An investment in survival

Chris Wardrop

In early 2018 my family moved from the Top End to Canberra, so it has been quite a change in both climate and culture. One of the many adjustments has been the increased time I spend in the bush, fishing and hunting, alone.

Previously I had always carried a minimal snakebite kit and had normally hunted with a good friend, who is a highly capable bushman. A stumble down a wombat hole on the banks of the Murrumbidgee ‑ that could have easily resulted in a broken leg and the prospect of an agonising crawl many kilometres back to my car ‑ made me re-evaluate what I need to carry to ensure I arrive home safely, no matter what.

After a little research and some deeper consideration of the things I like to do and places I like to go, I settled on assembling my own survival kit with two totally necessary items and a few nice-to-haves.

In assessing the risks associated with the activities I undertake alone, I decided the greatest threat comes from snakebites, closely followed by breaking a limb. With that in mind, materials for applying first aid for snakebites and a means of reliably signalling for rescue were deemed absolutely essential. After all, even with sufficient bandages to treat a snakebite, a long walk to raise help will only serve to accelerate the venom’s spread through the lymphatic system and the eventual onset of respiratory failure. This saw me add a GPS-equipped 406Mhz Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) to my kit.

I had considered other similar devices like the Spot and Garmin InReach but a PLB was the clear winner in my mind. I feel no compulsion to send friends and family regular updates on my location, have complete faith in the Australian Maritime Safety Authority monitoring and response capabilities and appreciate the simplicity of a PLB. By shopping around you can certainly find a smaller and lighter PLB than the GME model I purchased, but even the GME unit is not inconveniently large.

With a survival kit, containing only snakebite bandages and PLB, I would be comfortable in heading out beyond mobile phone service alone for days on end. But I considered the addition of a few extra items could be beneficial in preventing an uncomfortable situation turning into a matter of survival, or at the very least could be employed to make the time waiting for first responders to arrive a little more bearable.

I once spent quite an uncomfortable afternoon walking back to camp in the backcountry section of Litchfield National Park in oppressive humidity without water. My water bladder had sprung a leak and I had not noticed until it was far too late. I had followed a creek line that still held pools of stagnant water and at the end of the three-hour walk back to camp I had resolved to carry a water filtration device in future. It is a small and light insurance policy against discomfort or worse.

While I’ve not been up in the High Country in the midst of winter I have experienced temperatures well below zero in spring and autumn while searching for deer. I suppose it is unlikely that an appropriately dressed, healthy, adult would succumb to hypothermia in those temperatures. However, I would rather not experience a night out waiting for rescue following an accident, potentially suffering from shock, without a source of heat. I found a small ferrocerium rod and striker at a camping store and combined it with a half a dozen cotton balls smothered in Vaseline stored in an old film canister. There is also an emergency ‘space’ blanket packed with the bandages, which can be used to reflect heat from the fire. Of course a space blanket and fire both make suitable signalling devices if you’ve activated your PLB and observe rescue services nearby too.

Surprisingly all of these things, plus a bit of chord, fit neatly into a two-litre dry bag. The total cost of the components came in at a little more than $400, the most expensive item being the PLB. Since assembling this little kit I have not stepped into the bush alone without it and hardly notice it sitting in the bottom of my backpack.

The week before penning this article I was fishing for trout alone, a couple of hours from Canberra and two kilometres from the closest road. With all of my attention on a rising trout in the pool ahead, I failed to see the tiger snake at my feet. I must have stood next to it, rather than on it, nevertheless it reared up and tried to strike my right leg before we both made a hasty retreat. With my little yellow survival kit in my pack I was confident that even if the tiger snake had connected, I would not have been added to Australia’s snakebite fatality list. A sum of $400 is certainly a small investment with a very high dividend should your life ever depend on prompt self-aid and rapid rescue.

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