Thursday, December 31, 2009

Book Review: Wilderness Evasion

A Guide to Hiding Out and Eluding Pursuit in Remote Areas

Michael Chesbro's Wilderness Evasion puts a different twist on survival in the wilderness, in that the assumption is that you do not want to be found rather than the usual focus on signaling for help or finding your way out of a wild place on your own. In this respect, it is perhaps the one survival book on the market most similar to my own forthcoming book: Bug Out: The Complete Plan for Escaping a Catastrophic Disaster Before It's Too Late.

Chesbro's book was published in 2002, by Paladin Press, quite awhile before the current surge in popularity of survival and prepardness topics. The overall premise of the book does not focus so much on bugging out from a SHTF situation or smaller scale disaster, but more on an individual need to get out of Dodge for personal reasons. The author cites potential reasons for wanting to disappear into the wilderness - ranging from fleeing a relationship to hiding from Big Brother or even going on the lam from the authorities if you have that need. In his own words: "Quite simply, "wilderness evasion" allows you to drop off the face of the earth for a while."

Wilderness Evasion covers the topics you would expect, based on the title. There are chapters on gear, caches, resupply systems, evading pursuit, covert signals, navigation, survival firearms, shelter, camouflage and survival medicine, among others. The only downside to this is that none of these subjects are covered in much depth, and all of them could be expanded on greatly to create a more useful resource. Some of the information is right in line with what I would recommend - such as choosing the "ubiquitous .22" as the best all-around survival firearm. Other areas are greatly over-simplified, for example, there is a chapter on primitive weapons with a brief description of how to make hunting weapons such as a bow and arrow. Having made quite a few primitive bows, I can tell you that it's not something you get from a couple of pages of description, but at least the fact that these kinds of things are in the book is good. Those who are serious about learning all they can about wilderness evasion and living will be able to delve deeper on their own into some of these specific skills. The bibliography in the back lists some good sources for this.

The information covered here is broken down into short, easily-digestible tidbits - accompanied by a few lists, sidebars and simple illustrations. While not a one-stop reference to wilderness survival while on the move, it is a book that will get you thinking about these things from a different perspective than the typical "how to survive when lost in the woods" book.

Paladin Press
168 pages
5.5 x 8.5 softcover
30 illustrations
List price: $20.00 (get it for less on Amazon)

BOL Overview: The Henry Mountains

The Henry Mountain Range:  A little-visited potential Bug Out Location in Utah.

The Henry Mountains of south-central Utah are one of the most remote and little-visited ranges in the Lower 48 states. This high range rises to peaks of over 11,000 feet in a vast tract of BLM land north of Lake Powell and west of Canyonlands National Park. In the satellite image below, you can see the high elevation areas of the range as forested slopes that stand out in stark contrast to the surrounding desert and canyonlands:

In this Google Earth image of the Henry Mountain Range, you can clearly see the forested higher elevation areas standing out in contrast to the surrounding desert canyonlands.

These remote mountains offer water and abundant game, including a free-range herd of over 500 bison, not to mention plenty of mule deer, pronghorn antelope and smaller game. With two million acres of BLM land here that few recreational outdoors enthusiasts use, the Henry Mountain Range could offer superb bug-out hideaways in the rugged folds of its isolated slopes and valleys.

This zoomed-in view shows the convoluted valleys and ridges of this mostly roadless wilderness.

The Henry Mountain Range
Location: South of Hanksville, Utah, west of Highway 95 and Hwy. 276.
Further Resources: 

Hiking & Exploring Utah's Henry Mountains and Robbers Roost
Utah Atlas & Gazetteer

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Today's Gun: Saiga AK-47

Saiga 7.62 x 39 AK-47 with Tapco Furniture and Ace Folding Stock

Monday, December 28, 2009

Gear Review: Casio Pathfinder Watch

The following review I wrote last summer was published in the August, 2009 issue of Sea Kayaker magazine:

Time and tide wait for no man. The Pathfinder keeps track of both, not to mention direction, temperature, altitude, air pressure, and phases of the moon.

Casio Pathfinder PAW 1500 Review

The Casio Pathfinder series of watches are advanced digital timepieces designed for rugged outdoor use. I recently tested the Pathfinder PAW 1500 model, which is one of the most advanced in the Pathfinder line. The PAW 1500 is a solar-powered, multi-band atomic watch like others in the line, but also features three sensor modes in addition to timekeeping. These extra sensors are the direction sensor digital compass, the pressure sensor barometer and altimeter, and the temperature sensor thermometer. This is an impressive collection of instrumentation in a compact package that fits comfortably on all but the smallest wrists.

