General Topics > How to Survive in the Woods
How to Survive in the Woods
Source : Survive-in-the-Woods
How to Survive in the Woods
Two Parts :
Preparing for the Woods
Surviving in the Woods
Have you ever been on a hike admiring the great views, gazing up at the tips of the trees, listening to the rustling of the leaves... and suddenly found yourself completely alone and lost? Naturally, the situation would give way to some level of panic and concern for your safety. While being lost in the woods can be a frightening experience, surviving alone in the wild is generally a matter of common sense, patience, and wisely using the gifts that nature provides. If you want to know how to survive in the woods, just follow these steps.
Preparing for the Woods
Do your research first. Don't just trek off into the wilderness; get a solid understanding of your surroundings first. Studying a map of the area where you're going -- and making sure to bring it with you -- will increase your chances of not getting lost tremendously. Educate yourself about the flora and fauna of the area you are exploring. Knowledge of the local plants and animals can save your life (for example knowing which plants are edible or knowing where the local colony of rattlesnakes make haven).
One of the most accurate and informative books about this subject is "Bushcraft - Outdoor Skills and Wilderness Survival" by Mors Kochanski.
Make sure that you eat well before going into the woods, and tell someone where you are going, when you expect to return, when to know to call the cops, etc. Don't make the mistake that James Franco makes in 127, the survival movie based on a true story -- make sure someone knows exactly where you're going and when. That way, if you do not return in time, someone will realize that you are lost, quickly alert rescuers, and be able to tell them where to start looking for you.
Bring survival gear. Basic survival tools such as a knife, a fire steel (metal match), some matches (in a waterproof canister), some cord (550 paracord is best), a whistle, a space blanket, a signaling mirror, water purifying tablets, and a compass can mean the difference between life and death. Even if you are only out on a day hike, be sure to bring the essentials.
Having all this equipment is nothing if you cannot use it properly. Make sure to practice many times in a safe environment before venturing into the wilderness.
Don't forget to bring a first aid kit. You should bring band aids, antiseptic, and tweezers for removing splinters that could get infected.
If you need any medication or injections, bring them along – even if you don’t plan to be gone for long enough to need them. You never know when you might accidentally step on a snake and get bitten.
A compass is also an item of critical importance when traveling in the woods. You can point your compass in the direction of the city or wherever you are embarking from, and remember the direction the compass's pointer points in. That way, if you're lost in the woods, all you have to do is turn around until the compass points in the correct direction, and then follow your way back.
Before you leave, learn how to use a compass. If you have a map and can spot a few prominent landscapes, you can actually use the compass to triangulate your position and, from there, figure out where you need to go.
When choosing a space blanket (a light, thin sheet of extremely reflective Mylar), spend a little extra to buy a larger, more durable model. A space blanket can be used to block wind and water, wrapped around the body prevent/counteract hypothermia, or even placed behind you to reflect a fire’s heat onto your back, but none of this is useful if the blanket is too small or tears the moment you unwrap it.
Bring a means of communication. A cell phone with a spare battery or a portable CB radio can be your best, quickest means of rescue if you are truly lost or injured. A cell signal may only be obtainable only from a hill or tree, but is better than nothing. Serious hikers may even consider investing in a personal locator beacon such as the SPOT Messenger for extended, precarious, or very remote, treks.
A SPOT Messenger is a satellite communication devices that allows you to contact emergency services, reach your own personal contacts for help during non-emergencies, or even simply check in with your friends and family as you trek so that they know you’re alright. A service subscription is required and is not cheap.
Surviving in the Woods
Don't panic if you’re lost. Panic is more dangerous than almost anything else, because it interferes with the operation of your single best, most useful and versatile survival tool: your mind. The moment you realize that you are lost, before you do anything else, stop. Take a deep breath and stay calm. Before you act, follow the tenets of the acronym STOP:
S = sit down
T = think
O = observe your surroundings
P = prepare for survival by gathering materials
Get oriented. Wherever you are will become your "point zero." Find a way to mark it using a spare piece of clothing, a pile of rocks, a sheet of paper, or anything else easily visible from a distance. Learn your basic directions -- the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. Use this to tell directions as on a compass (in a clockwise direction starting at the top 12:00) North, East, South, West.
For example, if it is late afternoon and the sun is on your right you must be facing South.
Learning how to spot the North Star at night in your backyard beforehand will also prove invaluable.
Stay in one place. This not only increases your chances of being found, but also reduces the energy your body expends and the amount of water and food you will need. Hunker down and stay put. Chances are that someone will be looking for you, especially if you let someone know your plans. Also, if you're with someone else, do not separate. Having strength in numbers will help you survive.
