Survival is the art of staying alive anywhere in the world. We are on survival from the time we are born, although with modern technology life is getting easier. Double glazing, central heating, good clothing, and food are all making us softer. These comforts can work against us in a survival situation, and you need a good PLAN to survive.
We are well used to our own environment, but when we step outside of this or are forced into different surroundings by unusual circumstances, we must adapt and learn new skills. Most often times, a survival situation usually arises because of a malfunction with a vehicle like a car, boat, or aircraft. It is further compounded by bad weather and poor navigation. These are all ingredients for disaster.
A hill walker or hunter can easily become disoriented, either by the breathtaking scenery, or the tension of the stalk. A lack of basic knowledge is a common cause. With the sudden onset of bad weather, and maybe the loss of some equipment, things can get tough. Nature has a way of being vicious when you are vulnerable, and just to add to your misery, there is always the risk of injury. This can vary from a twisted ankle to a broken leg. In the case of an air crash, injuries will be more serious.
PLAN and planning
What we must do is to prepare ourselves for anything that nature or man can throw at us. We must know what it takes to survive and know how to manage a survival situation. Before embarking on any trip thorough planning is essential.
Think about what can go wrong, and if it does what can you do about it. Always have a contingency plan, and execute it when required. Carry the correct equipment with you, and be familiar with it. It’s too late when in the wilderness to test your stove, and it’s too late to read the instructions on your flares when they are required to attract the searching aircraft.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Make sure you are up to the standards required that the trip demands. Be aware of your own limitations. Be both physically, and more important, mentally, prepared.
Mental stability is essential
Survival is a mental exercise. It is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical. It’s not a matter of racing around the forest cutting trees down and scavenging for food. This is a shortcut to disaster. You must sit down and size up the situation.
Put everything into perspective. Ask yourself what my strengths and weaknesses are? Am I in danger? How can I improve my situation? People with a tough mental outlook will survive. People with a weak mental outlook, who fold at the first obstacle or adversity, will perish.
There are many forms of mental stress, and we deal with this daily. A survival situation eliminates our normal stresses but replaces them with other less familiar ones. Imagine what it would be like with no telephones to answer, no heavy traffic to fight through, no nagging spouse to answer, and no financial juggling to do. All of a sudden these things are irrelevant, but new stresses like “What is going to happen to me?” take over, and become your main cause of concern.
Will & Fear
Survival depends on two psychological factors: Will to live and the elimination of fear.
The will to live is a basic instinct that everyone has, but it is stronger in some people than in others. It is getting weaker as we get more civilized. We are becoming more and more dependent on technology and used to greater comforts. When these are suddenly snatched from us, a strong mental attitude is needed to compensate for this loss. It is comparable to ancient Rome. They relaxed their lifestyle to such an extent that the Barbarians were allowed to overcome them.
In a crisis, it is no use sitting down feeling sorry for yourself. You must act and face up to the problems. We can promote the will to live by practicing survival skills and gaining confidence in ourselves. We can examine case histories of survival feats and by knowing what man has endured, realize that nothing is impossible.
Get to know yourself and know your limitations. Survival courses are good for this as you can push yourself while being carefully monitored. Know how long you can go without sleep, what it’s like to be hungry, and how you react to limited water. Constantly say to yourself, “I will survive.” Keep on telling yourself that no matter what happens “You will survive!”
Good training breeds the confidence to handle any situation. We must nourish this will as all the equipment and knowledge are not enough in a tough situation without it. The will to live is the foundation on which we build our survival skill.
Acknowledging your fears
Fear is a normal emotion and nothing to be ashamed of. It’s what we learn through bad experiences, or passed on by our parents, that affects us. Everyone is afraid of something, and you must be honest with yourself and identify what you are afraid of. It may be the dark, heights, reptiles, water, or even the in-laws.
Once you have established the cause of your fear, do something about it. Practice what you are bad at. Nature has a nasty way of exploiting your weaknesses. If you are carefully led and talked through the problem, many fears can be overcome. If you are the outdoor type, make sure you can handle everything that you may encounter.
Fears can change with circumstances. A chicken who normally runs away from everything becomes very protective when looking after her young. People do things that they never thought possible or capable of when faced with danger.
Climate and Terrain
The different climatic conditions on earth vary greatly. Even the same location changes drastically according to the season. The hardest places on earth to survive are the cold weather areas. The Arctic and Antarctic are very inhospitable places, and without adequate protection, life expectancy can be a matter of minutes. We must have food that is converted to heat to warm us, and we must have good clothing and a sound shelter to maintain this heat.
Location, location, location
Cold is a killer, and we must be prepared for it. The Himalayas are located on the Tropic of Cancer, but because of their altitude are very cold. Any ground over 5,000 feet high poses the problems associated with the cold, summer or winter. Man is a tropical animal and can only survive without clothing in the tropics at sea level. Anywhere else in the world, man must create his own tropical environment by wearing clothing.
The deserts are harsh places, and survival is difficult. All deserts have two things in common, high temperatures and lack of moisture. Water sustains life, and every living thing on earth is dependent on it. In the desert, we must rest by day and work at night. We must still drink, but we ration our sweat, not our water.
