Wilderness Survival

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Emerg Med Clin N Am 22 (2004) 475509

Wilderness survivalPaul M. Morton, MDa,b,*, Peter Kummerfeldtb,cDepartment of Emergency Medicine, San Antonio Uniformed Services Health Education Consortium (SAUSHEC) Emergency Medicine Residency Program, 59 MDW/MCE, 2200 Berquist, Suite 1, Lackland AFB, San Antonio, TX, 78236-5300 b USAF Survival School, US Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, CO, USA c OutdoorSafe, P.O. Box 62039, Colorado Springs, CO, 80962 USAa

Survival training does not presume to provide people with the skills to run naked into the woods or to jump onto a raft in the open sea, look directly into the eyes of nature, and say, Im going to beat you. Rather, the intention is to help people nd answers that will teach them how not to challenge nature. Throughout the world, many people nd themselves surprised by bad weather, caught out after dark, injured, or ill (ie, becoming a victim to one of the topics discussed elsewhere in this edition), or lost and forced to spend a night or two in an austere environment. Spending an unexpected night out does not have to become an emergency or a survival situation. When one plans on the possibility of spending an unexpected night out, it becomes more of an inconvenience than an ordeal. Mental preparation is as important, if not more important, than the physical steps one needs to take. This introduction to wilderness survival discusses basic survival rules and psychology, mental preparation, selected survival skills, and essential equipment. The skills discussed include shelter building, re starting, water acquisition, signaling, and navigation. Among the litany of other survival topics in the literature, these skills are the most important. An eort has been made to concentrate on the skills and lessons that are simple, straightforward, and most easily used in a wilderness emergency. More complicated skills described in survival texts, such as trapping, elaborate shelter building, and very primitive re starting, are not discussed herein. The basics of survival specic to dierent environments are detailed.

* Corresponding author. 4815 Abo Lane, Monument, CO 80132. E-mail address: paul.morton@usafa.af.mil (P.M. Morton). 0733-8627/04/$ - see front matter 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.emc.2004.01.009


P.M. Morton, P. Kummerfeldt / Emerg Med Clin N Am 22 (2004) 475509

The information presented herein is not a substitute for properly equipping oneself, clothing oneself, or practicing life-survival skills. The purpose is to help readers to learn how to survive with the least amount of pain and the greatest possibility of success.

Preparation for the survival situation One persons survival situation is anothers backyard. Humans live in some of the harshest conditions, and many argue that, the harsher the environment, the happier the people (eg, trauma surgeons, Eskimos, Indians). Survival is replaced by routine when we understand our environment well enough to know its potential to support life as well as take it. For most Americans, survival training involves things like crossing the street, using an automatic teller machine, changing lanes while dialing a cell phone, or learning how to build a retirement account. Most of our lives are spent overcoming our environment rather than living with it. So how do we become prepared? Mental preparation begins with accepting the possibility that somewhere, sometime in the future, you might be in trouble. Accepting this possibility is the rst step toward preparing for it. The next step is analyzing the risks and measuring your skills, your clothing, and your equipment against those risks and evaluating how well prepared you are to survive. Our ability to cope in a crisis is dicult to measure. As biased individuals, we would like to believe that we would never be in trouble and, if we were, that we could all cope with an unplanned night or two out. The reality is something dierent. If you let this belief interfere with the need to prepare for a survival situation, you may nd yourself grossly unprepared to cope when the time comes to do so. One must arrive in the wilderness clothed and equipped. Contrary to some survival books, improvising the clothing and equipment you may need will be dicult, if not impossible, to do. Arrive clothed and prepared to survive. One must practice survival skills. Once you have learned how to ride a bicycle, you never forget. The same can be said of survival skills. Once you have built a re under dicult conditions, with simulated injuries, using procedures that are no longer second nature (striking a match), you should be able to do it again when your life hangs in the balance. Survival skills are not intuitive but must be learned. Survival cannot be learned on the job. No matter how well prepared, skilled, or determined an individual is, a little good luck will always be appreciated. Well-prepared people make their own luck. As a wise philosopher once said, It is better to be lucky than good, but when your luck runs out you had better be very, very good!