Also seeking nearby shade if it is hot out which greatly decreases your risk of dehydration and sunburn. Don't be tempted to remove clothing as this only increases these risks.
Build a fire. Build a good-sized fire with sufficient coals to stay hot for many hours, and make sure that you have plenty of extra dry wood. Start the fire before you think you need it, even if the weather is warm; fires are easier to make under easy conditions than in a panic as the sun sets – to say nothing of the fact that having a fire nearby will give you a sense of comfort and safety as you get your bearings.
A good rule of thumb is to gather wood until you think you have enough to last the night, then gather three more piles of the same size, after which you might have enough to get through the night.
You should have access to dry wood in the understory of the forest. You can also use bark or dried dung. If you build a fire that is hot enough, you can also burn green wood, brush, or tree boughs to make a signaling fire that creates a lot of smoke.
The best wood for maintaining a fire is dead wood that you pull off a standing tree. Regardless of what type of woods you are in, there will certainly be some dry wood available.
Remember that a small fire is easier to keep burning than a big fire, though, because it requires less fuel. Once you have sufficient embers, keep the fire to a manageable size so you don't spend too much time looking for fuel.
Don't build a fire in an area where it is unsafe to do so. Your fire should be well away from flammable trees and brush, preferably in a clearing. Be careful with your fire. While you want to feed it, you shouldn't overdo it. Consider the weather and other factors and remember, a forest fire is a lot harder to survive than just being lost!
Signal your location. Make noise by whistling, shouting, singing, or banging rocks together. If you can, mark your location in such a way that it's visible from the air. If you're in a mountain meadow, make three piles of dark leaves or branches in a triangle. In sandy areas, make a large triangle in the sand. Three of anything in the wilderness is a standard distress signal.
You can use the fire to send a distress signal. The universal distress signal is created by three fires in a straight line, or three fires that form a triangle.
You can also blow a whistle three times shoot three shots of a rifle in the air, if you have one, or shine a mirror that catches the light three times.
Scout your area. Though you shouldn't move around too much, you should explore your immediate surrounds to find anything useful. You could find things someone left there before, be it a tin can or small lighter, it can be helpful significantly. Be sure you can always find your way back to your "point zero" as you search for water, shelter, or your way home.
Find a good source of water. In a survival situation, you can last up to three days without water, but by the end of the second day you're not going to be in very good shape; find water before then. The best source of water is a spring, but the chances of finding them are slim. You should also look out for nearby birds, because they like to fly around fresh water. Drink your remaining water -- you should ration it, but not so much that you're thirsty right away.
A running stream is your next best bet; the movement of the water reduces sediment. Be advised that drinking water from streams can lead to some sicknesses, but when you're in a life-or-death situation, the risk of illness is a secondary consideration and anything you may get can be treated when you return.
If there’s dew and you’re desperate, you can gather it in your clothes and then suck the moisture out of the fabric.
You may also be able to find water in the crevices of a rock.
Purify your water. A crude method of water purification is to take your handy pot and heat the water. For this to effectively kill bacteria, it must be at a rolling boil for at least three minutes. You can also put (clear) water in a clear plastic bottle and set it in the sun for six hours to kill most of the organisms.
However, if the water is so full of sediment that the sun can’t penetrate it, this method will not work. If you have any, add a pinch of salt to the water to try to bring the sediment to the bottom.
Find or create shelter. Without adequate shelter, you will be fully exposed to the elements and will risk hypothermia or heatstroke, depending on the weather. If you are not properly dressed for the conditions, finding shelter is all the more important. Luckily, the woods are filled with tools and resources to make both shelters and fires (for warmth, safety, and signaling purposes). Here are some things you can use:
Look for a fallen or leaning tree. You can build an A-frame shelter by by stacking branches along both sides a fallen tree, then over the branches with brush, palm fronds, leaves, or other plants.
Use brush or green branches (boughs) from trees to repel water, block wind, keep out snow, or create shade. Close in your shelter on as many sides as possible.
Caves can be great, but be sure the cave is not already occupied by bears, large cats, snakes or other unfriendly animals; they know caves are good too, and they've been looking for good shelter for longer than you have.
If there’s snow, build a snow cave. Snow is a superb insulator and will keep you very cozy.
Just make sure that your shelter is not so hidden that you spend all your time in it and prevent anyone from finding you.
Don't exert too much energy in building the perfect shelter or you'll exhaust yourself.
