Survival Trial XII: Daybreaker 2016

    Okay, so what is Survival Trial, and why is it relevant to this blog? Well, dear readers, it is because it is a competition that involves shooting at the NRA Whittington Center near Raton, New Mexico.  Possibly a stretch, but certainly an event that will test your ability to shoot under stressful situations.

    Thomas Gomez and I dared each other to do it–actually, we’ve been trying to coordinate to do it for a couple of years, and finally our schedules aligned. BMC Tactical sponsored us providing some gear including the sub-MOA, five pound, 3 ounce rifle I carried.

    Signing up was easy–finding any reliable intel on it is another thing entirely. You see, the event is unique every single time. Some of the locations may be the same, but what you will be doing is completely different. And very challenging.

    You will perform “simple” tasks for points. Things like purifying water, or building a fire. Maybe you will have drag an office coworker to safety and then engage a shooter in the “office”. Maybe you will have to go swimming in a pond to retrieve a cache with a clue. You may have to locate certain items like an eggshell or items useful to railroad crew (and then come up with a story explaining how and why they are used). Maybe you will throw knives and tomahawks, then shoot a stack of tannerite marked by a glow stick three hundred yards away in the dead of night. And you have to do all of this with only the items you carry on your back over the course of twenty (or more) miles.

    From Jon Weiler, the creator of Survival Trial:

    I started Survival Trial in 2011 as a concept adventure race that incorporated survival situations in an endurance event.  The firearm fit within this as Defensive Engagements and some precision based scenarios.  The first race was by invitation only and there was no information given about what it was, which I believe was the draw for the Competitors at that time.  It still is to an extent and forces me to work very diligently to present Survival Trial in a new way each and every time.

    Survival Trial is how I try to live my Life in a holistic means – physical, mental and emotional fitness.  As a Combat Veteran, you understand the constant work it takes for balance in Life, especially in getting everything we can out of every day.  Survival Trial is more than just an adventure race to me, it is very intimate in the interaction with Competitors and watching the progression of the individual in the Arena.  I see a lot of very lasting change after.  The Trials will never be an Obstacle Course Race and it will never be a large event, just because of logistics and ambience in the various Arenas.  My goals were met for the STXII: Daybreaker Arena and I have a whole other set for the STXIII: Sundowner now. I myself change and see the world differently after each event, which is another reason I keep doing it.

    The Event

    Survival Trial started for Thomas Gomez and I at 03:30 the morning of Saturday the 20th of May. We were the first to arrive and check in and we met Jon Weiler (the creator and mastermind behind Survival Trial). We were handed a shirt and patch, and handed a script to read on camera, giving our video consent to participate in an event that could result in injury or death. Yawn. I don’t even bother to read these things anymore. I probably should or I may end up signing away my first born or something.

    Signing our lives away...

    Signing our lives away…

    After that we had about an hour of down time until the firearms safety brief. Pretty standard stuff. Not to downplay this part, since we would be carrying firearms and ammo throughout the event. The biggest detail was to make sure all of our magazines were downloaded and the rounds stored separately in our pack. We had been secretly hoping that ammo would be turned in and staged (which had apparently happened in previous years), allowing us to further drop the weight in the pack, but no such luck… 🙂

    The final task of the morning was to finish squaring away our packs. In previous years, there was a full shake down and review of gear. If you failed to bring required items, you were saddled with a twenty pound lead weight. Not so this year. It didn’t matter for us since we had everything, and technically, during this Trial, nothing was required–just good suggestions…

    06:00 rolled around and we were introduced to the event, read the rules and given our packet which contained a 1:50000 map, a set of coordinates, and a scavenger hunt list. We sat down with the map and proceeded to plot out our points, and do basic route planning. We really wanted to hit all three of the defensive engagements (and as they happened to be co-located with resource tasks, would be worth double the points.

    In this Trial, each team had an entry point which they were required to reach prior to completion of any of the tasks. Ours was the farther of the two entry points, and started up in one of the canyons. After a final gear check we set off, catching up to one of the other teams (Team Goon) who we ended up walking with for the first segment (they ended up having the other start point, so we parted ways after a few miles).

    My Loadout

    Obviously one of the key strategies in an event like this is to reduce the amount of weight you carry. Whether or not you have been in the military, or done similar events, you can surely identify with the phrase “ounces are pounds, pounds are pain”. Our goal was to go as light as possible. Thomas Gomez will be doing a parallel write up where he will detail some of the tweaks he made to his gear, and things he innovated, which most definitely contributed to our success during a couple of the stages.

