Wilderness Survival Skills: Camp Alarms

If you find yourself in a situation where you need to be alerted to intruders in your camp, knowing how to make camp alarms is an important addition to your wilderness survival skills.

Tent at night

Adding the knowledge of how to set a camp alarm to your wilderness survival skills can give you greater peace of mind if you are concerned about intruders.

Photo by Fotolia/Mariusz Blach

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Wilderness survival requires many outdoor survival skills, not least how to find food and defend your camp. The Trapper’s Bible (Paladin Press, 1987) by Dale Martin has instructions for snares, traps, camp alarms and pathguards that range from discouraging to deadly. With a little practice, you can set snares to capture anything from rabbits to deer and moose, build transplant traps for nuisance animals or set up your camp so you will be alerted—or defended—in case of intruders. The following excerpt is from chapter 4, “Camp Alarms.”

At times you can feel more secure if the paths into your camp at night are set with noisemakers to let you know if someone is walking up on you.

A Simple Camp Alarm

The most handy little device I’ve ever run across is in the realm of fireworks. It, most simply, is a firecracker with a string coming out of each end. When either end is pulled, the firecracker explodes. You do not have to light it with a match or a lighter of any kind. These fireworks are cheap. They sell for about a dime a box, and a box contains twelve. I do not see how they are made so cheaply, much less retailed for that price. They are sold under different names, but most people call them booby traps. At Christmas and other holidays, I stock up. You can buy hundreds of them for two or three dollars.

In case the use of these booby traps is not apparent to you by now, this is how they can be used as a primitive alarm system. Run a string across any likely paths into your camp. Tie one end firmly on one side of the path to whatever solid object is available (tree, stake, limb, etc.)

On the other end, tie the string to one of the strings on the booby trap. Tie the string on the other end of the booby trap to something solid on that side of the path. Set the string across the path so that it is about one foot from the ground and fairly taut (see slideshow).

When someone comes down the path during the night, his foot will catch on the string, jerking it and exploding the firecracker. If one of these booby traps is not loud enough, tie six or eight together in the same fashion. The more the merrier!

These booby traps will have to be bought, as opposed to being homemade as most of the things in this book are. I suspect that they may be difficult to make yourself. But, they are so cheap, why bother? Buy some when the time is right, since they might not be readily available when you actually need them.

There is an added benefit to these alarms. In addition to letting you know of an intruder, they are great for scaring off the weak at heart. A would-be bad guy coming into your camp for no good reason would likely have second thoughts if six or eight (or a dozen) firecrackers explode three feet away in the dark when he trips the trip wire.

Variation on the Simple Camp Alarm

If you wish to set a firmer lesson for your intruder, do this. Tie a wire or strong cord tightly across the path into your camp, firmly attached to objects on both sides. Then, place a log (or whatever you want your intruder to fall into) just past the trip wire.

If, during the night, an intruder doesn’t see the wire and trips, he will most likely catch his teeth on the log you have set a few feet past the wire. I prefer the booby trap, myself. It just depends on the situation and how serious you feel the threat against you to be. How serious the threat is can determine what you set beyond the wire for the intruder to fall on.

Camp Safety with Barbed Wire

The old standby is the barbed wire and tin can routine. You have seen this in a thousand war movies. To use this, you really would have to be in almost a war-type setting. It is a lot of trouble and is expensive if you do not just happen to have a lot of barbed wire around.

You can string the wire with the tin cans attached all the way around the perimeter of your camp or just on the paths into your camp. The wire needs to be in tangled coils so that someone cannot just step through it like they would a barbed wire fence. Use lots of cans. Theoretically, when someone gets his clothes caught on the barbs trying to slip through, it will jiggle the whole mess, rattling the cans. Note: Do not try to use this method only on the paths into your camp unless other routes into your camp are a sheer rock cliff or something on that order. Unlike the trip wire shown earlier, your intruder will usually see this barrier of barbed wire and cans as the coils need to be about three feet high to be effective. In most cases, if using this method, you will need to use it all the way around your camp. If your situation is this desperate, do a good job.

A Louder Camp Alarm

The tin can alarm I like best is the tin can snare. It is very much like a pest snare except that it jerks up (or drops) a wired-up blob of about 20 tin cans, making a heck of a racket.

Set a stake in the ground with a nail in it, and rig a whittled peg release. Run the cord over a limb and tie it to about 20 tin cans instead of running it to a spring pole. Loosely string a trip line across it to the whittled peg. Loosely is the key word in the last sentence (see slideshow).

When the trip line is tripped, the cans will fall with a loud racket. You can even have them fall on your intruder if there is a convenient limb available. For that matter, if the situation were desperate enough, you could have it drop something other than tin cans on him. That will be left to your discretion.

You can reverse the procedure if you wish. Instead of the tin cans dangling in the air, put a weight in their place. Then, on the ground, tie the coil of tin cans to the whittled peg release so that when the wire is tripped, the cans go up, rattling all the way.

There are a lot of things like those mentioned here that will keep you alert to someone intruding in your area. These are all relatively harmless to your intruder—certainly not fatal, barring some accident. The barbed-wire treatment might not thrill your adversary, but odds are he would live through it.


Reprinted with permission from The Trapper’s Bible: Traps, Snares, and Pathguards by Dale Martin and published by Paladin Press, 1987.