More of us are spending time outdoors, enjoying nature and escaping to the woods during this pandemic – myself included! As a result there are more people in survival situations, getting lost and needing rescue. We’ve all experienced hiking off the trail or trying a different route, only to get separated from our group or not recognize our surroundings. In case the worst happens and you do get lost, here are a few tips for surviving the wild, alone.
One of the most important tasks to surviving the wild is maintaining a positive outlook. Even if your cell phone doesn’t work, try to remain calm and positive. Overall, you have greater odds of making it through a survival crisis if you keep a positive attitude. Knowing that you are capable of planning, executing, and looking for help will help in those moments you have to make split-second decisions that impact your survival. Staying positive helps you emit confidence, stay task-focused, and allows you to tap into your outdoor knowledge.
Once you realize you’re lost, remain calm and take deep breaths. Think about where you’ve been hiking, consider the weather, the time, what resources you have, and judge if you should sit and wait for help or try to hike out on your own. Observe your surroundings (are you near a road or on a hiking path?), what resources are available to you (shade, warmth, water), and what do you need to do to survive? Is there a chance you’ll run into other hikers? Did you leave a marked hiking path and lose your way back? Take the time to think through everything that just occurred, look for any landmarks, and calmly reassure yourself that you are ok and will be safe.
Constructing an efficient shelter can assist you in avoiding hypothermia or hyperthermia. Whether you need to stay warm in the cold or cool in the heat, it’s imperative that you take care of your body and maintain a proper temperature while surviving the wild. Because your primary source of winter warmth will be body heat, build a shelter just large enough to fit your body when lying down. Utilize all the available resources, such as a fallen tree, or secure a strong limb against a standing tree, to construct a modest lean-to shelter. Insulate your shelter with branches from a pine tree and use any outdoor resource (even leaves!) to keep warm.
In the warmer months, be sure to stay out of the sun during the heat of the day and properly cool yourself when necessary. To shield yourself from the heat, you can construct a shade shelter. Construct a lean-to shelter over exposed ground using branches or limbs. This shelter aims to provide shade and keeps you away from the scorching heat. Cover one side with accessible material such as bark, leaves, a poncho, an emergency sleeping bag or blanket, or any other cloth. Lying on the cool earth will feel refreshing. This will give you a more temperate place to rest, protect you from the sun and the elements, and provide comfort and safety.
Caves also make great shelters. However, before lying down in the cave, make sure that there are no wild animals inside it. It doesn’t hurt to consider investing in some survival gears and make a habit of always bringing them with, to protect yourself while outdoors.
Water is imperative for surviving the wild. If you don’t have any water or water filtration devices, you will have to find clean, uncontaminated water. Collect, store, and consume as much rainwater as possible. Consume small amounts of water frequently to avoid dehydration.
If it’s winter and there is clean snow on the ground, don’t eat the snow, but melt it first. You can melt it over an open fire or with the aid of a camp stove. If none of those are feasible, take advantage of the sun. Accelerate the process by cutting ice and hanging it in bright sunlight in a water bag. In case it is raining, you can definitely store the rainwater and use it for different purposes.
Boiling water is the most effective method to get safe drinking water. You can also learn about specific plants that indicate the presence of adjacent water sources. Locate cattails or willows and dig a deep hole until you detect moisture. Allow water to accumulate in the spot. Water is also likely to gather in rocky outcrops or indentations. Even though the water in these areas as well as puddles or streams appears perfectly clean, it may still contain hazardous pathogens, so avoid drinking it. It’s best to avoid water when you’re unsure of its cleanliness, unless in a life or death emergency.
In order to boil your water, you’ll need fire. Hopefully, you will have already practiced alternative fire starting methods before you’ll need them.
Gather pine needles, dried leaves, milkweed or thistledown, and dry grass to make a tinder bundle. Create a nest out of the fine tinder by using a larger piece of wood as a wind barrier. Gather kindling pieces, which are slighter larger pieces and shape it into a teepee to allow oxygen to enter. Place the kindling teepee on the ground.
Use a lighter or waterproof match to start the fire. Keep your match sticks dry by storing them in a watertight container. If you don’t have a lighter or matches, another option is using a magnesium fire starter. Remove magnesium filings from the stick and produce a spark with the back of your knife to ignite the filings.
When lighting the fire, ignite the small tinder bundle and lay it beneath the kindling tepee. Blow gently on the fire with long, steady breaths. As the kindling catches fire, gradually increase the size of the fuel added to the fire. Add the largest pieces of wood when the fire is well established.
The safest approach to wildlife is to completely avoid any encounter. To do this, make noise whenever possible. Attach a bear bell to your backpack or start talking or singing. However, there may be a time when you find yourself in an aggressive confrontation with an animal. These normally occur when you startle it or mistakenly get in the way of its offspring or food supply.
If you encounter a bear and don’t have bear spray, try to determine if it’s a black bear or grizzly bear. If the bear has a hump on it’s upper back, it’s a grizzly. PLAY DEAD if attacked. If it’s a black bear, SHOUT and LOOK BIG, and don’t play dead. Respond to a cougar attack the same way you would a black bear attack – look big, defend yourself, and be aggressive.
Keep your distance from all wildlife. Don’t attack, chase, or irritate wild animals unnecessarily. If you don’t bother the animals, they won’t bother you. Keep your fire lit at night to keep all the wild animals away from your shelter.
Getting lost in the woods can be a serious problem and if you are not at all prepared, you may find yourself in a perilous situation. By taking the proper precautions and following the above mentioned tips, you can be sure of surviving the wild.