There are 5 basic survival skills of which everyone should be fully aware and completely confident in their use. This guide will be a quick listing of the 5 skills and their uses, not a full how-to or items required.
You might say there are 6 skills. The sixth being smarts. When a scenario plays out, stay calm. Remember your training. The key to survival is not to panic. You are trained. You are ready. Employ your skills and you will survive. Practice your skills often and they will come to you naturally when needed. Remember your most useful tool and deadliest weapon is your brain.
First things first: Fire
Fire. Ah, fire. So useful. It can purify your water, cook your food, provide warmth, light and comfort, signal rescuers and keep predatory and curious animals at bay. If you have to venture into the great outdoors you should have, at a minimum, two different ways to start a fire. One, the easiest and most convenient, should be easily accessible at all times and the other should be stowed with your gear. A few small fires will provide more heat than one large one. Collect the amount of firewood you think you will need to last the night and then double it. Experience teaches us, you’ll need it. You can conserve your firewood by building a star-shaped fire. This is where the ends of your logs meet in the fire and you push them inward as the wood is burned up. If you have a Mylar or “space blanket“, this can be hung from a tree, wall, bridge or whatever you have to reflect the heat of your fire back to you. Sit between the fire and the blanket to keep your front and back warm.
Now let’s protect ourselves: Shelter
Your shelter is the means by which you will protect your body from excess exposure to the elements. Weather conditions that take away from, or add to, your overall body temperature can be deadly.
Your clothing is your portable shelter and protection from the elements. Wear the correct clothes for the environment. Always have a hat with you. Hats are small enough to shove in your pack when not needed but, oh, so important when they are. Dress in layers. Layers trap air between them and are warmer than one thick garment. Avoid heavy cotton clothing like blue jeans. Blue jeans won’t keep you warm in the cold, will make you hot in the heat and are infamous for their inability to shed water. Remember that time you got caught in the rain whilst wearing your blue jeans? Remember how long it took them to dry? Yeah, you don’t want to be trapped outside in the cold with soaking wet jeans. That is an express ticket to hypothermia.
When it comes to building a shelter, don’t waste your energy stores making a shelter if nature (or man) has provided one. If you see a cave, ditch or sturdy structure (shed, barn, car, etc) make use of it. Practice building quick lean-to shelters in case you can not find a natural or man-made shelter to bunk in. Don’t wait until you need one to try to make one. Space blankets are cheap and very handy. You can use space blankets to prevent rain from entering your shelter, to insulate your shelter and to wrap yourself in. The best sleeping position in the cold is the fetal position. This will concentrate your body heat in a smaller area and keep your core warmer.
Phew, I worked up an appetite: Food & Water
Obviously, food and water are vital towards survival. Remember, ration your sweat, not your water. Try to drink your water in the cool evenings so your body stores it instead of sending it out the sweat glands to cool your body. This applies in winter as well. If you’re drinking water during the day, you’re exposing your mouth and lips to water in cold temperatures resulting in chapping and sores. You can live up to 3 days without water. But don’t try to prove that fact if you don’t need to. Drink your normal daily intake and more if weather, stress, physical activity dictates. Urine should only be consumed in extreme circumstances. The biggest problem with drinking urine is obvious; it is a waste product. Your kidneys just spent all that time filtering out the bad stuff, so not the best idea to put it back in. A better idea is to bottle the urine to be filtered and purified later. You can also use a Lifestraw to filter it. Again, urine should only be consumed as an absolute last resort. If you have a Lifestraw, you can safely consume almost any water source. If at all possible, it’s always best to boil all water before consuming. Don’t wait for your water supply to run out before replenishing it. Collect water every chance you get. When it rains, you can catch the rain in your space blanket and transfer it to your canteens or whatever you are carrying your water in. Don’t eat snow. Instead, melt it and then drink the water it produces. The reason for this is it takes a lot more snow than you might think to make a liter of water. You might eat a big snowball and think that it was an adequate amount of liquid when in reality, it was a fraction of what you need. Also, if you eat enough, it can lower your body temperature.
Don’t eat plants you are not familiar with. So many common plants are poisonous at one level or another. The majority of them won’t kill you directly but can cause symptoms as benign as a rash and as serious extreme cramping and diarrhea. Diarrhea will cause dehydration and dehydration will cause a lot of other complications. If you can’t identify a plant with 100% certainty, leave it alone. NEVER eat berries you can’t identify! There are so many poisonous berries out there it’ll make your head spin. You’re better off with fish, grubs, and small animals. If you cook them thoroughly, you should be safe. Pack energy and protein bars in your pack and keep some in your pockets at all times. If you haven’t eaten in a while, don’t panic. You can last 3 weeks without food. Again, don’t try to prove this. If you have food, eat it. You’ll find, catch, gather more.
My kingdom for a cellphone: Signaling
Signaling is the ability to alert any potential rescuers that you are here and you would rather be elsewhere. Effective signals include fire, flashing light, bright color markers, flags, mirrors, whistles and shouting. All are helpful if you want to be found. Most search parties will employ aircraft as a method of searching. This is where fire comes in very handy. Three fires forming a triangle is a recognized distress signal. Use signal mirrors during the day when you can see a plane or people in the distance. Emergency strobe lights are great at night to attract attention. A smokey fire can be made by laying green and/or damp branches and leaves over a fire during the day to attract attention. And of course there’s the spelling of S.O.S. with rocks, logs or clothing, your bodies or whatever can be seen in contrast to the background.
Ouchies and other inconveniences: First Aid
First Aid, it’s not just basic medical needs, it’s the way in which you act to survive. Never panic, remain calm and do what you have been training and studying to do. S.T.O.P. stands for Sit, Think, Observe, and Plan. The most important thing is to keep your wits and think rationally. Analyze your situation and use the most rational means to solve any problems.
First aid kits are for the medical needs. Ensure your medical and first aid needs are being met when packing your bug-out-bag or grabbing supplies on the fly. Before building your IFAK (Individual First Aid Kit), create a checklist of items you personally need as well as the staples of a first aid kit. It would be wise to carry a small IFAK with you at all times. And a more comprehensive kit in the car. Most situations will require only an anti-septic and dressing for small cuts and abrasions and personal medication needs. Make sure you know what you have in your kit and how to use it. To help prevent hypothermia, pack several space blankets and self-heating body and hand warmers. These body warmers are for hypothermia PREVENTION, never apply these to a person suffering from hypothermia. The self-heating body warmers can easily burn the skin of a hypothermic person.