Understanding Wilderness Survival is essential if you venture out into nature as a Hiker, Backpacker, Cyclist or Naturalist. While uncommon, accidents and emergencies do occur in the back country and having the knowledge, skills and equipment to keep yourself
alive while awaiting help is not only a good idea, it can help assure you will be a “rescue” instead of a “recovery”.
Wilderness Survival can be a progression starting with carrying a basic “Survival Kit” to learning and practicing Primitive Skills. The more knowledge you acquire, can greatly increase your ability to “live off the land” with a minimal amount of gear. While I strongly encourage learning Primitive Skills, this set of articles will deal with Wilderness Survival using a “Survival Kit” containing items easily obtained from your local outfitter or an online source.
Survival equipment lists…. I have never been a big fan of survival equipment lists. Lists alone, in my opinion, do not do an adequate job of helping with the understanding of survival in general.
Rather than an equipment list, an understanding of the “Priorities of Survival” will give you a much better understanding of what you will need to carry in your Survival Kit. Let me give you an example: Once you understand the priority of “Shelter” you may choose to carry a Mylar Survival Blanket in you summer kit,however in the winter, you may choose to carry something more robust or even additional items to help aid in the priority of “Shelter”. A list alone won’t help you in your thought process of choosing the correct items for the given time of year and environment you will be in.
Understanding the “Rule of 3’s” is a great starting point to help in the understanding of the “Priorities of Survival”.
Here they are, broken down in the order that is usually taught.
You can Live:
3-Seconds without “Hope” – A positive mental attitude (PMA) is essential in a wilderness survival situation. If you feel you have no chance of survival and choose to give-up, game over before it even begins! See the article on Hope.
3-Minutes without “Air” – Some people mistakenly think this priority has to do with drowning. “Air” is a metaphor for
bodily functions – First Aid. If you are bleeding to death or your heart has stopped or if for some reason you are not breathing, this must be resolved quickly for life to continue. See the article on First Aid.
3-hours without “Shelter” – Thermoregulation, keeping your body core temperate at 98.6º, will keep you from getting hypothermia or hyperthermia. A high or low body core temperature will cause death in a short time.
See the article on Thermoregulation.
3-days without “Water” – Keep in mind, this priority may even be more important than Shelter in certain environments.
Plain and simple, you need water to live and that’s why Aboriginal communities were built around a water source of some kind.
See the article on Water.
3-weeks without “Food” – While Television shows like to show the survival expert killing something or eating something gross immediately when the survival situation begins, keep in mind this is just because it makes good entertainment for some.
You will be weak and possibly miserable, annoyed and very hungry but life without food for a few weeks won’t likely be a cause of your demise. See the article on Food.
Above you have the basics of the rule of 3’s of Wilderness Survival. They cover priorities in a “Standard” environment. The priorities are
movable given your environment – in a Desert environment, water may be a higher priority than shelter, in an extreme cold environment, you may need to get into some kind of shelter to administer First Aid.
What’s Missing from the “Rule of 3’s above?
I believe there are three priorities missing from the Rule of 3’s. What are they and how do they fit in?
First is Communication – The ability to signal and contact rescue personnel. In a standard environment, once you have your Positive Mental Attitude, First Aid and Shelter established, it’s time to get your signaling devices out. Or, if you have a dire emergency and have a Personal Locator Beacon, you may want to activate it for help even before you address the issue of Shelter. See the article on Signaling & Communication.
Second is Navigation – You may, at some point realize that rescue is not coming and may need to navigate your way out. This may be because you failed to tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return, so no one is looking for you or would even know where to look. Please remember to always tell someone where you are going and when you plant to return.
See the article on Navigation.
Third is Sleep – Only a couple of nights with little or no sleep will greatly affect your energy and decision making process.
So, what are the priorities, in what order should they be approached and how do they help us understand Wilderness Survival?
I have heard many people put the priorities in the following order: Shelter / Water / Fire / Food…… Using the rule of 3’s above
you can see a few flaws with this system.
First, the above list does not address first aid. One of the biggest call out’s for search and rescue is catastrophic falls. No doubt you will need to address first aid quickly in this situation.
Next, fire is third on the list. Fire may be very essential with shelter (thermoregulation) in keeping your core body temperature at 98.6º, also Fire may be needed with the Water priority as you may need to boil water to make it safe to drink.
Okay, so what are the priorities and their correct order? Here are the priorities:
HOPE – Positive Mental Attitude
FIRST AID – Address “Life Threatening Issues” quickly.
SHELTER – Thermoregulation – Keeping your body core temperature at 98.6º which may include FIRE.
COMMUNICATION – Signaling for help or signaling to rescue personnel.
WATER – An essential part of life which may include FIRE to boil water to make it safe to drink.
NAVIGATION – For various reasons, you may need to navigate your way out of a survival situation.
SLEEP – A good night’s rest will help assure you are at your best.
FOOD – A low priority but over time food will become very important.
It’s IMPORTANT to REMEMBER – The above list is not fixed in position. It is part of your mental tool box in understanding what is most important in a survival situation. Water again being a good example as it may move closer to the top of the list
in a desert environment.
What about the “10 ESSENTIALS”? Isn’t that list good enough for my survival kit. I will go into more details about the 10 Essentials in a different article. Basically the 10 Essentials are a thorough list of items to be carried on each and every hike or backpacking trip.However, the 10 Essentials is not a “Survival Kit”. Why? Well you won’t die if you forget your sunscreen which is part of the 10 Essentials, however, you might die if you don’t have a way to filter / purify water, not just carry “Extra Water” as advised in the 10 Essentials.