United States Search and Rescue Task Force

Survival In The Wilderness

General Land Survival Tips

Remember: You are the key person in the rescue! Help the search parties to find you, and follow their instructions when they sight you. They can use all the assistance you can give. Don’t take chances which might result in injury. You will be easier to rescue if you are in one piece.

The following procedures will speed up your rescue:

Arctic

Antarctica is covered with a sheet of ice.  In the Arctic the pole is capped by deep ice floating on the sea and all the land north of the timber line is frozen.  There are only two seasons - a long winter and a short summer - the day varying from complete darkness in midwinter to 24 hours daylight at midsummer.
 
Arctic summer temperatures can rise to 18C (65F), except on glaciers and frozen seas, but fall in winter to as low as - 56C (-81F) and are never above freezing point. In the northern forests summer temperatures can reach  37C (100F), but altitude pushes winter temperatures even lower than in the artic.
 
Antarctic winds of 177kmph (110mph) have been recorded and , in the arctic autumn, winter winds reach hurricane force and can whip snow 30m (100ft) into the air, giving the impression of a blizzard - even when its not snowing.
Accompanied by low temperatures, winds have a marked chilling effect- much greater than the thermometer indicates.  For instance, a 32kmph wind will bring a temperature of -14C(5F) down to -34C(-30F).

Shelter From Cold -

Water From Ice and Snow -

Melt ice rather than snow - it produces a greater volume faster for less heat: twice as much for half the heat. If forced to heat snow, place a little in the pot and melt that first, gradually adding more to it. If you put a lot of snow into the pot, the lower level will melt and then be soaked up into the absorbent snow above it, leaving a hollow beneath which will make the pot burn. Lower layers of snow are more granular than that on the surface and will yield more water.

Sea ice is salt - no use for drinking - until it has aged or is distilled after melting. The more recently frozen, the saltier it will be.  New sea ice is rough in contour and milky-white in color.  Old ice is bluish and has rounded edges, caused by weathering.  Good water can be obtained from this blue ice - the bluer and smoother the better - because the salt tends to settle to the bottom.  But beware of even old ice that has been exposed to salt spray.

Desert

Most desert lands were once fertile and some of the creatures that lived there then adapted to the new conditions.  Like them, the survivor must learn to make the most of any available shade, to create protection from the sun, reduce moisture loss and restrict activity to the ends of the day and the night.  Learn from the peoples who live or travel through the deserts.
 
In some deserts, especially the Sahara, the deserts of the Middle East, of Peru and northern Chile and parts of the Gobi desert in Mongolia, there are great temperature differences between night and day.  At night condensation of any moisture in the air can make some water available- and in the Nambi desert of southern Africa fog coming in from the sea often provides moisture for life. Elsewhere, in such deserts as those of Western Australia, northern Mexico and the Mohave of the south western USA, where the temperature changes are comparatively slight, there is  very little condensation and consequently both plants and game are very rare.  Sometimes, as in the Kalahari, there will be sparse grass and thorny bushes and, even in the most barren conditions, some kind of life seems to survive, though often invisible if you don't know where to look.
 
Dust and sand storms may occur at certain times of the year, reducing visibility to zero and demanding maximum protection to prevent sand entering every orifice. Dust devils- desert whirlwinds like tornadoes- are quite common.  When rain does come - and in some territories years may pass with none at all - it may be in torrential down pours which create flash floods, before being quickly absorbed into the parched ground.  This provides for a brief blossoming of vegetation and the emergence of species such as the Spadefoot Toad of Arizona for rapid reproduction.

Water will be your biggest problem.  Do not waste it.  Keep your head and the back of your neck covered, and get into shade as soon as possible to reduce sweating and loss of body water.  Stay out of the sun and travel only at night.   

