By: Marlene Affeld
Before you head out to the promising gravel bar you heard about up no-name creek or on an exploration of an old mine site in the backcountry, let someone know where you are going and when you will return. While it is important to leave word of your destination and expected return when you are going on a several day hike in the high country, it is just as important to let know someone know where you are going even if you just plant a day hike or a short drive off-road. Ask a friend or relative to notify authorities of your likely whereabouts if you do not return within a certified time frame. It may sound like old advice, but it is worth repeating. No one will come looking for you if they don’t know you are missing.
Leave a map or some reasonably detailed information such as road names, trail markers, stream, or lake names identifying the general location where you plan to hunt, fish, prospect or recreate. Don’t just tell your family or friends that you are going to the desert or to check out a claim in the mountains, let them know where. If you park your vehicle at a trailhead, leave a sign on the dashboard stating your time of departure, expected time of return, trail route, destination, and emergency contact information. If you are stranded, lost, ill or injured, emergency search and rescue personnel can’t respond unless they have an identified search area.
Before departure, aim to memorize roads, landmarks, rivers, and geological features of the area you intend to explore. Utilize a laminated map or waterproof map case to ensure the integrity of the map. Don’t rely on your memory; Keep the map on your person when wandering in the backcountry. Carry a compass in your survival pack.
Even the most seasoned and experienced gold prospectors, hunters, fishermen, and woodsmen know that it is surprisingly easy to get turned around and lost, especially in unfamiliar surroundings. Accidents happen; that’s why they call them accidents. You may think you are prepared for any contingency; however, it is always the one you didn’t think about that gets you in trouble.
Remember, that when it comes to surviving in a wilderness situation, the more you know, the more prepared you are to deal with issues that arise. While it is impossible to adequately prepare for every single thing that might happen out there, it is wise to be vigilant and aware of as many of the diverse array of things that can go wrong and cost you your life. While the tidbits of knowledge and “woods wisdom” can seem trivial at times, pay attention. The knowledge you glean may not be useful all of the time, but it may divert disaster when you need it the most.
Know How To Build A Shelter
Staying dry is the first primary rule of survival. In a wilderness survival situation, lack of adequate shelter can cost you your life. In an extreme weather situation, humans can only survive three hours or less without shelter. Unless you are carrying shelter, you need to know how to use nature’s tools and materials to create a suitable shelter to protect yourself from exposure to weather’s worst.
Having a working knowledge of basic survival sheltering is crucial when you find yourself face with an unexpected survival scenario. No matter if its heat stroke or hypothermia, the bottom line is that without shelter (sleeping bag, tent or tarp) to shield you from the elements, you are on your own; dependent on your knowledge, skills, and will to survive. Always carry a sharp knife and cordage on your person. A fall can separate you from your pack.
Do the research. Find out about how to build different types of survival shelters in different environments and then practice, practice, do it again, and practice some more, until you have mastered the skill and the process becomes second nature. Bear in mind that when the need for an emergency shelter arises, you will not have the luxury of choosing the location or time of the year.
Although summer is the most comfortable time to practice your skills at building survival shelters, practice year around, especially if you reside or recreate in a four-season climate.
When practicing building a survival shelter, take note of how long it takes to locate and gather materials and to craft your shelter. This knowledge of time and energy expenditure is essential information. Working knowledge of this timing can be the difference between death and survival in a real-life disaster scenario.
Fire Can Save Your Life
Fire is a frequent, integral component of survival. In the backcountry, a fire can keep you and others in your party warm and dry in extreme conditions. An intense blaze is also an excellent deterrent to wildlife predators; a burning stick has frightened more than one dangerous animal away. As a rescue signal, a roaring fire can be seen for many miles at night with smoke visible during daylight hours. A fire can also be used to boil water to provide a safe source of drinking water.
It is important to always carry several methods of fire ignition with you in your survival pack such as waterproof matches, cigarette lighters or flint. It is wise to have a basic knowledge of how to start a fire without an ignition source.
Starting a fire without an ignition source is a difficult task to master in damp or weather challenging situations. Practice makes perfect. Ensure that you are capable of accomplishing the job by practicing at home, using only the materials you may have on hand in a wilderness location. Practice lighting and maintaining a fire in strong winds, when it is raining, snowing, and in total darkness.
Although it is possible to survive for days, weeks and even months without food, you won’t last long without water. Without an adequate supply of pure drinking water, dehydration symptoms manifest quickly. Symptoms include loss of energy, poor judgment, loss of coordination and balance, and loss of will to live.
In the wilderness, the first question to ask yourself is, “is this water safe to drink?’ Giardia and Cryptosporidium are waterborne organisms that can cause painful stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and severe diarrhea that causes dehydration and reduces your physical ability to carry out other necessary survival efforts such as finding shelter or signaling for rescue.
It is wise to always carry chemical purification tablets in your pack or a portable water filter. Without your gear, the safest water to drink is rainwater or dew. There are several methods to catch nature’s life-giving liquid. It is wise to be knowledgeable about these processes.
Have A Signal Plan
In any wilderness rescue situation, being able to signal for help increases your chances of survival. Always carry a whistle and signal mirror in your survival pack. High-beam flashlights or fire starting devices can also come in handy as a signal device. When trying to signal for help, know how to use rocks, stones, snow, dirt, and tree branches to craft a signal visible from the air.