Monday, September 5, 2011

Guest Post + Giveaway: What's In Your Fanny Pack? (Ilsa J. Bick)

A question most ask about ASHES, the first book in my new YA post-apocalyptic trilogy, is whether the backwoods survivalism Alex practices really works or is stuff I’ve done. The answer to both: you bet, and here’s why I learned about all that. Personally, I doubt that many people have ever had a truly wild wilderness experience, one where the trails aren’t nicely laid out; a cell won’t hack it; and your next meal might be, well . . . a long time coming. Still, you don’t have to go into the woods to find a disaster. It doesn’t take a genius to look around and realize just how fragile our civilization really is—and how quickly it could collapse.

Bottom line? I like feeling competent. Knowing what to do—and conversely, what to avoid—makes me feel just a little calmer because when emergencies happen, they happen fast. Now, I sincerely hope the world doesn’t collapse any time soon. For one, I happen to like my Starbucks. Yet there is a certain confidence that comes with knowing what to do before the worst happens. This is one area where on-the-job training works against you.

Similarly, there are people who want to a hike, experience nature. Great. Go have fun, but while you might hope for the best, you must expect the worst: that you might get lost or caught in a storm or break your ankle. You should expect a night, or two, in the woods.

So... what to bring in that fanny pack your mom gifted you a while back? What follows are my suggestions and they are only that. I’m not an expert. Yes, I’ve taken classes. Yes, I know how to use what I have. But this list is mine and what I think will keep me safe and alive for about seventy-two hours. Why only three days? Easy: presuming I’ve been a responsible hiker, people know where I am, how long I expect to be gone, when they ought to hear back—and I’m usually with at least one other person who might go for help if I can’t. But if I do find myself alone for whatever reason and I don’t show, I can hope that people will get worried and alert the authorities who, in turn, will look for me. The focus here is on surviving until I’m rescued, not on becoming Daniel Boone.

What I suggest is also no substitute for a good bug-out bag, with a few more creature comforts. Further, you may add or subtract from this list as you please. What follows reflects the bare minimum I carry whenever I hit a trail—because you just never know.

Oh, and a few things I won’t get into: building a shelter is one. Like so much of what follows, there’s nothing that beats hands-on experience. (The fastest I’ve ever built a debris shelter—with optimal conditions, placement, materiel, and another set of hands because it was a two-man—took three hours.) And, honestly, you can live without a shelter-shelter, provided you can keep yourself dry and warm some other way. But, boy, nothing beats a great shelter when it comes to getting a little rest.

Similarly, I’m not going to get into how to find water. That’s a post for another day. Ditto foraging for edible plants or other food.

So let’s assume you’re out hiking and gotten lost. Now what?

First order of business: DON’T PANIC!!

I’m serious. Panic is a killer. So assuming that you’re not in imminent danger of drowning or falling off a cliff . . . go hug a tree. Or sit down. Do yoga or sing your favorite song, but do something to calm yourself down. Really. Panic will get you or someone else killed. When I worked the emergency room and they brought in a code? First rule of thumb: I always took my own pulse. I couldn’t help anyone if I wasn’t calm enough to do it. Same principle here.

Second order of business: get warm. 

This frequently translates to finding shelter, building a fire, peeling out of those wet clothes, whatever. Avoid hypothermia because that will kill you pretty fast. Successfully getting that fire going is a real morale boost, too. In addition, you want a little redundancy here; I always make sure I have at least three different strategies for when the first two fail.

Here’s what’s in my fanny pack:
  • A flint and striker;
  • Waterproof matches in a box in a Ziploc bag because I don’t trust anybody;
  • A lighter;
  • Ziploc baggies with dryer lint and frayed jute (for my fire nest);
  • Cotton balls coated with petroleum jelly (light one of those suckers and you’ve got flame for a good couple minutes: long enough to start your fire or cook a hot dog);
  • Char (easy to make as, for example, here: ; catches a spark from your striker fast, too);
  • Alcohol swabs in individual packets;
  • A couple folded squares of tin foil (good for reflecting and directing heat off that fire-wall you’ll build from rocks and place next to your shelter, but aluminum foil is also GREAT for catching rainwater or signaling that rescue helicopter).

For added warmth and/or shelter, I also always carry an emergency blanket and a folded rain poncho. The blanket’s good for signal purposes, too, and the poncho can serve as a makeshift tarp, if you want. Also, both catch rainwater. So they’re definitely win-win.

Got your fire going? Warm and toasty? Thinking you might survive after all? You bet. It’s also occurred to you that a signal fire is a great thing, too, so you’ll keep this going. But now . . . well, all that hard work and you’re kind of thirsty.

Which brings us to water.

It’s a fact that you can live for three weeks without food, but try going three days without water—and you’re history. So water is key. In crummy conditions—say, it’s really hot—you can figure on needing a quart every couple of hours. So bring at least one canteen, and I would suggest you not settle for only a Nalgene bottle. Yes, they’re virtually indestructible and I have several (one wrapped with duct tape because that stuff is great if you break your arm or leg, or split your forehead). But a stainless steel water bottle is incredibly valuable because you can set that over the fire to boil water, something you can’t do with Nalgene or any kind of plastic, and unless you have a nice Katadyn Mini (which I do: ) then you must boil your water, even if you collect rain.

For the sake of argument, we’re going to pretend there’s a water source: a scummy pond, a stream, rain, whatever. Well, you can’t just drink. There are all sorts of nasty things floating around in there. But, lucky you, there are two basic ways to purify water: heat and chemicals.

