Tag Archives: survival

Lost in the WIld

Lost in the Wild – Mental Preparation

Imagine you’re lost or injured – perhaps 20 miles from the nearest forest road – deep in the wilderness under heavy cover.

Your whistle isn’t getting any attention, and your signal mirror is doing nothing more than annoying birds in the forest canopy.

You have survival gear: fire starter, water treatment tablets, and other potentially life-saving items.

You’ve discovered  you’re completely alone and there’s no help on the way. What do you do?

I’ve been in situations that have made survival equipment and a survival mindset necessary to get home safely.

I’ve hiked far into the Southwestern desert and into a more serious predicament than I realized at the time. It was scorching hot and I was far from any water. I remained completely calm, partly due to the naivety of my youth.  I didn’t realize the severity of my circumstances.  A level head got me out of a serious situation.

I’ve also been off-course in the woods (after a run-off by a momma bear) and had to gather myself to find a way out. Initially, I wasn’t as calm as I should have been, but I soon managed to control my thoughts. This taught me how easy it can be to become side-tracked and disoriented. Dismissing  the encroaching  anxiety and keeping my cool helped me find my way out to a forest road.

Two of the most important survival points that I’ve been sharing with my students and others over the years are: 1) Leave an itinerary, a schedule, and a copy of your gear list with a couple of concerned friends or family members; and, 2) If you become lost, one of the first thing you should do is to bring your mind under control.

If you’ve been lost, you’ve likely felt those anxious feelings that affect your body and mind. Controlling them is crucial.

Fear is a normal response to actual or perceived danger. If ungoverned, it can worsen the situation. Without mental management, other survival efforts will be negatively compromised  or impossible to perform.

Remember, even if you’ve left your plans with others, you might need help on the first day of your 3-day trip. Your friends and family will not expect you back for a couple more days. So, help will not be dispatched until you’ve been gone more than 3 days.

Therefore, it’s up to you to manage your situation. You’ll need to dismiss any potentially debilitating emotions that could hinder you from taking proper care of yourself. You must remain positive and focused.

Fix your attention on providing for your needs. Do what’s needed to maintain your core temperature, and be sure to stay hydrated.

Do whatever is necessary to provide for your health and safety right where you are (if it doesn’t require relocating – which is often discouraged but sometimes the right thing to do).  Other survival techniques and strategies (shelter, signal fire,…) can be deployed as needed.

Some have totally panicked after becoming lost. They let their anxiety get out of control causing them to run deeper into the wilderness or make other mistakes. As a result, some have become seriously or fatally injured.

There are also some textbook or hobby survivalists who have plenty of surplus gear and know clever gimmicks, but have a false sense of security that lacks any practical experience. They’ve read plenty of survival forum posts, and watched the popular videos on constructing laborious shelters from wilderness debris and how to make nifty bow drills. But perhaps lack the mental prowess that comes from actual experience and realistic training.

It’s a good idea to practice as many of your wilderness survival skills as possible, before they are actually needed. Learn realistic scenarios and develop the mental attitude and mindset to endure them.

Avoid sensational survival instruction that isn’t based on real-life situations that you’re likely to encounter.  Is it likely that you’ll need to sleep in the carcass of a dead animal, raid a beehive for honey, or repel down a waterfall?  It’s more likely that hikers will become injured (from a fall) or lost.  There’s good and sensible training available for such circumstances.

You might be unable to adequately gain the proper experience for some things, without placing yourself in danger or breaking the law. But practicing the skills that are feasible (appropriate) will go a long way toward preparing yourself for a survival situation.  It important to build a strong survival mindset.

Survival can require more than equipment and education.  Experience is a great teacher.  Yes, it’s possible to survive a situation having never experienced it before, but it’s likely it had a lot to do with mental strength – a will to survive that conquers fear and circumstances. In essence, this is mental experience.

Certainly physical preparation, or having what’s needed on hand, can help support mental confidence, but mental experience (strength) will be more important in certain circumstances than physical experience or equipment.

