What would you do if you found yourself lost in strange surroundings far from people and civilization, your food and water supply low or non-existent? Coping with an unfamiliar environment it’s impossible for some while others will try to figure things out as best as they can. However, coming back alive from a journey into the unknown requires some basic survival knowledge and a little bit of luck.
City folks and their adventures
A few years back, a native New Yorker, his wife, and their two children, age six and eight, took a short cut off the main Nevada highway and ran out of gas on a little-used road in the middle of the hot desert. City bred, they had never spent a night away from a modern facility.
Their water supply consisted of two bottles of soda pop… their food, one candy bat.
The man, recalling his early Boy Scout training, knew the danger of panic. Sheltering his family under a nearby cliff, he set to work digging a cave to protect them from the blazing sun. By rationing the soft drinks and candy, he hoped to keep his family alive. During the day, they rested. At night they gathered brush for a signal fire. This not only boosted their spirits but alerted a passing plane to send a rescue party.
Coping with Fear
When lost, fear of the unknown is your greatest enemy. Coping with fear takes time and you may not have that luxury when being stranded.
Old woodsmen used to say, “To overcome fear, sit down and count slowly to a hundred.” Your next move should be to climb a rise of ground or a tree and note any high peaks or outstanding land-marks that can be seen from a distance. If you know you are going into a strange country, carry a compass, a good strong knife, some matches (in a waterproof container) and a good geological map showing hills and water-ways.
Learn to use the compass and read the map. If no compass, a knife blade or pencil held vertically with the point against your thumbnail will cast a shadow opposite the sun, which rises in the east and sets in the west. If you point the hour hand of your wristwatch (showing correct standard time) directly at the sun, south will be halfway between the hour hand and 12 o’clock.
Moss often grows on the north side of trees. At night, in the Northern Hemisphere, the two stars at the base of the Big Dipper point to the North Star, the last star on the handle of the Little Dipper. Below the equator, the Southern Cross points south. Your best bet may be to stay put and seek shelter.
Suggested reading: How To Deal with Panic When SHTF
A lot of people have died aimlessly wandering all over the landscape when, if they had stayed in one spot and constructed some sort of a signal, they would have been saved. A fire may not always be advisable in dry, heavily timbered areas because of the danger of a forest fire.
A friend of mine, who was recovering from a heart attack, had his wife drive him up a narrow logging road in the high Sierras and seat him with his rifle on an old stump behind a thick evergreen bush overlooking a fresh deer run.
As she wandered into the woods, she felt sure twin peaks towering above her would enable her to keep her directions. She did not count on a storm blowing up and completely hiding these landmarks. She had common sense not to move far away and huddled all day under an over-hanging rock until the clouds finally parted exposing the twin peaks. With her line of direction secure, she soon found the car and a cold, worried husband waiting inside.
Building a shelter
If you stay in one place, shelter is important to protect you from the elements but it also helps coping with fear. The spot chosen should be protected from wind and weather, in among the trees, in sheltered valleys or on the leeward side of a bank. Place the open side opposite the direction from which the wind blows.
Camp near water if possible but on high dry ground. Thick woods are often infested with unpleasant bugs and insects. A ridge top can be an ideal campsite. The season dictates your shelter, location, and design.
In winter, a warmer shelter is needed. One survivor of a northern winter air crash constructed a shelter out of parts of the plane. With matches and dry wood, also from the plane, he built a fire inside which, in the sub-zero weather, kept him from freezing. He sloped the roof, so it reflected the sun and helped warm the shelter.
Snow, in an emergency, maybe protection from cold. Eskimo dogs often tunnel deep into a snow bank where the ground temperature may be 30 degrees warmer than outside.
Related article: How To Make a Tarp Shelter – 15 Designs
In summer, a tree or overhanging cliff may be sheltered enough, though in higher mountains the weather often becomes bitterly cold at night. Caves sometimes make good shelters. However, a pair of campers had to run for their lives one summer when a cave in which they took shelter turned out to be the home of a large brown bear.
Where lightning is expected, do not build or take shelter under trees, tall spires or pinnacles of rock. Caves, dug-outs and overhanging cliffs offer safer cover. In the desert or prairie, the shelter can be a rock ledge or a properly braced tunnel dug in the bank of a clay cliff.
Desert dry creek beds or canyons are often poor places to camp or build shelters. Recently in Arizona, a sudden cloudburst turned an innocent dry river bed into a raging torrent. Several campers and trailers overturned and washed downstream. Their owners luckily escaped drowning by scampering up the steep sides of the canyon.
