We are surrounded by modern conveniences, so much so that we take most of them for granted, until we don’t have them. From the knife and fork we use to the more complex machines we have built to serve us such as computers, washing machines and even the car we drive. We have developed a way of life where many think they cannot do without these modern day ‘necessities’. Is all the gadgetry we have surrounded ourselves with really ‘necessities’ or have we let ourselves become victims to so much gadgetry that even a broken pencil cannot be sharpened because the electric sharpener is out of batteries? I’m not against having modern conveniences. They have made life easier. But the individual who will survive cannot become so much a slave to luxuries that they cannot do without them. There have been people who have died because they have lost all their modern gear in some outdoor activity because they could not escape the mentality that they were lost without it. It is a fact that disillusionment and the paranoia that follows it are the biggest killers among people thrust into a survival situation.
History bears out what can happen to a people locked into this mentality. Did you know there were people who died on the Oregon trail because they lost their silver forks and spoons and figured they could not eat because they no longer had the tools they were used to eating with? It’s true! Many others died when their food supplies ran out because they would not eat the wild game their guides provided because they considered it uncivilized. Even earlier than the Oregon Trail, back to the establishing of the first European settlements in this land, many perished waiting for the supply ships though they lived in a land of plenty. Had it not been for some friendly Native Americans who opened their eyes to nature’s bounty and how to make and use the tools they used, the casualties would have been even higher.
In 1989 Hurricane Hugo hit the south-eastern coast of the U.S. and came farther inland than any hurricane on record. Many lives were lost and entire cities were crippled. Most people who lived that far inland never dreamed they could be affected so much by a hurricane. After all, there were hurricanes before and only coastal dwellers needed to be concerned with such phenomena, or so many reasoned, many to their despair. I was amazed at how helpless many people seemed. But there were some, thank God, that would not allow their minds to succumb to the numbness of despair and helplessness and helped out one another, bringing about a sense of community never witnessed before on such a scale. It took a tragedy such as Hugo to bring out the best in some people and the worst in others. Unfortunately it takes a crisis to show us what we are made of sometimes.
What about you? Are you a survivor or a potential casualty? Ask yourself, when the odds are against you, what do you do? A true survivor will continue no matter what the odds. He will not look at what he hasn’t got and despair, he will look at what he has got and work with it. It is this quality of life that has helped people face survival situations in the past and gave them the energy to not only survive but also live a life with meaning. Too many have forgotten or never learned what a blessing it is to simply live. Groping for comfort upon comfort will only lead to disappointment and discontent. Knowing how to do with little will make you appreciate what you have whether it be a little or a lot. In a survival situation, whether it be a collapsed economy, stranded in the wilderness or whatever the case may be, will demand courage, determination and perhaps something more. But the power is within us all to overcome our ‘impossible’ odds and rise above them victorious. You are capable of much more than you probably give yourself credit for. Learn to dig deep within. Draw from that well of spiritual power that is within us all. You can survive!
Survival Basics – An Introduction
As much as is possible, plan ahead. Train yourself in the skills you think you will need. Challenge yourself by testing what you know under controlled circumstances and try to see the flaws in your skills. As much as is possible, prepare. Don’t wait until you are thrust into a situation and then have to learn or wish you would have took the time to learn. I always caution all my students that just because they have taken a survival course or read a book on survival or watched a TV show on survival doesn’t mean they should go out like an expert and think they can survive. Take time to master your skills. I suggest you train yourself by doing things like take matches with you camping but also take a bow and drill fireset. Try to make fire without matches during your trip but if you can’t then you have your matches to fall back on. Take your tent but build an emergency shelter and stay in it instead. Use your tent if you have to though. Maybe even set up a modern camp then strike out, set up a survival camp and use it, that way you have a backup if you need it. Always be safe. Test your skills little by little. Allow yourself to experience survival skills. Take some classes in survival skills. Then when you are ready you and some fellow ‘survivors’ try it on your own. Never purposely endanger yourself. Always have a back up plan and inform others where you will be and what time to expect you back. That way a search party will know where to look should things go badly.
You may be surprised how little it really takes to enjoy the outdoors. You will find you don’t need the entire outdoor store catalog on your back to enjoy yourself. In fact that is kind of what got me interested in survival skills. I was part of a camping organization as a boy. They took a group of us camping and we were so loaded down with so much stuff it was unreal! I quickly learned that the more skills I had, the less stuff I needed.
Survival Basic Attitudes
Are you an outdoorsman? No matter how experienced an outdoorsman you may be… you could become lost in the woods. It could happen to anyone. Daniel Boone, famous pioneer, even got lost. He wouldn’t admit it though. His words were, “I’ve never been lost but I was a might bewildered for several days.” You could be out in your canoe or boat and get overturned, losing all your gear. What would you do? It seems to be in the news almost daily, some family, individual or scout-type group strike out into the wild and get lost or injured or caught in the dark. Most are not prepared. Families out on a day hike get off the trail and become lost with inadequate supplies. Many people have died from exposure, when something as simple as being able to build a fire without matches or constructing a simple debris shelter could have saved their lives. Mother Nature is unforgiving but she is also no respecter of persons and will yield her resources to anyone who knows how to access them.
Many outdoor enthusiasts, perhaps most, are so dependent on their modern gear that they would be lost without it. Modern outdoor conveniences make recreation in the outdoors very pleasurable, but the wise person will have a backup plan. Taking a survival skills course and a first aid course from an experienced teacher is a wise thing to do, for nothing can replace hands-on experience for learning lifesaving skills. I teach survival skills courses, but I remember when I first tried to build a bow drill fire by reading a book on the subject with no success. It was not until an experienced teacher had shown me what I was doing wrong that I successfully could go into the woods and with nothing but what was around me construct a bow drill and build a lifesaving fire. I have had readers though that have written and told me that they were able to build a bow and drill fire from the instruction I gave in my articles and books. I do try to write from experience and try to think about what I would like to be told if I were the student.
I shall attempt to explain what I consider some of the basics of staying alive in a survival situation in this article. My approach in this article is more or less written from the assumption that all modern gear is lost. In such a situation you must survive with only what nature can provide.
Survival Priorities and Basics
The first thing to remember, if thrust into a survival situation, is to remain calm. Panic has lead to death in many situations, for one cannot think clearly with the anxiety brought on by simply not calming yourself and using your head. In fact statistically, Panic is the number one killer in a survival situation. Exposure is number two. Bill Gingrass, a fine outdoor survival and primitive skills instructor, came up with a good way of reminding yourself of this, remember the acronym S.T.O.P. Stop, Think, Observe, Plan. STOP, don’t wander around. Sit down, calm yourself. Do whatever you have to do to get control of the situation. If you’ve planned ahead, informed someone of the trail or water you intended on travelling and the time you plan on returning, they will know to send someone if you don’t show up at the appointed place and time. Rely on the knowledge and skills you have, you can survive! THINK, assess the situation for what it really is, not what your panicked mind is magnifying the situation to be. OBSERVE, look in your pockets and look around you at what you have that would be useful. Do you have a pocket knife? A pocket knife is much more practical than a large sheath knife and can accomplish most tasks. Even a good-sized sapling can be brought down with a pocket knife if the sapling is bent and cut on the tension side of the bend. Do you have a canteen on your belt or a survival kit? Survival kits are good, if they are well thought out and remain on your belt where they cannot become separated from you.
Most kits on the market are sadly lacking, especially the type found in the hollow handle of so-called ‘survival knives’, made famous by Rambo. Hollow handled knives were originally designed to contain dehydration tablets and the ‘saw’ on the back was never designed for sawing wood, but ripping out an opening in the fuselage of a downed plane. Hollow handles make a knife easy to break because the tang doesn’t go far enough into the handle. PLAN to stay alive. What are your priorities? You must plan on staying a long period of time, even if it so happens that you are rescued quickly. Set up a permanent camp, don’t try to find your way out, unless you know where you are going and it will not require more energy than you have to give and can supply yourself for such a trip.
Consider how long it is till sunset. Don’t get caught unprepared in the dark. The darkness changes everything. Temperatures can drop rapidly. You can’t see as well. Nocturnal animals that have superior night vision come out at night. In a survival situation you become just another part of the food chain. Depending on how you use your brain and survival skills you have acquired will determine how high on the food chain you remain.
How do you determine how long it is till sunset? Hold up your hand in front of you in your line of sight placing your four fingers just under where the sun appears on the horizon. Move your hand downward to a position just under where your hand was before, counting how many hands and/or fingers down to the horizon. Each hand is an hour, each finger is 15 minutes. This will give you a rough estimate and will vary depending on your hand size. Test this method before you get in a survival situation to your hand size versus timing with a clock. Then you will have a more accurate idea of how accurate your measure is.
As soon as possible, signal in some manner. Three is the universal distress signal, whether it is three gun shots, three fires or whatever the case may be. If you do decide to hike out clearly mark your trail so searchers may track you easily. Why not just bring a cell phone for calling 911? Never count on a cell phone in the wilderness where there may be no towers to even get a signal. Sometimes travelling down the road it is hard enough to get a signal much less in the wilderness.
Your top four priorities, in order of importance, are as follows: SHELTER, FIRE, WATER, then FOOD. Why this order? Most people that die when thrust into a survival situation die of exposure, not hunger or thirst. Hypothermia, one condition of exposure, is the condition of the body when it is losing or has lost heat quicker than it can produce it. Hypothermia can occur at 50 degrees F believe it or not. Hypothermia at 50 degrees F usually happens when one has fallen into the water and suddenly their body loses heat unexpectedly. If you do fall into the water try to remember to ball up into a ball, drawing your knees close to your chest allowing your body to adjust to the temperature of the water before you swim out. Symptoms of hypothermia are uncontrollable shivering (early stages), redness of the skin, numbness, usually in the extremities, such as toes, fingers, hands and feet, slurring of speech and lack of concentration. In advanced cases there is no shivering and the person is usually incoherent. You must get the victim of hypothermia warm as quickly as possible. If you are with someone in this condition, and you are lucky enough to still have a sleeping bag, crawl into the sleeping bag with them with bare skin to skin contact.
Even if you don’t have a sleeping bag shelter yourselves somehow, out of the wind and insulate yourselves in some manner, with natural debris or some material and do the same. Build a fire as soon as possible. In some situations, such as this, the fire may actually take a higher priority than shelter, acquiring shelter as soon as possible. If a person is in advanced stages of hypothermia no matter how warm a blanket or sleeping bag they have it will not help. In this state the person’s body is not producing enough heat to preserve by insulating them. You must warm the person. Warm liquids and a heat source are what is needed. If not treated early the victim will eventually experience frostbite and will begin to have blackening of the extremities, such as toes, fingers, ears and nose followed by entire limbs and will eventually lose the use of these body parts. The body will preserve the core (heart and brain) above other body parts in an attempt to stay alive.
Hyperthermia is the opposite of hypothermia. Hyperthermia is when the body becomes overheated. Sometimes the dangers of heat are underestimated. In the summer of 1980, a severe heat wave hit the United States, and nearly 1,700 people lost their lives from heat-related illness. Likewise, in the summer of 2003, tens of thousands of people died of the heat in Europe. High temperatures put people at risk. People that are particularly susceptible to heat are infants, people age 65 or older and those who are obese. People suffer heat-related illness when the body’s temperature control system is overloaded. The body normally cools itself by sweating. But under some conditions, sweating just isn’t enough. In such cases, a person’s body temperature rises rapidly. Very high body temperatures can damage the brain or other vital organs. It’s like having a fever. Several factors affect the body’s ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather. When the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly. Other factors that can cause hyperthermia are dehydration, alcohol use and certain drugs. Hydration is so important in hot or cold conditions.
Two common problems of hyperthermia are heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat exhaustion usually occurs before heat stroke. Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to an excessive loss of water and salt contained in sweat. A person suffering from heat exhaustion may be sweating profusely. The skin may even be cool and moist. The victim’s pulse rate may be fast and weak, and breathing may be fast and shallow. If heat exhaustion is untreated, it may progress to heat stroke. Heat stroke occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature. The body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106°F or higher within 10-15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause brain damage, permanent disability or even death if emergency treatment is not given. Symptoms of heat stroke include high body temperature (above 104°F), reddening of the skin, no sweating, a rapid pulse, a throbbing headache, dizziness and in extreme cases nausea, confusion, seizures, unconsciousness and death. What should you do if you or someone experiences hyperthermia? First of all catch it as early as possible. Get the victim cool. Get them into the shade. Immerse them in water if you can. Even soaking the clothing with water will help. As the liquid evaporates it will take away heat from the body. Fan them. Do not allow consumption of alcohol. I know certain TV shows show the survivalist drinking urine for emergency water. Urine will actually dehydrate a person further as will drinking alcohol and blood. Soaking the clothes with alcohol or urine would be a better use. The evaporation process from the clothing can help cool the body. And of course, get medical attention as soon as possible.
Be resourceful. Be creative in a survival situation. Think. The life you save may be your own or someone close to you. Control your circumstances as much as is possible. Don’t let things get out of control. Think ahead. You can survive!