How to survive in the woods
How not to die when lost in the wilderness
What to do if lost when hiking
"It is next to impossible to starve in a wilderness" according to George Leopard Herter. "If no game, fish, mollusk, etc are present, you are still in no danger."
Before hiking and camping plan for the worst. If you realize you are lost, make the location and rescue of yourself the most probable by staying in place. While doing so, it is important to conserve energy and stay warm and dry. If rescue is highly unlikely, you need to stay dry, uninjured, and hydrated while you walk to safety.
Focus on keeping your core temperature steady, avoiding unnecessary risks, and finding a source of water. Stay away from animals as a precaution. Bring a backpack of emergency survival items, even on short hikes. Most people are found within three days.
IT MATTERS BECAUSE...
Charles from the 1997 movie The Edge profoundly stated, "Most people lost in the wilds, they, they die of shame...And so they sit there and they... die". They die because they don't think straight to keep safe and get out of danger.
There's no reason why anyone should die because they are lost in the woods. Stop and think. You can get out of this.
At the moment you realize you are lost, stop moving! Most people figure out they are lost not too far a distance from safely being found. Assess your situation. If there is a reasonable chance you can be rescued then stay put. If people know where you are hiking and when you should reasonably be back, a rescue in the right place is likely. Better to stay and wait then walk in the wrong direction, away from help. Conserve your energy and find a way to be warm (light a fire, create protection, sit in the sunlight).
Consider that an office worker with little physical exertion needs 2000 calories a day for energy and that a lost hiker with a rugged path ahead likely needs twice that. You may realize that walking to safety is on par with the physical toll to gather food, fish, or construct a habitat to stay in place. You won't save energy staying put however be on the move only in the event that your location is unknown to others or it is unlikely someone will know you are missing.
Increase your chances of being found on foot and by helicopter. Display your most colorful clothing. Consider ripping into strips and tying in a large circle around your area. If you are near a clearing that can be seen from air, create an arrow or "Help!" with rocks.
Throw evergreen boughs on a hot fire to create black smoke as a signal. Additionally, a mirror can be used to get the attention of rescuers from a long distance.
The average amount of time a search and rescue operation takes is 72 hours. Because statistically you are most likely to be found within 3 days, mentally prepare and plan for food, water, and protection to last you that long.
An abundance of food is not necessary. You only need enough food to stay alert and alive while waiting for rescue or to provide energy to walk/climb/swim as you make your way out of the forest. Therefore, a lack of knife or gun for meat is not critical. You simply cannot afford to be picky.
Insects are made up of mostly fat and thus are an efficient source of energy. Moths and mayflies are palatable but ants can be quite bitter. Use a small light at night to attract your fare or look under rotten logs or large stones for grubs. Termites, crickets and grasshoppers can be eaten with the hard wings pulled off.
If you are quick enough to catch a frog, snake, or lizard, eat it! Similarly if you come across a predator with a fresh kill, you can easily spook the wolf or owl and claim the remaining meat for yourself.
If emergency calls, the inner bark of birch trees can be sweet both raw or chopped and stewed. At all costs avoid mushrooms because there is no single practical test to differentiate the poisonous from the safe ones. It is NOT true that pink undersides are safe or if a bird or animal gathers it then humans can too. In the case of Deadly Amanita, you may not realize your peril until fifteen hours later with cramps and vomiting. The risk far outweighs the reward; just don't do it.
Warmth & Protection
The best way to make a fire is with a flare or matches. If these are not around, a spark can be started by focusing the sunlight through a lens from eyeglasses, magnifying glass, or even sculpted ice. Fires can be grown and maintained through the lighting of kindle which heats the larger fire logs. Dry wood is a necessity. Avoid fallen wood which has absorbed moisture. The heavier the wood, the greater the heating potential.
When staying put, you can warm yourself by building a large fire and when ready to lie down, push it to the side and lie down in the warmed ground. You can also heat dry stones with the fire and place near you to give off heat. Capitalize on reflected heat by building a fire against a large boulder. Place yourself between the fire and the rock to warm your backside with radiated heat.