Coping with Wind Storms
During hot dry wind storms in flat prairie or desert country where no shelter is available, a deep trench may be as cool as 70 degrees F. at its bottom while on the outside surface of the ground the temperature may reach 170 degrees F. If there is no time to dig a trench, lie flat until the storm passes. If you walk out and are sure of your compass points, take bearing on some high object.
Streams may lead to habitation. If you go downstream on a boat or raft, keep alert for the sound of treacherous waterfalls and rapids. In traveling, conserve strength as much as possible. However, your body may be capable of more exertion than you realize Fatigue does not always mean you must rest. You can be so tired you feel lightheaded yet find you can still go on in a pinch.
Coping with hunger
Food can be a problem when a person is lost for a long period. When meat from wild animals cannot be found, certain leaves, berries, and roots may offer nourishment. Some plants, though, are quite poisonous. Others only upset the digestion.
Do not eat any berry, root or leaf you are not certain is safe unless threatened with starvation. Then eat only a tiny portion and wait to see if there are ill effects. Remember, though, that botanists tell us there are over 100,000 edible plants in the world.
Fish may sometimes be caught in many wild areas by simply wading quietly into shallow pools and scooping them onto the bank. A hook made from a bent pin, attached by threads from your clothes to a tree branch and baited with water grubs or insects may form a make-shift fishing outfit which could snare a nice meal from the water.
If you are really hungry, remember insects are rated a top survival food containing more protein than beef. They help coping with hunger and they can be eaten raw or made more palatable by boiling and drinking the strained broth, or they may be sun-dried, fried or roasted.
Coping with thirst
In the desert, drinking water may be your major problem. People have lived 30 to 60 days or longer without food, but the body can stand only a few days without water. When in short supply, the body’s liquids must be conserved. Experienced travelers in desert or high heat areas rest days and travel nights when perspiration is less.
If they must travel by day, they keep their bodies covered, especially their heads and necks. If you watch them, they seem to live in slow motion and keep their bodies off the ground where the temperature is usually much higher. The body is 90 percent water. Dehydration begins after the last drink. The body’s cooling system works harder at higher temperatures. Blood loses water first, thickens and throws a heavier load on the heart.
Related reading: Survival Myths – Drinking Urine When You Are Out Of Water
One prospector traveling across a 120 degrees F. desert for eight days without water crawled the last 200 yards over rocks and brush. Though his flesh was torn, his blood was too thick to bleed. After his rescuers slowly fed him a quart of water, the blood began to flow out of his wounds.
A loss of 21/2 percent of body weight by dehydration lowers the body efficiency 25 percent. Do not try to save water for the next day when the body needs it today. Nor should you drink more water than the body needs all at one time.
Three men were found dead from dehydration in the desert sprawled on the sand around their car, though their water bottles were a third filled with water. Having overcome the feeling of thirst by drinking two-thirds of their water at first, they had saved the last drink for a time when they thought they would need it more.
Whether we drink water first or last is not important. For a trip in hot weather, figure two quarts a day per person. One pint a day will keep a person alive, but after the first two days he begins to slowly dehydrate.
It’s not easy coping with thirst when you are struggling for your life. You have to figure out ways to find water and find it fast. Game trails usually lead to, and birds often fly toward water. In the desert, patches or strips of green vegetation are visible from great distances and show the location of streams or springs. It is seldom fruitful to seek water on ground level terrain. Springs are often found at the bottom of a cliff or slope.
Certain desert plants like cactus have water in leaves and stems (watery sap). Though the milky sap of some cactus plants is not suitable to drink, the common prickly pear cactus is filled with water as is the barrel variety from which the top may be cut uncovering a pulpy interior filled with clear life-saving liquid.
Old desert rats tell us to look for water in rock and lava cliffs, in caverns, along walls of valley gorges and in the cracks between rocks. If a wet spot is noticed in a clay bluff or the hollows between sand dunes or in a dry river bed, dig a hole. If below the water table, it will fill with water. If a water hole has dead animals or no green plant life around its edge, you may suspect the water is unsafe.
Water from some streams and lakes may contain harmful bacteria that can be purified by boiling or adding water purification tablets. Eight drops of a 21/2 percent iodine solution in one quart of water will purify most such waters in 10 minutes. Muddy or even rusty water, as in a car radiator or in your windshield wiper reservoir (without anti-freeze or other additives) may not appear palatable but is generally safe to drink.
It’s not easy coping with the unknown and you need to have a certain mindset to survive. When lost, planning ahead and keeping busy are the best ways to prevent imaginary hazards crowding into your thoughts. As you sit alone, far from civilization, the noises of the outdoors may seem to be filled with fearsome sounds. These are usually friendly. Only when they grow quiet might it signify danger. Some come back from hazardous situations. Others equally strong, equally brave, succumb to the elements simply because coping with the new and the unfamiliar is impossible for them.
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