When people think about survival situations, one of the very first questions they ask is ‘can’ you live and survive in the wilderness. Of course the answer is yes! The very next question (and a logical follow up to the first question), is ’how’ can you live and survive in the wilderness? Most people do not spend a lot of time outdoors. They may think they do but in reality they don’t. So imagining existence beyond our urban towns and big cities with a Walmart never more than 5-10 minutes away is truly a foreign thought to the majority of the population.
There are several scenarios though where surviving and living off the land might be needed even if only for a short period of time. Most think about survival situations and say it could never happen to them but every year you hear about people who get lost hiking in the woods, trapped in a surprise snow storm, stranded in the desert when their vehicle breaks down, etc so it makes good sense to at least know the basics. There is a publication called Wilderness & Environmental Medicine and they stated that between 1992 and 2007 almost 80,000 people were involved in search and rescue operations and over 2600 of them died.
First, let’s talk about what may be people’s biggest immediate fear if they find themselves ‘lost’ in the wilderness…Wildlife! Your first thoughts might be that staying quite is the best way to avoid being eaten by a Grizzly Bear but the truth is the opposite. While staying away from potentially harmful wildlife is a good idea, being quite to accomplish that goal is not. Making noise can and does scare away many potential predators including mountain lions, bear, wolves and other scary critters. Remember that animals are afraid of human beings and will try to avoid contact with them the best they can. Most encounters between humans and wildlife occur when the animal is surprised by the human and then reacts instinctively to defend itself just like you would!
So be noisy! Be loud! Make your presence known! Not only will that type of behavior scare away most animals it could also help you as noise travels a long way and someone might hear you and investigate. Many people who regularly hike in bear or mountain lion country wear bells on themselves that jingle while they walk to make sure everything in the area knows they are coming!
Now that we have wildlife taken care of here are some other general tips to surviving in the wilderness
A) If you are in a vehicle that breaks down stay with the vehicle. The vehicle gives you shelter from the environment. Shelter and Water are the
two most important things to surviving in the wild. If it is cold the vehicle can keep you warm and sheltered you from the wind. If it is hot and sunny it can provide shade. Plus, your vehicle has many items that can come to good use if you end up being stranded for more than a day. Hopefully, you have some supplies in the vehicle like water and some food.
B) If you are hiking in the wilds and get lost and have no idea which way to go it might be best to stay put. Chances are that you were smart enough to tell someone where you were going or at least in the general area and they will start looking for you after a while. If you just keep wandering you may get further and further away from where you started and that starting point is where people will begin to look for you.
C) Be mentally prepared that it may take some time to be found or rescued. Most survival experts say that the biggest factor in surviving an ordeal in the wilderness is the will to survive. So have the right mental attitude is very important and you should work hard to stay positive. Also, stay calm. Losing your ‘cool’ is a sure way to put yourself in greater risk.
Don’t leave the trail if you are on one. Being on a worn trail also increases your chances of being found. If you are off the trail and spot a stream or creek you might have luck following downstream. One of the oldest survival tips in the world is following a river or creek downstream because it usually leads to civilization. Following a creek also gives you access to water. Without water you will die in just a few days.
D) If it looks like you are going to be spending the night out in the woods make sure that you find shelter. Don’t wait until the Sun is starting to set
before you come to this realization. At least a couple hours before the Sun goes below the horizon start looking for a place to spend the night. Ideally, you want a spot that is higher than the surrounding area in case it rains so you will stay as dry as possible. Find some evergreen tree branches or leaves that you can pile up to lie down on. Even better is to build a small lean-to type structure to sleep under. These types of structures can be surprisingly warm and keep your well protected against the elements until morning if constructed properly. Search online for how to make a lean-to shelter.
E) If you decide to build a shelter or anything else strenuous don’t overexert. Try to do things in moderation and not wear yourself out. A good rule to follow is if you start too sweet then you are working too hard and need to rest for a while. This is all about maintaining a fairly even body temperature as most survival experts agree that becoming too hot or too cold is a quick way to die in the wilderness.
If you are in the cold always keep your head covered as most of your body heat is retained there. Another way of helping to keep warm is to wrap yourself in one of those light weight survival blankets. The ones that have a shiny silver metallic look to them is you were smart enough to have one in your pack or in your car. If you don’t have a survival blanket you can even use newspaper (any type of paper actually), old rags, and even dried leaves to help retain body heat.
F) If you do have some water and food with you and come to the realization that you may be stranded for a while it is a good idea to ration your supplies. Do your best to realistically think about how long you may be out in the wilderness and plan your usage of available water and food accordingly. Rationing is a very difficult thing to do as there are so many unknowns but it is something you should think about.
G) Calling for help may seem like an obvious thing to do but many often never do. There are many ways to ‘call for help’ in a survival situation. Do you have a cell phone with you? Today it seems most people do and you never know when you might get lucky and have signal. You could always try and climb up to higher ground and that may give you just enough signal strength to get a call out. Seems obvious but there have been cases of people lost with cell phones and they never even tried thinking they would not have signal.
Do you have something shiny with you that you can reflect the sunlight with? People can see reflections from great distances. Sometimes banging on a tree with a branch or stick can make a very loud noise and be heard for some distance. Making a noise repeatedly perhaps like three bangs in a row, pause for a moment and then repeat can gather someone’s attention but it is not a natural sound. Another idea is to spell out SOS or HELP with rocks or logs in a clearing that can be seen from the air or if a searcher is above you on higher ground.
You could also start a small fire and put green foliage on it that will create a lot of smoke. Smoke can be seen for miles and is like a beacon pointing to your location. Starting a fire does require that you have some matches, a lighter or some other kind of fire starter device. Just be very careful if you start a fire because it could easily get out of control. Make sure you clear a large area around your ‘fire pit’ and ring the pit with rocks if you can find them.
Other than using for a signal fire just having a small fire can bring comfort and warmth to you in a survival situation and all survival experts recommend having a small fire if at all possible.
These are just a few ideas, thoughts and tips for you to consider if you find yourself stranded in the wilderness or in some kind of survival situation. By no means is this information complete or promised to be correct. You make your own decisions.