Expect the Unexpected – Basic Wilderness Survival

Marlene Affeld ~

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I love to spend time exploring the tundra, mountains, woods and deserts of our great country. My prospecting adventures have provided me with many unique and unforgettable memories. Through experience, I have learned how vulnerable and fragile human beings are and how a basic knowledge of wilderness survival is of the utmost importance.

Survival planning is nothing more than realizing something could happen that would put you in a life-threatening situation and, with that in mind, taking steps to increase your chances of survival. Always expect the unexpected!

The most common cause of death in the wilderness is lack of preparation. As an example, death from hypothermia can actually be attributed to not being prepared for what may be encountered in nature. People don’t die of hypothermia, they die from not preparing for, or expecting, an extremely cold situation. Thus, survival planning requires preparation and emergency planning is essential.

Preparation means having survival items and knowing how to use them. Those of us who live in snow regions prepare our vehicles for hazardous road conditions. We put on snow tires, add extra weight in the back for traction and we carry a shovel and a blanket. Providing you know how to safely operate a chainsaw, carrying one is a sound precaution. The road up the mountain may be clear, however a strong wind can bring down trees that will block one’s return.

Different climates and terrain call for planning to contend with the potential hazards of the local area. Travelers in the desert will want to carry several gallons of water in case they are stranded or an engine overheats. Applied common sense and pre-planning can prevent an annoying and inconvenient event from escalating into a life-threatening situation.

Preparation also means knowing your intended route of travel and familiarizing yourself with the area. Before departure, it is wise to inform someone about your route, plans and when you can be expected back. Tracking a person is much easier for the search and rescue team if they know your destination and proposed route. Dont forget to notify your contact person when you return.

If you park and then venture a considerable distance away from your vehicle, leave a note as well. Post the note where it can be easily visible through the windshield. Write with bold lettering your route and when you expect to return.

Basic Wilderness Survival Skills Reprinted: Courtesy of BC Adventure

The advances in the development of outdoor clothing, equipment, emergency food and techniques have been growing rapidly in recent years. For those beginners interested in using the outdoors there is unlimited information on wilderness survival skills and equipment available. However, experience is the best teacher in any outdoor situation and your reaction in a wilderness survival situation depends on your education. Always keep in mind that it can happen to you. Those who are mentally and physically prepared to survive are more likely to do so. To deal with an emergency situation one must be able to make decisions, improvise and remain calm.

Fear – For anyone faced with a wilderness emergency survival situation, fear is a normal reaction. Unless an emergency situation has been anticipated, fear is generally followed by panic then pain, cold, thirst, hunger, fatigue, boredom and loneliness. It is extremely important to calmly assess the situation and not allow these seven enemies to interfere with your survival.

Pain – Pain may often be ignored in a panic situation. Remember to deal with injuries immediately before they become even more serious.

Cold – Cold lowers the ability to think, numbing the body and reducing the will to survive. Never allow yourself to stop moving or to fall asleep unless adequately sheltered.

Thirst – Dehydration is a common enemy in an emergency situation and must not be ignored. It can dull your mind, causing you to overlook important survival information.

Hunger – Hunger is dangerous but seldom deadly. It may reduce your ability to think logically and increase your susceptibility to the effects of cold, pain and fear.

Fatigue – Fatigue is unavoidable in any situation so it is best to keep in mind that it can and will lower your mental ability. Remember that in an emergency situation this is often the bodies way of escaping a difficult situation.

Boredom & Loneliness – These enemies are quite often unanticipated and may lower the mind’s ability to deal with the situation.

Preparing A Survival Kit:

The environment and terrain you will encounter dictate the types of items you will need in your survival kit. The amount of equipment you put in your kit depends on how you will carry the kit.

A kit carried on your body will have to be smaller than one carried in a vehicle. Remember to always layer your survival kit, keeping the most important items on your person. For example, your map and compass should always be on your body. Plan to carry less important items, that you do not necessarily need to have with you but want to keep handy for emergencies, in a separate waterproof kit.

In preparing your survival kit, choose items you can use for more than one purpose. If you have two items that will serve the same function, pick the one you can use for a dual purpose. Do not duplicate items, as this increases your kit’s size and weight.

Your survival kit need not be elaborate. You need only functional items that will meet your needs and a lightweight, waterproof case to hold the items.

