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There are those of use who spend a lot of time in the woods, but we rarely think about survival. We spend days or perhaps even weeks living in the woods, hunting, fishing, hiking, or just camping out and do it all with without a care in the world. I realize that is why most of us spent time with Mother Nature, however, as beautiful as the outdoors is, it can be a very harsh place for those who are not prepared. She can be deadly to the foolhardy. So to assist me when I am in the wilds I have developed the Ten Rules to Survive By:
1. Always be prepared to survive, always! No matter if you are just taking an afternoon hike on a designated trail in a National Forest, and you do not intend to get off of the beaten trail, make sure to take a survival kit. Additionally, carry clothing for changes in the weather, for instance, ponchos, hats, light jacket, even on days it looks like you won't need them. The weather can change a lot in just a few hours and in the mountains this change can occur in just a few minutes. Ensure any clothing, boots (I never wear sneakers in the woods), or gloves you carry fit properly and are in good condition. If you are an inexperienced outdoors person, take a small survival book (I like the SAS survival manual for its size and information) along with a good first aid book. Both of these could save your life in an emergency.
Your kit should, as a minimum have the following items packed in it, or you should carry them on yourself,
- A quality penknife or jack knife
- Condoms for water storage, un-lubricated, or plastic freezer bags
- Water proof matches
- Flint and steel or a metal match
- Water purification tables
- A long strip of heavy-duty aluminum foil folded up to cook with
- Fishing kit, i.e., hooks, sinkers, and some line. Nothing fancy.
- Commercial back packing first aid kit (with instructions). I carry a small first aid kit (I have placed a small hotel size bar of soap inside my kit).
- One small pack of gum and one pack of hard candy (energy)
- Casualty Blanket, sometimes called a thermal blanket
- Instant powder broth, beef or chicken, four servings total
- Survival Whistle, small, made of plastic and with a lanyard
- Any prescription medications you might need or other components you feel you have to have along.
2. Always tell someone you are going. Each year search and rescues are initiated for people lost in the woods and the effort is often made very difficult because the rescue team has no starting point. When you go outdoors, always tell someone the who, what, when, and where of your trip. An example might be telling your boss (who) that you and your wife are going camping (what) over the weekend (when) in Big Piney Mountains (where). I suggest you give even more details, such as the date and time you intend to leave as well as when you expect to return. I would also suggest telling more about where you are camping, the exact spot if you know the name of it would help.
3. If you become lost in the woods, or have to survive for any number of reasons, your first concern (unless the weather is really nasty) is finding safe drinking water. My reason for putting water so high on this list is due to the fact that the human body can only survive for around three days without water (depending on the ambient air temperature of course). You can carry large zip-lock freezer bags, unlubricated condoms, or even rubber gloves to use as emergency containers if needed. I always carry a quart canteen on my web belt. Another aspect of water to consider is just how safe is the water you will be drinking? Even if the water source is crystal clear and fast moving, always treat drinking water with water purification tables or boil it. If you use a commercial "water straw" or other filtering system, make sure it is rated to do the job you require of it.
4. Regardless of the weather, construct a shelter. Weather conditions can change quickly, as I said earlier, and you don't want to be caught out in a blizzard, rainstorm, or hailstorm, attempting to survive without a shelter. Another reason to construct a shelter is for psychological reasons. Mankind has a deep need for having a shelter on hand. Just seeing a shelter is often a great psychological relief and while it is not a home, it will assist in making the time you spend in an emergency situation that much more comfortable. I always carry a poncho and it can be used to make a shelter very quickly. Simply tie a line (from your survival kit) between two trees, about two feet off the ground, place the poncho over the line (centered), and stake the hanging ends of the poncho down using sharpened sticks. It will actually look like a pup tent.
5. Unless the weather is extremely cold, I usually procure water and construct a shelter before I worry about this step, making a fire. While a fire is needed, its importance is often much over rated. Of course in cold weather you need a fire to keep warm and to avoid hypothermia, but in most cases we have a fire for purely psychological reasons. Remember to keep your fire burning in a fire pit and surround the pit with stones (in the winter this may not be possible, but you can make your fire on a platform of green logs). Keep your fire small and not too close to your shelter. Also, use only dry dead wood, because green or wet wood will smoke, burn slowly, and give off little heat. In wet weather you usually find dry wood (squaw wood) on the ground under the lower branches of big trees. Keep in mind it may be up near the base (trunk) of the tree. And, keep your fire safe by having water, snow, dirt, or sand available to use in case the fire gets out of hand.
