Surviving in the woods has been done throughout history, but how well you do on your own depends a lot on what preparations you make and what you do when you realize that you’re lost. First and foremost, it’s important to keep your wits about you and think through your actions. Even just one wrong step can make your situation worse. Know the fundamental survival skills of the forest before you take your first step into the great outdoors. This will ensure that you know what to do if you get lost. Here are some tips that can teach you how to survive in the woods if you ever get lost.
Survey the area around you to see what you have on hand. This will help you determine what you can make and how easily you can make it. Look for different tree types, vines that would work as rope, and possible fuel sources.
Rocks will most likely be all around you. Collect sharp rocks that can be used as knives. Also look for wooden sticks to carve with, roast with, and build a shelter out of. Don’t overlook other items that could possibly be used in helpful ways, like fishing line, bones, and shells. Make mornings the time to find the food you need and scout your surroundings. As you go through your day, collect other items that you can use.
Constructing a shelter should be your #1 priority. Look for a fallen tree, a large tree with a shelter underneath it, or a cave. Make sure it is protected from the wind so that it stays dry and warm. Pile materials, like pine boughs and other leafy branches, on top to waterproof the shelter and keep you comfortable.
Build a bed out of pine needles to sleep on when the temperature drops. Having this layer between you and ground will keep you warmer and dryer than if you were laying directly on the ground. And gather whatever you see—leaves, more branches—to place on top of you to further insulate you from the cold.
Find food! This should be your next priority (after making a shelter). Hunt for edible berries—like salmon-berries and wild huckleberries—, pine nuts, and plants. Consider catching insects for a nutritious snack. They might be small, but if you’re able to catch a few of them, the protein and nutrients add up. If you know how to make traps or hunt with a hand-made spear, you can also try to hunt for meat.
Find a clean water source in case your ordeal extends more than a day. If you’re at a high altitude, the running water in a stream is usually okay to drink–but snow is not, unless you melt it first, because it will make you too cold. Look for places that rainwater gathers, like in rock crevices. Pay attention to birds; they like to circle water.
Purify any water that you find to make sure it’s free of contaminants and safe for you to drink. Boiling it is the best option. If you don’t have a fire going and can’t boil your water, you can use a plastic bottle to purify it. First use your shirt or a piece of cloth to strain (or sieve) the water. Then pour the water into a plastic bottle and set it in direct sunlight for a few hours. It should be clean enough for you to drink at this point.
Once you’ve built a shelter and have searched around for water and food, your next step is to build a fire using the tools around you. Instead of using matches to start your fire, rub the end of a dry stick into the groove of a larger piece of wood until you see glowing embers in the groove. Then blow softly on it while adding moss and larger fuels onto it consecutively. Pine sap is an excellent fire starter if you find yourself in a wetter climate where fires are harder to get going.
Collect enough wood so that you will be all set for the night. Repeat this step every day so that you never run out of wood. Covering the coals of your fire in green boughs will keep them hot for the day and will make fire starting easier every night.
Conserve your energy! Don’t put so much energy into building a shelter, hunting for food, or making an SOS sign out of rocks that you dehydrate yourself more quickly. Be smart about how you spend your energy so that you can last longer on less food and water.
If you encounter animals, make noise to scare them away. The one thing you shouldn’t do is panic! Don’t panic! If you do panic, the animal could misinterpret it as an offensive action and take on a defensive stance in self-defense. Most wild animals won’t attack unless they feel threatened, have their young with them, or if they are injured and/or sick.
•Follow the acronym S-T-O-P:
SIT down to collect your thoughts and orient yourself;
THINK before you do anything or walk anywhere;
OBSERVE what’s around you, and listen for noises that indicate people or traffic/roads nearby;
PREPARE for a long wait by gathering whatever items will keep you safe and comfortable, like wood and kindling if you have a way to start a fire.
•If you can start a campfire, start three of them in a straight line or a triangle. The universal distress signals come in 3s: three gunshots, three blasts of a whistle, three fires, or three flashes of a mirror or reflective object.
•Breathing through your nose, instead of through your mouth, will help you stay hydrated longer.
•Curl up in the fetal position to conserve heat. If you are with a group, huddle together.