Thursday, August 22, 2019

ODE TO THE CANTEEN CUP





Of course the US Army couldn’t bear to give a piece of equipment so simple a name as canteen cup, so the official nomenclature is technically “Cup, Water, Canteen: Steel W/Folding Handle, 1 ea.” By the way, in case you’re into memorizing National Stock Numbers, it’s NSN 8465001656838.
To carry the stuff I need for hunting as well as just-in-case survival gear when I’m hunting up in the mountains I wear an LBE supporting a butt pack, ammo pouches, a compass pouch, my emergency satellite transponder beacon, and two canteens. One of those canteens is always an old metal USGI one-quart model (if you’ve ever tried to thaw a plastic canteen over an open fire, you know why I use stainless steel instead) so it seemed like a no-brainer that I should include the cup with it. It takes up almost literally no room since the canteen and cup are designed to neatly nest one within the other and both then fit just right into the canteen holder.
           At first glance it might seem like an unnecessary accessory, but it actually comes in handy in quite a few ways.
          One simple little thing that I’ve found in the mountains, especially up high, is that the water sources you find may be little more than a tiny trickle, certainly nothing you could submerge a water bottle or canteen in. Here, the canteen cup makes the job of gathering water from these small sources much easier. Once full, you simply out the water into your canteen or water bottle and repeat the process until you’re all topped off.
          You can also melt snow, warm liquids, boil water or even cook simple meals in a canteen cup as well. This is why I prefer the old school M-1910 World War-style cup which has a long, single folding handle that locks in the open position with two metal tabs that slide into slots on the riveted mounting plate. This type of long handle allows you to safely pick up the cup from a fire or other heat source without burning your hand. The newer, smaller LC-1 cup with the folding wire bail “butterfly” handles doesn’t offer any length between those handles (and the fingers that hold them) and the fire.
          The canteen cup is hardly perfect. The metal rim, especially on the aluminum cups, can get hot enough to burn your lips while having your morning coffee if you’re not careful. Otherwise, it’s a KISS simple piece of gear designed for hard use in the field.
          One nice non-USGI accessory I added is the inexpensive Rotcho stainless steel canteen cup lid which is designed to snugly fit the top of the cup and has a small, folding wire bail for handling on top. Especially at high altitudes, a cover allows you to heat up the contents of the cup quicker and easier.
          For stirring, cooking and eating I also carry an old metal spoon. My thoughtful wife once got me a thick plastic survival spork, which I managed to break the first time I used it. So I went back to my old spoon since even I have some difficulty in breaking metal.
          There are other uses for a canteen cup in survival situations. I’ve used mine to scoop up snow to throw into the body cavity of a field-dressed big game animal, to clear snow from the ground, and you could probably do a little digging with it in soft soil if you really had to. A sane person would be highly unlikely to equate “canteen cup” with “boot dryer”, but where there’s a will (or an extreme need) there’s a way.
          On the second of two occasions I had to spend an unanticipated night on the mountain while hunting, it was in a snowstorm in the depths of winter. Even after changing into the dry wool socks I carry in the butt pack, I just could not get my feet warm in my boots, which were damp and clammy inside from my own perspiration after strenuous hiking in rough, steep country all day.
Recalling an old infantryman trick I’d read about long ago in a book about the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, I decided to give it a try. I gathered a bunch of small, smooth stones from a nearby creek, put them in my canteen cup, and set it in the fire until the stones were bone dry and piping hot. Then I put the hot rocks in a wool sock and lowered it into a boot to let them help warm and steam the shoe dry inside. It did require multiple applications to each boot, but eventually I got them dried out enough inside that my feet finally stayed warm.
          Here’s where ye olde canteen cup really saved my butt one time. It was the first time that I had to unexpectedly spend a night on the mountain when I couldn’t get back to my truck. I’d been black bear hunting and glassed one feeding on a distant hillside more than a mile away. It took awhile, since I first had to descend the main ridge, cross a stream, and then work my way over multiple lower but still steep finger ridges to get within range. Eventually I topped one last ridge, the crest providing cover in the form of clumps of Douglas fir, ranged the bear at 281 yards, and dropped him with a 180-grain Sierra from my .30-’06.
          After the shot, of course, is when the real work begins. It was also my first attempt at field dressing and skinning a bear so I was at the bottom end of the learning curve. It was a beautiful September Indian Summer day, really too nice since a daytime high temperature of near 80 degrees had been forecast. In direct sunlight on a west-facing slope catching the full blast of the afternoon sun lay my bear. I stripped my upper body down to just my T-shirt for the procedure.
When it came to skinning, I wanted to cut off the paws and head intact within the hide for the taxidermist to make a rug, which shouldn’t have been a problem. Until I reached for my bone saw and found that the belt loop on the cheap nylon carrying case it came in had torn off somewhere in my travels, leaving me without said bone saw and holster. Fortunately, I still had my Leatherman. When I unfolded the saw blade, I suddenly remembered I had broken it, leaving me with a stub of a saw only about an inch and a half long. An already involved job now became a long, tedious and physically demanding procedure to sever four leg bones with that thing.
          By the time I was done, I was utterly parched, soaked with perspiration and well baked in the afternoon sun. I had long since consumed the two quarts of water in my canteens. So, after washing up the best I could in the tiny stream at the bottom of the draw, I broke out my compact and hardly inexpensive Katadyn Mini water filter to refill my canteens. The filter almost immediately crapped out on me and refused to work.
          This was kind of a big deal, since I knew I was sliding rapidly towards dehydration. Up high in the wilderness I can often find springs that are safe to drink from directly, but this particular area was lower down and part of a very well-used grazing allotment. Every stream, rivulet, trickle and spring I might be able to find was well plastered with cow pies and thus virtually guaranteed to be contaminated with Giardia. Already dehydrated, the last thing I needed was to start losing more moisture out the other end. When the Giardia takes hold, your bowels start to gurgle ominously and the next thing you know you can, as a friend of mine once put it, “Shit through a screen door at ten paces.”
          I drug the carcass down the hillside to the small creek at the bottom and cooled it off the best I could before dragging it up on a fallen log and putting some fir boughs over it for the night. I rolled up the hide, tied it with p-cord, and slung it over one shoulder. Then I headed for the truck, where I had some bottled water stashed in the box.
          By now, of course, it was dark. I found my way through the woods with my headlamp, often consulting my compass to stay headed in the right general direction. The return trip somehow proved to be much longer and harder and steeper than the route in, when I was still fresh and charged up with the stalk. I toiled endlessly up and down the intervening finger ridges, which had treacherously managed to multiply and steepen in my absence, now with the added weight of a bear hide on my back. I wasted a great deal of energy climbing a hilltop I didn’t really need to ascend trying unsuccessfully to find a spot with some cell phone coverage so I could call my wife to let her know what was going on. All the physical exertion and lack of water were taking their toll and I started to get a headache.
          Eventually I emerged atop the last finger ridge. By only starlight, I could make out the towering black silhouette of the last timbered ridge I still needed to cross to get back to the trail that led to the truck. It was a steep SOB, ascending around 800 feet in altitude in less than a quarter of a mile, and the entire north-facing slope was covered with thick timber that had large swaths of blowdown which required climbing through and/or crawling under. Even after conquering that ridge, it was still nearly two more miles back to the truck.
          I just simply didn’t have it me to make all that. I needed to spend the night and recover and, most importantly, get hydrated. I simply went straight downhill until I found water at the very bottom of the steep draw, a tiny silver stream trickling through a bed of mossy stones and cow pies.
          I broke off some boughs to make a thin browse bed on the ground under the shelter of a stout, wide-limbed Doug fir, then built a fire. I filled up my trusty canteen cup in the stream, put the lid on, and set it in the edge of the fire. After it reached a roiling boil for a few minutes, I carefully poured the water into my canteen, which I set in the streambed in a couple of inches of water to cool. Then I repeated the process.
          This is basically how I spent half the night. I’d drink the contents of one canteen as I boiled more water to fill the other one. I was really dehydrated. I recall going through four full quarts, one gallon, as fast as I could boil and cool the water. Then I made a canteen cup of tea followed by another one of soup bullion from my little sardine can survival kit. After all that, I finally managed to urinate a tiny amount after many hours of having no urge or need to do so. I celebrated by polishing off another quart canteen of water.
          I didn’t try to go to sleep until I had both canteens refilled. I chugged one for breakfast before beginning the hike out and consumed the other en route, since it took me over two hours to get back to the truck. Without my trusty canteen cup giving me the ability to purify drinking water and re-hydrate myself, the adventure could have ended badly. At the very least, I would have wound up with a case of Giardia.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Glad to see a post from you guys - you were missed ! :^)