    I would like to give a nod to Brian Green (of Brian’s Backpacking Blog) for his gear tracking sheet which I stole, modified and used to track all of my gear down to the last tenth of an ounce.


    1. Riggs Ranger pants
    2. GPM Kit Tactical Belt
    3. Hoka One One Tor Summit
    4. Kuhl Ranger Shirt
    5. Under Armor T-Shirt
    6. GORUCK Tac Hat
    7. Oakley Monster Dogs
    8. Darn Tough Vermont Wool Socks
    9. Lightweight Down Jacket
    10. Cheap Shell Jacket (I actually picked this up at a truck stop years ago)


    1. Large ALICE (with mods done by Tactical Tailor; extra pouches, reinforcement stitching, lid claymore pocket, side release buckles)
    2. Pack Rabbit Pack Mule II Frame (with shoulder straps and waist belt)
    3. Sea-to-summit 13 liter Dry Bag
    4. Princeton Tec Headlamp
    5. Rogue Dynamics Reflective Patch
    6. Reflective Belt
    7. 2 Glow sticks
    8. Tactical Tailor MAV2
    9. HSGI Admin Pouch
    10. Suunto M2 Compass
    11. Military Protractor
    12. Pace Counting Beads
    13. Black Diamond “Z” Trekking Poles
    14. Platypus 3 liter bladder
    15. Nalgene Bottle (1L)
    16. Nalgene Cup (steel)
    17. 5.11 Nalgene Pouch
    18. 5.11 6×3 Pouch
    19. 5.11 Double Rifle Mag Pouch
    20. 5.11 Double Pistol Mag Pouch
    21. Condor Khukri Knife
    22. Mechanix Gloves
    23. 100ft Paracord from ITS Tactical (with a jute filament)
    24. 100 rounds 9mm (Aguila)
    25. 80 rounds .223 (Hornady 75 grain BTHP)
    26. 10 rounds birdshot, 12 gauge (Winchester)
    27. 10 slugs, 12 gauge (Estate 1oz)


    • Mini Almond Snickers bars
    • Cliff Bar Gel Shot Blocks
    • Tailwind Nutrition (best stuff I’ve ever used)

    I cannot say enough good things about Tailwind. I first heard about it from a friend that did Survival Trial years ago (yes Jason, that would be you). I had a difficult time getting my hands on some. Amazon was back ordered by the time I needed to order it. Luckily a local cycling shop had some on hand…


    1. Glock 19 with Surefire XC1, (custom sights and stippling work done by BMC Tactical)
    2. Remington 870 (donated by BMC Tactical; my Mossberg 930 was a tad too heavy)
    3. AR-15 (custom built by BMC Tactical)
      • Battlelink Minimalist Stock
      • BAD-15 Premium Forged Lower Receiver
      • Odin Works Muzzle Brake
      • Giselle drop in trigger
      • Leupold Mark AR and Mount


    One of the rules in this Trial was that we all had to stay on the roads unless otherwise told. Which made things soooo much easier. It saved so much pain by not having to dead reckon and bushwhack our way through the scrub. Each of the stations was therefore accessible from a road or jeep trail.

    Ultimately we only made it to seven stations, three of them manned. We did run into other teams on the course a couple of times as well.

    The first station we hit was a dual defensive engagement and resource scenario. Our 1:50000 map did not give quite the helpful detail we would have liked, though maybe that was for the best. It was at the top of one of the “hills” up a pretty steep road with a ton of switchbacks. At the bottom of the turnoff was a well that played into the resource scenario in that we had to transit the hill up (and back) twice to get water for purification, the water being at the bottom, and the evaluators at the top. We cleared the stage tying for first in scoring on the defensive engagement, which involved carrying a heavy dummy before engaging targets with both shotgun and pistol. We also passed the resource scenario but failed to get bonus points because we chose not to drink our water purified through our primitive methods…

    First Defensive Engagement

    First Defensive Engagement

    Our next navigation point looked very close on the map… But again, the 1:50000 did not show us the miles of steep road and switchbacks we needed to get there. No problem though. We made it in due time, and encountered Team Terra Victor (four time repeater competitors, and the first Winterborn champions; and the team that ultimately beat us during this Trial). The station was unmanned and worth bonus points. All we had to do was build an “A” frame travois to carry our packs to the next manned station using only primitive materials (and cordage we brought). Terra Victor finished theirs and took off. We were about fifteen minutes behind them, and ultimately decided not to do it after attempting to drag our packs–the next station was about three miles away, and we were both already feeling a bit tired. We broke down our contraption and headed off (I do want to give a big nod to ITS Tactical for the excellent “Knot of the Week” series taught me how to do lashings).