The timekeeping function offers the accuracy of radio-controlled calibration by receiving time signals transmitted in Germany, the United States, England and Japan. In the U.S. the signal is transmitted from Fort Collins, Colorado. The Pathfinder watch I tested had no problem receiving this calibration signal from my home in Mississippi. The watch adjusts its time automatically at periodic intervals, but I also performed a manual calibration and the signal was received within two to three minutes. Current time is displayed in hours, minutes and seconds. Checking the time over a four-month period against other timepieces and my cell phone, I concluded that the Pathfinder is extremely accurate and would be excellent for navigation purposes. Timekeeping functions also include world time, a countdown timer, a stopwatch, five different daily alarms and a tide graph and moon phase indicator.

The moon phase indicator is a graphic display in a small circle at the top left of the main display face that shows the current phase of the moon as viewed from the northern hemisphere. A glance at the indicator tells you which quarter the moon is currently in. The tide graph is naturally a useful function for kayakers. You can set up the tide data based on your selected home city or nearest port city and adjust the tide graph to high tide time at a particular date. After setting this up, the current tide condition is graphically represented, showing the range from high to low and spring tide, intermediate tide and neap tide.

My favorite feature of the Pathfinder PAW 1500 is the digital compass. With the push of a button, the main display switches from current time to a digital bearing readout. Turning your arm so that the watch face is horizontal to the horizon allows it to acquire an accurate bearing in just seconds. I was impressed with the accuracy of the compass when I tested it earlier this year while sailing in south Florida. Bearings were compared between the Pathfinder compass and the vessel compass and GPS chartplotter. The Pathfinder compass was consistently within a five-degree margin of error in comparison with the other compasses and was just as quick to acquire new bearings during course changes. The compass can be calibrated manually for magnetic declination and calibrated to match another compass such as a deck compass. The rotary bezel on the watch allows navigation to a precise bearing while keeping the north indicator on the bezel in a position indicating magnetic north. It’s certainly convenient to have an accurate compass right on your wrist at all times, and nice to have the redundancy it provides as a backup to deck mounted compasses and hand-held GPS.

The pressure sensor mode of the Pathfinder PAW 1500 allows it to function as a reasonably accurate barometer and altimeter. Like the compass, each of these instruments is accessed with one touch from a dedicated button on the side of the watch. The barometer shows current barometric pressure as well as a graph indicating changes to assist in making predictions. The barometer function has proven useful in monitoring the ever-changing spring weather in my region as low-pressure cells move in every few days, bringing rain followed by dry air high pressure systems.

The altimeter function uses a pressure sensor to estimate altitude. Although I haven’t tested the watch very far from sea level, the current reading of 140 feet at my home location is accurate to within 20 feet or so. This altimeter is not intended to be accurate enough for aviation of course, but can be useful to climbers. Sea kayakers aren’t likely to need it anyway.

The built-in thermometer is perhaps more useful, and in testing it matched readings on an indoor-outdoor mercury thermometer I had at the house. The thermometer will not function properly, however, when the watch is being worn, as body heat interferes. It has to be removed from the wrist and acclimated to the surroundings for about 20 to 30 minutes to get a true reading.

The Casio Pathfinder PAW 1500 not only combines all these instruments in a wearable watch, but does so in a package that is rugged and waterproof to 200 meters. It is rated safe for SCUBA diving at normal depths and is tough enough for hard wear in outdoor activities. I’ve worn my test sample through long days of hard work in the boat shop and in the interior refit of a classic Alden schooner where it was frequently banged against a bulkhead or other solid object and subjected to the dust and vibration of power tools. The watchband is black resin, and is tough, flexible and secure. It features a heavy stainless buckle and a wide range of size adjustment slots. The inner side of the band is grooved in a non-slip pattern so the watch won’t rotate on your wrist when it’s wet or sweaty. The built-in solar powered battery never needs replacing and only requires a small amount of light to keep it charged, especially when the watch is in the power-save mode. A green display light that is easy to see allows nighttime use and can be set up for manual activation or to come on automatically when the watch face is tilted up toward the wearer.

