Strategy for Survival

Colorado author Peter Kummerfeldt sells this basic survival kit for $45.Photo by Jim Craven

The small orange pouch Peter Kummerfeldt wears over his fanny has all the ingredients to save that fanny because he knows what he needs and he knows how to use it.

The pouch is a personal survival kit Kummerfeldt has honed over decades of survival training, and it has enough tools to satisfy the three essentials needed for living long enough in the wild to get rescued.

Fire. Shelter. Signaling.

"It's the three-legged stool a person relies on to survive," says Kummerfeldt, a former Air Force Academy survival-training director. "If they don't have any one of those legs, then they're not going to make it."

So Kummerfeldt makes them for you.

For $45, the Colorado author sells a basic survival kit that puts enough resources in a 6-by-6-inch bag to get you through a night in the wild and help yourself get found.

Kummerfeldt says at least 35 people over the years have survived getting lost because of the items contained in his kit — right down to the cotton balls soaked in none other than Vaseline.

When it comes to starting that one true life-saving fire, who would have thought the cream that makes your skin smooth is the best agent for saving it?

"People never believe cotton balls soaked in Vaseline are the best fire-starters, but they are," Kummerfeldt says. "If I had a dollar for everybody who said that to me, I'd be retired and in the Bahamas."

Instead, he will be in Medford giving a survival talk to an auditorium full of search-and-rescue crews and others Friday, then conducting more extensive training sessions for Jackson County's rescue teams here through the weekend.

Kummerfeldt, 65, found himself in the survival-kit business accidentally in 1996 after a string of people attending his lectures left befuddled that he could recommend no good, inexpensive kits to practice what he preaches.

"I couldn't find a kit that was worth a damn," he says in a telephone interview from his Colorado Springs office. "They were full of fluff and feathers that made you feel good. But when the chips are down, they wouldn't have what you need."

So he put together his own, focusing on the smallest, cheapest and most effective tools to produce results for that core triumvirate of survival.

"The idea is to keep it as simple and make it as easy to use as possible so people are more likely to have it when they need it," Kummerfeldt says.

For fire, Kummerfeldt relies on a metal match that creates spark when struck, and two waterproof match containers filled with cotton balls saturated with petroleum jelly.

Each container can hold a half-dozen balls. The trick is to take a single ball and pull it apart so the fine hairs are exposed. Striking the metal match will create sparks that ignite the fine fibers.

Each ball can burn 10 minutes or more, creating ample heat and flames to create a fire from kindling, he says.

Relying on the idea of rubbing sticks together to create a life-saving fire is a media myth, Kummerfeldt says.

"I've never met anybody who hiked to a tree line, cut himself a bow and drill and started a fire," he says.

Shelter opportunities are also wrought with media myths, such as making a lean-to out of fir boughs, he says. Most lost people decide at dusk that it's time to stop wandering, so quick and useful shelter is a necessity.


Kummerfeldt carries a heavy Department of Transportation garbage bag with a hole big enough for his head already cut out of one of the seams.

The trick is to climb into the bag head-first, then poke your head through and keep as much of your body inside the bag while doing your best to keep as dry as possible, Kummerfeldt says.

Don't breathe in the bag because it creates condensation.

Kummerfeldt suggests pre-cutting the hole with scissors "because you may not be able to do it when you're in trouble," he says. "Even if you're injured and one-handed, you can pull it out and be protected right now."

Space blankets, he says, are worthless because they tear too easily.

For signaling, Kummerfeldt provides a glass mirror to reflect sunlight and a whistle to alert searchers nearby. Orange ribbon can be unfurled as a signal for land and air searchers.

Finally, a small survival manual offers first-aid and other survival tips.

Those basic elements all fit in a tough cordura case with belt loops so it's easy to carry at all times, he says. That way, no one falls into what Kummerfeldt calls "The I 'Just' Trap."

"People say, 'I was just taking the dog for a walk' or 'I was just going to hike an hour,' " he says. "In that time-frame, they can die."

Beyond that, hikers can pack other items that are useful for the time and geography they frequent.

Such likely items include a single-bladed knife, a bright bandana with medical instructions printed on it, two chemical hand-warmers, a small flashlight, nylon cord, a water bottle and water-disinfecting tablets.

"Once you get the fire/shelter/signaling taken care of, it gets down to personal preference," Kummerfeldt says.

Anyone can recreate Kummerfeldt's survival kit on their own by shopping at a Walmart, he says.

He warns not to get wrapped up in whether you have the proper mettle to survive when lost because you really don't know how you will react, Kummerfeldt says.

But if you pack your necessities, you know you'll at least have the tools to survive.

"Nobody sets out on any given day to die," Kummerfeldt says. "But sometimes, like the bumper-sticker says, '#$&*! Happens.'

"To me, there's absolutely no substitute for preparation," he says.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.



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