Tag Archives: survival

Bushwalking Skills | Making a Bushwalking Aide-memoire

Do you lead bushwalks? Thought about carrying an aide-memoire  for emergencies? What resources will you need?

In the nineties, when I was actively upgrading my bushwalk leadership qualifications, I kept an aide-memoire to help me remember the key points of bushwalking for in-the-field examinations. This was initially kept in several “Granny’s brag books”,  4″ x 6″ photo albums with the cardboard stiffeners removed and with the individual plastic pockets sealed, then progressed to a Sharp Organiser, then to a Palm PDA and finally to my Nokia Smartphone, before being archived to a wiki (see link above). To keep the number of “album” pages to a minimum, the text was reduced to 7 pt.

The first aid was collated from Senior First Aid courses which I did with St John’s and the Red Cross, with additional information added from wilderness first aid courses and books I had read.

 Disclaimer: Although I culled information, which I knew was out-of-date, when I first set up this wiki, I have not updated the first aid information for the last few years, and as some things change every few years eg snake bite and EAR, the aide-memoire needs to be checked with an up-to-date first aid manual.

For many years, I carried this information, in note form, as a resource for emergencies, especially when leading bushwalks to remote areas of Australia. You might find such a concept useful, and perhaps be able to use the topic outline as  a worthwhile starting point.

If I was making one today, I would add it as a pdf to my Smartphone, which I usually carry with me. You could of course use your camera-equipped smartphone to copy relevant pages from books and save as a photo album. If you carry a Kindle with you, for your light reading, you have another alternative. However, in a pinch, I think “Granny’s brag book” would prove to be the most reliable of them all!

Recently I have added some excellent  leadership articles by Rick Curtis (Director, Outdoor Action Program), which no longer seem to be online at his website. This material is the Group Development and Leadership Chapter from his Outdoor Action Program Leader’s Manual. You can find some of the more useful articles in the sidebar to the right, under Bushwalking Resources, and the rest in my wiki. The text may be freely distributed for nonprofit educational use. However, if included in publications, written or electronic, attributions must be made to the author. Commercial use of this material is prohibited without express written permission from the author. Copyright © 1995 Rick Curtis, Outdoor Action Program, Princeton University.

I’d love to know if you carry an “aide-memoire”, what type and what it contains.

Other related leadership articles
See Categories or Labels in the sidebar on the right.

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SAS Survival Guide: an iPhone App Review for Bushwalkers

I purchased the pocket sized COLLINS GEM SAS Survival Guide (384 pages) back in 1993 and have often referred to it since, although I have never taken it on a bushwalk. Only last week I used it to find the ground-to-air signals for helicopter rescue.

“Written by former SAS soldier and instructor, John “Lofty” Wiseman, this application brings you the elite training techniques of Britain’s toughest fighting force in the most accessible version ever. Now you can take the world-class survival skills of the SAS with you anywhere in the world – from the peaks of Kilimanjaro to the deserts of Kandahar…or to your closest national park.

This is the digital version (released June 2010) of this book, and comes in two versions, one free, which contains a small selection of the total. The full version contains the complete book optimised for viewing on the iPhone. Neither version is localised for Australia, which means that the animals and plants are  from the northern hemisphere. This is not necessarily a disadvantage, as many of these exotic plants eg blackberry are also found in Australia.

There appears to be little attempt to update the contents and this is most obvious in the first aid section where the artificial resuscitation methods badly need updating eg the Holger Nielson and Silvester techniques  which I last used in my Royal Lifesaving days in the 60’s and 70’s are recommended.

SAS Survival Guide

The Full app contains:
•Full text, in 9 chapters, of the bestselling book optimised for the iPhone
•16 videos providing invaluable survival tips from Lofty himself
•Photo galleries of edible, medicinal and poisonous plants
•Morse Code signalling device
•100 + question quiz to test if you’ve got what it takes to survive
•Survival Checklist
•Sun Compass
•Search tool to scan entire book by subject
•Extreme Climate Survival: sections on surviving Polar, Desert, Tropical, and Sea
•Comprehensive First Aid section NB Needs updating

SAS Survival Guide Lite

The Lite App Contains:
•Basic survival information including: building fires, finding water, navigating by the stars, survival kit, signals and codes
•Photo galleries of cloud spotting, night sky navigation, and more
•Video of Lofty Wiseman demonstrating knife skills
•100+ question quiz to test if you’ve got what it takes to survive
•Survival checklist to help you prepare for trips
•Search the app by keyword for quick reference

This version is a “must have” for any bushwalker, but of course you can only read it when your iPhone batteries are not flat. You will need to be able to keep your iPhone charged  to be able to use the app.

