Last week I got up for my morning jog, and the outside temperature was 56 degrees. Summer is right around the corner. It is going to be time for some serious backpacking, camping, canoeing, fishing, hiking, hunting, kayaking or whatever your favorite outdoor activity. This requires a bit of preparation and training on your part to be safe. As the Boy Scouts of America’s Motto says, “Be Prepared”! I am not suggesting that you start squirreling away years worth of provisions, dig a fall out shelter on your property or start stock piling weapons and ammo. You should practice a few simple survival skills before venturing out into the wilderness for any length of time. Better to have something and not need it, than need it and not have it. The goal is to become familiar with various wilderness survival techniques and familiarize or review the basics necessary to sustain one’s self indefinitely. I will go over basic skills, attitude, shelter, clothing, water, food, orienteering, equipment, first aid and other general skills.
These skills have been developed since age ten when I began camping with Cub Scout Pack 7, Webelos Den in 1974. Harry LaVoice and Dave Keeney, my Den Leaders and later Scoutmasters instilled in me the great love of the wilderness and the desire to become one with mother nature. It was also in 1974 when our group camped at the second Ft. Massac Encampment, and I was introduced to the Kaintuck Muzzleloaders, a group of 18’th Century Re-enactors based in western Kentucky. They spring-boarded my skills to the next levels. From there I progressed through the ranks of both organizations; joined a primitive Explorer Post, and continued to learn and practice my skills. In 1985 I joined the Army. My Army training included Basic Training; 4 Combat Arms Military Occupational Specialties; Drill Sergeant School; and lots of being outdoors. Then in 1996 I converted to the Navy as a Gunner’s Mate and later a Master-at-Arms. Two Seabee Battalions; four tours in Southwest Asia with Navy Expeditionary Combat Commands and NCIS (yes it exists and not like all the T. V. series); two years at sea and lots of SAR training. This gives me some degree of expertise on the matter of survival in the wilds.
First, I recommend that everyone begin their preparations by reading up on wilderness survival techniques. There are a number of good resources available, both electronically and in traditional print format. I absolutely love the Field Book, published by the Boy Scouts of America. Tom Brown Jr., has published many great books on the subject. Many of the ideas and techniques in this article come from those sources. There are a variety of survival manuals available from military surplus stores, libraries and outfitters. Some outfitters I particularly like are Brigade Quartermaster, Campmor, Cavalry Store, Gander Mountain and Sportsman’s Guide. All of them have websites and catalogs. Tom Brown Jr., runs a wilderness survival school in New Jersey and has a great website.
One of the best things you can have is a positive mental attitude. I will examine this first. In many survival situations, wether you’re lost, had an accident, injured, fear can be your biggest enemy. Simply being confident in your skills and abilities will help immensely. The best way to gain the confidence, is to learn and practice the necessary survival skills before you actually find yourself in a survival situation. Knowledge replaces fear. By knowing and understanding your environment, you will come to realize, that environment can and will provide you everything that you need to survive. But, that isn’t enough, once you acquire the knowledge, you must practice it. This builds your skills, and boosts your confidence. Humans have the intelligence and will to be able to adapt to every environment known on earth at least for some period of time. Even the word SURVIVAL itself can be useful, if you can remember this acronym:
S- Size Up the Situation
U- Use all Your Senses
R- Remember Where You Are
V- Vanquish Fear and Panic
A-Act Like the Natives
L- Live by Your Wits
Size up the situation. If you find yourself in a hostile situation, find a place where you can conceal yourself. Security has to take priority. What are the hostiles doing?
Why? How will it affect your situation? Make a plan that encompasses what you know and adjust it as needed. Even civilians can find themselves in hostile survival circumstances given today’s political landscape. Active shooters, crazy people, even in a disaster situation, the criminal elements can run wild until control is restored.
Size up your surroundings, wether forest, jungle, desert, mountainous, or aquatic. Each type of provides you with certain dangers and resources. It is important to take notice of the sounds and patterns in your area. Research prior to journeying into a particular type of environment is paramount.
