The best survival guides.

How to be the best consumer you can be.
Feb. 16 2010 1:30 PM

Read This in Case of Emergency

Can a book teach you how to survive?

(Continued from Page 1)

Eventually, there is some really good advice in Hell—particularly on distillation techniques, food storage (four essentials to keep around: whole wheat, powdered milk, honey, salt), and waste management. Especially waste management. Lundin rarely misses a chance for alliteration, titling this particular section "Savvy yet Simple Significant Substitute Sanitation." It includes the subsections: "Decisively Dealing with Dangerous Dung" (proximity, depth, and drainage are key here), and "Savvy Squatting Strategies" (good advice for survivalists and tourists in countries featuring pit toilets).

I was still without shelter, though, so I went through Lundin's section—called "Gimme Shelter!" In it, I learned "the art of regulating my core body temperature" (which is layering), knowing the signs of hypothermia (apathy, confusion, and numbness), and that carbon monoxide detectors are "worth their weight in gold." But as with the National Geographic guide, there were no specific building instructions. I felt dissatisfied, then apathetic, and confused and numb.

Hell is one of Amazon's top sellers in the survival category. Is Lundin a lunatic or laughing all the way to the bank? Rouse weighed in: "It's a crazy book, this. Lots of words. The little illustrations are annoying and terrible but the photo of a rat salad is classic." Oh yes, there is a full color photo of a roasted-rat salad.

The Survival Handbook.

The Survival Handbook ($30)
Worried that readers might curl up and die when faced with a life-and-death situation, The Survival Handbook takes a step-by-step approach. "Up to 75 percent of people are stunned, bewildered, and unable to react rationally" during the "Impact Period" of a survival situation, the editors state early on. What follows is a series of illustrations and tables about how to get into survivor mode. (In brief: Work out, remain calm.) The Survival Handbook then describes how to draw up an emergency plan: "The best way to determine what should be included in your plan is to look at the worst-case scenario you could find yourself in, and ask yourself what information your next of kin would need to know about you and your intentions if they felt they had to raise the alarm." The book also provides illustrated "walk-throughs" of the many different wilderness environments one might face. Rather than singing the praises of self-sufficiency, or telling you how others have made it through tough-spots, The Survival Handbook gets right down to business. Which, given my shelterless state, was a welcome change of pace.

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And there, on Pages 178-181, were snow dwellings, complete with diagrams. Turns out a snow cave is really hard to build. Better to cobble together a quinzhee—a sort of temporary igloo. Better still to find a preexisting, naturally occurring tree pit and dig it out a bit. But quinzhee is fun to say, and the illustration looked pretty cozy, so I went for it. First I piled boughs and leaves in a flat, snowy circle, then covered that with a tarp, covered the tarp with about 10 inches of soft snow, poked sticks throughout the snow dome to check my progress and provide ventilation, and then waited about three hours for the snow to sinter. Finally, I dug out the boughs and leaves and tarp and sat inside. The thing worked: It cut the wind, held some of my heat, and seemed like a halfway decent spot to spend the night, in a pinch. But this wasn't a pinch, really, so when it got dark I returned home.

Rouse wasn't there for the quinzhee episode, but he concurred that The Survival Handbook was the best of the lot. He was especially enthusiastic about a section on making a "fire can" out of a shoe-polish tin. Rouse liked the book so much he attempted to make off with it, and I had to let him because, well, I didn't have a bola on me.

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Ryan Bradley is a writer and editor. He lives in New York.

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