The great outdoors can be a nice place to visit when one needs to relax, recharge, and get their mind clear. While this is a place for rejuvenation, things can go wrong in a blink. You may break a limb, lose cell service, or even worse, have an ugly encounter with wild animals. What if you run out of the water and have to walk miles and miles in search of a river or spring and end up getting lost in the wild?
Accidents do happen. Things go wrong. And situations can easily turn into life or death. Good thing, we have prepared a quick guide on wilderness survival to help you stay safe in case you found yourself alone, lost, and with no ties to the rest of the world.
The Obvious: Go Prepared
No matter where you are going for your wild adventure, always go prepared, with the right equipment.
Eyeing backcountry skiing? Pack some warm clothes.
Hiking in the woods? Invest in good hiking boots, trekking poles, and bring plenty of water.
Backpacking in the rain? Have your raincoat and some rain pants on.
Common sense is key. Have what you need so you are not taken by surprise. If you are ready for pretty much anything, you will be able to stay out of harm’s way and get back home safely.
Know Where You Are
The biggest fear first-time campers, hikers, and backpackers have been getting lost in the wild. When you realize you are lost, you start to panic, and as a part of the survival mechanism, your body releases adrenaline and triggers flight response.
As a result, your heart starts to race, you start to experience shortness of breath, profuse sweating, and chest pains, and you tremble and feel like you are detached from the rest of the world. Feeling this way can push you to make bad and hasty decisions that can result in severe injuries, heatstroke, dehydration, hypothermia, or even death.
You can prevent this by knowing where you are all the time and making sure that other campers can find you with ease. Have your GPS and compass readily available. Refer to these regularly whenever you are not sure of your route and take note of all the physical features around you.
However, your navigation equipment will only be beneficial to you if you are familiar with how it works. Take time to learn how to use your GPS unit before you go. And while on the trail, keep it on all the time so you can know where you have been, where you currently are, and where you are supposed to go.
Check The Weather
When it comes to weather, no one really knows what to expect. Maybe the weatherman said it’s going to be sunny in the afternoon but nature decides otherwise? Unexpected weather can turn fun-filled backpacking into an ugly life-threatening sitch for someone who is not prepared.
Check the weather forecast and charts before you go and plan accordingly. Prepare to face nasty atmospheric conditions by packing the right clothing. That way, you will stay dry in the storm, warm in the snow, and cool in the sun.
The most effective wear for surviving in the wild will include sun protective clothing such as a sun hat, long-sleeved t-shirts, and a pair of sunglasses. Bring a wool shirt and an extra jacket for when it gets cold. Avoid cotton, as it doesn’t retain heat when wet and can lower the temperature of your body rapidly, putting you at risk of ice cream head, or even worse, hypothermia.
Also, don’t forget your raincoat. If you don’t have one, stash a trash bag in your backpack – it will save the day!
Have Your Survival Kit Ready
Prevention is always better than cure. Bringing the right equipment can help you stay safe on the trail. However, if you still find yourself lost, injured, or in some messed up situation, you will be glad you took the time to put some survival gear and tools in your bag. The most effective wilderness survival kit will contain the following:
- Navigation equipment so you can know where you are all the time.
- A communication device such as a mobile phone or walkie-talkie to keep in touch with the rest of the group or people back home.
- A whistle in case you need to hail a rescue group or attract the attention of other adventurers. This will be louder than yelping, so definitely more effective.
- First aid kit with adhesive bandages, gauze pads, antiseptic ointment, and pain relievers.
- Fresh clothes for when you need to replace the wet ones or add an extra layer.
- Firestarters and matches for setting up a campfire later.
- Extra water bottle so you can stay hydrated when caught in a survival situation.
- Flashlight to help you find your way at night or signal for help in the dark.
- Watch to keep track of time and determine when you should be heading back to the trailhead.
You will probably not use all these items on the trail but it is best to bring them than wishing you did.
Go With Someone
Solo hikers and backpackers are at a higher risk of getting lost or dying in the woods than group hikers are. If you are planning to go for a hiking trip, bring one or two people so you can help and keep an eye on each other on the trail. If you don’t know how to cross rivers safely in the jungle, where you are supposed to go next, or how to use a compass, at least you will have an additional brain to help you figure such things out.