When you’re out hiking, take time to rehearse your skills and mindset. Imagine you are completely lost and must survive with only those things that surround you. Decide how you will regulate your core body temperature. Consider what’s available for providing shelter. Where will your water come from? What will you (eventually) eat?

This will provide mental experience that will give you the courage and peace of mind to focus on and perform the physical things that are needed to keep yourself alive.

Develop a personal phrase (passage, mantra,…) and survival mindset that you will use to manage and focus your thoughts – thereby overcoming fear or other mental obstacles.  If you ever become lost or stranded due to injury, this mindset will help you direct your thoughts into a positive survival strategy that could save your life.

You don’t always know when you’ll be put to the test in the wilderness. Your level of mental preparedness may be all that you’ll have to go on.

Prepare your mind.

Survival Misinformation

Survival Misinformation Part 1

Survival is an increasingly popular subject on the net and television.  Part of what it makes it such a hot topic has to do with the intense coverage of the calamities taking place around the world and the universally held desire to survive (live).

Information abounds.  There are thousands of websites (by the way, welcome to this one), forests of books, petabytes of shared videos, and perennial seasons of “reality” television shows that are all vying to fulfill your survival wants and needs.

It can be quite laborious sifting through the abundance of information (or misinformation) to find practical advice and tips that are closely based on likely survival scenarios.

Unfortunately, much of the survival information floating around is recycled from old military survival manuals, passed down (apparently unquestioned) from antiquated traditions, or even clever gimmicks (e.g. chocolate bar and soda can firestarter) that produce oohs and aahs from novice audiences, though unlikely to play a viable role in a real survival situation.

A significant percentage of the troubles experienced in the wilderness involves getting lost or becoming injured.  Many of the scenes depicted on television are not likely to occur (e.g. sleeping inside of a large animal carcase, climbing down a waterfall, or raiding a beehive).

Likewise, most people who become lost or injured simply want to get home – not build an elaborate shelter or sip pine needle tea to stave off a feared (future) vitamin C deficiency. These people are not necessarily paramilitary gurus or practicing survivalists.  They are soccer moms, birdwatchers, day hikers, mushroom pickers, and families driving over the hills and through the woods to grandmother’s house.

This article (planned series) will address some of the popular survival (mis)information that ranges from simple misunderstandings to dangerous mistakes.

What follows is personal opinion and commentary regarding some of the survival teachings that are currently being taught that this instructor believes to warrant respectful confutation.

Rule 0f 3s

The “Rule of 3s” is perhaps one of the most persistently-taught survival doctrines.  The short version of this rule states that one can live 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food.

Be certain that there’s nothing magical or universally precise about the number 3 when it’s applied to survival.  It’s simply a device that has been used to make some information easier to remember.  There’s nothing wrong with that, except when the device/information is (often) inaccurate.

This is much too serious of a topic to use such a teaching gimmick.  This isn’t about memorization or passing an academic test – it’s about life and death.

The teaching of the Rule of 3s is likely considered justified by believing that this rule is a good generalization, a probable average, or at least a way of presenting priorities.  However, the Rule of 3s can be seriously misleading and quite dangerous.

Using mechanisms like this to teach survival is absurd when factoring in that one may die in a matter of minutes from exposure, within hours from dehydration, and in some circumstances be severely afflicted or die within a few days without food. [The author understands that food is not the top priority in most, typical survival situations.]

It’s just as easy to teach this information with more accuracy, especially when given the advanced opportunity to instruct students on how to be prepared.  Why send people out thinking they can make it 3 days without water?  What good does it do, other than conform to the good ol’ rule? It may be true that those sitting on the couch can go 3 days without water, but terribly wrong for those hiking in hot weather.  It’s best to prepare for what could (and does) happen.

Consider the dangerous and typical survival scenarios that warrant immediate (not 3 hour later) shelter.  Study the cases in which others have dehydrated during enhanced activity and perished in far less than 3 days.  And understand the value of food for energy, body heat, and even personal comfort that is required long before 3 weeks is anywhere near approaching. [Keep in mind, survival isn’t exclusively about avoiding death. Averting serious injury is of vital importance too.]

