5 Surprising Items that Would Help You on a Desert Island, According to a Survival Expert

Photo Illustration by Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss. Images, iStock.
Photo Illustration by Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss. Images, iStock.

"If you were stranded on a desert island, what would you want to have with you?"

We've all heard the question in some form. Maybe it was asked to reveal deeper character traits at a job interview, or as an icebreaker at a party. Typical answers range from the practical (a canteen of water) to the creative but slightly ridiculous (an endless supply of Buffalo wings). So, what would actually be handy to have at your disposal, should you find yourself marooned on a remote isle? The answers might surprise you.

Survival instructor Tony Nester has been studying survival skills for decades. Before founding Ancient Pathways survival school in Arizona in 1989, Nester spent his childhood hunting and fishing and a four-year period in young adulthood living off the land in caves and teepees across the country. A desert island, Nester says, similar to the wooded wilderness or frigid tundra which his courses for military troops, government agencies, and youth groups have covered over the years, presents a unique set of challenges survival-wise. But as he does for any survival situation, Nester emphasizes the importance of focusing on what he calls The Big Five: shelter, water, fire, signaling, and first aid. And if you heed his advice on these five somewhat unexpected essentials he recommended to Mental Floss, you'll fare better while stranded on a tropical island than your coworker who chose shampoo and their collection of Harry Potter books for entertainment.

1. A MACHETE

Photo illustration of a machete.
Photo Illustration by Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss. Images, iStock.

Forget the Swiss Army knife—it won't do you much good on a desert island. Because tropical environments are crowded with thick vegetation and tough surfaces, if you wind up deserted in one, you're going to need some serious hacking power. "You're not going to get by well with just a pocket knife, given the nature of what you're going to be harvesting—coconuts, and cutting down palm trees or saplings to make your shelter," Nester tells Mental Floss. The broad-bladed knives are cheap and easy to find if you're already in a coastal region, he says, and the size can depend on your preference, though something in the 14- to 18-inch range would be big enough for heavy chopping and small enough for MacGyvering utensils like bowls or spoons. Good luck bringing it in your carry-on pre-plane-crash, though.

2. A HAMMOCK

Photo illustration of a hammock.
Photo Illustration by Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss. Images, iStock.

We usually associate lounging in a hammock in a tropical environment with a carefree vacation, but Nester says if you're stranded on an island it can be a multipurpose lifesaver. A hammock's most important function in this case would be providing a place for you to sleep that's off the ground. You could use the machete to gather material to construct an elevated platform, but with a hammock you're protected from the spiders, critters, and snakes that are probably slithering around. Plus, you save yourself the time and precious energy all that elevated platform-building would drain. (Side note regarding those slithering snakes: Nester says snake bite kits are no good for your survival arsenal. Research suggests they can do more harm than good.) The hammock could also double as a heavy sheet of fabric when you need it: It could be used as a filtration system (it likely won't purify anything or desalt ocean water, but it could rid stream water of bugs and debris), and could work as a food-catching net, as shade, as a blanket, or as a raincoat.

3. A CELL PHONE (EVEN IF YOU DON'T HAVE SERVICE)

Photo illustration of a cell phone.
Photo Illustration by Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss. Images, iStock.

There'd be nowhere to plug it in and you probably wouldn't have service, but a cell phone could still be an important component of your survival. Nester recommends trying to get a text out, putting the phone's strobe feature on at night, or just turning it on for a couple hours each day you're stranded. "You may not be able to get cell reception," Nester says, "and you may not be able to get a message out, but you don't know if your phone's going to be pinging off the nearest tower on the next island, or on the coast, or somewhere else, and that can help searchers on the other end triangulate your location."

4. A SIGNAL MIRROR

Photo illustration of a signal mirror.
Photo Illustration by Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss. Image, Courtesy of the Manufacturer.

