Ultralight Survival Made Easy

I decided here to update the post The Complete Survival Guide (which you should still read) as it had become a little out-of-date in the three years since I wrote it and I had since written many other useful pieces of advice which I could incorporate in a new post, which this is.

I might have also called it, ‘I tell you we’ll astonish the new chums to see how we travel the land’ after the refrain from the old bush song The Springtime it Brings on the Shearing. (I also mentioned this song in the post Johnny Cakes – which you should try).

And it is a good point because these itinerant C19th bush workers with their swags (or blueys) were wonderful experts at ultralight journeying over the vast distances of the Australian outback which would put to shame any of our current generation. Suppose you wanted to make your own.

I remember reading ‘The Cattle King’ by Ion Idriess when I was a youngster about our great Aussie icon Sidney Kidman – and you should too. You can buy it from Amazon from $8.99. It is just quite wonderful. I believe Nicole is a remote descendant. I think Gina now owns much of the remaining Kidman ’empire’ – another wonderful ‘self-made Aussie hero, so it remains in Australian hands.

Even as an old man (like me) he would regularly leave Adelaide with just his saddle horse, pack horse and his cattle dog and within a few short weeks have crossed the entire continent through the trackless (often waterless) wilderness to the Gulf of Carpentaria – all by himself, and did so many, many times. Old hands still tell of how he would just appear in the darkness sitting by their campfire as they yarned over the billy.

Eventually he owned or controlled over 100,000 square miles of land – anyway an area larger than the entire state of Victoria, or New Zealand or the United Kingdom. I doubt any other man in the world’s history has owned so much land. Remarkable. As remarkable really as Cecil Rhodes the only citizen to have a country named after them – two actually.

For upwards of a million years men of various sorts have traversed the earth without ‘resupply’ without access to houses or shops  – able to carry all they need on their backs or indeed in their hands – to survive (indeed thrive) permanently in all seasons and all weathers. Knowledge (and confidence) which most people have apparently lost, but it need not be lost forever.

It distresses me to learn that yet another hiker has died in the back country (thousands every year) where they should have been able to live as gracefully and comfortably as the folk of yore did seemingly effortlessly. Well not effortlessly really. Everything involves knowledge, thought and work.

In the post Ultralight Hiking #102, I said this, ” First you figure out how to get your pack weight down to a sensible level say around 5 kg skin out including your pack…Then you must figure out how to ration your food and fuel (for less than 500 grams but over 2,000 calories per day) so that you can comfortably undertake say a ten day (unsupplied) hike beginning with a total pack weight of <10 kg (22 lbs). This is also not so hard…As I have pointed out lots of times if you can just supplement your protein needs with some small game and/or fish you can easily reduce the weight of your food + fuel per day to less than 250 grams so that an averagely fit person starting out with a pack weight of say 20 kg should be able to comfortably continue unsupplied for two months+! Yes, really!

Most people are struggling with an overnight or a weekend hike. Where have we gone wrong? In literally hundreds of posts I have tried to explain what the knowledge is you need to enjoy the outdoors cheaply, safely and confidently. But really there is no use to something being on your computer, phone, in the library or in a book on our shelves. All you need to know needs to be between your ears.

It is that gadget inside your head which is most valuable and which you need to learn to use properly before you set out! Once skills are lodged firmly there they will be available in an instant whenever and wherever you need them. Like when someone throws a ball to you and calls, “Catch’ – you’d better be able to.

That is the true purpose of so many of my posts. They are not to be skimmed through glancing at the photos, but to be absorbed. But, as the saying goes, ‘Live and learn – or you won’t live long!‘ – And so many don’t. I have encountered more than a few in my 70+ years I can tell you who did not. Alas for them.

Recently I made a suggestion to a young woman on a backpacking forum about her choice of stove. I suggested my DIY $4 20 gram roll-up titanium stove would be a good choice. When she replied that “lighting a fire was not in her skill set” I rejoined that I would not take person out in the bush (with me) until I was sure that they had mastered the skill of lighting a fire in the rain – as other wise she would find herself dead for the lack of knowledge that mankind has had for a million years.

As I have explained so many times, before you venture away from (apparent) safety you must be sure you have first shelter and warmth more or less at you fingertips, and secondarily water. Everything else is really just ‘cake decoration’. It is nice to have the ‘cake’ as well, but you can live for a couple of months without any food at all if needs be – a situation which is very unlikely ever to happen to you!

No doubt it is useful to be able to make fire from scratch (by rubbing sticks together and such) but a couple or three mini-Bics or similar and experience with fire lighting and keeping a fire going is all you really need – but you really need to practice these skills, particularly in adverse conditions when you really need them.

