Tagged "Survival skills"

Four Mistakes You Don’t Have to Make on Your Next Excursion

Posted by Leighton Taylor on

Photo by Bureau of Land Management. Used under Creative Commons.

“They” say experience is the best teacher. What “they” neglect to add is that you can also learn from other people’s mistakes experiences without experiencing the thing itself. This goes for any area of life, backpacking and hiking included. No matter how many books you read on backpacking to help you prepare for your first ever hiking trip, you're still bound to make a mistake or two while backpacking. There are a few mistakes that seem to repeat themselves all throughout the annals of backpacking beginners though, so instead of repeating these mistakes, take a few minutes to learn from the typical beginner’s experience.

The Disastrous Dresser

Photo by Loren Kerns. Used under Creative Commons.

We all know that it’s important to dress for success when it comes to the professional world. Well, the same goes for the great outdoors. You'll need to be dressed appropriately if you want a successful backpacking trip. Improper clothes can guarantee an uncomfortable hike. It can sometimes even lead to serious injury. So if you want to avoid having a this-is-the-last-time-you'll-ever-catch-me-doing-this hike, you'll need to think hard about what you'll be wearing.

A lot of beginner hikers think that rubber shoes or sneakers are great for hiking. And they would be during the first hour of the trek. It won’t take much time, though, until this sneaker-wearing beginner is singing a different tune. While sneakers or rubber shoes are certainly comfortable, they aren't built for trekking in the wild. Hiking shoes, on the other hand, can ensure that your feet are comfortable whether you're walking on a flat trail or an uneven one filled with rocks and roots. The height of the boots also ensures that you won't injure your ankle if you slip, stumble, or fall.

As for your actual clothes, many beginner backpackers are unaware how unsuitable clothes made of cotton are for the great outdoors. Cotton retains moisture which means it will take a lot of time to dry out if it gets wet (even if it's just from your sweat). Clothes made from wool, silk, or synthetics are a better option.

The Unprepared

One of the worst mistakes that beginner backpackers make is not getting mentally and physically prepared for a hike. A lot of people think that hiking is just plain walking in the great outdoors. Unfortunately, there's a lot more to it than that. No matter what kind of trail, any hiker, experienced or otherwise, needs to get into shape and build endurance.

Mental preparation for beginner hikers means knowing what your limits are. Many novices are too stubborn to listen to their bodies, feeling the need to prove themselves capable. Unfortunately, this stubbornness and lack of mental preparation can lead to strained/pulled muscles or, worse, injuries due to exhaustion. Knowing when to stop is something that any hiker, experienced or otherwise, should be able to do.

Failure to prepare also means not having the proper supplies or having too much. Some beginner backpackers think that dialing down on the things you'll be bringing with you is a good thing because you won't be carrying much weight with you while hiking. If you lack experience, this could land you in a pit of misery without food, water, appropriate clothing, or whatever else you decided not to bring with you. Some novices make the mistake of bringing too much, carrying a lot of stuff that they won't even get to use. The best way to avoid this mistake is to have a backpacking checklist to make sure that you're neither over-prepared or underprepared.

The Weather Ignoramus

Photo by Wesley Fryer. Used under Creative Commons.

A little rain never hurt anyone, right? Well, that's what most novices think anyway when they hear a forecast of rain on the day of their hike.The weather is actually an incredibly important factor on what equipment (i.e. tent, sleeping bag, backpack) and clothes you'll need for your hike. More importantly, serious weather can mean dangerous trail conditions that novices won't be able to handle.
In order to avoid this costly mistake, make sure that you check the National Weather Service’s website or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website to find out what the weather will be like at the location you’ll be hiking in.

The Novice with a Need for Speed

Novice backpackers are almost always so eager to get to the end of the trail that they tend to rush during the easier or earlier portions of the hike. Unfortunately, this wears them out quickly; they lose all the energy they need in order to get through the rough patches of the trail. To avoid this mistake, keep a delightful mental image of a turtle in your mind and chant from time to time: slow and steady wins the race. With a steady pace, you're able to conserve your energy for the steep climbs or rough "roads" as well as enjoy the beauty of nature surrounding you (wouldn’t want to miss that!). You'll also lower your chances of slipping, sliding, stumbling, or falling, things that could occur when you race through your hike.

