Penthouse Retrospective

by Michael Estrin Originally Published: July, 2010

Survive Alive | 10 Years Ago This Month

“Use sticks and stones to shape and secure an A-frame tent or a lean-to out of your tarp. Then gather as much grass, leaves, dirt, and pine needles as you can to insulate your shelter. That will keep you warm.”


Duct tape has a million uses, but one commonly overlooked use is in first aid.

“You can patch anything with duct tape, including a hole in your body,” Ramirez explains. “It may not be perfectly sterile, but it’ll stop the bleeding, and survival health care is about incremental goals.”

A piece of clean cloth with duct tape on either end makes for a pretty solid Band-Aid, whereas strips of duct tape cut into quarter-inch pieces can substitute nicely for stitches. For larger wounds, duct tape can be used to hold the skin together, which will give the blood valuable time to start clotting. If the issue is a broken bone or sprain, duct tape and a few long, hard sticks can make a good splint, and if you need to put your arm in a sling,

a long loop of duct tape around your neck (double-sided so it doesn’t stick to your skin) and another that runs that length of your arm will immobilize the limb until you reach help.


Foraging for food is vital for survival. Assuming you’re in an urban area, Ramirez says you’ll want to stick with packaged foods. Check to make sure the package is still viable by squeezing it. If air comes out, the food has been compromised. And, Ramirez advises, unless you’ve got a food allergy, a disaster is no time to be a picky eater.

But as a disaster wears on, and even urban supplies run low, food gathering is going to become more basic, says Scott Williams, author of Bug Out: The Complete Plan for Escaping a Catastrophic Disaster Before It’s Too Late. “Know the basics about plants in your area,” Williams says. “Stay clear of mushrooms — they’re too risky. And know that plants with a milky sap are probably poisonous.”

To play it safe, Williams suggests looking to the inner bark of a tree, which can be roasted over a fire. Likewise, needles from evergreen trees can be boiled to make a tea that’s rich in vitamin C. And if you’ve found cattails (also known as Typha), you’ve scored, because at least one part of the plant is always edible, depending on the season. Choice parts include the root stalk (late autumn through early spring), the base of the leaves (spring), and the flower (summer).

Long-term, you’re going to need protein, and getting your fill won’t be as simple as hitting up your butcher. The first rule to being a successful hunter, says Reyes, is thinking like an animal. “All animals need water, so that’s where you want to look,” Reyes advises.

If you’re a good shot and you’ve got ammo to spare, you can go after bigger game. But just about anyone can take out a smaller animal, like a rat or a squirrel, with a rock and a stick by setting

up a deadfall trap. “You suspend the rock with a stick and corral the animal under the rock,” Reyes says. “When the stone falls, the animal is done, but you might have to finish him off with a club.”

From there, it’s just a matter of skinning and cleaning the animal before cooking it. But Reyes cautions that you should check the animal’s eyes; if they’re cloudy it could indicate disease.


Regardless of your personal political views about guns, when the shit gets real, you’re going to want a rifle.

“Rifles are better than handguns because you can hunt and protect yourself, so it has a dual purpose,” Reyes says, adding that he prefers a 5.56mm rifle for two reasons. First, the bullet is widely used by NATO, so you’ve got a good chance of finding the right ammo. Second, the 5.56mm is a lightweight, high-velocity round, which means it’s highly effective without a lot of recoil — “perfect for any shooter,” Reyes adds.

Of course, having the right rifle won’t do you much good

if you don’t know how to use it. Reyes recommends that you take a course at a local firing range, where you’ll learn basic marksmanship, weapon safety, and how to clean your rifle. But after you’ve learned the basics, the real challenge begins.

“You have to practice,” Reyes says. “Shooting is a perishable skill, and under stress you will perform only to your last level of training.” But that doesn’t mean you have to hit the range all the time. In fact, you don’t need to fire a single shot to stay sharp, according to Reyes.

To practice at home, draw a target smaller than a man on a wall (the smaller the target, the tougher the drill). What you’re practicing is “presentation,” and the idea is to “marry” your sight, which should be in sharp focus, with the blurry target off in the distance. Regularly training your eye to put your sight on-target will help you keep your shooting skills sharp.


Imagine the aftermath of a disaster. You’re scavenging for food and all of a sudden a force of armed men (possibly soldiers or police) detain you. Forget about asking what the charge is or to speak with your lawyer. It ain’t gonna happen. What you need to do is escape. Fast.

The boy scouts are a mess these days, but that does not mean that being prepared has become a horrible idea. We just need to survive.

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