 
Water needs are paramount.  Finding it is VITAL.  If you have it, ration it immediately.  If you are stranded by mechanical failure during a planned desert crossing, you will have plotted your route with an awareness of oases, wells and waterholes.  Wells can be very deep and the water level require a container lowered on a line to reach it.  Away from known waterholes, try digging at the lowest point between dunes.  Do not dig in the heat of the day, the exertion will use up too much fluid and you may not be able to replace it.  You must always balance fluid loss against possible gain.
Exploit cactus and roots as water sources and , in deserts where the day/night temperature range  is great, exploit this to produce water by condensation.
Cacti:
Both the fruit and bodies of cacti store water, but not all cacti produce liquid safe to drink - the Saguaro, the giant multi-fingered cactus of Arizona, is very poisonous. Take care to avoid contact with cactus spines, they can be very difficult to remove, especially the very fine hair-like ones, and can cause festering sores if they stay in the skin. The Barrel cactus can reach a height of 4 feet and is the best source of water, however, it requires considerable effort to cut through its tough, spine-covered outer skin. The best method is to cut off the top and chop out pieces from the inside to suck on or roll in a piece of cloth and wring out the water. You may also smash the pulp within the plant and scoop out the watery sap, which varies from tasteless in some plants to bitter in others. An average-sized, 3 foot high, Barrel cactus will yield about 2 pints of milky juice and this is an exception to the rule to avoid milky-sapped plants.

In climates where it is very hot during the day and cold at night, heavy dew can be expected. When it condenses on metal objects it can be sponged or licked off.

Typical of desert extremes are conditions in the Rub'al Khali, the "Empty Quarter", of southern Arabia.  For most of the year there is only a trace of rain but over 30mm may fall on a single day in the winter.  July temperatures may reach over 48C(120F), dropping to 15C(60F) at night, and December extremes range from 26 to 6.6C (79-20).

Remember, reptiles are not an indicator of water.  They collect dew and get moisture from prey, so they can go a long time without water.

Shelter From Heat -

Clothing -
 
Clothing helps reduce fluid loss and gives protection from sunburn, as well as warmth at night and a barrier against insect bites and thorns.  In the desert it should be light and loose fitting, with air space between the garments and the body to provide insulation.  Copy the flowing, layered garments of the Arab world. Trousers give more protection from insects than shorts (and guard against serious burns on the legs if forced into daytime exposure). Cover the head and feet.

Keep covered -
 
Do not strip off your clothes. Apart from the risk of severe sunburn, an uncovered body will lose sweat through evaporation requiring even more to cool it - but keep the covering as loose as possible so that there is a layer of insulating air.  Sweating will then cool you more efficiently.

Headgear -
 
Any hat with a piece of cloth attached to the back will give some protection to the head and back of the neck but it is better to copy the headgear of desert peoples. You need a piece of material about 120cm (4ft) square, a smaller piece, such as a handkerchief, and a piece of cord or cloth (a tie is ideal) to keep them in position.
Make the handkerchief into a wad on top of the head.  Fold the large cloth diagonally, place it over the handkerchief, the long edge forward.  Tie cord or cloth around the head to secure them.
 
Allowed to fall freely this will protect from the sun, trap pockets of air, take advantage of breezes and protect from sand-storms.  At night wrap it around the face for warmth.
 
Eye protection -
 
Sunglasses or goggles will help - though many made for use in temperate climates may offer insufficient protection.  Soot from the fire smeared below the eyes will reduce glare reflected from the skin.  Shield the eyes from glare and windborne sand with a strip of material.  Cut  narrow slits to see through.
 
Footwear -
 
Do not walk barefoot on hot sand until your feet have become hardened. It will burn and cause blisters.  Do not wear sandals which leave the top of the foot exposed.  Improvise coverings if you have none. 
 
Food -
 
Heat usually produces a loss of appetite, so do not force yourself to eat. Protein foods increase metabolic heat and increase water loss and liquids are needed for digestion.  If water is scarce, keep eating to a minimum and then try to eat only moisture containing foods, such as fruits and vegetables.
 
