Last night, I was at a social gathering and was approached by a young man who asked a pointed question. The night was rainy and cold, snow was in the forecast for the mountains, and this friend of mine wanted to know what I would do if I were out there in the mountains lost and alone without any camping gear that night.
What would I do? It's a great question. In fact, it's the perfect question that we should all be asking ourselves all the time, not just on a dark and stormy night. What would I do if…and then plug in the scenario. What would I do if I accidentally fell overboard from our sailboat? What would I do if a vehicle suddenly came at me in the wrong lane? What would I do if a submarine earthquake triggered a tsunami in our region? What would I do if a wildfire broke out in the forest and threatened our home? What would I do if I was diagnosed with cancer? What would I do if home invaders broke in and took my wife hostage? What would I do if a deadly pandemic was spreading through our area? What would I do if…?
You get the picture.
If you don't don't play the "what would I do if…" game in your own mind, you have no basis for preparation, and you leave yourself vulnerable to be surprised by events that can thrust you unexpectedly into a survival situation. On the other hand, if you do play that game mentally, you find yourself thinking about strategies, techniques, equipment, supplies, escape routes, and attitudes that can help you survive when the event presents itself. I'm convinced that 90% of survival is mental. It's psychological, it's emotional, it involves mental preparation ahead of time and mental toughness during the challenge. If you never think of these things, you have no chance of being prepared.
As a paratrooper, I went through a lengthy training session called "Malfunctions." It covered just about everything that can go wrong with a parachute, with the airplane, and with the jumper himself. We talked extensively in terms of "what would you do if…" And, wouldn't you know it, during my jump career I experienced 3 malfunctions. The training saved my life 3 times. Without that training, I would have been caught unawares and wouldn't have known what to do.
When my friend confronted me with the question about what I would do if I were caught out there in the mountains on that cold and stormy night, my brain snapped into visualization mode and I saw myself in the forest with frigid rain pouring down. I imagined an immediate search for natural shelter opportunities, and steps I would take to improve the shelter as quickly as possible to protect me from getting wet. In my mind, I saw myself hunkering down in a small, tight place — staying dry while the world around me was getting soaked.
"What about fire," he asked.
"Definitely a priority," I answered. "But it would be tough to get a fire going in these conditions. Not impossible, but extremely difficult unless you were carrying the right materials with you. Assuming you had to depend entirely on what the forest provides, it would be unwise to be out in the rain getting your clothing soaked while scrambling around trying to find materials for a fire. Even if you were able to succeed with the fire, you would still be wet. And although the fire would help dry you out, the bigger question is this; what if you were unable to start a fire tonight, and you were now soaked because you went out in the rain to search for fire materials? The risk/benefit balance is weighted too heavily on the side of risk," I told him. "On a night like this, you must stay dry at all cost. Even if you have to suffer through a miserable night without fire. Get wet, you're dead. Stay dry, you have a chance."
We talked for the next hour about various scenarios. He's a young man with great enthusiasm for the outdoors, but doesn't have my Wilderness Survival book yet, so I suggested he get a copy and study it. Preparation begins with study, and is enhanced by field experience.
With a foundation of knowledge and experience, you can play the "what would I do if…" game in your own mind. The process will sharpen your situational awareness and allow you to think through a variety of possible scenarios and have strategies figured out to help keep you from being blindsided.