Of course, there are plenty of other mistakes that you can make as a beginner backpacker. You could wear your boots fresh out of the box, not taking the time to break them in. You could have brought a first aid kit that rivals those used by Marines. You could bring equipment that you don’t know how to use. Sure, knowing about the most common mistakes can help you avoid them. But let’s be real, you can’t prepare for every little thing. Hiking is an activity that requires learning, where you’re constantly challenged and faced with the unknown. The best thing you can do is to have a sense of adventure and to learn from every hiking trip you make.

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When Wild Animals Attack

Posted by Leighton Taylor on

Photo by miracles83. Used under Creative Commons.

You're out in the wild, breathing in the fresh air, and enjoying being one with nature. You've got your camp set up and you're looking forward to a relaxing time. Things are looking pretty good. Suddenly, you spy something that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. It's a wild animal, and it isn't one of those cute, cuddly ones either. Wild animals are unpredictable. They can choose to ignore you and blithely go their own way. Or they could do the charming thing and attack you.

What do you do if an animal does attack you? Do you run? Stand your ground? Stab it with your survival knife? Play dead? It all depends on the type of wild animal you have confronting you. So, read on and learn all about what you can do to avoid becoming the next thing on a wild animal’s menu.

Bear Attacks

Photo by Heath Alseike. Used under Creative Commons.

Bears might look cute and cuddly on TV, but all of them, no matter what species, can be deadly. Like any wild animal, bears attack when they feel threatened, or if they are protecting their young. They also attack if you appear to be competing with them for food. And then, of course, there are the bears that attack you because you are food. So, what do you do if you ever encounter a bear? Below are some tips that should help.

  • Never run. Regardless of the species of bear you’re facing, running will only trigger the attack.
  • Don’t make eye contact so you don’t appear aggressive.
  • Back away slowly but never turn your back on the bear.
  • If it’s a black bear or a polar, then make loud noises. It might drive the bear away.
  • If it’s a black bear and it appears to only be doing a classic bluff attack (trying to scare you away), then make yourself appear larger by waving your arms over your head. 
  • Make sure that the bear has an escape route so it won’t feel cornered and attack.
  • Try to move upwind of the bear. This allows it to scent you as human, alerting it to the fact that you are not its normal prey.

Now, if the bear is going straight at you with its head down and watching you closely, you might have to fight for your life. Your first line of defense is your bear pepper spray. If it still hasn’t stopped and is now up close and personal, try to hit the bear's vulnerable points - its eyes and nose - as hard as you can, using whatever weapons you have at hand be it your survival knife, a pot, or a jagged rock.

Mountain Lions

Photo by California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Used under Creative Commons.

You've probably seen how a mountain lion catches its prey in the wild. It will stalk the prey until it finds the right moment to strike. So, if a mountain lion thinks you're a viable food source, then you can be sure that when it attacks, you're seriously in trouble. If you are unfortunate enough to tangle with one, fight back aggressively; use anything you can get your hands on as a weapon - your survival knife, a rock, a stick, your pack, etc. Try to hit its eyes and stay on your feet. Convince it that you are not easy prey.

If you ever encounter a mountain lion in the wild, don't run, turn your back, try to hide, or crouch down. All of these actions will trigger the animal's instinct to attack. Stand tall and try to look bigger than you are. If the mountain lion shows aggressive behavior, make loud noises (i.e. shout), wave your arms, and throw rocks.


Moose can be just as dangerous as bears, especially during fall and winter. These large, stubborn animals often attack when they feel threatened or if they think you're trespassing on their property. While they don't have claws and fangs that can maim you, their antlers and hooves can do a lot of damage.

Now, most moose attacks are just bluffs - warning you to go away, so make sure to back away and put as much distance as you can between yourself and the moose. The good thing about moose is that they are not natural predators. Running away from them won't stimulate an attack response. In addition, if a moose tries to chase you, it won't do it for long, just enough to ensure that you're staying away.

