Monday, August 16, 2010

To Drink or Not to drink

I find it humorous that one of the most common questions I get asked while in class or workshops is “Can I drink my own urine?” Apparently, their reference to this odd practice is Bear “something or other” from the Discovery channel.

This controversial practice is one which is tossed back and forth between survival experts and authors on a regular basis. Seems each year news stories surface of survivors overcoming dehydration and emergency situations by consuming their own or others urine. Most often however, we don’t get the full picture of other determining factors in these survivors success (mental attitude, environmental factors, severity of dehydration etc.), thus propelling the myth further into the survivors lexicon.

To further understand and decipher this myth, let’s look at the facts:

• Urine is sterile when it leaves the body; it’s the contents of the “plumbing” which should cause immediate concern.
• Urine has a 2 to 3 day shelf life depending on environmental conditions, heat, humidity and method of storage.
• The color of urine is a prime indicator of hydration level*, the darker the fluid the greater the dehydration. Catching ones urine for drinking is best done while your body is properly hydrated and urine appears clear. *Certain medications and vitamins can darken urine, no matter hydration level.
• As the body dehydrates and available moisture used, urine becomes increasingly concentrated with waste: toxins, uric acid and sodium. Continued consumption of these in increasing doses can speed dehydration and cause possible renal failure, drastically enflaming the severity of the situation.
• The nature of survival situations in general, dictate that the severity of the situation is not realized until things turn for the worst: weather change, debilitating injury, darkness, early stages of hypothermia etc. Therefore, it’s a survival technique which should NOT be relied upon.

Understanding these simple physiological facts, we STRONGLY advise against drinking one’s own urine to re-hydrate (regardless of WHO does or promotes it), it is simply poor survival strategy.

The ability to address dehydration is a necessity for ALL outdoor enthusiasts and disaster preppers. Without this post evolving into a “book”, here are a few basics….

1. PLAN ahead: knowing natural sources and techniques for obtaining water from the environment. Know how to read the landscape and natural indicators (flora & fauna).
2. Be PREPARED: carry enough water* on your person to last the anticipated time in the outback and a means to make water “potable”, whether chemical, mechanical or pasteurization. *Its recommended 1 gallon per person per day.
3. KNOW the facts.

Stay healthy, mind-body-spirit! -Z

Monday, August 9, 2010

Myth of the Mylar Space blanket….

Was out hiking the other evening with some friends who did not seem prepared for any type of adventure, even a couple of miles into the front-country. They each carried a small "Camelbak" its free pocket stuffed with a few energy bars and two Emergency Mylar Space blankets. I inquired, “what will you do if an emergency occurs”. Each of them referred to their "space blanket" and cell phones as “survival” tools.

I have heard this claim many times before, "a space blanket provides an adequate shelter and can keep one comfortable on an unexpected night out". I have always said “the term space blanket is a falsehood; the thin plastic sheet is neither a miracle material nor a blanket”. Don’t believe the marketing claims!

By definition: "Blankets" trap heat in insulating pockets of dead air space, the thicker the insulation the higher the heat retention value. Blankets do not add heat, they simply trap it.

A thin plastic sheet has no insulating properties; the plastic barrier immediately becomes as cold as the snow, rock or cool wind and will immediately conduct that cold through wet clothing to the body, possibly effecting your core body temperature. A space blanket is not a blanket, nor an effective barrier between you and the environment.

While the Mylar Space blanket is not completely useless, with a little improvisation it can be RE-purposed to meet the needs of many a survivor:

• The aluminized material does in fact reflect radiant heat, just not body heat, used behind a fire or in the rear of a shelter as a heat reflector, can increase shelter temps dramatically. Also effective in providing shade in a desert environment.
• Can be worn under clothing as an effective “vapor barrier”, reducing convective heat loss.
• Aluminized Mylar material is translucent, can be worn over face and eyes as emergency sunglasses, reducing sun exposure and possible sun or snow blindness.
• Opened, the reflective surface makes an excellent rescue signal. Waved as a flag or beach towel in the sun, sends off a large reflection with the effect of a huge broken mirror.
• The polyester material the aluminum is bound to can be: used as a fire starter, cut into strips and twisted into cordage and used in a depression to collect, store and boil water w/ hot stones.

• When enclosed in the material, it is extremely noisy, possibly drowning out the yells of rescuers or SAR aircraft.
• The fragile state of an opened blanket is evident immediately; a small nick and breeze can result in shreds of Space blanket material. Usually these blankets are made too small in size for an average adult and require both hands to keep in place.
• As stated above, they are technically NOT a “blanket” & are ineffective in capturing, retaining and reflecting body heat.
• While extremely compact and lightweight, opening one can be extremely difficult, especially in any wind or with an injury, getting it back into its previous folded size is a feat for the Gods...
• THE biggest drawback of Mylar Space blankets: they are perishable. Their sensitivity to light and heat can, with time, produce a brittle, unmanageable and flaking state. Most preppers store these in their emergency kits for years, occupying valuable space, and may be unreliable when needed.

"So If I remove the Space blankets from my emergency packs, is there an alternative?"

While lacking the compact nature and light weight of the space blanket, there are a number of effective alternatives. 1) A clear 55 gallon drum liner is perhaps one of the most useful items one can carry. Its possible uses are only limited by your imagination. 2) Adventure Medical's Heatsheet Bivy, a lightweight, durable, immediate shelter. 3) Lastly, lets not forget your #1 line of defense against the elements: Proper Clothing. Dress for the worse, hope for the best.

Stay healthy, mind-body-spirit! -Z