Ok folks, here we are at the meat and potatoes of last Monday’s post. I didn’t mean to turn it into a cliff hanger, but due to the length of it I decided to break it up into two posts instead of one big ol’ honkin’ article.
Let’s get started.
The moment arrives when you’re hiking in the woods and you suddenly realize you’re lost. Your heart jumps, adrenaline floods your system and your first reaction is to take off running over the next hill where you’re sure you’ll find the path you wandered off. You run and run and when you reach that hill you really start to panic when you don’t see the path.
What you do next could very well save your life.
Just remember to S.T.O.P.!
Sit – Sit your butt down and take a deep breath. Running through the woods will accomplish two things: 1. You’ll probably become even more lost and 2.) You’re likely to injure yourself in which case you’ll be even worse off than you were before. Take a drink, slow down, get your breathing under control and stay put! If you move around it’ll be harder for rescuers to find you. You’re going to be all right if you just:
Think – Now it’s time to take an inventory of the gear you have and the skills you possess. Do you have a compass and map with you? Knife? Lighter, matches, or some kind of sparking device for starting a fire? Can you see the sun? Where was it when you went in on the trail? Is it getting late? Do you have water or food with you? A plastic garbage bag for making a shelter? What do you have to signal with? A whistle? Mirror? Fire?
Know that fear of the unknown is way worse than the unknown itself. Being alone in the woods can be scary, but don’t let it get to you.
Keep a positive mental attitude!
Once you’ve taken stock of your gear and reaffirmed your positive mental attitude it’s time to:
Observe - Are there any landmarks around that look familiar? Is there natural shelter nearby? What do you see around you that can help? Think like MacGyver! Don’t throw anything away in a survival situation.
Sometimes you’ll find that simply by looking around with a rational mind you’ll see that you’re about ten steps off the trail.
Once you have done this it’s time to make a:
Plan - Take the information you’ve gathered and formulate a plan. Find water and shelter. Make a fire for signaling and to help you stay warm. A fire will also help you feel better about being alone in the woods at night. Let the Survival Rule of Threes be your guideline when coming up with a plan.
Stay safe! If you’re in a dangerous situation or area find someplace that’s not and stay there.
The Survival Rule of Threes
This is simply a mnemonic for helping to remember the survival sequence:
You can live three minutes without air.
You can survive three hours without shelter in bad weather.
You can survive three days without water.
You can live three weeks without food.
You can live three months without human contact. (This is very generalized of course.)
What to Carry for Minimal Survival Gear
Here’s a list of gear that I carry with me in the woods no matter where I go. If I go into the wilderness more than 1/4 mile I always have my pack with me; however, if I’m going a short distance or want to test my skills I’ll carry the following on a strap:
- Survival knife with a firesteel attached
- Steel water bottle with a steel canteen cup and a pot stand. (The pot stand wraps around the steel bottle)
- A larger fire steel
- Button compass
- Energy bar
- Coffee packet. (Yes, it might dehydrate me, but nothing will make me feel more relaxed than a cup of coffee.)
- Small LED flashlight
- Garbage or contractor bag
In a worst case scenario you may not have any gear at all except for what’s on your body. Let’s assume you’re dressed for the weather. In the summer you’ll likely have shorts, shoes, a shirt, maybe a hat to keep the sun off, and if you’re smart you always have at least a folding knife on you. In the fall and spring you may have long pants, hiking boots, a thermal shirt of some kind, a hat, and maybe some gloves in addition to your folding knife. See how I keep throwing the knife in there? If you don’t have a good folding knife go get one right now, put it in your pocket, then come back and finish reading this.
In the winter you’ll probably be wearing a few layers over your core such as a polypropylene under-shirt, wool shirt and a Gortex shell, a good warm hat, warm boots and wool socks, a good pair of gloves, long underwear and warm pants, and a knife if you’re smart. One small note here: Cotton kills in the winter! Don’t wear it.
Even if this is all you have you can still survive if you know what to do. This is where your knowledge of the wilderness will come in handy. To build a fire you can fashion a bow drill using your knife and one of your shoelaces as the string. For shelter you can use what’s available in the forest to make a lean-to, a bark shelter, a debris shelter, a snow cave, or whatever the situation calls for. You can make a shelter out of a fallen tree if you know how to look for it thus saving precious calories. You can make a cup or bowl out of birch bark and use stones to heat the water to boiling so you don’t get sick. These kinds of shelters are labor and time intensive, so factor that into your plan.
Once you’ve got boiling water you can make tea out of pine needles, which is an excellent source of vitamin C.
If necessary you can fashion some Figure Four traps out of wood and set them out for possible protein sources.
You can gather Cattail roots for carbs and acorns for fat.
Starting to get the picture? Gear makes things a lot easier, but just because you don’t have it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to die. Knowledge and real world experience is the only way to reach this level of proficiency though. Don’t think that you’re going to watch a bunch of Youtube videos and be able to get out there and survive when the chips are down.
You have to get out there and practice this stuff. Lighting a fire without a match is difficult. Lighting a fire without a spark is exceedingly difficult. Knowledge and experience will tell you what kind of materials you will need to gather in order to start a fire using a lighter, match, firesteel, or a friction fire such as the bow drill.
Start Practicing Now
You’re never too young or too old to get started. My father was teaching me about the woods when I was very young and this is something I am passing on to my own son. Of course my dad is still around and is passing some of the same lessons on to my boy as he did to me. Not only does this pass on valuable skills to the younger generation, buy my son absolutely worships his papa and any time they can spend together is time well spent.
A Last Note On Surviving When Lost
Surviving means just that. When the rescuers find you or you’ve managed to extricate yourself it simply means that you’re still alive. You’ll probably be cold, hungry, thirsty and maybe even suffering from exposure. It will likely be hard on you physically, mentally, and emotionally, but never give up.
As I wrote this post it became apparent that this topic could easily become a book, which I just might write, and I caution the reader that I’m merely scratching the surface of each of the points listed above. Something so important – your life – should be taken with the utmost seriousness and I encourage you to do more research in all of these areas. The life you save could be your own.
I hope this has been helpful.
Consider this a test and post your answers below:
You’re fifty miles in on the 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine on the Appalachian Trail. The sign way back in Monson warned you to carry enough food for at least ten days or more because once you pass the sign there’s no place to resupply.
Now it’s five days later and you’re hiking at dusk trying to make the next lean-to so you can bed down. Suddenly you realize that you haven’t seen a blaze mark in at least 45 minutes and what you thought was the trail is merely a game path. When you turn around and look back you can’t tell where it came from. It’s now fully dark in the woods and it’s starting to rain.
Panic wraps tight bands of fear around your chest and you feel the urge to flee.
You’ve got your pack (what do you keep in there?), five days of food, and you’re ok in the water situation for the moment.
What do you do?
I’ve been out there and it gets mighty black at night folks. Hope you brought a flashlight!