I thought a cup / pot for the 2 litre canteen would be a good idea. The bladder is approximately 3" wide x 7" both other ways. A pot that is 3" x 7" would hold approximately 2 1/2 quarts of liquid when filled so 2 quarts easy. Longer objects could be fully immersed and you would only need to have one end of pot over heat source. A pair of holes drilled near top for wire hanging / inserting nails to carry or a folding pot handle for two of the holes to grasp if you prefer.

Just some random thoughts - thanks again for posting.

Bawb said...

Wow! I guess that means someone actually reads our stuff. I hadn't thunk about a canteen cup for the 2-liter canteen.

FWIW, I've been doing a lot of back country scouting and hunting this year. For my instant oatmeal and freeze-dried dinners I just put each meal individually in a heavy duty freezer-type quart Ziplock bag. Then I just have to boil water in ye olde canteen cup, add it, and then eat right out of the bag when it's ready. Meantime I can enjoy a coffee or hot beverage with the rest of the water in the canteen cup. When I'm done, the empty bag goes in the pack-out garbage and I don't even have to wash a single dish.

Anonymous said...

That is a good way to cook that up. Plastic bags are a miracle material.

Aquarium bags are pretty strong units and aren't that expensive. Come in all sorts of shapes to, handy for keeping tabs on stored camping supplies. Just roll up the tops and metal clip them shut.

Yeah, I found your blog by accident and really enjoy reading it. Great historical information and 'I'll be damned' content - very good indeed. Thanks for keeping it going.

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