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The past few decades have seen good technological advancements in regards to survival in the wild. Things like GPS and other more specialized tools and gear have brought greater support and safety to those venturing into the bush.
The increased availability of information, skills and knowledge via the internet has also been a very positive supporting factor. Taking this into consideration, the primary key to survival still seems to remain the same, preparedness.
In what follows we’ll offer some important points regarding preparedness by exploring some basic elements of survival and consider essential gear, techniques and tips for survival in the wild.
This is by no means a complete and comprehensive guide for wilderness survival but a good place to start in order to prepare yourself for an unexpected emergency situation. The focus will be on the unplanned survival scenarios where the aim is to survive until found or rescued rather than long-term voluntary survival experiment or general ‘living out in the bush’. Of course, what is explored will also be relevant for the latter but will not cover some of the longer-term survival needs.
As mentioned above, one of the most essential elements regarding survival is preparedness, both in regards to gear and training. The ‘be prepared’ boy scout motto goes a long way and is essential unless of course Tarzan or Mogli and still then, they had some ‘training’.
By being as well prepared as possible we are more likely to sail through more difficult situations which may, as a result, never become acutely threatening.
One essential aspect of preparedness is training, which includes learning survival skills and practicing them. Today this can happen in many ways. For example, there are many Youtube channels that present good videos on survival techniques and preparedness. Many books are also available and even outdoor courses and programs for hands-on learning.
No matter what the source of inspiration and know-how, direct experimenting is fundamental in applying and perfecting survival skills. For example, many classic survival techniques, like starting a fire with a bow drill, are essential to practice prior to setting out. Without practice, your chances of succeeding on the first go with such a fire starting art are slim to none.
Spend more time in the bush
Spending more time in nature and practicing our book (and Youtube) knowledge is invaluable when it comes to emergency survival preparedness. Practice is of course the fun part, and there are thousands of people today who have turned surviving in the wild, into a hobby.
The more we spend time in the bush the more we also increase our natural connection with nature and open to a greater intuitive flow and relationship with the elements. This is in fact how some of our more distant ancestors and the great indigenous tribes of our planet succeeded in, not only surviving but actually living with nature in a harmonious way.
Gearing up properly also includes emergency preparedness
Often people tend to focus mainly on acquiring and including the survival gear that they will need for their particular outdoor activity and give less attention to emergency kits and tools. However having a proper emergency kit, bug-out bag, and proper tools for dealing with a variety of more challenging situations can be invaluable. Even if you never use some things, it is best to have them on hand since in an emergency, such items and tools could suddently be worth their weight in gold.
Of course, depending on your mode of transportation and the nature of your excursion into the wild, you may be limited in regards to what you can carry and thus may need to prioritize.
If you have some sort of vehicle or basecamp then having some extra tools and emergency items there is a good compromise. It goes without saying that keeping a good emergency kit and some tools in your vehicle is a wise idea if you live in a remote area,
Making your own tools
Of course many avid survivalist or bushcrafting enthusiasts love to make their own tools and supplies. While most things can be made with natural materials, this type of craftiness often requires a great deal of time, energy and prior know-how, not to mention hours of practice in order to successfuly craft the necessary tools.
And since there are situations where time is a luxury, having the essential tools on hand can be vital. Here are a few things you should consider bringing along whenever you are going to be out in nature:
Knife or blade of some kind
In case you don’t already have one, a good folding knife, which you can tie to your belt, can be extremely useful and very handy even in non-emergency situations since it has thousands of uses and most other tools can be made with it.
Make shift blades
There are also ingenious ways to create a knife blade out of a sharp stone or the inner chipboard of your smartphone (if you get really desperate and are ready to sacrifice it), but it will save you a lot of work and trouble to simply carry a good quality blade with you whenever you enter the bush.
Of course, knowing how to make a cutting blade can also be a fun learning process and you never know, you may one day find yourself in the wilderness totally unprepared.
Stainless Steel Drinking Container
This is usually an easy sell since you will most likely have some water bottles with you anyhow. Simply make sure at least one of them is made from stainless steel (or better even, two). This will allow you to use it for boiling water in case of an emergency.
Having access to drinkable water is one of the most urgent needs you will face when stranded. There are ways to use a plastic bottle to filter water but why drink plastic flavoured water, not to mention the actual toxins that go with it. You can of course get a good quality water filtration device or purifying tablets but the steel bottle while surely still have many uses.
Emergency First Aid And Survival Kit
Having a basic emergency first aid and survival kit is extremely valuable. Make sure your kit includes things like:
- Emergency space blanket
- Water purifying tablets
- EpiPen and anti-histamine tablets
- Wound dressing bandages
- Alcohol for disinfecting (also handy for starting a fire)
- Matches and lighter
- Small flares
There are of course many more items that can be added and many pre-assembled kits can be purchased which include all the essential items.
Packing a blanket, tarp and cordage
Having a wool blanket, a tarp and some cordage on hand is also invaluable if you are forced to spend the night out in the bush.
A makeshift shelter can be built more easily and quickly. A tarp will also usually keep you better sheltered from the elements. When in the bush, regardless of the season, temperatures can drop significantly at night and having a proper wool blanket can greatly diminish the chances of getting cold and suffering from hypothermia.
Compass, GPS, Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) and Satellite Messengers
With new technological advancements, it is also possible to carry around a device which can send out your exact location via satellite in case of an emergency or to check-in periodically with your loved ones.
While some areas of the bush may still have cell phone range, you can easily find yourself beyond this type of connection and such a satellite location device becomes priceless in an emergency. A GPS device can also be very handy and it goes without saying that having a small compass in your pack and knowing how to use it, can be an essential key for survival.
