How to survive in the wilderness

(CNN) – After camping in Oregon in May, Harry Burleigh spontaneously decided to adventure on a trail before returning home. What he expected would be a quick walk, beyond and back to a significant turn and worse when he lost his way – the beginning of his 17 days He must survive in the Oregon wilderness while his wife, county government, and volunteers search for him.
After Tyson Steele Losing his Alaska home, dog, and belongings in a fire in December 2019, he was stranded alone in the freezing cold.
Sajean Geer scattered the ashes of her late husband in Olympic National Park in Washington state in July 2017, then, emotionally disoriented, unable to find her car or any of her roads.

The stories of these people demonstrate how unexpected events can turn being outdoors into a battle for survival.

Two brothers clean their cooking equipment in a stream during a survival course in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Mainhardt, Germany, in June 2020.

Two brothers clean their cooking equipment in a stream during a survival course in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Mainhardt, Germany, in June 2020.

Christoph Schmidt / union images / dpa / Getty Images

For those who don’t intend to go into the wilderness, accidents – such as a wrong turn or vehicle breakdown – or extreme weather changes can be the culprit, says Dr David Townes, professor of emergency medicine. and support said. professor of global health at the University of Washington.

For adventurers “Those looking for outdoor challenges,” says Townes, “the common theme is that they underestimate what they’re meant to do and, attached to that, almost overestimate their own abilities”.

“If you can avoid getting in trouble, that is clearly the most successful strategy,” he said. But if you’ve ever been stranded in the wild like these people did, being prepared can be the deciding factor in whether you return safely or suffer serious injury, illness, or death.

Here’s what the experts want you to know about how you should plan ahead for a safe trip and handle worst-case scenarios:

Planning ahead

Before you go, research your chosen destination by searching online and/or talking to locals familiar with the place, says Townes. Both can tell you anything there is to know about trail quality, animal presence, water accessibility, maps, and more. Also, no matter what time of year, always check the weather forecast – from the previous few days to the day.

Once you’ve planned your trip, give someone all the important details. That includes exactly where you are going, how many other people will be going, the vehicle you are taking, the route you intend to follow and when you will return, US Department of Agriculture Forest Service Advise.

Depending on where you’re going, you should pack the following essentials that can help prevent or reduce emergencies:

– Water and water purifying tablets or drops

Nutritious, non-perishable foods such as dried fruit or nuts, energy bars or beef jerky

– First aid kit includes disinfectant, tourniquet, bandage and aluminum splint

– Comfortable shoes with ankle support

– Insulation (emergency blankets, coats, hats, gloves, waterproof raincoats, thermal underwear)

– Sunscreen and hat

– Light shelter, if possible, such as a bivy, tarp, or one-person tent

– Flashlight or headlamp

– Waterproof matches, lighters and lighters

– Tape, knife, screwdriver and scissors

– Map, compass and navigation beacon

– Charged mobile battery

In addition to the clothes listed above to stay warm, you’ll also want to make sure you’re wearing clothes that fit the elements. If the weather is cold, cotton clothes won’t be ideal because wet cotton won’t dry and therefore won’t keep you warm, says Townes.

Materials for igniting are on the list of materials needed for the wild.

Materials for igniting are on the list of materials needed for the wild.

Mint Image / Getty Images

Choose materials that are resistant to water or retain insulation properties when wet, such as wool or synthetics.

“Down jackets are a great insulator, but down jackets don’t insulate very well when they get wet,” he explains. “If you then coat your outerwear with a thin, water-repellent jacket, you now have a waterproof, insulating layer… Layering is important because then you have a choice. .”

Even if you go to the desert, you should still bring a warm jacket because the temperature can drop at night. And in many mountainous areas, weather conditions can change dramatically during the day.

Handling worst-case scenarios

If you get lost, know that “panic is your biggest enemy,” says the Forest Service.

“Your best chance of survival is to think rationally and calmly,” says Townes. “Think, ‘What are my options? What are the things I need to worry about in terms of threats? Like the weather, is it going to get dark? Is it late? Will I try to get out tonight or do I? I’m here because it’s evening and I need to do this in the morning? And so I need to figure out where I’m going in the evening.'”

