There are host of resources exist on the topic, from 20-minute videos to multi-day courses, one culminating in a two-day solo equipped with only a knife. The key to them all is getting out and actually practicing the skills. Do you know how to use your map and compass? Could you start a fire with a bow-drill at night, when you’re stressed, in a rainstorm? The chances of that are pretty low if you have never even practiced in favourable conditions. One thing that all the literature on the subject agrees upon is that the most important aspect of survival is in our heads.
Tom Brown, director of the world-famous Tracking, Nature and Wilderness Survival School, is a world-renowned teacher of survival skills. In one of his many guidebooks on outdoor survival, he says, "It is truly said that the most important survival tool is the mind. But to keep the mind functioning smoothly, you must establish and maintain a positive attitude. Attitude can mean the difference between life and death."
Be prepared for your chosen recreation
Being fit enough to go the distance takes physical preparation. Stick to your turnaround time. Take the proper equipment, have a trip plan and use reference and guide books.
Slowly work up to new activities. You can learn a lot about difficulty or commitment levels in reference or guide books. As you become more able in your chosen activity, you will be better equipped to estimate travel times. Be conservative to begin with, and always give yourself plenty of time for the return part of your trip. Being prepared also means being mentally prepared. Ask yourself, "What would I do here in a survival situation?" Another aspect of being prepared is being able to evaluate your own skills, including physical ability and outdoor skills such as map reading and route-finding.
ClothingIn cold weather, the best way to stay warm is to trap your body’s own heat and using it as insulation. As well, you want to avoid getting damp from your own perspiration and keep the rain and the wind out. The best way to accomplish this is to wear layers.
Each sport or activity may have its own important pieces of equipment. Touring in winter, for example, requires avalanche rescue gear, including a transceiver, probe and shovel. Water sports have their own list of essentials. Most outdoor enthusiasts would include some kind of repair kit to deal with equipment problems out there, and duct tape seems to be a unanimous choice among the experts as a fundamental repair kit item.
Always carry the essentials
If necessary, be ready to stay out overnight. Carry a flashlight. Many people become lost because of darkness. As Wayne Merry, SAR guru and mountaineering pioneer says: "If you don’t have what you need with you, it’s a survival situation. If you have it, it’s a camping trip."
Complete a trip plan and leave it with a friend
The trip plan explains your destination, the route you are taking, who is in the group and your return time. If you do not return as planned, the friend with whom you left the trip plan can give the form to the police to initiate a search.
Never hike alone
Hike with a group and keep together. Travel at the speed of the slowest person. If a person becomes separated, they are more likely to become lost. If you do hike alone, be aware of increased risks and always tell someone where you are going!
Do not panic
Maintain a positive mental attitude if you become lost. Being lost is not dangerous if you are prepared. Remember – if you have what you need, it’s a camping trip!
"LOST" Physiology and Psychology
To understand the importance of the simple phrase, "do not panic," we need to look at the physiological and psychological aspects of fear, and also to understand the specific syndrome associated with being lost outdoors, called "woods shock." The more we understand what might happen in our bodies and in our minds, the more we can work to avoid these negative effects.
The syndrome was first named by William Syrotuck, and further study was conducted by Kenneth Hill in Nova Scotia. Although the study of lost person behaviour is a relatively new discipline and there is a lot of variation, the following is a description of the five stages of wood shock.
- You deny that you’re disoriented
- You panic when you admit that you’re lost
- You calm down and form a strategy
- You deteriorate both mentally and physically, as your strategy fails to get you out
- You become resigned to your plight as you run out of options
S | T | O | P — Stop Think Observe Plan Then ACT!
The acronym STOP (stop, think, observe, plan and then act) highlights the importance of a survival attitude that involves carefully planned actions rather than irrational behaviour based on fear.