Flicking through the channels on the TV, there appears to be an abundance of wilderness survival programmes on the schedule these days. Whilst the skills the experts teach us are spot-on, in reality you have to think, how many times will I actually be in a position where I need to lick a frog?
Extreme survival is one thing, but what would you do if you got lost whilst out on a hike, or your car broke down on the edge of a forest in the middle of nowhere? Your phone isn’t giving you a signal or the battery has died. What you need in these circumstances are basic, down to earth survival skills, which are precisely what we’re going to look at here.
Skill 1: Prioritising
The key with any survival situation is to prioritise. So firstly, think safety and security. If there is any immediate danger, move to a place of safety. If it means staying inside your vehicle, do so with the doors locked.
If there are any predators in the vicinity, animal or human, arm yourself with whatever you can find in the name of fending-off, whether that’s a stick, a stone or whatever you can find, then do your best to call out for help.
Next, see to any injuries you or any companions may have sustained (we’ll look at first aid in more detail further on). Lastly, if it becomes necessary and help is not likely to turn up before dark, turn to your physical needs – think shelter, fire, water and food. We’ll look at some of these now, and the rest in a future post.
Skill 2: Basic First Aid
First aid is a life skill that everyone would have in an ideal world, but for survival purposes, basic knowledge will do – and that’s something everyone can afford the time to learn.
Keep any minor cuts clean and cover them to protect germs entering that could cause an infection. Spit and a hankie are good enough. For any cuts that are deep and you’re finding it a challenge to stem the blood flow, use a tourniquet. Take a strip off a piece of clothing or use a belt or hairband or anything like that and tighten it around the limb above the injured area until the blood stops, then cover the wound with something sterile, or at least clean. Anything that’s recently out of the washing machine, or even the inside of an envelope will suffice.
To treat burns you’re going to need some water. Wet some clothing and wrap the burn loosely with it. If there’s no water available, clean the affected area and remove any loose skin. Keep the wound elevated and seek out water as soon as you can. Be sure to leave any blisters intact until medical attention is obtained, as open wounds are prone to infection.
Broken bones can be supported with sticks. Place one either side of the affected area and keep in place with shoelaces. Where there’s an open fracture, infection control is vital, which means covering up the wound with anything sterile or at least clean you can get your hands on.
Skill 3: Building a Shelter
If there’s nothing else for it and you are where you are for the night, you’re going to have to take steps to protect yourself from the elements and keep yourself warm.
You can build a simple shelter using large branches propped against a tree, with smaller branches stacked on one side. If you can find a tarpaulin or even a fairly decent bin bag then that will work well as a covering, especially if you take the time to fill it with leaves to form an insulating layer. Otherwise just layer leaves and moss across your walls. You’ll also need to insulate the ground, so lay down a good few layers of leaves, grass and moss up to about 15cm.
Skill 4: Starting a Fire
A fire will keep you warm, attract rescuers and ward off danger plus you can use it to cook on too. All good, but what you don’t want to do is cause a disaster by setting fire to things. So make sure you bear in mind what’s in the area around you, and the direction of the wind. Avoid dry grass, leaves and overhanging branches.
You can start a fire with all sorts of things including a pair of glasses or a magnifying glass. Simply spit on the lens and use it to angle the sun onto your kindling, i.e. anything dry like twigs or leaves. Apparently you can even use Doritos. You’ll have to be patient but eventually you will see it start to smoulder, at which point you just blow on it to start the fire. You can also use a bottle of water in the same way.
Alternatively, if the sunshine isn’t on your side, you can use a mobile phone battery, or any lithium battery for that matter. What you’re aiming to do is short circuit the battery by connecting the positive and negative terminals with something metal. You can use foil, a knife, wire or steel wool: whatever you can get your hands on.
Sticks are the most commonly known method of starting a fire, but unless you have exceptional patience, you may well get fed up waiting for that first spark. If you have time to practice though, it’s worth doing as sticks will generally be available by the hundredweight.
So there’s your starter for four basic but vital skills to learn that will stand you in good stead if you find yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere. In a future post we’ll explore further skills such as finding water and food, navigating and keeping that fire going that you’ve skilfully started.
Ever been stranded in the wilderness? What did you do? What skills do you think are key for people to learn just in case? Let us know!