Monthly Archives: August 2013

Bear Grylls: Survivalist and Philanthropist

bear grylls mud sweat tearsMost people know Bear Grylls from the Discovery Channel show Man vs. Wild, but he’s also involved in many philanthropic organizations, and many of his adventures have had a philanthropic purpose. Among the more interesting of his philanthropic endeavors is, perhaps, his twenty-two miles of rowing along the Thames, naked, and in a homemade bathtub boat, to raise funds for a friend who lost his legs in a climbing accident.

Other organizations that Bear Grylls currently supports, as listed on his website’s philanthropy page, include:

Tusk Trust UK,
UK Scouts,
Rescue Global,
Global Angels,
ONE International,
Comic Relief,
RNLI Lifeboats,
Hope & Homes for Children,

Want to know more about Bear Grylls, the survivalist?
Read my article on the Survival Skills website:

“Bear Grylls Survival Skills Resources”

Photo © William Morrow.

The Most Poisonous Snakes on the Planet

It might be reassuring to know that only one of the 12 most poisonous snakes on the planet resides in the United States, the tiger rattlesnake:

tiger rattlesnake

Notice from the image above that the tiger rattlesnake has characteristics common of other venomous snakes in the United States, including an angular head, a varied color pattern, and a rattle on its tail.

For a full-color slide show and descriptions of the 12 Most Poisonous Snakes on Earth, click here.

The 12 Most Poisonous Snakes on Earth:

1. Sea Snakes (including the hook-nosed sea snake, Belcher’s sea snake, and others listed…)
2. Inland Taipan
3. Russell’s Viper
4. Eastern Brown Snake
5. Black Mamba
6. Tiger Rattlesnake
7. Boomslang
8. Common Krait
9. Desert Horned Viper
10. Tiger Snake
11. Forest Cobra
12. Puff Adder

Want to know how to identify other venomous snakes?
Read my article on the Survival Skills website:

“Common Characteristics of Venomous Snakes in the United States”

Photo © Flickr® user cotinis.

What causes iPhone compass interference?

When using the iPhone (3GS or later) compass app, you may encounter an error message that says “COMPASS INTERFERENCE: Move away from any interference, or re-calibrate by waving in a figure 8 motion.” It will look like this:

iPhone compass interference

Since the iPhone digital compass works like a magnetic compass, many different things can cause compass interference, including other magnetic fields, other electronics, or other environmental factors. The earbuds of an iPhone can cause interference; using the iPhone compass in close proximity to a laptop computer, an iPad, or another electronic device can cause interference; and using the iPhone compass in close proximity to a magnetic compass can also cause interference. Since a car’s dashboard can have a high number of electronics and magnetic devices inside of it, the iPhone compass may receive interference when set on a dashboard.

To alleviate the problem, simply remove the iPhone compass from the area of the device causing the interference, and wave it in a figure 8 motion, as the error message directs, and it will reset itself. If you are in a car, the compass will likely recalibrate itself as you make a few more turns…so don’t get in a car crash trying to wave it around in a figure 8 motion.

While this information may be annoying to those who would like to use the iPhone compass in their car or while indoors working on a computer…those who use the compass for its outdoor purpose will have better luck. So get out your iPhone compass app and practice in the great outdoors!

What to know more about how to use the iPhone compass app?
Read my article on the Survival Skills website:

“How to Use the iPhone Compass”

Survival Skills App: Images and Diagrams

Survival Skills AppThe images and diagrams are my favorite features of the Survival Skills app by Double Dog Studios. Sure…the app has cool calculation forms for more than 40 different uses and conversions, and it also brings together content from many, many important survival resources, but when it comes to identifying plants and animals correctly, you really need photos. Imagine trying to identify poison ivy by a text description alone: it’s a plant, green, sometimes brown, vine-like when climbing on trees, etc. Learning about plants in this way is like playing a game of charades.

To eliminate such guesswork, I’d suggest studying the images and diagrams that will help you identify the plants your immediate surroundings first. Then, go out with this app in hand, and try to match up some images with actual plants. Check your level of success–or failure–and then branch out into some unknown areas.

Here are a few screen shots of images and diagrams that I found particularly useful from this app. First, a photograph of the poisonous American Copperhead:

Survival Skills App Copperhead

Got it? Good. And now, in case you need to know if you’ll be more likely to encounter a copperhead on your trail, this diagram outlines its habitat distribution:

Survival Skills App Copperhead loc

Need food? Here’s what your simple copper wire snare should look like after you follow the directions explaining how to make it:

Survival Skills App Snare

And finally, a diagram of the human skeletal system, helpful for isolating and treating fractures in a wilderness setting:

Survival Skills App bones

These images add great detail and visual explanation to the text in this app, but no reading or looking can substitute for actual experience, so get out there and get some practice on the trail.

