Wilderness Survival Skills to Keep You Alive – Part 1 of 2, by Jerry Ward

[Editor’s note: Today and Wednesday we feature a post by one of our sponsors, OzarkMountainPreparedness.com. I will attend one of Jerry’s wilderness survival classes in Arkansas this coming March as my wilderness survival skills need A LOT of help! If you’re anywhere nearby Arkansas then I encourage you to attend a class.]

Wilderness Survival! The phrase conjures up visions of plane crashes in the deserts of Africa, shipwrecks in the South Pacific, tragic miscalculations of direction in the South America rainforest, and expeditions gone wrong in the Arctic. While these situations are all found in the annals of history and plausible, the bulk of survival situations befall folks in less exotic locales under less glamorous circumstances. Usually Work-a-Day Joe and/or Jane get lost on a hunting trip, stumble and suffer a mechanical injury while out for a day hike, has car trouble on a back road, or has any other run-in with Mr. Murphy. These events can turn a simple afternoon of recreation into a potentially life threatening situation. Hopefully Joe and Jane have had some professional survival training and have with them a kit to help them deal with the priorities of survival.

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Statistically, you have an 80%-85% chance of being rescued within 72 hours here in the lower 48. The two major factors of contributing to those numbers are the invention of the helicopter and the cell phone. The helicopter came into its prime during the Vietnam War where it was used heavily as a platform to extract and evacuate wounded military personnel. Pilots and Search and Rescue (SAR) units here in the civilian world realized there was a place for that same mobility and speed during SAR operations. Cellular phones, love them or hate them, have also led to the advancement of rapid rescue these last few decades. The “smart” phones of today can not only be used as a communication device in order to activate SAR, but also as a navigational tool capable of providing rescuers the exact location of the party needing help. That being said, neither of these tools should be relied upon or used as a crutch. SAR teams need notification of a rescue situation. Team members are human and are prone to mistake, illness, etc. Helicopters and other mechanical machines are just that, mechanical. Anything mechanical has limitations and will fail eventually. Cell phones in particular are prone to all sorts of mishaps; loss of power, little or no coverage, a dunk in the creek, breakage due to a fall, and loss. They are nice to have on station and fun to play with, but not something to count on when the chips are down.

Because you can’t count on others for your safety and security, I recommend seeking formal survival training and carrying a basic survival kit that has been cleverly thought out and stocked with practical components. This kit is designed to mitigate the hazards to and help in the preservation of life. It covers the Big 5 of survival: Fire, Water/Food, Shelter, Medical, and Signaling. Let’s take a brief look at each of these categories.

Fire

Fire is a simple chemical reaction called oxidation in which the oxygen in the atmosphere reacts with the molecules of a substance to produce energy in the form of heat and light. Fire requires three components to begin and sustain that reaction; an initial heat source, fuel, and oxygen. I’ll save the deeper explanation for a future article, but basically when all three of these components are in the right mixture you have a fire. In a survival scenario, fire is a critical element that cannot be overstressed. It provides a way to purify water and cook food, is an instant signal from the flame and smoke, is a tool to process wood and create containers, provides light at night, helps to maintain core body temperature, and is a companion requiring interaction and providing feedback. I recommend my students carry a minimum of three ways to make fire in their kits and on their person. The methods I prefer are the ferro rod, flint and steel kit, and a Bic lighter with a piece of bicycle inner tube wrapped around it. Toss in a waterproof container with a half dozen petroleum jelly covered cotton balls and you can be sure of a fire in almost all conditions!

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Water

Water is critical to life. You will die in about three or four days without it. That being said, being able to find water and render it safe is a definite need in the kit. Natural water sources include the obvious: creeks, rivers, ponds, etc. There is also precipitation, transpiration, condensation, sub-surface water pooling and the like. Here again, the source of a future article. Treat all collected water as suspect and purify to ensure safety. There are all sorts of water purifying devices on the market today. I have two I’d like to recommend. The first is some sort of chemical treatment that will kill the microbes swimming around in the drink. Chlorine and iodine are the most common and easy to obtain. Unscented chlorine bleach and 2% tincture of iodine from the pharmacy are the two I prefer. Add two drops per quart of either the chlorine bleach or 2% iodine tincture, shake thoroughly, and wait 30 minutes before drinking. Medical note- if you have a shellfish allergy do not use iodine. The second method I recommend is the Lifestraw. The Lifestraw is a straw you simply place down into the contaminated water source and drink through just like a soda straw. When you are finished, simply blow through the straw to remove the excess water, close the caps on each end, and toss back in your gear. The Lifestraw filters down to a size of 0.2 microns and has a service life of 250 gallons. It weighs mere ounces and is built to withstand the rigors of life in the field. Boiling is always an option, so be sure to include a stainless steel container to place in your fire.

Food

Food is another thing to consider when constructing a survival kit. The human body can make it for around 30 days without nourishment, but why be hungry when you avoid it. After just a few days without food, your energy level will be greatly diminished. A decreased energy level will manifest itself as a decrease in work around camp; which could lead to your demise. Always include some high-fat/high-calorie foodstuffs in the kit. Things like peanuts, meal replacement bars, trail mix, chocolate, etc. will give you an energy boost and help with the overall morale of the survivors. Also, a little training in primitive trapping techniques and wild edible plants will increase your chances of survival should the situation go from short-term to Robinson Crusoe.

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Wednesday we focus on shelter, medical and signaling. Stay tuned!

Jerry Ward Bio

Jerry Ward is the owner and operator of Ozark Mountain Preparedness, LLC located in Berryville, Arkansas. He has been teaching survival skills since 2004 and opened Ozark Mountain Preparedness in 2010. Before becoming a full-time survival skills instructor he worked as a rock climbing guide, wildland firefighter and gunsmith. Jerry studied wildlife biology at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He is an avid fur trapper and student of history. His outdoor pursuits have taken him all around the United States and abroad, including fur trapping in Alaska, fighting wildfire in the American West, researching primitive cultures in the Desert Southwest, trekking the rainforests of Belize, and exploring the Highlands of Scotland. He has been featured in numerous publications, including Currents and American Survival Guide magazines. Jerry is a member of The Wilderness Medical Society and The Society of Primitive Technology. He can be reached via the web at http://ozarkmountainpreparedness.com or phone at (870)350-6995.

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Author: Damian Brindle

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