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This page is not meant to be a definitive source on survival technology. Its purpose is to provide you with essential survival information, and you are encouraged to seek out further information from your local public library, or within your local scouting community and its publications.

Search and Rescue in Canada

In Canada, responsibility for search and rescue is shared between the federal government and the provinces and territories. The federal government is responsible for air and sea search and rescue, while the provinces and territories are responsible for land and inland water search and rescue.

Psychology of Survival

Survival begins with the will to live. Many recorded rescues have shown that strength, knowledge or equipment were not always the deciding factor in a survival situation. Instead a strong will to live and a good mental attitude made the difference between life and death.

“Be Prepared”

The motto of scouts is the basic rule for survival. But it does not just mean carrying a survival kit; it also refers to having a “prepared attitude.”

Pain and Injury

Pain, your body’s response to injury, can be very disabling. Despite this, when threatened with danger your body can at times momentarily mask pain. For example, while gingerly limping along on your sprained ankle, you meet a skunk and it rears its tail at you. No doubt you will find yourself running as though your ankle was never hurt. This is not to say that you should ignore the cause of your pain, but that by keeping yourself busy you may be able to use this masking ability to help manage it and keep it from weakening your will to go on. Any injuries, even minor cuts, sprains, or bruising can drain you physically as well as emotionally and should be dealt with immediately. With that in mind it is recommended that you take first-aid training offered by St. John ambulance or the Red Cross.

Cold Injuries

With an average body temperature of 37°C (98.6°F), cooler temperatures found in the outdoors can expose you to cold injuries, make pain, thirst and hunger seem worse and sap your ability to think and your will to go on. Factors contributing to such cold injuries as exposure and frostbite are:

  • Dampness and temperature of your environment.
  • Wind velocity.
  • Age, size and physical condition.
  • Degree of protection your outer clothing and a shelter can provide.


Exposure, the common term for hypothermia, is the lowering of your body’s temperature due to cold external temperatures or wind-chill, which is the combination of air temperature and wind velocity. The effects of either can be dramatically increased if you become wet. Hypothermia is a year-round threat, as the forest is always cooler than your body and the slightest breeze will cool your skin and remove much needed moisture. That is just how a fan cools you in the summer.


Any conditions that promote hypothermia can lead to frostbite. Frostbite is the formation of ice crystals within skin tissues, causing them to freeze. it is usually limited to the regions furthest from your body’s core; hands, feet, face, ears, bottom of your chin or the tip of your nose. Frostbite occurs when blood flow to these regions is reduced as a result of hypothermia or from constricting garments.

Heat Stresses and Windburn

Overheating your body by overexposure to the sun’s heat or through overexertion will result in the excessive loss of valuable body fluids and salts through heavy sweating, causing a chemical imbalance called “heat cramps”. Your stomach will feel upset and you will begin to experience muscle cramps in your extremities and abdomen. Immediately rest in the shade, loosen your clothes and drink water to replace your body’s losses.


Every day your body uses 2 – 3 litres of water: humidifying your skin and the air you breathe, sweating to cool itself, digesting food and removing body wastes. As a result, you can only survive for about three days without this precious fluid. As your water losses exceed your intake you will begin to show signs of dehydration; thirst, dry tongue, tiredness, nausea, sleepiness and infrequent, dark yellow urination. In addition you will increase your susceptibility to fatigue, hypothermia, and in the winter, frostbite. Therefore, rationing water losses, rather than rationing water intake is essential in a survival situation.

Hunger and Hypoglycemia

Like thirst, hunger can affect your judgment and undermine your will to survive. During the first 24 to 48 hour period your stomach will experience strong hunger pangs as the body begins to use its carbohydrate and fat reserves. Despite this, if you are healthy, uninjured, and limit your physical activity, your body can function without food for up to 30 days. Physical exertion and the surrounding temperature affect your feelings of hunger. Extreme heat, which decreases the quantity of fuel needed to keep the body going, discourages hunger. Cold on the other hand, stimulates it, because the body needs more fuel to offset heat loss in a cold environment. Generally the body registers hunger when there is a physical need for food. Most people are conditioned to eat at certain times of the day, and their bodies produce the appropriate feelings on schedule. The best ways to defeat hunger pangs are to keep your mind busy on the task at hand, sleep or drink water. However, you must be cautious not to drink large quantities of water, as it will dilute the salt reserves in your body, resulting in stomach cramps or inducing vomiting, which will only increase your risk of dehydration.

Fatigue, Loneliness & Boredom

When both physically and psychologically exhausted you will begin to act carelessly and experience feelings of hopelessness, frustration and boredom to the point where your only desire is to lie down and die to escape from a situation you feel is too difficult to face. You are experiencing fatigue and your mental ability to cope with the stresses of survival can be reduced as a result of it.


With heat loss being your greatest threat, finding or constructing a shelter to keep you dry and out of the wind the first day is critical to your survival. Man-made shelters such as the tepee, the lean-to, the tripod, the snow trench, the quinsy, to name a few, all provide the best overall chance for prolonged survival, but may require some advanced training and practice to perfect.


Only after you have slowed your heat loss should you concern yourselves with heat gain. While psychologically a fire can mean security, peace of mind and safety, all while keeping you warm, drying clothes, boiling water, or signaling for help; it can also burn you, your clothing, your shelter or the forest, so treat it with the respect it deserves. Check your local library for books on wilderness survival or the “Field Book for Canadian scouting” to become familiar with the methods used to start and use different types of fires.

Animal Threats

in Canada, contrary to popular belief, most animals will not harm humans unless they are provoked, feel they are threatened or are protecting their young. Despite this fact, it is advisable to avoid a wild animal, especially if it looks ferocious when it would usually show fear, or behaves abnormally friendly. Lack of fear for humans should be considered a bad sign. The animal may be old and suffering from starvation, or if it appears to be sickly or is frothing at the mouth it may have rabies. Nearly all warm blooded animals can get rabies, but it is most often found in raccoons, mice, chipmunks, foxes, skunks, bats and ground hogs.


A pattern of three signals (e.g. three gunshots, three blasts on a whistle, three shouts or three fires) is universally recognized as a distress call. Blowing a whistle is very easy and its sound can travel further than your voice, so always pin one to your shirt or hang one around your neck before going into the wilderness. Choose a plastic whistle that has no pea inside it as the moisture from your breath can freeze the pea, thus disabling the whistle. Also, a plastic whistle will not stick to your lips in the winter.


Too many people found in the wilderness have suffered needlessly because they were not appropriately dressed for their environment. The wilderness is not a place for a fashion statement. Taking the time to determine what sort of clothing and footwear is required for the terrain and weather conditions you may encounter while on your hike, picnic or camp, can make the difference between an enjoyable adventure or a life-threatening experience.