Want to know more about the Survival Skills app?
Read my full overview of its contents and features on the Survival Skills website:

“Tech Tool Overview: Survival Skills App by Double Dog Studios”

Photos © Double Dog Studios.

In Praise of Trail Markers!

1-Shawna Macnamara and TraciIt’s always reassuring to see a trail marker in the middle of nowhere. But if you’re in an area that doesn’t have consistent trail markers, it’s important to remain vigilant along the trail and look for marks that will help you return along the same trail if you’re meant to be on an out-and-back hike. And…if for some reason, you become lost and need to turn around, you’ll want to recognize the correct trail when you hit it.

Generally, I feel constantly reassured of my location when hiking in the French and Swiss Alps, sometimes annoyingly so. But I’d rather complain of constant trail markers than complain of getting lost. Large cairns are often visible on the peaks of mountain summits, just to help you make sure you’ve arrived. My sister Shawna and I (above right) were happy to pose on the Mont Buet summit cairn near Chamonix, France, as was our buddy Trent:

2-Trent Burns Mont Buet

Guideposts are also common in the French and Swiss Alps, sometimes giving you numerous options at each juncture:

3-Alps Guidepost

Blazers in Switzerland are often yellow and diamond-shaped, like this one on a trail along the Rhone valley:

4-Alps Blazer

Trail blazes are common along trails in the Alps, as well. Typically, France’s GR (or Grande Randonee) trails are blazed in red and white paint on trees or rocks, but in this area in a high alpine meadow, there weren’t any trees; it was a notoriously bad stretch for foul weather and route-finding errors, so the owners of this farm painted a huge blaze on this building to help guide hikers through. I was especially thankful for it on this scary, foggy day when I was passing by:

5-GR96 Alps Blaze

Yes…all of these trail markers are amazing to find, especially in bad weather. But I also feel comforted by the natural trail markers I always look for when hiking in well-known areas. I frequently look for patterns in the area where the trees hit the skyline…here’s one of my favorite silhouettes that helps me navigate through a well-known wilderness area at night:

6-Natural Trail Marker

Want to know more about cairns, blazes, blazers, guideposts, and other trail markers?
Read my article on the Survival Skills website:

“Using Landmarks to Navigate Effectively”

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

The Braai Way: Cooking With Coals

I spent the recent South African Women’s Day holiday weekend at a river house a few hours away from Cape Town and discovered what might possibly be the nicest braai–or barbecue–setup I’ve yet seen:


The entire braai functions like an outdoor kitchen stove with a large open area for a fire; it’s all set into a brick wall with a chimney. No charcoal briquettes or gas here. We lit a nice roaring wood fire and waited. And waited. And waited. Once we had a bed of red-orange coals, we separated the burning logs from the coals in order to cook a traditional African poike (or potjie) pot meal.

2-braai coals

Keeping the wood fuel burning separately in this braai enabled us to use the coals we already had while we burned more fuel to create more coals that we could eventually add beneath the pot:

3-braai pot

Another nice feature in this braai was the swivel stick for the pot that allowed us to suspend this heavy cast iron pot over the coals and then swivel it out of the fire to check our progress.

4-braai pot extended

A poike pot is a traditional meal that involves slow-cooking many different things all together in one pot. Think: witches’ brew. The name of the meal comes from the word “potjiekos,” which means “small pot meal.” Sometimes people choose to simmer the pot all day long.

5-braai pot steaming

We created a pot that would feed 10 people, and its contents included chicken, carrots, celery, beans, cilantro, spinach, tomatoes, spices, and pretty much any other leftover vegetables we had in the fridge.

6-braai pot open

We eventually served the meal over a bed of rice, but one of the nice things about cooking in this way was that we could enjoy the company of family and friends while we waited…

7-enjoying the braai
…and waited. Cooking over coals in a cast iron pot isn’t a microwave-quick process. But the just rewards will be enjoyed soon enough as a juicy, evenly-cooked meal.

Want to know more about survival camping and cooking with coals?
Read my article on the Survival Skills website:

“Cooking With Coals”

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

Magnesium Fire Starter Demos

Many different types of emergency fire starters exist, ranging from simple magnesium blocks to full-on flame-throwing lighters. I think that magnesium fire starters make sense because they’re lightweight, and they’ll work in a variety of weather conditions. But throwing a good spark requires practice, so check out these demo videos with tips about how to use two different magnesium fire starters to hone your skills:

How to use the Coghlan’s Magnesium Fire Starter:

How to use Survivor Firestarters:

Want to know more about different types of emergency fire starters?
Read my full article on the Survival Skills website:

“Gear Overview: Emergency Fire Starters”