Applying the KISS Principle to Survival

Dear Fellow Survivalist;

I’ve been around the survival community for most of my life. So I’ve had a chance to see a lot of different ideas, some good and some that were not so good. Lately, the number of new products and new ideas which have come out has accelerated, fueled by in increased interest in survival.

One of the areas where I’ve seen a lot of innovation is in fire starting. Sometimes, this gets to be a bit of a joke, as survival instructors try to outdo each other in the number of different fire starting techniques they know. I’ve seen just about everything you can imagine used to start a fire, including a block of ice, chopped from a frozen stream.

While there are times when those sorts of measures might be necessary, the whole idea of prepping is to avoid ending up in such a place. One key part of prepping is stockpiling supplies, with the express idea that you won’t have to rely on difficult and sometimes unreliable methods to survive.

While I can see where someone might need to be able to start a fire with a bow drill or even that block of ice, I would never go into the woods unprepared to survive. For that matter, I don’t drive to the corner store unprepared to survive. Part of that means having more than one fire starting technique available to me. So, about the only way I could end up needing such techniques is if someone kidnapped me and dumped me in the middle of the woods somewhere.

There are two key things that I see, which make me uncomfortable about some of these techniques. The first is that if you are in a survival situation, you can’t afford to waste time. Having time to waste while walking in the woods is called recreation, not survival. If that little hiking trip turns into a survival situation, it will probably happen near sundown, when there won’t be time to turn a block of ice into a lens or find the necessary materials to make a good bow drill.

The second, and actually more important key, is that in any survival situation, your abilities are going to be degraded by the situation. If it’s cold enough to need a fire, there’s a good chance that you’re already headed for hypothermia, with the reduced mental clarity and dexterity.

But even if it’s not cold, just being in a survival situation will cause adrenalin to course through your veins, preparing you for the fight or flight reaction. That will reduce your dexterity just as much. In either case, you’re going to have a hard time using your fingers to do any complex task. You’ll be lucky if you can strike a match without breaking it.

That’s why I’m a firm believer in applying the KISS principle to all my survival preparations. If you haven’t ever heard of it, KISS stands for “Keep it Simple Stupid.” Obviously we’re not talking about the hard rock band here, nor am I insulting you. I’m applying that to myself, so I’m the one that I’m calling stupid. And yes, in a true survival situation, I expect myself to be acting like I’m stupid. That’s why I want things to be simple.

In practical terms, this means that every survival tool and technique that we choose to use in our survival planning, especially our primary methods, should be as simple and foolproof as possible. Yes, go ahead and collect all those esoteric methods, just in case you have to use them sometime, and then do everything you can to ensure that you will never need any of them.

Let me give you one example; fire starting. This seems to be a favorite survival topic, so I’ll use it. Pretty much any survival instructor will tell you that you should have two primary and two secondary fire starters in your survival kit. Okay, fine; so what methods have you selected to fulfill that?

If you’re like most people, you’ve got waterproof matches and a disposable butane lighter as your primary fire starters. For your secondary ones the choices are broader, but I’d be willing to bet that you’ve got a Ferro Rod as one of them. But how well are you going to be able to use any of them if its windy and raining?

Matches and lighters have a horrible propensity to blow out in the wind. So if you’re going to carry them, they should be stormproof. While more expensive, spend the money on stormproof matches and a stormproof lighter. That way, you’ll be able to start your fire on the first try, even when it is windy and raining out.

For a sparker, why carry a Ferro Rod, when you can carry a BlastMatch or its little brother, the Sparkie? Not only do these create sparks like the Ferro Rod, but they create a lot more sparks and do so a whole lot easier. They are a direct application of the KISS principle.

So maybe it’s time to take another look at your survival gear, with an eye towards making sure that it will be easy to use, when you’re actually caught in a survival situation. In the mean time, keep your powder dry and that survival gear close at hand.

Dr. Rich

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