All too often I hear people talk about how crazy I am because I like to go into the wilderness with what a lot of people consider minimal gear. “How can you survive out there like that?” they ask in amazement.
I’m quick to point out there’s a difference between just surviving, which is likely to going to be a miserable experience, but leaves you breathing and functioning on the other end; and camping with minimal gear, which means I’m still comfortable but use what’s available in the forest instead of hiking everything in on my back.
First and foremost knowledge is worth more than gear in most situations. If you are forced into a survival situation in the fall for a few nights with no gear at all could you survive? Would you know where to start or would you run through the woods in a panic looking for a way out. If you panic up here in Maine a hunter is liable to find your skeleton in the woods ten years later.
The first thing you need to do is STOP! Sit down, don’t panic, take a few deep breaths, and keep your act together. If you’ve never been lost you’ll tell yourself “Geez, I’d never do that.” Sure, it’s easy to think that when you’re sitting in front of your computer monitor and a kitchen full of food and fresh water just around the corner, but if and when it really happens I can guarantee that you will feel at least a moment of fear.
Ten or fifteen years ago I was snowshoeing in some woods near my house that people never went into that time of year. When I left it was cloudy, but you could at least see where the sun was shining from. A half hour into the hike it started snowing. I kept on by ded reckoning (deduced reckoning) and pretty soon was amazed to see the tracks of another person snow shoeing out there. Not only that they were using bear paw snow shoes, just like I was wearing. What were the chances of that?
Zero, as it it turns out. I was looking at my own tracks. When the realization first hit that I was traveling in circles my heart leapt into my throat and my first instinct was to turn and head for the exit as fast as I could. But where was it? The fact that I walked in a circle told me I didn’t have any idea how to get out of that section of woods.
So there I was in a snowstorm, no idea of direction, and it was starting to get dark.
What did I do?
I pulled my pack off – because I’m more likely to be caught naked in the woods than without my pack – and poured a cup of coffee out of my thermos and took a couple of seconds to collect myself. After I was thinking clearly I pulled out my compass and shot my “emergency azimuth” and made my way out to the road.
Other outdoorsman must have a similar idea of doing this. What I do is before I head out I’ll look at a map and find some kind of distinguishing feature, usually a road, and if I know that I’m going to be in the woods to the west of the road I know I’ll have to shoot an easterly azimuth to get out. This is much better than being caught in the woods overnight waiting for rescue crews to come get you. In this case I lived fairly near to where I was hiking, I just hadn’t been in those woods before.
Believe me, even if you don’t panic you will feel a certain amount of apprehension that you’ve lost your direction. Survival is about managing stress, making good decisions, and having enough knowledge about your environment to keep yourself alive.
So what do you do if you become lost?
Check out my next post on Friday!
I actually didn’t do that on purpose. This post was getting too long, so I decided to split it up. So come back Friday and try to not to get lost in the woods before you have a chance to read how to save yourself.
In the meantime, if you’d like to share some ideas I’d be happy to incorporate them into Friday’s article, or if you have a story you’d like to share about survival I’d love to hear it.
Sound off below!