Surviving in the wilderness is a demanding and potentially life-threatening challenge that requires a combination of knowledge, skills, and resourcefulness. Whether you find yourself lost or intentionally venturing into remote natural environments, understanding the fundamental principles of wilderness survival can mean the difference between life and death. In this guide, we will explore the essential strategies and techniques necessary to thrive when far away from civilization and facilities. From shelter-building and fire-making to sourcing clean water and identifying edible plants, we’ll go over some of the skills and mindset needed to confront and overcome the challenges of the wild. Whether you are an avid outdoor enthusiast, an adventurer, or simply someone seeking to be better prepared for the unexpected, this guide will provide you with valuable insights and practical advice to help you navigate and survive in the beautiful but unpredictable nature of the wilderness.
Planning before an outdoor excursion is crucial for ensuring safety, enjoyment, and an overall successful outdoor adventure. While planning your trip, assess the trail’s difficulty, research the terrain and weather conditions, and pack all the essential gear and supplies. The planning phase allows you to anticipate potential challenges, such as steep ascents, river crossings, or sudden weather changes, and take appropriate precautions which can ultimately prevent accidents and injuries from happening. It also ensures that hikers have the necessary resources, like food, water, first-aid kits, and navigation tools, to handle unforeseen situations if they do happen to occur.
One of the most important things you can do if you find yourself in an emergency situation is to stay calm. Panic can lead to poor decision-making which can put you in a more difficult situation and could even be life threatening. Take deep breaths and try to stay as calm as possible. Then you can assess your situation with a level head and prioritize your needs.
Build a Shelter
In a survival situation in the wilderness, creating a shelter is one of the first things you’ll need to do. A shelter will protect you from the elements and wildlife. If you don’t have a tent or tarp in your gear, use whatever resources available to you including things in your gear as well as things you can find around you. A simple lean-to with wood or a debris hut made from leaves, moss, and branches can provide crucial insulation from wind, rain, and snow.
Find Potable Water
Water is essential for survival. A human can only live a few days without water, so finding an adequate water source is paramount. Look for natural sources like streams, rivers, and lakes. Rainwater can also be collected using containers, tarps, or natural depressions in the earth Collect and purify water using filtration methods like water purification tabs or by boiling.
Start a Fire
Fire is another survival essential that provides warmth, a means to cook food and boil water, a form of illumination, protection from wild animals, and a way to signal for help. You should always have a fire starter, waterproof matches, and/or a lighter in your gear when embarking on a trip into the wild. However, it can also be beneficial to learn how to create fire using primitive methods, like friction-based techniques as well as important campfire safety tips.
Stay Hydrated and Nourished
In survival situations when you’re unsure of when help will arrive, you want to conserve your energy as much as possible and ration your food. Foraging for edible plants and insects can supplement your food supply. However, be sure you know what is safe to eat and what is not as eating certain plants or berries can cause illness or even death. A Wilderness Herbal First Aid course can teach you about edible plants and herbs you can find in the wilderness and how to use them to treat a variety of illnesses.
While in survival mode out in the wilderness, there are many variables that come into play that can cause you harm or injury. That’s why safety is so important and prevention is ultimately key. Learn about wildlife in the area and how to safely deal with encounters. Protect yourself from insects and ticks with appropriate clothing and repellents. Watch your footing while on the move, especially on loose or steep terrain, and remember to protect yourself from the sun by wearing protective clothing and applying sunscreen.
Share your Plans
Whether you plan to be out for a day or a week, before embarking on an adventure make sure to share your plans with a trusted friend or family member. Inform them where you’ll be going, the route you plan to take, and when you’re expected to return. This way if you do get lost, people will know where to look and increase your chances of being rescued quickly. Stay in one place if you’re lost. It’s easier for rescuers to find you if you’re not moving.
Maintain a Positive Mindset
If you do find yourself in an emergency situation or become lost or injured, remember all hope is not lost. A positive mindset can make a significant difference in your chances of survival. Focus on your goals, take things step by step, and stay calm and motivated.
Stay on the Trails and Utilize Navigation Tools
If you’re hiking or adventuring in a state park, stay on marked trails and avoid venturing off them. Trails are marked for a reason and allow you to know exactly where you are and which way you’re headed. Trails are also regularly maintained ensuring your safety. However, it’s always important to learn how to use a map and compass as well as basic navigation skills, such as reading terrain and using natural landmarks. While GPS and other navigation tools are incredibly useful, they’re not foolproof. You could lose signal or run out of battery forcing you to navigate on your own. If you have no compass or GPS, the sun can help you navigate. Learn how to use the sun’s position to determine direction.
Signal for Help
If you’re lost or in distress, use any available means to signal for help to rescue teams or nearby hikers. This might include using a whistle or shouting periodically, making a fire, or creating signals using mirrors, flashlights, or brightly colored clothing.
Stay Warm and Dry
Wet clothing and exposure to cold temperatures can lead to hypothermia, which can be deadly. It’s vital to keep your clothing dry and layer up to trap body heat so you stay warm and are able to regulate your body temperature by adding or removing layers. Build a fire and dry any wet or damp clothing before putting it on to ensure you remain warm and dry. When sleeping, create a shelter and insulate yourself as much as you can to retain warmth throughout the night.
Bring a Survival Kit
Regardless of how long you plan to be out in the wilderness, you should always bring some essential gear with you. Out in the backcountry, you’re likely miles away from civilization and the items in your survival kit could ultimately save your life if you happen to become lost or injured. While the specific gear you need to bring with you may ultimately depend on the environment and the activities you’ll be partaking in, some essentials include:
- First aid kit: Carry a basic first-aid kit and know how to use it.
- Cordage or rope: Can be used to create shelter, keep valuables off the ground, etc
- Headlamp or flashlight: The wilderness at night gets extremely dark so illumination is essential.
- Multipurpose tool: This all-in-one tool serves many purposes.
- Water: Bring a water filter or purification tablets to ensure access to clean water.
- Firecraft tools: Carry fire-starting tools like waterproof matches, lighters, and fire starters.
- Shelter: Pack a lightweight, waterproof, and insulated shelter like a tent or tarp.
- Navigation: Always have a map, compass, or GPS device, and know how to use them.
- Emergency food: Pack non-perishable, high-energy food like energy bars or dehydrated meals.
- Extra clothing: Essential for keeping you warm and dry and may serve other survival purposes
Learn Basic Survival Skills
Before heading into the wilderness, educate yourself on basic survival skills and techniques through books, courses, or outdoor training. This knowledge can be invaluable if you find yourself in an emergency situation. Consider taking a Wilderness Medicine course which can teach you how to identify, treat, and prevent a variety of illnesses and injuries that could occur as well as invaluable lifesaving skills. Additionally, practicing these skills in a controlled environment can help build your confidence and competence in case you ever find yourself in a survival situation.
Remember that the most critical aspect of wilderness survival is preparation. Prior knowledge, training, and having the right gear can greatly increase your chances of surviving and returning safely from the wilderness.