If for any reason you can't run, try to get behind a large obstacle such as a tree or boulder and make sure that it stays between you and the moose. Even better, try climbing a tree. If the unfortunate happens and the moose gets to knock you down, make sure to protect yourself from its hooves as it kicks and stomps on you. Cover your head with your hands and curl up into a ball. Don't move from your position until the moose goes away. Otherwise, that moose just might think you need another beating to get its message.

Of course, there are a lot of other wild animals that can attack you while you’re enjoying the great outdoors. To fully prepare yourself for any possibility, make sure that you learn all about the wildlife in the area where you’ll be staying at and then be sure to bring supplies (such as your survival knife, some bear pepper spray, bells, or maybe even a gun) that can help you fend off attacks.  After all, you don’t want to end up being somebody else’s lunch.




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What Not to Wear

Posted by Leighton Taylor on

Photo by True New Zealand Adventures. Used under Creative Commons.

Clothes make the man (or woman) even if you're only camping or hiking in the wild. Obviously, we're not telling you to dress fashionably. But what you wear while you're out camping is very important. A poor choice in clothing could turn what should have been an enjoyable trip into an extremely uncomfortable one. And sometimes, your clothes could mean life or death in the wild.

So, what do you wear when you go camping or hiking? Well, most of what you will need will depend on what season it is and the location you're planning on visiting. If the weather’s cold or you’re going to be high up in the mountains, obviously you’ll need clothes that will keep you warm. Hotter weather will mean lighter or less clothes. Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of clothes though, we’ll first focus on the one thing that matters most – your shoes.

What's the big deal with shoes? Well, should you happen to buy hiking or camping clothes that aren’t quite right, you can always supplement or subtract. If the weather is too cold for what you’re wearing, then you can wear more clothes. If it's too hot, wear clothes that are lighter (or just take off a layer). Unfortunately, if you're wearing the wrong shoes, you’re stuck like a pig who mistook quicksand for a muddy paradise. Your shoes can only go on or off. They don’t adhere to the supplement or subtract principle. With the wrong shoes, you’re risking foot pain, discomfort, or even injury (not great when you depend on your feet to get you home). So, if you're going to go hiking, there's only one option for you - hiking boots.

Hiking Boots

Hiking boots provide your feet ample comfort while making sure that there is limited flexibility at your ankles which prevents you from easily twisting your ankle (or worse) when you slip, stumble, or fall. They also help you maintain your balance even if you're walking on uneven ground. And if you’re against having sloshy muddy feet as you hike, you’ll definitely want hiking boots. They are usually 5-7 inches high, so your feet will be protected from any mud or water you encounter on the trail. (They incidentally also act as a great place to carry a small survival knife like the Cold Steel Super Edge 42SS).

Photo by Rebecca Siegel. Used under Creative Commons.

To choose your hiking boots, the only thing you'll need to concern yourself with is the fit. While it's also good to listen to the advice of a salesperson or, better, an experienced friend, their recommendations won't be worth anything if the boots don't fit your feet comfortably.

Toe Space: Make sure that there's enough space in front of your toes when you're trying a boot on. This "feature" ensures that your toes won't keep hitting the front of the boot whenever you're hiking down a steep hill (an instant recipe for ingrown toenails).

Ankle Space (or lack thereof): Also, your boots of choice should not give your ankles much space. Too much space can cause your foot to slide up and down inside the boot while walking causing blisters.

Heavy Hiking Socks: Another tip you should keep in mind is to bring heavy hiking socks with you when you buy boots. This way, you can test the boots without having to guess how much space the socks will take up.

Take a Stroll: Lastly, try to spend as much time as you can walking with the boots on while you're inside the store before you consider buying one to ensure that you have found the right fit.


The next on our list is rainwear. No matter what the weatherman says, there's always a chance of rain especially high up in the mountains. Sure, a little bit of rain never hurt anyone, but getting soaked will not only be particularly uncomfortable, it can also lead to hypothermia if you stay wet when the weather is quite cold.

Your rain gear should be waterproof rather than water-resistant. This is because the latter only means that it will prevent you from getting wet when it's just light rain but not if it's a drenching one.

Your rain gear should also be breathable; it should allow your sweat to evaporate. It wouldn't do you any good if you got drenched by your own sweat rather than rain. Sweat is not any dryer or more comfortable. 

