Even if you’re not an avid camper or backcountry enthusiast, knowing how to survive in the wild is at the core of a survivalist’s mindset. Our survival instinct originated from our most primitive form’s need to navigate and overcome the harsh elements that Mother Nature can throw at us.
As a result, the training and skills for any survival situation, no matter how specific, can consequently trace their roots back to the basic foundation of surviving in the wilderness, as many of the core lessons and concepts are universal.
Gaining proficiency in these basic concepts is a must if you want to be prepared for anything.
Often people’s first instinct towards surviving in the wild is to build a survival kit that will allow them to do so.
While it is certainly an important tool, it should be secondary in one’s mind.
Take the time to educate yourself in basic wilderness skills, such as map reading, navigation, weather patterns, first aid, and so on.
All the equipment in the world is useless in the hands of someone who does not know how to use and apply them to the situation they are in. Which brings us to our first point:
Knowledge Is Power: Know Where You’re Going
Just because you don’t intentionally set out into the wilderness doesn’t mean you can’t wind up lost out in it all the same. A plane crash, a How to survive in the wildboating accident, a sudden storm snowing your car into a remote pass, or any other number of things can find you unwittingly forced to navigate the rigors of the wild.
Learn about your surroundings. What directions are the prevailing winds? What are major landmarks, such as mountain ranges or bodies of water, and what is their proximity and orientation to cities, roads, or other aspects of civilization?
What hemisphere are you in, and consequently what celestial bodies or constellations can help you to navigate?
Is it a cold climate? Hot? Does it have an abundance of water, or is it extremely difficult to come by? Is it a hostile or militarized area?
What is the local animal and plant life? Are there major predators? Is it prone to major catastrophes, such as avalanche or flooding? Is it conducive to rescue, or will you likely have to rely on self-rescue?
The more you know about your surroundings, the easier it will be for you to adapt, navigate, and overcome obstacles to ultimately survive. It will also serve as your guide for building a situational-appropriate survival kit, which we’ll touch on more a bit later.
Knowledge Can Be Life Saving: Let Someone Else Know Where You’re Going
Whether it’s a day hike on the Appalachian Trail or a three-week trek in Peru, you increase your chances of survival exponentially by letting someone else know where you will be. If your plane goes down, they will begin to search for you by tracking the plane to the crash.
It is no different in any other situation: Search and Rescue will begin to look in the area you were last seen or known to be in. Let someone know not only where you will be, but also a rough itinerary and a time frame that, if exceeded, is grounds for alarm.
Unless you find yourself in hostile territory, where you do not wish to be discovered, then fire is a huge asset.
Fire can keep you warm, dry, purify water, cook food, protect you from predators, and even keep you company.
It may sound crazy, but there is a proven, psychological benefit to having a fire. A positive attitude is everything, as you will hear me stress repeatedly throughout this piece, so anything that provides a boost is a good thing!
Focus on the Small Steps, and Conserve Energy
Allowing yourself to be wrapped up in the grandeur of being lost in the wild can be intimidating, or outright dangerous. Many people perish simply by becoming consumed by what went wrong to land them in their situation, rather than taking the simple steps that could have kept them alive.
Focus on your plan, and taking one step at a time towards achieving it. Not only will you be taking life saving measures, but it will also keep you focused and busy, and help you to stay positive.
On top of that, it will prevent you from wasting precious energy on tasks that are not priority. Life is a simple science of calories in the wild, so make sure every one counts!
Know when to Stay Put, Know When to Move
In most cases, staying put will likely give you the greatest chance for survival, especially if you took all the appropriate steps before setting out.
As long as you are not in an immediate danger zone, such as an avalanche chute or a flash flood gully, staying put gives your rescuers the best chance of finding you, as they are going to start looking in the last place you were seen, or known to be.
That said, you cannot always count on others to be rescued. In some situations, should your present environment be too volatile, or devoid of resources, you will be forced to move.
Are those fresh grizzly tracks all around your camp? Perhaps there is an injured member of your party, who only has precious time to reach the sanctity of rescue.
Perhaps you are in a hostile region, or you know that you are in close enough proximity to civilization to get yourself out.
Being mentally prepared and able to self-rescue is an invaluable tool.
If you must move, and are not in hostile territory, take the time to leave information behind for potential rescuers. If you can, let them know where you are headed, how long ago you left, and how dire your situation is.
This can be as complex as a written note, or as simple as a symbol carved into the ground or a tree.
If you are going to stay put, take all steps necessary to make yourself visible to your rescuers!
Build signal fires, stuffed with live greens to make them smoky.
If you have a clearing, spell HELP as large as possible, so that it can be seen from the air. Anything you can do to help them will ultimately help you!
Build an Appropriate Survival Kit
I list this category near the bottom to reinforce the point I first made: That in the end, knowledge is a power far greater than the contents of the Best Bug Out Bag or any kit. The more knowledge one has, the more confidence they will have to handle a situation, and thus cultivate and maintain that life-saving positive outlook on a situation.
That being said, you can get a lot further a lot faster with the right kit!
A survival situation is not static; it is dynamic, and ever changing. A survival kit should be no different. It is the ability to adapt and overcome that will keep you alive, therefore be prepared to adapt your kit accordingly.
Just as researching and understanding the area you will be in will allow you key survival knowledge, it will also provide a guideline on how to ideally construct your survival kit to be specific to that area.
Once you have built it, make sure you know it inside out! A bunch of equipment that you haven’t tested or don’t know how to use may as well be back at home!
Above All Else, Maintain a Positive Attitude
I can’t stress this point enough. Remember to focus always on the positive, such as what has gone right rather than what is going wrong. Some keep a picture of family or a loved one in their survival kit. It may sound silly, but remembering who and what you have to live for can go a long way in your darkest moments.
Everything listed above is going to greatly increase your chances of survival, but in the end, it will be your determination and will to live that will make the ultimate difference.