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Survival Lab: Caveman Skills

No knife? No rope? No problem. For our great-great-great-great-great-great grandfathers, every day was a survival epic, and they fashioned simple blades and cordage from raw wilderness. With a bit of practice, so can you.

2. Simple cord
You’ll need…

Natural fibers These are everywhere­—and strong: Indigenous people still build suspension bridges out of grass in South America. Almost any grass or inner tree bark (cambium) that pulls into fibrous strips will work, with varying strength and flexibility (best bets: cedar, willow, cottonwood, cattail, stinging nettle, basswood, fireweed, and yucca). Dead and dry is better (soak it for 10 minutes to up pliability); green shoots may have to be pounded to make the grass flexible. Pull bark out in ribbons and discard the woody, outer layer.

Pro tip
Roll strips to further break down fibers so they can bend without snapping.

Key Skill Wrapping

The reverse wrap is the easiest, oldest way to bind diffuse fibers into durable rope. (1) Using both hands, pinch taut one ribbon or small bundle of fibers in the middle. (2) In a mustache-twirling motion, twist the bundle toward you in your left hand and away from you in your right; the bundle should eventually kink and form a loop. (3) Pinch the resulting Y-junction tight with your left hand so both strands hang to the right. (4) With your right thumb and forefinger, take the further strand and twist away from you one turn. (5) Wrap it over the other strand and pinch the new Y-junction. (6) Repeat using the other strand, occasionally straightening and tightening each new junction. When you run out of ribbon, splice in a new section by twisting it into the existing strand on step 4. Pro tip Several cords can be reverse-wrapped together to make stronger ropes.

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