Introduction to Survival - Explore! Introduction to Survival - Explore!

Introduction to Survival


When something goes terribly wrong and you are a long way from help, you must be able to survive on your own for at least as long as it takes for someone to come to your rescue.   Making a rescue possible requires some actions before you leave home like telling people where you are going, your planned route and when you expect to return, but that’s not what this article is about.

This article is an introduction to the survival actions you will need to perform in the wilderness after disaster strikes.  It is based on the concepts presented in the U.S. Army Survival Manual (Field Manual 21-76).  That manual is focused on survival under battle conditions.  While the underlying information  is valid,  it’s not written to apply to the kinds of predicaments an explorer in a peaceful area might encounter.  With this article we will recast the introductory information, so that you can apply it more directly.

“Survival” as a Memory Aid

When you get into an “oh s**t, what now” situation you need to know where to start.  The word “survival” can be the basis for remembering the key things to do immediately.


Survival – The Situation

The letter ‘S’, according to the Army, is to remind you to “Size-Up the Situation.”  The idea is to assess where you are and the condition you are in.  Start with your physical condition.  If you just fell and are laying flat on your back, do a thoughtful checkup before you try moving.  Can you wiggle your fingers?  Your toes? Where does it hurt?  Is there blood? From where?  Is anything broken or sprained?  Are you warm? Are you cold?  Are you thirsty?  Not only does this exercise help you evaluate the extent of the predicament you are in with regard to your physical condition, it makes you slow down for a moment and focus on resolving your problem.  If you do identify a physical problem,  apply whatever first aid you can.

Next,  assess your surroundings.  If you just survived an avalanche or some other fast-moving event, you would quickly assess the stability of your situation.  In some cases you may need to scramble out of harm’s way even before you assess your physical condition.  After you get to a stable position,  give some thought to where you are and what that means to your chances of survival.  If you are in the desert and it gets cold at night, be aware of that fact and that it implies you will need some way to keep yourself warm.  If your disaster happened in deep snow, you have another set of conditions to assess in addition to keeping warm.  Is anyone else around?  Maybe you can call for help.  Are there birds or other animals around? Where is the nearest water?  If you were being aware as you moved along the trail, you should have already registered the answers to many of these questions.

Finally, size-up the equipment you have with you.  If you are backpacking,  you probably have most of the material things you need to survive for at least awhile.  Think about what  you have and how it can be used to resolve any of the issues you have already identified.  You will want to resolve the most critical needs first, like first aid, but keep in mind your longer term needs like water, food and shelter.  You don’t want to use your tent poles for a splint if you expect to need your tent for shelter.  Instead look for pieces of wood or something else that might work as a splint.

At this point you can begin thinking more into the future and develop a survival plan.


sUrvival – Use All Your Senses, Undue Haste Makes Waste

 The idea behind developing a survival plan is to, again, slow yourself down so that you don’t act in haste and make your situation worse.  Listen to the sounds around you.  Smell the smells.  Look at your surroundings. Look at the sky.  Gather whatever information you can that might help you make the best choices as you prepare to take action.


suRvival – Remember Where You Are

If you have been hiking through the woods for awhile, you may not know your exact position.  Get out your map and GPS unit if you have one, and pinpoint your location.  Write the GPS coordinates on the map.  If your battery dies, those coordinates could be a matter of life or death if you can communicate them to searchers.  If you don’t have GPS capability,  use your compass to orient your map to your surroundings and locate yourself that way.  With this piece of information, you will be able to evaluate escape routes, find water and generally become more familiar with the environment in which you need to survive.


surVival – Vanquish Fear and Panic

If you have calmly and methodically gone through the above steps,  you probably are no longer in panic mode.  A certain amount of fear may be present, but if you have prepared yourself with basic survival knowledge before hand and came equipped for your adventure, you should be ok.  Be confident that you can deal with the situation as required.


survIval – Improvise

Use your imagination and be creative.  If you are in survival mode, you will be faced with a continuous series of problems to resolve.  Need a hammer? Use a rock.  Need a bandage? What’s in your pack?  Will a leaf work?  Humans have the capacity to create and use tools for about anything that needs doing.  You role is to define the problem then find a solution using the materials available to you.


surviVal – Value Living

Your mental state is critical to your survival.  Sometimes it’s easy to give up.  In a survival situation that means death.  Sure it might be stressful, inconvenient, uncomfortable and even painful, but you need to accept that, be stubborn and work through the steps required for your survival.  Your will to live can make all the difference.


survivAl – Act Like the Natives

In a battle situation it’s important to be aware of people in your vicinity and what they are doing.  In a wilderness survival situation, however, there won’t be people around.  Instead,  you can assess any animal life around you.  Are there deer trails or animal tracks that might lead you to water, shelter or even food?  Keep in mind that some animals can eat some things that are poisonous to people.  Just because an animal ate it doesn’t mean that you should.  It’s much better to have some knowledge about edible plants and fungi before you set out on your adventure.


survivaL – Live By Your Wits

Your wits are, of course, informed by your knowledge.  Thus,  you must do some learning beforehand.  First, study the four books we have made available to our Discover Club members.  If you haven’t registered yet, click the Discover Club menu item above and follow the directions – it’s free.  Among those books are the summer and winter versions of the U.S. Marine Corps Survival Training Guides.   You might also want to read through the Army Survival Manual or any number of great books that will help you build the knowledge you need to survive in the wilderness.  Here are some books you might want to read:

and enjoy some of Dave Canterbury’s videos at his YouTube Channel.  Canterbury is the co-owner and supervising instructor at the Pathfinder School in Ohio, which was named by USA Today as one of the Top 12 Survival Schools in the United States. He is also the managing editor of Self Reliance Illustrated magazine. 

 Your Pathfinder wrote a blog post awhile back about a book he enjoyed as a kid.  The books listed above will also be of particular interest to an outdoors oriented kid.


 Survival Actions


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