10 Wilderness Survival Mistakes

10 Wilderness Survival Mistakes

Hikers, Backpackers, and Hunters go missing all the time and although most are recovered safely, some never return. As the world's population explodes we find that more and more people are fleeing the cities for a day or weekend alone in the wilderness. As much as people are meant to socialize, they also need a little peace and quiet occasionally. Getting out into nature has many things to see and experience but for the unprepared, it can be the last event they ever experience.
Hastily throwing together a daypack with a couple of sandwiches and a bottle of water, and a limited amount of supplies for an afternoon outing sounds nice but what if you were to get lost and forced to spend one or more nights in the elements?  What if you fell and injured yourself and were unable to walk back to your car?  What if you looked over your shoulder and realized that were being stalked and by a mountain lion?  What if you traveled up a remote mountain road and your car broke down or ran out of gas?  What if your cell phone has no service in the remote area or the battery has died? These are all possibilities that you should consider before you leave the safety of your home.
The tips below will not guarantee your safety if you are lost in the wilderness however, implementing them can help you live longer and at the very least help make an unbearable situation just a little better.  Any time that you choose to go into the wilderness, you are solely responsible for your own safety, therefore arming yourself with as much information as you can is always a benefit.

Below are the top 10 Wilderness Survival Mistakes:

Breadcrumbs - Leaving home without telling someone where you are going and when you will be back.

One of the biggest mistakes commonly made is to head for the mountains for a hike or camping trip without leaving basic information with a friend, family member, or someone that cares about you.  You should always plan ahead well enough that you can provide a route, destination, and a date and time of return to give to this person(s).  This will save valuable time for rescuers in the event that you don't return home on time.  Just a few extra hours can be the difference between life and death if you are exposed to bad weather or a severe injury.

Lack of knowledge - Common outdoor experience and primitive survival skills.

Many people lack the common outdoor knowledge that comes naturally to the rest of us. There are many common-sense factors that seem obvious to most of us while some individuals don't easily understand. These are simple things like staying dry, taking extra measures to avoid injury, and eating only what you know to be safe.

Primitive survival skills are not common to most. It takes years and real-world experience to be able to learn and implement these skills effectively. It takes so much more than attending a weekend survival class or scouring the internet for nuggets that you may or may not be able to use when faced with a bad situation. The ability to make fire and shelter using primitive methods is important but only a fraction of what you need to know to be able to survive in the wilderness.

Weather - Always check but never rely on the weather report, pack and prepare for the worst.

The weather alone kills many people every year in all environments throughout the world.  Extreme heat and cold are responsible for many deaths but can easily be avoided with careful, thoughtful preparation.  Underestimating the weather is a very common but serious mistake.
Hypothermia and Hyperthermia are both deadly and represent many deaths across the globe.  People flock to the mountains or deserts for an afternoon outing but end up lost and spending days or weeks in the elements that they did not prepare for.  Take the time to check the weather and then prepare for the worst possible situation.  When in doubt, stay alive by staying home!

Indecisiveness - Failure to prioritize tasks and make time-sensitive decisions

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when they suddenly find themselves lost in the wilderness is the failure to make a realistic logical plan to stay alive and safe.  Making a plan requires making quick accurate decisions based on your situation.  Usually, these decisions need to be made quickly because there are several factors that will affect how you proceed.  A major decision is whether you are going to stay put and wait for rescue or try and find your own way out. It can be a very tough decision to make but ultimately could be wrong. 

You may need to spend one or more nights before being rescued so you need to decide if you are capable mentally and physically to endure the elements.  Having a survival kit with you will always help your chances of survival but you will be at the mercy of your situation.  Stay calm and make careful, thoughtful, educated decisions based on the information that you have and the level of your skillset.  Do it in a timely manner as your situation will degrade as you get closer to nightfall.

Poor Planning - Failure to pack basic survival items, weather-appropriate clothing, and medications.

You can't prepare for every situation, but you can anticipate situations common to your climate and environment.  Preparing for both hot and cold weather is important because, in certain areas, the temperatures can fluctuate intensely between day and night.  Even if you are planning to go out only for the afternoon, you should be preparing for the multiple days.  If you take daily medications, should pack extra with you in case you stay longer than planned.  pack your basic survival items with you at all times and always dress in layers so you can add and remove as needed.  If you are going on a hike, this will increase your carry weight, but it may just save your life if you end up lost in the wilderness.

Hypothermia - Failure to keep yourself warm and dry.

Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature.  Normal body temperature is around 98.6 F (37 C). Hypothermia occurs as your body temperature falls below 95 F (35 C).

Especially in cold weather, it is very important to keep your body warm and dry.  Your body can become hypothermic even in warmer temperatures if the conditions are just right.  If you are exposed to cold and inadequately protected, your body will first try to generate more heat through shivering to maintain a normal temperature. If your body can't stay warm by these means, it will start trying to decrease heat loss by decreasing blood flow to the extremities to minimize cooling.

Finally, if the loss of heat carries on despite these measures, your body will slow its metabolism to minimize its need for fresh blood flow and oxygen supply. Inevitably, the sooner the body reaches the final step, the better the chance of survival so that the organs won't become starved of oxygen. For example, a core temperature of 20°C (68°F) requires only 20% of the oxygen required at normal body temperature of 37°C (98.6°F).  Stay dry by building a shelter and keep a barrier between your body and the ground when sleeping if possible.  Avoid sweating in your clothes, add and remove layers to regulate your temperature.

Dehydration - Failure to stay hydrated

Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluid than you take in and drastically reduces your odds of surviving more than a couple of days.  In an extremely hot environment, the odds are even less.  Water should be at the top of your list when evaluating your situation.  A person can last for weeks without eating but only days without water.  Even in cold weather, it is crucial to continue to hydrate. 

In a stressful situation such as being lost in the wilderness, it is easy to get distracted with other tasks and overlook the need for water, but water procurement should be at the top of your list.  Find a water source and keep yourself hydrated. If you are urinating less than usual or if your urine is dark in color, then you could be dehydrated and should drink more water.  If you have a headache or are experiencing Dizziness, weakness, or light-headedness, you could be dehydrated.

Panic - full-on-running-through-the-woods-with-your-hair-on-fire, PANIC

The first reaction that most people experience when they suddenly realize that they are lost in the wilderness is fear with an underlying sense of shock. For some, this fear can easily evolve into full-on-running-through-the-woods-with-your-hair-on-fire PANIC. Huge mistake! When you are in a state of panic, you are not having rational thoughts or making good decisions, and many times people run themselves even further into trouble. You could be injured making your situation even worse or you could make it more difficult for rescuers to find you if they are following your trail.

The best thing that you can do is to sit down and calm down then take inventory of your situation. Carefully consider all your options based on the tools, skills, and information that you have at your disposal. Look around you and put together a plan of survival. Whether it is to stay and wait for help or to try to find your way out or even some hybrid of both. Panic and fear are your worst enemies in a survival situation.

Overconfidence - Overestimating your skillset and abilities - Underestimating your situation.

Failure to recognize your capabilities can be a real issue when you are holding your life in your own hands.  Always look at yourself with realistic expectations when planning and executing a trip into the wilderness.  If you are not comfortable making decisions, have medical issues, or have a flawed sense of direction, then maybe it would be smart to take someone with you that can help you along the way. 

Secondly, if you find yourself lost, don't waste time trying to convince yourself that you're not. Admitting to yourself that you made a mistake and got yourself lost is the first step toward getting back home.  Above all, when you do come to terms with your situation, stay calm and collected and work it out because it would really suck to successfully survive a cold miserable night or two in the wilderness - only to drown in the river when you see civilization on the other side.

Unnecessary Risks - Taking risks that may cause injury

An injury can make a terrible situation worse.  Always calculate the risk of any task that you wish to perform.  Ask yourself if it is absolutely necessary or if you could easily do without it.  Climbing trees to get navigation bearings may be helpful in some scenarios, but would be less helpful if you were to fall and break your leg on the way up.  Sure, that rattlesnake looks mighty tasty... 

We all have an app built into our brain that assists us in making risk/reward decisions.  Use it!!  Don't make your situation worse by injuring yourself or others around you before the bears have a chance to eat you.

The Conclusion

The best way to protect yourself from becoming a statistic while on a wilderness outing is to prepare yourself before leaving your house.  Take the time to learn about the area where you are going. Buy yourself a small backpack and supply it with the basic survival items and then never leave home without it.  Know how to use each item and practice with them ahead of time.  Don't wait until you are sitting in the rain with only a few minutes of daylight left to try to figure out how a firestarter works.  

Above all, keep your head on straight at all times, and no matter how bad the situation seems, never panic.  If you have prepared properly, then help will be on the way and you will have the tools to survive until they reach you.       

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