Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Survive! By Les Stroud

I just finished reading Survive! by Survivorman host Les Stroud. Rick and I got into his show somewhat randomly (I think Rick had seen it once and we happened upon it one night) and we were hooked. I think we're going to register for seasons of it for the wedding. Anyway Stroud has written a book about the basics of survival, full of various tips. I bought it for Rick for valentine's day, and when my Amazon copy didn't come in on time I bought him another, and forgot about the Amazon one (which eventually arrived and I meant to ship back) until last week. So I decided to read it.

All in all: a good read-but only if you're into camping and such. It's full of small bits of story, but that's not really what the book is about. If you want to read narratives of survival, find something else. This is about how to survive if you're caught in such a situation. Therefore, it's not a book that will likely be of interest to a person who never goes outside, much less goes camping (there's a small chapter on natural disasters at home but it's not worth buying the book for that chapter-anyone who lives in tornado/hurricane/blizzard/earthquake country will know what he says already).

The "good" of the book: Les's tips are expressed clearly (minus one about making a torch bark bundle-I couldn't figure that one out) and accompanied with easy to understand illustrations. He does not assume too much when he explains things, noting at some point in the book that beginners will be using this as well. Furthermore, he skips out on the fancy survival skills that only those who have taken courses will know. He assumes that you're just someone going camping who ends up in the situation. It's about the simplest way to keep you alive and get you out of there. End of story. Thus the skills are in many ways pretty rudimentary, but not necessarily things you would think of on your own (like solar stills, for example, or vegetation stills).

Also, if you are someone who goes camping, you will be heartened (or at least I was) to see some things you already know. He describes filtering water with a filter made on your own-likely with rocks or ever smaller sizes, sand and charcoal-a filter I was already aware of. That shouldn't make you overly confident, but I think Stroud's book is excellent in that it doesn't make you feel like an idiot. Skills you may already have can be useful in survival.

It should be said that this book could be taken as one full of bragging. There's lots of "When I was in X place, I did Y to stay alive and came out very well." Normally that would bug the hell out of me. In this case, however, I think it engenders trust in the teacher (Stroud). I don't want necessarily to try doing something if it seems that it hasn't worked for anyone. Yet there's a confidence in Stroud that comes from reading this book and watching his show.

The "bad" of the book: There's not much bad about it. It's not a particularly entertaining read, but it got my imagination going, if only because I was thinking of camping trips I'd like to plan. I started to skim over the Africa and Jungle and Arctic sections. I don't live those places and am not going anytime soon, so it seemed like a waste of time to read. The boreal forest stuff was much more interesting to me. And mountains. That said, it's nice to have the extra info on hand should I travel to one of these places.

Now, for my biggest beef with the book, I have to start with the caveat. I don't think this is necessarily beef with the book itself, but I couldn't help but read this stuff and think "I either have to practice this over and over or memorize the book or backpack with it for this to be helpful." Some people have survived with skills they remembered from the show, and I think the same thing could be the case for the book, but there's so much info packed into it that I would rather just take it along. Only books are heavy...so I thought about maybe creating a smaller reference that can be on laminated index cards for a survival kid. That might have been useful to put in the book as well-little reminders that will jog your memory about the larger text.

So there you go. Read this book if you're going camping or backpacking or whatever. Or if you like survival reads. But don't be surprised if you get the itch to you into the wild when you're done with it...

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