Armed with only the clothes on my back, a puuko knife, some matches, and a compass and map, I was sent off into the wilderness for a night. No sleeping bag or roll mat, no food or water. Why would you do that I hear you ask? This challenge was part of the course I am currently on, and was done to give a first hand feeling of being in a survival situation. Hopefully allowing us to dip into the emotions you may feel and the challenges you might face when you are stranded, dehydrated, hungry and cold.
You might also be thinking why have a knife, matches and compass on you if you want to experience a survival situation? One of the things we’ve been taught is to always have these items on you when you’re in the wilderness. You never know what might happen, and these items could be the difference between life and death – they are the bare essentials for surviving. A knife can be used to cut and prepare wood for a fire and as a general multipurpose tool, the matches or lighter (in a waterproof bag) are quite handy when it comes to fire making and the compass can be used to orientate yourself and hopefully find help.
We were allowed to eat breakfast, but no water of food was taken with us for the day. We were completely alone, we would get hungry, we would get thirsty and we would probably get cold in the night. It was quite an exciting actually, but I must admit, I was slightly nervous too.
My plan was to get the shelter built as quickly as I could and then sleep in the afternoon and evening whilst it was a bit warmer. This way, if I couldn’t sleep during the night I could just sit by the fire to keep warm. It took much longer to make than expected – around 3 hours or more, and I had a lot of readily available materials as the forest had been recently thinned. But even after this short time making the shelter you could start to feel the effects of thirst and hunger.
Upon completing the shelter I had a quick break laying in the sun. I then went on a firewood gathering mission. By now tasks were already taking longer, I was less effective at doing them, and my mind was constantly getting distracted by one thing or another. I found myself in a bit of a hazy stupor and was slowly walking around collecting wood whilst humming “Deck the Halls with boughs of holly, tra laa laa la laa la laa laa laaa”.
I felt good though, the shelter felt sturdy and had a good level of protection in case of rain, and the floor was lined with a thick layer of spruce branches and moss. And after a while of searching I have a large pile of fairly dry firewood that should see me through the night.
After making a fire, which took 2 attempts and longer than usual, I sat down on my makeshift bench and just absorbed what was going on in the forest around me. It was a cloudless day and the sun was shining down hard, the rattle of a wood pecker would chime periodically in the distance, and the woods around me were filled with the songs of chaffinches, gold crests, tits and blackbirds. The reassuring sound of the fire crackled and spat away whilst warming my feet. At that moment I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else. It was warm, probably around 7-10°C and the thought of sleeping here now felt quite appealing.
I then split my time between sitting by the fire, lying in the shelter and restocking the fire. I tried the earlier described tactic of sleeping in the afternoon and evening, but couldn’t fall asleep. As the night started to draw in at around 10pm I found myself drifting off, warm and cosy in front of a freshly stocked fire. I would sleep through the night easily I thought. This turned out to be completely untrue and each time the fire died down I would wake up cold. Then a sleep cycle of approximately 45minutes to 1hour continued throughout the night – where I would wake up cold, get up and walk about, restock the fire and then try to fall back to sleep. The temperature at coldest was still above freezing, probably around 1-2°C.
I slept more than I thought I would, but after a few hours of broken sleep, I woke up at 5am and decided to get up. I made a big fire to warm up before putting it out and heading off to the designated meeting point around 3km away. It was interesting to see everyone else and hear about their experience. Some of us a bit dazed, others a bit giddy and smiley, all of us tired and hungry. I think we all took something from it though.
Even spending one night without food and water you could really feel the effects of hunger and thirst affecting you and your decision-making ability. It makes you realise how important food and water are in our daily lives and how much we take it for granted as it is so readily available. Generally there is no longer a need to find a clean water source or gather and hunt your food. I am not saying that a return to a more primitive way of life is the answer, but removing yourself of your basic human needs can help us appreciate the smaller things in life and the food in our belly that little bit more.