Another consideration is venting. Your rain gear should have venting features like pit zips to increase its breathability. Adjustability and fit are features that you will also need to take into consideration. Having a rain jacket and pants that have an adjustable hood, cinch cords, and cuffs can help seal out the rain better. Your rain gear should also have enough space for you to be able to wear layering underneath while also allowing you to have a full range of motion.


When it comes to hiking clothes, anything made of cotton is a no-no. Though cotton is really comfortable to wear, it has no insulation value when it gets wet, whether it be from rain or your sweat.It also gets another strike on the “fail” board because it is extremely hard to dry out. So, what should you choose? You want to get clothing that is made up of synthetics, wool, or silk - all of which provide excellent insulation even when they're wet. In addition, you should choose clothes that easily dry out when wet. The easier they are to dry, the less clothing you'll have to bring with you.

Another tip that you should keep in mind is layering. Though it makes sense to bring heavy, warm clothes if you're going to be hiking in cold weather, it's actually better if you choose several lighter layers of clothing to wear. This is because air is trapped between the layers (actually adding to the insulation value of your clothes). Another plus with layering is that you can take off layers when it's too hot or put more on when it becomes cold.

What else will you need? Below are some of the other types of clothing recommended for hiking:

  • heavy synthetic/wool socks or liner socks
  • roomy nylon "convertible" pants that can become shorts if needed
  • synthetic or silk underwear
  • nylon or synthetic t-shirt
  • light, fleece sweater
  • shell parka or windbreaker
  • mittens
  • wool or synthetic knitted cap or hat

As you get experience in different terrains and in different seasons, you’ll fine tune your excursion wardrobe to be perfect for you. If you’re not at that point yet, follow these clothing guidelines and your hiking trip is sure to be a success.

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Baby It's Cold Outside: Making the Most of Your Insulation Opportunities

Posted by Leighton Taylor on

Food, water, and shelter-- the three life-sustaining essentials that survivalists preach over and over (and over) again. Not all survival situations are created equal, however, so these three gods of survival don’t always rank in the same order of importance. For example, in a cold weather survival situation, you could be well-stocked with a satchel full of expertly trapped small game, but having a full-belly with preparations for the next few days of food survival won’t do you an ounce of good if you’ve frozen to death your first night in the wilderness.

In a cold weather survival situation, shelter and warmth are king and queen in the survival hierarchy. Whether you’re semi-prepared with a tent and sleeping bag, or completely unprepared, there are lots of little tips that just might save you from frostbite, hypothermia, or even a slow, cold, miserable death. So what should you do to insulate yourself from the cold? As Ben Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” Keep reading to learn some tips that can help you keep warm and dry even when it’s extremely cold outside. Let the investing begin!

How to Keep Warm:

Insulating yourself

The most important part of keeping warm is making sure that your body is properly insulated. This means that it not just about having enough clothes. What is even more important is that you know how to maximize the warmth that your clothes provide you.

Tip #1: Cover your most vulnerable areas.

Now, before you go and layer on all the clothes you have with you to ward off the chill, you need to remember that there are certain parts of your body that are more vulnerable to losing body heat-- namely your head, neck, wrist, hands, feet, and ankles. In fact, an uncovered head can cause you to lose 40-45% of your body heat. ACK! So it’s extremely important that these areas are adequately covered.

Tip#2: Keep your clothes clean and dry.

Soiled or dirty clothes lose much of their insulation value – they won’t keep you as warm as clean clothes can. “Dirty clothes?” you ask. Yep. This is because dirt and sweat reduce air pockets in your clothes which ends up causing heat to escape more quickly from your body. Dry clothing is important to keeping warm. Wear clothes that are water repellant or at least not made of absorbent cotton so it won't get damp or wet that easily. If your clothes do get wet, make sure to change into dry ones immediately.

Tip#3: Avoid overheating.

Though it may not seem possible, you can actually cause your body to overheat in cold weather. When this happens, you will start to sweat - your body's way of cooling off, and when you cool off, you lose body heat that's essential to keeping warm. Bad news.  To top it all, your clothes become damp which reduces their ability to keep you insulated. So, if you feel like your body is starting to overheat, adjust the amount of clothing you are wearing. Uncover your head or use lighter headgear. You can also uncover your hands or partially open your jacket to help dissipate your extra body heat.

