You'll never know when disaster will strike, so check out these steps to survive anything and prepare yourself for every eventuality.
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Steps to Survive Anything | Basic Survival Knowledge
While in the U.S. Air Force
As a young Airman teaching students at the U.S. Air Force Survival School, I was posed a riddle by one of my officer students. He said to me, “Imagine you are lost in the woods, it's freezing cold, hypothermia is setting in, and you come across a cabin in the middle of nowhere.
You enter the cabin and there is a lantern, fully functional and ready to go. There is also a wood-burning stove and a stone fireplace with paper and kindling.
What do you light first?”
I replied, “I would light the fireplace.” A large smile spread across his space and he said, “Nope, you light the match first!”
Then it was my turn to smile and reply, “But sir, we don’t use matches!” And I also reiterated that as an Air Force survival instructor, we never became lost.
It was refreshing to see the lieutenant was thinking about survival matters and possible scenarios one might encounter.
Over the course of nearly two decades, I encountered many people who had never camped nor hiked. They also didn’t know the first thing about the basics in the survival book.
As a professional instructor, I'm proud to see those same people leave with the confidence to survive on the basic skills they had learned. The majority of the students who go through the Air Force survival school must have this knowledge to accomplish their mission and continue in their chosen field.
This article will be a short introduction to the basics of survival that can save your life.
1. Increase Your Will to Survive
First and foremost is the Will to Survive, W2S. You can have nearly every tool at your disposal and perish because you gave up, or you can have next to nothing and refuse to die through sheer force of will.
As the old adage says, “You can survive three weeks without food, three days without water, three minutes without air, but not three seconds without hope!”
Nearly everyone has heard tales of incredulous ordeals endured only by the will to survive. Various movies have been made about such topics, such as the soccer team stuck in the Andes or Shackelton’s voyage to the Antarctic.
The will to survive is something everyone is born with; however, it is an attribute one can bolster even more.
The mental desire and discipline to live can be hardened to the point where giving up is not an option. Learning new skills, new techniques, and acquiring knowledge are a few ways to help yourself and those you love.
W2S is vital to stay alive and to get out of a bad situation intact, just as vital as having a plan to help you accomplish that goal.
2. Take a Minute and STOP
Your mindset and willingness to endure hardships will be the basic keys on how to survive anything anywhere in the world and in any condition.
The will is equally as important as knowledge, equipment, and skills. And you obtain all of these through study and practice.
Though it seems counterproductive in a survival situation, one of the first things you must do is S.T.O.P.
- Stop! – Literally, stop. Take two seconds to grasp your situation, check yourself medically. Check your body because if adrenaline is pumping, you may have been injured without realizing it. Then, check your inventory and get ready for what is to come. Mentally and physically ensure you are ready for the ordeal in store.
- Think – Consider your body, mind, equipment, environment, and location in that environment. Look for potential communication and signaling possibilities. How likely is a rescue to arrive and how soon? Weigh your situation and then…
- Organize – Your gear, your body, whatever you have to help improve your situation or whatever you can scrounge from the vehicle, the aircraft or the environment you are in. Take anything you can find because you never know what use you will have for it. Too often, survivors have left behind valuable equipment because they did not want the few extra pounds of weight or because they did not think they would need that particular item.
- Plan – Prioritize your needs based on necessity and prepare your next move. Keep in mind that your plan must be flexible in such a turbulent situation, and it is subject to change. Instead of exerting energy blindly or moving in a random direction, plan what you are going to do next and how you are going to do it. Having a plan will greatly help you to achieve the ultimate goal of returning home.
3. Acquire Basic Medical Knowledge
The next basic facet of survival is medical. Whether it be professional medical knowledge, first-aid know-how, or a medical survival guide, you must know how to deal with physical emergencies as they arise.
Not only should you consider medical procedures to be a reflexive attribute, such as when a cut, scrape or break occurs, but it should also be a proactive attribute.
For instance, in a colder environment, you must ensure you aren’t succumbing to frostbite. Or in a desert environment, you aren’t dehydrating and becoming afflicted with heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
In a tropical environment, this includes using some type of insect repellent or mud if there are no other options. At times you may have to get creative and use what is in the environment.
Local plants are some of the best remedies if you know which ones are edible and how to use them. The best medical treatment is prevention!