Do I think the paid version (USD $5.99) is worthwhile? The original book cost me $7.95 many years ago and the digital version has additional information, so you would have to say yes, especially with the extra features such as videos, Morse Code Signaller, search tool and Sun Compass. But is it expensive? Yes!

Adittional Features

1. Morse Code Signalling Device

This  allows you to automatically produce both the audio and synchronised flashing light for common emergency messages such as SOS, mayday, and help but can send any message you wish by simply typing in the sentence. It is easy to use and does exactly as it should.

2. Sun Compass

Many of us have been taught to work out north by bisecting the angle between the hour of the day and the sun, but how many of us can remember how to do it when we need to do so. This inbuilt app does it automatically, with easy step-by-step instructions.

3. Photo-galleries

These colour “how to” slideshows  show step by step how to achieve such essential tasks as:

How to build a fire. How to build a solar still.How to trap water. Night sky navigation.Cloud spotting

Other categories include

Making a camp. Wild food. Polar Climate. Desert and Tropics. Sea and Coast. Hunting. First Aid

4. Videos

Contents of a survival tin. Fern Cover. Night navigation. Shelter . Location. Waterbag. Gutting. Sun Compass. Solar still. Rationing. Sand stove. Trapping. Fire. Survival Situation. Knife Skills. Snow Hole

6. Checklists include:

Survival kit
Survival pouch
Medical Kit

In my opinion, this is excellent value for such a high quality and useful resource and a must have for bushwalkers.

View other related iPhone posts

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Bushwalking Rescue: Emergency Beacons and Personal Tracking Systems

What communication device should I take with me on a bushwalk to a remote area? What about a satellite or mobile phone? Why should I replace my EPIRB with a PLB? What alternatives are there to a PLB? What are the advantages and disadvantages of a SPOT ?

Traditionally, when walking in a remote area, you always walked with a least three others so that if one person sustained an injury, two of the group could go for help, while the other looked after the injured person. With the availability of satellite technology and sometimes simply a mobile (cell) phone, it is possible to seek help from where the injured person is located rather than have to walk to the nearest road or homestead.

Most people are familiar with the mobile phone, which has excellent range if there is line of sight. This means that sometimes, even in supposedly remote areas, there will be good reception from a mountain top or ridge line. If you are within range of a tower used by your carrier then your family of friends can contact you too; it is not just one way. In an emergency, by dialling 000 or 112 your phone can access the tower of a competitor and effectively roam between carriers depending on which has the best signal.

For more information

Bushwalking Rescue: Emergency Communications by Cell or Mobile Phone

Satellite phones can achieve the same as a mobile phone, but even when there is no line of sight or the distance from the nearest tower is too great. Both the phone itself and the plan are expensive, so for many this is not an option. They do however offer the advantage that your family or friends are able to get in contact with you if they wish as it allows two way communication.

Emergency Beacons

Many bushwalkers had been using an EPIRB ( Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) which until February 2009  provided the extra layer of security in remote areas, but this had a very poor accuracy*, as low as 20 km, low power and time lag in activation. The alert frequency from the EPIRB (121.5 MHz) is no longer monitored by rescue authorities so they are now useless and should be disposed of carefully. Battery World provides such a service free of charge.

This has now been replaced by a PLB, which operates at  two frequencies, the higher 406 MHz to give the satellite alert and the lower 121.5 MHz provides the final homing signal for the search aircraft. The more expensive models have a GPS in-built which means that not only can an alert be given, but that the exact location of the injured or lost person can be given. This is a great improvement and dramatically reduces the search time as the location is given to within 100m. Without a GPS, they have an accuracy of about 5 km.  They must be registered so that emergency authorities can access details of next-of-kin to check that it is not a false alarm. They also have access your route plan if you have registered it. PLBs only offer a one way service: user to emergency rescue services. They can be hired form a variety of sources depending on location.

