Outdoor Survival Basics

outdoor survival basics.
Know what to do when you get lost in the outdoors. Ten steps to outdoor survival basics.

Getting lost whether travelling on vacation, or out hiking in the woods can be a frustrating and even scary experience. While most people are found within a few hours of getting lost, others can spend much more time stranded.

There is no single reason people become lost and the reasons can vary from sliding off the road in winter weather, losing track of direction while driving or boating, to accidents while hiking or hunting.

Following these 10 simple steps and carrying the proper basic equipment will help keep you safe until help arrives and ensure your survival.

While actual priorities may change based on the situation, the topics listed below represent the most important things to remember and are listed in the order they should be addressed. When this survival series is complete, each section will link to a more complete article on that step. Make sure to read through them all.

Primary Priorities

Location and Direction
As soon as you believe you are lost, stay calm, stop and try to establish your location and last known direction of travel. Use a GPS, compass, and maps. Try to identify landmarks or road signs that could give an indication of your location, or where you just were.

Try to establish communication using a cell phone or walkie-talkie radio. Try to phone or contact someone at your intended destination or last known location as they will likely be most familiar with the area you are in. If necessary contact someone back at home who can help figure out where you are based on your intended travel plans or contact someone in your area and alert them you need help.

First Aid
Administer first-aid and deal with any medical conditions as soon as possible. Do not try to move injured persons any further than is necessary to ensure their safety. Whenever possible, save some medical supplies and water for other incidents which may happen while you wait.

Become familiar with CPR, hypothermia, burns and bleeding along with treatments for more basic things like slivers and headaches. Taking a first-aid course is the best way to learn the proper techniques which could save someone’s life. The Red Cross and St. John’s Ambulance both have apps for smart phones which can help get you through in case of an emergency outside of areas with cell phone signals.

Secondary Priorities


Construct a shelter as close to your vehicle or campsite as possible. If your vehicle is in a safe location, try and remain with it or inside. It is much easier to spot a vehicle than it is a person so stay as close as is safely possible. Construct shelters from a tarp and some rope tied to trees. Lean-to shelters or snow dug outs can also be constructed if there is sufficient time before help arrives or the weather improves. Try not to unduly damage trees or property start when building your shelter.


outdoor survival basics
Staying warm when lost outdoors is an important survival step

Staying warm and dry is of the utmost importance, in particular during winter. Staying in your car is one of the simplest ways to accomplish this. Use the proper clothing with a blanket and hand warmer packets.

An emergency candle can be burned in the vehicle if necessary to help stay warm and give some light. Beware of gasoline or other flammable fumes and possible asphyxiation from smoke and a lack of oxygen that could be present or created in the car or shelter while you wait.

A small campfire could also be created outside the shelter to help stay warm, dry clothes and attract attention but don’t start a fire unless it is really going to be necessary. Gathering wood to burn can use a large amount of energy which could be better used elsewhere.

Finding Food and Water

Clean water is necessary to drink and cleanse wounds. Water is more important to survival than food. Humans can go only a few hours before dehydration sets in. On average an adult human will consume nearly 2 quarts of water a day, even more during physical activity. We can go several days without food, but not water.

Boil water or melt snow in a metallic container outside of your shelter to prevent steam and smoke from building up within.

Purification tablets can be used if water quality is poor. Boiling water will only remove biological contaminants, not most chemicals. Avoid eating snow as this uses much body energy to melt it in your stomach. Snow near a highway maybe contaminated with road salt and other chemicals which maybe harmful to your health. If necessary, drink the water and seek treatment for possible parasites or contamination after being rescued.

Food will be necessary if you expect to be several days before being rescued. Items such as granola bars can be used to attract other animals in the event that you will be stranded for some time. Eat only as much as is necessary. Ration food as it may be several days before help or additional food sources arrive or can be found. Use extreme caution if eating berries or plants that are found in the wild to ensure they are not poisonous. Plan ahead and pack some snacks in your car or backpack. MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) last a long time until opened and are light enough to carry on you in case of emergency.

Rescue and Survival

To help ensure your rescue, always tell someone where you are going, when you will arrive at the intended location and when you will return home. Rescue signals and their effectiveness depend on the situation. Attract attention to yourself by: yelling, blowing a whistle, smoke from fires, writing “Help” or other noticeable words and shapes in the snow. Another effective attention-getter are fires set in a triangle near, but not surrounding your shelter. Smoke trails from the fires will rise and attract more attention than flames which typically should be keep low and under control.

Try to place and use all signals in an open area where they will be most visible from rescuers in the air, on boats, or people on the ground. Tree cover may prevent rescuers from seeing you, the flashes from a signaling mirror or signal fires. Signal fires, although very effective, could become very hazardous if conditions are dry and could start a grass or forest fire. For this reason do not surround your shelter or campsites, instead locate the fires next to it and downwind, in an open area. Rain or snow may make it difficult to keep signal fires going as well reduce the visibility of smoke trails from the fires. Tall grass in fields or at the side of a highway or waterway can hide signals and shelters from rescuers on the ground.

Survival Plan
To ensure survival, try to keep your mind occupied with a basic survival plan. Simple situations can be aggravated by nervousness or worry. Don’t panic! Occupy yourself. Calmly review maps to help re-determine your location, gather food and firewood, stay dry, reinforce your shelter, become familiar with your surroundings and the area you are in, prepare a method of attracting rescuers to your current location and plan what you will do once rescued. Determine if you will need medical attention or just a tow truck? Make notes or write a diary of the day’s events. Read, listen to your Ipod, or play games in your spare time. Reassure yourself that you will be found and that you will get through

Copyright 2019 Mike Wilson