A trip into the wilderness can be a fun and educational experience for those who like to seek adventure outdoors. On the other hand, it can also present a number of hazards that are potentially fatal. In addition to freezing or blistering hot weather, falls, hostile animal encounters, and other dangers, there is also the lack of access to nearby help. It may take hours or days for rescuers to come to one’s aid in the event of an emergency, and delays like this can be deadly. It is important, therefore, for adventurers to understand basic techniques for survival in the wilderness.
Cold Weather Survival
- A person should keep his or her head covered while in the cold to avoid losing up to 45 percent of his or her body heat.
- Adjust clothing as needed to avoid overheating and sweating in them. Sweating will not only dampen clothing but it will also make the body cooler when it dries.
- Wear clothing in loose layers for maximum insulation.
- Before getting into a sleeping bag, place damp boots between its liner and shell to help dry them off.
- Carry a fire starter and tinder such as a trioxane bar so that a fire can be started quickly in extreme cold temperatures.
Warm Weather Survival
- Take frequent breaks when walking or hiking to avoid over-exertion.
- Moisten a bandanna and place it on the back of one’s neck or forehead to cool down.
- Wearing a hat with a brim will help keep the sun off of one’s face and the back of the neck.
- Drink small sips of water throughout the day using urine color as a guide. Darker urine is an indication that the body isn’t getting enough water.
- If feeling the effects of heat exhaustion, such as vomiting, headache, or dizziness, lie down, elevate the feet, and take a few sips of cool, but not cold, water.
Finding Water and Food
- Dig a pit and cover it with sticks and other debris to create a pit trap for animals.
- Ice and snow may be melted for drinking.
- Insects such as grasshoppers, snails, and crickets are easy to catch and edible if unable to catch game.
- Make finding water a priority as a person can live longer without food than water.
- Running water is typically safe for drinking, but boil or add iodine to stagnant water.
- Create a surface that is reflective enough to start a fire by using a bar of chocolate to polish the bottom of soda can.
- Use caution around oil and petroleum when in extreme cold conditions as they can cause frostbite if they come into contact with the skin.
- Use a magnifying glass or pair of glasses to start a fire.
- Keep waterproof matches in a waterproof container on hand.
- The simplest and most often used method of starting a fire without matches is the flint and steel method.
- The entrance to the shelter should face opposite the direction of the wind.
- Use caution when building a shelter near a creek as they can rise at night.
- Do not build a shelter in an area where water may collect if heavy rains begin during the night.
- If the ground is wet, build a platform made of stout branches.
- Trees with branches that extend outward can be used as shelter against rain.
Finding and Creating Tools
- Use rocks from riverbeds or creeks to create cutting tools.
- Make the first break in the stone by bashing two rocks together in what is called the rock-bash technique.
- Always wear eye protection when creating tools from rock and other natural materials to avoid injury to the eye from flying fragments.
- To make arrows, use straight shoots from willow, dogwood, or maple trees.
- Dogbane, nettle or milkweed can be used to make the cord of a bow.
Finding Help and Rescue
- Use a whistle to alert rescue teams.
- Strategically placed clothing can be used to alert planes of one’s location. Clothing should contrast with its surroundings and care should be taken if climbing up a tree or some other high location.
- The sun and a shiny object such as a mirror can be used to signal rescuers.
- Partially smother a fire to create smoke. This is best on clear days when the smoke will be most visible to rescuers.
- Use fire to attract help at night. Fires should be built in elevated locations and in areas with minimal vegetation.
General Survival Tips
- When preparing for an outdoor excursion, always carry a first aid kit for potential emergencies.
- Study the lay of the land before heading into any wilderness area.
- Unless equipped with a compass and knowledge of where they are, people should stay put when lost in the wilderness.
- Carry a personal beacon when traveling in isolated areas such as the wilderness. This enables Search and Rescue teams to find the wearer.
- If a person becomes lost he or she should stop and set priorities before taking any action. For example, if it is close to nightfall finding shelter should be a top priority.