4. Ensure Appropriate Clothing for the Situation
If you find yourself suddenly thrust into a survival situation with literally only the clothes on your back, clothing will become vital. In those moments, even something as simple as a pair of gloves or an extra pair of socks could be crucial.
I will delve more into personal survival kits (PSK’s) in the future but consider what you carry on your body on a day-to-day basis and assess your survival chances if you were stranded this moment.
In 2005, I was deployed to Djibouti, Africa at Camp Lemonier. I used to carry a large Camelbak with me as well as various items inside the bag that made up my personal survival kit.
One day a Marine officer jokingly asked me if I went to the bathroom with that thing on, I said, “Yes I do sir.”
I went on to explain that if we had an alert for incoming threats, there would be no time to run back to my office, grab the bag, and get to a bunker. I knew that with what I had inside that bag, I would survive for at least two days before my water ran out.
5. Find Shelter Immediately
When it comes to shelter there are two types: immediate action and long-term. An immediate action shelter can be anything that aids in protecting you from the elements in a short time frame.
Examples are caves, tree wells, rock overhangs, etc.
A short-term shelter can also be something you can make or improve upon but something that takes a small amount of time. A long-term shelter is something man-made or something that needs a large amount of improvement.
These shelters are generally types that take more than 30 minutes to construct. Perfect examples are teepees, log cabins, snow caves, igloos, etc.
6. Know How to Build and Maintain a Fire
The old “Survival TV” is a universal favorite from 2-year-olds to 102-year-olds. Everyone has fond memories of sitting around a fire.
Maybe you were relaxing, making s’mores, telling ghost stories, having a beer, or merely enjoying spending time with friends and family.
In modern society, the ability to start a fire has become amazingly simplified. When people are thrust into a situation where matches, lighters, newspaper, and lighter fluid are not readily available, it becomes a huge challenge.
As much as fire craft is a physically protective facet, it is also an important psychological factor in survival.
7. Attempt Contact with Civilization
Lastly, consider signaling and communication, because either of those things may be your ticket home.
In a separate article, I will discuss navigation because “self-rescue” may be the only option depending on the situation. However, a cell phone, radio, or emergency beacon can greatly aid you in getting out of a sticky situation.
If none of those is available, then being able to construct a signal with natural materials or flares may get you rescued. Classic examples include an SOS message stamped in the snow or help created from logs.
A flag made of cloth attracts attention due to the movement. A signal mirror is invaluable, especially out on the ocean when potential rescue vehicles are miles away.
There are many pieces of equipment you can use and many things you can improvise. These signaling and communication items should help you return home, which is the number one goal in any survival situation.
8. Find Sustenance for Long-term Survival
I saved sustenance for last because, in my general opinion, if you enter a situation in a relatively normal and healthy state, sustenance can be put on hold for a while. It will most definitely become a vital part of survival, but if you have even a small water bottle, then you can worry about water and food later after more pressing concerns.
With all that said, water and food are the key components of sustenance and both are vital to survival.
Water is, of course, necessary to all life. We need water to survive and to maintain our bodies at a stable 98.6 degrees.
This is true especially if we are injured or under extreme duress or exertion from intense circumstances.
In a survival situation, plain water is the best liquid to ingest. Nothing else will substitute for plain, good old-fashioned, H2O.
Unfortunately, due to our ability to procure food immediately from the grocery store, obtaining filling food in the wild will undoubtedly be a challenge. One of the most difficult things to overcome will be food aversions, such as snacking on bugs or wild animals you don't usually eat.
If plants are the plentiful foodstuffs, there is the danger of eating poisonous or harmful plants.
There are great “universal” plants that anyone can identify and that are usually found anywhere around the world, hence the term universal. Some classic examples are Cattail, Dandelion, and Bamboo.
Watch this video by Sikana English about a family emergency preparedness plan:
Hopefully, you now have a broader understanding of how to make it out of survival situations alive. These are key components to help you survive any situation, regardless of where you find yourself.
I hope this short introduction has jump-started your journey towards preparation.
Take the first step to becoming a survival guru today! Do you know any more survival tips and tricks? Please share with us in the comments section below!
- 17 Old School Survival Skills You Should Know
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in February 2018 and has been updated for quality and relevancy.
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