What do you do in a wilderness scenario where things have taken a turn for the worst? Maybe you got lost and you’re stranded. Perhaps there’s no cell signal so you can’t call for help. Maybe rain clouds are looming on the horizon and the weather’s about to turn against you.
Would you make it out in a situation like this? Or would you end up on the news as a casualty of the elements?
The difference between someone who survives and someone who doesn’t in a wilderness survival scenario comes down to three things. Luck, preparation, and knowledge. If you have two of the three, you’ll probably make it out. If not, well, then maybe your chances aren’t as good as you might hope.
Luck is important because – well, if you run into an angry bear or you get caught in a dangerous storm, that’s pretty much out of your hands. Maybe you get found and rescued a couple of hours after you get lost – that would be lucky, and probably has very little to do with anything that you did.
Preparation is obviously key. Every survivalist and outdoorsman worth his or her salt knows this. Someone who’s prepared will have at least a couple of days of food and water, will have the tools and resources to build shelter, and so forth. A well planned get home bag is a good idea anytime you’re going into the wild, and failing that, at the very least you should have some survival basics with you – tarp, a multitool, a knife, food and water, and so forth.
Knowledge is also important. It’s the one thing that goes with you wherever you are. It’s the variable that allows you to fill in the gaps between what you need and what you have with you. After all, there’s a limit to how prepared you can be, and it’s impossible to have the perfect combination of equipment and resources for every situation. If you want to be prepared for literally everything, you might as well just fly in and out on a helicopter, or not go into the wilderness at all. Knowledge is what will help you start a fire when it’s raining, or build a shelter out of scraps, or fend off a dangerous animal if it comes to that.
Here are some essential survival tips that you need to know if you want to be someone who can live through an unplanned wilderness survival situation.
1. First, you need to calm down.
If your in a dangerous situation, save your panic and worry for later. You need to keep a level head, maintain a focused and positive attitude, and deal with each problem as it comes. Panic will leave you feeling helpless and hopeless. Real survivalists know that when push comes to shove, you need to get your emotions under control and treat the situation your in as a problem solving exercise. Here’s what you need to do to be able to stay calm and in control:
- Work out a plan
- Figure out exactly what resources and equipment you have
- Figure out how you can use what you have to meet your basic needs (shelter, water, food)
- Figure out whether you want to try to move towards safety, or whether you want to stay in one place and hope for rescue. Weigh the pros and cons of each
- Start acting out your plan, and figure out problems as they arise
2. Put a roof over your head
Your basic survival needs go in this order. Shelter, then water, then food. Humans are fragile, they can’t survive for long in too cold or too hot conditions. Building a shelter can shield you from hypothermia and prevent heatstroke, and helps you avoid rain and snow, which in turn makes it easier to build a fire. Being able to regulate the temperature of your environment is key in most survival situations, because either the day will be uncomfortably hot or the nights uncomfortably cold. Shelter can help you deal with all of this.
When it comes to shelter, start small. At the most basic level, you just need enough to cover your own body when you lie down. Build a frame of some kind using what you have in your bag and the resources surrounding you. You can use trees and branches. Once you have a frame, start stacking material on the sides of your frame, then add insulation over the top of that. If you have tarp (and you really should), use that, otherwise you can improvise with leaves, moss, and so forth. In some cases, you might want to also insulate the ground underneath your shelter.
3. Avoid the heat
If the weather is too hot, you’ll want to know how to avoid the heat. Here are a few tricks to do that:
- Digging just a small amount can lead to cooler ground. A handful of inches of soil can reveal a much more cooling surface to rest/lie on.
- Air flow is important in the heat, so don’t use too much insulation on the sides of your shelter if its hot.
- Shelter near water. Areas around bodies of water tend to be cooler.
- Conserve your energy. If it’s dangerously hot but you want to move, do so in the early morning or late afternoon. Don’t overheat and exhaust your body by forcing it to work in the middle of the day.
4. Locate potable water
Once you’ve got a shelter to protect yourself from the elements, water is your next priority.
You can collect rain water – it’s usually relatively safe to drink. You can also use snow, but don’t just eat it. Melt the snow first over a fire if you can, or if not, use the sun to your advantage. You can speed up the melting of snow by making sure it’s very loosely packed and putting it in a vessel in direct sunlight.
Water from ponds, lakes, and so forth may or may not be safe to drink. If you have water purification tablets, use those. If you have a lifestraw, use that. Otherwise, boiling the water is a good idea.
Running water, especially fast moving water, is generally safer to drink than stagnant water, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely safe. Only resort to this if you are desperate.
To find water in the wild, look for areas of increased vegetation – generally water will be nearby. Alternatively, if you have any knowledge about the local flora, look for the plants that you know require more water and search those areas.
Rocky areas and outcroppings are places where water is more likely to accumulate. Obviously this is likely to be stagnant water, so if at all possible you definitely want to boil first before drinking.
5. Don’t panic about food
Humans can last a good period without food, although this obviously isn’t ideal. Hopefully you’ve packed some surplus of food for emergencies. Ration yourself – don’t eat until your full. This will help your supplies last longer.
Hopefully you have some survival knowledge – there are four main ways to locate food in the wild. Hunting, trapping, fishing, and foraging. If you have any knowledge at all in any of those areas, then start putting that to use (even if you still have supplies). It’s easier to keep your wits about you and find food effectively before your body goes into starvation mode.
If you don’t know anything at all about finding food, go look up what cattails look like right now. These are probably the most common edible plant in the world, and there is a high likelihood that whatever area you’re in, they’re growing somewhere. Learn to recognize and identify cattails and you’ve most likely got some sort of a food source.
If you can meet your basic needs for a few days, your chances of getting rescued or reaching safety increases exponentially. Know what your body needs to survive, head into the wild properly prepared, and with a little bit of luck you’ll be able to deal with even the most challenging of circumstances.