As rugged as it is, the Pathfinder is an attractive watch to my eye, anyway and it does not seem too big or heavy for everyday wear unless you have small wrists. It’s a serious looking instrument, and recognizable to many as I’ve had comments about it from coffee shop clerks and others who were familiar with the design. It’s not a cheap watch at the MSRP of $350, but for all the features and the build quality, I think it’s worth it especially as I found online prices as low as $217.90. More information on the Pathfinder PAW 1500 and other watches in the Pathfinder line can be found at:

I liked this watch so much that I ended up keeping it, working out a trade with the editor at Sea Kayaker. For anyone who is interested in getting a deal on one, I recommend getting it here:

Casio Men's Pathfinder Multi-Band Solar Atomic Ultimate Watch #PAW1500-1V

Monday, December 21, 2009

TEOTWAWKI (The End of the World as We Know It)

TEOTWAWKI - The End of the World as We Know It - is the the ultimate SHTF.  This is SHTF for good, a theoretical situation where things get so bad that there's no going back to the old way of life and those who survive will be starting from scratch, reduced to fighting for their lives and eking out an existence any way possible. 

TEOTWAWKI scenarios are a popular theme in survival fiction, both in books and movies.  Every civilization comes to an end eventually, and ours will probably be no different.  But TEOTWAWK is not what most of us are preparing for, because when such an event does happen, most people won't be left alive to try to survive it.  Cormac McCarthy's prize-winning novel, The Road paints a realistically grim picture of what life would be like post-TEOTWAWKI.

SHTF (Shit Hits the Fan)

SHTF - Shit Hits the Fan, or WSHTF - When Shit Hits the Fan, is a popular topic on survival and preparedness forums.  The acronym about sums it up, it's simply a man-made or natural catastrophe, disaster, breakdown of society, civil unrest or pandemonium, and the utter chaos the prevails in the wake of such an event.

A SHTF fan scenario can be a short-term situation or a longer-term breakdown of law and order.  It can also be limited geographic scope, such as was seen in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, or potentially much more widespread.   SHTF is the the primary reason behind the concept of bugging-out, and thus will be prominent in discussions on Bug Out Survival. 

BOL (Bug Out Location)

A "bug-out location" (BOL) can be anything from a carefully-prepared private retreat on land that you own to uninhabited wilderness land owned by the state or federal government.  For most urban and suburban people who do not own such property in the country, public lands or remote private lands with absentee owners are the only option.  This is not the dismal situation that it seems.  The United States is blessed with public lands, with a whopping 30 percent of the entire nation's land area, or nearly 650 million acres, owned by the federal government. 

Bug-out locations make up a large part of my book, which divides the Lower 48 States into eight major regions:  The Gulf Coast Southeast, The East Coast, the Appalachian Corridor, The North Woods, The Midwest and Heartland, The Rocky Mountain Corridor, The Southwest, and The West Coast.  In each of these regions I describe many specific examples of good bug-out locations, including swamps, river drainages, barrier islands, mountain ranges and deserts, depending on the region.  Most of these locations are on public land of some type, including national and state forests, national and state parks, national and state wildlife refuges, national wild and scenic river corridors, U.S. Army Corps. of Engineer's land, and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. 

Some regions of the U.S., especially in the West and parts of the far north and in the Appalachians, have huge tracts of national forests and designated wilderness areas that you can choose from as bug-out locations, many of which are accessible only on foot or horseback.  Other more densely populated regions such as the Southeast and East Coast, are more limited in the availability of big wilderness, but still have large unihabited areas along the course of rivers and the shores of bays, marshes and barrier islands.  In many of these areas where public land holdings are smaller, there are still large areas of uninhabited land owned by corporations such as timber companies or by individuals who live elsewhere.  Some of the best bug-out locations, are in fact in just such places that few outside the immediate area even know about and that little has been written about to promote visiting for outdoor recreation.  Many such places are described in my book and will be the subject of posts in this blog. 

Finding a good bug-out location is a matter of exploring potential areas near your current location, beginning with tools such as maps and Google Earth and then on the ground by actually getting out there.  Advance planning and scouting will also be a big part of this blog. 

BOB (Bug Out Bag)

The concept of a "bug-out bag" means different things to many people. It is frequently referred to as a "72-hour kit," packed with just the gear and food and water you expect to need for an evacuation of three day's duration. This is fine for many situations, but this kind of short-term planning is not the primary focus of this blog or of my bug-out book.

