Tips to Surviving in the Wilderness
Most of us have either never been in the wild or been there with all the gadgets to help us out. What if you find yourself in the wilderness with no one and no gadgets? Well, there are ways to survive and get out to safety in this situation. In this section, I will be talking about the means to survive if you are stranded in the middle of the woods. If you follow these simple tips and tricks, you can come out of this situation in one piece!
1: Stay Calm!
Finding yourself in a survival situation can be extremely unsettling. I mean it’s not like you practice getting in such cases every day, right? Most people can get very nervous and panic in situations like these. This outdoor survival skill can alone save your life in many situations.
Don’t get me wrong; it is entirely understandable! However, if you want to get out of the situation, you must rely on sound judgment. If you are agitated, overly anxious, or panicking, your brain will not think properly.
The first thing that you must tell yourself is to take a deep breath and try to control your anxiety and panic. In all likelihood, you are in a much less dangerous situation that you may believe at the moment. If you keep a cool head, you will soon start seeing ways to get out of the bind.
Getting out of a tricky situation requires a sound and a rational approach. If you are not thinking right, you will not be able to put any of the following tips to use. So, the first thing is to get a grip on your emotions and get start devising a plan.
2: Set Your Priorities Right
The key to a successful survival is getting your priorities in order when you are stranded. You have a lot on your plate, and if you don’t prioritize, you will have huge problems.
Despite what you may think at that time, food is not your priority at all. As we just saw in the rule of threes, lack of food won’t kill you for three days! Your priority is staying warm if it is cold outside.
Try to stay as dry as possible. Wet skin loses three times more heat than dry skin. If your pants get wet, make sure that you get rid of them and try to dry them.
PRO TIPS:If you are in a warm, dry weather, water is your top priority. Make sure that you get access to water first before you do anything else.
Assuming that you are lost, another important priority will be signaling. We have covered how to make a smoke signal in great detail in the following sections.
3: Starting a Fire
Fire is the one thing that we almost take for granted. It is there when we need it just light a match or press a button on your lighter and poof! The fire is there. Things are not that simple in the wild. You may not have any of these gadgets, or they won’t work. You should be able to improvise and start a fire.
Now, there are three things needed to start a fire: fuel, oxygen and a spark. You have two of these in abundance in the wild. There is the almost unlimited amount of fuel in the form of twigs, branches, and dry leaves and there is oxygen all around. What you are missing is the spark or heat. So, let’s see what you can do to make that spark or heat happen.
Flint and Steel
Flint and steel are probably the oldest tricks to start a fire. All you need to do is strike the flint against the steel to make a spark. You can buy portable steel, and Flint sets cheap these days. You should probably invest in one of those; they cost less than your morning cup of coffee! And coffee isn’t going to save your life!
Improvised magnifying glass
What if you don’t happen to carry flint and steel set with you? Well, you can use the power of the sun to start a fire. All you need to do is put some water in a clear plastic bag and tie it like a balloon, as spherical as possible. When you hold this bag against the sun, you will see the familiar converging of the sun rays on the ground.
If you keep focusing the bright light onto some dry kindle, you will soon start a fire. The focal length of your improvised device is smaller than a magnifying glass so, you will have to hold this improvised device about 1-2 inches from the kindling.
4: Making a Smoke Signal
Assuming that you have already begun a fire successfully, the next step is to let the potential rescuers know your position. If the woods are thick, it can become impossible to see through the canopy even if the search party is looking for you from a helicopter. To let them know where you are, you need some signal.
A smoke signal was one of the oldest ways to communicate long before the age of cell phones. You can use this method to attract attention to yourself. Creating a smoke signal is easy. All you need to do is burn something that will create a thick smoke, and the smoke will do the rest for you.
Here are the steps that you can follow to make a smoke signal.
Find a good location
First things first, find a suitable place for your smoke signal. A high land with less vegetation is ideal. Look for a piece of land that rescuers can see from above.
Light a fire
Light a fire as in tip#1 and add some firewood to it. Let the fire burn completely, wait till it burns down to embers.
Gather any leafy green vegetation that you can find and throw it on the embers. Cover them completely. It will create a lot of smoke depending on the greens that you chose.
Pine and spruce leaves make thick smoke if you can find some, throw them in as well. A synthetic material such as plastic or rubber also produces dense smoke.
5: How to Start and Sustain a Fire in Wet Weather
If the weather is wet, it can be incredibly difficult to initiate and maintain a fire. However, certain tips and tricks can help you. The most important thing to remember is that if you get the fire raging, it will probably sustain light rain.
