Beyond dedicating time to prepare the route, camping spots and meals, unfortunately too few outdoor enthusiasts consider possible survival situations. If your adventure involves remote areas, then extensive pre-trip planning is vital. It’s not pessimistic to anticipate and prepare for the worst-case scenario — it’s just good sense.
Know Thy Adventure
Preparing for your adventure begins with research, a particularly easy undertaking in today’s information-rich digital age. While the internet and books can be useful tools, don’t overlook seeking the advice of local experts, who can let you know about the most recent conditions and area resources.
They will obviously know the best ways to build a shelter, start a fire, gather food and find water, but I often find it’s the little bits of wisdom they throw out that really impact my ultimate well-being. When a native Costa Rican taught me how to eat mussels, he shared a tip, almost in passing: If the water that drips out of the mussel is green, it’s not safe to eat; if it’s clear, then it’s edible. That tidbit of information might not have been in any of the books about the region, but it definitely could have been a lifesaver.
Nobody should venture into the wild without the basic skills to use a compass and interpret a topographical map. You should always carry a map, whether you’re on your own or with a guide. Become familiar with it, as well as with the route you are traveling.
Checking the weather forecast is a must; consider postponing your trip if conditions are looking bad. Before your backcountry adventure, you should also inform at least two different people — including local authorities — as to where your route will be, what you’ll be doing, how long you’ll be on your trek and how they can contact you.
If you’re traveling with a group, share as much of your survival knowledge and skills with others before disaster strikes. You don’t necessarily need to devise serious plans, but make sure everybody has a basic understanding of what to do should an emergency occur.
Build Your Body and Mind
How far you can trek in a day, how well you can build a shelter under extreme weather conditions and how effectively you can dig a hole for a solar still are all related to your strength and conditioning. Dr. Kenneth Kamler, a New York microsurgeon who has been to Mount Everest six times, considers conditioning and fitness to be one of the four personal forces at work in the struggle for survival. (The others are knowledge, luck and the will to live.) With physical fitness comes greater self-confidence, which is critical to maintaining your will to live.
As part of physical preparation, consider any chronic health (including dental) conditions that might impede your ability to function. In the movie Castaway, Tom Hanks’ character had to deal with a horribly abscessed tooth on a desert island. To me, that was one of the most realistic parts of the film. If you suffer from a condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure, take this into account when planning your trip. Carry enough medication to last longer than you expect to be gone.
A good way to mentally prepare yourself for a trip is accepting the possibility that the worst can happen. If you believe the notion of “What are the odds? It can’t happen to me,” then you’re only setting yourself up for failure. As soon as you accept something wrong could happen, you can properly prepare.
The Right Stuff
Anything you bring should be strong, versatile and up to the task. Outside of your Scout essentials, your equipment depends almost entirely on your destination. To that end, I highly recommend speaking with someone local or someone who has done the same activity in that place. They can help you determine what you need.
You can also learn a fair bit by meandering around outdoor equipment stores tailored to what you’ll be doing. These are great places to meet people who have experience in your destination and your activity.
Just as imperative as having all the right equipment is knowing how to use it. Spend a few hours getting acquainted with your gear. Practice setting it up and figuring out how to fix it should it break; it might need to last a lot longer than you think.
Equipment-planning also pertains to clothing: Your clothing should be able to withstand wind, rain, cold, venomous creepy-crawlies and extreme heat. Make sure it fits well and is not too restrictive. You want clothes that will keep you dry and warm, but that will also provide enough ventilation to prevent overheating. Think of your clothing as your “first shelter.”
Poor clothing choices won’t make much of a difference if everything goes right, but they can sure make you miserable should things go wrong.
Les Stroud, aka Survivorman, is an adventurer and an award-winning filmmaker, musician and author of Survive! a best-selling manual on survival. Learn more about Survivorman by visiting www.lesstroud.ca, or follow him on social media: reallesstroud