Being as we are, we do love our creature comforts, so there is always the “latest and the greatest” in camping gear available. What we need to do here is to re-evaluate exactly what we do need to survive in the wild and then pare down our accouterments accordingly. These are some of the essentials you will need to survive:
Sleeping Mat (lightweight, of course!): you will need a place to sleep, but Mother Nature is not always accommodating in providing a nice soft berth for you, so this is one item you want to make sure you pack. Aside from providing a more comfortable place to sleep, it will also provide at least a minimal layer of insulation between that rock and a hard place you’ve chosen to sleep on.
Condiments: save those little packets of salt and pepper, sugar, mustard, ketchup, and dipping sauces you get every time you visit a fast-food establishment. Not only are they money-saving, but they do not require refrigeration and are also lightweight and easy to carry. You may love the taste of that fresh trout you caught, but if you have to have a steady diet of that to survive, these little packets can become invaluable in helping to add a new dimension of taste for you. Remember, variety is the spice of life!
First Aid Kit: accidents happen, so be prepared for just about anything, whether it’s as minor an issue as a mosquito bite or as major as a broken leg. Pack accordingly: make sure you have insect repellent, band-aids and gauze bandages, instant ice packs, splints, and tourniquets, just in case. If you have to take any medications on a daily basis, make sure you pack an extra supply in your kit to take along with you. If you’re allergic to anything, make a note of this and include it in your kit and on your person. The first aid kit is a really important part of your survival kit, so don’t leave home without it!
Clothing for All Seasons: even if it’s in the middle of the summer, if you are up in the mountains, or even in the desert, it can get extremely cold at night. Pack one of those super-insulating metallic “space blankets” to help protect you. You also need to wear clothing that won’t restrict your movements, which in itself can add to your ability to protect yourself, whether it’s from the elements or it’s inhabitants. Having the right footwear is probably the most important part of this group. If your feet hurt, your whole body hurts and your survival may just boil down to your need to be able to walk and to walk as long and as comfortably as possible.
Other Backpack Basic Tools: whenever you are out in the “Great Outdoors”, aside from certain food and drinking essentials, you should also include the following as part of your gear: a fire starter, a Swiss army knife, a flashlight, a plastic tarp, a compass, and a reliable map. Use your common sense to include what you will need, but keep in mind that you will have to carry all of these supplies, so also pack what you can comfortably carry a long distance. Staying safe is paramount, so pack accordingly!
Many people think that in order to survive outdoors, you only need to learn only those basic skills and techniques necessary to stay alive. Others realize that it is also just as, if not more so, critical for you to have the will to survive. With that said, you must also learn how to properly prioritize what you will need to survive out in the wilderness. Knowing what to do is just as important as knowing how to do something, so make sure you prepare yourself mentally as well as physically. The following is great to use as a checklist to follow to ensure your safe arrival back home:
The Right Attitude: if you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and read any survival stories where someone has come through an ordeal, seemingly miraculously, that they shouldn’t have survived. Of course, they may have used some basic techniques, but the bottom line is that the only reason they pulled through seemingly insurmountable odds is that they not only had an incredible, burning desire to survive…in their minds, they convinced themselves that survival was not only possible but probable. Think positive and amazing things can, and will, happen!
Maintain Your Body’s Core Temperature: hypothermia is the single most cause of outdoor deaths, on land or by sea. You need to ensure that you stay as warm as possible in any emergency survival situation. Keep your clothes and gear as dry as possible and stay out of the wind. This is where that plastic tarp you packed can come in very handy, as both a rain barrier and windbreaker. If you’re still cold and didn’t have time to buy one of those new-fangled metallic “space blankets”, stuff dried grass and leaves between layers of clothing you have on: it will act as insulation and help you to stay even warmer.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re stranded in the desert, or wherever it’s extremely hot and arid, you will need to conserve your energy and supplies by not moving around as much during the daytime. If you don’t, you run an extremely high risk of becoming dehydrated and suffering from heat exhaustion. Rest when the sun is out and travel at night when it is much cooler. Find someplace that offers shade, whether it’s under a tree or rock outcropping, also being careful that you’re not sharing that spot with any “native” inhabitants ( like snakes, spiders or scorpions, oh my! ).
