Outdoors Survival Skills

Before you venture afield, any time of year, you must know the basics of orienteering, weather preparedness and treatment of injuries.

There are three primary wilderness situations that can each, in their own right, spell disaster: becoming lost, accidents and weather. Today we, as outdoors enthusiasts, are most fortunate to have some of the finest technology available to us that even a decade ago was either leading edge or affordable to only a few. So let’s take a look at each of these factors and see how we can use this technology and preventative planning to avoid being caught in their ugly web.

Becoming Lost

As Homo sapiens we seldom care to admit that we may have become lost — despite the nagging sensation right in our gut that tells us we are. Unfortunately, the male of our species falls prey to this reality more frequently than we care to admit. Thankfully, during my 40-odd years in the bush, it has only become a potential serious situation once.

It just happened to be my first moose hunt in northern Saskatchewan when as a brash teenager I became lost on a very overcast day in the endless tracks of spruce bogs the area is renowned for. Without a compass or a map to find my way back, every bog soon began to look like the one I had just walked through. Eventually, at nightfall, another hunting party saved my bacon, but that experience sure changed the way I viewed my vulnerability and how I prepared for and hunted or travelled in wilderness areas from the on. The keys to avoiding becoming critically lost are:

  • Learn everything you can about the area you intend to travel in. That includes the terrain, rivers, streams and potential hazards within them (such as rapids), locations of water sources, ideal camp locations, trails/roads, cabin sites and elevation contours. In other words, study maps, aerial photos and talk to others who have been in the area.
  • Acquire a quality handheld GPS receiver and not only learn how to use it but carry it with you at all times when in a wilderness situation.
  • Ensure that you tell someone exactly where you are going and when you are expected back.
  • Have quality maps that are weather protected with you at all times and if you can’t afford a GPS, obtain and learn how to use a compass. (Even if you have a GPS, always carry a compass as a backup.)
  • Don’t depend solely on your navigational intuition or natural elements such as the sun to guide you, as both for various reasons, such as a storm front, can fail you.
  • Remember the following internationally recognized emergency distress signals: volley of three shots, three blasts on a whistle, three flashes with a mirror and/or three evenly spaced fires. If you’re near a large open area, mark out a large X in the snow or sand that can be seen from the air. If neither snow nor sand is available, use logs, sticks, or rocks.
  • At all times carry some minimal survival gear such as waterproof matches and a knife and, wherever possible, carry a pocket/pen type flare.

Accidents

None of use likes to even contemplate the thought of dealing with an accident in a wilderness setting, but they do happen and can be deadly when help may be many hours or even days away. So while expecting the best out of your wilderness experience plan for the potential of a worst-case scenario. Key planning factors to consider are:

  • Don’t travel alone and discuss ahead of time with your partner(s) the exact procedure should an accident occur.
  • Take a first aid course or minimally obtain a guide such as A Comprehensive Guide To Wilderness & Travel Medicine, by Dr. Eric A. Weiss.
  • Obtain a good quality first aid kit such as the Hunter or Sportsman kits from Adventure Medical Kits, which feature the Easy Care System that organizes hospital-quality tools and supplies by type of injury. These kits also include instruction cards that will even enable a novice to provide effective first response treatment.
  • As a second choice, assemble your own kit that minimally includes the following: various size bandages, band aids, painkillers/anti-inflammatory pills, various size needles and strong thread, antiseptic, mole skin, gauze and adhesive tape.
  • Take extra precautions and care during every aspect of your trip. In other words, don’t take an unnecessary chance — be it while chopping wood, climbing in unstable or dangerous terrain, running rapids or even while field dressing or packing out game.
  • Wear a life vest or survival suit while on the water.
  • Ensure that your equipment is in good order, be familiar with its use, match it to your trip and don’t push it beyond its capacity.
  • Ensure that you are physically able to meet the challenges of the planned wilderness travel.
  • Purchase and carry with you at all times the new Personal Locator Beacon from ACR Electronics. It is now licensed in Canada and should a life-threatening situation occur, it could be activated for immediate search and rescue.

Weather

The weather, the element over which we have no control, can without question becomes a factor not only in the potential enjoyment of a wilderness experience but can also additionally spell disaster for the unwary or ill-informed traveller. Sudden storm fronts can not only lead to situations where life and limb are threatened directly from such elements as severe winds to lightening strikes or they can also be the primary stage in bringing on such potentially deadly situations such as hypothermia. Key factors to consider regarding weather are:

  • Prior to engaging or departing on your trip check all the sources of weather information that are available to you such as: www.weatherofffice.gc.ca.
  • Ensure that your equipment and clothing matches or exceeds the potential demands that the weather may generate.
  • Carry extra rations including high-energy foods or bars in case you become weather bound.
  • Ensure that you have survival gear/ kit such as minimally the Pocket Survival Pak from Adventure Medical Kits with you that match the conditions and anticipated elements of your planned trip. The kit should also include a lightweight emergency shelter such as the Thermo-Lite Bivvy Sack or Heatsheets Emergency Bivvy, which weigh in respectively at 6.5 and 3.5 ounces. Inexpensive compact and lightweight — and in a pinch they can save your life.
  • Avoid locations that can lead to potential life threatening situations particularly during severe storms. Get off open water should a thunderstorm unexpectedly descend on you.
  • Have an emergency or contingency plan in place prior to departure that each member of the party understands.

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