As mentioned in the previous section, one of the most important elements of any survival situation is being prepared. Of course, no one can truly be prepared for everything, so it’s better to think of preparedness as a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is someone who hasn’t spent any time thinking about survival or preparedness whatsoever. On the opposite side of that spectrum is a professional or instructor who has spent extensive time training, researching and honing their survival skills. Everyone should aim to be somewhere in the middle of these two extremes but also never stop seeking opportunities to gain more knowledge. We all have to start somewhere. If you’re just beginning to learn about survival skills and concepts, at least you’ve taken a step in the right direction.
BEING PREPARED IS A LIFE-LONG PROCESS
Good opportunities to grow your survival knowledge include: reading books and articles; watching tutorial videos or programs from trustworthy sources; enrolling in reputable survival courses; and learning first-hand from someone with experience. No matter how much you know, there is always something more to learn. Even trained professionals continue to learn from one another and share knowledge. The best survivalists are life-long learners.
Practice and test your wilderness survival skills before you need them.
It’s very important to practice new skills before you need them in a survival scenario. Although you won’t necessarily be able to test every skill, you can try out many of the most fundamental wilderness survival skills on a camping trip or in your own backyard. Rehearsing these skills will give you a much better chance of performing them successfully in a real life-threatening situation.
FIT FOR SURVIVAL
Being well-prepared for potential survival scenarios also includes taking good care of your health. Skills and gear are certainly important, but you’ll greatly improve your odds of surviving by conditioning your body. This can be a distinct advantage in outdoor survival scenarios because you will be more resilient against the elements and better equipped to withstand injury and keep going. Working on your conditioning will also make you familiar with your own capabilities, which may help you avoid a bad situation. Simply knowing your physical limitations is an important aspect of making smart decisions in the great outdoors. For tips and information on creating a workout plan, check out our Fitness Guide.
THE WILL TO SURVIVE
Attitude and willpower can make a big difference in a survival scenario, more than most people realize. People who have survived life-threatening events are often surprised when they make it out alive. Although they were undoubtedly scared and possibly even on the brink of death, willpower kept them going. Nearly all survival instructors agree that willpower and attitude have a significant effect on a person’s ability to survive. We’re naturally wired to fight for self-preservation, but that willingness to fight inevitably starts to diminish during an extended, life-threatening situation, such as being stranded out in the wilderness. Making a concerted effort to focus on a positive outcome isn’t easy and only becomes harder as a situation grows increasingly dire. Fatigue, thirst, hunger, bad weather, injuries, pain and illness can all overpower the urge to keep going. No matter how bad things get, there is always hope. This is something that anyone in a survival situation must focus on.
People are often amazed at just how far they can push their bodies when the chips are down. Consider the story of Autumn Veatch. In 2015, the sixteen-year-old high-school student was in a small plane with her two grandparents, flying home from Kalispell, Montana to Lynden, Washington. Midway through the flight, her grandfather (the pilot) lost his bearings in thick clouds and crash landed deep in the North Cascades. As the plane caught fire, Autumn managed to escape and tried unsuccessfully to pull her grandfather to safety, suffering third-degree burns on her hands in the process. After realizing her grandparents had passed away in the flaming wreckage, Autumn started walking until she found a small stream. After following the stream for two days through difficult and dangerous alpine woodlands, she finally reached a hiking trailhead just off highway 20, where she was picked up by two hikers. Watching survival shows with her father had given her the knowledge to follow water downstream toward civilization.
“I was certain I was going to die,” Autumn said after her harrowing experience,according to Seattle Times. “I thought, ‘I can’t do this to my loved ones.’” Without any supplies, she had no way to stay warm or protect herself from the elements. Amazingly, despite being burned, wet and suffering from early stages of hypothermia, she kept going. As she walked through the woods, Autumn thought about what it would be like to eat her favorite cereal and hug her boyfriend again. “Appreciate the little things,” she said. “Those are the things you’ll miss when you’re in the forest, dying.”
There’s a military expression: “Good initiative, bad judgement.” Taking initiative is important, but it can also lead to a bad outcome. Finding the right balance between inaction and impulsiveness is critical in a survival scenario. If you suddenly find yourself in a struggle to survive, it’s crucial to stop, assess the situation and come up with a game plan. This includes assessing your surroundings, taking stock of any gear and supplies, and figuring out the best way to reach safety or alert rescuers. There are occasions when snap judgements must be made, but stopping to assess after that decision could make the difference between reaching safety or not. In a bad situation, this may include the decision to hunker down and wait for help or to attempt self-rescue. Likewise, if you decide to take a certain course of action and the conditions change, you may need to stop, re-evaluate and adjust your course of action. Survival is all about adaptation, problem solving and critical thinking.
Recommended Survival Kits — Top 10 Essentials
To trim a survival kit down to its top 10 essentials is to reveal the utmost necessary items for ad hoc shelter, warmth, communication, navigation, and sustenance in the deep backwoods. Here, then, are three survivalists’ lean lists of gear you should not be without in any wilderness situation.
Todd Smith, Outdoor Life Magazine
- Personal locator beacon (PLB) or cell phone
- Map of area
- Small first-aid kit
- Water bottle
- Lighter and fire starters
- Space blanket/bivy sack
- Signal mirror
Doug Ritter, Equipped To Survive
- HeatSheets brand space blanket
- Chlorine dioxide water-purification tablets
- Nylon braided line
- Waterproof matches
- Tinder (for fire starting)
- Signal mirror
- Personal locator beacon (PLB)
Mike Forti, United States Air Force Survival School
- Large knife (machete or hatchet)
- Cell phone
- Bic Lighter
- 9 x 12 foot plastic painter’s tarp (0.35 mm thickness)
- Mylar survival blanket
- Mini LED flashlight
- Water purification tablets
- Water Container of some sort
- Small roll of fishing line or dental floss
- Fifty dollar bill (“After a few days lost in the woods eating bugs, it would be a real shame to emerge next to a 7-11, and have no money for food,” Forti said.)
Technology Updates: 2017
Personal Locator Beacons: These are smaller, affordable, reliable, and offer many new features. Companies like SPOT andDeLorme now offer products that post almost real-time tracks of adventurers far off the grid. TheSPOT Gen3, for example, sells for as low as $150 and enables users to send simple, pre-programmed messages (all ok, send help, etc.) to friends and family or initiate rescue through a first-responder network.
Satellite Messaging: Sending text messages via satellite phone has gotten affordable. DeLorme’s new inReach SE, a satellite-based GPScommunicator, costs $300 and, for $50 a month, offers unlimited texting from almost anywhere on the planet.
Cell Phones: While cell phones are still not 100 percent reliable in the backcountry, service coverage and the usefulness of smartphones has increased dramatically in the last seven years. While cell phones are still questionably reliable in the backcountry, many adventurers will carry them anyway as they also serve as light cameras and can help with GPS and electronic compass navigation. Today, most of them also work as a flashlight. Regardless, they are worthless if the battery is dead, so plan accordingly.