Death Valley - hottest place on Earth

The bottom: ‘Badwater Basin’, 282 ft below sea level

I’m lucky enough to have done survival training in some pretty extreme places, including the driest desert on Earth in Chile’s Atacama. While I was away recently with our desert survival course I managed to visit the hottest place on our planet, Death Valley.

I took the picture on the salt flat at Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, it’s summer days are regularly up at 120 Fahrenheit (almost 50 Celsius). Hot stuff. The air here is so dry that you can lose almost ten litres of water per day just sitting in the shade - if you could find any.

John Hudson Death Valley.jpg

Old-school snowshoes and mukluks

Snowshoe and mukluk on the move.jpg

When snow is deep, movement over it is pretty much impossible without big feet. Our ancestors recognised that, and copied animals like the aptly named Snowshoe Hare, who have big, furry feet. 

Our extremities like fingers, toes, ears and nose - the very ends of our warm blood's circulatory system - can get dangerously cold if we don't wrap them in warm layers too. I wanted to have a go at making the old-style items used by people in the past to traverse deep snow and stay warm, so I made some mukluks and snowshoes.

The mukluk liners are two layered wool, cut from a Hudson's Bay blanket (no relation - I don't think, but they are made in my family's old home town). I based the design of my liners on one in the Canadian History Museum. The outers are made of moose hide and canvas, and I got the bits from Dave and Kielyn at Lure of the North, again in Canada. These shoes are super comfy and warm, even at -30 Celsius that I wore them in (and I'm sure a lot lower too), the critical thing with clothing in really cold climates is for it not to be too tight that it restricts your circulation.

The snowshoes themselves took longer to put together than the mukluks, but in combination they were a real pleasure to use. The Ojibwa style I chose went great across the frozen lakes of Northern Norway, at the very top of Arctic Europe, but were a bit trickier on the gradients of the portages in between. Route selection was the key there. The bindings were simple cotton strips that allow my heel to raise as I walk.

With kit like this, which you can make for yourself, you can access remote wilderness at any time of year, just like the pioneers of the past did.

Filson Talk

 Filson's Soho store was the venue for a talk on "Dressing to Survive"

Filson's Soho store was the venue for a talk on "Dressing to Survive"

I was invited by US outdoor gear makers Filson to talk at their London store, about what to wear to survive in the harshest climates on Earth. I went through regions of the world where you need to dress for warmth, to protect from extreme heat, and passed around some stuff I've made myself. A key part of clothing is how it feels when you're wearing it, so I explained the many uses of a Battle of Britain pilot's silk scarf, and then after some great questions, I put on my trusty Filson jacket to head for a pint.

  My mittens that I made for the high Arctic, ensuring my hands stay warm at minus 65 Celsius (-85F)

My mittens that I made for the high Arctic, ensuring my hands stay warm at minus 65 Celsius (-85F)

Safer Care Talk

Lloyds talk.jpg

I was invited to talk to Lloyds Pharmacy's patient safety specialists, looking at how the work they do to cultivate and grow a true safety culture has a huge range of similarities with what I do. I spoke about the genesis of military survival training, which ultimately lead to it's own safety culture, showing how a network of passionate volunteers can spread best practice and raise safety standards in any walk of life. The talk was encapsulated in digital art by Caroline Rudge, here's her brilliant piece: 

image1.JPG

Desert Islands

Over the last few months all my spare time has been spent writing about how to survive anywhere; from the Arctic to offices, and yesterday I was thinking about desert islands. They are the go-to metaphor for survival, and you don't have to look far to see them in popular culture's idea of what survival is all about. But I'm writing about real life, not reality TV, and the real difficulties of desert islands aren't the obvious ones. The island in the picture was the scene of several people's real-life survival ordeals, over a few decades. It holds many challenges physically – there's no easy water source for a start – but the biggest challenges to any castaway are psychological. That's where I'm focusing my attention this week.

Arctic Clothing – what I wear when it's really cold

Layers of Cold Weather Clothing

People often ask what's best to wear when it's really, really cold. This short animation of all my arctic clobber laid out on a parachute gives an idea of just how much you need to have on to stay warm; this lot worked for me when it got to below -60 Celsius, less than -80 Fahrenheit. 

Base layer, next to the skin

Base Layer – Your next to the skin clothing traps a boundary layer of warm air and wicks away sweat, but it also needs to be comfy – there's nothing worse than an itch you can't scratch through 6 inches of clothing; merino wool is good. Really warm socks are a must, I prefer Thorlo mountaineering ones.

Warm layers trap pockets of air

Warm Layers – The layers above your base one are there to trap pockets of air that will stay warm. Wool is best, I like the Swedish ones made by Ullfrotte and you can't beat a Norwegian Army jumper over that. The other, super-warm gear I really rate is made by Austrian firm Carinthia. I've worn it making Survive That and teaching SERE in the high Arctic. The jacket and trousers here are their ECIG (extreme cold insulation garment) ones.

windproof shell layer

Shell Layer – The outer, windproof layer is the key to keeping the warm air trapped near you, not blown away. Braces on trousers help prevent overheating if you're working by venting excess heat, but it's always best to remove some warm layers before work starts too. Sweat kills in the Arctic because it soaks your clothing, and water conducts heat away from you 24 times faster than air. Really warm boots with thick innersoles, like these Baffin Shackletons, stop warmth leaving by conduction to the snow, they're rated to -100 Celsius. 

windproof shell layer

Head Stuff – To protect your head and face, a warm hat – mine's an old Norwegian Air Force one, neck warming 'headover' and then fur round your windproof jacket's hood works really well, plus goggles for when it's very windy; like under a helicopter.

Gloves and mittens

Hand Stuff – If you lose your manual dexterity through the cold it can mean death in the Arctic, so good hand protection is vital. For working I wear Hestra gloves. For snow-machining (skidoo-ing) or where you don't need to use individual fingers, mittens keep your hands warmer. I wear three layers; inner silk flying gloves, wool-pile warm layer mittens, then fur outers - with wrist lanyards to prevent losing them in high winds.

cam whites

The final layer is for the E & E part of SERE, snow camouflage protects you from hostile detection, 'nuff said. It takes a long time to get dressed.

JH ResBay

Ejection Seat survival kit

 the martin baker museum

the martin baker museum

I was over at the home of ejection seats recently; the Martin Baker factory. My job was to advise on what survival kit should go into the seat pack for the RAF's new F35 jet. The kit will help keep a pilot alive after ejection on land or at sea, as their aircraft will be flying from the Royal Navy's new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers. There will be different kit options if they're operating in Desert, Arctic, Jungle or Temperate regions too. That's a lot of gear to fit in a small box – it's all about prioritising.

Editing new book chapters

 Chapter editing 

Chapter editing 

I've had the bonnet up on one of the chapters that I'm writing for my new book. I've had some great feedback from my publisher, very useful considering how different it is now from the first draft of six months ago. Editing 7000-odd words was too eye boggling on the laptop for me, so I had to go at it old-school; paper and crayon style. 

UK SERE Coin

SERE Coin

I was asked to design a ‘challenge' coin for the annual SERE symposium. The winged boot motif came out ok, it's a modern take on the WW2 badge of the Late Arrivals Club. It was originally awarded to RAF airmen who made it back to friendly lines after being forced down in the North African deserts.  

SERE coin design