Have you ever considered what it would be like to survive alone in the wilderness? It is certainly inspiring to hear accounts of people who purposefully rough it in the wild in the name of personal goals, such as Danny Dover.
While it is very unlikely to find yourself having to survive in the wilderness for a full month, it is within the realm of possibilities that a well-meaning individual becomes lost on a hike, which is of course when your cell phone battery would decide to give out. For this reason, it is worthwhile to familiarize yourself with certain training that can keep you afloat until help finds its way to you.
When it comes down to it, there are a handful of skills that are absolutely paramount for someone surviving an extended amount of time in the wilderness. These are: finding and purifying water, building a shelter from scratch, starting a fire without a lighter, navigating your way back to safety, signaling for help, basic survival medical skills, and food and water acquisition. While these are all worth learning about, let’s take a look at a few that would be most necessary if you had to spend a couple nights and several days alone in the woods.
Wilderness First Aid
If you find yourself unintentionally stranded in the boonies, ordinarily routine nicks and scrapes quickly turn into a big deal. That’s why it’s important to have basic first aid knowledge, and hopefully, resources if you find yourself stranded. Spine injuries, head injuries, shock, wounds, heat illness, cold injury, altitude illness, even contact with lightning – these are all serious situations that require specific recourse. But since we’re just thinking about a quick jaunt into the bush, let’s look at what seems most likely, which is wounds and infections.
Blood loss is an injury that can make your health go downhill fast. Just as it is when on the grid, it is important to stay calm and have pressure applied to the wounded area until it stops bleeding. The next step is to prevent infection. Wash the wound with clean water, then disinfect around the wound with alcohol wipes (if you have them), before covering the wound with an antibiotic ointment and clean gauze. Once or twice daily until it heals, the wound needs to be reopened and cleaned with water before a clean covering is reapplied.
It is not possible to be off the grid for terribly long without needing a fire. Fire is necessary for warmth, cooking food, and even being visible for rescue. If you are a smoker then you may have a leg up in this avenue, since the difficulty of starting a fire without one is exponential, but not impossible. The first step is to understand that a fire can only happen with a trio of things: air, heat, and fuel. It is not enough to create a spark – you have to control your elements enough to keep the fire going.
There are quite a few methods of making a fire which corresponds to your need. They are also contingent on how much time and resources you have. If you are in the woods, dry wood should be obtainable. One basic structure for making a fire is the tepee, which you might associate with the campfire. Another is the lean-to, which is a long branch supported by ascending pyramids of smaller branches. In either case, it is important to be familiar with a list of tree wood that is best used as tinder.
When it comes to lighting a fire there are a handful of modern methods that can do the work for you: a match, convex lens, gunpowder, and even a battery are capable of creating that critical first spark. If you don’t have these, the flint and steel method involves striking carbon steel against a hard, sharp-edged rock. If metal is unavailable, there is also the fire-plow, which involves scrubbing a stick of hardwood into a groove of softwood. The Bow is what probably comes to mind for most people. Using a bent piece of wood (“bow”) attached to a stick of hardwood via a cord, the hardwood is twisted into a fireboard.
Food and Water
Finding food and water for sustenance is certainly not least of your concerns when roughing it in the wild. Once you got that fire going, boiling water is the best way to purify it, assuming you have a vessel. Other options for purifying water include a water purification pump, iodine droplets, and halazone tablets. Finding clean water is definitively easier in the warmer months, when it can generally be collected from rivers and streams, as opposed to winter months when you may have to collect water from beneath the ice.
Perhaps the trickiest wilderness skill of all is accessing food and enough of it to stay healthy. You may think it’s refreshing to feed off of roots and berries like a bear, but remember that many plants are poisonous to humans – even some of the ones that appear ok from your survival guide of edible plants! If you are stranded for long enough, you will have to find a source of protein from animals. If you are near a freshwater source then a hook and line go a long way to catching fish. But as for setting traps or weapon-based hunting, you’re gonna need more than this tiny article!
There is a wide range of things people mean when they talk about roughing it. For some, like those taking classes to be a kick-ass Viking, only the most rudimentary methods for survival are worthy. For the rest of us, we could do well to learn the basics of wilderness first aid, fire craft, and food and water gathering. While it’s unlikely to find oneself stranded without all of these things, educating yourself on wilderness 101 may make your hike that much easier. And it will make you appreciate many of the things in life we take for granted.