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Keys to Survival in the Wilderness

Don’t kid yourself, the key to survival is knowledge and preparation. Don’t be caught untrained and uninformed when something happens that puts you in a life or death situation. Evaluate your circumstance in terms of immediate and probable threats, whether you need to be rescued or need to remain concealed, what are your dangers of exposure to weather conditions, what resources are available, and how long you will be on your own. Remember, practice makes perfect. Just watching a video will not fully prepare you for a real life threatening event. So, practice what you learn in different weather conditions and in different terrain when possible.

You may think you know the priorities of survival, but so many people are easily confused with TV drama shows and misinformation, that they forget what matters: STAY ALIVE!

Your first priority is WATER. Without it, depending on your environment, you become dehydrated within hours. After about a day, your ability to reason and make good decisions fails. Two to three days without water and severe dehydration leads to confusion, heat stroke, and death.

Potable water: Unfortunately, our farming practices and general pollution has led to most streams, lakes and ponds having water that is unfit to drink. Even in a clear mountain stream, animal fecal matter will produce bacteria and other micro-organisms that can be harmful. Unpurified water can contain bacteria, viruses, and micro-organisms such as Giardia or cryptosporidium that cause intestinal problems including diarrhea, cramps, and vomiting. Even if you think the water is clear and good, you should always boil it or treat it with a chemical such as chlorine dioxide, potassium permanganate or taharmayim. Another option is to filter it through a 0.1 Micron filter. A popular myth is you must boil water for 5 to 10 minutes in order for it to be safe to drink. This is false information, you merely need to bring it to about 185 degrees Fahrenheit for it to be safe. It usually takes about 10 minutes to bring one liter to a boil, but you should add about a minute for each 1,000 feet you are above sea-level. So, just bringing it to a boil ensures you have safely killed all the pathogens which it contained. Boiling is the safest method for purification.

Your second priority is FIRE. Without fire, you are at risk of hypothermia in cold climates but it is also necessary to boil water, to cook, ward off dangerous animals and even help to repel mosquitoes. Starting a fire is one of the most important survival skills to learn. Most backpackers carry a magnesium fire starter, Ferro cerium rod or flint and steel, but if you have ever tried to start a fire in wet conditions with one of these devices, you know that it is almost impossible. Dry tender is the key, even if you master the art of striking the starter material. Don’t even consider that you will be able to use a primitive method to start a fire. You will only end up being cold with bloody blistered hands. I suggest you pack a zip-lock plastic bag filled with cotton balls and a bic lighter. Cotton balls are easily ignited. If you coat them in petroleum jelly, they will even burn in the rain.

Your third priority is SHELTER. There are lots of techniques to build an adequate shelter. Again, depending on your surrounding environment, it is often a labor intensive but necessary task to quickly complete. Study and practice building a dry shelter with just materials around your location.

Your fourth priority is FOOD. A person can live three weeks or longer without food. Food can be found by setting snares, fishing, or foraging. Depending on your surrounding environment all or none of these may be possible. To maintain your stamina and keep your energy level high enough to either build a semi-permanent camp or to try to hike out for help, you will need at least 1200 calories per day. If you have very little water, you should not eat as it takes water to help digest your food. Without water you will not survive. Learn techniques for fishing, building traps and snares, and what edible plants are located in different regions of the country.

Everything else is about comfort and good common sense. Clothing will play an important part in your ordeal. In cold weather conditions it is best to layer with a wicking type fabric against your body and rain resistant outerwear. An extra pair of dry wool socks, a pair of leather gloves, a pair of wool glove liners and a wool stocking cap might also come in handy. Wool will retain your body heat even if wet. A good waterproof poncho can serve as a temporary shelter, a hammock, or a ground cloth.

In desert conditions it is best to have loose black outerwear that can cover most of your body including arms, legs, and head. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but regard the attire of the nomads of the middle east and northern Africa. While white material will reflect the sun, it also reflects your body heat back towards you. Loose fitting cloths allow air to flow around your body, keeping it much cooler. Long sleeves, long trousers, and a wide brimmed hat will protect you from the sun.

In a swampy terrain, it is wise to wear long sleeved, loose fitting shirts, long trousers that are synthetic material which will not soak up water, and good water proof boots. The long sleeved shirt and trousers will help control bug bites. Winter vs Summer dress is up to you, just remember it is easier to take clothes off that to put them on, especially if you don’t have them with you.

Your camp should be constructed on high ground, out of the wind, and in as dry a location as possible. Always consider your specific circumstances, terrain, and weather conditions before expending valuable energy on your shelter. Never sleep directly on the ground. Your body heat will draw moisture from the ground and you will wake up damp and cold, even with a fire.


Stay tuned, more to come!

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