Guest Blog: Mo, A Weekend in the Woods
I am a British Army veteran that served 21 years in total finishing as a SNCO in 2007. Since I finished I jumped head first into carving out a new career in Civvy street. Over the last few years my work has become more stressful with more time spent away from home. I needed a way to distress and reading and walking wasn’t cutting it anymore. While speaking to my son one day I was talking about my operational time, setting up Observation posts and watching suspects forlong periods of time, hidden in woods, hedges or ditches. Then it hit me ... it was about time I got back to nature and spent some time out on the land. This time I wouldn’t have to worry about being tactical or silent or have a hard routine of cold food, what a relief! I would though, I decided need to learn some bush craft and treat the area I stayed out at with respect.
I realised I had 3 issues to deal with:
Learn bush craft basics -
This was simple, I bought some books and watched plenty of you tube videos, I realised I knew the basics quite well but just needed to tweak some methods of what I do.
Find some land to stay on -
I soon understood times had changed since I left home as a child to enlist. When I was young you could pretty much camp out anywhere but not so much nowadays. It took a while but I finally found a farmer with plenty of land that would trust an old soldier to stay out on the land without causing a mess or burning it down!
Gather the right equipment -
I did not have hardly any kit left from leaving the Army so I knew I needed to get my admin sorted out before thinking about staying outdoors safely.
This is where Trauma Survival Kits came in. After speaking to Alison at the company I soon realised that although they specialise in Trauma first aid it is not all they do.
I came to realise that they supply bug out bags and supply them for one or two people or you could get in touch and request what you think you need. That is what I decided to do and Alison was very helpful with this, discussing with me what we thought I would require for my new interest.
I dug out a bivvy/basha and a sleeping system from the attic but knew I would need pretty much everything else.
The first thing I looked at was their bug out bags, they had a good range and I got myself a black Molle system type bergan.
The modern Molle style bergan is very practical as it has the fitted loops that can be used to attach other similar types of equipment allowing you to build up on the basic pack.
The bergan has plenty of pouches and pockets on it. I found the straps and back part to be quite well padded for comfort. The top of the bergan also has a grab handle which I always find very useful when needing to move the bergan quickly.
The bergan also has quite good sized side pouches for extra room to carry kit.
I decided to get some rations too (food always being close to my heart)! TSK sells 24 hour ration packs based very closely to the British Army ration pack. The first thing I noticed was it has improved in recent years. And lets not mention the old tin cans we used to get when I first joined!
While the ration pack has its usual 3 main meals I noticed that there is a strong influence on also having eat as you go food and drink. Nutritionists realised a while ago that main meals are fine but if you are doing physical work you need to graze during the day too to keep energy levels up and to keep hydrated. I found that these ration packs had more than enough for a 24 hour period, even for me! They also have a varied supply of brew kit for all tastes when making a hot brew.
Some other bits of kit I thought I would need were:
A metal water bottle I still had an old 58 pattern one but knew I needed more and thought I would try the metal bottle.
An entrenching tool would need one to clear away an area to put the ground sheet and to dig a fire pit (also for digging a latrine if needed). TSK sell one based on the military folding version. This worked very well over the weekend.
A first aid kit I learnt years ago not to go anywhere without a first aid kit. As the old adage goes, better to have one and not need it rather than need one and not have it. Luckily TSK are excellent suppliers of first aid trauma kits so it was easy to pick and choose as needed.
A waterproof notebook as it has been so long since I had been out for a few days I realised that a notebook would be valuable as I wanted to log what I saw, heard and experienced, something I think is an important part of bush craft.
A glow stick because, why not, I was not in a tactical situation anymore, why not have a nice low light in the camp if needed at night.
A wind up radio and torch both very useful when staying out for a while.
A head torch TSK supplied a Petzl Tikkina head torch for me, something that is vital if staying out at night.
So I got packed up and away I went, my son had also "volunteered" to go with me. We decided it would not feel right as an experience unless we spent a few hours walking first so of we set. After about 3 hours we got to the area we had permission to stay at. We just needed to find a small area right to set up camp. We eventually found the perfect site.
As one of us put the basha up the other worked on a well earned brew. TSK had also supplied a set of mess tins and a cooking kit. The mess tins were again just like the British Army ones and the cooking kit was just the same as the Army’s Heximine stove system.
We then set about making our new home more comfortable and setting up a fire. My son was rightly proud once he had set up a fire with a fire steel and some kindling. Whilst I had full confidence in him, matches were on standby!
As evening came it was time for food! The food was heated using the cooker and I have to say the cooking fuel blocks lasted very well. Oh and the rationed food tasted great!
As evening came it was time to keep the fire going, crush a glow stick for someambient camp light and as a bit of a trial we tried a survival tube, supplied againby TSK to see what it was like. I have to say as it has a foil inner to reflect body heat back it was surprisingly warm to use. It is packed into quite a small compressed packet so takes up very little room and seems to be well worth having for any emergency if you get caught out.
The wind up radio proved to be more useful than I had thought it would be, as we were not tactical and could make noise it was quite relaxing to have a radio on, but this would also prove very useful if I genuinely needed to keep up to date with the news for example. The wind up system means there is no need for electricity of any type. It also has a back up torch on it too, very handy.
So now it was night time. I used the Petzl head torch which, when I switched it on I thought yes this has good coverage at night. Only when I went to switch it off did I see its second mode, which pretty much lit up the entire wood, extremely impressive.
Incidentally the glow stick was still going strong in the morning.
Once it was sadly time to pack up the clean up began, all kit was double checkedto make sure we left nothing behind. We then carried out two very important tasks:
There was a river just below our position so we fetched many litres of water and we drenched the area that the fire had been on. This is important as in the summer your fire may well have heated up the ground well below the surface and cause a fire risk once you leave so we deeply soaked the area.
We set the area back into its original state before we left, all ground litter was brushed back where it was, all ropes, parachute cord (also supplied by TSK) and the like cleared and of course no litter left. The plan should be to leave the area back to nature as if you were never there.
To summarise I think I have now found the de-stressor that I have been looking for. More importantly, I had a great bit of quality time bonding with my son (and meeting a nosey badger in the middle of the night). This is now something I plan to do at least once a month from now on.
Finally I want to thanks Alison and all at Trauma Survival Kits for being so helpful. They are very easy to talk to and are prepared to spend the time to make sure you have what you need when you need it. I realised I could have spent weeks or months looking in Army surplus stores and the like to slowly build up all this kit but I got it at a one-stop shop in a very painless way. The equipment is very reasonably priced but good enough quality to meet your needs.
Well done guys and thanks again for helping me set off on what I hope is a very long journey in bush craft and basically chilling out!
Best Wishes, Mo