Emily Pace
Emily Pace
High School Second Place Winner - 2010 Survival Design Challenge
A Book Bag, a Friend, and a Challenge

This weekend, my class took a trip to a national park. Through no fault of our own, my friend and I were separated from the group. It was getting colder as the night approached and there was no certain chance of rescue anytime soon, so we had to find shelter. This is how we were able to survive the night using a cell phone without a signal, a spiral-bound notebook, retractable pens, a pack of gum, a nail file, jackets, and what we could find in the forest.

First to gather materials, I tore apart the backpack for fabric, but I kept the zipper intact for support. After this, my friend and I tore apart our jackets, ripping apart the seams using the nail file. My friend’s jacket was a yellow men’s XL, while my jacket was a pink woman’s XL jacket, resulting in quite a bit of fabric to work with.

I began to then unwind the metal on the spiral notebook while my friend began to clear the ground by a tree. The unwound spiral notebook resulted in about 1.29 meters of metal, as each spiral contained about 3 cm of metal and there were about 43 spirals per notebook. These were cut into roughly 4 cm pieces using the metal nail file. These were used to connect the jackets and the backpack together. This did prove to be tricky at some points, as the metal would take some time to poke through the leather, but it still was able to connect the material. I draped the jacket/backpack material on a tree branch about 4 feet above the ground. Eight 10-cm pieces of the metal from the binder were used to ‘stake’ down the edges of the sewn material. We had to add some rocks to make sure everything was secure, though.

A tent made from pine tree branches alone would have been beneficial and possibly more effective in retaining heat, but this would provide too much camouflage. A search party might have had problems finding the tent at night, and a helicopter might not have been able to see it if traveling quickly.

As it would be unsafe to have a fire inside the small tent, other sources of heat were utilized. A fire close to the camp site would be effective for heat, however this would not keep my friend and I safe, as the smoke could possibly attract wild animals. A fire was built a small distance away from the site. The fire was created by first taking springs out of the retractable pens, and attaching to the battery with a small piece of chewed gum. The battery end was sprinkled with a little bit of spit (We really would have preferred to go to a stream, but we didn’t want to risk getting lost). The battery was held over some of the paper scraps from spiral notebook, sparking and catching the paper on fire. The fire was kindled with small branches until rapidly burning.

To gain heat inside the tent, medium sized rocks were placed on top of the fire. It was only after they were hot that we wondered how we would pick up the hot rocks! Thankfully, my friend thought to kick the rock away from the fire and then pick it up using the loose paper notebook. He then placed the rocks inside the tent. The rocks released their heat into the tent, which was trapped from the leather material.

When we tried to settle in for the night, it started to rain. Thankfully, the tent was slightly water-proof from the leather. The rain soon stopped, which I was thankful for. Before we dozed off, I thought of what would happen if a search party was calling during the night, but we wouldn’t hear, as we were both asleep. To fix this, we thought that we could use the phone for an alarm. This enabled one person to stay up to keep watch for any search teams. This proved to be effective during that one night. My friend was awake while I was sleeping, and he heard something rustling. He woke me up, and we both just sat there, listening. I admit, I was scared it was a wild animal, but I stayed quiet. After another minute, we heard yelling. Our group was looking for us! We shouted in return and were found!


*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.