Wilderness Survival Techniques for a Three Day Event
By Steve Gillman
Some of the wilderness survival techniques you read about
are really about "living in the wilderness." They are
not wrong, but they are about non-essentials that you will be
wasting your time on in most emergency situations. If you are
likely to be missed, and search party sent out, tanning a deer
hide, for example, is just about the last skill you could use.
You need to know how to stay alive until a rescue comes and maximize
the probability of getting found.
The truth is that most people lost in a wilderness emergency
are found within three days - dead or alive. This is why even
the military has recently shifted its focus from teaching hunting
and trapping and even navigational skills to making fires and
signaling rescuers. The whole idea is to stay healthy and help
the rescuers find you.
This may be a little different for backpackers on long trips,
since getting lost and losing one's pack on day two of a nine-day
trip can mean waiting a week before there is even a chance for
a search party to start looking. And it can't hurt to know how
to catch fish, trap squirrels and identify wild edible plants.
But for the average day hiker, adventurer and weekend backpacker,
here are the newest wilderness survival techniques to use while
You can roughly follow this plan, but as you finish one step,
don't wait until the next day to start the next.
Day One - Make camp.
When you know you are lost, or you are injured and unable
to travel far, the first thing to do is not to start looking
for a moose to kill to hold you through the winter. Nor should
you even worry at all about food. Set up a camp and make sure
you can stay warm and dry.
Staying in one place makes it more likely you'll be found,
which is why even the army is de-emphasizing navigational skills
for lost soldiers. I recall reading about a lost hunter in the
upper peninsula of Michigan, who wandered for several days in
the cold woods, with searchers continually finding where he had
been. Had he stayed in any one of the places he had stopped at
for the night they would have found him sooner.
If you have a tent, set it up. If not, quickly make a crude
shelter that will protect you from the elements. A pile of leaves
to sleep under is better than nothing. try above all to stay
dry, so you will not succumb to the number one killer of lost
hikers - hypothermia.
Day Two - Get ready to signal searchers.
Prepare whatever you have that can reflect sunlight to passing
helicopters. Arrange the letters "SOS" on open ground
using logs or rocks. Spread out your most colorful and large
piece of fabric (a tent fly, for example) where it can be seen.
Have a fire lit or ready to light where the smoke will be easily
Three is the universal number indication distress, so if you
think searchers are in the area, blow a whistle three times,
then wait and repeat. Fire a gun three times. Three fires in
a triangle are a good idea too, especially if planes flying over
might not know you need help.
Day Three - Prepare for all possibilities.
Near-term, you will need water, so make that a priority. Finding
food may help psychologically if you know what is edible. Improve
your shelter if necessary. Watch the weather and stay dry.
Consider when they would have started looking for you. If
you are lost on a day hike and you have told people where you
are going (always a good idea), you can expect the search to
begin the next morning. If your trip isn't scheduled to end for
another three days, you may have a long wait. Take into account
the weather as well. Planes cannot search during blizzards.
What if the weather allows for a search, but you have not
heard nor seen any planes or helicopters which may have been
looking for you? And what if you have heard no whistles, gunshots
or other signals that may be from rescuers? There is no hard
and fast rule, but as a guideline wait until day four before
trying to find your way out on your own.
After that long, the odds are good that no sign of a search
means they're searching the wrong area, or for some reason do
not know you're lost and are therefore not searching at all.
It is in this unlikely event that the more advanced wilderness
survival techniques become more valuable. Fortunately you can
learn those in the Wilderness
Survival Guide found on this website.