Whether on an afternoon canoeing trip down a local river or on ten-day backpacking trip along a remote section of the Appalachian Trail, the most important item that you can carry with you is not a battery-operated gadget. It’s not a compass, or a fire-starting tool, or even a knife.
Knowledge Is Power
The most important thing weighs nothing, yet is invaluable. It’s the knowledge and resourcefulness you’ve acquired over a lifetime of experiences. When the chips are down, it’s your creativeness, your imagination, and your ingenuity that can help you survive.
What kind of knowledge?
- Starting Fires. Knowing how to start a fire under less-than-ideal circumstances using impromptu materials can mean the difference in having potable water or suffering from dehydration, in having warmth or enduring a bitterly cold night without heat, in surviving or becoming a statistic. Learn and practice multiple fire starting techniques using a variety of supplies and you won’t be caught off guard.
- Navigating Terrain. A good compass and a map of the local area should be one of the first things you pack before an outing. But devices can be lost or they fail, leaving you with little to guidance to find your way out. Additionally not all survival situations occur during a planned outing. Learning to determine direction during the day or at night without the aid of a compass or GPS can help lead you to rescue.
- Purifying Water. The average person can sustain survival for three days without water. It’s quite literally the liquid of life. Without it, you die; the equation is that simple. Knowing how to turn contaminated water into clean drinking water should be very high on your list of skills to acquire. Learn how to filter dirty water, to make a solar still, and to boil water using heated rocks so that you can use any water that you find along the way.
- Tying Knots. There is virtually no limit to the usefulness of cordage in a survival situation. From tying down a shelter to making a snare, from rappelling down an incline to making a hammock, cordage makes survival easier. But having cordage is only half of the battle; knowing a handful of knots and their uses allows you to make full use of your cordage. Learn to tie a timber hitch, a clove hitch, a bowline, and others. Even better, learn how to make cordage from vines and wild grasses.
- Building Shelters. In inclement weather, having shelter from the harsh elements is second only to your immediate safety and air. Exposed and ill-equipped, you’ll only last a few hours or days. Knowing how to build debris huts, A-frame shelters, teepees, lean-tos, snow caves, and sleeping platforms can help you regulate your core body temperature and survive in an otherwise hostile environment.
- Administering First Aid. Many people carry a simple first-aid kit with bandages and triple antibiotic ointment. That’s a good start, but it’s woefully inadequate for broken bones, gastrointestinal issues, and non-trivial lacerations. A good working knowledge of wilderness first-aid techniques can help you provide effective assistance to others in your group, or even give direction to them as they treat you.
Knowledge Is Confidence
Knowing what to do in an emergency situation and having practiced it when your life wasn’t on the line gives you the confidence to effect survival should you find it necessary. Knowledge is the one thing that you cannot accidentally leave behind. The skills you learn may be the skills that get you home.
In the coming posts I’ll expand on some of these topics – how to tie knots, how to build fires, how to erect shelters. But remember, reading about them is not enough. Go out and do it for yourself. Learn it and make it your own.