No, this isn't what you'd use to start a fire—though having a spark rod to do just that is another top priority item for Nester, right up there with the machete. You'd need to specially order one online, but a signal mirror is a 2-inch by 3-inch glass mirror that is designed to alert nearby planes, boats, or other rescuers that you're there. There's a sighting device in the middle of the mirror that, when held at the right angle toward the sun, sends flashes that can be seen for miles (Nester says he's had flashes seen up to 26 miles away). "It's not taking up any sweat or calories on my end, but that can carry a long way," Nester says. When you're not using the mirror to actively signal, you can hang it from your makeshift shelter or tree so that even if you're sleeping, its glint may be able to draw some attention.

5. A FAMILY PHOTO

Photo illustration of a family photo.
Photo Illustration by Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss. Images, iStock.

Out of all the things that Nester says can help you survive in a dire situation—fishing gear, heavy-duty bug repellant, and storm-proof matches would also make his must-have list—the one item that could really keep you alive is a laminated photo of your loved ones. A fire can keep you warm and a machete can keep you fed, but that picture might just keep you sane. In Cast Away (a movie, Nester says, that still holds up and used his fellow experts in the survival skills community as consultants for accuracy), Tom Hanks's character uses the picture he has of his girlfriend to keep himself going. Wilson the volleyball, though maybe not the first thing you'd think to include on your survival checklist, serves a similar purpose.

"You think, 'OK, this is going to be an ugly night, it's going to be rough,'" Nester says. "'I hurt myself, my ribs are broken, I've got to make fire and do all these things, but you know what? I'm going to be here in the morning when the sun comes up because I'm going to make it back to my kids or my family or my golden retriever.'" The will to survive and your psychological health, the U.S. Air Force Pocket Survival Handbook repeatedly notes, is often a more important factor in survival than physical preparedness. And for Nester, a visual reminder of who it is you need to get back to—"whatever it is that's going to get you through that situation"—is a definite Big Five item.

Sesame Street and Game of Thrones Collide in This Epic Crossover

Sesame Workshop, YouTube
Sesame Workshop, YouTube

In the much-debated discussion over who will sit on the Iron Throne in the final season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, few have stopped to consider the possibility of Elmo. And yet that potential exists in some small measure, as the Sesame Street character is seen visiting King’s Landing in this public service announcement recently released on YouTube by Sesame Workshop.

In the clip, Elmo is seen sitting down with Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) and Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) to discuss their animosity. In typical Elmo fashion, he’s looking for the two to settle their differences. You can watch the video to see if he manages to convince them that mutual respect is in their best interests.

In 2015, HBO became the exclusive first-run home of Sesame Street, with episodes premiering on the network several months before they air on PBS. While Elmo would seem an unlikely presence on Game of Thrones, it’s probably better than having him pop up on Deadwood or Oz. The final season of Game of Thrones is currently airing and concludes May 19.

[h/t Deadline]

Trivial Pursuit Has Launched a Shakespeare Edition

Oli Scarff, Getty Images
Oli Scarff, Getty Images

Do you know which year William Shakespeare died? Can you recall some of the less memorable facts about his plays, like the name of the nobleman who was in love with Desdemona in Othello? If so, you have pretty good odds of crushing the competition while playing this Shakespeare edition of Trivial Pursuit.

According to British station ITV, the game can now be purchased online and in stores from The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust—and yes, there’s international shipping. Proceeds from the game help support the five Shakespeare family homes and programs that are currently managed by the Trust, which is based in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Ideal for travel, this “bitesize” game doesn’t come with a board. Instead, it has a die, a wedge holder, and 100 cards containing 600 questions. Players will be quizzed in six categories that span Shakespeare’s life and work, including comedies, tragedies, histories, characters, biography, and legacy.

While the questions will certainly be challenging, they won’t be “too obtuse,” according to Shakespeare scholar Nick Walton, who designed the questions alongside another Shakespeare expert, Anjna Chouhan.

“Most people will know something about Shakespeare, whether it’s his works or life and history,” Chouhan said in a statement. “But everyone’s knowledge is so different, which is why writing 600 questions for a broad audience was quite challenging and, hopefully, really rewarding for players to answer.”

Get the game for £13 (about $17) on the Trust’s website

[h/t ITV]

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