There is one thing that has been severely lost in our society by most people, and that is our ability to survive in the wild. If you were to be stripped of the comforts of modern technology and luxuries, and were tossed into the wild to survive, for a night, a week, or any indefinite period of time, how long could you stave off death?
Sadly that answer is probably not as long as you would like to think. Given the right conditions, a person can easily die in a single night simply due to exposure to the elements. The truly terrifying part is that protecting yourself form the elements should be the easiest task to accomplish. Yet, many people have died, and will continue to die simply because they did not think to shield themselves from the elements… whatever that may be.
So from here, now that you are fully concerned for your safety and well being, let us discus the 6 most important points to remember when you attempt to do anything outdoors. I do mean anything, as even a quick day hike, or fishing trip can turn into a hellish experience where the only thing you are going to be able to rely on is yourself, and the knowledge you posses to keep yourself alive. So without further ado, the 6 most important survival lessons to remember when venturing into the wild.
This point is perhaps the most difficult to explain as how you prepare yourself is determined by the climate and geography of the area you will be visiting. But regardless of the specific location, the underlying rules apply to all conditions.
First and foremost you will want the right items. The main point to remember here is that all of these items are lightweight, and for the most part should be taken with you regardless of what you are doing. You will be incredibly thankful you brought them along when the time calls.
Beyond proper clothing, the most important single tool you can carry is a utility knife, such as a Swiss Army Knife. The reason for this is that it is so versatile, so long as you know the proper tricks and techniques that can be done; you need little else to survive. With that in mind, it would behoove the reader to seek out any information possible on techniques and tricks that can be used in the wild to make your situation easier. You will find that without a utility knife, many things will be simply impossible to accomplish. Beyond a utility knife there are countless other items that will no doubt help you, however the remainder of this article touches on those specific items.
Before going into the wild, be sure that you are mentally and physically prepared for whatever activity you will be engaged in. You would hate to fall into hard times only to have your perseverance fail you, or your body to quit when the going gets tough. The word survival doesn’t portray what exactly a person goes through when fighting to stay alive. You will be literally dueling death, and if you fail, the loss is your life. So before taking that 3-week backpacking trip on your own, make sure that you are fit, both mentally and physically.
Be Able To Create Fire
The ability to create fire is so paramount in a survival situation, that next to your utility knife, a means and ability to do so should not be forgotten. The only special consideration to remember for fire starting is whether you will be in a dry or wet climate. If you will be in a wet, or cold/snowy climate, be sure to gather kindling as you come across it. Having dry kindling is going to be very important, especially as you try to catch wet or cold items on fire. This would be in the form of pete moss, dead tree twigs or chips, and pine needles/leaves. Often times, in wet areas, the driest material can be found next to the trunk of trees or the base of shrubs/bushes.
Next to collecting dry material, the next most important thing to remember is your magnesium and flint stick. You don’t have to worry about these becoming wet, or breaking, as is the case with a lighter. The only thing you will need is a little practice in making the two works together. That said, it is obviously much easier if you have a lighter, and at least one should be taken with you along with waterproof matches.
Ability To Signal For Help
If you are in a survival situation, perhaps the most disheartening thing to think is that no one will find you, or how do you signal people who are near by. Well there are certainly a few things that can be brought and done to alleviate this fear.
Smoke is perhaps the most obvious of all signals and is very hard to miss. But something create better smoke for signaling than others. Rather than burning dead material, once a fire is started, put fresh growth either from trees or shrubs onto the fire. The smoke created from that will produce a thicker and whiter cloud. This is much easier to notice and will benefit you more.
A mirror is extremely useful for signaling helicopters or airplanes, though this can only be done during the day. You simply reflect the light of the sun in the right direction. From the air, its easier to notice quick flashes of light rather than scanning the ground for a person. A mirror can also help you create fire if no other option is available. Simple find some dry kindling, reflect the light at a specific and small spot and wait till you see smoke.
If you realize search parties are searching for you at night, there will be nothing more useful than a flashlight or headlamp. Mostly night searches end up fruitless simply due to the fact they cannot see. However, this hassle can all be diverted so long as you have some light to shine on the situation.
The last type of signal that can be used which we will be discussing are markers left on the ground. On beaches you can use the sand to write on, rocks can be arranged, fallen tree trunks, even throwing dirt on snow. The universal message that help is needed is S.O.S.
Finding and Collecting Food/Water
Initially food is less crucial to survival than water. The human body can go upwards of 3-4 weeks without food before dying. Where as you can barely go 1 week without water. Now in hot conditions, you will need more water, and cold conditions you will need more food. But once you are out of either, you are going to want to find some more if long term survival is expected.
The most important thing to know is you do not want to eat or drink anything that will make you sick. So before eating anything, be sure you know it wont make you sick. This is going to occur one of two ways. One is you are familiar with certain foods and know them to be safe. If you are unfamiliar, there is a process that should be completed before ingesting anything. Once you find a plant you believe to be edible, you have to test it. First you rub the food onto sensitive parts of your body, such as your neck and forearm. If any rash appears, you should not consume the food. Next you want to do a taste test, but do not swallow. You do this by sucking on it for a while, and if no odd sensation comes over your mouth, you begin to slowly swallow. This should all occur over the course of 24 hours, and you should not be in a rush to eat something you are unsure of, as it could well make your situation worse.
As far as water is concerned, you always want to drink closer to the source if at all possible. Stagnant water is significantly more likely to have disease or organisms in it that will make you sick. If you find a river, you may be very happy. But look around, if there are paths leading to the water from the brush, or more specifically, if you see animal stool around the water source you intend to drink from, move up river further.
Wilderness First Aid
This is perhaps the most difficult to prepare for, as a knowledge of the body and medicine is needed. However there are countless books out there on wilderness medicine and first aid. It is highly suggested that you comb through as many books as possible, because there are many injuries, which can be helped with the aid of basic items. Such as splints made from branches and stretchers for carrying made from vines and branches.
On top of the tricks you can learn from these books, you will learn about certain signs of sickness, which is important when figuring out what is wrong with a person. A few illnesses you will want to familiarize yourself with are Hypothermia, Heat Exhaustion, Sun Stroke, and dehydration. All of these have specific signs to watch for, and specific actions to help make the person better.
By now you should have a better understanding of the potential hazards and problems you will have to face in the wild if you are not properly prepared. Just remember, keep you eyes on the horizon, nose to the wind, and feet firmly planted… and stay frosty.
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The author of this article is Damien S. Wilhelmi. If you enjoyed this piece you can follow me on twitter @TheWorldVoyager. If you want to take an adventure for yourself, perhaps a Colorado White Water Rafting trip is up your alley. Visit Inaraft.com to see what trips are available and sign up for a trip.