Disaster can strike at any time and it is best to be prepared. Remember Murphy’s Law that says if something can happen, it probably will. Wouldn’t you want to be prepared and in control when calamity strikes and survival is the number one priority? Well in truth there are a lot of survival skills to be learnt but the basic ones give you a stepping stone and a place to start. Remember, these are survival skills to help you out in the wilderness when you are stranded. If you go hunting or are in the woods for some reason and your iPhone is not working so GPS is impossible, here are the skills you need to keep you alive long enough to get back to civilization.
Priorities are everything
Suppose you are lost in the wilderness, is navigation the most important priority? As much as you’d like to get yourself out of the predicament, navigation is not at the top of survival skills. Every hour you spend navigating (or trying to navigate) is an hour wasted if you cannot survive to reach home. Time isn’t on your side. That being said, staying alive for the next few days is a priority and navigation isn’t going to help you survive the first days alone in the wild. Your priorities in no particular order should be fire, shelter, water, food, first aid, and signal. Here are the best survival tips you must know;
Starting a fire
It is no surprise that mankind evolved to be the most adaptable species after discovering fire. Fire does a lot of things like keeping you warm, preparing food, warding off predators, purifying water and you can also see in the dark which gives you an advantage. You can even use it to sterilize medical equipment if you are injured or send a signal for help. It’s a basic survival skill and here’s how you do it;
- Using a battery
If you have a lighter, you can skip this step and just gather some dry grass and tinder and start a fire. On the other hand, you can use any battery to start a fire. The idea is to short-circuit the battery to get a spark. Connect the positive terminal to the negative terminal with a piece of foil (from chewing gum wrapper), wire or steel wool. Have your tinder ready before you start.
- Using a hand drill
The oldest method to start a fire, it uses friction to produce embers which start the fire. Look for a stick and smoothen it with gravel. Then cut a V-shaped notch on a wooden board and set some bark or a big leaf underneath to collect the embers. While applying pressure, roll the stick in your hands and run them quickly down the stick. Repeat until the tip of the stick is glowing and you have an ember. Tap the board so that the ember falls on the leaf and collect the glowing ember.
The tinder should be made of dry materials such as grass, bark fibers, etc. When using the hand drill, an old bird’s nest will light up quicker when you blow on the ember. Continue blowing on the small fire gently until it grows. Use small twigs first, then pencil sized twigs and then you can add small dry branches as the fire grows.
Building a shelter
A shelter should be warm to keep you from getting hypothermia especially if the weather is chilly. First of all, the location should be on high ground. You don’t want to set up camp in a valley and get swept away by a flash flood. A well-insulated shelter will keep you warm. Look for a large branch standing against a tree or a felled tree that is resting at an angle. Set big branches against the tree and then follow up with smaller branches close together on one side. Lastly, collect some branches or debris to sleep on so that the ground doesn’t absorb your body heat as you sleep. If you can find a shallow cave or overhanging boulder, use this and put up branches at the entrance.
Finding clean drinking water
Water is life, and you can only go so long without it. There are two kinds of water in the wild; one is safe to drink the other can kill you. Water in the form of ice, dew, snow or rain has been naturally purified and is safe for drinking. If the water has stayed stagnant for long e.g. a puddle, you need to boil this water before drinking to kill 100% of pathogens which cause disease or kill you. Sometimes boiling water is not possible. A useful trick is using a cloth such as a bandana or clean handkerchief to collect dew, and then you wring out the cloth. You can collect up to a gallon of clean drinking water this way. Nature also offers us solutions such as maple trees which when cut in the bark produce a sweet watery liquid. Also, squeezing water from thistles, vines and some types of cacti can get you water to drink.
Another way to collect clean drinking water is through transpiration. Like humans and other animals which lose water through sweat, Plants also lose water but using their leaves. Take a plastic bag and tie it tightly around a leaf and wait until evening where you can collect the water that the leaf loses through transpiration. Such a survival skill can be crucial to surviving the wild. Now that we have found water, how about food?
Catching small prey
The best way to catch small creatures for food is using a tool called a gig. The gigging technique is basically hunting with a pronged spear and is effective in catching fish, snakes, and frogs. To make a gig, cut down a branch or sapling that is 1 inch thick. Using a knife or sharp object, split the thicker end into four. Use another stick to push down the cuts you have made and separated the four parts. Sharpen the edges, and voila, you have yourself a spear with four prongs. This will catch prey easier than a sharpened stick/ spear. With your fire glowing, you can roast your kill and stack up on some proteins as you enjoy.
Recognizing which plants are edible
Some plants are poisonous and eating things which you don’t recognize could kill you. There are a few plants you can eat such as dandelions, cattail, and lambs quarter. To be on the safe side, get a book and get familiar with your environment, the plants that grow there and which of them are edible or poisonous. If you did not have this luxury, here is what you can do. Before eating the fruit or leaf of any plant, cut off a leaf first. If the leaf produces a milky white liquid, do not eat that leaf or fruit as there is a high chance it is poisonous. When you get one that doesn’t produce a milky substance but rather a clear liquid, it could be safe. Cut off a small part of the leaf, chew and sip some water. If your stomach isn’t hurting after 8 hours, eat a bigger piece and wait eight more hours. Still no stomachache, the leaf or plant is edible.
Sending out a signal
There are situations where sending out a signal and making yourself visible is the only way to survive and get saved. For instance, if you have suffered an injury that restricts you from moving around too much. Using a smoke signal can get you out of trouble. First, you should be in an open location. That means a hilltop or a clearing in the forest. Make sure that there isn’t an obstacle which will hinder the smoke from rising like a cliff or tall trees. Save your best (driest) tinder for your signal fire. What you want is to create a lot of smoke in a few seconds which can be the difference between being rescued and a plane passing by. Once the smoke starts building up, add wet branches (green branches and vegetation) for a thicker plume of smoke.
Another signal you can use to show your location is using a mirror. A mirror’s reflection, even at night using moonlight can be seen from miles away. Much farther than any flashlight. You can use any reflecting surface, but the direction is paramount. Aim the reflected beam at your target (boat or plane), hold out your fingers in a peace sign and flash the beam back and forth across your fingers to create a signal.
This will depend if it is day or night. In the day, the easiest way to know your bearings is to look at the sun which rises in the East and sets in the West. The imaginary line cutting across this plane is the North- South direction. During the night, you can use the Polaris or North Star for navigation. It is a star close to the Little Dipper’s handle. If you can see the Big Dipper, draw a line towards the Little Dipper, and it will always line up with Polaris. Facing Polaris is facing True North. If there is a crescent moon, line up the edges in two lines and you get a southerly direction. Choose a landmark after getting your bearings, and you can use it during the day to navigate.
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