Unless you are actively learning primitive survival skills or studying bushcraft techniques, no one has any intention of deliberately putting themselves in a situation where they have no choice but to rely on their wilderness survival skills. Ask anyone who unintentionally found themselves in a wilderness survival mode and they’ll tell you it happened innocently, accidentally and unexpectedly.
So who is it that unintentionally finds themselves in a wilderness survival situation? Anyone who leaves the comforts of their home and closely populated areas has the potential risk. They could be hikers, backpackers, skiers, horseback riders, campers, travelers who are going from one city to another who take a wrong road or their car breaks down, fishers, hunters, and anything else that could have a person driving in unfamiliar areas.
Before you go off on any adventures that carry a potential risk, it’s important to consider that something unexpected could happen. Along with packing for your trip — whether it’s a day trip to the mountains or a journey across the country — take a couple of precautions like throwing an emergency kit in your trunk or putting emergency gear in your backpack. Chance are you’ll never (ever) need it, but if that something unexpected happens, it could be a life saver.
What to do if you find yourself in a wilderness survival situation:
First and foremost Mental Awareness:
- STAY CALM
- STAY COLLECTED
- STAY STILL until an alternative and safe plan is established – Note: In many situations, staying put is the best plan.
Bad decisions are made in panic. Life threatening choices are made in haste. Fear drives people to do things without thinking of the consequences.
A quick story: I’ve spent the whole of my life practicing good outdoor safety measures, but my friends haven’t. A several years ago, 3 friends and myself drove up to a ski resort we’d never been to before. About halfway through the day a snow storm turned into a blizzard and we collectively decided to head home around 4 in the afternoon. The blizzard became a whiteout as we drove and my friend missed a critical turn to get back to the city.
No one noticed she had missed it. After awhile I said, “We should have been in town by now, we need to pull over.” But my friend didn’t want to stop and ‘get stuck’ and we started to argue. As we argued, our road got deeper and deeper in snow and soon enough, my friend drove into a ditch. We were stuck, in the middle of nowhere, during a blizzard.
The most shocking part of my situation is how quickly my friends panicked and began making rash decisions. Within 2 minutes of getting stuck, they immediately wanted to get out of the car and walk to a teenie tiny light they could see in the distance. Or walk back down the road we came on. By then it was getting pretty dark, it was freezing, it was a whiteout snowstorm. A recipe for disaster.
The decisions someone makes in the first hour after an emergency situation arises are critical to their chances of survival. If you find yourself lost, or stuck, or your car broke down or ?? Remember this and stay put, especially if it’s late in the afternoon or evening. Calm yourself down and don’t make any decisions until you’ve really analyzed the situation in a calm and practical frame of mind.
If you’ve broken down or gotten your car stuck. Stay with the car. Your vehicle is now your shelter and it will be the first thing help will look for when you’ve been reported missed by a concerned loved one. Chances are you’ll have supplies (especially if you’ve packed an emergency kit in the trunk!) in your car that will help you survive while you wait for help or figure out a safe plan.
If you’re outdoors, away from your vehicle and find yourself in a life threatening situation, stay put and use natural resources to build or create a shelter. The harsh elements, heat, cold, snow, rain, etc are a threat to your survival and you need to take create a barrier for yourself.
Create a Signal For Help:
If you have the means to make a fire, build one and keep it going. A fire can be seen at night and the smoke seen during the day. (Plus it will keep you warm!)
If you can’t make a fire, use natural resources around you to signal for help. Create several unnatural looking messages or shapes like arrows and words out of logs or rocks. Circle them around you in various spots to catch the attention of anyone who is trying to help you or happens to come across your signals.
You can survive for a while without food, but not without water. Remember, every time you move or leave your shelter, you are burning precious calories and hydration. If you have an emergency kit with you, you should have purification tablets to use on any water you find. If you don’t have a way to purify any water you find, still attempt to safely find a water source and do your best to ensure the water is drinkable. Learn more here.
There is a lot more to wilderness survival, but for this article we’ve covered the very basics. Learning to build a fire (without matches) and foraging for food are fantastic skills to have and should also be learned by everyone.
And to end the story from above. I was able to talk some sense into my friends, calm them down and settle in for the night in our vehicle. Several hours later a huge snow truck came up the road and we were spared an entire night feeling helpless. I still hate to think of what my friends would have experienced if they had tried to wade through 3 feet of snow to get to that tiny light that may or may not have even been a house with help.