Food spoils very quickly in the desert and any stores, once opened, should be eaten right away or kept covered and shaded.  Flies appear from nowhere and settle on your uncovered food.
 
Plants -
 
Vegetation, away from oases and waterholes, is likely to be little more than scrub and grasses - even in the semi desert - but grasses are edible and sometimes plentiful. The Acacia tree in the scrub provides edible beans.  Beware of the Acacias thorns but try all its soft parts:  flowers, fruit, seeds, bark and the young shoots.
 
The grasses of the Sahara and the Gobi are neither nutritious nor palatable, but in the Sahara and the Asian deserts you may find the desert gourd, a member of the Squash family.  Its vine can run over the ground for 4.5m(15ft).  Chew its water-filled shoots and eat its flowers and orange-sized fruits, the seeds of which are edible roasted or boiled.
 
The Mescal plant (an Agave from which tequila is made) of the Mexican desert, grows with a rosette of thick, tough, sharp-tipped, grows with a rosette of thick, tough, sharp-tipped leaves.  Its central stalk, which rises like a candle to a flowering head, can be eaten.   Cut the ends of the leaves to suck out water.
 
Animals -
 
Deserts often support a variety of animal life which borrows into the sand or hides in any available shade during the day.  Insects, reptiles, small rodents and specially adapted mammals such as the Fennec Fox of North Africa, the Australian Bandicoot, a hedgehog in the Gobi and the Jack Rabbit of North America - all of which have big ears to act as cooling aids.
 
There are geckoes, lizards and snakes.  Tortoises and amphibians survive from when these were once well-watered lands.  The Sahara has gerbils and gerboas ; the Middle East, Caracals and Hyenas.  In the Kalahari there is a squirrel that uses its tail for shade.  There are even Gazelles that manage to get all the moisture they need from the sap of leaves, though most large mammals are an indication that there is a water supply within daily reach of their grazing areas.
 
Birds feathers give them good insulation against heat and many live and breed long distances from there water supplies - such as the road runner of Arizona.

Health -
 
Most desert illnesses are caused by excessive exposure to sun and heat. They can be avoided by keeping head and body covered and remaining in shade until sundown.
Constipation and pain in passing urine are common and salt-deficiency can lead to cramps.
 
Continued heavy sweating on the body coupled with rubbing by clothing can produce blockages in the sweat glands and an uncomfortable skin irritation known as prickly heat.
 
Heat cramps, leading to heat exhaustion, heat stroke and serious sunburn are all dangers.  A gradual increase in activity and daily exposure to the sun will build up a defense - provided that plenty of drinking water is available.
 
Various micro-organisms attack the moist areas of the body - the crevices of the armpits, groin and between the toes.  Prevention and treatments are to keep these areas clean and dry.
 
Warning :  In the desert even the most trivial wound is likely to become infected if not dealt with immediately.  Thorns are easily picked up and should be pulled out as soon as possible.  Where the skin is broken a large and painful sore may develop which could prevent walking.  Bandage all cuts with clean dressings and use what medical aids are available.

Tropics

Everything in the jungle thrives, including disease- germ breed at an alarming rate- and parasites.  Nature provides water, food and plenty of materials for making shelters. Indigenous peoples have lived for millennia from hunting and gathering, but for the outsider it can take a long time to get used to the conditions and the non stop activity.
 
Native peoples wear little, except as ornament, but the newcomer, uninured to insects and leeches and unaccustomed to moving through dense jungle growth, needs to keep as covered as possible . Clothing may become saturated by perspiration but it is better than being stung, scratched and bitten all over. Do not remove clothing until you halt and then, with humidity at 80-90percent there is no point hanging it up to dry except in the sun or by a fire. Clothes saturated regularly by perspiration will rot.
 