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Survival Essentials:

1. Waterproof, strike-anywhere matches are your best bet. Matches may be water-proofed by dipping them in nail polish. Store your matches in a waterproof container.

2. A cigarette lighter is also a good way to produce a spark, with or without fuel.

3. The flint and steel method is one of the oldest and most reliable methods in fire starting. Aim the sparks at a pile of dry tinder to produce a fire.

4. The electric spark produced from a battery will ignite a gasoline dampened rag.

5. Remove half of the powder from a bullet and pour it into the tinder. Next place a rag in the cartridge case of the gun and fire. The rag should ignite and then may be placed into the tinder.

6. Allow the suns rays to pass through a magnifying glass onto the tinder.

Dry grass, paper or cloth lint, gasoline-soaked rags and dry bark are all forms of tinder. Place your tinder in a small pile resembling a tepee with the driest pieces at the bottom. Use a fire starter or strip of pitch if it is available.It is important to keep in mind that smaller pieces of kindling such as, twigs, bark, shavings and gasoline, are necessary when trying to ignite larger pieces of fuel. Gather fuel before attempting to start your fire. Obviously dry wood burns better and wet or pitchy wood will create more smoke. Dense, dry wood will burn slow and hot. A well ventilated fire will burn best.

Build a Shelter A small shelter which is insulated from the bottom, protected from wind and snow and contains a fire is extremely important in wilderness survival. Before building your shelter be sure that the surrounding area provides the materials needed to build a good fire, a good water source and shelter from the wind.

Wilderness shelters may include:

1. Natural shelters such as caves and overhanging cliffs. When exploring a possible shelter tie a piece of string to the outer mouth of the cave to ensure you will be able to find your way out. Keep in mind that these caves may already be occupied. If you do use a cave for shelter, build your fire near its mouth to prevent animals from entering.

2. Enlarge the natural pit under a fallen tree and line it with bark or tree boughs. Near a rocky coastal area, build a rock shelter in the shape of a U, covering the roof with driftwood and a tarp or even seaweed for protection.

3. A lean-to made with poles or fallen trees and a covering of plastic, boughs, thick grasses or bark is effective to shelter you from wind, rain and snow.

4. A wigwam may be constructed using three long poles. Tie the tops of the poles together and upright them in an appropriate spot. Cover the sides with a tarp, boughs, rain gear or other suitable materials. Build a fire in the center of the wigwam, making a draft channel in the wall and a small hole in the top to allow smoke to escape.

5. If you find yourself in open terrain, a snow cave will provide good shelter. Find a drift and burrow a tunnel into the side for about 60 cm (24 in) then build your chamber. The entrance of the tunnel should lead to the lowest level of you chamber where the cooking and storage of equipment will be. A minimum of two ventilating holes are necessary, preferably one in the roof and one in the door.

CLOTHING AND EQUIPMENT

Clothing Clothing must provide warmth and offer protection from the elements. Layers of light, natural fibers are best. Hats are a must, as they offer protection from both the heat and cold. Water proof outer layers are necessary.

Equipment Equipment must be easily manageable and promote survival in any situation. Items to carry in your pockets may include a fire starter, waterproof matches and/or lighter, a pocket knife, goggles, compass, small first-aid kit and some sort of trail food.

Survival Kit Items for your survival kit should be packed in a waterproof container that can double as a cooking pot and water receptacle and be attached to your belt.

Backpack In addition to a survival kit, a good, comfortable backpack is mandatory. Loads of about 18 kg (40 lb.) are average. Items to include are; flashlight, extra jacket, socks and gloves, a pocket saw, gas camp stove, first aid kit, emergency food as well as a light weight sleeping bag and mini tent.

CHECK LIST

Useful items to include on your hike are:

1. A map and compass with a magnifying glass.

2. A large, bright plastic bag will be useful as a shelter, signaling device or in lieu of rain gear.

3. A flashlight with extra batteries.

4. Extra water and food.

5. Extra clothing such as rain gear, a hat and gloves, a sweater and pants.

6. Sun protection such as sunglasses, sunscreen, a hat and long sleeved clothing.

7. A sharp pocket knife.

8. Waterproof matches, a lighter and/or a flint.

9. Candles and fire starter.

10. A first aid kit.

11. Insect repellent.

12. A whistle, flares, a tarp.

About The Author
Marlene Affeld has spent much time in the woods and knows about being safe. Visit Chasing The Wind

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