Tropical jungles only cover about six percent of the Earth in South East Asia, Central and South America, Africa, and Northern Australia. Due to farming, agriculture, logging, and other activities a large part of the world’s jungles have been wiped out, but due to conservation efforts more than 36 million acres have been saved from complete deforestation. Surprisingly over half of the world’s jungles are populated with farms, fishing, and other forms of agriculture. For ages, native people have been using the jungle to their advantage in the way of shelter, food, and medicine. If you do find yourself lost or stuck in the jungle, the environment is not as harsh as you might think. In fact, tropical jungles offer readily available water, food, and shelter.
Fresh water from daily rainfall is easily collected in the wide variety of large leaves that act as rain catchers. Vines, plants, and bamboo also hold water that is safe to drink, but avoid milky looking water. Only drink from the vines, plants, and bamboo that produce a clear liquid.
Streams and rivers are common in the jungle and are an excellent path for your way out. To locate one, find animal tracks and follow those. Generally, animal tracks will lead to water. Further, most streams and rivers will eventually lead to some type of civilization who can aid you in being rescued.
Drinking from streams and rivers is usually relatively safe, but as a precaution, you should always boil or filter the water you collect from streams or rivers before drinking it.
A word of caution about streams and rivers in the jungle: flash flooding is a danger due to the onset of surprise rain storms and bad weather, so avoid setting up camp near bodies of water. Streams and rivers in the jungle are also home to a bunch of nasties, such as leeches, snakes, alligators, in some cases piranhas, and are breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Crossing them can be extremely dangerous. Your best bet, if you can, stay on one side of the stream or river and follow it downstream to find people.
Even though rain forests only cover six percent of the Earth, they hold half of the world’s plants and animals. Many of the plants and animals in the jungle are toxic, dangerous, and even deadly. Even though thoughts of charging, hungry tigers might frighten you, most big jungle animals will avoid people. Snakes, leeches, and biting insects such as mosquitoes and ants are of a much bigger concern if you have to survive in the jungle. Knowing what you can and cannot eat will save your life. Fish, ants, grubs, and other insects are safe to eat. You can pop them in your mouth raw or cook them over a fire if that makes them easier to swallow. The jungle will have plenty of fruit. It is best to stick with the ones you recognize as edible. If all else fails, monkey see, monkey do. Whatever monkeys eat, we can eat. Experts say you can test plants and fruits for toxins by rubbing it on your skin and waiting for 24 hours for a reaction. But, if it were me, I just wouldn’t risk it. Give me a nice roasted beetle, grub, or cockroach any day. While traveling in Southeast Asia, I’ve eaten scorpion and grasshoppers with zero adverse effects. I passed on the cockroach. But I know it’s a safe option.
Building a fire to boil water, cook, and keep pests away can be extremely difficult in the jungle. With everything wet all the time, it is hard to find dry kindling to start a fire. This will be much easier if you brought a fire starting kit with you. Assuming you did not, you will have to search for dead wood and cut it up for kindling.
The jungle provides a plethora of options when it comes to building a shelter. Large trees, branches, vines, and leaves are all tools you can you to fashion a waterproof shelter for resting at night. If you can, make a risen “bed” off the floor of the jungle. A hammock would be ideal. Never sleep directly on the jungle floor. If it is your only option, completely cover the ground where you will be laying down with a thick mattress of palm leaves. If you have one, drape yourself completely with a mosquito net. Do not set up camp near dead trees. Many deaths occur in the jungle due to falling dead trees.
Getting Out of There
By air, it is virtually impossible for search and rescue to find someone lost in the jungle because of the dense canopy, so you will have to find your own way out. Besides following a river or stream downstream, if you must trek through the jungle you will need to know a few pointers on how not to go in circles. One way to do this is by focusing on a distance object and work your way to that object, keeping in mind another object behind you to keep your bearings. This technique is called “dead reckoning.” When you are trekking through the jungle, carry a walking stick with you so that you never have to touch vines or plants that have thorns or poison. Your stick can help clear a safe path and help you avoid surprising a snake. Break sticks long your way at chest level, leaving a marked path as you go in case you must backtrack or you have a search party out looking for you, the path shows them which way you are traveling.
Taking Care of Yourself
Cuts, scrapes, scratched mosquitoes bites, and other wounds turn infectious fast in the humid environment of the jungle. Long sleeves, long pants, and boots will help protect you from scratches, scrapes, and bug bites. Clothes, soaked with perspiration will rot in the jungle. It is important to keep them as dry and as clean as possible. Mosquitoes are not only annoying, but carry diseases. Especially at dawn and dusk, cover your head and neck with clothing, a bandana, or other material. A traditional, successful method is to cover yourself with mud and then let it get crusty. Besides keeping you invisible from the Predator, the crusty, dried mud helps fighting against mosquito bites.
Just as hard as keeping your clothing dry, is keeping your feet dry. Your feet can get really screwed up really fast in the jungle. So bad, you might not be able to walk. To avoid trench foot, dry your feet, shoes, and socks out at night, or periodically during rests throughout the day. When you set your shoes out to try, set them upside down on the ground or put them on sticks. Scorpions, snakes and other poisonous insects love the dark comfort of shoes. Always shake them out before putting them back on.
Hiking through the jungle in 110 percent humidity, while chopping your way through dense vines and leaves will fatigue you fast. Make sure you stay hydrated and take rests when needed.
If you keep your wits about you, jungle survival is not as hard as you may have imagined. If you know you will be at possible risk for getting lost, stuck, or abandoned in the jungle, you can always pack to be prepared.
If it’s a jungle destination you’re headed to, here is what you should pack in your backpack:
- Fire starter kit
- Water purification tablets or water filter
- Mosquito net
- Extra socks
- Activated charcoal tablets (these have gotten me through some what would be very miserable times while traveling in Southeast Asia)
- Fishing kit
What would you add to your jungle survival preparation kit? Share your answers in the comment section.
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