Mind you, you might find yourself without practically anything but your bare hands, so it won’t hurt at all to know (and practice) how to make a fire from scratch so to speak, like the hero in the wonderful Louis L’Amour novel, ‘The Last of the Breed’ which (unbelievably) you can download free here from the Internet Archive. Or consider the adventure of this man in Yellowstone.

If you have something for a shelter (eg even just a poncho – as recommended in this post) it is really not necessary to be expert in constructing an emergency shelter such as a Debris Hut – though having tried it few times is not a bad idea all the same. Mind you I have slept under the shelter of a poncho lots of times and can thoroughly recommend it. Just stay warm and dry and you will be all right. Everything else is luxury!

Even if you can’t light a fire you can stay alive if you can stay dry which can be achieved even without much shelter at all, as the highlighted post illustrates. The young (dead) hiker I talk about there who died in his raincoat and sleeping bag while I was dry and comfy (unknowingly) only hundreds of metres away (in my hammock) did so even though he had (more than adequate) means to survive but that thing between his ears failed him. He needed to get out of that raincoat because the cold water from the rain running across his body was killing him – and it did! You should try to avoid that being you too!

As I said at the outset, I have posted many, many times about this topic. I have tried to gather those links  together below so that you can work your way through them. I have tried to arrange them into some sort of rational order but they don’t always lend themselves to that – you should just read them all. When you have all this pretty much ‘in your head’ (as I have) you should have nothing at all to fear from your forays into the wilds.

As I said at the outset, you need to master staying warm and dry – which clearly implies being able to light and maintain a fire in perhaps difficult conditions as well as keeping yourself from being cold and wet.

A point to remember: there is nothing quite so good for you as a hot drink – even if it is only hot water. Also the time and effort spent making yourself a ‘cuppa’ may well be what saves your life. This is particularly pertinent if you have become ‘geographically challenged’ (as we all do from time time). The time spent making and consuming that cuppa will calm your nerves and allow you to re-commence rational thought. That is the very heart of survival.

Let’s look at some of the posts I have written about these topics:

You should first read this post as it contains the basic thought on the topic and makes a good starting point:

The Complete Survival Guide

Loch Marie Fiordland NZ

Then this one:

Ultralight Hiking #102

Mt Darling Track Vic

It is a good question – they will fit on your pocket.

If you could only carry two things in the bush, what would they be?

South Coast Track Fiordland NZ

And important ‘don’t’:

Hiking 101

Absolutely essential: Have more than one means of lighting a fire:

How to Light a Fire in the Rain


Firelighting Tip

Fire Lighting Tip

Yes, if you don’t want to die, you must carry a knife – and definitely a fixed blade:

Carry a Knife

Ka-Bar Piggyback Knife

Since you have a knife you’d better know how to sharpen it:

Ultralight Knife Sharpener

Gerber Knife Sharpener

After fire-lighting gear and a sharp knife maybe the next most vital piece of gear is a needle and thread:

Self-Threading Needles

Self-Threading Needles

Like this:

Backpack Repairs

Waitutu Hut Fiordland NZ

And some

Rope – Don’t leave home without it!

Which you need to know how to use:

How to Tie Knots

It is not always easy to light a fire but it is often vital:

Fire on the Snow

The Secret of Fire

Tyvek Shelter


Using Tinder

Alternative Fire Lighters

kerosene Match

Neat Survival Gear

Peanut Lighters

Interesting wet weather fire starter

Lots of things will burn:

Duct Tape Fire Starter

Fire from a Can of Coke and a Chocolate Bar

How To Make A Fire With A Gum Wrapper And A Battery

Keeping warm and dry – that’s the most important thing:

How to Avoid Being Wet and Cold When Camping

Cuben Fibre Shelter

Wet weather is not all bad:

How to Have Fun When Hiking in the Rain

DIY Poly Tarp Shelter

More Fun in the Rain

South Coast Track Fiordland NZ

Hiking in the Rain

Ultralight Umbrella

But you must be able to get out of it:

The Importance of a Roof

Track Burn South Coast Track Fiordland NZ

Even this will save your life:

The Raincoat Shelter

Raincoat Shelter

A neat idea:

A Hands Free Umbrella

Hands Free Umbrella

How to Survive Falling Through Ice

Streams can be dangerous:

River Crossings & River Crossings #2

River Crossing Moroka River

And Why You should Get Your Feet Wet When Hiking

How not to get lost:

Finding Your Way

Direction Trick

The Lie of the Land

The Importance of Landmarks

Walking the Line

Some handy estimation tricks

Naismith’s Rule

Weather Lore

How Long Till Sundown?

