Article Review: Keeping it Real with Les Stroud

“Keeping it Real with Les Stroud: Survivorman is Here to Crush the Most Common Survival Myths”, Survivor’s Edge by Michael D’Angona, Winter-Spring 2017, p.7-11.

 

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Les Stroud

The topic of survival provides much to discuss between Michael D’Angona and one of the most recognized personalities in the survival world, Les Stroud. The interview of survival expert Les Stroud gives the reader a glimpse into his mind and heart on a broad spectrum of topics that are of interest to survivalists and outdoor enthusiasts. Les Stroud is the founder of Les Stroud Productions, which produces the Survivorman television series primarily for the Canadian network, Outdoor Life Network, and has aired in the United States in cooperation with Discovery Communications since 2006. The interview covers some five pages in the current (Winter-Spring 2017) edition of Survivor’s Edge magazine.

 

D’Angona introduces the article with a general overview of the misconceptions that most people have regarding the realities of actual survival in an austere environment. He says, “Often people miss the fine points of survival when they are just reading up on it or watching a show about it.” This statement provides the theme for the discussion with Les Stroud. After the introduction, the author segues into the interview by asking Les, “What do you believe is the biggest misconception that people have about survival?” The interview then moves from the general topic of survival to specific aspects of survival (e.g. tools and equipment, survival psychology, and education and training), the article ends with a question regarding survival television with Stroud’s answers.  Les Stroud’s remarks recorded in the pages of this article are set in the context of naming and clarifying some misconceptions about the realities of survival.  Overall, the article gives those new to the survival interest some helpful tips and important advice. Those who have been fans of Les Stroud and Survivorman for many years will find some repeated thoughts that Les has articulated over the years, especially in regards to survival television.

One of the more insightful questions that Les Stroud answered was about analyzing the survival decisions of others, who are in the field. Les answered, “When they say, ‘I could do that’, I say, ‘Yes, you are absolutely right—you could do that; anyone can learn to survive.’ When they say, ‘He should’ve done this or that,’ I say, ‘Oh yeah, well, you weren’t there and until you’re in the same situation, you shouldn’t judge what someone else might do or not do to survive. Armchair survivalists are no different than armchair athletes.” This is an important perspective for those just starting out in survival and woodsmanship or they are seasoned veterans with accumulated years of field time developing their field craft. It is easy to make decisions when one’s body is hydrated, properly fed, rested, and under no psychological or emotional duress, especially as a passive observer of some else’s experience. Yet, when the realities of being stranded or lost set in, the abilities in decision-making and critical thinking become affected. It seems that changing one’s paradigm from being lost or stranded to being safe and secure at home has more of an influence on survival decisions than methodical, logically thought out progressively intentional decisions (i.e. “I got get out of here!” vs. “Ok, here I am, now how do I get out of here”). Thus, until you are in a stranded or lost situation, there is no legitimate way of knowing what kind of decisions that you would make. Therefore, Les cautions the reader to be careful about second guessing others.

The most important tip that Les offers in this interview is found in his answer to the question that relates to depending on someone else’s abilities and knowledge in a survival situation. He relates that when he is with a couple, he asks them what they are carrying and usually the husband speaks up and delineates what he is carrying for survival in his pack. Les, then, states the following, “I pull the wife aside and I ask her what she has, which usually ends up with her telling her husband, ‘See, I told you I should have my own pack!’ But this doesn’t mean that teamwork and relying on others isn’t also part of survival. It is.” This harkens to a military concept of each person carrying the same items in their rucksacks. Soldiers, Marines, and Special Operations personnel, who carry rucksacks into the field use a basic packing list of items that each member of the group is to carry in their packs. Obviously, clothing sizes vary, but some items can be collected from a fallen service member’s rucksack in the heat of a combat situation (e.g. first aid kits, signal or lighting items, fire making items, land navigation items, ammunition, knives, multi-tools, food, canteens, personal hygiene items, cordage, etc.). This is what Les is implying here in his response. The wife should have the same survival items in her backpack that are in her husband’s pack. Moreover, she should be just as knowledgeable and proficient with them as her husband. Additionally, they should be communicating to each other as to what survival items are in their packs. Then, if the husband should become incapacitated in some way, the wife can continue and not become debilitated in her survival efforts. The concept that Les is articulating applies not only to a husband/wife team but to anyone who is with an outdoors partner or group.

