This week we were fortunate enough to be able to sit down with influential survival expert Mykel Hawke and ask him all the questions we wanted to know about choosing gear. We discussed resources to manage in a disaster, the right mindset for survival, and common misconceptions about surviving in the wilderness.
You're an influential figure in the realm of survival writing. Can you introduce yourself to our readers and describe some of your experience?
M: I’m a retired Special Forces Combat Commander, formerly a Green Beret Senior Sergeant in Medicine, Communications, and Intelligence. I have a Bachelor’s in Biology and a Master’s in Psychology, black belts in Aikido & Judo, ratings in 7 languages, and a lot of other skills and schools. I've lived and taught survival for 2 decades and I’ve been in 9 conflicts. Most folks know me from my TV shows in survival and special ops or from my survival and language books. Others know my Hawke brand of survival and special ops products I designed. Either way, I have a strong background doing and teaching survival with a special ops “Keep it simple and get it done”, kinda’ style.
Let's say you're preparing gear to deal with a serious earthquake. For instance, the type of earthquake due to strike the Pacific Northwest sometime in the next century. What 5 items do you want to make sure you have first?
M: Great question! I often use the Socratic method of teaching by asking questions and encouraging folks to come to the best answers by process of their own analysis. The result is genuine learning and longer term retention. That said, I would first ask:
1) Numbers: Are you alone or with a family?
2) Fitness: Are you young, healthy, and fit -- or not?
3) Experience: Do you have any training or skills?
4) Logistics: What supplies do you have- and do you know how to use them?
5) Strategy: Have a plan? To stay or go? If go- how? Car, boat, plane, foot?
From here most of your questions get answered for your needs.
My personal answer is based on principles, precedents, and practicality.
1) WATER. You will always need water. On the Pacific Coast during a large scale earthquake, it is very likely that water will be a significant issue as pipes will be ruptured and water treatment plants will be down for a long time. In the desert regions and the big cities that will become a critical issue and a crisis point for most people within a very short time. To assess your needs, ask the questions above.
2) FOOD. While it’s not (generally speaking) anywhere near as critical to have as water, if you have kids, elderly, handicapped, pets, or a large family, it will be very important pretty soon into the disaster -- operating on the premise that it is truly a massive scale event, and considering that it may take months to years to get back to normal. I try to advise folks to have supplies for 30 days or longer.
3) TOOLS. I use this word so as to not offend some folks’ sensibilities. It can apply to hammers, saws, axes, knives and other weapons (read: guns). The reason is that you will have to make repairs and, frankly, you’re going to have to provide for your own safety and security. Sadly, the West Coast has a lot of gangster and criminal mafia elements who are armed and most of the citizens are not. It is very likely that these criminals have not prepared for the disaster and will seek to pillage from those who have. The recent hurricanes in the Caribbean bear this out with all the looting that occurred.
4) FIRE- Whether you opt to stay put at home, hide out in a cave, cabin or camps site, or go mobile- you will invariably have to cook food, boil water, make heat, etc.
Folks often do not realize how labor and supply intensive this process is. If you have a stove, how much fuel do you have? If you’re using wood, where will you get it? And in all cases- who will see the light at night or smoke by day…?
5) LOGISTICS- If you’re staying put, what security measures have you put in place and how will you maintain them? How can they be defeated? And how far are you willing to go to ensure your safety?
MOBILITY- if you’re planning to go, how are you getting there? What routes? What obstacles do you expect? Do you have resupply planned? Caches (Stashes of fuel and other supplies) and security considerations are about 10 times harder to maintain while mobile. Two key logistics are always medicine and communications. Navigation is a high priority if mobile, but meds and coms are vital for survival to everyone and the most often under appreciated. That is to say, the most under-prepared!
So, my short answer to what 5 things would I make sure I have?
Food, Fire, Water, Weapons and Shelter with medicine & communications always.
How might you modify gear selection for different time frames? For instance, what are the differences in the items you might choose if you're trying to survive for 3 months, versus trying to survive for 12 months?
Great question and one most folks complete miss the mark on DURATION estimations. One key factor is location, but really that means WEATHER. If you have four Seasons and need cold gear for winter, that changes your planning factors a lot. (As opposed to me here in the tropics - a light rain jacket is all I need for winter.)
However back to the first question of what to bring, water is the main item. There is no way to carry or have that much water and it’s not wise to think your river or lake will stay full or safe- with a major earthquake, rivers and lakes have been known to simply drain into a hole and dry up! Or someone upstream may dam your river or something may pollute your lake. So, having a long term way to make water safe is vital. Whether it’s boiling (which requires fuel) or treating (which means chemicals and filters to change out), the ability to make water safe for a long period of time is a huge part of how you plan.
Food certainly becomes a powerfully important part of your needs too. If you aren’t hunting, foraging, fishing, or farming you better have a depot full of food to see you through.
The real issue here is going to become MEDICINE! People will get ill and injured. You're going to need medicine and training. Bad cuts can kill if not treated. Simple fractures can deform and debilitate for life if not set. Simple infections can wipe the whole family out if not diagnosed and treated.
Another very vital piece of the survival plan sorely lost on most folks is COMMUNICATIONS. IF you don’t have handheld family radios for internal communications while hunting and such, you should at least have a CB or short wave to communicate with someone near you in case you need help.
Likewise, everyone should own a SHORTWAVE radio. Local stations will likely be down for lack of power. TV’s and everything else connected to the grid will be down. Satellite TV’s will be down as well. But a shortwave radio is cheap, runs on simple batteries, lasts forever and can pick up news from around the world. So it keeps you informed and that is paramount in large scale disasters- you can know if fires are coming or disaster centers are near by.
