Humans are a resilient species. We’ve managed to adapt to hellish conditions (have you been to Minnesota in the winter?) and thrive against all odds, dragging ourselves from caves to skyscrapers in a relatively short period of time.
Just this week, 72-year-old Ann Rodgers (and her dog!) survived nine days in Arizona’s wilderness, reportedly drinking creek water and eating plants. Rescuers found them thanks to a “HELP” sign Rodgers made out of sticks.
As we become more and more accustomed to lives of convenience and hardship starts to mean your phone is about to die rather than a scenario from that Oregon Trail video game.
But what happens if you head out into the woods to get that perfect Instagram photo, only to lose your way or, worse, break a limb and lose cell service? What if your hybrid runs out of both electricity and gas in the middle of nowhere, and you have to walk for help, and wind up roaming lost in the wilderness?
Accidents happen. Lucky for you, we’ve compiled a quick common sense guide to surviving in the wild.
First of all, forget what you’ve seen Bear Grylls do. Unless you’ve had some training, you definitely shouldn’t be taking unnecessary risks when you’re lost, alone, and out of contact with the world. Plus, if you follow some simple steps, chances are you’ll never have to squeeze water out of elephant poop.
The Golden Rule: Be Prepared
It’s that simple. Headed into Death Valley to check out the super bloom? Make sure you have a full tank of gas and plenty of water. Same with back country skiing. Warm clothes, extra layers, avalanche beacon, and plenty of water.
Common sense is key. But say that the elephant dung does hit the fan? The times that you’re going to find yourself most exposed are when you’re taken by surprise, so the key is to be ready for a reasonable amount of anything.
Before this happens, get a backpack, throw some emergency stuff in it, and leave it in the trunk of your car. Several big bottles of water, a phone charger, lighter, candles, multi-tool, roadside flares, a jacket, small shovel, high-calorie trail bars that won’t expire for a long time, cash, and one of those silver reflective blankets that folds up into a tiny little square.
Buy a basic first aid kit with bandages, antiseptic, various pills, and burn cream, throw that in there, too, along with a few day’s worth of any medication that you can’t miss.
If you’re stranded in a snowstorm, only run the engine for a few minutes every hour or so, as you want to make sure you don’t run out of gas. If your car broke down in the boonies, stay with it. If you walk away from it, make sure you stay close to line-of-sight, so you don’t get lost—you’re much safer with shelter than you are wandering the mountains.
Pro tip: A candle will keep the inside of an enclosed vehicle warm enough to survive in bitterly cold temps.
First of all, if you’re going for a hike (even a short one, in a relatively remote area), always dress for the occasion and use proper planning. Have layers, water or a Steri-pen, some trail bars, a compass, lighter, sunscreen, a compact phone charger, and a multi-tool.
If you aren’t familiar with the area, get a map—preferably a paper one, since electronics have a tendency to run out of batteries or break. You can usually find them free at rangers’ stations or trail heads. Get to know the type of terrain you’ll expect to be in, and check the weather. Also, learn how to recognize the North Star.
Since even the best-laid plans have a tendency to fall apart, here’s what to do if and when you find yourself lost in the wilderness.
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