    Along the way to the next station we encountered another task–to write one hundred words about what we were currently thinking about. I was currently thinking about our wise decision to drop the litter… 🙂

    I'm still glad we did not do the travois...

    I’m still glad we did not do the travois…

    We eventually overtook Terra Victor and made it to the next station, which had two resource tasks. We had to exchange “water for fuel” which involved carrying a tire quite a distance back down the path we had just come, and exchanging it for a different tire. Exhausting. After completing that we had a medical scenario to complete. Involving dragging the infamous “Jake”, a nearly 200 pound contraption resembling a man with articulating limbs. Let’s just say that there is more than one way to complete a task, and there are rewards for thinking outside the box (as well as doing the right thing). Tom and I also got to provide some actual medical assistance, in the form of foot care to Team Goon, who had arrived at our merry station. We took payment in the form of beef jerky. Eventually, with much tiredness we set off for our next station which was “just down the road a bit”. Our goal was to make it at least to the next defensive engagement.

    Swimming time... We didn't hit this stage until midnight or so.

    Swimming time… We didn’t hit this stage until midnight or so.

    The next station was a deep pool in the stream that flowed along the road and was unmanned. In the pool was a submerged bucket with a task for each team. The thing was that you didn’t know which bucket was for YOUR team. Oh, those tricky course designers… 🙂 Tom recovered our bucket and relayed our task to me from the pool, which was to build a pyramid, having specific dimensions, out of pine cones, and present it to the next evaluator we encountered. By this point it was around midnight, so we were eighteen hours into the Trial, tired and sore, but having a helluva great time. We gathered our pinecones and soldiered on.

    The event included archery.

    The event included archery.

    About an hour later we made it to the next station, a defensive engagement and resource stage. We gave our pyramid of pine cones to the evaluator, and were surprised by the appearance of the ‘Salt Shaker–a very large, masked assailant that we needed to subdue. Tom squared off with him, and while he was not able to pin the ‘Salt Shaker, we still got some points for even trying. We then negotiated the defensive engagement which included knife and tomahawk throwing, archery, and rifle and pistol targets. Very fun, and run very safely considering we had covered a little over a marathon’s distance at this point. After that we started the resource stage which involved digging a Dakota fire pit, starting a somewhat primitive fire, and using the fire to hard boil a couple of eggs. We did that and also got some bonus points by eating the eggs.

    Build a fire, boil some eggs they said... It'll be easy...

    Build a fire, boil some eggs they said… It’ll be easy…

    After looking at the map and assessing the remaining time, we opted to take a “rest” at this station and basically wait for the Trial to end (which was only about ninety minutes away). There was no possible way for us to reach another station in that amount of time, and we didn’t want to have the support crew chase after us.

    The Trial ended and the support vehicles took us back to the start, and our vehicles.  We turned in our score sheets and were handed our “survivor’s” coin.  It would still take a few hours to find out the ultimate winners, but we were satisfied with our performance regardless.

    Our end of race SSE.

    End of race SSE from each team.


    Throughout, my short (and mundane) life I have had the opportunity to participate in a number of events, some good. Some not so good. Survival Trial is the very first event that I am considering doing again (aside from 3-Gun matches). It is one of the best run, and well organized events, especially given the complexity of the logistics, that I have seen.

    It has everything from shooting, to primitive skills, to medical, to puzzles. All encapsulated in a format that requires the participant to move significant distances with a decent amount of weight (Thomas Gomez and I covered just over 26 miles).

    There was even a temptation station complete with soft cots and chairs.

    There was even a temptation station complete with soft cots and chairs.

    If you are looking for a challenge, you would be hard pressed to find one that accomplishes what Jon Weiler engineers Survival Trial to do.

    If you are interested in testing your grit and skills (marksmanship and survival) in the beautiful setting of northern New Mexico, you can sign up at And you may just run into a couple of writers from TFB… 🙂

    (Disclosure: we were not comp’ed the entrance fee for the Trial, but were loaned supporting gear from BMC Tactical).

    Tom is a former Navy Corpsman that spent some time bumbling around the deserts of Iraq with a Marine Recon unit, kicking in tent flaps and harassing sheep. Prior to that he was a paramedic somewhere in DFW, also doing some Executive Protection work between shifts. Now that those exciting days are behind him, he teaches wilderness medicine and runs an on-demand medical staffing business. He hopes that his posts will help you find solid gear that will survive whatever you can throw at it–he is known (in certain circles) for his curse…ahem, ability…to find the breaking point of anything.

    You can reach him at tom.r AT or at