Tip#4: Wear loose, layered clothing.

If you want to keep yourself warm, it is important that you wear clothing that won't restrict your blood flow. Blood circulation helps keep you warm. In addition, layering your clothing traps air between your body and the environment which helps insulate your body. To increase insulation, let your inner homeless man out (don’t be ashamed...we all have one) and put fibrous materials such as grass or dried leaves between your layers of clothing. This is a great way, again, to increase the amount of trapped air.

Tip #5: Start a fire.

Not only will a fire will keep you warm, but it can also be used to cook food or heat water. Consuming food and water can also help keep you warm. Fire is also particularly useful for drying out any damp or wet clothes you have. (Imagine that!)

Photo by ilkerender. Used under Creative Commons license.

Tip #6: Stay active.

Staying active can help keep you warm because it helps increase blood circulation. I’m not advocating an hour of intense working out because this would make you sweat (which we’ve already said makes you LOSE heat). A great "passive" exercise you can do to increase circulation without breaking out in a sweat is to tense and relax your muscles for a few minutes.

Tip #7: Think about your internal body temperature.

Your body works really hard to keep its internal temperature at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Sure, snow might seem like a good source for water, but the very fact that it’s cold means that your body has to put out more energy to melt it and bring it to normal body temperature. So, when you are considering food/drink, go the extra mile and heat it up over the fire. If you find yourself lying in your nicely insulated sleeping bag and realize that you really “have to go,” don’t wait. “Holding it” just wastes energy by giving your body extra fluid to keep warm.  

Insulating your shelter

Tip #1: Make your shelter just large enough to accommodate you.

Keeping the space inside your shelter small will ensure that you only have a small amount of air to keep warm thereby conserving your body heat. In addition, a smaller space will take less time to heat so you’ll be warm in no time.

Tip #2: Use fibrous materials to insulate your shelter.

Whether you are lucky enough to have a tent or if you’re building a makeshift shelter using your trusty survival knife, you’ll need to add layers to it in order to keep it warm and cozy. Using materials like dead leaves, moss, pine needles, and grass to layer the inside and the outside of your shelter will create additional air pockets that will help keep the heat inside. You’ll also want to use these same materials on the floor of your shelter to prevent the cold ground from zapping your body heat. Do this even if you have a heavy duty sleeping bag to make sure that your sleeping bag will remain dry.

Photo by peupleloup. Used under Creative Commons license. 

Tip #3: Insulate your bed.

Place a hot water bottle inside your sleeping bag. You can also opt to stuff your sleeping bag with your loose gear or fibrous materials to lessen the amount of air and space that you poor body is working so hard to keep warm.

Tip #4: Block the entrance of your shelter to keep the heat in and the wind out.

Tip #5: Avoid building shelter on low ground such as narrow valleys or ravines.

Cold air is heavier than warm air, so these areas will be colder (especially at night) than the high ground surrounding them.

What? No Shelter?

Now, if by any chance you aren’t able to build your own shelter or you don’t have a tent, there are some natural wilderness shelters that will go a long way in helping you to stay warm. Natural formations like caves, trees, and rocky crevices can provide you a much needed cover from the wind. Fallen trees and logs can also act as useful windbreakers. If you can, try digging out a small pit beside the log or tree using your survival knife or a sharp rock to give you more cover. Once you find your temporary shelter, you can start insulating it by creating a fire and layering the ground with fibrous materials. If you happen to be in the desert, make sure to use sun heated rocks to keep yourself warm at night. Those sun-heated rocks, incidentally, work as great heat reflectors and wind blockers to keep behind you as you sleep near your fire.

In a cold weather survival situation, keeping yourself warm is the most important thing you'll need to do to be able to make it through the night. Cold weather can make you feel uncomfortable (yes, even more so that you already do given that you are in a survival situation) and can even result in frostbite, hypothermia, or both. Even worse, feeling cold and extremely uncomfortable can make you lose your will to live. So be prepared. Remember these tips. Store them in your mental reserves to be pulled out and used if you ever find yourself in an unfortunately cold survival situation.

