to collect snow, I’d recommend that you’re going for ice or packing it down a little bit more. Ultimately, I recommend ice. A lot of the air has already been taken out of it and that’s why it is frozen. It is pure water. You’d get a lot more yield of water if you were to go look at that versus snow alone. Snow, it all depends on if it’s heavy snow. If it’s lighter and fluffier snow, the ratio is there, but it is something that I take with a grain of salt personally.
You need three days of water. If we’re doing a gallon that is three gallons. I don’t know a lot of people that carry three gallons, but I carry a water filter or a straw. All I have to do is find water typically without too much work, you can find water in the mountains.
Quite easily. If that is not available, I carry these LifeStraw. I have a few of these. They’re relatively expensive. It a little feeder tube there. You put that in your water and you sip. It filters it all in up to 1,000 liters. This is lightweight. You could throw that in your pack. It doesn’t take up any space. It comes with a tether. You could tie it onto your backpack or your rucksack and you’ll be good to go. If you don’t have those things, but you’ve already made a fire, you can make a charcoal filter quite easily with debris and even your heavy bag.
We’re getting the bushcraft and the survival skills that isn’t the topic of the show. It’s just making people aware. When I was going into the wilderness, I either would have topo maps or when Google Earth came on, I would fly places in British Columbia or Alaska or whatever. I would fly where I knew I was going to be. When I got up there and got with my guide, I’d say, “We’re going to do this and that.” He looked at me and go, “How do you know where we’re going?” I said, “I’ve already been there,” because I want to know my outs if I’m going someplace. If that guide dies, I can ride a horse and the horse knows where the food is. The horse is going to take me home. They will absolutely do that. They’ll get you to a safe place because they don’t want to be cold and wet. They’re hungry and they know where the food is. If your guide dies, then you’ve got to either get to take all your resources and set up and say, “I’m going to be here for a while,” even though you’re not going to be. You get yourself together and say, “This is not a good situation, but I’m going to get out of here.” The biggest thing that my friend, Peter, told me is my mental capacity, my mental framework, my mental blueprint of where I’m at right now. I’m going to survive this. I’m not going to weep out and cry. There’s a time for that. I’m in deep doo-doo and this is not good. I am fifteen or twenty miles from where I know the closest road is and I don’t know how close the nearest person is, but I can make it out.
Especially in Northern British Columbia or Alaska, you don’t know where anybody is at any given time. Trust your horse for sure, but survival is mental and that is something that I tell people all the way through. If you panic, it’s game over. If you keep yourself calm and you keep yourself collected, there is a time to go, “No, this is not going to work out in my best interest.” Take a couple of few deep breaths. Compose yourself, take three minutes and assess the situation. There’s an old adage in the military saying, it’s the OODA loop: Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. That’s what you need to do is observe the situation. Observe, orient, decide and act is to assess and observe what you’re up against. Orient yourself whether it be along the water or anything along those lines. We’re not going to touch base on deep-rooted discussions on that. If you guys are interested, reach out to me directly or reach out to Bruce and he’ll get you in touch to reach out with me if you want to learn more.
Decide your next plan of action and then act on it. If you keep your wits about you, staying still in one situation is maybe not always the best bet. Leave trace but staying in there could be more detrimental. It is mental. You’re going to be at the core of the elements. You might not see any animals, you might not see anything that could assess your harm, but it’s the mental fortitude. You’re alone, it’s dark, it’s quiet. You hear noises that you don’t know what they are. Is it a bear or is it a squirrel running across the tree? It is very much a mental game for sure. If you’re able to overcome that, like what we discussed, strength and struggle. If you’re able to accept the situation that you’re in, you’ll make it through.Survival is mental, and if you panic, it's game over. Click To Tweet
I forgot to mention one other thing. Always let somebody know where you’re going. I don’t care if you’re going to the same tree stand you’ve hunted for the last twenty years. Send somebody a text, “I am going to be at the concussion center. I’m going to be hunting the saddle, I’m hunting the old whatever,” because everybody knows exactly where that is and like, “See you tonight or I’ll call you when I get a buck down.” Let somebody know. With all the social media and all the technology we have, there’s no reason that you don’t let somebody know, “I’m going into the woods. I’m doing a short hunt. I’m going to be in my tent for a couple of hours. See you tonight.”
That’s the nice thing that you touched on is with social media. Every modern phone, you’re able to send real-time locations. For myself, for example, if I’m going into the woods along those lines, I will send a ping off my iPhone when I know I have radio frequency. I’m still sitting in my truck and I’ll send a ping, “I am here. This is where my truck is.” If things don’t come back and be like, “I’ll be back in four hours.” If I’m not back in four hours, they’re able to bring that up on their map, come right to there, then that’s a great starting point. If you just say, “I’m going into the woods.” You’re as good as gone. It’s a needle in the haystack if that’s the point for the people that are coming to look for you. Unless they’re familiar with your hunting patterns or your fishing patterns or hiking patterns. I’ll always send a ping. I’ll say, “I’ll be gone. I’m going out from this point to this point. Here’s my location.” At least if something does go south, they know exactly where I’m at.
