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10 Simple Survival Skills for North America that could help you or someone you know stay alive in the wilderness.
Learning some basic survival skills is essential for any solo backpacking and multi day trips in North America. Safety is no joke out here and being prepared can make the difference between life and death. Get in to the habit of letting somebody know where you are going and for how long, with instructions of what to do should you not return within your predetermined time frame.For ultralight backpackers and experienced outdoors people, knowledge and skills can help reduce pack weight by cutting down on items that can be provided by nature. Most self taught survivalists attain their skills through spending time in the wilderness with a book, learning from experience so that next time they don’t need the book.Survival means staying warm and dry, hydrated, uninjured, and finding your way out of the wilderness should you get lost or want to return to society. Of course, finding food is important too, but not crucial if your situation is short term. Here are 10 Simple Survival Skills for North America which are very easy to learn and will make the time you spend outdoors safer and more enjoyable.
1. Fire and Tinder
Always pack a magnesium fire rod in your kit, they last for ages, take up no space in your pack and work very well with natural materials. Look out for dried moss or milkweed fluff to put in your pocket as you walk, so you’ll have dry tinder to start a fire with later, even if everything else is wet. Cattail fluff is a useful plant that works well too, so learn what it looks like before you venture into the wild as it can also provide a carbohydrate rich snack at the base of the plant.
Always take a knife or multi-tool with you when you step foot into the wilderness, you never know when you might need it. Keep it sharp and keep it handy, a quality blade will hold an edge but having the means and knowledge to sharpen a knife in the field will prove its worth time and time again.
Look out for natural overhangs, fallen tree trunks, caves and building materials that could be used for an emergency shelter should the weather turn nasty. If caught out in the wild at night without a sleeping bag and need to keep warm, make a pile of leaves and dead grass at least 3 feet deep to pile on top of you. Use bark and anything you can to improve protection from the wind and rain.
Place a stick upright in the ground and mark the where the tip of the shadow falls, fifteen minutes later mark it again and draw a line between the first and second marks, the line will be pointing east. If you do become lost without a compass, you should start to leave visible marks on the ground and on both sides of trees so you that can always walk back on yourself should you need to.
If it looks and tastes like a blueberry, strawberry, or raspberry – it is. There is no berry in North America that looks like a blueberry, strawberry, or raspberry, that can hurt you from a single mouthful. Learn how to identify the leaves of these plants as well as knowing what time of year to look for the fruit. If in doubt, take a taste, and if it doesn’t taste right, just completely spit it out and flush your mouth out with water.
Whilst it is not uncommon to hear of hikers being killed by lightening or bears, the biggest wilderness killer is hypothermia, and getting wet is the biggest cause. Your best defense against hypothermia is planning ahead and packing the appropriate clothing into your sack. Don’t rely on approaching thunder in the distance to alert you of weather changes, cloud formations can be a reliable short term weather forecast if you know what to look for.
Aside from having a good sleeping bag, getting off the ground with a good sleeping mat will really reduce loss of body heat. To stay warmer during the night, always empty your bladder before bed and keep your arms and legs tucked in towards your torso and make sure your head is covered. Heat stones by the fire where possible and rotate them every few hours to keep the heating on all night. Sleeping with your head slightly downhill can take some getting used to at first, but it does help keep you warmer in some weird and wonderful way.
Having the means to purify water is a necessity when there isn’t a tap for miles around, but at the very least you should carry a small cooking pot to boil water or some water purification tablets. Get in the habit of filling water bottles every chance you get, and you won’t have such a hard time with any long dry stretches of trail. Drink up the last of your water right before you fill a fresh bottle and
Break a “blister” on the trunk of a small spruce or fir tree, and you can use the sap that oozes out as a natural antiseptic dressing for small cuts. It also can be used to start a fire, patch up holes in boats and will burn even when wet, so a really good item to add to your pack when you see it. Pine needles are high in vitamin C and A and can be made into tea by adding to boiling water.
Bark from a white birch tree will usually light even when wet and makes a good tinder platform to keep your initial embers of the wet ground. If you are careful, you can remove large sections from the tree without hurting it to create the slats of a roof. In a jam, you can also use it as a paper substitute if you need to leave a note in an emergency.The above are just a few tips and techniques you can easily add to your arsenal of outdoor survival skills. There are many, many more just like this and they all make backpacking safer and more interesting. Why not practice one or two of these 10 Simple Survival Skills for North America and post you photos and tips of your own on our Facebook page?