Filling my backpack and experimenting with the described items was easy, convincing my family I was capable of the survival task of procuring food and water was not. They were correct in commenting that my strengths are in the classroom, and the last time I was near a wild animal was for a study on “natural nanotech grippers on the pads of gecko’s feet that take advantage of atomic van der Waals bonding forces." I responded to their heckling, “never underestimate an engineer, especially one with a competitive spirit." The first thing I needed to do was decide on my three extra items. I didn’t want to make it too easy by putting things in my pocket I normally wouldn’t carry like fire starter, signal flares or MRE’s (military Meals Ready to Eat). I could however imagine myself donning a rain coat (I hate being soggy), stuffing a pocket knife in my jeans (always be prepared) and forgetting to throw out my empty peach can from lunch.
My living room becomes the darkening forest. It is getting late, the temperature is dropping, I decide fire is imperative for successful hydration, and look through my pile. I need to find a heat source. As matches, flint, and flare are not available; I use the next best source, an electrochemical cell source, my cell phone battery. To combat the encroaching cold I warm the battery in the pit of my arm as full function capacity occurs at about 76 degrees for a lithium-polymer battery. I take apart one of the ball point pens I find and use the small, thin spring contained within for the perfect terminal to use as an exterior ion transfer between the anode and cathode. I am now able to produce electrical energy from this fortuitous chemical energy source and enough heat output to either spark or flare. I pry a piece of bark off a nearby tree, and using the comb to gather dry fibers from the underside of the bark. I finely shred the label from my peach can (much finer weight of paper than the notebook paper), gather dry twigs and make a small pyre. Carefully laying the pen coil, now stretched into a ‘U’ shape, on the pile, I touch the contact points of my battery to the spring and within seconds and intense heat causes the dry bark fibers to smoke, I blow gently beneath the smoldering pile and Voila! FIRE!
Now to my water. By providence there is a nearby stream, but purifying the water of such parasites as Giardia Lambia is imperative. I devise four methods for combating those single celled flagellated little protozoa and any other contaminants I may scoop up: a boiling system, a filtration system, a rain water capturing system, and a pure water condensation capturing system. The fastest purifying system is through the use of my peach can. I poke two opposing holes near the top of my can, cover it with my bandanna secured with a rubber band and fashion a handle with the wire from my notebook. I retrieve water from the stream in my empty water bottle and pour it slowing into my little bucket, using the bandanna as a primary filter for any macroscopic contaminates. After removing my bandanna filter, I pull a thick wet branch off a nearby tree and use it to suspend my bucket over my now roaring fire and bring it to a boil to kill off any microscopic critters.
Before slumbering I fashion a lean-to out of my plastic rain coat angled in such a way as to gather dew that accumulates during the night in the hood. The bottom of my rain coat is nearly four feet wide. I secure one bottom corner to a nearby tree with my bandanna, I secure the other end to another tree less than four feet away with my 2 looped rubber bands and angle the jacket to the ground in such a way that any accumulating dew will drip into the jacket’s hood.
In the morning I have devised two more methods for gathering fresh water as boiling the stream water occupies my tin bucket. I cut one sleeve off of my rain coat, tie off the sleeve end with a rubber band leaving a small opening for water to drip through, place some loose gravel in the sleeve, followed by some gritty sand, followed by fine sand from the edge of the stream, topped with charcoal cooled from last night’s fire and covered with the bandanna (retrieved from my shelter). I poke two opposing holes in the top of the untied end of the sleeve and slide a branch through the holes. I dig a hole and place my empty plastic bottle in it (to secure it from tipping), stack rocks on either side of the bottle, and suspend my filter between the rocks such that the open end drips into my water bottle. My filter is now ready for water gathered from the stream.
My secondary filter is a simple above ground still I make out of my plastic rain coat. I simply wrap my coat around some green leafy vegetation, snapping the buttons closed under the greens and closing off the end with an unoccupied rubber band and make sure the hood of the jacket falls below the vegetation and find a sunny spot. The rays from the direct sun will produce condensation on the inside of the jacket and it will simply drip down the sides of the jacket and gather in the hood.
My final chore is food gathering. Using my comb I pry pine nuts from within nearby cones and scrape moss from the rocks in the stream. I create a fishing pole and a triton. My triton is simple. Using my knife I sharpen the end of a stick. I cut grooves on either side of the stick that will nest each of my sharpened pencils. I secure the pencils with the wire from my water pail and stab an unsuspecting fish lurking in the stream shallows. In lieu of a knife, I could use a piece cracked off my mirror with the edges protected by un-chewed gum. I stuff the gutted fish with pine-nuts and stream moss and bake over my fire. My fishing pole is made from thin strips of the bandanna fed through an empty pen casing secured to the side of a branch with the rubber bands. A small chunk of the Styrofoam-filled emery board can be used as a bobber, chewed gum used as a sinker and a hook made from a snip of notebook wire.
*This essay was written by a student as part of an annual contest to promote engineering concepts. It is not the work of an engineer or of an outdoor survivalist. The ideas included represent creativity and ingenuity; however, facts may not be accurate and the actions described may not be the most appropriate in an actual survival situation. Please see the contest announcement for more information.