BCD’s head to Vancouver Island for Basic Winter Survival Training

BCD Basic Wilderness Survival Training

From 13 February 2017 to 19 February 2017 British Columbia Dragoons (BCD) members MCpl Alex Prommer and Tpr Doug Younger joined members from 3rd Canadian Division and 4th Canadian Ranger Patrol Group for Basic Winter Survival Training in Coal Harbour, Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Inserted into the temperate rainforests of Northern Vancouver Island by seaplane, the Basic Wilderness Survival Training course candidates were taught basic survival skills designed for use in dire survival situations.  Broken into two segments, the course spent the first three days cycling through several stations focused on building shelters, starting fires, finding food and water, skinning and cleaning animals, and basic wildlife defense. Following the training, candidates were paired up and dropped off down the Holberg Inlet by boat for a four day application of knowledge period and forced to test their newly acquired skills in isolation.

While not sent into the wilderness completely empty handed, candidates were stripped of the most basic personal kit such as watches and Gerber Multi-tools, and given a very basic survival package that truly forced them to economize resources and energy.  In order to pass the course the candidates had to complete the four days at their assigned stand by any means necessary, and construct an adequate signal which they used to flag down their extraction boat on the last day.

Unlike past Basic Winter Survival Training (BWST) run by 4 CRPG, snowstorms, vast expanses of open ground, and extreme cold were not the standard conditions, instead, being on Vancouver Island this year’s course faced exorbitant amounts of rain, humidity, dense forests, and temperatures that would range from plus 10 to -5 in a single day.  These milder and damper coastal conditions, while not seemingly as severe as previous colder locations, saw increased difficulty in starting fires, traversing terrain, and most importantly remaining dry and warm.

In light of this, the risk of hypothermia and dehydration related injuries becomes incredibly severe. Course candidates found that something as simple as finding enough dry wood for their fire to last just half the night could be an all day endeavour. That is, if they were able to get a fire started in the first place. Standing dead wood and rotted logs on the forest floor made it nearly impossible to build a fire big enough to self sustain, and the moisture and humidity in the air and on the ground made starting a fire an extreme challenge on its own.  While being able to gather water was not necessarily a problem, without a fire to boil and purify it there was no way to safely drink it.

Edible sources of food were few and far between as well, with most plant and animal life yet to bloom or come out of hibernation, and what little that had being too scrawny or insignificant to provide any substantial nutritional value.  While the weather managed to hold for the duration of the field portion, the three day instructional segment saw exorbitant rainfall and thoroughly saturated the entire area.  Merely walking through forested areas and brushing against branches was enough to render one’s rain jacket virtually useless, and necessitated elevating the shelter floor to avoid loss of heat into the damp earth through conduction.  With all of these factors combined, the candidates found that despite the more mild nature of coastal climates there still exists a severe risk of injury or death if one does not apply their survival skills expediently and correctly.

At the end of the Basic Wilderness Survival Training course the two BCD members successfully managed to complete the field portion and signal their extraction, solidifying the survival skills and knowledge they’d been taught a mere four days prior.  While they were unable to get a sizeable fire started until the third and final night, the two managed to successfully construct a shelter, ration and gather supplies, and construct a signal for extraction quickly and correctly before exhaustion and lack of food began to set in.  While they returned to the unit with a plethora of survival skills and knowledge to pass on to fellow members of the BCD’s, the two most important ones that they learnt are efficiency and persistence.

In a survival situation everything is a race against the clock, and one’s ability to get a handle on the situation and expediently begin planning their survival and rescue is the difference between life and death.  Furthermore, if something doesn’t work out the first time, don’t become disheartened and give up.  Maintaining a fighting spirit and having tough mental resilience will help one survive even the most dire of situations, a lesson that is not only relevant in survival situations but also in carrying out duties in all aspects of one’s military career.

Written by Tpr Doug Younger