You hear the stories on the news all the time; someone is out hiking alone in the woods and gets lost. There’s no one else around for miles, and they have to survive until they manage to find civilization, or someone comes to rescue them.
These stories of wilderness survival are exciting to read, but what if it ever happened to you? Even if you’re not the type to go camping or hiking, you never know when your car could run out of gas on some back road, far from any house. If you did find yourself stranded, would you know what to do to keep yourself alive and find help? Here are a few wilderness survival tips.
- Use the Buddy System Unless you’re a highly experienced outdoorsman or woman, in which case you probably won’t need this list, you shouldn’t go camping alone in the wilderness. If you have someone with you there’s less chance of getting lost, and a greater chance of finding your way back quickly. If you do happen to get separated, at least they know you’re out there and can come looking or send for help.
- Carry Emergency Supplies The buddy system when camping is one thing, but if you’re driving and get stranded, you can’t always expect to have someone with you. Fortunately, the Boy Scout motto holds true: Be Prepared. Especially if you know you’re going to be driving through an unpopulated or backwoods area, put at least basic emergency supplies in your trunk. This includes plenty of water, a reflective emergency blanket, a first aid kit, candles, a lighter, and some high-calorie energy bars. These are also vital to carry with you when camping.
- Find Shelter If you’re in your car, the easiest thing is to sleep in there. Particularly in winter, you might be tempted to turn the engine on for warmth if you still have power, but resist the urge and save gas. A single, lit candle can keep the inside of your vehicle warm through the night—but be sure to keep your windows open a crack to allow any fumes to escape and oxygen to enter. If you’re not near your car, you’ll have to find shelter somewhere else. Use branches, or whatever’s around you to construct a lean-to that will help protect yourself from the elements. If you know what you’re doing, you can even build a rudimentary shelter out of snow.
- Build a Fire This will not only help you keep warm, but can also signal your location to anyone in the vicinity, so that they can come and help you. Gather plenty of wood, and then gather about four times more than that (you’ll always use it up faster than you think you will). If you don’t know how to make a fire from scratch, don’t worry—that’s what the lighter’s for. Learn at least a bit about how to maintain a fire and keep it going, though. Put wet pine needles on it if you can, to create as much smoke as possible. This will help to make your location more visible to passersby.
- Find Water Water bottles and energy bars will only get you so far. If you’re stranded for more than a day or two, you’ll have to go looking for food and water. Water is foremost, though, as you can survive without it for far less time. Look for a fast-running stream. Still, water is likely to have algae, sediment, and other contaminants that can make you sick. The faster the stream is flowing, the less sediment there is. If you’re in the desert, you might be able to find water by breaking open a cactus. Wherever you find water, always boil it first if you can, to make it safe to drink.
- Find Food In a pinch, you can make it a couple of weeks without eating—and longer, if you have some food with you. Still, you’ll want to look for food within the first couple of days, as building fires and shelters will be a lot more difficult if you’re weak with hunger. Plants are your best bet, but make sure they’re safe to eat first. Dandelions, clover, and cattails are all safe and nutritious sources of food. Use this universal edibility test to see what else you can eat. You can also eat insects and worms for protein. It may sound disgusting, but once they’re roasted, they actually make a pretty good meal—and it’s a lot better than starving.
If you do find yourself stranded and have to rely on wilderness survival skills, the most important thing to remember is not to panic. With a little ingenuity, you can keep yourself warm, dry, safe, and well-fed until you can find help, or it finds you.