What do you need to survive the outdoors? Well, just flipping through an REI catalog or an Academy ad, can be overwhelming with the amount of camping gear there is. In reality, there are ten essential items you need to survive in the wild. Would you believe that the essentials to survival as a Buffalo Soldier are the same 10 essentials we need in today’s world? In May, I volunteered with the Texas Buffalo Soldiers at Lake Brownwood State Park for their Open House.
The Buffalo Soldiers played an important role in our nation’s history. They fought in battles, built roads and some even became park rangers. In an effort to preserve part of our Texas history and cultural resources, the Buffalo Soldiers program through Texas Parks and Wildlife, bring history to life with storytelling, animal tracking techniques, traditional games, cooking and teaching the ten essentials of outdoor survival. We can learn a lot from our country’s history, like what we can do to improve our lives. While teaching the ten essentials to school kids, I realized that not much has changed from 1866 to now, in regards to survival. We can learn how to live a more simplistic, adventurous life, without all the fancy gear and extra equipment.
These 10 items are absolutely essential to outdoor survival, both in 1866 and now. Everything else is just extra and if you can carry it comfortably, then go ahead, but the more you pack the heavier it gets and the more exhausted you become.
- Sun Protection:
Then: Buffalo Soldiers used a hat with a brim all the way around to keep the sunlight off their heads and out of their eyes.
Now: Bucket hat, or any hat that can protect our face and neck. Sunglasses aren’t necessary, as long as we have a hat that will provide protection from the sun.
Then: They used a canteen and would fill it all the way up, every chance they could.
Now: We have all types of water bottles and hydration packs, but we still fill all the way up and whenever we can.
Then: A compass.
Now: A compass. Or a GPS, but let’s be real, those aren’t the most reliable; batteries die, satellites connections are lost in the backcountry. Knowing how to use a compass and follow a map can save your life.
Then: They had an extra shirt, blanket, socks, and a gun blanket to keep themselves warm.
Now: We bring extra socks and clothing and have a convenient emergency blanket that is light weight and portable.
Then: They used these tin boxes that opened up with a candle holder so the flame would reflect off the back and produce a brighter light.
Now: Now we use headlamps, lanterns and battery powered lanterns.
Then: Hard Tack= a cracker like food that wouldn’t spoil and was easily carried. Just soak in water or broth when ready to eat.
Now: MRE’s and other dehydrated meals that are small and won’t spoil.
Then: Each soldier would carry half of a tube tent and at the end of the day would pair up with a buddy and put their pieces together so that they didn’t have to carry extra weight.
Now: There are all kinds of tents to choose from, but tube tents are still functional.
Then: A multi tool, typically with a knife and some sort of utensils to eat with.
Now: A multi tool. There are numerous different combinations of tools in one.
Then: Matches, the kind that came in a little cardboard box.
Now: Matches, now they come in a handy watertight container and the matches are even waterproof now.
- Medical Supplies:
Then: Scraps of fabric.
Now: First aid kits that are waterproof with everything from Band-Aids to burn cream to pain relievers.
As you can see, most things have not changed from the 1860’s to now. Sure, our gear has been updated, but for the most part the concepts are the same. I love teaching this program because it goes to show that we don’t need all the fancy gear to survive. The essentials the Buffalo Soldiers used can still ensure our survival now.