What I advise instead is a bug-out bag packed with a survival kit that will enable you to escape a catastrophe and function in a remote wild area without outside assistance, whether for just the first 72-hours or much longer. This means carrying everything you need to provide yourself with the essentials of survival: shelter, fire, water and food. The items that go into such a bug-out back have to be chosen carefully and must be the optimum tools for the jobs required of them, because replacements will be unattainable.

Bug-out bags and the contents that go in them will be the subject of many posts in this blog.

BOS (Bug Out Survival)

The terms "bug-out" and "bug-out bag" (BOB) are frequently seen on Internet discussion forums and blogs, especially those relating to survival, disaster preparedness and firearms. Put simply, the bug-out strategy means preparing and planning to get out of Dodge when something bad happens that makes your current location untenable or unsustainable.

Should I stay or should I go? That is the question you may be asking if an unexpected catastrophe strikes where you live or work, and it is the subject of many discussions and arguments among survivalists and preppers. But if you have to ask your self this question after the SHTF, it may be too late already.

Preparing to stay, or "bug-in" means that you will have begun your planning months or even years in advance, laying in the necessary supplies and preparing defenses so that you can hopefully wait out whatever is going on around you, even if it means a lengthy stay. Bugging-in requires utter confidence that your chosen retreat will remain secure and sustainable no matter what is going on outside. Preparations will have to be meticulous and acquiring all the necessary gear and supplies will be time-consuming and expensive.

Depending on where you live, bugging-in may not be an option anyway. Consider the total chaos that reigned in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. Imagine a major disaster or terrorist attack in any big city and ask yourself how well you would fare there after the grid is shut down and millions of less prepared residents take to the streets looking for food and whatever they can plunder. Because of these possibilities, most proponents of the bug-in philosophy advocate purchasing land and preparing a retreat in advance to go to when the SHTF. But there are problems with that too. What if your carefully-prepared retreat location turns out to be near or in ground zero of an unforeseen catastrophe? Where will you go then if you've put all your eggs in one basket, so to speak and now can't use the location or all the expensive supplies you've stored there?

Another problem with planning your survival around a retreat location is that it costs more money than most people have or are willing to spend to purchase a tract of remote land, then build a second home, cabin or even simple shelter on it. In today's economy, many people can barely afford the cost of living as it is, without trying to acquire additional real estate. And most people have interests and passions beyond survival planning and would rather spend any extra money available on those pursuits rather than on investing in stockpiles of supplies to equip a bunker for months or years. The carefully-prepared retreat may never be needed at all, so it's a hard sell to get the majority of people to make such an investment.

Buying and outfitting a simple bug-out bag, however, is a much more reasonable alternative for many, and does not require major lifestyle changes or commitments. The bug-out bag can be kept in your home or carried with you in your car, always ready to go at a moment's notice. It gives you the flexibility of going anywhere you choose, so no matter what happens and where it occurs, there will likely be options available to you. Bug-out planning is fun and getting out and scouting out potential bug-out locations will get you into the outdoors and help hone your wilderness travel and survival skills. For those who already enjoy hiking, canoeing, camping or other outdoor recreation, bug-out planning will come naturally and be a welcome addition to your wilderness skill set.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Welcome to Bug-Out Survival

Welcome to my newest website and blog: Bug-Out Survival.

Over the past six months, I have been working on the manuscript for: Bug Out: The Complete Plan for Escaping a Catastrophic Disaster Before It's Too Late. The initial phase of the writing of this 320-page book is nearing completion and editors at Ulysses Press are now working on it and plan to publish the book in May, 2010.

As I began compiling and condensing the huge amounts of information I had available on the subject of choosing a wilderness bug-out location and planning an escape, whether in an emergency or just to "check out," it became evident that it could not all fit into one book. Books have to be succinct and tightly focused to fit within the conventional package of a 6 x 9 trade paperback, and the information that will end up in the final product will hopefully be a useful stand-alone resource for lots of readers. But in writing it, I realized I wanted to elaborate on many points, go into more detail about my choices of gear, and include photographs taken in great bug-out locations as well as my own first-person narratives of my experiences in them. Hence the need for this site - a place where I can do all that and more.

My goal is for Bug-Out Survival to become a valuable resource on the subject of survival in a "bug-out" situation, where you may be forced to leave the comforts and familiarity of home behind and head-out to the boonies with just what you can carry. I hope the information provided here will give you inspiration to learn the skills and practice the ways of wilderness survival, bushcraft and hunting and gathering, and give you the confidence to know you can succeed.


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