Except at high altitudes, both equatorial and subtropical regions are characterized by high temperatures, heavy rainfall and oppressive humidity. At low altitudes, temperature variation is seldom more than 10 C (50 F), and is often 37 C (98 F). At altitudes over 1500m (5000ft) ice often forms at night. The rain has a slightly cooling effect but, when it stops, the temperature soars.
 
Rainfall is heavy, often with thunder and lightning. Sudden rain beats on the tree canopy, turning trickles into raging torrents and rivers rise at an alarming rate, but- just as suddenly - its gone.  Violent storms may occur, usually towards the end of the "summer" months.  Prevailing winds create variation between winter and summer with the dry season (rain once a day) and the monsoon (continuous rain). In south east Asia, winds from the Indian Ocean bring monsoon, but it is dry when the wind blows from the land-mass of china.
 
Tropical day and night are of equal length, darkness falls quickly and daybreak is equally sudden.

Fire :   Everything is likely to be damp. Take dead wood and shave off the outside.  Use that to start your fire.  Dry bamboo makes excellent tinder (store some), so does a termites nest.
 
Food:   A large variety of fruits, roots and leaves are available.  Banana, papaya, mango and figs are easily recognized. (papaya is one of the few plants with white sap that is edible). The large, thorny fruit of the Durian, of southeast Asia, smells disgusting, but is good to eat. Palms provide an edible growing point and manioc produces massive tubers- though they must be cooked before eating. Taro, wild potato and some kinds of yam must also be prepared to remove poisons before they are eaten. You must also be prepared to remove poisons before they are eaten. 
 
Deer, pigs, monkeys and a wide range of animals can be hunted and trapped according to location.
 
In primary jungle, birds spend most of there time in the tree canopy among the fruit and berries. Place traps in clearings and lure birds with fruit. Near river traps can be baited with fish or offal for Fish Eagles and similar species which patrol rivers for prey.
 
Parrots and their relatives abound in the tropics - their mad screeching makes their presence known from early morning.  They are cunning - get them used to taking bait before setting the trap.
 
Snakes are easier to catch - go for the non-poisonous constrictor.  Catch them using a forked stick.
 
Rivers support all kinds of life: fish, plants, animals and insects. If you have no fishing tackle, small pools can be dammed and then emptied with a bailer - fish and turtles in surprising numbers can be found in mud.   Fish from slow moving waters are more likely to be infested with parasites.   If suspect, boil for 20 minutes .

Take shelter from rain, sun, and insects.  Do not travel without carefully blazing or making your route carefully. Use a compass. As always, know what direction you are going.  Aside from your main concerns of food, water and shelter, insects will be a big problem.  Long pants and a long sleeve shirt and hat are a must.   

 
Good footwear and protection for the legs is essential - they are most exposed to leeches, and centipedes.  Wrap bark or cloth around the legs and tie it to make puttees.
 
Beware  of invaders.  Keep clothing and footwear off the ground.  Then scorpions, snakes and others are less likely to invade them.  Always shake out clothing and check boots before putting them on and be wary when putting hands into your pockets.  On waking, take care.  Centipedes tend to curl for warmth in some of the more private body regions.
 
Beware of caterpillars too!  If mosquitoes and leeches sucking your blood, painful bites from centipedes and the risk of scorpion and snake bites are not enough, look out for hairy caterpillars.  Be careful to brush them off in the direction they are traveling or small irritant hairs may stay in the skin and cause an itchy rash, which may fester in the heat.
 
Mosquito Protection
Wear a net over your head, or tie a tee-shirt or singlet over it, especially at dawn and dusk. Better, take a strip of cloth long enough to tie around your head and about 45cm (18in) deep and cut it to make a fringe of vertical strips hanging from a band that will hang around your face and over your neck.
At night keep covered, including your hands. Use bamboo or a sapling to support a little tent of clothing plus large leaves, rigged over your upper half. Oil, fat or even mud spread on hands and face may help to repel mosquitoes. In camp a smoky fire will help keep insects at bay.
Insects:

Malaria-carrying mosquitoes and other insect pests are the immediate dangers of the tropics - protect yourself against bites.   Insects can be good indicators of water, especially bees: they fly at most 4 miles from their nests or hives, but have no regular watering times.  Ants are dependent upon water. A column of ants marching up a tree is going to a small reservoir of trapped water. Such reservoirs are found even in arid areas.  Most flies keep within 100 yards of water.  Also look for large colonies of butterflies.