P.M. Morton, P. Kummerfeldt / Emerg Med Clin N Am 22 (2004) 475509


Psychologic versus physical skills Who will survive? Although how people react in the midst of a crisis varies from one person to another, studies have identied three broad behavioral patterns that are consistent [1]: Ten percent to 15% of people will remain relatively calm. These people will be able to collect their thoughts quickly; their awareness of the situation will be intact; and their reasoning abilities will not be impaired to any signicant extent. They will be able to assess the situation, make a plan, and act on that plan. Seventy-ve percent of people will be stunned and bewildered. Their reasoning ability will be signicantly impaired, and they will have a difcult time thinking clearly. These people will behave in a reexive, almost automatic or mechanical manner. Their eld of attention becomes very restricted, and, visually, they may suffer tunnel vision. These people are unable to express any feelings or emotions. Ten percent to 15% of people will tend to show a high degree of inappropriate behavior that is ineffective in coping with a lifethreatening situation and that may be counterproductive, adding to the danger. Uncontrolled weeping, confusion, screaming, and paralyzing anxiety characterize this group. Panic is ones greatest enemy and must be controlled. In the authors experience as survival instructors at the Survival, Escape, Resistance, and Evasion (SERE) School at the United States Air Force Academy, we have seen some of the best and brightest ocer candidates panic or not know what to do in a survival situation. The purpose of the school is to prepare military aviators to survive in the environments over which they y. The training has helped bring back many of those aviators to friendly hands after being shot down or ejecting. Those who have had the training and who have lived through a real survival situation tout the importance of the preparation beforehand. Coping with a survival emergency has been said to be 80% mental, 10% equipment, and 10% survival skills. Having had some prior preparation is key to the psychologic component, in addition to the skills and equipment component. If you can use your head, you can survive. Because panic is a noncerebral function, maintaining a logical approach to staying alive can most eectively control it. When you get lost, the rst thing you must do is admit to yourself that you do not know where you are. Get as comfortable as possible; priorities should be rst aid, warmth, and shelter. Sit down. Get o your feet. Give yourself at least 30 minutes to regain control. Control the urge to keep moving. Try to relax. Think about the clothing you are wearing and re building potential, and then take stock of your supplies and situation. Some people use the acronym STOP (sit down, think, observe, plan) to help them. If deer mice, chickadees, and squirrels can survive the worst conditions


P.M. Morton, P. Kummerfeldt / Emerg Med Clin N Am 22 (2004) 475509

nature can oer, so can you. People choose to live in desert regions and in the arctic! The decision to travel or stay put When you are as comfortable and protected as possible, try to remember the path you took earlier in the day. Look at your map. What landmarks did you see along the way? Can you identify these landmarks on your map? Have you been going uphill or downhill? How many rivers did you cross? How many ridges did you climb? Did you leave tracks? It helps to draw a map on the ground. By a process of deduction and using common sense, you may be able to unscramble your thoughts and reorient yourself. Often, you will nd that you are not as lost as you rst thought you were. Unless you can positively locate yourself, the best advice is to stay put and not travel. Do not run around looking for something familiar. This activity will not only cause confusion but will also exhaust you, dehydrate you, and increase the likelihood of injuring yourself. It will also make the searchers job much more dicult; you may move into an area that has already been searched and that may not be searched again until all other possibilities have been investigated. Wait for rescuers to nd you. They are trained and equipped to rescue the lost and injured. Sit tight, protect yourself, signal, and let them nd you. Most rescues in the United States are accomplished within 72 hours, especially when the person has told someone else where he or she was going. Your job is to survive until they arrive. The time it takes to be found and recovered may seem to drag on forever, and remaining in one place, waiting to be found, will take all of your willpower. History shows that survivors who have been able to overcome their impatience and desire to walk out and who have stayed in one pl


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