For these situations, the Forest Service recommends following the “STOP” process: Stop, Think, Observe, and Plan. In the beginning, stay put while recalling your steps to recall how you got there. Ask yourself what landmarks you can see and don’t move until you have a specific reason. Use your compass to determine direction.

Based on your observations, come up with potential plans, compare them, then follow through with the one you believe in most.

If it’s dark outside or you’re injured or exhausted, stay overnight, the Forest Service advises. If you are on a small road, keep going, especially if it has a sign or marker.

Following a drainage system or downhill runoff can lead to civilization — but can also be dangerous if you have to traverse bushland or steep terrain, says Townes.

If there’s something you can climb to see above the trees, that can also help you locate civilization and choose which direction you should go.


At this point, you focus on surviving until the rescue. Staying hydrated is more important than keeping yourself fed, says Townes, as dehydration can be much more dangerous.

Every time you see water, cover the bottle even if you think it’s unnecessary. You can’t be sure when you’ll see another water source.

“Running water, such as streams or rivers, is often cleaner than stagnant bodies of water,” Townes said. “If you have to use stagnant water like a lake, it is hypothesized that it’s better to get it near the middle rather than the edge.”

If you run out of food, any berries or protein you find – such as fish or insects – is usually edible, says Townes. He does not recommend eating wild mushrooms because their toxicity can be a gamble.

A young man lies in an emergency shelter made of spruce branches.

A young man lies in an emergency shelter made of spruce branches.

kmatija / iStockphoto / Getty Images

According to the Forest Service, there are optimal times to rest and eat or expend energy. If you start to feel tired, stop and rest for at least 30 minutes before you burn out. You’ll also need to rest for at least half an hour after eating, as trying to let your body digest food and hiking will be taxing.

Also, address minor problems as soon as you notice them. “If you ignore your body and keep pushing, the pain or illness will only get worse and make recovery more difficult,” the Forest Service said.

If you’re stuck in the warm season, avoid hiking between 10am and 4pm. Instead, sit in a shady spot until the weather cools. When you go hiking, your pace should be comfortable.

When you need shelter, look for structures like cabins, pitched roofs, or rock formations. Townes said, choosing only one cave if left will be dangerous to life.

Don’t go into a cave far enough to get trapped, and watch for bats or large animals, as they can pose a risk of disease or other harm.

Facing the elements and creatures

If you’re dealing with shivers or want to cook food, only light a fire under certain circumstances and use extreme caution, says Townes.

“Always know the (local) campfire rules and try never to break those rules, because we’ve seen these terrible fires over the last few years on both coasts.” “, said Townes.

He recommends building your fire so that it is blown away by the wind, possibly surrounding the flame with rocks or other non-flammable objects.

Trauma is where your first aid kit comes in handy. If you don’t have an antiseptic, any type of drinking water can be used to wash your wound, says Townes. Sprains or breaks can be treated with an aluminum splint you hope to have packaged, or a random assist made out of twigs.

If you research the site ahead of time, it can help combat any agitated animals. Because the most large animals, staying calm and avoiding threatening them is often your best bet.

Return to a safe place

What some of the aforementioned lacked luck or preparation, they made up for with some survival skills.

After searchers found makeshift shelters twice while searching for Burleigh – the man lost in the Oregon wilderness – rescuers finally found him. He was in mild, but stable pain, according to a news release. He was reunited with his family that evening. He later told The News-Review in Oregon how he made a headscarf over his underwear and fishing gear, and used a plastic magnifying glass to light a fire.

Steele, the man trapped after his Alaskan cabin burned down, was found within three weeks when helicopter soldiers saw the waves and a large “SOS” sign carved in his snow. ta. While awaiting rescue, he ate canned rations and peanut butter, then slept in a snow cave and shelter he built around his wood stove.

Geer, woman lost after scattering her husband’s ashes in Washington state, survived for six days ahead of searchers found her. She made a shelter out of wood and moss, drinking spring water and eating grapes, pine needles, and ants to survive.

With some practical know-how and a clear mindset, surviving a bad situation is entirely possible.


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