How would you react if you were lost in a forest? Finding yourself in this scenario is at once very unlikely and remarkably easy to do. Stories from rescued hikers and even ordinary nature enthusiasts who endured a wilderness survival scenario often begin in a similar way, “I’m not sure how I left the path.” It can take only a few steps, practically seconds to end up being wholly lost in the wilderness.
So what steps do you take if you end up confronted with the prospect of surviving in the wilderness? The first step is to stop. Stop hiking, stop trying to locate that trail – because, I’m sorry to say, it is not just around the next bend. The desire to persist in walking, searching, will be overwhelming. Almost as though you’re attempting to flee from the possibility of actually being lost. But most likely, the further you proceed, the farther you will get from the comfort and security of the trail you used to be on. And the farther away you are from the trail, the more difficult it’s going to be for search parties to locate you. So just stop. Seriously. Stop.
Now what you need to do is assess your situation. Have a look around at your surroundings and mentally note what’s around you. Are you in marshy wet lands? Is there break in the terrain close by, a field? Are you in the vicinity of water? And so forth.
Now, make a mental list of all objects you have with you. Wallet, keys, glasses? Every detail is important. Taking inventory will be useful for you to put together a plan for fire and shelter, because these are your first priorities (even more than hydration and nourishment). Shelter and fire provide warmth (fire also creates signal, in the form of smoke, to rescuers). Because there are only a small number of places that don’t come with the possibility of getting fatally cold during the night, even during summer, warmth is of extreme importance. You can focus your attention on water and food later.
As soon as you’ve taken note of your items it’s time to start constructing your campfire, which shouldn’t be much trouble using the waterproof flint and tinder you have located in your rucksack next to several other methods of fire-making. You are carrying a backpack packed with standard survival tools, right? Right?
At this point, it’s probably abundantly clear why a survival list makes all the difference in the world in a wilderness survival predicament. Imagine, for a moment, trying to start a fire manually by, say, rubbing sticks against each other. Do you have the first idea how to accomplish this? Do you know anyone who does? Yeah, I don’t either.
Although you could strategize and pack endlessly for every possible contingency, a survival list that is adequate in most situations need cover only a few of the most primary requirements. Those are:
Fire - You ought to have various waterproof methods of ignition, such as lighters, waterproof matches, a flint, or fire piston. A few fire starting sticks or pre-bundled tinder are also a good idea.
Shelter - You can spend a very long time creating a fragile, porous shelter out of sticks stacked against one another, and if that is your only alternative, by all means, do it. But you could just as easily have an ultralight tent which is waterproof, windproof and almost guarantees sufficient warmth to survive a cold night. Even better to include an ultralight sleeping bag to boot.
Water - If you have really gotten yourself into a jam, you might need to spend a number of days and nights lost in the wilderness. In this scenario, you’re not going to survive for long without water. Make sure you have several means of disinfecting water, such as a compact ceramic water filter and/or iodine-based water disinfection pills. Also pack a way to transport and store it, such as a canteen. Do not wait until your water supply has run out to find more. Even if it means relocating your camp.
Food - Food can be dealt with in several ways. The most basic of which is to pack a number of nutrition, fat, and carbohydrate rich energy bars (Clif bars or similar), these alone will provide enough nutrition to last a number of days if properly rationed. Other options include hunting, fishing, and trapping animals as well as searching for edible vegetation and berries. Having said that, to adequately make use of the latter choices, previous experience will be requisite. Hunting is a learned ability, as is edible plant identification. You shouldn’t ever ingest any vegetation unless you’re absolutely sure what it is.
Tools - Lastly, whatever tools you have with you are going to make wilderness survival far less challenging, most notably, a high quality multi-tool; followers of Les Stroud’s Survivorman TV series know this well already. Other items to think about packing might include rope, a machete, or dedicated knife and sharpener.
Almost all of these objects can be readily purchased and packed in a relatively small, lightweight backpack that is easy to bring with you in most any scenario. In fact, your survival pack should be brought along with you in nearly every situation where you are not able to see concrete or some different, observable sign of humankind. From the shortest trail hikes to full day hiking expeditions, a single wrong step, and your survival list might just save your life.