An easy,  realistic way to teach this this subject is to state that one can die in a matter of minutes without shelter, hours without water, and days without food.  This is much more accurate than stating a specific number.

Knowledge over Gear – “The more you know, the less you need”

Another popular survival teaching is “the more you know, the less you need to carry.” It places the emphasis on knowledge rather than gear.

This teaching is a little more complicated to address without the possibility of being misunderstood or perhaps inadvertently mischaracterizing what some are teaching. Nonetheless, we proceed with care.

There’s more to survival than knowledge.  This teaching appears to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  Having knowledge and lacking the items to exercise that knowledge can be just as futile as having items and not knowing how to use them – or having the know-how without access to what’s needed to exercise it.

Survival situations are not always as neatly scripted as those on TV survival programs.  There’s a chance that a debilitating personal injury may be involved, making it impossible to build a shelter or construct fire making tools.  It may be personally fulfilling to use primitive tools and even rewarding to know how to make them as backup, but to be intentionally primitive minded when such things as lighters, survival blankets, and lightweight tarps exist could prove to be fatal.

Imagine a hiker falling into a ravine and breaking both legs the first day of a remote 3 day backpacking trip, and being unable to build a shelter or collect firewood.  Though the hiker has a substantial amount of primitive skills knowledge, it’s the items carried that will prove to be a lifesaver.  The knowledge remains important, but having access to tangible items is also crucial.

Don’t overlook one or emphasize one without the other.  Certainly there are cases when just knowledge or just gear will be the most useful in a particular situation, but this is not an absolute to gamble with.  Be prepared!

Gear and knowing how to use it is essential.  It’s smart to carry overnight gear (including all the essentials) even on a day hike. Many of the things that go wrong in the wilderness occur on day hikes.
Let’s face it, you need to use the knowledge at the time things actually go wrong, and when they do it’s unlikely to be as cooperative of a setting as a survival workshop or as presented on television.

Often the reason there’s a survival situation is due to debilitating injury.  Remember the more that fire is needed, the harder it may be to obtain. When you’re freezing, it’s not time to be looking for sticks to rub together.

How impractical would it be to search for materials to build a bow drill to light a cigarette for someone?  Now think about how much more absurd it would be to rely upon rubbing sticks together when fire is needed to save life!

People need to have the equipment (tangible and/or mental), experience (practice, wisdom), and education (know-how) to survive.

It’s great to know how to treat a serious illness, but it’s better to have what it takes to protect one’s self from acquiring the illness in the first place.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  Have what you need to use in (or to avoid an) emergency, and if that fails, fall back on the knowledge of how to make what you need.

This is about survival (life) not obtaining a merit badge for making a debris shelter.

Consider how much energy it will deplete to construct a shelter when it’s needed the most.  Think about all the spiders, snakes, scorpions, bees, and other pests and problems that can lurk in the wilderness debris being gathered.  Don’t forget to factor in the water loss from all the effort.

Learn all there is about primitive skills and improvising in the field.  But don’t intentionally leave survival equipment behind.

“It’s better to carry it in than to be carried out!” – Bernie Wild

Drinking Urine & Emergency Drinking Water Sources

This is likely one of the easiest misguided survival teachings to rebut.

While it’s understood that a healthy person’s urine is normally sterile, this doesn’t make it fit for hydration.
The more dehydrated one is, the less useful one’s urine is for hydration.  That is, the more it’s needed, the worse condition it’s in.  Also, the more dehydrated the body is, the less urine it produces.

It’s not advisable to rely on procuring water from cacti or solar stills.  In many cases, these are not likely to produce enough drinking water to sustain life.  A solar stills often require more bodily water expenditure than is gained from it.

Make sure there’s always an adequate drinking water supply available.

There’s more to come in this series. Stay connected for more in the near future.