Whether you are out on a short day hike, canoeing,
riding your ATV, hunting white tail or making a
short flight; survival situations happen, and they
can happen quickly. In fact, most survival
situations happen to folks who did not expect
trouble and therefore, did not plan for it. They often find themselves thinking,
“I’m only going to be gone a few hours“. They also
fail to tell anyone where they are going. Finally, people more often than not, don’t bring anything with them that would help them
out of the jam they find themselves in.
Before setting out, even on a short hike, let
someone know where you are going. If possible, let
them know when you will be back, and call them when
you return. If you take a Friday afternoon
off to go
hiking, then fall down and break your leg at the
bottom of a ravine, you might not be missed until
work Monday morning. You will have been
incapacitated and exposed to the elements for 36 hours before anyone starts looking for you.
In cold weather, that could prove deadly. So, let
someone know. On your vehicle, leave a note, even on
the dash. It should state who you are, what you are
wearing, where you went, why, and when you expect
to return. A park ranger will notice a car parked at
a trail head for a day or more and check on it.
On stretches of isolated roadways, you need to be
prepared for a survival situation. It can and does
happen to anyone, at any time. So what do you do? How do you prepare for such an event? Well, there
are just a few basic things you need to keep in mind
and a few simple tasks to accomplish to keep yourself alive
in a tough spot. This article is designed to bring you up
to speed on the tasks that you need to complete and in what order.
Okay, so you screwed up and now you are in a
survival situation. What next? First of all, get
yourself out of danger: sinking car, burning
aircraft, swift water, falling rocks, attacking bear,
Stop the danger and then check yourself out.
Render first aid immediately. Stop any bleeding
first. You will need to keep as much blood inside
you as possible. You can’t put it back in!
fractures. Don’t move if you think you may have broken your
back or pelvis. Many survival scenarios start as the
result of an injury or medical emergency, so be
prepared by having 1st aid supplies and
some basic training on how to use them.
Once you are out of danger and have patched yourself up,
sit down and think. Figure out where
you are. Take
an inventory of what you have with you that will
help you survive. Do you have a knife, dry clothing,
matches, a cell phone that works? Start making a
plan. Unless you know you are right by a road, or
people, it is best to stay put and let your rescuers
come find you. Moving around will only make their
job harder since they typically search by grids. You
could potentially travel into a grid they already
Prioritize. The single most important thing to maintain, in any situation, is your core body temperature. If it is cold, you really need to stay warm. If it is hot, you need to stay cool. After breathing and blood loss, this is more important than anything else. If you get too cold, you will make bad decisions and start a downward spiral to your demise. It really does happen this way and it is ugly. If you get too hot, you will slip into a coma and never wake up. Not a pretty way to go either. So protect yourself from the elements.
The next most important thing is shelter. If it is
cold, make sure you have dry clothing and layers.
Wet cotton kills. It wicks heat away from your body.
Take it off. Wool, and polypro are good materials.
Gore-Tex is awesome. If your clothing is wet, dry it in the wind or
near your fire if you have one. Stuff leaves inside to
insulate your clothing. Get off the ground. The
ground robs you of heat through conduction. Build a
pile of leaves, or other insulating material, to sit on. Build a lean-too
shelter to block the wind or lay down behind a rock
ledge or large tree. A shelter will help hold in
heat, block the winds and keep you off the ground.
If it is hot, it will shade you and keep you off the
hot sand and rocks.
Next, if it is cold, make a fire. Always carry a
method of starting a fire. Better yet, carry two ways. Fire
will save your bacon. It will keep you warm, help signal rescuers and
boost your morale. A
small bic mini lighter and some matches are all you
need. However, the really small fire rods (flint and
magnesium w/striker) are awesome and will spark even
when wet. A fire needs three things to start: heat
(spark), air and fuel. Tinder can be dryer lint in
your pockets or shredded dollar bills. Think outside
After fire, you will need water. This is especially true in a hot
dry environment. In the desert, I’d say water is
more important than fire, even though it gets cold
at night. It is best to carry water with you of
course. If you did not bring any on this trip, you will need to go get some.
