Survival by the Numbers
One.The only person you can count on is yourself. You must prepare yourself for an unplanned night out as if there will be no one else there to help you survive. No one else to provide you the equipment you need to shelter yourself, build a fire, procure water, signal or all the other tasks that need to be done if you are to survive. All too often we place our survival in the hands of others thinking that if a disaster happens someone else will come to our aid! If recent natural disasters have taught us anything it should have taught us that we need to be able to stand on our own two feet, provide for our own needs, render whatever medical aid is needed and then either survive on-site or move to wherever survival may be possible. Knowing that you are capable of surviving is empowering! Your life depends on what you do – not on the chance that some other person will be available to do for you what you cannot do for yourself.
Two. Under normal conditions the number of quarts of water needed daily by the human body to maintain an adequate level of hydration. This amount can change very significantly depending on the environment you find yourself surviving in, the time of day you are forced to work and the amount of work that you have to do to survive. Dehydration is not just a “desert survival” phenomenon! Dehydration can happen in any environment when insufficient quantities of water are consumed – when water loss through urination, defecation, respiration and sweating exceeds water intake. There is no magic quantity to drink to keep you hydrated. We are all different and we find ourselves in a wide variety of situations. Don’t ration the water you have trying to make it last for many days. Drink what you need. It is better to have water in your stomach than it is to have water in your canteen! There have been many people over the years that have died with water still in their canteens. Conserve your water by minimizing your sweating
Three. To build a fire you must insure that the three elements of the fire triangle, oxygen, fuel and a source of heat are combined in appropriate amounts. All too often, when watching novice fire builders struggle to get a fire going, the fire triangle principle is totally forgotten. Usually it is the lack of oxygen that is the problem. Rather than sit back and evaluate what the problem is they will continue lighting match after match in hopes that one will work never stopping to consider which part of the fire triangle is missing! When it’s not working don’t waste your matches or other heat sources. Stop and identify what’s causing the problem. Is the fuel thin enough and dry enough? Is the heat source hot enough to light the tinder? Is there enough oxygen reaching the point where the heat is being applied to the fuel? Identify the problem and then proceed.
Four. As a crisis evolves remember the four letters in the acronym STOP
STOP whatever it is that you are doing. Get off your feet, sit down, have a drink of water, take several deep breaths and, assuming it is safe to do so, sit tight for at least thirty minutes. Control the urge to panic. You have to give yourself a chance to survive! Everybody is going to panic to one degree or another when confronted by a real or perceived life threatening circumstances. Those people who have been in similar situations before will quickly recognize the situation for what it is and understand that while they are in trouble, it doesn’t have to be life threatening situation – just an inconvenience to be handled. For the inexperienced the consequences of panic can be fatal. Walking leads to walking faster and then to running and then running even faster. The victim will be quickly totally out of control and then an accident, often resulting injury, will happen. Sit tight for thirty minutes and allow the adrenaline that has flooded through your system putting you into the fight or flight mode, to subside and then you may find that you can think clearly again.
THINK about your situation as objectively as you can. Admit that you are in trouble. Think about what needs to be done to ensure your safety. Do you need to move to a safer area? Are there injuries that need to be taken care of? What are your priorities – fire first or shelter? How much time do you have before it gets dark? Critically appraise your situation then make good decisions.
OBSERVE the area you find yourself in. What are the hazards? What are the natural resources that you can benefit from? Are there sources of help available? What can you take advantage of to help you survive?
PLAN your next move carefully. Base your plan on the application of your prior training and preparation while always allowing for the unexpected to happen. Do the plan in your head first. If you are satisfied that the plan is workable then proceed. If you can’t make the plan work in your head then revise it until you develop one that you are comfortable with.
Five. contingencies that you should prepare for;
- Becoming lost. All too often we believe that “our sense of direction” is good enough to prevent this from happening but all too often, when weather, heavy timber or darkness obscures the landmarks we depend on, our ability to find our way back to camp is grossly impaired. Always carry a compass and a map. GPS receivers are very useful too.
- Darkness. Modern man (or woman) doesn’t do very well in the dark! With darkness comes the switch from “seeing” to “hearing” and when we don’t understand the noises coming from the dark it gets downright scary! Sometimes scary enough to panic a person into moving when they should be holed-up. If being out in the dark make you apprehensive identify what it is about the dark that you are afraid of? Is it the fear of being attacked by an animal? Is it nocturnal insects? What bothers you? How real are these threats? Get informed. Get with someone who can explain all those sounds you are hearing. You might find that you will come to enjoy the night hours!
- Stranded. Cars beak down, horses buck us off, ATVs topple over, ski bindings fail – the list is endless but the result is the same. We find ourselves stuck a long way back in the wilderness faced with a cold night out. Anticipate that you might become stranded and plan for ways to make your way out or to alert others that you are stranded. Plan to survive a stranding.
- Illness or injury may cause you to spend an unplanned night out. Not only do you have to deal with the illness or the injury but once again you are faced with caring for yourself until you are rescued. Make sure that your wilderness first aid skills are up-to-speed.
- Weather, snow, rain, high wind cold or hot temperatures, can all impact on your ability to survive. Your clothing and the ability to shelter yourself and get a fire going will be the keys to remaining alive.
Six. The component parts that make up the definition of survival – “the ability and the desire to stay alive, all alone, under adverse conditions until rescued.”
- Ability. There’s no way around it you must be able to shelter yourself, build a fire, signal for help and keep yourself hydrated.
- Desire. You must want to survive. You must be optimistic! The desire to be reunited with your loved ones is the most important psychological aid you have to help you endure a tough situation and survive.
- Stay alive. While shelters, fires and the ability to signal are important your ability to effectively deal with any life threatening medical conditions has the highest priority. Take a Wilderness First Responder course.
- Under adverse conditions. The more you know about an environment the less adverse that environment will be when you find yourself surviving in it. Remove the mystery and you will remove the fear.
- Alone. Never count on others being there to help you. Count on there not being anyone to help you.
- Until rescued. Be patient. Be alive when rescue gets there by doing everything you can to defend your body against the onslaughts of the environment
Seven. The seven enemies of the wilderness survivor
- Boredom and Loneliness
- Unwillingness to “stay put” and wait for rescue
Eight. On average the number of hours from full dark to dawn. The number of hours you will have to endure sitting out in the dark, under a tree, cold, isolated, hungry, wet and alone. Despite the hardship it doesn’t have to be life threatening if you have prepared for such a circumstance. Remember too that the value of your clothing, its ability to keep you warm, will be determined when you are sitting still!
Nine. basic rules for surviving a wilderness emergency
- Avoid under taking an outdoor activity alone.
- Always leave a travel plan behind and stick to it
- Dress for the expected weather
- Carry an emergency kit
- Know your personal limitations and abide by them
- Know your geographic area
- Carry a topographic map of the area and compass
- Don’t fool around
- Don’t let your ego kill you
Ten. The number of “must have” items you should have in your emergency gear
- 1 heavy duty , 4 mil., orange plastic bag
- 1 metal match with a scraper
- 2 match cases, one filed with REI matches and one with cotton balls saturated with Vaseline or two filled with the cotton balls/Vaseline mixture.
- 1 glass signal mirror
- 1 plastic whistle
- 1 small folding knife
- 1 orienteering compass
- 1 plastic water bag
- 1 Small LED light with a headband
- 1 25 foot piece of nylon line