Check the Australian Maritime Safety website for details of approved models . If purchasing from overseas check with ACMA that it meets Australian requirements.


* Communications for Bushwalkers Rik Head Bush Search and Rescue Victoria (Version 1.0 March 2009) pdf

Satellite Personal Tracking Systems

SPOT  gen3 is an example of a handheld system which is capable of sending your position by satellite to a list of friends and  can also be displayed on Google maps. If you need help, a message can be sent using a preset list of custom messages. In a life threatening emergency, there is a SOS button which sends a message and is relayed by GEOS to the AMSA RCC as for a PLB.


  • Works were you mobile (cell) phone has no reception
  • Allows customised messages to friends
  • Allows automatic tracking of your position at regular intervals
  • Relatively low cost purchase price


It is a one way system like the PLB, with no messages from friends possible. There is a  yearly subscription fee in addition to the purchase price. Currently the basic fee is USD $115 and the tracking option fee an additional USD $49.99 Purchase price is less than AUD $200 with free shipping.



You Tube User Review  SPOT 2

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Bushwalking Rescue: Emergency Evacuation by Helicopter

Have you ever needed a helicopter rescue? Ever raised the alarm using your (personal locator beacon) PLB or marine EPIRB? What can you do to make the landing or winching site safer? How can you attract attention and give signals to a circling aircraft? What information do you need to provide?

Well I’m fortunate and have never needed a helicopter rescue, neither has anyone in any of my groups. Nor have I ever had to raise the alarm using my PLB (personal locator beacon) or EPIRB, but I have walked in lots of areas in Tasmania where this is a regular occurrence, either due to poor weather, bushfire or injury.

On occasions, I have seen a helicopter circling and wondered whether someone is in trouble. On one occasion I was approached on a track by Parks and Wildlife staff who had been in radio contact with a rescue helicopter which had been circling and were trying to locate a person who had set off an EPIRB (emergency beacon) and then left the spot, tuning off their beacon when they left.

On most of my walks into isolated areas I have taken an EPIRB ( no longer licensed), now replaced by a PLB. Walking in the Gammon Ranges and further north I have taken a VHF radio for communication with nearby homesteads. Along the south coast and south west coast of Tasmania,  I have taken a marine radio for communication with passing fishing boats. Of course I always have my signalling mirror and mobile phone with me!

Alerting Rescue Services

Modern technology has provided us with several devices

NB Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife has PLBs for hire

    Alert Detection

    Radio distress beacons operate on 406 MHz with a 121.5 MHz transmission feature being used for final stage homing.
    NOTE: After 1 Feb 2010, old analogue EPIRBs and PLBs operating on 121.5 MHz are no longer licenced for use.
    The technology of distress beacons is so advanced that the location of the boat, aircraft or individual in distress can be calculated to a search area of as little as 110m with a digital 406 MHz beacon, if encoded with GPS.
    A digital 406 MHz beacon can relay much more information than simply the distress location.  When registered properly with AMSA, 406 MHz distress beacon can provide the RCC Australia with information such as the registration details of the aircraft, vessel or vehicle as well as emergency contact names and contact numbers.   This may allow further information to be gathered relating to the type of craft, survival gear carried and the number of people on board etc.  REGISTRATION IS FREE.
    After defining the search area, aircraft or other rescue craft rely on homing equipment to locate the beacon’s exact position.
    It is important that once a beacon is switched on in a distress situation you should not switch it off until rescue has been affected or you are advised to by the rescue authority. ”  Australian Marine Safety Authority

      Traditional methods include

      • lighting signal fires: three fires in a triangle for an emergency.  Have green vegetation handy to create smoke.
      • signaling with a mirror:  lightweight signaling mirrors with a hole in the middle to assist location are cheap
      • laying out markers and recognised symbols

      Ground to Air Signals

      • V require assistance
      • X require medical assistance
      • SOS: repetition of 3 signals, separated by a minute

      The following universal signals  are for strip signals, recommended to be built from rocks or tree branches or dug in the ground and are designed to be seen from the air. Make your signal big ( 6 -10m  by 1 m, with at least 3 m between symbols) so that it can be seen from a distance, and select a highly visible location.

