I know many times the terms “knowledge” and “skills” are used interchangeably; even the dictionary defines knowledge as:
noun: knowledge; plural noun: knowledges
facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject
and skill is defined as:
1. the ability to do something well; expertise
In my layman’s terms, knowledge is knowing the information and/or steps and skill means the ability to perform the task needed with that knowledge. Knowledge is obtained through learning, research and experience; skill is obtained through correct practice. I know, a very simplistic theory.
When people read or study gear lists, they can become overwhelmed by the amount of items that need to be carried. If they are on a budget, then often, they must rely on heavier and more bulky items. Some rely on gear strictly for looks at first and only through knowledge and skills do they begin to adjust their selections on ability and purpose.
We have a fairly common saying in the preparedness community (among others), “Knowledge weighs nothing”. This means that the more you know the less dependent you are on gear, which does weigh something.
By gaining knowledge and improving your skill sets, you can be less reliant on gear. This will help reduce the weight carried and allow you to adapt to different situations with more ease. I will concentrate on specific topics and ways that knowledge and skills can offset gear. I am not advocating getting rid of all your gear but rather allowing you to use gear as a “force multiplier” to your knowledge and skills to make them more efficient and easier to perform. Gear should be a compliment to knowledge and skills, not a substitution. Some skills are still not a substitute for some gear, but rather a mental insurance plan that you can still endure and even live well should your gear be lost. For a quick example, you can build a deadfall or pit trap to harvest food from scavenged/foraged material with knowledge and skill but the amount of energy and time invested will require an even better return with more game harvested to replace calories used. You would be able to set many more snares and have more freedom of choice on locations since you would not need to find, then transport, the needed resources to build the trap or to dig a pit. Less calories expended means less calories needed to survive, regardless if the situation is a long term event or an emergency based on an accident or becoming disoriented.
We will break down individual subjects and discuss a common approach to them and how knowledge and skill can reduce the dependency on gear, thus reducing your needed carry weight or allowing the weight to be adjusted for items more valuable, like water in an arid region.
With handheld GPS devices or applications on “smart phones”, many have lost interest in the ability to read a map or use a compass. Some will even buy a compass based solely on weight and the “knowledge” that they need one as a back up to their GPS device(s) (handheld GPS receiver combined with smart phone). Without the knowledge of what a good compass should be capable of and how it should perform, they may buy a model that is errant in any regard but even have a defect making it even more dangerous.
By relying on a GPS device, you carry more weight and are susceptible to power failure (dead batteries), weather conditions, or no satellite feeds to connect to. A compass’ main concern is being near power lines or ferrous metal that can cause a magnetic disturbance. They operate in tunnels, under thick forest canopy, in buildings, etc, all of which can affect a GPS device.
When nothing else is available and you have sunlight, your watch, a stick, rocks, and knowledge can help you determine general direction. You can also use the stars to determine cardinal directions.
You can also become knowledgeable and skilled in “natural navigation”, the art of reading your surroundings to determine direction. For a better description and knowledge, I recommend Tristan Gooley’s book, “The Natural Navigator”. Once the skill is obtained from the knowledge, this is a great confidence booster, which relates to a better chance of survival in an emergency.
Another non technology navigation aid is a sextant.
I do not think this is a place to drop weight from your pack but by learning and practicing these skills, they can give you a huge boost in confidence knowing you can have the needed tools if the worst happens. There are several reasons why you may be cast into a survival situation without your tools; a plane crash, a shipwreck, losing your pack, the need to abandon your pack, etc. The Native American Nations all managed to survive and some even flourish before contact and trading with the Europeans. They used tools made of wood, rock and bone to build shelters, dig out canoes, defend themselves, hunt, farm, fish, etc.
Firearms are probably the most prevalent tool modern man would be “lost” without for defense and hunting. We have several other options even if they are not as powerful or as “user friendly”. Archery was well established long before firearms. Long range shooting wasn’t unheard of, altho I don’t think arrow hits were as guaranteed at 800 yards as it would be with a modern rifle in trained hands. Primitive archery will put food on the table tho and many still enjoy archery hunting now, just with compound bows instead of longbows. Arrowheads can be made from flint (knapped) or even just a sharpened point hardened by fire can work (mostly for smaller game for best results).