Slashing your way through jungle you may disturb bee, wasp or hornet nests . They may attack, especially hornets, whose stings can be especially painful.  Anywhere left bare, including your face, is vulnerable to attack.  Run!  Don't drop anything, you wont want to go back for it!  Goggles would help protect the eyes.
 
As you work up perspiration there are insects, desperate for salt, that will fly to the wettest parts of the body.  Unfortunately they also sting.  Protect armpits and the groin.

Other Water Sources - 

Vines:
Vines with rough bark and shoots about 2 inches thick can be a useful source of water. But you must learn by experience which are the water-bearing vines, because not all have drinkable water and some have a poisonous sap. The poisonous ones yield a sticky, milky sap when cut. You will know not to try that type again - otherwise it is a matter of trial and error and worth trying any species.

Some vines cause a skin irritation upon contact with your lips, so it is better to let the liquid drip into your mouth rather than put your mouth to the stem. It is more preferable to collect the water in a container instead.

To collect water from a vine, select a particular stem and trace it upwards. Reach as high as possible and cut the vine at an angle. Cut off the same stem close to the ground. DO NOT cut the bottom of the vine first as this will cause the liquid to run up the vine through capillary action. Hold the cut piece up and let the water drip from it into your mouth or into a container. When it ceases to drip, cut a section from the bottom and go on repeating this until the vine is drained.
 
Roots:
In Australia, the Water Tree, Desert Oak, and Bloodwood have their roots near the surface. Pry these roots out from the ground and cut them up into 12 inch pieces. Remove the bark. Suck out the moisture, or shave to a pulp and squeeze over the mouth.

It is not easy to find some of the most useful desert roots unless you have been shown by someone with experience. Australian Aborigines can identify a tiny twig which grows from a football-like bulbous root, which can be a lifesaver - but unless you have been shown how to find them, it is not worth expending your energy and resources looking.
 
Palms:
The Buri, Coconut, and Nipa palms all contain a sugary fluid which is very drinkable. To start it flowing, bend a flowering stalk downwards and cut off its tip. If a thin slice is cut off the stalk every 12 hours, the flow will be renewed, making it possible to collect up to a quart each day. Nipa palms shoot from the base so that you can work from ground level, on grown trees of other species you may have to climb up them to reach a flowering stalk.
Coconut milk has considerable water content, but from ripe nuts it is a powerful laxative; drinking too much would make you lose more fluid.

Survival Strategy

Don't Panic! - 

You will significantly increase your chances of survival by forcing yourself to stop, relax and carefully evaluate your situation.  Seek a safe, sheltered area.  Sit down, and take a few deep breaths.  Prepare yourself to overcome the situation and conquer your fears and anxieties.  Think about your situation and the possibilities, theories, benefits and drawbacks to getting out on your own or sustaining yourself until help arrives.  Taking the time to relax and evaluate the situation is the most important first step towards increasing your chances of survival.  When in doubt, stay where you are!  It improves the likelihood that the search and rescue team will locate you.

Unless extreme circumstance dictate that you must travel, you should always stay put.  Searchers can find you much easier if you remain put.  Once you start to travel, the search teams must use more personnel and additional time in order to locate you.  So, if at all possible, stay put!

Treat Injuries Immediately -

Treat injuries as soon as possible to avoid future complications.  Do you best within the confines of your training and with the resources that you have and, mentally prepare yourself to cope with pain.

Find Shelter And Create A Signal - 

Find cover from the elements.  Create a signal to let searchers know where you are.