What to do when you are lost, stranded?
Whether you have geared up and trained or not, here are some basic points and advice regarding an emergency survival situation in the bush. Since there are myriads of possible survival scenarios this is not a comprehensive guide, rather we have highlighted some important general points and tips which are most often relevant and important to consider.
1. Don’t Panic
Probably one of the most important and essential pieces of advice for anyone who ends up a in difficult or perhaps life-threatening situation is, don’t panic! The first thing is to remain calm and approach your predicament or problem as technically and straightforwardly as possible.
In other words, start by acknowledging and accepting your present situation. There is absolutely no use in fighting against it, nor any way to go back in time. Therefore, it is best to accept your predicament right off the bat and proceed with the appropriate response.
2. Responding to the Situation at Hand
Appropriately responding means simply taking things up like you would a math or a science problem and following a logical procedure in order to solve the problem. In other words, a good survivalist knows how to assess a situation and prioritize the actions that need to be taken in response to whatever hazards are presenting themselves.
Panic or irrational reactivity is a total waste of energy and can often place you in worse danger or an even less remediable condition. Thinking clearly is important, on one hand to access the survival skills and knowledge that you have hopefully previously learned and on the other hand, to allow your natural instincts and intuition to kick in and further support.
3. If you are lost, stay put
In most circumstances, if you are lost and the surroundings you find yourself in are difficult to navigate or you have no idea in which direction to go in order to get to safety, it is usually advisable to simply stay put. Of course this is perhaps not the case if you have a GPS or compass and know how to use it and are aware of the direction or coordinates of your camp, a main road, etc…
The worst thing you can do when lost in the wilderness is to start wandering blindly in an attempt to find your way out. This mostly results in lots of wasted energy and even further disorientation. Moreover, it usually makes it more difficult for a search and rescue team or other members of your party to find you.
If it is already late in the day and the distance to be covered in order to get out is large or unknown, it is advisable to hunker down for the night.
4. Building a temporary shelter and starting a fire
If an emergency situation requires you to spend the night out, having some hours of daylight left to make the appropriate preparations is definitely ideal. Unless the weather is very warm (even at night) and the skies are clear, one of the first things you will want to do is build yourself a small shelter for the night.
If the weather is cold then you will also want to consider prepping some materials in order to build a fire. This is when having a lighter and matches on hand will be key unless you are an experienced bushcrafter and have time to start the fire with an alternative method.
5. Carring for others in your party takes time
In an emergency situation, you may of course not be the only one stranded and this can drastically change the dynamics of the situation. For example, you may need to give more attention to the other members in your party especially if they are injured or not well versed in the art of bushcraft/survival. Therefore, having a few extra tools for efficiently setting up camp can be important.
There are numerous options when it comes to temporary structures, such as lean-tos, A-frames and also simple tarping methods if you have a tarp with you. In colder climates insulation is key. Covering your ground-level structure with piles of leaves and forest debris can greatly help to keep the cold out. Also never sleeping directly on the earth is also very important in order to stay warm.
Making a bed of leaves and evergreen branches below you is a good option. You can even stuff leaves in your clothing to self-insulate. When in a group, keeping huddled together at night when it is cold can be a sure way to raise the temperature up a few degrees.
6. Drinking Water
Another essential priority is finding a source of potable water or creating the conditions to make it potable. A swift-running stream where the water is clear, is an ideal option and so is water running through many rocks on the side of a mountain.
When these options are not available then even a more stagnant pond can be better than nothing. Of course, a good filtration device will filter most types of water indiscriminately but if you don’t have a filtration device on hand then boiling your water is the way to go as it will get rid of 99% of all waterborn bacteria. If the water is muddy or has large particles in it, then filtering it with a makeshift filter before boiling it can be a good idea.
Otherwise, you may want to try some other alternative ways of collecting water like wrapping a plastic bag (if you have one) over some leafy branches and waiting for the tree’s condensation to take place and sweat into the bag.
You can also try tying some cloth materials around your ankles, walking in the morning dew, wringing these cloths out afterward and collecting this water. Wringing out some moss early in the morning to collect the dew or any rainwater if it rained the previous night is also a sure way to hydrate a little.
7. Time to eat
You can live on water without any food for many days and even a few weeks if necessary but once you take care of your essentials (shelter, water, fire) you can start foraging for food.
Prior to further adventuring, start to learn about the edible plants in the area where you live and of course in any other areas you may explore. There are many wild edible plants but also many toxic or poisonous plants and learning to tell them apart is essential. Many good online resources exist to learn more about the natural bush diet and what to avoid.
8. Signaling for help
After securing your basic needs it is also good to start sending out a distress signal. One of the easiest ways to do this is with the help of a fire. When you have a good fire going, placing some evergreen (pine or spruce) branches on it will create a large amount of smoke which can act as a signal. A fire, in general, can help alert others as to your location and this will be aided even more if you can increase the amount of smoke your fire creates.
Other signaling devices such as a mirror can also be useful in order to flag down an aircraft overhead. Things like emergency flares can also be used if they are part of your emergency kit list.
9. Venturing out, looking for the exit
Once your situation is a little more stable and if outside rescue seems unlikely, or if the weather conditions worsen and make staying put dangerous, then venturing out and looking for the ‘exit’ may be necessary.
If such is the case, heading out should be done cautiously and wisely. For example, using some sort of orientation device or method is essential and if you are completely dissoriented, you may want to start by making short excursions in different directions to see what your surroundings look like.
Finding higher ground can often allow you to get a bird’s eye view of your location and surroundings and help you determine the way out.