One of the more interesting responses that Les gives in this interview are on the topic of survival reality television. D’Angona asks Les two questions regarding survival reality television. All of which are in the context of dispelling misconceptions about real-world survival. The first question that Les fields from D’Angona is about the mixed messages that the general television audience receives from reality survival television. Les answers by making a correlation between watching the Olympics on television and attempting to intentionally do a particular event without training. The rhetorical response that Les outlines has the obvious answer that you would not do it. The same is true of watching survival television and trying to intentionally do survival outdoors without training. You would not do it. The second question that Les answers regarding reality survival television is also about how easy reality television makes surviving look verses continually working at your field craft. He goes on to give some specific names of television programs that can be misleading about survival; Man v. Wild (Bear Grylls), Dual Survival, Naked and Afraid, and Alone.

The last show named by Les, Alone, has generated some backlash against Les by some of the former contestants of the show Alone. Unfortunately, is seems that some of the critics of Les, by these former contestants of Alone, did not keep the context of the interview in mind before they took Stroud’s critique personally and began circulating their disappointments via social media. The truth of the matter is that Les (as well as Cody Lundin) is correct in his assessment of reality survival television verses the realities of actual survival. It is my assessment that Les Stroud’s comments were not a dig at the field craft acumen, survival ability, or survival endurance experiences of individuals in the field while filming a survival television program. Rather, his comments are coming from a broader perspective in articulating the dichotomy between television reality and the real-world realities of being lost at sea, stranded in a snow storm, or lost in the wilderness with so safety structure to fall back on.  Therefore, Les’ comments are a sobering reminder that there is no substitute for what Dave Canterbury calls, “dirt time”.  Les Stroud reminds us in his “Patagonia” episode of Survivorman season 7, “You can’t watch a survival program on T.V. and head out and imitate it. It’s not safe. It’s taken me years to know what I know, to have learned what I’ve learned and I practiced hundreds and hundreds of times with other people before I ever attempted anything alone.”

The interview article by Michael D’Angona with survival expert, television personality, and musician Les Stroud was an excellent read. It offers great insights and advice to survival novices and survival veterans alike. Photos by Laura Bombier give a refreshing touch to this article. Her photographs reinforce the fact that Les Stroud is a credible, experienced survival expert that everyone can learn from in regards to survival in the outdoors. D’Angona did a wonderful job interviewing Les Stroud. This article should be read by everyone interested in Les Stroud, Survivorman, survival, or the outdoors.

William H. Lavender, II

Lynchburg, VA.

 

Gear Review: Kelty Redwing 50 Backpack (M/L)

This is the post excerpt.

January 28, 2017

357caaf2-43bf-4fbb-ab84-5a5b929ed7e0The interest in hiking, backpacking, and other outdoor activities has grown exponentially over the last twenty years. The growth in materials technology has also contributed to a wider variety of gear that is both durable, safe, practical, and economical. The growth in the survival related programing on television has also helped the outfitter industries. One such company that has enjoyed the benefits of the growing interest in the outdoors has been Kelty® out of Boulder, Colorado. One of their signature backpacks is the Redwing 50. The “50” stands for 50 liters in volume.