Conserve Energy - 

You are sustained by the energy provided by food and water.  Energy is burned in response to activity, either voluntary (exercise) or involuntary (shivering/sweating).  Regulate the amount of energy you burn by regulating your activity and avoiding shivering/sweating.

In emergencies, you need to evaluate the cost/benefit of burning energy to obtain water and food versus that of becoming inactive and conserving your existing energy.

In all instances, you should take measures to avoid losing energy to the environment.  In cold weather avoid heat loss by:

In warm weather avoid water loss by:

Water And Food -

You can survive up to a month without food, but only 2 or 3 days without water.  If water is scarce:

Shelter

Requirements -

Bough shelters -
 
Bough shelters make use of branches that sweep down to the ground or boughs that have partly broken from the tree to give basic protection from the wind - but make sure that they are not so broken that they could come down on your head!  Weave in other twigs to make the cover more dense.  Conifers are more suited to this technique than broad - leaved trees, as they require less weaving - in to keep out rain.

Shelter From Cold -

Artic shelters -
 
In polar areas simple shelters will be those already waiting for you in natural caves and hollows. If you carry some kind of bivouac in your equipment, you can erect it and increase its protection by piling up loose snow around and over it, so long as it can support the weight.  But to build in hard snow and at very low temperatures snow will be solid you need some kind of implement to cut into it or make blocks from it.  Spades and ice saws are essential equipment for polar expeditions.
Snow or rock caves will be easily recognizable but not so obvious are the spaces left beneath the spreading boughs of conifers in the northern forests when the snow has already built up around them.  A medium sized tree may have a space right around the trunk or a large tree have pockets in the snow beneath a branch. Try digging under any tree with spreading branches on the lee side.

Shelter From Heat -

Desert shelter -
 
Build your desert shelter in the cool of the evening to conserve energy and fluids. Pile rocks to make a windbreak and make use of walls (except when rain and flash floods seem likely).
 
If using fabrics, leave the bottom edges lifted and loose by day to increase air circulation. Weight them down with rocks at night.
 
Avoid lying directly on hot ground.  If you make a raised bed air can circulate under you.

Water

In a survival situation, it is as important to retain fluids as it is to replace them.  Limiting activity, talking and eating (digestion uses up intestinal fluids) are three ways to reduce water loss.

Finding Water -

The first place to look is in valley bottoms where water naturally drains. If there is no obvious stream or pool, look for patches of green vegetation and try digging there - plants need water to survive. There may be water just below the surface which will build up in the hole. However, do not waste water (sweat), while digging for water - you may dehydrate yourself further without gaining enough water to compensate for the loss. Even digging in gullies and dry stream beds may reveal a spring beneath the surface, especially in gravelly areas. You should dig in the outer bends of the stream beds where water may have embedded itself in the soil. In mountains look for water trapped in crevices.

On the coast, digging above the high water line, especially where there are sand dunes, has a good chance of producing about 2 inches of fresh water that filters down and floats on the heavier salt water. It may be brackish but is still drinkable. Where cliffs fall into the sea, look for lush growth of vegetation, even ferns and mosses, in a fault in the rock formation and you may find a soak or spring.

 

WARNING
Be suspicious of any pool with no green vegetation growing around it, or animal bones present. It is likely to be polluted by chemicals in the ground close to the surface. Check the edge for minerals which might indicate alkaline conditions. ALWAYS BOIL WATER FROM POOLS. In deserts there are lakes with no outlets; these become salt lakes. Their water MUST be distilled before drinking.

Dew and Rain Collection -

Despite the acid rain produced by industrialized countries, which can cause a buildup of pollution in the soil, rainwater everywhere is drinkable. Use as large a catchment area as possible, running the water off into containers of every kind. A hole dug in the ground and lined with anything that will hold water efficiently, can be used but should be kept covered afterwards. If you have no impermeable sheeting (like plastic), metal sheets or bark can be used to catch water. If you have any doubt about the water you have collected, boil it.