Size up you physical and mental condition. Administer self aid as needed for any injuries you may have incurred. Take note of your mental condition as well. The effects of hunger, fatigue, hypothermia/hyperthermia and dehydration can all effect you mental faculties. Take care to prevent any further injury and treat any existing injuries as soon as possible.
Size up your equipment, and the general resources a available to you. Check all your equipment and it’s condition. Growing up in the mid-west, I find myself more at home is forest than a desert’ though after spending five years in the deserts of Southwest Asia, more time in the arid lands of Western Texas and Eastern New Mexico; a few years in the jungles of Asia; and two years at sea I have learned one can easily adapt to various surroundings, if they have done their homework. Where ever you find yourself when in a survival situation, figure out what you have available, then begin your survival plan. Prioritize your basic needs, water, shelter, food and concealment (if needed).
Use all your senses. Listen to your surroundings, even on the move. Watch the wildlife, and how they react. There is also your sense of smell, note any changes. Touch is also a valuable asset. But, don’t forget that sixth sense, sometimes you have to listen to that instinct or feeling you have.
Remember where you are. Attempt to pin point your location on your map. Note locations of water sources, areas of good cover and concealment, and open areas where rescuers may find you. Note friendly and hostile locations. If there are others with you make sure they know too.
Vanquish fear and panic. By properly practicing and developing the skills you need before you have to use them in an actual survival situation will help eliminate a great deal of the fear and panic. Knowledge replaces fear. Fear and panic can send an injured person into shock. One can make irrational decisions when they are scared. Avoid this at all cost. You have to tell yourself you will be ok, you will survive.
Improvise, no matter how complete your survival gear is, it will eventually wear out. Use your resources around you. Your imagination must take over. Use a rock for a hammer, build your shelter out of natural materials, build comfort items as you meet your basic needs.
Value living. You have to put this at the forefront of your mind. Humans from birth fight for life, however our society has softened us considerably. Fast food, stores with everything imaginable, we can even shop while traveling now with smart phones, and tablets. We have become a very lazy nation, far too dependent on our technology. Our basic instincts are hidden deep down inside of us.
Act like the natives. This is a simple concept, if there are local people who are acclimated to the climate and environment then mirror what they do, if they avoid a local pond, stream or river, there perhaps is a good reason. If they avoid a certain plant, or fruit they might have a good reason. Watch the local animals as well. Squirrels tend to gather all sorts of stuff, everyone know the expression, “Squirrel away nuts for the winter.” But, do you know that they also squirrel away leaves, sticks and grass that they take back to their nests where they use it for insulation on those cold winter days and nights? This is a basic lesson you can learn from the local animals, but only if you are observant.
Live by your wits. Learn basic skills. Make sure you learn and practice the techniques and procedures for survival in the various environments in which you will be venturing. This will increase the chances that you know what to do, and how to do it. The more you know, and the better you are at it, the greater your chances of surviving. Remember, practice makes perfect.
You can practice in your own back yard. Put together a few simple items into a survival kit. This kit doesn’t have to be expensive or large. I am a huge fan of multi-purposing items. A knife or “Leatherman” style tool, 550 cord, 2-3 ways of starting a fire, a compass, small fishing kit, perhaps an emergency blanket (I prefer the mummy style), water and a way to purify water. This will give you the basics. Over the course of time, you will add and subtract from your basics you carry. These can be carried inside a camel-bak, fanny pack, cargo pocket, or even a small pouch tied to the top of a walking staff. Set up a shelter in your back yard, practice starting a fire, and spend a few nights outside lost to home, or in a campground before setting off into the back country. Practice in all four season
Bottom line up front, is to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors! Have fun and go as often as you can. Keep your attitude positive no matter what happens.
Over the course of the next articles, I will discuss shelter, clothing, water, food, orienteering, equipment, first aid and other general skills. I hope these will help you become confident and safe in your outdoor endeavors and who knows they just might come in handy when least expected.