Staying Alive

By James Carron

Should the worst ever happen and you have an accident which leaves you stranded in the hills, your chances of survival can be greatly reduced if you don't have the right kit with you.
Even in apparently benign conditions, cold can set in quickly and this can not only sap morale but lead to serious problems, such as hypothermia, a potential killer. There are, however, some very inexpensive pieces of kit which can greatly improve your chances of survival. Here we have a look at some of the basic survival aids, and highlight a number of other useful products available to outdoor enthusiasts.

Perry whistle.
A must have for all walkers, this is plastic and virtually indestructible. There's no pea inside to freeze up in cold weather and it's lighter than a metal whistle. You'll find most walkers and climbers use a length of nylon to attach it to their compass, keeping your two most important pieces of survival gear together. If the worst happens, you can use this to attract attention. Costs under £1.

Survival bag
Every walker should have one of these stuffed down at the bottom of their rucksack. Chances are it will remain there untouched for months, if not years, but it could just prove to be a lifesaver if you get stranded in bad conditions with no shelter. Made from tough, heavy gague plastic and usually orange in colour, most come printed with survival instructions on the side. Apart from providing an emergency bivi-bag, they come in handy for stowing rucksacks if you're camping and room is a little limited inside your tent. You can also use your bag as a makeshift groundsheet when sitting on damp grass and, in the snow, they make fine lightweight sledges. Available in single and double sizes, expect to pay between £2 and £3.

Thermal mountain blankets and bags
Lifesystems and Polarwrap make a selection of foil-coated reflective blankets (like the things you see marathon runners draped in at the end of the race) and bags. The metal foil reflects and retains body heat to keep you warm and the blanket protects against wind-chill. They come in one and two person sizes and prices range from £3.99 to £10. There£s also an all-weather blanket which can be used as a groundsheet at £17.99.

Emergency shelter
Half way between a survival bag and a tent, this is a simple, lightweight and easy to use portable shelter which can be used virtually anywhere. There are no strings or poles - you climb inside and it drapes itself around you. Potentially life-saving in an emergency, you can also use it as your own wee portable bothy for lunch stops or tea breaks in wet weather. There are an assortment of sizes on the market. The Blokka Bag version is available in two and four person models (£36 and £45 respectively). Field & Trek market their own F&T Bothy at £35 for the small (three person) model and £67 for the large (10 persons) model. These weight 510g and 1100g respectively.

Lifeboat matches
You can strike these wind and waterproof matches in any conditions. They will even light when wet! A plastic tub of 25 will cost about £3. Cyclone offer a plastic contained of 22 matches for £1.99.

Some other ideas...

Survival tin
Housed in an old fashioned 50g tobacco-style tin, this little piece of kit contains some handy pieces of equipment and you don't have to go to war to make use of it all. There's a wee button compass which could be pressed into service if you lose your Silva. There's also a small candle which is good for a couple of hours of light, a flint and striker which will get a stove going and a book of matches. There's also a sewing kit and a selection of safety pins, plus a plastic emergency whistle, a wire saw, pencil and some water purifying tablets. If you fancy catching some wildlife for supper, there's even a length of wire which can be fashioned into a snare and a small fishing kit complete with line, hooks and weights. There's even a tiny locking knife with a sharp inch and a half long blade. If you're not sure how to make best use of any of the items, such as the snare wire, there's a useful sheet of instructions. It takes up very little space in the rucksack and, even if you're not planning to emulate the SAS, is very useful on backpacking trips. Availablerom BCB International at £9.50.

Handy to have if you become stranded in remote terrain, but expensive. The Pains Wessex Miniflare 3 kit is compact and contains eight 10,000 watt candela flares housed in a tough rubber case. A pencil gun for firing is included and the manufacturer claims they will reach a height of 80 metres.rice: £34. Not available to persons under 18.

Survival strobe
As an alternative to flares, you could consider packing this waterproof strobe light, made by Lifesystems. Running off one 1.5 volt battery, it emits around 60 flashes a minute for 16 hours and should be visible up to three miles away in good visibility. However, if you're having to use this,hances are the visibility won't be that good. £25.

All products listed here are available by mail order from Field & Trek (Tel 01268 494444) and Cotswold (Tel 01285 643434), or from your outdoor shop.