If you do need to travel during the daytime, improvise some sort of an umbrella-like device, and if you do happen to find some water, even if it’s not drinkable, you can use it to cool yourself down and soak your clothes in. It’s amazing how much just a wet cloth around your neck can help to prevent you from overheating.
Stay Hydrated: we can survive for a week, perhaps more, without food but not without water. At best, you may be able to survive for several days. Your highest priority should be to always find a water source and a way to purify it. If you cannot find an immediate source of freshwater, conserve what you’ve got and reduced your need for water by resting in the shade when it’s hot, as well as breathing through your nose, rather than your mouth. You will lose a lot less moisture by doing so. It’s also a smart idea to only use your limited water supply for drinking instead of washing yourself or anything else. You must always be careful to stay hydrated so that your body will continue to function, albeit on a much more reduced level. If you don’t have enough to drink, you can become disoriented, even delusional. Not a good “state of mind” to be in when you are going to have to make risky, possibly even life-threatening decisions.
Don’t Take Unnecessary Risks: we’ve all seen those “reality” shows where the host and the participants are out in the wilderness, supposedly risking all against the elements. Keep in mind that you are watching a television program and that the people you’re watching are not alone: they have a full production staff all around them, so, in the event of serious illness or injury, there is someone there able to step right in and save them. You will not have that option, so, even if it may take you twice as long to do something or get somewhere, take your time and don’t take any unnecessary chances. Out in the wild, a sprained ankle can have as devastating results as a broken ankle would. Rather than jumping over something in your way, walk around it. Better to be safe, than sorry.
Stay Put: your main objective in surviving your ordeal is to be found. If you’re in a situation where you know people will be looking for you because you haven’t checked in with them, the most important thing for you to do is to stay exactly where you are. If you’ve let someone know your intended route and timeline, they, and any search and rescue teams should be able to approximate where you are. Set up a campsite and light a fire, not just for warmth, but as a signal as well. If you didn’t have the foresight to let someone know where you were heading, then you will need to rely on yourself to get out on your own. Use your common sense now, and make sure to mark your trail as you go along, with a note if possible; this will make it much easier for someone who might happen along your path to find you and help you to get back to safety.
Find Food: you can do without food for a while, but eventually, you will need to find something to eat. Eating will help provide the “fuel” you will need to be able to continue to stay warm and to continue to travel. It is at a much lower priority level than finding water and/or shelter, but if you are in a situation where you are lost for more than a couple of days, this will eventually become an issue you will need to address. Unlike water, you can ration your food to an extreme, if necessary. You can actually survive without food for several weeks, but just as dehydration affects your body, so does hunger.
Finding edible food will depend greatly on your environment. If you’re in the desert, you’re a bit more limited, of course, but the food is there if you need it and know where to find it. There are many succulent plants you can use as a source for both food and moisture, although contrary to what you may have been told, cactus is not a good source for either food or liquid: its moisture is much too acidic. There are also many birds and snakes that can provide you with meat or even eggs if you’re lucky enough to find them, but be careful with the snakes; knowing which ones are poisonous is a very good thing.
If you’re in the woods, you have even more sources of food all around you. If you’re near water, you can fish or even trap some of the smaller animals, like rabbits or squirrels. You are also surrounded by all types of plants and trees. Many of these have edible leaves, berries, or even bark you can use. The trick here is to know what you can or cannot eat. Even though it may look inviting, there are many poisonous plants you need to know how to identify and to avoid at all costs!
If you want to increase your chances for survival, you need to develop and hone your survival skills. It’s not just about finding your way back to civilization: it’s also knowing what you need to do when confronted with natural disasters, like an earthquake or avalanche, or being in a dangerous location, like the jungle or desert.
It also involves knowing how to find what you will need to survive, like knowing how to light a fire without matches. Learn (beforehand, if possible ) how to find and identify things you can eat and drink in the precarious environment you suddenly find yourself in. If you left something you need back home, what can you use in its place? Most of us may take it for granted or even overlook it as such, but knowing how to swim is one of the first survival skills most of us are taught, and usually at a very young age.