Winter is finally fading and if you are like me you can’t wait to get outdoors and enjoy Mother Nature. Our race to get back on the trail often means we may not have planned our trips as carefully as we should have. The skills you need to survive an unexpected night outdoors during a spring thaw should be considered long before you find yourself in this type of dangerous situation. When you do find yourself in this predicament, it is wise to have a few basic survival items such as fire-starting source, water, light, snacks and extra clothing on your person or in your pack. But what if you have nothing on your person and you have no pack with you? Then what?
Survival experts will tell you the key to getting out alive is staying calm and using the most powerful resource you have, your brain. Sit down and gather your thoughts.Remaining calm in a stressful situation can improve your odds of survival. The first few hours are often the most dangerous as people tend to panic. Adrenaline kicks in and your heart begins to race. But by sitting down and forcing yourself to relax and focus you could save your life.
Sit down and ask yourself some important questions. What is my first priority? Should I make a shelter or should I start a fire first? What do I need to do to survive tonight? How far is help? Can I maneuver this terrain after dark?
If you do not have survival gear with you it is time to prioritize your immediate needs and gather what you can from the material available around you. For example, if you find an old plastic trash bag on the trail, pick it up as it can be used as rain gear or a base for shelter. A fragment of broken glass can be used to cut small branches, or as a magnifying device which can help start a fire or even a reflective device to signal for help.
Most survival experts agree you have three crucial needs during this critical first night. And they are shelter, fire and water. It is important to try and streamline these three vital steps. For example, while you are looking for shelter you should also be looking for fire-building material and water.
Perspiration, rain or even wet clothes can cause hypothermia. Hypothermia comes on quickly, especially when outside temperatures begin to drop. It is vital you do everything possible to keep your body and clothing dry.
Finding adequate shelter is next. Ideally, it is best to look for shelter that has some sun exposure or natural windbreaks. If possible look for shelter a safe distance from running water sources such as rivers or streams as they have potential to flood without notice, especially in the spring. Instead look for low-hanging evergreen limbs, hallowed out logs or cave-like rock cropping. A bed of dried leaves or pine needles can be a warm buffer between you and the cold ground.
Assuming you did not bring a reliable fire-making source with you it is time to secure some material such as tinder, kindling and something to make a spark such as sharp rock or a few good sticks for making a friction fire. Once your fire is going strong and only if it is daylight hours, consider putting items on the fire such as damp moss or leaves to cause smoke. On a bright day smoke can be seen for miles and can signal help. If it is dark wait until morning to make your smoke signal.
Although the human body can go without water for several days it is not wise to do so. You need to stay hydrated. Thanks to a nasty parasite called Giardia that lives in nearly all streams, rivers or ponds do not drink from these sources unless you have a way of sterilizing the water first. Instead opt for rainwater, snow or early morning dew run off which has pooled in rock piles or cupped in leaves. A sip here and there is better than nothing.
Many people who find themselves spending an unexpected night outdoors will often panic, making their situation even more dangerous and sadly too many rescue missions turn into retrieval missions instead, simply because they were not prepared for the unexpected. Being prepared and not scared is more than just a catchy phrase; these are words to live by.
Have you had to survive overnight in conditions you were not prepare for? Tell us about your experience and recommendations in the comment section.
Lisa Metheny is a published award-winning outdoor writer, photographer, speaker and outdoor skills instructor. Lisa holds several instructor certifications and conducts a number of women-focused outdoor seminars on topics like archery and hunting throughout the year. She regularly teaches hunters education and archery classes and has become an advocate for promoting traditional outdoor recreation to families across the United States. Lisa is also an avid and accomplished hunter with many big game species to her credit. She is a member of POMA and former Board of Directors member as well as a member of the NRA, RMEF, MDF and DU.