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8 August, 2002

When is it appropriate to eat a can of Spam? What could possibly be gained from this culinary experience other than a long-term case of indigestion? When does a plastic garbage bag become elevated from trash receptacle to haute couture? Why are cotton balls and vaseline an important part of a survival kit? Questions such as these, and others equally important, were the focus of our day-long orientation session on survival.

Today’s session was conducted by Brian Horner of the Anchorage-based company, Learn to Return. The focus was on survival and first aid skills and their application in polar environments. We learned to analyze safety and survival situations by applying the HIS/HER PRINCIPLE: Hazards, Injury, Shelter, Heat, Energy, Rescue/Rest. After a morning spent indoors reviewing the basics and discussing the variety of hazards we might encounter, the class moved outside to put our new knowledge to use.

Once outdoors, some members of the group developed mysterious injuries or lost shoes, and we learned splinting and improvisation techniques that could help us survive those situations. Next we addressed the shelter issue as we learned how to turn a garbage bag into a stylish rain jacket, complete with hood and integral backpack. Once we were all nicely outfitted, sat on our ensolite foam pieces (to protect you from the cold, cold ground) and conducted a taste test of popularly available survival rations that might satisfy our caloric needs. We sampled three different rations and came to the conclusion that flavor and survival are not necessarily closely linked. In fact, we also learned that you could just bring along a can of Spam—those 2000+ calories of fat and protein just might come in handy if you need them!

For the grand finale, we made fire. Not such a big deal, I suppose, if you’re equipped with a lighter or matches, but what if you had neither. We were taught two methods to create the necessary spark. A small portion of a cotton ball covered with Vaseline makes an excellent wick for starting a fire once you’ve got those sparks flying. Of course, there might not be any wood in any of the polar regions we’ll be visiting, but there’s always something around to burn if you need heat badly enough.

Perhaps the most important message of the day was the need to plan in advance. Whether you’re traveling in the polar netherworld, or strolling around town, it’s good to have more than a few answers to those ‘what if’ sorts of situations that just might show up.

Functional Fashion--Trash Bag Survival Gear

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