What would you do if you found yourself in a survival situation? I’ve taken part in a fair few survival exercises, both as part of a group and as an individual. Believe me, the second scenario is far harder and that’s why it’s important to know what to do. First things first, three is the magic number: a human can survive for three minutes without air, three hours without a regulated body temperature (shelter), three days without water and three weeks without food.
A positive ‘can do’ attitude is vital to survival. If your go-to strategy is to stick your head between your knees and trust someone else will save you, then you may as well just kiss your ass goodbye while you’re down there. Be positive and don’t waste time dwelling on what’s happened or what might or might not happen.
Survival is partly down to luck, but it’s mainly due to staying calm and thinking logically, then taking each minute, hour and day as it comes. You can stack the odds in your favour by learning the checklist of skills below...
1. Get Capable With Tackling Medical Emergencies
First attend to medical emergencies. If you are semi-seriously injured and decided to ignore it, it could kill you. Making a shelter while bleeding to death isn’t going to help anyone. A small wound can quickly become infected so patch it up and then clean it once water is found.
2. Find Or Build A Decent Shelter
Protection from extreme elements, be that cold, wet, wind or sun is critical. High temperatures or freezing conditions soon lead to dehydration, hypo or hyperthermia and death. Shelter in a broken vehicle, crashed plane, cave or fallen tree for the first night. Use anything you find to waterproof and windproof, from large leaves to bits of tarp. Insulate yourself from the floor with anything soft and warm. Location-wise, the first night may be anywhere, but move away from danger and close to water and food sources quickly.
Dehydration kicks in fast – from a dry mouth to headaches, lethargy, nausea, rapid heart rate, heat exhaustion and eventually death
3. Get A Source Of Aqua
Our bodies are 60-70% water. It enables blood to carry oxygen and nutrients, electrolytes to fire muscle impulses and is paramount to brain tissue. We cannot survive long without it. Dehydration kicks in fast with effects running from a dry mouth to headaches, lethargy, nausea, rapid heart rate, high body temperature, heat exhaustion and eventually death.
Find water by moving downhill to where it flows. Stop, close your eyes and listen for running water, then follow the sound. Look for animal tracks on the ground, birds in the air and insect swarms; all indicate water. Small streams are best as the fast flowing water means no bacteria – rivers can be more polluted. Lakes and ponds can be stagnant and are less appealing.
If it rains that’s ideal: collect rainwater using a waterproof jacket or tarp as a large funnel leading to a container. Collect dew using a piece of clothing or blanket to soak it up, then wring out into a container. If it’s not raining then you should know that plants release water (transpiration) from their leaves as they ‘breathe’. So, tie a plastic bag around a branch of leaves and leave in the sun. Water will collect in the bag.
4. Build A Roaring Fire
Fire provides warmth, morale and keeps predators at bay. It can dry wet clothes (preventing hypothermia), purify water and kill parasites/bacteria in food by cooking. The smoke is perfect for rescue signalling, smoking meats and for keeping mosquitos away!
Starting a fire without lighters is tough. Most methods involve friction such as bow drill, hand drill, fire plow and fire saw. Ideally, carry multiple tools including a lighter, matches, flint and steel. I had a lighter on one survival exercise but the wet surroundings and nasty weather meant I could not keep a fire going. It’s worth practicing fire-building in various weathers.
Don’t forget the use of mirrors and lenses with the sun. Apparently this can also be done by polishing the bottom of a Coke can into a mirror with chocolate. It’s ironic that more people will have those items than a magnifying glass!
‘Line up the sun between your watch’s hour hand and 12 o’clock – that’s the north-south line’
5. Work Out Where You’re Headed
Simply knowing how to navigate can enable you to save yourself. If you’re going to have to log some mileage to find help, then it pays not to walk in massive circles. The sun always rises in the east and sets in the west. In the northern hemisphere, the sun is due south when it is at its highest point and casting no shadows. You don’t even need a compass to navigate accurately with it – just a watch.
STEP ONE Hold the watch horizontally with the hour hand at the sun.
STEP TWO Line up the angle halfway between the hour hand and 12 o’clock. This is the
north-south line. If on daylight savings time, bisect the angle between the hour hand and 1 o’clock to account for the time difference. If you have a digital watch, draw the current time as an analogue clock and use that.
6. Let Rescuers Know Where You Are
After surviving, you need to be prepared to draw attention to yourself. It’s no good seeing a plane or helicopter and then thinking about signalling – your call for help must be on standby. The signal should be obvious and out of place in the environment to make sure they investigate.
SIGNAL ONE Smoke or fire – build a ready-to-ignite, separate fire, that you can easily light from the main fire, but is filled with wet leaves to fill the air with smoke.
SIGNAL TWO A mirror – this will reflect the sun’s light back at the plane or helicopter. A smartphone screen can work just as well.
SIGNAL THREE Sound – a whistle or anything louder than your voice.
7. Forage Or Hunt Some Grub
Catching fish or animals isn’t easy – and killing is even harder for many. Without snares and fishing kit, stick to easier prey. Insects are abundant and very high in protein. Think of earthworms as bacon and spiders or beetles as shrimp.
There are many edible plants, but equally as many are poisonous, so don’t risk it if you don’t know. As a general guide avoid any plants with: milky or discoloured sap; spines, fine hairs or thorns; beans, bulbs, or seeds inside pods; a bitter or soapy taste; dill, carrot, parsnip, or parsley-like foliage; an ‘almond’ scent in the woody parts and leaves; grain heads with pink, purplish, or black spurs; a three-leaved growth pattern.
WHAT NEXT? Given that water is your number-three priority you should probably know how to take advantage of rainfall to collect water – here’s a nifty structure you can build from local vegetation:
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.