Garbage Bags as a Survival Tool

I want you all to have a look at this article:

Man, sons die while hiking in freezing rain 

ST. LOUIS –  On a weekend trip that was a surprise anniversary gift for his wife, an outdoors-loving Air Force veteran ventured out with two of his sons for a hike on a remote trail. Clad only in light jackets and sweaters, the three apparently didn’t know how rapidly the weather would turn ugly, and that proved deadly.

Searchers found the soaked bodies of 36-year-old David Decareaux and the two boys — ages 8 and 10 — on the Ozark Trail on Sunday, a day after Decareaux declined a passerby’s offer of a ride back to the lodge where they had been staying, Reynolds County Sheriff Tom Volner said. The cold had killed them, he said.


It is sad to be sure. It was highly preventable.

I’ve got 3 sons. We have been out and about together since before these kids could walk. The oldest is now 23. One thing that we have been carrying all those years is plastic garbage bags. This is the sort of situation where they would come in handy.

The bag has two major uses. I learned the first one while I was caving with the National Speleological Society. Everyone carried a garbage bag into the cave along with their carbide light and candles. If a caver got stuck in the cave, the garbage bag was a last resort. He crawled into the bag and sat upright with his knees tucked underneath him. He would use his carbide light and then the candles to keep himself warm and await rescue. I was in on one trip with the NSS where two cavers got flooded in. They retreated to a dry portion of cave and crawled into their bags. They were down to their last inch or so of candle when rescued 15 hours later.

The other use for a garbage bag I found when I started backpacking. I was already carrying a bag in my kit due to my caving experience. However, the suggest use topside was as a vapor barrier. Faced with a situation conducive to hypothermia, the hiker strips down to bare skin, cuts head and arm holes in the bag and then puts it on against bare skin before layering the remaining clothing back on. I had reason to use this method back in 1998 on a simple overnighter in the Big South Fork. We had started out Saturday with unseasonably warm temperatures, the high reached into the sixties that day. Overnight, there was a huge front that came through. Starting at 0300 we took horizontal rain and high wind until sunrise. The temperature dropped and we had freezing rain and snow before the front blew through and left with sun, 20 MPH winds and 25 F. I had everyone in the party put on the bag before hiking out.

One other tip, and then we will just leave this tragedy to speak for itself. Every generation has at least one story of The Big One– the freak winter storm that came out of no where. The stories all start the same: it was unseasonably warm. I do not claim to be a weather expert, but I am extremely wary of unseasonably warm conditions. It does not keep me indoors. In fact, most of my favorite backpacking trips stem from taking advantage of fluky March weather. You just have to be ready for what is coming on the back side of weather that is a month or two early. In 30 years of playing that game, I have seen ice storms, tornadic conditions, white-outs, a foot of snow– you name it. I and my parties have escaped becoming mulch by:
1) Paying close attention to the weather and the weather reports.
2) Keeping an escape plan. If it turns bad, know how to bug out in a hurry.
3) Be ready to dump the trip, dumping the gear if necessary and escape.

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Garbage Bags as a Survival Tool — 2 Comments

  1. Before you post something ripping a man to shreds you should get your facts straight and think about his remaining children that have to see and hear this stuff from ignorant people! He did not decline a ride and newspapers retracted that later but I guess u didn’t bother to read that! There was a series of unfortunate events that happened here and I can only say that God has a plan for these three because he did a lot to get them up there with him! I can tell you there was no better father in the world than David. Please, before you put something down that his wife and kids might see think about your family…and if a tragedy happened in your family, would you want people to write horrible things about you?

  2. First off, I’m not ripping the guy to shreds. I’m just saying it was preventable. Second, I did not accuse David of refusing a ride– that was in the news story. I repeated it in good faith. Third, as a father of three sons, I can really feel for y’all. However, my main concern is with the living. My point is simply that something as simple as a garbage bag in the pocket might have kept this from happening. My family have been carrying them on trips for over two decades, and at least once, the bags saved us.

    Most hypothermia deaths are preventable. If this tragedy gets another father to think twice about going out in freezing rain unprepared, then something positive has been done. I only wrote about this, because I know the bags work, and they might prevent another tragedy like this from occurring.

    I don’t feel that I wrote anything horrible. However, I do feel sorry for David’s family. I also feel sorry for you. I can tell this is all deeply troubling to you. I’ve seen a lot of nasty comments about David online and I do not think they were deserved. Bad stuff happens to good people.I’ve been close to buying it a few times, and been damn glad the Good Lord spared me for another day. Rest assured that I do not harbor any ill thoughts towards David, or you or anyone else in this. I will pray for you.

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