- Outdoor Skills – Survival: This is a page on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website: The page gives illustrated directions on building a survival fire and also how to obtain water in an emergency. The page also includes links to other survival skills for campers including water safety and signaling for help.
- How to Start and Create a Fire: This page gives very brief explanation of how to arrange logs to make a fire. It also reviews what is needed to start the fire, such as matches, flint, eyeglasses, etc.
- British Columbia Outdoor Wilderness Guide: Wilderness Survival – Food and Water: This page discusses various ways that people can find and/or catch food when in the wild. It also reviews how to find water that is safe to drink.
- Nature Skills: How to Purify Water: Click on this link for an article that discusses the need for protecting oneself from organisms found in outdoor water sources. The article reviews how to purify water so that it is safe drink.
- United States Search and Rescue Task Force: General Land Survival Tips: This link opens to a page on the United States Search and Rescue website that gives readers information on how to survive in the wilderness. The information is basic and is presented in bullet format.
- Seven tips to Survive the Frozen Wilderness: This link directs readers to the Ultimate Survival Alaska page on the National Geographic Channel. The article provides tips on how to survive in freezing and frozen conditions. Tips include building a shelter and how to recognize and treat signs of frostbite.
- Government of the Northwest Territories – Tourism and Parks Wilderness Survival Tips: This page provides basic survival skill for people who enjoy time outdoors in the wilderness. The article lists various topics at the top of the page. The reader may scroll down to review each topic or he or she may click on the topic title to go directly to the information. Topics include signaling, shelter, and staying where you are.
- The Do-it-Yourself Coffee Can Survival Kit: This page takes readers to directions for creating a survival kit. The article lists what general items are needed in the kit and explains key points to remember when creating the kit.
- Cold Weather Survival Tips: This page explains what the four basic principles of surviving in cold weather are. Fire types are also reviewed in addition to the physical and psychological benefits of building a fire.
- Discovery News: Desert Survival Eight Simple Tips That Could Save Your Life: Clicking on this link opens up a page to the Discovery website. The article lists eight ways that people can survive outdoors in the heat or desert-like conditions. Tips range from finding shelter to staying hydrated.
- Health Concerns: This page reviews what items are important when traveling through a desert or in an area with high temperatures. The need for water to prevent dehydration is the primary topic of discussion.
- How to Find Water: This article discusses areas where a person might find water in the desert. It also briefly discusses dew as a very limited water source.
- Mother Earth News — Outdoor Survival Skills: How to Start a Fire: Clicking on this link will take the reader to an article that explains several methods of how to make a fire. Readers will learn how to start a fire by using a bow and drill and flint and steel. They will also learn about materials to use for the bearing block, about a fire board, and material types for tinder.
- Field & Stream: Seven Ways to Light a Fire Without Matches: Click this link to go directly to the Field and Stream website and learn how to start a fire without the use of matches. The article is in a slide-show format.
- Men’s Fitness – Twelve Outdoor Survival Skills Every Guy Should Master: This article lists outdoor survival skills that a person should know how to perform if lost or stranded in the wilderness. Listed skills include building a fire and collecting water.
- Backpacker: Survival Skills 101: This link opens a PDF document about survival skills. The document is an in-depth overview of how a person can survive when in dangerous situations outdoors.
- How to Make Shelter in the Wilderness: Click on this link for step-by-step instructions on how to build shelter outdoors. The article includes a detailed list of what is needed to accomplish the shelter.
- Popular Mechanics: Six Key Emergency Survival Tips from Wilderness Experts: On this page readers are given tips on six emergency situations that a person may face out in the wild. Tips include how to protect oneself from hypothermia and snake bites.
- Wilderness Survival – Cold Weather Survival: On this page readers will find information about surviving in cold weather conditions. The page also includes links to further survival information on the website.
- Army Ranger Rick’s Outdoor Survival Tips: On this page the reader will find a list of links to tips that will help people survive in outdoor conditions.
- Alderleaf Wilderness College – Primitive Stone Tools: Clicking on this link will take the reader to a web page that explains how to make tools from stone. The article also discusses how to find materials.