  • Heat: boil water, and you’re set, and because you’ve taken my advice and brought along a stainless steel bottle, you’ve got your cooking vessel. How long? Easy. Just until it comes to a rolling boil because all the nasty bugs that will hurt you will die right around 160-185 degrees F ( ). Since water boils at 212 degrees, give or take for altitude, atmospheric pressure . . . well, you do the math.
  • Chemicals: There are a number of ways, but along with my Katadyn filter, I always bring:
    • Purification tablets. (I use Katadyn Micropur MP1. If you go for Potable Aqua instead, be sure to get a little bottle of P.A. Plus which will get rid of that awful iodine aftertaste.)
    • A small bottle (and dropper) filled with household chlorine bleach. Two drops per quart; shake and wait thirty minutes, or a little longer if the water’s cloudy. Drink. Don’t just take my word for it:
    • A small bottle of 2 % tincture of iodine. Five drops per quart; again, shake and wait. Hate the taste but when you’re thirsty . . .

Lastly, there’s food, which is easy. A couple power bars, a few packets of Kool-Aid, and two or three pouches of energy gels (I like mocha J). In a pinch, you can make that one power-protein bar do for a day. Would knowing the region’s edible plants help? You bet, but again this is a huge topic and all we’re covering here is what to bring in your fanny pack.

What else should you bring? Depends on who you are, but in my pack, you’ll find

  • A good, sharp knife. Two, actually. I always wear one, carry the other. A knife is mandatory and the most important piece of equipment in your survival arsenal. If I somehow lost my fanny-pack, I would still have a decent shot of making it with only a knife. I wouldn’t enjoy it, though;
  • A whistle because you can hear those suckers a mile away and blowing your whistle gives you something to do while you wait for rescue;
  • A signal mirror. Don’t bother with that fancy-schmancy metal thing you buy at a camping store; a CD works just as well;
  • Toilet paper (three guesses why);
  • A small bottle of Purell;
  • Three-day supply of prescription meds;
  • A small LED headlamp (I like both hands free);
  • Extra batteries;
  • A staple or thin paperclip; coupled to a battery, I can start a fire in a pinch;
  • Spec 550 paracord;
  • A little vial of 100% DEET because while smoky fires will deter mosquitoes, those critters can be mighty persistent;
  • A mini-deck of playing cards for something to do when I’m bored with counting ants or blowing my whistle;
  • A notepad and pen/pencil for the same reasons as l. Also, in case I decide rescue’s not happening and I must leave my encampment, anyone who stumbles on where I was will know which way I went.

Notice what I don’t include: an extra cell phone; an iPod; a transistor radio; a GPS, a small portable stove. Electronics won’t help you much out here unless you spring for a power pocket of solar panels—oh, and have service for that cell—and then we’re getting into knapsack territory, not a bare-bones survival fanny-pack.

I also didn’t include a bow-drill because that doesn’t fit into my fanny pack. Do I know how to make one—the spindle, board, bow, bearing block? Sure, and in a pinch, that’s where a good knife—and that strong paracord, which has a whole ton of other uses and can be worn as a fashion statement to boot (—come in. But a bow-drill is very time-consuming and making a friction fire is such a drag because you can get tired very quickly. (News Flash: the way Tom Hanks made fire in Castaway? Not possible. Never happen. Guy should’ve been dead. It’s Hollywood.) When it comes to fire, I’d much rather scrape my sparker or flick my Bic and save my sanity.

Anyway, there you have it: what I think you should have before hitting the trails. Make up a pack of your own, learn how to use the tools, and go have fun.

But watch out for those zombies, you hear? 

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  1. I loved Ashes!!! Its such an interesting take on things! I cant wait for the next book! Great post!

  2. Very informative! I may need to build my survival kit now. You never know...

  3. I have been dying to read and review this book for my own blog, thank you so much for the chance and the post!

  4. I'm so looking forward to reading Ashes. It sounds unique which automatically grabs my attention. Great post.

  5. I'm sure you'll be happy to know my husband (a big survival guy) agrees with pretty much everything you said. I read him your list and we discussed it. Very interesting...thanks. Just read Draw the Dark -- can't wait to read this one.

  6. I wouldn't have thought about the purification tablets! Nice post!

    -Britt T.

  7. That was pretty hilarious! and a fanny pack? oh my - you are just rocking the style during the apoc aren't you? Thanks - glad to have found this blog eyes were starting to bleed from some of the others lol.

  8. Wow, it looks like you are ready for everything! I would pack a towel too, though, because that is the singularly most important thing a hitch-hiker can possess. (Sorry, I couldn't help throwing in the reference after you said DON'T PANIC!)

    Thank you for the giveaway!

  9. Thank you. Got that down. Just thinking earlier tonight, what I should have in a survival pack after watching Wrecked tonight w/ Adrienne Brody. I better get it together.

  10. Really great info! I shall have to make myself one.

  11. This was so intense! I feel like this needs to be handed out in schools and taught as a class. you have to wonder how many people would actually survive a monumental crisis, such as the one presented in Ashes. I know I probably wouldn't live a day if that happened because I hate the outdoors, and have no clue how to do anything. So I'm dead pretty much.

  12. Thank you for sharing, I would love to read Ashes. Fortunately my son is into the preparedness and really has a plan :)

  13. I've been dying to read this book! When I read the synopsis, I knew I had to read it. And I love this guest post so much. If only fanny packs can bring loads and loads of books. lol

    Thanks so much for this giveaway and the opportunity to possibly win!