A sling, of David and Goliath fame, can also be fashioned and with practice, prove very effective in taking game, again small game is best the same as sharpened sticks for arrows. Other food or defensive tools that can be easily fashioned from natural materials with knowledge and practiced skills:
• Snares and traps
• Fish hooks
• Fish/Frog gig
• “War” club”
• Blow gun
• Stone axe
• Hunting stick
All of these can be made with commonly found resources in nature; rocks, sticks/saplings/limbs, bone, vines, plant fibers, etc. You will need the knowledge and skills to create these tools but people used these same materials for centuries to hunt, fish and defend themselves for centuries before metal tools became available.
Hunting or defense is not the only need for a knife or stone axe. These tools were used by Native Americans to perform countless chores from clearing agriculture fields to making hides ready for tanning (scraping for example). A stone axe can fell trees for shelter construction, clearing land, or digging a canoe. Often for large trees or dugout canoes, fire was another tool used. Flint, when knapped properly, is sharper than steel blades and even used in some surgical procedures in modern hospitals.
Hoes or digging tools can be made from wood or by attaching a deer’s shoulder blade to a handle. Even a crude hammer can be fastened from wood, rawhide, or stone. Rawhide was the “paracord” of the Native Americans but must be careful over it becoming wet and stretching. Braiding plant fibers can be turned into cordage as well or using vines (*WARNING* Avoid using poison ivy vines and other “poisonous”/toxic plants).
Bowls, plates (usually referred to as “trenchers”), and other containers can be made from wood or by finding a stone with a natural depression in it. Bark (I am familiar with birch bark being used the most) can be made into containers to boil water. You do not place these directly into the fire, but rather heat rocks and drop them into the container filled with water to bring the water to a boil (*WARNING* Be very careful on the rocks chosen to heat. Rocks that are holding moisture can and will explode when heated by fire and can cause severe injury or death).
Long before modern pharmaceuticals, people used naturally occurring remedies. There are herbs to cure just about every ailment from boils to helping cause blood to clot. Knowing which plants will help with each illness or injury is a lot of work and study. Remember, most herbal/natural remedies are based more on “prevention” than a quick cure.
Other areas where knowledge and the skill to implement it is in making splints for broken bones. Learn how to identify and set a broken bone and you can use sticks, slabs of bark, etc to form a splint in lieu of a cast to help with injured members of your group. Crutches can be improvised with saplings as well as litters to carry injured persons.
Losing insect repellent can become a real nuisance, but worse, it can also lead to illness. Knowing which plants will help repel insects can help save you many sleepless nights and aggravating, itching from bites. Rubbing mud over your exposed skin can also help keep them at bay.
Some very useful study guides I have found are Bradford Angiere’s books, “Field Guide to Wild Edible Plants”, “Field Guide to Wild Medicinal Plants”, Tis Mal Crow’s “Native Plants, Native Healing”, Alma Hutchens “Indian Herbalogy of North America”.
Being stranded without a tarp, tent or other modern shelter type can limit your chances of survival. Shelters can be constructed using several types of boughs from trees layered, debris piled up (think squirrel nest), palm fronds, or even reeds woven into mats and layered over a framework of saplings, logs, etc. Woven mats can also be used as a substitute for blankets.
Fire will be your source for heat, light, and cooking. The modern conveniences of a disposable lighter, matches, or even a ferro rod may not be available. Being able to use a hand drill or a bow drill may be your only option to start a fire. With the loss of your lighter, your fire paste and other tinder options will most likely be gone as well. Knowing how to forage wild tinder like mouse or birds’ nests, where to find dry tinder after a severe storm, and what types of natural tinders are best for making “char wood” or other fire starters can mean the difference between life and death.
In a long term situation or even a personal emergency where help doesn’t arrive immediately (shipwrecked in a remote area), being able to make your own clothing and footwear can not only help you survive but increase your comfort level. Even a short term disaster could see your clothing or footwear rendered non serviceable, and an improvised replacement needed to maintain core temperature.
Some of the best material for self learning is studying the local indigenous population’s skills for whatever area you are enjoying nature in or will be travelling through. Their “pre contact” tools, diet, shelter, etc are all duplicable with the resources found in the area naturally. If some modern items can be had (salvaged material from a wreck, etc), then even knowing how the society modernized and incorporated the new materials into their lives will lend even more knowledge to create skills.
Finding a knowledgeable and competent instructor in these skills is the best way to learn them and be prepared for the worst. Regardless of the learning system, you will have to practice to develop your skill level and maintain it.