If possible, utilize caves for protection from wind and rain. Always remember the potential danger of carbon monoxide and ensure your tent or canopy is well ventilated. Build a lean-to by propping large sticks against a horizontal boulder or steep hill. Stretch evergreen branches or a blanket as siding.
It is imperative to stay hydrated or in the least not to become dehydrated. A person cannot survive a week without water. Dehydration is the number one cause of daytime fatigue. Plan to drink at least three gallons of water if you are on the move, even if you are not thirsty or don't feel yourself perspiring. Reduce perspiration by staying as cool as you can in shade.
To find water, observe your surroundings. Water flows downhill, so follow the path to the lowest point or to the base of hills. Look for an abundance of vegetation, particularly palms or reed grass. Following game trails is another successful strategy. Remember that cool mornings will provide dew that can be collected.
If possible, boil all water that will be used for drinking or washing food. Halazone pills can be purchased online or at a sporting goods store, two of which can purify two quarts of water in a half hour. Iodine tablets are also effective for ensuring the water is safe, each tablet is good for one quart after twenty minutes. Clear, running water is not an indication of safety. The water could contain animal droppings or carrion upstream.
Don't waste time and energy fearing animals. Wolves, though incredibly curious, will not harm humans. Still, play it safe and keep your distance.
Humans are not sources of food for wild animals. Generally, speaking men are attacked by animals because of confusion and not for hunger. Be overly cautious not to get between a mother and her babies (particularly bear or deer). Never touch a wounded animal. Even squirrels will bite. A cornered animal may swipe or fight to get to safety.
If you happen upon an animal which did not immediately bolt, stand perfectly still and speak in a calm voice. This will have a soothing effect on the animal which will most likely regard you for a brief period and walk away. Any movement, such as to reach for a proactive knife or gun, should be done slowly to not invoke excitement. You can also choose to back away slowly, carefully, without sudden movement. Do not provoke an animal into action.
Protection from insects is also vital if not a relief. Smoke and wind can push many off. Camp near windy stretches on shores or bare ridges. Mud plastered on exposed areas of skin can help.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU...
Mostly importantly of all, make well-known your hike route and the time you should be expected. Give your hike details and check-back time to at least two people.
Footwear is the most important as your feet are your greatest asset for getting out of the forest. Protecting them is crucial. Bring extra footwear for longer hikes and two pairs of wool socks to keep your feet warm and dry.
Have a survival kit in your backpack. Prepare for even the easiest of hikes. In addition to a water bottle and trail snacks, you should also bring...
- Water tablets
- Matches in a waterproof container
- Blanket, brightly colored
- Watch for measuring distances (1 hour up the mountain, 30 minutes following the stream)
- Mirror for signaling
- Bug repellent
- Extra colorful layers to add and remove for changing the day and night temperatures and sun exposure
- Garbage bag to use as emergency raincoat or shelter
- Gallon sized ziploc bags to hold water or waterproof items
You can purchase complete survival kits in backpacks from a number of websites.
This article is not the complete authority on survival in the woods. Continue reading to fully understand survival tactics.
How to Stay Alive in the Woods by Bradford Angier
My favorite guide to outdoor survival. Great tips on actual hunting, fishing, foraging techniques, making fires, and staying warm. Bradford moved to a cabin in British Columbia, Canada and lived off the land. His tips are from his own experience and from the expertise of his Native buddies.
Contains illustrations, step-by-step directions for burrows and fire making, and real stories from his life.
98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive! by Cody Lundin
An entertaining book on keeping your core temperature and attitude steady to survive in an emergency situation. His tips focus on reducing risk, psychology of survival, and what's in his survival bag.
Scattered through the book are comic illustrations that lighten the serious content. He explains the science of keeping the core temperature in hot and cold weather.
How to Survive in the Wood for 5 Days on Outside Magazine
Fascinating piece on Tim Marsh's and his dog's survival in the wilderness after he blacked out and found his car was dead and out of gas.
Surviving in the Forest on SurviveNature.com
10 categorical tips for surviving in the woods with helpful illustrations and practical best practices. Learn how to create a solar water still and what to do when confronted by bears. Also offers survival techniques for other environments.