Emergency, Dial: 112

GPS Phone Apps & 25K Vicmaps

Mobile Phones & Apps for Hiking/Hunting

Paper Maps App

Never Get Lost – With Google Offline Maps

If you are in Australia you can download these free maps which will ensure you never get lost:

Geoscience Australia’s 1:250,00 Topographic Maps

Other countries often have similar free topographic maps. NZ for example.

Amazing Mobile Apps: Altimeter, Barometer and Thermometer

Pedometer App

Be sure to load an App which allows you to re-trace your route.

This is my favourite phone -as you can see it fits in your fob pocket so it is very difficult to lose or break:

Jelly 2 Mini Smart Phone

This is a useful device for group communication if there is no phone service, only 50 grams and gives 10 miles of range:


Yes you should have an epirb or plb

Get Lost. Get Found: Best Plb/Epirb

But frankly, get one you can talk both ways on like this:

The Poor Man’s Satellite Phone

Frankly, I carry a sat phone as well for extra safety. I have had failures, you see. Now an

Iridium Extreme

But remember,

Epirbs are not Taxi Hailers

There are situations these can be handy too:

Emergency CB Radios

And just an old-fashioned radio you get get the news and weather reports on is good. This one will bring in stations from anywhere in the world

Backcountry Radio

Some times you need to make some shelter. Here’s how:

Secrets of Shelter

The Debris Hut

Or carry some shelter even if you expect to be sleeping in huts etc. You may not get there or they may not be there when you do! I have experienced both of these situations.

Blizzard Bag

Survival Shelter: Escape Bivy 157 grams to save your life

New Ultralight Survival Shelter

Learn how to do this (you can even do it with a mylar survival blanket which will also double as a rain coat – only 50 grams each. Take two)

Pitching the Poncho: Warning: This may save your life

Or make one of these for $10 instead of buying that expensive hiking tent. It will work just as well, probably better.

Poly Tent by The Ultralight Hiker on the Cheap & Ultralight Hiking on a Budget

Try this too

Best $20 Backpack

Or you may need to clean up the water, but…

Trouble With Water Filters

Or actually make or find water

Water: Hiking Desalinater or Survival Still

Water: Survival Still

Here’s how:


Survival Water Sources

Dehydrated Water

Water: Rivers in the Sky: Never die of thirst

A useful tip:

Collecting Water

You also might need to find some food. Fish are great:

The Ultralight Fisherman

These are great hooks

Dual Action Survival Fish Hooks

There are smaller things:

Ghost Shrimp and Other Small Fry

Or find other

Small Game

How to make a Sling

Pocket Slingshot

The Pack Rifle

The Ultimate Survival Gun

Staying healthy is an important key to survival, accordingly think about

Ultralight Personal Hygiene

Keeping Clean on the Trail

The APC and the Sponge Bath

A couple of useful ‘tricks’

Catching Your Breath – Walking Uphill

Breathing Trick That Puts You to Sleep in Seconds

Preventing Batteries From Going Flat at High Altitudes

Windy Old Weather

Comfort is important. If you are well rested you will survive handsomely:

A Soft Pillow and a Warm Bed Under the Stars

Mastering the Hiking Energy Budget

Fuel Follies

A Lazy Man’s Guide to Hiking and Hunting

Never Lose You Hearing Aids Again

Also, carry a spare pair of glasses. They don’t have to cost the earth:

Eyesight and Hearing: Cheap

Some basics

Beginning Hiking

Woodcraft: George Washington Sears

Pests can be a problem


Tick Eliminator

Insects Can Ruin a Camping Trip

First Aid is a good idea:

How to Treat a Gunshot Wound: Part 2

Problems with water crossings:

Trapped by Flood Waters

You might need to make a boat:

More Emergency Boats: The Tarp Boat

Four-Hour Grip Clip Kayak!

Other ‘disasters’ we have encountered and survived – there are many more:

Pack Raft Saves The Day

Don’t jeopardise safety for lightness!

What to include in a wilderness cache

Some other good advice

The Twelve Woodlores – Ray Mears

Dave Canterbury

Some great survivors

Kon Tiki: Thor Heyerdahl

New Zealand’s Remotest Family

THRILLING TALES #5: Shackleton

Mawson’s Expeditions

The Wreck of the Commerce

John Colter

Jim Bridger, the Greatest Plainsman

Dick Proenneke: Alone in the Wilderness

I felt quite rich when I found my knife, flint and steel in my shot pouch

Buckley’s Chance

Thrilling Tales: 37 Days of Peril

Do remember this. Your attitude is the keen to your survival – as it is the key to your life generally. Not for example how important you (or others might think you are), or how much money you have & etc.

Here are two relevant posts to consider:

The Happiness Trick

So What is Still Good and Cheap?

I can see gaps in this post which I will fill as time goes on with new posts which I will also link to here. Cheers, Steve.





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