Say you get lost in the wild. Are you skilled enough to survive? And no, watching Man vs. Wild or Survivorman every week does not qualify you as an expert in wilderness.
Maybe you were on a “family vacation” but your family left you (you’re adopted). Maybe you wondered off too far from the campsite trying to find a secure place to piss without your friends taking pictures. Whatever the case, getting lost in the wild can be a scary and dangerous thing, if you’re not prepared, that is. You could take a full training course in the fine arts of surviving in the wild, or you can just go on and read this four key tips I got from hours of online research. Which, trust me, is just as good…
1. Get Water (Without the urine taste)
First, you need to minimize the amount of water you lose. Water is lost through urine (about 1.5 L per day), perspiration (about .1 L per day), and from the diffusion of water through your skin (about .4 L per day). But a lot of factors contribute to water loss and intake. How hot is it? How much are you moving? It’s extremely difficult to judge how much water you need, but usually it’s around 2.5 L per day in temperate climates. But use your urine as a water gauge. If your pee is clear/light yellow, you’re getting enough water, but if it starts to look dark, you need to drink more.
Next, you need to find a source of water. Look for signs of animals. Swarming insects, like bees or ants, usually indicate a nearby water source. Birds tend to gather around a body of water. An abundance of plants indicates a lot of moisture and water nearby. Or just follow animal tracks, they usually lead to water.
If you don’t find a source of water, you can produce some yourself. Use a plastic bag or create a makeshift bag (the clearer the bag the better) and place it over the limb of a tree or shrub. The more leaves the better. Seal the bag (take a thread of your shirt and tie it around the opening, etc.) and put a weight on the limb (like a rock) so it’s weighted down towards the bag. As the sun heats the bag up, water will draw from the branch and evaporate, eventually leaving condensation on the side of the bag. You can get a cup of water about every four hours using this method. Make sure to use a different branch every day.
2. Create Fire (Heat)
You need warmth almost as much as water. Fire can also cook meat, boil (and purify) water. It is one of the most important tools in your arsenal.
If you have a match or a lighter, this makes the whole fire aspect of survival much easier. But chances are, you don’t have either unless you’re an arsonist and/or chain smoker. (I would add “prepared”, but if you were the kind of guy who thought that far ahead, you wouldn’t be lost in the wild, would you?)
The first thing you need to do to make a fire is to gather the materials: tinder (shredded bark, crushed fibers from dead plants, grasses, wood shavings), kindling (dead, small, dry twigs, cones and needles), and fuel (dry, dead wood, inside of fallen trees, large branches).
Now you have to start a spark. This is the most tedious part. You can use some type of convex lense (flashlight lens, camera lens, magnifying class) and direct heat towards the tinder.
More likely, you have nothing at all. And you have to resort to a more ancient method of making fire. The ‘Bow and Drill’ method is the easiest and most efficient method of making fire using only friction. Find some straight, hardwood and make a spindle out of it (about 30-45 cm long and 2 cm in diameter). Have one end round and the other blunt. Make a bow from a branch about .9 m long and 2.54 cm in diameter. Tie some string around the bow (use threads from your shirt if nothing comes to mind, make sure it’s strong).
Find some softwood (around 30 cm in length, 2 cm thick, and 7.5 – 15 cm wide) and carve a small hole in the board and a V-shaped notch into the center of the hole. Place tinder just below the ‘V’ and rest the board on two sticks to allow for air to flow. Twist the bow string once around the spindle and place the spindle (round end first) into the hole. Spin the spindle with long, constant strokes using the bow (which gives you the friction and speed you’ll need) until smoke is produced. Slowly add kindling and eventually your fuel. (For visual aids, see Tom Hanks in Cast Away.)
3. Eats (Fuel)
No matter where you are, there’s always food. You just have to recognize a food source and be able to obtain it. You need proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and more. Starch is a great source of energy and is found in tubers (usually located underground) and roots/rootstalks.
The ability to cook allows a much wider and tastier range of food from animals: boil them in a rock with a hole in it, fry it on a flat piece of rock, or skewer it and roast it over an open flame. Try catching a few squirrels or rabbits, but all animals will provide you with meat in one form or another.
Plants, however, are much easier to obtain than animals, but they are quite a bit trickier. There are thousands of edible plants out there, you just need to know which ones are which. Avoid plants with umbrella-shaped flowers (unless you see carrots, celery, or parsley). Avoid any bulbs, unless you know for certain they’re edible. Avoid yellow and white berries (always poisonous), red berries (half of them are poisonous), though blue and black berries are usually safe to eat. If there’s any milky sap on the plant, it’s poisonous. Remember, plants that grow in water or moist soil usually are ‘relatively’ tasty (they won’t make you vomit).
Or you can test whether or not a plant is safe to eat (this does not work with fungi). This test was established by the US Army. First, you break the plant into its basic parts– roots, stem, leaves, etc. Then you smell the plant for strong or acidic odors (don’t try eating it if there are any). Try putting a sample of the plant on the inside of your elbow or your wrist for ten to fifteen minutes to see if any reactions occur.
If you get past all this, try putting a part of the plant on the outside of your lip for a few minutes and see if any itching or burning occurs. If no reaction occurs on your lips, place it on your tongue and hold it there for several minutes. If there is still no reaction, chew a piece of the plant thoroughly and keep it in your mouth for several more minutes but don’t swallow. If absolutely no irritation occurs, swallow it and wait for several hours, around eight if you want to completely sure. If any ill effects occur, induce vomiting and drink plenty of water. But if no ill effects occur, the plant should be safe to eat; if you want to, try eating about a half cup of the plant and waiting another eight hours to be safe.
4. Find Shelter (Protection)
A shelter will protect you from the cold, wet, and the wind. The type of shelter you need depends on the climate. If you’re in a warm climate, you may not need one at all, though it can still do you good by protecting you from the wildlife. Don’t live in a shelter on a hilltop (too windy), in a deep hollow or valley (too damp), or close to water grounds (animals will come to it).
Caves make for a fantastic shelter – you just have to be sure you’re not sharing with any other occupants, like bears. Natural hollows can be very easy to find and all you need to do is gather a few strong branches, sticks, and grass for a roof. You can even add stones and rocks around the hollow to increase its height, and by extension its protection. You could also take residence in a fallen tree trunk. Just scoop out a hollow, cover it with some boughs for a roof, and you have a place to sleep. If you don’t find anything suitable, you could also build your own. There are a limitless amount of shelters you can build depending on your environment and resources. Use your imagination, but always remember the basic principles.
Water, food, fire, and shelter are the four basic aspects to surviving in the wild. There are a lot of viable techniques besides the ones I detailed above, but I believe those are the easiest and most efficient techniques I’ve come across through extensive (Wikipedia) research. Do those four steps and do them well and you can live long enough for help to arrive, or you can just live like this forever. Civilization’s overrated anyway.