Knowing When to Stay Put
With the warmer weather finally here in Colorado people are starting to get out to enjoy the wilderness, as my son Kyle and I did last weekend. And with increased activity in the outdoors comes increased chances of finding yourself in a survival situation. In looking back through all of the things I have written about survival, the one thing I haven’t talked about at length is knowing when to stay put if you find yourself in a survival situation.
In this picture this guy has obviously been forced to stay put, and he has done a very nice job with things. He has a shelter, bananas, coconuts (or melons of some kind). He has “HELP” spelled with logs on the shore, although they are washing away in the tide. He has a spear and a fish. There is a torch, so he must have fire. And he has kept himself in great shape. He appears to be doing all that he can to survive by employing basic survival skills.
One of the basic survival rules I always say is to let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back. Hopefully you have someone that you can tell this to before you go. One time a few years ago I was going elk hunting alone, my son was too young to be of any help if I didn’t come back on time, so I told one of my good friends at work where I was going and when I should be back, adding an extra day in case I had to pack out an elk. I have a couple of maps on the walls in my office, and I even showed her specifically where I would be, the trailhead I would be leaving from, and the general area I expected to camp and hunt. She was worried about me going off into the wild more than my ex-wife ever was, it was a nice feeling. But just knowing that someone knows where you are and when you will be back is a huge boost to your confidence should something happen to you. You will know that once you pass your return date, help will be on its way.
If you park your vehicle at a trailhead and hike into an area, there are usually sign-in books at the trailhead. Take a minute to fill out your information, it helps search and rescue crews if they are looking for you. It’s also a good idea to leave a note on your dashboard that is visible from the outside that tells people where you are going, when you will be back, and who to contact if you aren’t back by that date.
Whether or not someone knows where you are is an important factor in making a decision on staying where you are if you become lost, your vehicle breaks down, you are in a plane crash, your boat breaks down, or your canoe is damaged beyond repair. Obviously if you survive a plane crash it is likely that a lot of people will know the general vicinity of where to search, unless you are Tom Hanks and Wilson. There are many factors to consider in a survival situation that will help you determine whether to stay where you are or try to make it to civilization. In this post I will focus on staying put.
In general, it is best to stay where you are unless you are in an area of imminent danger, such as a volcano, a forest fire, a flood, or there are hostile people in the area. The first thing to do in any situation is to stop and get your wits about you, don’t panic and do something irrational. This is especially true if you become lost in the wilderness; you first need to realize you are lost, and stop moving around. One time on an elk hunt a blizzard blew in late in the afternoon, and I was lucky enough to find my way back to camp, although I did get way off course a couple of times. Once safe in my camper at 9:00 PM with the propane heater blasting, I felt relieved to be out of that storm. But about 30 minutes later someone was knocking on my camper door, it was a guy whose hunting partner was apparently lost and hadn’t made it back to camp, and he asked me if I would help look for him. I did get bundled up again and left the camper, but that’s a whole other story that I may post sometime.
If you are stranded in your vehicle, it is definitely best to stay put, especially in winter conditions. There was a story a couple of years ago about a family travelling in Oregon when they got stranded on a forest road. After a couple of days the father decided to try to find help, and he didn’t make it very far before he died from the elements. The rest of his family was rescued two days later. As with a boat or canoe, your vehicle is going to be much easier to spot than you are if you are out walking. Recently I wrote an article about signaling for help, which is a critical skill in situations like this. You can read that article by clicking here. Not only is your vehicle going to be easier for rescuers to see, it will also provide you shelter, whether that be from the cold or the heat. In the desert, shade can be hard to come by, but you can use your vehicle to create a comfortable base camp while you await rescue.
An important thing to mention here is to use whatever resources you have available from whatever vehicle you were traveling in/on when you broke down. Whether it is a bicycle or an SUV, you can cannibalize many useful things from your vehicle, and a survival situation is not the time to worry about the damage you might do to your sweet SUV or expensive mountain bike. For example, tires from cars or bicycles are excellent for signaling when they are burned. You can also use your car battery to start a fire if you have jumper cables or wires simply by attaching them to the battery terminals, and then touching them together. In case you have never done that accidentally, it generates a ton of sparks. Gasoline and oil from your car are great for starting a fire as well, just don’t use too much or you might lose your eye brows.
If your mountain bike breaks down, you can cut the inner tubes into lengths for binding material to build a shelter. You can use the gear shifting cables for snaring animals, and you can even use the spokes to cook a squirrel over a fire. The key is to be resourceful with whatever you are stuck with, and use your imagination.
If you have made all efforts to be found and you know that no one is looking for you, it may be best to set out for civilization, which is a topic for another day. The bottom line is to be thoughtful of your actions, don’t do anything rash. Of course it is always best to be prepared with some basic survival gear no matter what your mode of travel, and to have a certain level of confidence in yourself to know how to use that survival gear. Always remember the Rule of 3 – the rule is simple; under normal circumstances you can die in 3 minutes without treating wounds, 3 hours if exposed to the cold and elements, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food. The rule is subject to change according to location and circumstance, but generally it fits most cases. If you are ever in doubt about whether to stay put or strike out, the rule of thumb is to stay put.