Make sure you focus more on a "bed" than a shelter! It isn't a luxury, it's a necessity. The bed will protect you from the ground, which saps body heat and can cause hypothermia in a lot of cases. Plus, if you aren't well rested, you won't be at your best for other survival. It's better to sleep under the stars in a bed, than to sleep in the total darkness and freeze to death. Ideally you have both, though. Piles of leaves are good "bedding".
Find safe food. Know that most healthy adults can survive up to three weeks without food unless it's cold. It's better to be hungry and healthy than ill. Make sure that you know food is safe before eating it. If there is anything that will lessen your ability to survive, it is being both lost and deathly ill. Starvation won't be a big problem.
Don't be afraid to eat insects and other bugs. While it may be disgusting to eat a few grasshoppers, they do provide useful nutrition. All insects should be cooked as they can harbor parasites that can kill you. Do not eat any caterpillars, brightly colored insects, or any insect that can bite or sting you. Remove the legs, head and wings of any insect before eating.
If you are near water, fish are a good choice. Minnows can be eaten whole.
Avoid eating any mushrooms or berries you see, no matter how hungry you are. It's better to be hungry than to eat something poisonous. Many berries in the forest, especially white berries, are poisonous.
Can you give me some information on how to build a shelter and list some safe foods that I could find in the forest?
For shelter, you may use sticks and really wide and big leaves to build a foundation of a shelter. Also you can use a big blanket or tarpaulin to put around the sticks and leaves. For safe food in the woods you can eat, blackberries, dandelions, asparagus, elderberries, gooseberries, mulberries, pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts, acorns, hickory nuts, clovers, red clovers and many more. See further How to find Wild Edible Plants for more details.
What dangerous animals are in the woods?
In North America, animals that can potentially be dangerous to you if you don't know how to avoid them or behave calmly around them include mountain lions, bears, coyotes and any animals carrying diseases such as rabies, hanta virus, etc. Most animals only attack if you threaten them or get between them and their young, or if you appear vulnerable in some way. Don't scare the animals if you do come across them and keep away from them as much as you can. Read wikiHow's articles on dealing with each animal should you need to.
What are some examples of edible plants in the forest?
One of the easiest plants you can eat are dandelions: You can eat the flower part (it's yellow). Just pick it off the stem with your fingers. Don't eat the sap, it's a white liquid (it's very bitter). To find more edible plants, check out: https://www.wikihow.com/Find-Wild-Edible-Plants.
How can a kid survive in the woods when it is hard to find things needed?
Children should never go into the woods alone. When you do go, take extra food, water and a warm jacket. Take a map and a compass, as well as your phone. Put these into a small day pack, so that you have survival basics. The rest of the article should be as applicable to you as a kid as it is to anyone else.
How many days can a human survive without food?
An adult human can survive up to three weeks if it's not cold. But you cannot survive more then three days without water, so when you hike, always bring water, as you never can be too sure.
What happens if I can't find water?
Try digging under ground. If you are in a rainforest, or in stormy weather, try waiting for the rain. In the desert, you can find water inside cactus.
How long can a teenager survive in the woods?
A person of any age can survive without food for about two to three weeks - without water, only three to four days.
Why wouldn't people just memorize landmarks as they hike? Why do they get lost?
Sometimes, people can simply forget landmarks (after all, one tree can look like another), or not even be paying attention at all. They forget the dangers of the woods, and when someone does realize they're lost, its easy to start panicking.
How would you gut a fish?
You might find How to Gut a Fish helpful.
What kinds of material can you find in the woods to use as clothing or blankets?
Weave together grass or sticks to make a blanket. You can cover yourself with dirt, grass or leaves to keep warm at night. For clothing, weave together large leafs from trees if available.
Your primary survival knife should be a fixed blade with a solid, sturdy handle; a folding knife should only be used as a back-up, although it is better than nothing.
If you don’t have a lighter or any matches, you will have to start the fire by hand. If you find enough tinder (small material, such as dry grass, feathers or bark shavings, that burns easily) you can usually use the energy from the sun to start a fire with a magnifying glass, a lens from your glasses, a piece of broken glass, a cover to a watch or compass, or other clear, light-intensifying objects. It is very difficult to start a fire by friction; your best bet is to carry a variety of fire-starting implements.
The sleeves of a waterproof jacket can be used to hold water by tying one end of them.
If you cannot stay where you are until someone finds you, do not just pick a direction and start walking, even if you have a means of ensuring that you continue to go that direction. Instead, try to go either uphill or downhill. Going uphill offers a good chance that you will find a vantage point, which can help you get your bearings. If you go downhill, you will probably find water which you can follow downstream; in many cases, this will lead you to civilization. But don't follow water downstream at night or in fog as it may go off a cliff. Never go down into a canyon. Even if there’s no risk of flash flooding, a canyon’s walls can become so steep that the only way out is all the way through it. What’s worse, if there is a stream in the canyon, it may turn into a river with time, forcing you to turn around.