Again, don’t expect your fire to burn through a tropical thunderstorm! Here are some great tips to start and maintain a fire in wet weather.
Avoid the pit
If the weather is dry, digging a small hole to keep your firewood is a good idea. However, in wet weather, the pit can quickly fill up with rain water. Skip the pit if it is raining.
Look for dry pieces of wood
Now, before you say duh, hear me out! It can be difficult to find dry wood if it has been raining for a while. However, you can look for pieces of sticks that are under thick trees, there a good chance that you may find some dry place there.
Also, a piece of wood can look wet on the outside when in fact it can be dry inside. If you peel off the bark from a piece of wood, you can find some dry, usable wood.
Use pine and needle bearing leaves
These trees exude a sticky substance called pitch. It is a highly flammable substance that you can use to maintain a fire in the light rain and wet conditions.
Make small pieces of your firewood
Always remember that if you split the branches into small pieces, they would burn better.
Pay attention to the shape of the fire lay
The form of the pyre or the fire lay is critical especially if you are trying to light it in a wet environment. Make sure that the shape of the fire lay is as conical as possible. If your fire lay is flat and scattered, it is going to be put out by the rain quicker.
6: Make a Char Cloth
Once you get a fire going, it is important to make provisions for the next one. You must make sure that the next fire that you start does not require the amount of work that was needed to start the first one. There are a couple of things that you can do to achieve it.
Make a char cloth
NOTE: One of the biggest hurdles in starting a fire is finding the right kind of kindling. If you can make a kindling that can catch fire quickly, you have half of your work cut out. One of the best fuel that you can make is a char cloth.
Take a small piece of cloth and shove it in a metal box or a container. Make sure that the container is sealed and throw it in the fire. Let the container burn in the fire for a few minutes. Remove it from fire and let it cool. If you did it right, the cloth inside would be completely black but not burnt. This cloth is called a char cloth. It catches fire with the smallest of sparks!
Vaseline-soaked cotton balls
Vaseline is pure petroleum jelly. If you have some Vaseline on your hands, you can make great fire starters . Just soak some cotton balls in Vaseline and keep them in a container. The cotton balls soaked in Vaseline burn quickly and for a long time.
7: How to Build a Shelter
A shelter is an important survival tool in the wilderness. It can protect you from the weather elements as well as some wildlife. Making a tent can be quite simple. However, avoid the following mistakes while building one.
Never build a shelter on damp ground, ever.
Never build a shelter on highlands or top of hills. The wind can get cold at night and with no trees to resist; you run the risk of your shelter blown away by the gusts.
Similarly, avoid making a shelter in the bottom of a narrow valley. Cold wind collects there are you will have a tough time during the night.
There are some different designs of a shelter that you can build from the materials readily available in the wild. Here are some designs you can try.
It is exactly what it sounds like! If it is dark already and you don’t have time to look for an alternative, find a bunch of leaves and twigs and make a mound of sorts. It should be about 2 feet high and as long as your height. Once the pile is assembled, you can crawl under it. It is a natural sleeping bag that will keep you warm.
How would you make a cocoon shelter?
If you can find some sticks, you can make this sturdy shelter in no time. Find two sticks about 5 feet long and one about 10 feet long. Prop the shorter sticks so that you create an ‘A’ shape. Now prop the longer stick on top of the ‘A’ shape that you made and tie the three sticks together.
You will already see a tent shape. You can reinforce this tent skeleton by propping some more sticks to support the longer stick. Now, cover the tent with branches of trees and leaves to make a comfortable shelter.
One of the most important tip to making a shelter is making a bed. Never sleep on the bare floor of the woods. You can make a bed of dry leaves by arranging them inside your shelter. The bed will prevent the heat from your body seeping into the cold forest ground.
8: Stay Warm in the Woods
Staying warm in a cold or freezing wilderness can be a tough challenge. However, there are tips that you can use to make it easier. If you find yourself in a situation where the cold is getting the better of you, remember the following tips.
Layering always works: The best way to combat cold is not to allow it to escape from your body. Make sure that you are wearing as many layers as you can.
Empty your bladder to stay warm: Now, it may sound crazy, but it is true. When your body stores urine, it needs extra heat to keep that liquid warm. If you empty your bladder, that energy can be used to keep your other body parts warm.
Get cozy with your partner: If you are with someone in the wild, cuddling up while sleeping can be helpful.
Cover your head: Most amount of body heat is lost through your head. Make sure that you insulate your head correctly. Wear a hat or something.
