High Gear: “Survival Hacks” is real-world advice for real-world situations
For a while there, it seemed like life hacks were the hottest thing on the internet. They were everywhere: how to untie a knot, how to make a CD case from printer paper, how to roll your clothes for packing, even how to properly freeze grapes to chill lukewarm wine.
Ok, so. Like most things on the internet, people fell in love with browsing and sharing these hacks, the best of which are nothing more (or nothing less) than common sense presented in a clever and attractive way. Every life hack spawned photos and videos and GIFs, all leading to endless Reddit databases filled with advice to make life in the First World easier. And more creative. And, honestly, pretty damn entertaining.
The 200-plus hacks in “Survival Hacks,” a new book from professional survivalist Creek Stewart, are a different story. For starters, they aren’t link bait for an Instagram or Facebook account. No, they are tried-and-true survival tips from the man behind Willow Haven outdoor survival training school in Indiana, named one of the top-10 survival schools in the U.S. by MSN Travel. Rather than reminding people they can roll their underwear to save space in a Samsonite, the hacks in “Survival Hacks” cover the gamut of bare necessities: how to make winter gloves from socks, how to dry wet matches, how to catch mice with a lawnmower wheel, how to build a gas mask with pop bottles, how to navigate using the sun and your hands, like legitimately, not spaghetti Western guesswork.
In other words, Stewart’s 20-plus years of survival training and field-testing put the First World hacks of Reddit to shame. Sure, his might not be as glossy or glamorous as an Instagram post — the book is filled with guidebook-style line illustrations for about half of the hacks — but, damn it, there’s a difference between style and substance, especially when your life is on the line. It only helps that Stewart makes his book easy to read and implement, with eight chapters divided by necessity, from shelter, food and water to survivalist health care. He even includes an index to easily browse through individual topics, which gives you an idea of just how practical and methodical these hacks — and the book as a whole — can be. I mean, as much as I like to believe a zombie apocalypse is totally out of the question, it never hurts to be prepared. Boy Scout 101, man.
Anyway, Stewart’s approach to survival and the tools it requires is simple: “Innovation is the most important survival skill,” he says near the end of the book. That mantra is apparent in just about every hack, even the ones that border on World War III alarmist strategy (homemade Kevlar using football pads and cardboard, anyone?).
Take, for example, one of my favorites: Chapter three, fire hacks. I thought that I was pretty good with flint and steel, plus I knew all about using laundry lint and cotton swabs and a Ziploc starter kit for backpacking. And, then, Stewart introduced me to a whopping 40 ways to start fire. There’s the jumper cable and pencil method, and then the nine-volt battery and razor method, and then the main attraction: focused sunlight and moose poop.
As tempting as it is to go Dennis the Menace on moose patties, the best in this chapter is the cardboard fire roll. Stewart explains how three (or more) toilet paper rolls filled with paper, pine needles and other tinder can be lashed together and placed under a pot to burn as hot — although not as long — as a Sterno can. Believe me, it works.
The books ends with a chapter on Everyday Carry Kits, also known as survival kits. This is probably the most useful section for Average Joes, with simple (and affordable) ideas for kits that include duct tape, razor blades, fishing hooks, nylon rope, a sewing needle and more. Basically, these kits are home to everything Stewart suggests for the individual hacks, which brings the book full circle as the useful guide it’s meant to be. Those internet life hackers don’t stand a chance, and, when the internet goes black, you’ll be the one saving their hides.
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