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The Ultimate Survival Manual

Ollie’s: where to go for “good stuff, cheap.” No, this isn’t an ad for Ollie’s, but I will admit that I love to go there and browse through the cheap stuff – especially the books. You never know what oddball gem you’re going to turn up there, and this month’s selection is no exception.

The Ultimate Survival Manual: 333 Skills That Will Get You Out Alive

by Rich Johnson (and the Editors at Outdoor Life) (published 2012)

is not just a fun read, it’s genuinely informative. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a “must have” for anyone other than a real outdoors-person, it might just come in handy one day if, say, you slid off a lonely road one snowy night.

Now, granted, in these days of cell phones, for the most part we’re not at the kind of risk our parents and grandparents may have faced while traveling, or on an outdoor expedition.

But I do remember traveling back and forth to Vermont when I was young, and our route took us along the edge of the Adirondacks on a sparsely traveled road – and the unexpected snow storm was, well, somewhat expected.    

The book is organized in the prioritized fashion it recommends for us to think in times of crisis. So it begins with the basics: planning and packing your BOBs (for home, office, and outdoor adventures); necessary medical improvisation and treatment; and then it launches into the three environments in which you might find yourself in an emergency situation.

The Wilderness section takes into account just about any eventuality you can imagine, from an accident while hiking to being stranded on a desert island to getting lost in the woods. Just in case you think this would never happen to you, a short tale from my own life (and by the way, the writers have peppered the book with “It Happened to Me” stories from their own lives and adventures). I was silly enough to go snow-mobile riding with a friend one cold winter evening up near his cottage in the woods. It wasn’t that far from civilization, and we were following a trail – what could go wrong? In the lead, I followed a trail to a small bridge over a stream. By now it was dark, so we decided to turn around. Wrestling the machines around,  I took off back up the hill we had just come down. Reaching a divide in the trail, I waited for my friend to follow and assure me I was taking the right turn. He wasn’t behind me. I turned off my sled (which probably wasn’t too smart), and waited. I heard nothing. I called a few times, and still heard nothing. Finally, I turned around and headed back down the trail. At the bottom, overturned completely in the deep snow was my friend’s sled – and he was underneath, unhurt, but unable to move. I managed to dig him out, and his machine was fine. But in the dark, in a strange location, on trails with which I was not familiar —and had he been hurt— it might not have turned out to be a funny story.

My inclination in reading the book was to skip the wilderness, since I’m so rarely really so far out in the woods that a long walk wouldn’t get me to civilization relatively quickly. And I do recall a few lessons from scouting: mark your trail (so, among other things you know you’re not walking in a circle), follow a stream if there is one, moss tends to grow on the south side of trees, that kind of thing.

But given the number of natural disasters that we’ve experienced lately, from hurricanes to wildfires to floods, the section on handling these challenges is a good one to start with. Again, the writers begin with that warning to have needed emergency supplies on hand, including a good basic medical kit, matches and candles, canned food and water, and extra batteries. (I have a wind-up LED flashlight which is a handy little tool to keep around – it can’t run out of batteries and doesn’t need replacement bulbs.) Some of the sections here are regionally specific: tsunami instructions are probably not necessary for us here in Central New York, but even so the information is —especially if you’re a fact-junkie like me— interesting reading. (You can learn such gems as how a fault line moves, how to survive a sandstorm, even how to swim through burning oil.)

But other sections, like driving in a blizzard, or how to survive if you’re snowbound in a car, could actually come in handy.

Power outages aren’t uncommon, and even preparing for an EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) event (not as conspiracy theory-based as it might sound: there actually was a solar flare in 1859, or the so-called Carrington Event, that did take out telegraph machines across the earth) – and the degree to which we depend upon computer chips to manage day-to-day life could mean a much more serious problem if such an event were to happen again.

Finally, there is a section on Urban preparedness, from navigating unfamiliar city streets to escaping from the trunk of a car or a burning high-rise building.

It’s the sort of book that actually makes you feel more confident than spooked —a little knowledge can come in handy when you least expect it— and that makes good idle time reading as you can pick it up and put it down and never lose the story line.

Well-illustrated with clearly drawn instructions for things like knot-tying and wound-binding, the book is nearly 6 years old but most of the information is timeless, and even if you never need it, you can always generate confused stares at a cocktail party when you innocently ask, “Say, do you guys know how to escape a kelp entanglement?”

The book is available on Amazon, as well as —for as long as they last— at Ollie’s.

Nancy Roberts
Writer, voice over artist, information achitect, very curious person.