Unless you plan for a camping trip, no one expects to stay out in the wild overnight. But if you have car problems, or get lost on a hike, you may very well find yourself out in the boondocks with nothing more than what you have in your car or on your person, and you may end up having to spend the night outdoors. While many people might find that to be a traumatic experience, it doesn’t have to be… if you’re prepared.
1. Be Prepared – Mentally, Emotionally, Physically
Prior planning prevents poor performance. We’ve probably all heard the 5 Ps before, and it’s true – being prepared ahead of time prevents you from doing poorly. If you’re going on a trip that you know is taking you through some out of the way places, you need to prepared for breakdowns or medical emergencies. Think through some of the likely scenarios that might occur and come up with plans to combat them. Your plan may get blown to smithereens when something bad does happen, but at least you’ll have some preparation and won’t just be winging it.
Preparing for those types of eventualities helps with emotional preparation so that you won’t panic when something bad does happen. You’ll realize that you’ve thought things through beforehand and are ready to go.
Physically, it always pays to remain in shape. You’ll need strength and endurance to make it through an out of the ordinary situation with an indefinite end. Once you’ve covered all those bases, it’s time to get down to brass tacks.
2. Stay Warm
With a body temperature of 98.6 degrees, it is imperative for human beings to stay warm. Even 80-degree weather can lead to hypothermia for someone who isn’t dressed properly or prepared for the weather. The first step to staying warm is to make sure that you’re dressed for the weather. As motorcyclists like to say, dress for the crash, not for the ride. Not taking a coat on a 50-degree day because your car has a heater could lead to your death if your car stops working. Wear the right clothing and the proper layers for the time of year and the weather conditions.
Build a Fire
If you need extra warmth, you need to learn how to build a fire. You’ll also need the tools necessary to build one, as well as to make sure that the fire doesn’t burn out of control and start a forest fire. A small fire starter, or a cigarette lighter, and a knife or spoon to dig a fire pit should be the bare minimum that you have to start a fire. Then you’ll need to actually know how to kindle a fire and keep it going, being sure not to smother it with too much fuel before it gets going.
Cover Yourself With Dry Leaves
If it’s too warm for a fire during the day, chances are it may still get chilly at night. Covering yourself with dry leaves that are free of insects and mold can help preserve body heat.
Space Blanket or Plastic Bag
Space blankets are relatively cheap and don’t take up much room. Think about keeping one in your car just in case. Large plastic trash bags can work too. They don’t breathe too well, but they will help you to conserve body heat.
3. Find Shelter
You’ll need to make sure that you protect yourself from storms. Getting soaked by rain will hasten the onset of hypothermia, and strong winds can bring down trees and branches that could injure you.
Caves are a natural protection against the effects of storms. Just make sure that you’re the only occupant, and that you don’t accidentally irritate some animal that’s bigger and meaner than you are.
Hole in the Ground
A hole in the ground isn’t the worst shelter. It might flood during a rainstorm, but it will provide protection against the wind. So if it’s blustery but not raining (like on a mountainside before or after a front comes through), try to find a depression to hide in or dig one yourself.
The trunks of large trees can provide protection against rain, although they could be dangerous during a thunderstorm in the event of lightning. Large fallen trees can provide shelter too, especially if you can securely tie a plastic bag or space blanket to it to create a makeshift lean-to.
If you live in an area in which you know there will be predators such as coyotes, wolves, or bears, you’ll need to be prepared. A gun is the ultimate last resort, but in many cases, predators will stay away if they know that a human being is around. Making plenty of noise, having a fire going, or other signs of human habitation may keep curious predators at bay. You’ll also want to keep your skin covered as well as possible. Mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects could make your stay in the wild very uncomfortable.
Once you’ve found a safe place to stay, you’ll want to stay put. You’ll need to make sure that you’re visible to searchers who may come looking for you, so you don’t want to wander all over the place, and you’ll need some way to signal your presence to them. It’s easier for a search party to find someone who hunkers down in one spot for a while than to try to find a moving target out in the wilderness.
4. Food, Water, and Medical Supplies
Have Plenty of Water
Make sure to always have water wherever you go. Store an extra bottle of water or two in your car. You can go a long time without food, but thirst will kill you quickly. If you don’t have water, try to make sure you have a water filter or water purification tablets in your car. In a worst-case scenario, pick up empty plastic bottles from the side of the road, build a makeshift water filter, and try to find a small stream to collect water. If you’re really desperate, just drink stream water straight. Living with Giardia is better than dying.
You’ll be able to survive in the wild overnight without eating. You may be hungry, but you can overcome that. After 24 hours, though, or if you have to spend a second night outdoors, you might start getting really hungry. This is where it helps to know what kind of edible roots, barks, leaves, and berries grow in your area.
Stay Clean and Sanitary
When nature calls, make sure you answer it well away from your shelter. Human waste will attract insects and other unwanted pests. Carrying an extra roll of toilet paper, some Kleenex, and sanitary wipes or hand disinfectant will help you clean up after you do your business.
Have a Medical Kit
You should always have at least a bare bones medical kit in your car or on your person when you’re out in the wilderness. Not cleaning and dressing small cuts or abrasions can lead to severe infections. Having aspirin or other over the counter medicines can help alleviate pain. And make sure you know how to treat ankle sprains or other common wilderness ailments.