9: Learn to Make a Water Filter
Although there may be water all around you in the wilderness, drinking water from a stagnant puddle or a lake is not advisable. Drinking from a flowing stream is always better than drinking from a stagnant pool of water. However, there can be a situation where you may not have any option. In that case, you can construct a portable water filter. Here is how you do it.
Find an empty bottle or a container: Any empty container will do. If you can’t find one, you can always make one using birch barks.
Poke small holes in the bottom of the container: Make small holes with a pencil or a stick.
Now fill the bottle up to an inch or two with following material: Coarse gravel, coarse sand, charcoal and fine sand. You can get the charcoal from your fire that you made in step 2. Just collect the charcoal and crush it up into a fine power.
Add water to the top layer of fine sand. As water percolates through the fine sand, then through the charcoal, the coarse sand, and the gravel, it will get filtered. Collect the water coming out through the openings you created.
Remember, this is not an ultimate filter, the charcoal can absorb some toxins, but it still is relatively crude.
10: Collect Water
There is a good possibility that you may not find any water in the wilderness, especially if you are stuck in the drier places. There are quite a few valuable survival tips and techniques in the wilderness, but I suppose this is one of the trickiest one. There are a couple of ways to collect water in the wilderness. One of the simplest ways involves trapping transpired water by the trees.
Trees always lose water to the atmosphere by a process called transpiration. You can trap this water efficiently. Just follow the steps below.
Look for a thick green tree with a lot of branches.
Early in the morning, tie a plastic bag over a branch that has a bunch of leaves. You tie it so that the leaves are completely covered with the plastic bag.
You can also weigh down the plastic bag by adding a small rock in the bag. This creates a low point in the bag for water to collect.
As the day will progress, the water escaping from the leaves will be caught by the plastic bag and will condense to liquid form. You can collect this water after sunset. The collected water is pure, and there is no need to filter it at all.
11: Learn How to Tell Directions in the Wild
It sounds dumb, but many people can’t understand directions when lost. It is important for any survivalist to be able to tell directions even when the sun is not available for reference. There are many little clues in nature that can help you find the North. Here are some great examples.
Look for moss on a tree trunk. Mosses usually grow as far away from sunlight and are often found on the north side of the trees and rocks. If the tree or rock is covered in moss, it will be thickest on the north side.
Spider webs appear on the south side of the trees. If you happen to find some, it can be a good indication of direction.
If the sun is out, put a stick in the ground and mark the end of the shadow of the stick on the ground. Wait for a few minutes; the shadow will move. Now mark the end of the new position of the shadow. The line joining those two points will run east-west.
If you are near a body of water, remember that animals breed on the west side of the water reserves.
Although all these tips may not give you exact directions, they can help you find a general direction quickly. You can, of course, use the sun’s position or a compass!
12: The Rule of Threes
Although there is no way to precisely judge things like how long can you go without water or how long can you survive cold, there are some good estimates. One of my personal favorites is the “rule of the threes.” It gives you a very broad idea of some calculations that can help you in a survival situation. The rule goes as follows.
If it is cold outside, you can survive for about three hours before your body shows significant effects of hypothermia.
In case, you don’t find any water, you can probably survive for three days. However, you will start feeling the effects of dehydration in a day itself, but you can survive without water for three.
Similarly, you can survive for about three weeks without food. Again, that does not mean that you will be up and about throughout the three weeks. It just means that you can ‘survive’ and not die if you don’t eat food for three weeks.
Another rule that I would suggest to all of you is that you can live without thinking for three seconds! It means it takes about three seconds to do something dumb that is horrible enough to get you killed if you are thinking right! So, stay calm and don’t do anything without putting some thought into it.
13: Never Travel in the Dark
It may sound a good idea just to keep traveling even after the sunset if you are not exhausted completely. However, it is one of the most dangerous things that you can do in the wild. Make sure that all your traveling can wait until the break of the dawn. Traveling through the wilderness in the dark is an open invitation to danger.
Most of the predatory animals are nocturnal and trust me; they are built for hunting at night. They can see you better than you know even if it is pitch black. Also, the floor of the woods is covered with insects and snakes that also come out during the night. Remember, you are traveling in a land that you have never tread. You can fall off a cliff if you can’t see where you are going.
14: Do Not Use Dirty Water to Clean Wounds
If you are injured or have a flesh wound, make sure that you are not washing the wound with dirty water that is filled with microbes.
Water from many waterbodies may seem clear, but it is filled with microscopic organisms that may cause severe infections. If you must wash the wound, make sure that you use clean water.
If you can boil water, then use boiled water to clean the wounds. If you can’t use boiled water, you can use the water collected from tree transpiration. We have seen how to collect this water in the tip#10.
