Thursday, April 4, 2013
Avoid Survival Situations
I have a list of Top Ten things to do while wandering through the wilderness, and if I adhere to these rules, I stand a much better chance of avoiding falling into a survival situation. They are all equally important, and should be done all the time.
1. Stay dry — Even in a tropical environment where the day is warm and pleasant, as soon as the sun goes down or a storm blows in, you will be cold if you are wet. If you need to use water to cool yourself down during the heat of the day, make sure you have dry clothes to sleep in at night. Otherwise, you risk hypothermia.
2. Wear appropriate clothing — This is your primary shelter, so don't go skipping through the wilderness dressed like they do on the TV show Survivor. That is entertainment, not good survival doctrine. Cover your body, to protect against bug bites, scratches, sunburn, etc. Wear gloves as you work through the forest or jungle, because an injury to your hands can render you unable to perform necessary tasks for survival. Wear a hat with a wide brim, to protect against rain and heat loss through the scalp, or heat gain during a sunny day. Wear the best footwear you can buy. Your feet are your transportation to safety — take care of them. Don't pretend you're a native, going without shoes because you think it's cool or somehow heroic and puts you in closer touch with the land. What it will put you in closer touch with is an injury, infection, and possibly a serious survival situation.
3. Maintain situational awareness — This includes knowing where you are and what's going on around you at all times. Be aware of the possibilities — the slope that might slip into a landslide, the snow field that might avalanche, the gorge that might suddenly fill with raging water during a flash flood, the shadow that might hide a rattlesnake, etc. Constantly be aware of your best escape routes.
4. Avoid unnecessary (unacceptable) risks in route planning — As you move across the land, there are always alternate routes. Don't fall into the trap of thinking there is only one way to go. Even if the safer route will take longer to reach your destination, swallow your ego, realize that you're not Tarzan and can't safely swing from vines as you rappel down a waterfall. Choose the safer route. Forget what you see TV performers do on so-called survival shows. Again, that's entertainment, not good survival doctrine. Remember, you don't have a back-up crew with helicopters and a medical team to save you if you get in trouble. And you are not a former British Special Forces soldier, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Get over it.
5. Move deliberately — This means you move slowly and cautiously, picking the place where your every step lands. If you want a TV guru to follow, watch Les Stroud (Survivorman). He's the real deal, and you'll notice that he doesn't take chances that can get him injured. He moves at a pace that uses his energy efficiently. If you move too fast, you not only risk injury but you also expend your internal resources too fast. And that costs you food and water.
6. Stop and make camp 3 hours before dusk — The temptation is to press on while there's still light, but the smart money is on the person who stops early, makes camp, gathers firewood and water, and settles in to rest for the night. Dry out your clothes, if they've become sweaty. Massage your feet and dry your socks and air out the boots. Morning will come soon enough, and then you can hit the trail again with a full day ahead of you. Don't travel at night, because the risk of getting lost or injured is extremely high.
7. Never put anything in your mouth that you can't positively identify as edible — The world is full of plants that can be used for food and medicine, but it is even more full of plants that can do you harm. With some, a bit the size of a pencil eraser can kill you. Of the more than 300,000 plant species, less than one-third of them can be used for food. That sounds like a lot, but unless you know which ones are edible, chances are you're going to do yourself some damage by indiscriminate grazing. My advice is to start studying about wild edible plants, and then enjoy the ones you know. Don't be afraid to admit that you don't know a plant — I've been doing this for decades, and am still unfamiliar with lots of plants I come across.
8. Treat all water as if it is contaminated — There is no such thing as a reliably pure source of water in the wilderness anymore. What looks like a pristine brook tumbling over rocks, coming from an untouched mountain may still carry biological contaminants that can do you harm. Waterborne diseases can take you down in a hurry, leaving you puking beside the trail or laid up for days with diarrhea. You end up dehydrated, weak, unable to continue. Carry a water filter, or take steps to chemically or thermally purify the water you drink and use for cooking.
9. Never step on anything you can step over, and never step over anything you can step around — This rule of land navigation on foot has been passed down forever by knowledgable outdoorsmen. Stepping on a trail obstacle (log, rock, etc.) can send you tumbling when the bark lets loose or the rock rolls underfoot. If you can step over it, don't step on it. Now, the other half of this rule is to avoid stepping over anything you can step around. When you stretch to step over an obstacle, you might end up losing your balance and taking a fall. Another reason not to step across something like a log is because of what might be hiding on the far side — perhaps a snake, ready to land fangs in your tender calf. If you can step around trail obstacles, that is the best strategy.
10. Surrender your elevation grudgingly — In mountainous terrain, you work hard to gain whatever elevation you're standing at. If you descend, you might have to work hard again to regain the elevation lost. Look for ways to follow the contour of the terrain. Even if it means you hike a greater distance, you might expend less energy by maintaining your elevation instead of descending and then climbing back up again.
These rules for dealing with outdoor adventure will stand you in good stead, if you put them into practice. They might help you prevent a survival situation.