10 ways to die in the wilderness

10 ways to die in the wilderness

The most common causes of death in a wilderness survival scenario can vary depending on factors such as location, climate, and individual circumstances. Outdoor enthusiasts need to be prepared, knowledgeable, and equipped to mitigate these risks to ensure a safe wilderness experience. In 2017, 117 people died from hiking, camping, or backpacking accidents in the United States alone. Below are the top 10 ways to die in the wilderness in no particular order:

Trauma from falls:

About 11,000 injuries related to hiking and backpacking are reported in the US every year. This statistic is a stark reminder of the potential risks associated with hiking and backpacking. Falls from cliffs, trees, unstable ground, or other elevated areas can result in serious injuries or death. These injuries can make a bad situation even worse and should be carefully considered before attempting.  Always apply the "risk vs reward" protocol to any dangerous situation to avoid unnecessary injuries. 


Exposure to cold temperatures without adequate protection or shelter can lead to hypothermia, a potentially life-threatening condition. Many common-sense factors seem obvious to most while some individuals don't easily understand. These are simple things like staying dry, creating fire, and creating a proper shelter to get out of the weather. In the United States, approximately 1,330 people die every year from exposure to the cold. 


Accidents involving water, such as river crossings or boating incidents, can result in drowning. In the US, an average of 3,500 to 4,000 people drown per year. That is an average of 10 fatal drownings per day. In a survival situation, you may find yourself trying to cross a river that is deep or wide and get swept away.  It is easy to misjudge the depth of a body of water, the power of the current, or the distance across it unknowingly putting yourself in peril.

Animal attacks:

While encounters with wild animals, such as wolves, bears, mountain lions, or snakes, can lead to fatal injuries, statistically speaking, the Deer is responsible for more deaths than any other wild animal in the USA. Each year, deer cause about 1.3 million car accidents, and about 200 of them are fatal. A total of 126 attacks, 27 of which were fatal, have been documented in North America in the past 100 years. Statistics suggest there have been over 180 fatal bear attacks in North America since 1784. Each year, an estimated 7,000–8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the United States, and about 5 of those are fatal.  


Failure to maintain proper hydration in hot or arid environments can lead to dehydration, which can be deadly if left untreated. 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 fewer.  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. About 10,000 people die from dehydration each year.


Hyperthermia, also known simply as overheating, is a condition in which an individual's body temperature is elevated beyond normal due to failed thermoregulation. Exposure to extreme heat or sunstroke in hot climates can result in hyperthermia. Some statistics estimate that more than 1,300 deaths per year in the United States are due to extreme heat, compared with about 600 deaths per year in the “underlying and contributing causes.”

Medical emergencies:

Pre-existing medical conditions or sudden illnesses can pose significant risks, especially if medical attention is not readily available. If you are planning a trip into the wilderness with the purpose of hiking or backpacking, it's important to determine that you are capable and healthy enough to endure the physical requirements of the journey.  According to the National Institutes of Health, about 50% of all fatalities during mountain hiking are sudden cardiac deaths.

Accidental injuries:

The most common ailment occurring in people who hike, camp, or explore the wilderness is gastroenteritis usually resulting from improperly treated or contaminated water.  However various accidents, broken bones, frostbite, cuts, scrapes, burns, and lacerations from sharp objects make up the remaining injuries.  These painful injuries can lead to more dangerous issues such as infection and even death without proper medical care.

Exposure to toxic substances:

Ingestion of poisonous plants, mushrooms, or insects can result in serious illness or death. as stated above, the most common ailment occurring is gastroenteritis usually resulting from improperly treated or contaminated water however, scientists estimate that although difficult to track accurately, mushroom poisonings cause about 10,000 illnesses and 100 deaths a year globally. 

Getting lost:

Becoming disoriented or lost in the wilderness can lead to prolonged exposure to the elements, dehydration, and any or all of the other hazards stated above, increasing the risk of serious illness or death. It is important to have proper navigation skills to reduce the risk of getting lost and to know what to do if you get lost. The most recent study done by Yosemite National Forest Search and Rescue showed that 4,661 people per year were lost in the woods and required assistance. That equates to 13 people per day.

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 fire starter works. Above all, keep your head on straight at all times, and no matter how bad the situation seems, never panic.

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