In climates where it is very hot during the day and cold at night, heavy dew can be expected. When it condenses on metal objects it can be sponged or licked off.

You can use clothing to soak up water and then wring it out. One way is to tie clean cloths around the legs and ankles and walk through wet vegetation. These can be sucked or wrung out.

Animals As Signs of Water -

Mammals:
Most animals require water regularly. Grazing animals are usually never far from water - though some kinds travel thousands of miles to avoid the dry season - as they need to drink at dawn and dusk. Converging game trails often lead to water; follow them downhill. Carnivores (meat eaters) can go for a long period between waterings. They get moisture from the animals on which they prey so are not a positive indication of local water.
 
Birds:
Grain eaters, such as finches and pigeons, are never far from water. They drink at dawn and dusk. When they fly straight and low they are heading for water. When returning from water they are loaded with it and fly from tree to tree, resting frequently. Water birds, such as cranes and gulls, can travel long distances without stopping to feed or drink so do not necessarily indicate water nearby. Hawks, eagles and other birds of prey also get liquids from their victims so cannot be taken as a sign of local water.
 
Reptiles:
Not an indicator of water. They collect dew and get moisture from prey, so they can go a long time without water.
 
Insects:

Good indicators, especially bees: they fly at most 4 miles from their nests or hives, but have no regular watering times.  Ants are dependent upon water. A column of ants marching up a tree is going to a small reservoir of trapped water. Such reservoirs are found even in arid areas. Most flies keep within 100 yards of water. Also look for large colonies of butterflies.

 

WARNING
RATION YOUR SWEAT NOT YOUR WATER!   If you have to ration water, take it in sips. After going a long time without water, don’t guzzle when you do find it.   Take only sips at first.   Large gulps will make a dehydrated person vomit, losing even more of the valuable liquid.

Plant Bags -

Tree and plant roots draw moisture from the ground, but a tree may take it from a water table 50 feet or more below the surface, too deep to dig down to reach. Don’t try, let the tree pump it up for you. Tie a plastic bag around a leafy branch. Evaporation from the leaves will produce condensation in the bag. Choose bushy branches. Keep the mouth of the bag at the top with a corner hanging low to collect condensed evaporation.

Plant Bag on a Limb

Placing a plastic tent over any vegetation will collect moisture by evaporation which will condense on the plastic as it cools. Choose healthy vegetation. Suspend the tent from the apex or support with a padded stick. Avoid letting the foliage touch the sides of the tent or it will divert water droplets which should collect in plastic-lined channels at the bottom.

Plant Bag over a Shurb

Even cut vegetation will produce some condensation as it warms up when placed in a large plastic bag. Keep the foliage off the bottom with stones so that water collects below it, and keep the foliage from touching the plastic. In the desert, turn the bag upside down and bury it halfway in the sand. Don’t allow the water to wash back over the bush, as it may contaminate the water.

Plant Bag over a Cut Bush

Solar Still -

Did a hole in the ground approximately 3 feet across and 18 inches deep. Place a collecting can in the center, then cover the hole with a sheet of plastic. Anchor the plastic around the hole with dirt or stones. Place a small stone, or a piece of material filled with dirt and tied up into a bag, in the center of the plastic so that the plastic forms a cone. You may also place small, green vegetation in the hole to produce even more water. The sun’s heat raises the temperature of the air and soil below and vapor is produced. As the air becomes saturated, water condenses on the underside of the plastic, running down into the container. This is especially effective in desert regions and elsewhere when it is hot during the day and cold at night. The plastic cools more quickly than the air, causing heavy condensation. This kind of still should collect at least 1 pint of water per 24-hour period. You may also want to place a siphon of some sort in the container so that the water can be removed without disturbing the still.

Solar Still

A solar still can be used to distill pure water from poisonous or contaminated liquids.