Additionally, don’t leave without telling your family or friends where you are going. Let them know which route you will be taking and whether you will be using a different route to return, when they should expect you back, and the names of the people who will be going with you. If possible, tell them about the activities you will be undertaking; whether it’s hunting, mountain climbing, zip-lining, kayaking, skiing, or dirt-biking. That way, if you get stranded unexpectedly and fail to return on the stated date, your friends back home will be able to provide the necessary help.
Bring The 4 Survival Essentials
Unless you are sick or injured, you technically need only four things to survive outdoors. Yup! We are talking of water, food, shelter, and fire.
Make sure you have enough food and water to keep you going, a good shelter that can withstand harsh weather conditions, and a lighter to start a fire so you can stay warm. But if you are lost and stranded in the wilderness with none of these items, don’t panic; there are plenty of resources at your disposal.
Wilderness survival will only be successful if you have enough water. Remember you can only last three days without water but even before you have exhausted those three days, you will be extremely dehydrated. So, the first thing you have to do for you to survive will be to look for water.
You can look for streams, springs, rivers, swamps, and lakes and once you have found a reliable water source, purify the water to make it safe for drinking. Here is how you can treat your water:
Boil: If you have your camping stove with you, just light it up and boil the water. Alternatively, just collect some firewood, make some fire and you will still get the job done. Boiling water is the most effective way to kill bacteria and other harmful microorganisms in the water. Once it has boiled completely, let it cool down and you are good to go. To hasten the cooling process, pour the hot water into a cup and dip it in a bowl containing cold water.
Purifiers: If you feel like boiling is going to consume a lot of time, use chemicals. Tablets containing chlorine and iodine neutralize viruses and kill bacteria. Of course, the water will not taste like before but they will get it clean. Also, the chemicals take close to 60 minutes to work so you will need to be a little patient.
Filter: Most backpackers prefer going the old school way – you know where you just take off your t-shirt and filter the water. Well, this is easier and will get your water ready to drink faster than boiling or adding chemicals. However, a piece of cloth will still get the bacteria through, so in the actual sense, you will still be consuming dirt.
To make your filtering successful, invest in a backpacking filter. These use a manual pump and are designed with very tiny pores that bacteria can’t pass through. Sure, they are a little pricey but they will ensure that your water is safe to drink.
If you are going to survive in the wild, you will need food too. If the packed food has already run out, you will need to look for food elsewhere. And since there are no supermarkets or grocery stores here, your only options for food will be wild animals, insects, and fruits.
Unfortunately, catching a wild animal is not as easy as it seems. Even the most skilled hunters sometimes go home empty-handed. So, easier options are insects and wild fruits. Insects are gross, we know, but most are edible and even more nutritious than animals.
For fruits, don’t eat a wild fruit if you are not sure it is edible. Some fruits are poisonous and can send you to a faster death than hunger.
Apart from dressing right to keep yourself warm, make sure you have the right tent for the weather. A good shelter will keep the wind away, protect you from rain, and keep you warm and dry.
But to reap maximum benefits out of your shelter, get your location right from the word go. Choose a spot that is free of floods, drifting snow or sand, high winds, and lightning. If you find a site that has a natural shelter like a cave or large rock and natural materials, take it, as these will limit your exertion. Avoid sites that are near water sources as these can attract lightning when it rains. However, make sure your chosen spot is easily visible by other adventurers for your safety.
When setting up your shelter, build the simplest and most effective one – something that will be easier to dismantle and pack if things go wrong. Make sure the ground is properly insulated to prevent heat loss from your body. Have the right sleeping bag for the weather. Get something heavy for winter and something light for summer.
Another secret to surviving in the wild is making a fire. Temperatures can go down really fast in the backcountry, so anything that can keep you warm is essential. We have already talked about dressing appropriately and having a warm shelter but if the weather is really cold, your body will require more food to generate heat and this is where fire comes in. A fire will keep you warm and make sure you always have something to eat.
Pack a camping stove and lighter. If you can make a fire by rubbing two sticks together, then you have a good contingency plan. Just don’t rely on it completely – many are the times we have heard hikers ending up with only two warm sticks.
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If you are love spending time in the woods, then you must know how important it is to always be prepared for the worst. You can get lost, stranded, or injured but if you have the right wilderness survival gear, your unexpected challenge will be resolved quickly.
Tell someone about your trip, always know where you are, and focus on the survival essentials. And if things go completely wrong, just curl up like a tiny seed, protect your head, and pray!
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