If you have alcohol with you, wash the wounds with high proof alcoholic spirits. Avoid beer and wine, these beverages contain a lot of sugar and not enough alcohol to help in any scenario.
15: Surround Your Campfire with Rocks
Surrounding the campfire with rocks is a great way of prolonging the heat from the fire. The rocks will stay warm long after the flames have extinguished. Small hot stones can also be used to boil water.
All you need to do is to drop a few hot rocks in your metal water container. The heat from the rocks is enough to bring the water to a boil, making it safe to drink.
16: Take Care of the Blisters as Soon as Possible
When you walk for a long distance, it is common to get blisters on your feet. If you don’t take care of these blisters as soon as possible, they will prevent you from covering distance. If the blister has already been formed, just punctured to relieve the fluid buildup. If you sense that a blister may be forming, use a small piece of duct tape to prevent it.
17: Learn How to Make an SOS Signal
An SOS signal is the universal call for help. You can cause the signal using the light as well as sound. The message consists of three dots followed by three dashes followed by three dots. If you’re using light, an SOS signal would be three short bursts of light followed by three long bursts followed by three more short bursts. The same logic applies if you are using sound. Make sure that you practice the signal before you need to use it.
18: Learn the Universal Wave
One of the best ways to catch the attention of the rescuers or to pass people is using the Universal wave. It is one of the simplest gestures to learn. I am sure you must have seen it in many movies. To do the wave, stand with your legs slightly apart and wave your arms like you would do when you are doing jumping jacks.
19: Carry Two Rescue Mirrors
Rescue mirrors are an excellent way to grab the attention of rescuers. However, if you just have a single mirror, you will be severely limited.
As the sun always travels south, it is impossible to use a single mirror to signal a rescue crew flying in from the north.
If you have two mirrors, you can use the reflection from one mirror as a light source and reflect it from the second mirror. This enables you to signal north even if there is no sun present there to reflect light.
20: Learn How to Snare Small Game
Snaring can be an excellent way to trap small animals while you are away building your shelter. However, it is important to know where to set up the traps. You can set the traps in places where you can see the animals running around. You can also hear small rodents and squirrels. It is even better if you are near a water body.
How to Set up a Snare?
Setting up a snare is simple. Just make a loop out of thin metal wire by folding the wire back onto itself. It is like tying an overhand knot. Once the animal is trapped, the weight of the animal will be enough to synch the knot.
While laying the traps, make sure that the positioning is right, you remember where you set them up, and the loop is just about the size of the animal’s head. Too big a loop will be useless.
21: Learn to Make Rope from Willow Tree Branches
The rope is a critical resource in the wild. It is essential to tie things, to make shelter, and even in hunting. You can make a robust and sturdy rope from the skins of willow branches. Here is how you can make willow ropes.
Skin the willow tree branches with a knife or suitable camping ax. You are looking for that soft layer of the branch that is deeper than the bark of the wood. Strip them in the form of long ribbons.
Take a piece of the ribbon and tie it with a knot at the bitter end. Now, twist the skin to create a powerful thread. Use the other piece and wrap it on top of the first string. Repeat with a third-string. Make a few of these mini strings.
Braid three strings that you made in step 2, to make a strong rope.
22: Learn to Make a Torch
A torch is an excellent way to illuminate your path in the dark. You can also use it as a weapon to ward off attacks from wild animals. To make a torch, find a branch of a tree and split it in half. Stick a piece of bark in the fork and light the split end, that’s all! Birch tree branches make great torches.
General Tips for Survivalists
Make sure that you have a thorough understanding of an area you are going to camp or hunt. If possible, memorize the maps and talk to people who have already been to the area. That way, you can anticipate the potential situations that may come forth.
Ensure that you have a backup of your backup! The rate of something failing is high in the wild. If you don’t have a backup, you will be in trouble. So, if you are carrying waterproof matches, take flint and steel set as well.
Ensure that your survival kit is up-to-date. Many items of your survival kits have an expiration date. Glow sticks and water purifying tablets go bad after a few years. Check the expiration dates of these items before you head out for your big expedition.
Plan, plan and plan! If you are going on proposed expedition, spend more time preparing it. Make sure that you play each possible scenario in your head before setting out. I know that a 100% prepared adventure is no adventure, but still, planning it makes it much safer. And that is what you want, right?
Don’t forget insects! If there is a scarcity of food, bugs and insects can provide you with the much-needed protein and other micronutrients.
These are my ultimate wilderness survival tips. Some of the tricks may work in a given situation and others may not. You should be smart enough to pick the right technique and use it.