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Make your list and check it twice

Some crucial items to get you through the night outside

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And just like that, it's winter. Brace yourself.

The snow is piling up and the city of Winnipeg has almost ground to a halt. The thinking person stays home -- once they've made it home.

In my defence, the reason I went out was to participate in a workshop at FortWhyte Alive called Outdoor Skills For Everyone -- An Ounce of Prevention. I was still ignorant at that point.

FortWhyte Alive is a privately operated, non-profit environmental education facility located smack-dab in the middle of Winnipeg; well, actually a little to the left of middle. Within its borders are 640 acres of prairie grasslands, marsh, forest, five lakes, (stocked with walleye, pike, largemouth bass, perch, rainbow trout), an interpretive centre and much more, all connected by trails and the occasional floating boardwalk.

About 10 of us braved the elements, including our facilitator, Barret Miller, Special Projects Interpreter. I noted that more than half in attendance were young lads, there with father or granddad. Move over, minor-league hockey.

We started our Ounce of Prevention workshop indoors. As the name suggests, a little thought before heading off on an outdoor adventure is paramount. Barret threw out questions, luring us into a group discussion about the merits of pre-trip planning -- whether we're talking about a short drive on a cold winter's night or a major adventure. Before you leave, stop and consider the possible scenarios that could spell risk and be sure have a contingency plan. Apparently, as long as you've notified people when and where to expect you, and you don't show, search and rescue will find you within three days.

I didn't get the impression this was cause for paranoia. In fact, we spent some time discussing real risk versus perceived risk. Perceived risk is mainly our imagination riffing off of our inner fears. For example: yes, there's a tiny wee chance that the herd of bison at FortWhyte may stampede, but the real risk is more likely freezing your fingers while trying to photograph them. Plan to wear your woolen gloves and when you're near the bison compound, tread softly around the beasts. In other words, employ your common sense, and if you're lacking in that particular area, well then, read, do some research on the Internet, study maps, take lessons on outdoor survival (say at FortWhyte), or hire a guide.

During our talk, Barret kept reaching into his bag of tricks. Tucked neatly inside a small backpack and weighing less than 15 lbs. were 10 outdoor survival items that could make the difference between an unscheduled pit stop and survival. (See Barret's don't leave home without it list, above.)

Our last lesson that evening required that we leave the comfort of the Interpretive Centre and tromp through knee-high wet snow to the lake's edge.

Once we reached our destination, our assignment was to erect a temporary lodging "for shelter on a night gone wrong." We had our 8'x 10' tarp and a length of rope. I turned my back on the group to adjust my camera and in that short space of time our gang had constructed a serviceable, one-person lean-to. One edge of the tarp provided ground cover while the remaining sides were gathered and secured to a tree.

Snug as a bug in a rug. Well, just barely, but enough to get you through the night -- and if need be, the next 72 hours.

So, when you head out to travel in Manitoba, pack your 10 items and customize your pack to suit specific needs. Tell someone where you're going and when they should expect you home -- and then get on with your explorations!

The Outdoor Skills For Everyone series is offered at various times throughout the year. The next two evenings in the winter sessions are Land Navigation: Map, Compass, and GPS on January 27, followed by Winter Survival Skills on February 24. The workshops are free with regular admission (adults $6, students and children $4, members and children under 3, free). FortWhyte Alive is on McCreary Road, just north of McGillivray Boulevard in Winnipeg.

Jacquie Crone writes a blog for Travel Manitoba and you can read more of her stories and view her photographs at www.unexpectedmanitoba.com.

Barret's 'don't leave home without it' list

1. Water: a loss of one per cent of your body's fluid can affect how your muscles and brain react. Be particularly vigilant in the winter, as the cool temps may fool you in to thinking you're hydrated.

2. Map and compass: know how to use them.

3. A knife/multitool and a roll of binder twine.

4. First aid kit: carry supplies suited to your training.

5. Flashlight/headlamp: no explanation needed.

6. Fire: Two dry sources: strike-anywhere matches, a lighter, or flint and tinder. Include a little clump of that fluff you clean out of your clothes dryer lint basket, spark the flint and steel to it -- and poof. Or, connect a length of steel wool to both contacts of a nine-volt battery and the steel wool will begin to glow. Have your tinder at the ready as you won't have long.

7. Extra clothes: Hypothermia, to quote our interpreter, "is just a pit stop on the road to death." OK, point taken. Stay dry and stay warm. Wool good, cotton bad. A simple orange garbage bag can do double duty as a poncho, kilt, rescue signal, and if you stuff it with leaves and bows, a nice little insulated bed.

8. High-energy food: I have a tendency to snack on my emergency food. Granola bars, cheese, chocolate and nuts call to me as I walk along (speaking of nuts...). But here's the deal: if a situation arises, what happens if you've cleaned out the larder? This is where sardines come into play. Like most people, I will never snack on sardines so they're always there in the pack waiting for a true emergency. Plus -- the sharp, peel-back lid makes a handy whittling device or can also be used as a cutting tool.

9. Space blanket: at $1.50 a packet, buy a few. They take up minimal space (they're about the size of a Blackberry) and they reflect your heat. Think how warm a baked potato stays when it's wrapped in tin foil.

10. Tarp: an 8'x 10' tarp will do nicely as a ground sheet, or in a pinch can be fashioned, using a length of binder-twine, into a protective shelter.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 4, 2010 D12

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