I purchased this backpack from Amazon® back in January of this year. The reason for the purchase was that I was wanting to get away from the more tactical looking packs with all of the MOLLE webbing sewn on them along with the military looking color assortments. The pack that I was looking for had to have volume, could carry a water bladder, and carry enough essential gear for a good day hike or an overnight stay in the woods. My research revealed that the kind of backpack required for such a short stay in the outdoors had to have between a 45-55 liter capacity. This is the basic volume for a tactical three-day assault pack. The backpack that I was looking for had to also fit within my budget. Most of the quality backpacks that can be found meeting these criteria were as low as $150 USD and as high as $500 USD, depending on the vendor or retailer. To my surprise, the Kelty Redwing 50 came up on Amazon® under $100 USD. This was not a deal too-good-to-be-true. Rather, I learned later that Kelty® had made some minor design changes to the pack and this particular version was being phased out.

Characteristics

The pack arrived in the typical Amazon® logo delivery box. I was immediately impressed with how light and yet sturdy the pack was after it was removed from its packaging. Its empty weight is about 3 ½ lbs. The material that the pack is made of is 420/450 D nylon. This is a tough abrasive resistant material. It also has some water resistant properties but not completely water proof. It holds a 3 liter water bladder. Because it is considered an internal frame pack, it has one reinforcing aluminum stay that runs the center of the pack behind the torso and hip pads. Kelty designed the main compartment to be accessed either as a top-loader or to open the entire compartment like a suitcase. I found the top-load technique to be the most practical on the trail. The other way to access the main compartment is best suited for base camping or hotel scenarios. The additional pockets for storage are handy for holding your Nalgene® bottle with a GSI® stainless steel cup. I prefer the CamelBak® Chute 1 liter water bottle nested in the GSI® stainless steel cup stored in one of the spacious side pockets. The other side pocket holds my fixed blade knife and sheath. The storage pocket on top of the pack is large enough for smaller items such as a fleece cap, map, or snacks. The admin storage pocket on the front of the main compartment can hold a good selection of items for quick access.

Performance

The first opportunity to use this pack came this spring. Freedom 424 hosted a Run for Their Lives 5k run in my town. One of the professors in my Master’s Degree program encouraged his students in his class to participate. My wife, children, and I participated. I decided that this race for a charitable cause was a good opportunity to try out my new Kelty Redwing 50 (M/L) backpack. I packed it as though I was going on a day hike or overnight in the woods. The pack weight about 35-40 lbs. After putting the pack on my back and cinching up the straps, it was quickly evident that this pack was a perfect fit for my back. There was no pressure on my lower back and the weight was distributed evenly along my shoulders and back. It was comfortable to have on. I had the honor of pushing our baby in his stroller. The weight on my back was not overwhelming. I was thinking, “Why couldn’t I have had a pack like this when I was road marching in the Army?”

During the race, in which my family and I walked at a brisk pace, the pack never shifted, pulled, sagged, or rubbed hot spots on my back or shoulders. I was walking at about a 20 min/mile pace pushing the baby stroller over an undulating paved road. The pack held up beautifully. There was a light misty rain off-and-on during the race. The moisture wicking properties of the fabric could be visibly seen. However, by the end of the race, about one hour later, the moisture as beginning to leak through. The contents did not get wet. However, had I been wearing the pack during a torrential down pour of rain, the contents would have eventually gotten wet if not waterproofed prior to an activity. The raised padding on the torso and lower back allowed my back to breath while the pack on being worn. Even though I had worked up a good sweat, the pads did not become overly moist. This is a testament to the engineers who designed the pack for Kelty®. Once the pack was off of my back and out of the weather, it dried out pretty quickly.

Overall, the performance of the Kelty Redwing 50 (M/L) was excellent. It is definitely a great pack for day hiking. It performs in accordance with its design parameters. Abusing the pack by over packing, dropping off of the back on rocky surfaces, or improperly packing objects with sharp edges or corners will cause the pack to fail over time. This is a superior backpack that will last if taken care of properly. I highly recommend this pack for others to consider when looking for a quality backpack for day hikes and overnighters in the woods.

I hope this has been useful for you.

Take care and See you on the Trail!