Any container will do to carry it in, but make sure
you treat your water before drinking. It may look
pure and clean, but you don’t know how many raccoons
and possums used your drinking water as a toilet.
Hint: a lot! A filter is best, but boiling works
too. A drop or two of iodine per quart will kill the
bad stuff and so will a drop or two of chlorine
The Katadyn Micropur tablets are
the best hands down because they kill bacteria and viruses. The Micropur MP1 tablets also kill cysts, which are often hard to kill.
Another advantage is that they are easy to carry
since each tablet is sealed in foil. Regarding solar
stills; they are a worthless and foolish method of attempting to get water. You will expend more sweat making one than
water you will gain. Making solar stills will quickly put
you upside down in a desert environment.
A note on food. You probably don’t need any for a 72
hour survival situation. Yes, you will be hungry.
Yes, your energy will decrease. But most of us in
America have a reserve of body fat we can pull from
if needed. However, food is helpful in the cold
because it helps create heat during digestion. Bringing
some food with you is great, but don’t put yourself
at risk trying to spear trout in a fast moving rocky
stream. Many people expend more calories in the
pursuit of food than they get from the food once
they catch it.
The last thing you need to consider is getting
found. So you need to attract your rescuer’s
attention. A whistle and a signal mirror are both
great tools. Anybody can use a whistle and the
carries much, much farther than your voice.
Remember, three of anything is a distress
signal: whistle blasts, gunshots, etc. A good signal
plan would incorporate a ground to air signal: placed on the
ground, stamped into snow, laid out with logs, etc. It would also include a
signal mirror during the day (scanning the horizon
and any passing aircraft), a strobe or flashing light
at night and a whistle throughout the day. But have
a plan. Of course a cell phone would be helpful, but
it could have been broken in the initial emergency
or you might not be able to get a signal where you are.
Below is a brief summary:
That’s it. It is not rocket science but it takes a little
preplanning and the mindset to bring the basic gear
that will help you survive. You also need to know
how to use these items. An afternoon spent
practicing the signal mirror with a friend, building a shelter and a couple fires would be time
well spent. Proper prior
planning will help prevent a search and rescue
mission from becoming a body recovery mission.
Tell people where you are going and when you will
return. Leave a note!
When you do get in trouble, STOP! Get out of danger,
patch yourself up, get your bearings, take an
inventory of your gear and make a plan.
Bring a few useful items with you all the time: a pocket knife, fire (a bic mini lighter,matches or other fire
starter), a whistle and signal mirror, water tablets and a small rolled up
zip lock bag to
Make a shelter to preserve your core body
Get water and stay hydrated.
Get food at your own risk. Understand the cost versus
payoff in calories.
Start your signals plan: ground to air signal,
mirror, whistle, strobe.
Stay put until you are found.
Wilderness Survival Instructor
Russ Kolkman learned the basic skills for living in
the woods the way millions of American boys did:
in the Boy Scouts of America's Summer Camp and day camp
programs. He also attributes much of his knowledge to lessons from his father,
grandfather and various other more experienced
relatives. Russ is an avid outdoorsman and enjoys
kayaking, mountain biking, cross country skiing,
rock climbing and shooting sports. He regularly
competes in adventure races, orienteering competitions and the occasional ultra marathon trail
Russ spends much of his time in the woods, year round.
The time spent there is used to learn, study,
practice and train survival skills. Much of that
time is spent in cold weather, which is his area of specialty
along with wilderness medicine and remote care.
Always a student, Russ works to expand his knowledge
of survival and bush craft daily.
Currently, Russ serves as the sole Wilderness
Survival Instructor for Tactical Response, a large Tactical and
Firearms Training School located in Camden, Tennessee. Tactical
Response specializes in training the military, civilians and
private security contractors on how to fight and
survive all over the world.