      Wilderness Survival Forum

      N – No, Negative
      Y,  or A – Yes, Affirmative
      A square – require map and compass

      Preparing the landing area

      • Chopper can only descend vertically 15 metres
      • Select landing spot with clear approach and exit into the wind, clear 25m diam landing spot with a further 5m no more than 60 cm high, no more than 10% slope.
      • Mark landing area with a large H
      • Streamers or smoke to mark wind direction
      • Clear the landing spot of loose debris. Eye protection should be worn.
      • Approach helicopter from front & lower side on slope only when signaled.

      Abandoning Camp

      If you have to abandon camp, leave clear direction markers to show where you have gone and continue to mark the track, so you know if you have doubled back.


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      My "Personal Survival Kit" (PSK)

      Survival Kit in a Sardine Can
      Its amazing how many different “personal” or “minimum”,”emergency” or “survival” kits (PSK) lists there are in existence. Every bushwalking book seems to have a different one. Try A Google search…. I found hundreds of thousands of references. Try searching YouTube and you get 68 videos showing how to put one together.

      Why are there so many when they all aim to provide water, fire, food, shelter in an emergency?

      Of course, many of these references are not entirely relevant to bushwalkers, who have to carry whatever is in their kit and therefore must make savings in both weight and volume. 

      So why is there no universal list for bushwalkers?

      Well some items do seem to appear in all lists, in one form or another, but the inclusion of others depends on the priority you give to provision of water, shelter and food or whether your focus is upon thermal regulation, hydration, and signaling.

      Perusing an equipment list from the 1965 edition of ‘Equipment for Mountaineering’ published by the Melbourne University Mountaineering Club we find a whole lot of items that the modern  lightweight and minimal impact walker would never carry or which have been replaced by better alternatives.

      tomahawk, machete, handkerchieves, tin opener, cigarettes, Dubbin, song book, sharpening stone, boots with nails  …..

      Another list from the mid eighties

      • water 1L 
      • whistle on a string around neck  
      • pencil and paper 
      • waterproof matches or cigarette lighter  
      • woollen jumper 
      • hat 
      • first aid (personal) (FAK)
      • waterproof jacket 
      • cord 
      What changes are needed after all these years?
      Well I think I would add at least four items which have become readily available since then: 

       I would then add some of the following or replace items in the list above with

      • micro-compass (if your not confident to use the sun or don’t have an iPhone or a GPS with an digital compass in built or if you don’t trust the batteries)
      • magnesium flint lighter as an alternative to a cigarette lighter
      • emergency blanket 
      • water purification tablets or water purifying straw
      • signaling mirror
      • flexible wire saw (to make tent pegs and poles)
      • fire lighters or solid fuel tablets
      • candle
      • collapsible water containers eg condoms hold 1L and can be protected by a spare sock
      • needles and thread
      • safety pins
      • scalpel blade(s)
      • length of plastic tubing for siphoning or to reach inside rock cavities or “yabbie” holes
      • cable ties
      Often it is possible to combine some of the items eg a whistle, compass, thermometer, magnifying lens, signalling mirror, torch (Coghlan 6 in 1)

      Now you have the kit, what sort of container should you keep it in?

      A lightweight waterproof bag or perhaps a light weight metal container that can also serve to heat water in? Perhaps you could combine your PSK with your personal first aid kit.

      Where will you keep it? 

      On your person at all times! Ever fallen down into a creek going for water or got lost going to the loo…. some people do? This kit is designed to be carried on you at all times and to supplement things that you would normally carry in your clothing or on your belt.

      The PSK should supplement what is being carried in you pack ( see later blog) and this in turn will be determined by
      • weather (storms, season, heavy rain, cold, sun)
      • terrain (river crossings, snow, mud)
      • vegetation (prickly)
      Some additional reading:

      Want a “real” wilderness survival kit? 

      The quest for perfect PSK is never ending

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