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Hello Hydration: Unexpected Water Sources for Survival Situations

Posted by Leighton Taylor on

Whether you’re safe in the heart of civilization or lost in the wild, water is one of those essentials that you just can’t do without. And, if fate is determined to be cruel to you and places you into an unprepared survival situation, you’re going to have to work quickly to find water. Now, we all know that rivers and streams are excellent sources of water, but what if you can’t find one?

*Enter the life-giving saviors: knowledge and preparedness*

Rivers and streams, while the most obvious sources for water, are not the only sources for water. Knowing where to look to find water can be the difference between life and miserable death by dehydration. Remember what Ray Mears said: “Knowledge is the key to survival, the real beauty of that is that it doesn't weigh anything.” So take out your weightless mental notepad and get ready to store up some of these unexpected sources of water.

Unexpected Water Sources

Lost in the Desert

One of the things we all know about the desert is its lack of easily noticed and available water from lush rivers and flowing streams. There are, however, plenty of hidden sources if you only know where to look. One of the "unusual" spots for a water source is the ground. You'll find groundwater in the following locations:

  • the foot of rock outcrops, cliffs, or mountain ranges
  • damp/wet surface sand or soil
  • the foot of concave banks of dry river beds
  • the outside bend of a dry stream bed
  • where green vegetation or water-loving trees such as willows, cottonwoods, sycamores, hackberries, cattails, and ashes are located
  • the depression behind a dry desert lake's first sand dune

    To get the water, simply dig holes using your survival knife or shovel (if you have one with you). Make sure that the holes are deep enough for water to seep in.

    You can also find water in rocks, especially porous ones. Depressions, holes, and fissures in rocks might also contain water, usually as a result of recent rainfall. Siphon the water using some flexible tubing (an item that should definitely be in your Bug Out Bag along with your survival knife), or in a less ideal situation, make some tubing out of hollow plant stems.

    Lastly, you can get water through condensation. Turn over half-buried rocks a little before dawn and wait for dew to form. Desert grass will also have some condensation as morning sets in. Use a cloth to absorb the dew and wring it off into a container.

    To get a better idea of how to search for water when in the desert, especially in these unusual spots, check out the video below:

    Lost in the Forest, Wilderness, or Tropics

    While these environments may have more water sources than a desert, you won't always find yourself near the obvious water souces like rivers and streams. Fortunately, there are also several unusual places where you can find water in these environments.

    1.) Trees and plants are a great source of drinking water.

    • Some trees have water-filled holes from which you can get water. Watch for bees or ants going into a hole in a tree because they may be pointing you to a hidden water source.
    • You can also find water in tree crotches.
    • Certain trees and plants actually hold/contain water.
      • Green bamboo thickets
      • Banana or plantain trees
      • Some tropical vines
      • Ferns
      • Palm trees (such as coconut and rattan)
      • Traveler's trees (in Madagascar)
      • Umbrella trees (in Africa)
      • Baobab trees (in Australia and Africa)

    With your survival knife, you can cut into the tree, vine, stem, branch, or root to get your water. For some, such as vines and bamboos, you can let the water within the plant drip into your container or straight into your mouth. For some trees such as banana trees, you'll need to cut down the tree, scoop out a bit of the stump's center and then wait for the water from the roots to rise up and fill your makeshift bowl.

    • Plants that have moist pulpy centers can be squeezed or smashed so you can collect the moisture within. For roots, you will need to cut the pieces into smaller ones before smashing them so you can collect water.
    • Lastly, you can use the vegetation as a source of heavy dew (Would we call that Veggie Dew?)

      2.) Another hidden cache of water in the wilderness and a forest is the ground.

      Just like in the desert, you’ll need to look for certain clues that will tell you where to dig. Muddy or damp soil is usually an indication that there is water in the ground. Birds, bees, mosquitoes, and other kinds of wildlife will usually show you where there is a water source, even if it’s just a small puddle in a dry river bed. To collect groundwater, dig a one-foot-deep hole and wait for water to fill it.

      While none of these water sources will come close to satisfying your thirst like a icy pitcher of water, every little bit of water increases your chances of survival. So, the next time you find yourself in need of possible water sources, keep in mind that the obvious ones are not your only choices. The hidden caches of water just might be right under your fingertips.

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