Most of us, aside from certain TV personalities and outdoor professionals, would not choose to put ourselves in a true wilderness survival situation. Usually, we find ourselves in this situation because of a chaotic event and there are different factors that affect the outcome. These factors are usually out of our control. This could include the weather, injuries that were sustained during the event or what gear you have on you. If you weren’t planning on being in the wilderness, such as in a plane crash, you probably don’t have much. While we cannot control those things, there are certain key factors that we can. They should be the top priority once it is clear that it is a true survival situation. (A determination that can often be elusive itself)
1. Positive Mental Attitude– In a true survival situation there is no more important factor than maintaining a positive mental attitude. No gear or equipment can replace the “will to live” and the sooner you let your thoughts take a negative turn the quicker that will diminish. Despite a vast array of knowledge and skills, there have been plenty of “survivalists” or experienced outdoorsman who have succumbed to the harsh realities of a real life survival situation because they couldn’t keep positive. Opposing this are numerous stories of individuals with little to no experience outside, let alone survival skills, who despite these shortcomings had the requisite positivity that kept their will to live burning and pushed them to endure and do things they didn’t know they were capable of. This allowed them to come out of their nightmare scenarios alive. Maintaining a positive mental attitude can be easier said than done when shit really hits the fan but it is important to first focus on those things that are within your control. Once you realize what is in your control you must set your mind to accomplishing tasks that will aid in getting out of that situation. These should be realistic tasks that can be accomplished in the short term. Each task you complete will come with an accompanying feeling of accomplishment that will bolster your positive mental attitude. Taking things step by step, one thing at a time can pay dividends when everything seems to be spinning out of control.
2. Shelter– The second most important factor in a wilderness survival scenario is the ability to either create or find a shelter of some kind. The shelter will, in this case, be defined as a structure, natural or man-made, that the survivor can take refuge from most of, if not all, the natural elements. While food or water might first come to mind since they are necessary to our survival, without a proper shelter it is likely that one will succumb to the elements long before food or water are a real concern. Hypothermia contrary to popular belief is not a sole winter environment concern and it is the number one cause of death in wilderness survival situations. Your shelter doesn’t have to be pretty or comfortable for that matter but if it keeps you dry and out of the wind and can retain some heat it will weigh the dice heavily in your favor. Knowing how to make at least one kind of natural shelter out of materials provided by mother nature is a really good skill to have but as I said before, this doesn’t have to be a Little House on the Prairie log cabin, use whatever materials you have available to you and get yourself some protection from the elements.
3. Fire– With a proper shelter either made or found your next priority in a wilderness survival situation should be making a gathering the materials necessary and making a fire. While our shelter will keep you out of the elements and help to prevent you from dying from the exposure it only serves a single purpose, a very important single purpose. Fire serves multiple purposes and is a tool that can be used to solve a host of problems. First and most importantly, fire is a fantastic signaling device. If you are not rescued in the first 72 hours of a survival situation your chances of making it out of that situation alive vastly decrease, unless you have a signal flare, fire is your best chance of alerting rescue parties to your position. Second and more obvious fire gives off heat and light. If you happen to be stuck in a really cold survival situation your shelter alone will most likely need to be supplemented with fire in order to maintain your core temperature. The heat from your fire also can be used to boil water that you find in order to sterilize it and it can any food that you happen to scavenge or catch to make it safe to eat as well. Finally, if you do end up in an extended survival situation, fire can be used to create. Hardened wood spears, canoes, wooden or clay containers are just a small list of things that can be created with the help of fire. Finally, just having a fire will go a long way in terms of helping to maintain the #1 factor in your survival, positive mental attitude. The ability to make fire from scratch is a complete game changer and it is a skill that everyone should know and practice regularly.
4. Water– Now that you have the first three factors checked off your list you are probably thirsty. Water is essential to all life on this planet besides viruses. It is the one great unifying factor for all creatures of the animal kingdom, including humans. The rule of 3’s goes, you can survive 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food. Since we aren’t talking about an underwater or a deep space survival situation the first rule is covered and the second rule, water, should be your top priority before food. The effects of dehydration can set in quickly and can be devastating to both your energy level and your moral. Ideally, you will be lucky enough to have a clean source of water nearby to your shelter spot but it is good to know some methods for obtaining water when it is not readily on hand. Learning how to make water collection devices like a solar still is not a bad idea but depending on the situation you might not have the materials on hand for this type of water procurement. Better is knowing how and where you can get water of some kind in any given wilderness environment. Almost as important as knowing how and where to find water is knowing how to purify it so that you can drink it without contracting some nasty form of parasite or bacteria. This comes back to fire, apart from heavy metals and chemicals which shouldn’t be a huge concern in a wilderness survival situation, boiling water should remove all nasty parasites or bacteria from your whatever water you are able to collect.
5. Food– Since food is last of the rule of 3’s, it is last on my list of factors for survival. Generally, a person can go 3 weeks without eating anything. Now, this doesn’t mean that you are going to be fine in the last week and a half of those 3. Starvation will have already set in and you will be very weak, but the fact remains you will still be alive. But once you have the first 4 factors taken care of, you can start to look for, hunt or gather some form of nourishment to quell the rumbling in your tummy. While food procurement comes last on the list of survival factors in can often be first on the list of most difficult factors to accomplish. Eating plants is a HUGE gamble unless you really know what you are eating and can lead to disastrous, even fatal, results. Hunting for your own food is extremely hard without a modern firearm or bow and arrow, and even then it’s no easy task, go ask a regular hunter about the years that may have gone by in-between them bagging a deer to fill their tag. Traps and snares are probably your most effective and sure bet at procuring protein to feed those tired muscles and it is a really good idea to know how to make at least a couple of different snares or traps from natural materials. Another skill that will serve you well is the ability to identify animal tracks and game trails. Having or being able to make a weapon, snare or trap is all well and good but if you don’t know where the game is none of it is going to do you any good. Apart from some form of emergency food rations, your survival kit should always include some snare wire, and a basic fishing kit as these are some of the more effective ways of procuring food in the wild. Much like other skills though, most forms of food procurement are diminishing skills and should be practiced periodically if not regularly so that you can be confident in your ability to get sustenance when you really need it.