Stranded In an Urban or Wilderness Emergency: Now What?

“What am I preparing for?”  As I see it there are five broad categories that capture most situations where a person may have to “survive” until rescued or until the weather conditions improve and the individual can rescue themselves.


Winter weather presents challenges to drivers. Make sure you have a winter survival kit in your car!

The categories are: Becoming lost, being caught out after dark, becoming stranded, becoming ill or injured and unable to proceed and bad weather that makes continuing on dangerous.

This article will look at the third of these situations, “stranded.”


By Peter Kummerfeldt

The very word “stranded” brings to mind the story of Robinson Crusoe’s lengthy stay on his tropical island or the plight of the Donner Party.  Or the experiences of the Uruguayan rugby team who survived a crash landing in the Andes as told in Piers Paul Read’s book “Alive” also come to mind.

If the truth be told, you can become stranded in far less exotic places than the South Pacific, the Andes or the Sierra Mountains of California.  You can become stranded, and find yourself having to survive, in the woodlot behind your home.  You can become stranded when driving to work or as a result of many other scenarios where suddenly you are unable to continue – or to return to safety.

Weather,  the onset of darkness, mechanical breakdown or other accidents can all result in your having to utilize survival skills and procedures to insure that you see the light of the next day.

It happens all the time.  Take for instance the case of Karen Webster of Nelson, South Dakota, who left work one winter

morning after working the night shift to drive home. A few minutes later, she was stuck in a snowdrift on an isolated country lane unable to proceed.  Some forty-four hours later she was finally found and rescued.

Her advice to others: “It can happen to anyone. Make sure you’re equipped. Stay with your vehicle. Tell someone where you’re going!”

Karen survived becoming stranded because she followed her own advice, believed she would be rescued, didn’t panic,  and she survived!

Unless you have experienced the emotions of finding yourself stranded a long way from help it is difficult to explain in words: The gut wrenching fear felt when you realize you can’t get back, you’re cut-off, you’re alone without anyone to help… YOU MIGHT DIE!

Let’s look at “becoming stranded” objectively, find  the problems faced by the victim and then identify some practical solutions to those problems.


Most commonly,  the onset of inclement weather strands people.  Motorists are stranded in their cars on the highways when driving conditions become too dangerous to continue – or more commonly they continue driving until an accident happens.

Those recreating outdoors suddenly find themselves unable to return home because the snow gets too deep, the water in the river rises and crossing becomes too risky, or fog obscures the landmarks and the navigation becomes impossible.

A tornado could destroy roads and bridges and strand people on the disaster scene.

It is often weather that causes an aircraft to crash land or ditch – particularly light aircraft and helicopters!

It is the weather, or more accurately, the lack of awareness of how quickly that the weather can change, that    precipitates a person into a survival situation!

One moment the sun is out and hiking in shorts and T-shirt is appropriate and moments later the sun goes behind a cloud, it begins to rain, the wind velocity increases a few miles per hour, the temperature plummets and now the victim is in a situation from which they may not recover.

Never assume anything. As Left Kreh, the well known author and fisherman once said “It’s always going to be colder than they tell you.  It’s going to be windier than it should be for the time of year and it’s going to rain more than you expect it to so be prepared for anything.” Select the kinds of clothing that will keep you warm and dry and will keep the wind out. With good clothing the need for a fire and even the need for additional shelter may not be necessary.


Unfortunately most people have an unfounded faith in their vehicles ability to perform forever!

When traveling to places where help is a long way off, prepare your vehicle accordingly.  Often the malfunction is not something catastrophic.  It’s usually the failure of some part that, had the operator performed a simple visual check; the situation could have been prevented.

Simple steps like checking the fluid levels (all fluid levels, not just the oil), checking air pressure in the tires; checking the condition of belts and hoses is often all it takes to complete an uneventful trip. While it may not be possible to eliminate all mechanical failure, it is possible to minimize the likelihood of becoming stranded because of mechanical malfunction by thoroughly inspecting your vehicle before a trip and equipping it with sufficient emergency gear to keep the occupants safe until found.


As the pilot flew back to Fairbanks  after dropping my sheep hunting partner and I off, I was left with some misgivings regarding his understanding of when we were to be picked up.  My misgivings became reality ten days later when our ride home failed to show up.

While waiting for the overdue transportation strange thoughts occurred.  Such as: “I wonder if the plane that dropped us off crashed on its way back to base.”  “I wonder if the pilot told anyone else where he had taken us.”  “I wonder if anyone will come looking for us!”

Several days passed before we finally heard the drone of the Super Cub, our ride home, coming across the tundra.  In this instance it was confusion between “picking us up ten days later” and “picking us up on the 10th” that led to the miscommunication.

Had we not planned on “weather days” and a delayed pickup, our hunting trip might have become a survival experience. Critical communications should be written down not verbally communicated!  Plan for delays.

CRASHES (car, plane, boat, snow machine, motorbike, etc.)

The problem with modern transportation is that in a very short period time you can find yourself a long way from help after an accident.  In a couple of hours an ATV traveling at 12 mph can put you 24 miles from the trail head. How long will it take you to walk 24 miles? You can find yourself many miles from the marina when the boat that you were speeding across the lake in collides with a semi-sunken log and sinks.  How far can you swim?   A light aircraft flying at 100 mph places you even further back in the wilderness – usually too far to walk out.  Regardless of the mode of transportation you are now a long way from home – you are stranded and must survive until rescue arrives. Will you be able to survive until you are found and rescued?

DARKNESS The problems associated with darkness were discussed in a previous post and need not be repeated again here.  Suffice to say that once the sun sets a person can be just as stranded as they are when their car breaks down miles from sources of assistance.  Traveling on foot at night is not generally recommended for all the reasons previously discussed.  Stay put and wait for the sun to come up and then decide what should be done.


Becoming stranded is not the end of the world!  If you have told others of your travel plans they will become worried when you don’t show up and will initiate the rescue process by contacting the authorities.  As the one who is stranded your job is to keep yourself alive until they show up.

Peter Kummerfeldt has walked the talk in the wilderness survival field for decades.Peter grew up in

Peter Kummerfeldt has taught wilderness and emergency survival for more than 40 years.

Kenya, East Africa and came to America in 1965 and joined the U.S. Air Force. He is a graduate of the Air Force Survival Instructor Training School and has served as an instructor at the Basic Survival School, Spokane, Washington; the Arctic Survival School, Fairbanks, Alaska, and the Jungle Survival School, Republic of the Philippines.

For twelve years, Peter was the Survival Training Director at the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado. He retired from the Air Force in 1995 after 30 years of service.

In 1992, concerned with the number of accidents that were occurring in the outdoors annually and the number of tourists traveling overseas who were involved in unpleasant and sometimes life-threatening incidents Peter created

He is the author of “Surviving a Wilderness Emergency” and has addressed over 20,000 people as the featured speaker at numerous seminars, conferences and national conventions.

Check out Peter’s blog at:

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