While many folks gripe about FEMA, they actually do a lot of great things. I advise FEMA on large scale disasters. It’s not their job to solve your problems, it’s their job to do as much as they can to help as many as they can. So, while they are a great resource to trust in, hope is not a plan. Plan on taking care of yourself. That way you're part of the solution, not part of the problem. Don’t lay blame, that’s a fool’s errand- FEMA didn’t make the earthquake, they are people with families just like ours.
Focus on solutions and stay busy. There is always something to be done and when you can’t work, rest and play. card games with survival plants and other knowledge are great to pass the time together and learn. Or read - having some good books is always helpful, too. My survival and language books are easy to read and very useful, as is the SAS survival handbook. We have a FAMILY SURVIVAL book out this Fall as well as a EDIBLE PLANTS of NORTH AMERICA book.
What advice would you give to people trying to choose between different brands of survival gear? What do you look for to make sure you're getting what you need?
We all have brands and styles we favor. Some prefer military tactical styles, others prefer outdoorsman hunter styles, and still others prefer slick urban styles. I personally don’t care as long as it works. I have spent a lot of money on high end gear that broke and I have bought cheap crap that lasted forever.
My first rule is buy stuff that you actually need and plan to use. Don’t break the bank until you know it’s good and you know how to use it. Find name brands that meet your demands as far as price and quality.
It’s survival - there is no one to impress. Either you live or die, so kick some ego and attitude to the curb and just think about what truly matters- your life.
That said, I am a big fan of:
VOODOO for TACTICAL
GREEN SUPPLY for OUTDOORS
MAJOR SUPPLY for SURVIVAL
PERSYS for MEDICAL
MOTOROLA for COMMUNICATIONS
MAGELLAN for NAVIGATION
Clothes, coats, boots, gloves, glasses, etc I won’t go into here as they are a lot more subjective in preference.
Are there any common mistakes you see people make when they start putting together a survival package?
M: This is a SUPER Question! The biggest mistakes I see all the time- folks watch too much TV and too many movies and always overestimate their abilities and underestimate how hard and how much time things really take.
Folks need to understand, humans are simultaneously the weakest and strongest thing in nature. We die fast and easy if we don’t think and act. If we stay calm, work smarter not harder, and use our 6 inches of grey matter between our ears, then we have a great chance of surviving. But never ever disrespect mother nature and never fail to appreciate the simple physics of our biology against topography.
What else does the average person need to know about preparing for a disaster?
When it comes to dealing with disaster the biggest thing after immediate survival needs will be mental. Thoughts about what happened, what could have been done, what is being done now, where are missing loved ones, how long will this last, what if bad people come, what if some of us don’t make it. All these will work on your mind. You mustn’t dwell on them.
DEAL WITH EACH ONE HEAD ON.
Ask the hard question- decide on your answer, make your plan and pack it away.
In Special Forces we always plan for everything 5 layers deep or PACE-GTH:
Primary, Alternate, Contingency, Emergency and Go To Hell plan when all fails.
Then again, no plan survives first contact with the enemy. You end up dealing with things as they come. But the plans give you guidelines and keep you on track and in sync with the rest of the team.
So think about everything, plan for anything, then focus on the things you can control and stay busy. You can always improve your situation and in doing so, you keep working, learning, doing, and eventually develop a sense of control and accomplishment.
This means you are surviving- take pride in that little victory.
When it comes to survival in the wilderness, REMEMBER to work with nature, the environment, the weather, the terrain and allow for mistakes and failures. Study them and learn.
Allow lots of time, go slow and steady, think about everything before doing anything. Everything you do will be a cost/risks tradeoff and expenditure of energy. The time spent making a good plan can save a lot of effort failing to plan.
Settle in for the long haul, get comfortable with discomfort, focus on one thing at a time and take hope in small victories- every berry eaten, every drop of water drunk, is a tiny step towards surviving another moment and that is a moment closer to making it through the disaster altogether.
Warriors know the only thing worth dying for is love and peace. And with this applied to my style of survival, I teach to survive with honor.
Remember, the world has been through many calamities and cataclysms for centuries and people survived them and so can you. You want to know when it’s all over, you survived with honor. Otherwise you’re a PTSD-riddled shell of yourself and you didn't really survive at all.
And yes, some folks are going to die in the disaster. And yes, we’re all going to die one day, sooner or later. The key is to live well and with honor so that if you die, your loved ones know you died with honor and they survive with that pride. And if you live, you know you survived with honor and can then truly enjoy the rest of your life you’ve been given.
At the end of the day, my style is harsh and brutal because combat and survival are. However my way is one of hope. All of us are hard wired to survive, it’s in our DNA passed down from our ancestors. Remember that, tap your inner strength, and make it. Start now, prepare now, train now and if it ever comes, you have confidence to know you are as ready as you can be. And if it never comes, you have peace knowing you are always ready.
Mykel Hawke (born November 29, 1965) is a retired U.S. Army Special Forces officer, author, and television and film personality. He is best known for the television program on Discovery Channel called Man, Woman, Wild and One Man Army. He left Discovery to work on two new programs: Lost Survivors for Travel Channel and Elite Tactical Unit for Outdoor Channel. Mykel will be featured on the cover of OFF GRID magazine in December 2017, appear on the ABC show The Bachelor in January of 2018, and Leonardo DiCaprio's FRONTIERSMAN on the History Channel in Spring of 2018.