If it is cold and you are close to hypothermia, be sure not to fall asleep. It could lead to death.
One of the most important survival tools is something that most people never consider: a tin cup. Without a tin cup it is difficult to cook many foods.
You can use moss as a bandage, this helps you to not lose blood and is easy to find. You can mostly find it beside rivers.
For serious wounds, shirt sleeves can be cut off and used as bandages if necessary. Remember to only tie them around a wound so that they are still loose enough to stick one or two fingers between the bandage and the appendage/body.
You can survive several weeks without food, but only few days without water, and, in poor weather conditions, perhaps only hours without shelter. Keep your priorities straight.
At night, there is a greater risk of freezing to death. Stay dry. Bundle up. Get yourself off the ground. Make a "bed" of layers of branches, leaves, twigs, whatever is there, and cover yourself with the same stuff. To stay warm at night, you can heat rocks in the fire, bury them, and sleep on top of them, but this is a painstaking process; it’s easier to place yourself between the fire and a large reflective object such as a fallen log, a boulder, or your space blanket.
Keep your fire contained! Ensure that there is no combustible material near your fireplace and enclose it completely with rocks or a berm made of sand. Put your fire out with copious amounts of water: saturate it, so that there is no possibility of even the tiniest spark remaining. You should be able to touch the extinguished coals with your bare hand. It's one thing to be lost in the woods, but quite another to be lost and surrounded by a forest fire caused by your own negligence.
If you encounter snakes, leave them alone. Snakes bite because they are hungry or because they are threatened. We are too big to be seen as prey to most snakes; they do not regard humans as food. Stand still and the snake will go away. Attack it and it will retaliate. If one curls up in your kit, move it out with a long stick and gently prod it away. If it comes in your direction, stand still. It doesn't know that you are causing its discomfort and if you do not jump around, it will probably not even notice you. However, if you kill the snake you can enjoy eating it. Since you probably don't know if it's venomous or not, a good rule is to cut off the head, and then cut the same distance back from that point down the body. This will remove the poison glands, if there are any.
If you heat rocks, make sure that they are not wet (or from a water source.) When heating them in the fire, they will explode as the water inside the cracks turn to vapor.
Most animals (such as bears) will not attack a human unless they are threatened. If you encounter bears, don't panic, just walk away slowly.
Avoid cutting your clothes at all costs. Tearing off a sleeve for a makeshift whatever might seem like a good idea at the time, but come nightfall, you’ll wish you’d left it alone.
Don’t rely upon modern technology like cell phones, GPS units, or radios to save you if you are lost. Take one with you if it's available. But remember that these items are not foolproof; have a backup plan.
Never travel directly in a river because water absorbs your heat much more than air, which can lead to hypothermia.
If you find yourself stuck in the wilderness during the winter, do not eat snow unless you fully melt and warm it first! If you eat snow your body temperature will drop and you risk hypothermia or death. An on-the-go method of warming snow is to place it in your water bottle and place that between your jacket and clothing.
Drinking your own urine as a source of water is not recommended.
Things You'll Need
Whistle with a compass in it (these are sold on a necklace of parachute cord sometimes, and you can use the cord, too, if you need it)
Fire starters: matches, lighter, flint/magnesium & steel, magnifying glass or lens (sometimes on the cord of a compass)
Pot to boil water/cook food
Universal tool/Swiss Army Knife
Map of area
Fishing hooks and a good quantity of fishing line. Coil it up and stow in a pocket. The hooks are good if you want to fish, but can come in handy for other purposes, too, and weigh almost nothing. Stick them and the wire into your wallet and put it in your back pocket.
Three or four protein bars, or small portions of trail mix
Space blanket or big bag (both high visibility of reflective)
Basic first-aid kit
Extra water bottles (unopened until you get lost)
Cotton balls and Vaseline. Vaseline is useful for chapped lips but, more importantly, when you tear the cotton balls and mix them with the Vaseline, the result is very flammable and will burn smoothly and for a long duration. This is great for making torches and starting fires. Do not use on burns!
Sewing kit/floss (useful for repairs and fishing line)
Olive Oil (calories and fire starter)
A hatchet (to cut down wood and for defense needs)
Sources and Citations
2 Recipe For Safer Drinking Water? Add Sun, Salt And Lime
4 Survival, Evasion and Recovery - U.S. Military Field Manual FM 21-76-1 (1999)
 Message Index