Outdoor Survival Basics:
Techniques That Can Save Your Life
by Ruby Bayan
When you head out for the outdoors, towards the backcountry, and into the wilderness, remember this corollary to Murphy's law: "What can go wrong, can kill you."
Cell phones could be out of range in the deep woods, so that takes care of 911. Mother Nature could suddenly change her mind, and give you that 5% chance of rain. And some wild animal having a bad day could just happen to cross your path, and vent by chasing you deep into the rain forest, along the edge of a cliff, or out in the desert, leaving you spending the weekend under the stars.
Are you ready for these eventualities when you leave the comforts of home for that ultimate adventure outdoors? Here's a survival checklist -- come home alive!
1. Expect the unexpected. The most common cause of death in the wilderness is unpreparedness. Death from a fall, a snakebite, a sudden storm, hypothermia, or an avalanche, is most often attributed to the lack of preparation for what might happen in the wild. Always expect the unexpected. Improve your chances of coping with the unexpected by carrying a map and compass, checking the weather forecast, getting acquainted with the terrain and native flora and fauna, and packing adequate and reliable gear. In other words, people don't die of hypothermia, they die from not expecting an extremely cold situation.
2. Take plenty of water. You will need water, more than anything else, to stay alive. In fact, in a survival situation, water is more important than food. Cases have been reported where people survived a month without food, but when you're hiking in moderate weather, without water, you can die in just three days. In hot weather, you're dead within 36 hours. The minimum amount of water one must drink in a day's hike outdoors is one gallon -- more in hot areas. After oxygen, water is the most essential requirement for survival. Next is warmth.
3. Know how to deal with hypothermia. Hypothermia is the cooling down of the body's core temperature to below normal. It can happen not only during cold weather but also during extended wet situations. Exposure to rain or dipping in a cold river and not getting warm fast enough can lead to hypothermia. The symptoms are uncontrollable shivering, stuttering, inability to stand up and walk, lack of coordination, becoming irrational. The immediate action to take is to get the victim out of wet and into dry clothing. Put him inside a sleeping bag with another person. Give him warm drinks and put hot water bottles near his hands, feet, and neck. Build a fire to warm his face. In severe cases where he continues to lapse into unconsciousness, evacuate him to the nearest medical center.
4. Use your common sense. In a survival situation, common sense is more important than physical toughness and high-tech equipment. Brian Horner, a former US Air Force survival instructor says, "The ability to use common sense - staying calm and collected - is paramount. However, they aren't the same. Staying calm is holding your fear in check. Being collected is accurately assessing what the real hazards are." In other words, stop, stay calm, size it up.
5. Brush up on your first aid skills. A first aid course is a pre-requisite to an adventure in the backcountry. Experts advise that no one should dare hike in the forest or go on a camping trip without the basic knowledge of how to treat insect bites, dress open wounds, and handle fractures, allergies and shock. Be sure you have a first aid kit, and fresh knowledge of first aid techniques (don't forget CPR!), before you head out for an outdoor expedition.
6. Never leave without the three outdoor adventure essentials: a knife, a lighter, and a trash bag. A basic Swiss knife, a plastic cigarette lighter (instead of matches), and yes, a garbage bag. No, not just for the trash. Gary Kibbee, a Navy SEALs veteran says, "You can use [a trash bag] as a bivy sack for an unplanned bivouac. You can use it as a rain jacket when you're caught in a storm. You can use it as an insulating layer by putting it on, then stuffing it with leaves or grass. It also works well for carrying water."
7. Carry other important items in your backpack: full water bottles, a map and compass, high-energy food, rain gear, extra warm clothes, whistle, mirror, first aid kit, flashlight, and water treatment pills.
8. Maintain proper pacing. In a survival hiking situation, never move so fast that you sweat profusely. There is risk of dehydration and hypothermia. Move at a moderate pace and take a 5 to 10 minute break every hour. If you rest longer, lactic acid build-up in the muscles will make it harder to get going. Never pass up water. Fill up your stomach and your water bottles at every opportunity. If you are reasonably fit and not injured or ill, and have water, even with no food, you can cover 5 to 8 miles a day for a week.
9. Know how to find your way even without a compass. On a clear night, the Big Dipper's North Star will give you your bearing. During a sunny day, a makeshift sundial can tell you which way you're going. Shove a stick into the ground and mark the tip of its shadow. After an hour, mark the tip of the new shadow. If you draw an arrow from the first mark to the second mark, that arrow points to the west. [Note that the sundial tactic will not work at certain areas of the globe and on certain times of the year.]
10. Be sure you are fit enough to explore the outdoors. In a survival situation, the physically fit have a better chance of coming out alive. Nature and the environment can be very harsh. Experts recommend that mountaineers, hikers, and campers honestly assess their physical fitness before engaging in hazardous and potentially fatal activities.