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Betting your life on seven items

Rolling a pair of dice gets you seven more often than any other number, and I recently decided to roll the dice with 10 of my friends across the country, hoping to find out what they would bet their life on.

I asked a simple, straightforward question: “If you were going alone into the forest for one week and you could carry only seven individual items with you, other than footwear, clothing and a pack, what would those items be?”

They were given no time to prepare, just answer the question. I wanted to know at a gut level what they would instinctively choose out of all the possibilities for outdoor gear and gadgets. I kind of hoped someone would identify an item I had never considered before; some unique thing that could be used in my own wilderness skills training courses.

The 10 friends represent a broad range of interests, ages, backgrounds and training with a combined 250 years of outdoor experience. Many have lived all over the country; camping, hiking and hunting everywhere from the snowy high passes of the Sierra Nevada down to the alligator infested swamps of Louisiana. Six of them are avid deer hunters and one is a hunter education instructor. Three are former Boy Scouts or scout leaders, and one owns an outdoor gear business. The youngest respondent is a member of the Civil Air Patrol while another has hiked hundreds of miles on the Appalachian Trail. Three of the group have also had extensive military experience including training in specialty schools such as USMC sniper, wilderness survival, escape and evasion, and sea survival.

Hunters are taught that the three highest priorities in wilderness survival are Shelter, Fire and Rescue. Rescue (from my perspective) also includes navigation as a priority to prevent getting lost in the first place and for being able to navigate back out of trouble if needed.

Then there is the standard Rule of Three’s which states how long we can expect to live without certain essentials. Generally speaking it is: air — three minutes; shelter — three hours; water — three days; and food — three weeks. I was curious to see which of these life and death realities would be born out by the survey results.

All 10 of the respondents started by listing the two most common wilderness survival items: a sturdy, full-tang knife and a reliable fire starter such as waterproof matches, fire steel and striker, or windproof lighter.

Eight respondents would take some kind of packable shelter like a small tent or a tarp, at least a large poncho-shelter or plastic sheet for cover.

Six respondents stated they would carry a handgun or a rifle (with ammunition) to be used for hunting, self defense, and for signaling rescuers.

Five respondents all chose the following items: a sleeping bag (or wool blanket, space blanket), quality baseplate compass, 550 parachute cord, and a metal cup or canteen, or other metal container for boiling water and cooking food.

Four people wrote they would bring some type of survival ration such as jerky, peanut butter, trail mix or backpacker meals that only require boiling water.

Three respondents would bring along some kind of water filtering device like a small backpacker pump or a filtering straw to eliminate the need to boil drinking water.

Finally, one or two people also chose items like manmade tinder, first aid kit, or a flashlight.

None of the respondents chose to bring any electronic devices; no cell phones, no GPS, no solar panels. That outcome surprised me, but I was glad these experienced outdoorsmen would not bet their life on battery operated gadgets.

I also learned that each list of seven items is like a window into an individual’s thinking, their abilities and their confidence. Each outdoorsman or woman reaches their own level of skill and wisdom based on training, preparation, and learning the lessons of nature through personal outdoor experience. Learning what items we would bet our life on takes practice and a personal commitment to continually improve and test our capabilities. Learn more about wilderness skills, training, and field tested survival items at www.mountaineerwilderness.com.