 

WARNING
NEVER drink urine or sea water!  However, both can produce drinking water if distilled. Sea water will also provide you with a residue of salt.

Water From Ice and Snow -

Melt ice rather than snow - it produces a greater volume faster for less heat: twice as much for half the heat. If forced to heat snow, place a little in the pot and melt that first, gradually adding more to it. If you put a lot of snow into the pot, the lower level will melt and then be soaked up into the absorbent snow above it, leaving a hollow beneath which will make the pot burn. Lower layers of snow are more granular than that on the surface and will yield more water.

Sea ice is salt - no use for drinking - until it has aged or is distilled after melting. The more recently frozen, the saltier it will be.  New sea ice is rough in contour and milky-white in color.  Old ice is bluish and has rounded edges, caused by weathering.  Good water can be obtained from this blue ice - the bluer and smoother the better - because the salt tends to settle to the bottom.  But beware of even old ice that has been exposed to salt spray.

Water From Plants -

Water Collectors:
Cup-shaped plants and cavities between the leaves of bromeliads (many of which are parasitic on the branches of tropical trees) often collect a reservoir of water. Bamboo often holds water in its hollow joints. Old and yellow stems are more likely to be water bearing. Shake them - if you can hear water sloshing around, cut a notch at the bottom of each joint and pour the water out.
 
Vines:
Vines with rough bark and shoots about 2 inches thick can be a useful source of water. But you must learn by experience which are the water-bearing vines, because not all have drinkable water and some have a poisonous sap. The poisonous ones yield a sticky, milky sap when cut. You will know not to try that type again - otherwise it is a matter of trial and error and worth trying any species.

Some vines cause a skin irritation upon contact with your lips, so it is better to let the liquid drip into your mouth rather than put your mouth to the stem. It is more preferable to collect the water in a container instead.

To collect water from a vine, select a particular stem and trace it upwards. Reach as high as possible and cut the vine at an angle. Cut off the same stem close to the ground. DO NOT cut the bottom of the vine first as this will cause the liquid to run up the vine through capillary action. Hold the cut piece up and let the water drip from it into your mouth or into a container. When it ceases to drip, cut a section from the bottom and go on repeating this until the vine is drained.
 
Roots:
In Australia, the Water Tree, Desert Oak, and Bloodwood have their roots near the surface. Pry these roots out from the ground and cut them up into 12 inch pieces. Remove the bark. Suck out the moisture, or shave to a pulp and squeeze over the mouth.

It is not easy to find some of the most useful desert roots unless you have been shown by someone with experience. Australian Aborigines can identify a tiny twig which grows from a football-like bulbous root, which can be a lifesaver - but unless you have been shown how to find them, it is not worth expending your energy and resources looking.
 
Palms:
The Buri, Coconut, and Nipa palms all contain a sugary fluid which is very drinkable. To start it flowing, bend a flowering stalk downwards and cut off its tip. If a thin slice is cut off the stalk every 12 hours, the flow will be renewed, making it possible to collect up to a quart each day. Nipa palms shoot from the base so that you can work from ground level, on grown trees of other species you may have to climb up them to reach a flowering stalk.
Coconut milk has considerable water content, but from ripe nuts it is a powerful laxative; drinking too much would make you lose more fluid.
 
Cacti:
Both the fruit and bodies of cacti store water, but not all cacti produce liquid safe to drink - the Saguaro, the giant multi-fingered cactus of Arizona, is very poisonous. Take care to avoid contact with cactus spines, they can be very difficult to remove, especially the very fine hair-like ones, and can cause festering sores if they stay in the skin. The Barrel cactus can reach a height of 4 feet and is the best source of water, however, it requires considerable effort to cut through its tough, spine-covered outer skin. The best method is to cut off the top and chop out pieces from the inside to suck on or roll in a piece of cloth and wring out the water. You may also smash the pulp within the plant and scoop out the watery sap, which varies from tasteless in some plants to bitter in others. An average-sized, 3 foot high, