With reality shows like Survivor, Man Vs. Wild, and Survivorman, survival has become a buzzword synonymous with crazy people willing to risk their lives on national television for the sake of entertainment. But with survival stories of missing families stuck in their cars and the climbers on Mt. Hood dominating the national headlines last November, we are faced with a sobering wake up call that survival is not just for outdoor enthusiasts and that anyone can be caught in a real survival situation.
Having a little knowledge can go a long way in a real survival situation. If you scan the headlines of survival articles that show up in the media, there are a few common mistakes that everyone can learn from:
- Plan Ahead – Most survival situations occur because people are not familiar with the area in which they are traveling. Bring a map and compass, but more importantly know how to use it. Otherwise your map is just tinder for your fire and your compass is just a paperweight. If you are driving in the winter, know your route. Don’t travel on roads that are closed for the winter or that are not maintained in the winter. This may sound like common sense, but you would be surprised how many survival situations occur because people don’t plan ahead and are unfamiliar with their environment.
- Tell Someone Where You Are Going – Before traveling in the backcountry, make a quick itinerary that has some basic information. Tell people where you are going, what trailhead you are starting from, what your destination is, when you plan to be back, and what your friends should do if you are overdue (such as call search and rescue). Have two copies of your itinerary and give one to a friend, family member, or roommate and put the other copy on the dash of your car at the trailhead. If your itinerary changes, make sure you tell everyone who has your itinerary. Don’t forget to call people when you get back from your trip so they don’t send out search and rescue.
- STOP – Should you find yourself in a survival situation, it is important to remain clam and think through your situation. One way to do this is to STOP: Stop, Think, Observe, and Plan before you spring into action. If you don’t stop and think about your situation, it is easy to make some crucial mistakes that could greatly reduce your chances of survival. Take a deep breath, try to meditate, or do something that does not take a lot of energy to take your mind off of your situation. Calories are precious in a survival situation and it is critical to maintain your energy and a positive attitude. Think about your situation, where you are, how far you are from a trail, road, or trailhead, what direction you are traveling, etc. Observe your environment. What resources in the environment can you use for insulation, making shelters, making fires, or finding water. What resources do you have on you that can help you get through your situation? Everything from your clothes on your back to your belt to your shoelaces can used to help you get through your survival situation. Once you have stopped, thought about your situation, and observed resources in your environment, make a plan and stick to it.
- Survival Priorities – There is a simple general rule of thumb called the Survival Rule of 3’s that can help you focus on the priorities that will keep you alive. In general, you can live 3 minutes without oxygen, 3 hours without shelter/warmth, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food. Therefore, food is not your most important priority, which is a common misconception. Shelter, fire, water, rescue, and food are your most important priorities in any situation, whether it is in the dead of winter or the middle of summer.
- Carry a Survival Kit – Survival kits are nominal insurance policies that could help save your life. The contents of this survival kit are designed to help you survive a short-term survival situation between 1 and 7 days. This survival kit is not a substitute for proper planning, good judgment and decision-making, and sound backcountry skill. The purpose of survival kits are to supplement essential gear that you should already have with you on any backcountry trip. Survival kit materials should be lightweight, durable, serve many purposes, and address the most critical survival priorities, including: shelter, fire, water, rescue, and food. The Cottonwood Institute sells a survival kit with field tested materials that are perfect for day hikes, overnight backpacking trips, or for putting in your car next time you drive into the mountains. To find out more information or to purchase a survival kit, Click Here. Please Note: All proceeds from the sale of our survival kits go to support our General Scholarship Fund.
You never know how you will perform in a survival situation until you are actually in one. Your first instinct may be to panic, and that is ok, as long as you can snap out of it. Having some basic knowledge, training, and supplies can help make survival situations inconvenient adventures, rather than life or death situations. Always practice survival skills in perfect, safe, warm conditions. As you become proficient in your ability to make shelter, water, and fire in good conditions, practice these skills in cold and wet environments. Always practice your skills with a safe exit strategy and never create a REAL survival situation when practicing survival skills!
One of my mentors, Paul Van Horn, always told me that you should have enough skill and knowledge if you ever find yourself in a survival situation to make a shelter, start a fire, find water, and make a cup of hot pine needle tea to offer to your rescue team. After all, they probably had a long day looking for you and they will need to rest and relax before hiking you out!