When I go into the backcountry, I hunt in drainages because that’s how you get it and how you get out. I said, “I’m going to hunt in Crazy Creek and then I’m going to drop into Big Bend and I’m coming out Expo. I should be out in three days.” They know, “It’s the fourth day, let’s start at Expo, go up that crossover and to Big Bend and then drop into where we started. They know specifically where I’m at in thousands, if not millions of acres. They’ve got a starting point.
You can go further than that. You say, “I’m dropping into Crazy Creek, Expo and into Big Bend. That’s great, but leave some trail markers and leave something simple that people are to do, whether it’s snapping a stick or pen and tape or something along those lines to a tree. Give people an idea to say, “Chris went this way or Bruce went this way. Here’s a bunch of trees that are snapped or rocks that are pointed in an arrow,” or something on those lines. Give yourself the best chance to get out of there or have people come find you to you get out of there.
If you have questions, you can reach me at WhitetailRendezvous@Gmail.com. Chris, how can they reach out to you?
Folks, I’d like to hear some input from you. I hunt where there’s a lot of beetle bark because the elk likes it because there’s no cover. The sun is on the ground for the first time in many years. A lot of trees have died, they snap off because they’re dead and the high wind comes up. Every year we’ll find a deer, an elk, it could be a moose that get hammered or got his skull crushed because a timber came down. If they can get killed, and the odds are mathematically against that ever happening, but it so can happen. Two things are brewing up, a burned area or a beetle bark area, if a high wind comes up, get out of there. Drop down and get out of that area. Don’t even think about it because it’s too dangerous. When those things start flying, you have no idea where they’re going to go.
A lot of the wind, if it dries out in an arid condition, once that wind kicks up and you’re in a dry environment, especially in a burn area, it could start a fire very quickly. You could reignite charcoal or old burnt timbers or something on those lines. Even just dry wood, the wind itself could start a flame. If that winds kick up, get out of there. You don’t want timber catching on you and falling on you and burning yourself. Give yourself the best chance.
I don’t know what questions you have. Chris, what else would you like to add before we close this off?
Not a whole lot. The biggest thing is be prepared and know your environment. Even if you’re not familiar with topo maps or anything along those lines or basic navigation, there are a lot of apps out there that you could use offline that are maps. A lot of backcountry apps that you can get work offline as far as mapping goes. It’s not going to give you a true GPS coordinate. Some do, but you can rely on those once you are in the bush. You could say, “I started here, got out here.” Pull out an old map. I’m a bit old school. I have a lot of maps and a little compass and say, “This is what’s going on.” I’d put a stick in the ground and watch the sun and see what happens as far as direction goes. Just be prepared and be confident. Remember the rules of three. If you want to get into a deeper reach out to me, I’m happy to help you. That’s what I’m here for. The biggest thing is to be calm, be cool, be collected and be safe.
I want to thank everybody for tuning in to the segment of Whitetail Rendezvous. People are going to start getting in, getting out and doing some things. Be smart, that’s a whole different cuttlefish to discuss. Be smart out there and don’t push the envelope because there’s always tomorrow.
Nature wins 100% of the time. Just make sure to be smart. If this is something that you are interested in continuing to hear, reach out to Bruce, I’d be happy to come back and talk to him. This is my third time hanging out with him on Whitetail Rendezvous and I am definitely honored. I want to continue helping him out, helping his great brand, helping him grow and help to keep you all prepared as well. If it’s something you’re interested in, reach out to Bruce, let him know and say, “Bring that lion guy back,” and I’ll be happy to set it up.
- Christopher James
- Be A Lion Outdoors Facebook
- Be A Lion Outdoors Instagram
About Christopher James
CJ is a kinesiologist by training, Public Safety Agent by profession, but an outdoorsman by birth – he has a passion for ALL things wild since the day he first came into the world.
Living in the heart of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, CJ spends a significant amount of time fishing the fresh mountain watersheds, to hunting birds or big game or generally going into the woods for days on end, testing himself and his abilities. He also enjoys teaching anyone interested in outdoor skills, conservation, and wilderness tactics.
CJ is a very hands-on and driven person who thrives on finding the best tools, techniques, equipment, and recipes. If he cannot find them, he makes them. He enjoys making or modifying his own outdoor gear; from hand forged or crafted tools, to makeshift camp equipment to bushcraft projects.
As an accomplished outdoor writer, he will share these facets of his life with you, allowing a personal look into his world.