The jungle conjures in the imagination vivid pictures of creepy crawlers and unpleasantness. Of all the environments, I personally prefer the jungle. Disease is the biggest threat. Everything grows at an alarming rate, including germs and diseases. The smallest scratch will become infected unless dealt with. But the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. There is plenty of water available, either from the rivers or from the rain collection. It’s easy to erect a shelter, and foods in various forms are easily obtainable. Grubs and reptiles might not seem very palatable while in the comfort of your lounge reading this article. But in the wild, when hungry, these very things are delicious and looked forward to with enthusiasm.
There are six main elements of survival that we must learn. These are Food, Fire, Shelter, Water, Navigation, and Medical. It’s hard to put these into any priority as they are all interlocking and support each other. For example, water is always going to be a high priority. But if we drink bad water it causes illness, so we must boil it. So fire is equally important.
To put these subjects into a sequence, we must use the acronym, P.L.A.N.
P stands for PROTECTION, L stands for LOCATION, A stands for Acquisition, N stands for NAVIGATION.
In any situation, our first priority is Protection from further danger. We must always ensure we are safe. In the case of a minor road accident, we must stop the traffic; otherwise more cars will be involved. This can lead to a major disaster.
In the wilderness, we must ensure we are out of danger from forest fires, avalanches, and floods. In the case of an air crash, we must stay out of range of the danger of exploding fuel.
Once we have established our safety, we must now have protection from the elements. This is the rain and the wind in temperate zones, the cold in polar areas, and the sun in the tropics. Regardless of where we find ourselves in the world, we can always construct a shelter. We can utilize the wreckage and use whatever nature provides.
Once we have a shelter, we need a fire. This will protect us from the cold. It will also protect us from flying insects and wild animals. Although wild animals may seem the biggest threat, it’s the small flying insects like mosquitoes and sandflies that will do more damage. These carry diseases and are life-threatening. Wild animals should be encouraged as they are a source of food. It’s a fallacy that all wild animals are afraid of fire.
Boiling our water and sterilizing medical instruments, if required, will protect us from illness. So once we have established our camp in a safe area and have a fire going, we can now relax and see the problems more clearly.
Our next task is to set out our air marker panels, and signal fires, that will attract attention and bring us help. Always tell people where you are going, what route, and expected time of arrival. Whether it’s just going to be the supermarket or climbing Everest, always book out.
Don’t change your mind; stick to the original plan. If you go missing, the rescuers have a good idea of your location. It’s not always as simple as this as there are other factors to consider. Most survival situations are caused by bad weather when you get blown off course and lost.
Communication is all important, and mobile phones should be carried on all expeditions. Any bright material and clothing can be used to make air panels. Make the letters large so they can be seen from the air.
SOS is the international distress signal, and try to make each letter at least 20 yards long. These letters can be trampled in the earth, or trenches dug to capture shadows and stand out from the surroundings. More rescues have been affected by the use of a heliograph. This is a mirror that reflects the sun’s rays. In ideal conditions, it can be seen 20 miles away. Any shiny objects can be used: glass, bright metal, and mirrors. A good smoky fire by day and flames at night will also draw attention to your plight.
If you have done everything correctly and stuck to your original plan, your stay on the ground should be a short one. However, life is not as easy as this so be prepared for a long stay. While waiting to be rescued, we must have food and water to survive.
Water is always the highest priority. You can go three minutes without air, three days without water, and three weeks without food without any permanent damage. Once we have found water, we can survive in style. All plants, insects, animals, and fish are dependent on water. If we follow any watercourse in the world, it will eventually lead us to civilization.
The food in a survival situation is varied, and the nutritional ladder we use is plants, mushrooms, fruits, nuts, insects and game. What we are looking for is a balanced diet. Plants are easy to collect as it is only a matter of recognition and collecting. There is an edibility test we use. Mushrooms are a dangerous subject as some are deadly and all of them must be positively recognized before eating.
Fruits and nuts are seasonal and will only be available at certain times. Insects are probably the only living thing an injured person can catch. Fish are easy to catch using special techniques, but for long term survival, we need meat. Animals are cunning and require special skills to hunt or snare them.
After three to four weeks in the same area, it’s time to move on. We are going further each day to collect firewood and plants and animals are becoming very scarce. No matter how well we practice personal and camp hygiene, the area has become soiled, and we are open to disease.
Survival navigation is the art of maintaining a direction using what nature provides: sun, wind, plant growth, and the stars. In the past three weeks, we have hopefully preserved food and made equipment, like packs. Any injuries have been cured, and the party is now fit enough to move on. The rescue has probably been called off or is looking in the wrong area. Leave a message of your intentions and blaze the trail to your new location.
The more medical knowledge you have, the abler you are to cope with serious situations and survive them. If you know what is causing the pain, and more importantly, how to treat the pain, this is very reassuring. There are many plants we can use to treat various conditions, and these are invaluable in a survival situation. Basic personal hygiene must be practiced like bathing, washing the hands after going to the toilet, and before preparing food.
Camp hygiene like burning all waste and burying all feces must be vigorously enforced. We must ensure we don’t cut or burn ourselves, and when traveling don’t break or twist anything.
A last word
All listed above are an outline of what it takes to survive. You don’t have to be an expert survivalist to survive in an unknown environment. You just need to PLAN and put all your skills to good use. Humans do things that they never thought possible or capable of when faced with danger. Rather than waiting for a stressful situation to put you to the test, take your time and plan things before adventuring into the unknown. Stay safe and always be prepared!