If you are planning on a life in the woods hiding out from civilization, then survival in the wilderness is something that requires a lot of training. But survival for those lost backpacking or hunting or in a plane crash is something else. Here is a look at the basics of getting out alive.

To begin with, food is not a big priority when you are lost and awaiting rescue. In fact, it is very rare that anyone dies from starvation when lost in the wilderness. There are too many other ways to die long before hunger gets you, and in any case most rescues happen long before the passing of the month or so that you could live without food.

If you have any injuries or immediate threats (like aggressive bears) you have to deal with those. As soon as the immediate threats are gone, shelter will normally be your top priority. If you have never build a wilderness survival shelter, you might want to try it sometime for practice. Just remember that your goal is to keep out wind and rain, as well as to provide a space small enough for your body to heat if you are facing cold nights.

The most common survival shelter is the basic lean-to. A pole or stick is attached horizontally between two trees, and then others are laid against it, sloping down to the ground. More sticks are piled against this “roof” and then it is covered with evergreen boughs, leaves or tree bark, starting from the bottom so the last layer of roofing acts like shingles to shed the rain.

In an emergency you can also just pile up dry leaves or grass and crawl into the center of the pile. This provides a quick and warm shelter. It can even keep you dry if the rain or snow is light. The “dead air” space that is created is what insulates you and keeps you warm. Keep this in mind. You might also use dry vegetation as a mattress and blanket inside any other type of shelter.

Water is the next important survival priority. Streams and lakes are the obvious sources, but in dry areas you might have to work a little harder at locating water. Look for low shaded spots where it may have pooled during the last rain, and not yet evaporated. You might also be able to collect dew in the mornings by running a piece of cloth through the wet grass and wringing the moisture out into a container or directly into your mouth.

If you do not have a means to purify water, and more than a day has gone by without a drink, use whatever you find unless it is clearly poisoned (indications include a lack of any plant life around the water). Generally you are more likely to die from dehydration than from contaminated water. In fact, many organisms, like giardia, can take a week or more before you have symptoms, and hopefully you will be rescued by then.

Finally, you need to be able to help the searchers find you. A fire is a good idea for this. have green leafy branches or something else that will create a lot of smoke ready in case you hear a plane or helicopter coming. If you can’t make a fire, find an open place and lay out whatever you have that is colorful and/or large, so it can be spotted from the air. If you have a whistle, blow it in sets of three occasionally.

At least in emergencies, survival in the wilderness is not about how to build a cabin or make bread from cattail roots. It’s usually about protecting your core body temperature and keeping hydrated while you wait for help to arrive. Food can help, and is a comfort, but it is last on this list of priorities.

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