6. If you experience an injury, regardless of how slight it might be, take care of it immediately. That means washing it with soap and water, disinfecting it with alcohol or other medication from your first aid kit (always carry a first aid kit with you in the field), and then covering the injury to keep it clean. You can cover most injuries with a simple band-aid, in other cases you may need to rip up some of your clean clothing. Keep the injury clean too. Each day I suggest you removed the bandage, wash the injured area, disinfect it once more, and then recover it. Even the smallest cuts can quickly become infected if not properly cared for in the woods, so take care of all injuries immediately.
7. Stay as dry as possible. It's my opinion that nothing causes more discomfort to a person in a survival situation like being wet, unless it is being both wet and cold. Gather all possible foods, procure all water, and gather plenty of wood before the bad weather hits, if possible. I realize in some situations you will not be able to do that. But, at the same time, use good common sense; if you don't need something immediately to survive don't go out in the rain in an attempt to locate it. Stay under your shelter and wait for a break in the weather. Unlike at home, you can't throw your wet clothing in a dryer and wait twenty minutes for them to dry. It can take a very long time for your clothing to dry by a campfire and in the mean time you may be shivering in the cold, or perhaps even experience hypothermia (the lowering of the body's core temperature). Additionally, dry clothing will keep you warmer and feeling much better. A suggestion here, wool, Thinsolite ®, and Goretex ® will all keep you dry and warm even when wet. Of the three types of material, wool is less expensive to purchase and does an excellent job even when soaking wet.
8. As soon as your immediate survival needs are met, start construction of some sort of signals. Keep in mind, the idea behind a signal is to draw attention to your position. You can do this by using contrasts in color, shapes, or sunlight. For instance, a large "X" could be made by piling snow up in an open field (make the signal at least eighteen feet long and three wide if possible). The "walls" of this signal will cast a shadow (if the sun is out) and should be visible to aircrew members flying near by. On cloudy or hazy days, make three small fires and place them so they resemble a triangle (with a fire at each corner). When you hear an aircraft flying near, add pine boughs or grasses to make the fire flare up (be careful not to let your fire get out of hand at this point or of being burned). The sudden flare of the fires as well as the color of the smoke will attract attention. Keep your signal mirror, whistle, or other emergency signaling equipment from your survival kit on you at all times.
9. One aspect of survival most folks never consider is hygiene. Unlike a normal camping situation, if you get ill from poor hygiene in a survival situation you are not running off to the doctor or emergency room for treatment. And, survival hygiene is much more than just keeping clean and it also takes some thought.
In the field I shave and wash daily because I feel better and it is important to stay clean to avoid infections from small cuts. Also, designate a toilet area and make sure everyone with you uses it. Locate your "bathroom" away from your immediate survival site (I suggest a hundred feet) and not near any source of water. Additionally, don't locate your toilet up hill from your camp. Wastewater, urine and dirty wash water (if you are lucky enough to have enough water to wash with) will run down hill. When the temperatures are mild, make sure everyone uses loosened soil to cover human waste; it will keep the flies and other insects down (not to mention the smell).
Clean all foods and treat all drinking water prior to using. Dirty food and "bad" water can lay you low in no time at all. Just like home, wash your hands (if you have enough water to do so) prior to preparing meals, keep any utensils you use clean (even if it is only a pocket knife), and keep your survival site clean of bones, scraps of food, and waste. Poor hygiene will not only lay you low, it could keep you low for a very long time.
10. Finally, consider your mental health. Humans are creatures of groups and as such, we tend to suffer from anxiety when separated from others. In a survival situation, separation is why we are where we are. A mishap has occurred that has placed you outside our society. You must fight back against unhealthy thoughts as you attempt to survive. Remember, people are looking for you and if you just stay safe they will eventually find you. It is normal for you to experience periodic feelings of helplessness, deep concern, anxiety, or fear. The key is for you to stay as busy as possible and not to dwell on those feelings. Stay active and remind yourself at times on the progress you are making toward your own survival. Concentrate of successes and not failures. You can expect some failures; so don't keep harping on them over and over again, because it will just wear you down mentally.
Survival is difficult at the best of times. The ceaseless struggle of trying to stay alive, the constant battle with our own minds, and even keeping the will to survive can be very difficult tasks. I suggest, while these steps in themselves will not keep you alive, they will give you a better understanding of what can needs to be done in a survival situation. However, I do believe if you follow my ten steps to survival, you too will survive! Remember the 10rules.
10 Survival Rules