“the driving force behind primitive survival is that all of our needs can be met through a deep and meaningful relationship with the earth…without the aid of gear or technology.
The purpose of this book is to go beyond the fundamentals of winter survival and introduce readers to this relationship.” Winter in the Wilderness
Winter has always been my favorite season for outdoor activities. Somehow I managed to survive my early years in the brutal Adirondack winters despite some pretty stupid mistakes in judgment.
As a child,
no guidebook could have helped me prepare for winter’s first cruel lesson. Don’t lick snow off a metal porch railing or stick your tongue on a flagpole in the school yard. I think the urge to lick a frozen metal object must be related to every child’s urge to stick beans up their nose.
Thankfully I outgrew my need to peel skin off my tongue and found healthier winter sports.
My year-round Adirondack Mountains playground tested my strength and ability to adapt to brutal winter conditions. Somehow I survived a cross country ski trip through Avalanche Pass to the Flowed Lands wearing wet blue jeans or my climb over the Dix Mountains in a freezing drizzle after forgetting my rain gear. Thank God for a plastic bag pack liner!
The last 25+ years I have lived in Georgia where I spend time backpacking the wilderness trails in the Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and southern Virginia mountains.
My husband and I hiked out of Georgia in the dead of winter to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. Our northward progress ended after 1800+ miles when I was injured on Mt. Washington, NH.
My years of cold weather observations have left me amazed at the poor choices people make when facing winter conditions. Before and after we returned from our AT adventure, my husband and I shuttled hikers to the remote southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. It is not uncommon to find people heading out on a six-month odyssey without rain gear, without any type of portable shelter, inadequate winter clothing and no method of heating water or cooking a hot meal. We have been called to rescue hypothermic hikers caught in unexpected wet weather. We have shared food with hikers stranded by a winter storm. We’ve built fires in the rain to help soaked hikers in near freezing temperatures warm themselves.
Why, you might ask, would Georgians find a winter survival guide interesting? Most people don’t associate snow storms with Georgia. Granted, our winter storms aren’t as frequent or severe as my native New York State but they do happen and they shut the state down. Just as dangerous, if not more so, are the freezing rain and ice storms. Fat chance for a quick rescue if the eroded and remote Forest Service Road you drove to the trailhead becomes iced over or clogged with downed trees.
A guidebook to surviving an unexpected winter emergency in any of the wilderness areas of Georgia is just as important as one aimed at keeping you alive in the Adirondacks.
The summary of Winter in the Wilderness: A Field Guide to Primitive Survival Skills by Dave Hall with Jon Ulrich led me to request a pre-publication copy from Netgalley and Cornell University Press. I am very grateful that I was approved.
Dave Hall is resident of the Adirondacks and has spent years learning primitive outdoor skills, enjoying many a bitter night in a snow cave without benefit of a sleep bag or warming fire. He has studied with other nationally known survival experts and is a popular instructor for the Adirondack Mountain Club and the Cornell Outdoor Education program. He shares his well honed skills with the youth of his community through Primitive Pursuits, an afterschool program he began in 1999. His 20+ years of mastering primitive survival skills have led him to become a known authority.
I highly recommend reading the introduction before jumping ahead to any of the seven chapters. He tells us that developing primitive survival skills is more than knowing what to do in an emergency; it is doing it competently in an emergency. The specific skill needed in any particular situation must have been practiced in advance that it becomes second nature. Mastering the skills can be enjoyable in a controlled setting.
The book is written in an easy conversational style. Dave reveals his own failings in the past that led him to improve those weaknesses in his survival skill set. I felt like I was sitting down at campfire, listening to someone comfortable in his own skin and willing to share his knowledge without shoveling it down my throat.
If you are a gear freak and devoted to the newest fabrics and lightest weight equipment, you will be disappointed. If you are thinking about what you need for winter hiking and what dangers can befall you, here you go. The gear lists and recommendations in the book are meant to provide guidance. Readers planning to head out to recreate or travel must prepare in advance. What if?
When I grew up in the dark ages, cell phones and GPS devices weren’t available. I have found, in the past few years, having those devices has created a false sense of security. There is a danger in relying on them as the only source of directions or help. The author acknowledges that they have their place but should not be seen as a sure method of securing help.
Chapter 1 discusses Priorities
In my mind, this is the most important section. He covers basic needs and dangers; avoid panic, hypothermia and frostbite, clothing and attire, worst case scenarios as examples. If you can’t see yourself taking this chapter seriously, you need to stay home, don’t endanger the lives of your rescuers and enjoy the wilderness from your lounge chair watching the Discovery Channel.
Chapters 2- 7 cover individual skills in deeper detail. There are plenty of hand drawn graphics. They are Fire, Shelter, Water, Sustenance, Helpful Crafts and Skills, Navigation and Orienteering.
Additionally there are four handy appendices.
Appendix A: What to do if you are stranded in your vehicle. Very useful suggestions!
Appendix B: Survival Kits
Appendix C: Winter Gear Checklist. Many will scoff at the list and consider it overkill. If you haven’t been in a 30-below zero storm overnight don’t mock it! Better to have than have not. You can modify it with experience and weather conditions.
“Information is pretty thin stuff until mixed with experience”
Appendix D: Suggested Reading.
There is also a bibliography and a handy index.
There are a couple of suggestions and comments I would make to improve the next edition of this book.
• The hand drawn graphics are well done, but I personally would like to see color photographs with close-ups. Jazz it up and make it inviting to practice.
• A photograph on the cover.
• More discussion on survival techniques in areas where trees and kindling are not available.
• My what-ifs include winter in warmer climates.
My overall rating is thumbs-up.
Recommend for families interested in primitive camping and individuals willing to challenge themselves and expand their seasonal activities. I have placed my order for the paperback copy!
As mentioned before, thanks you, Netgalley and Cornell University Press for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.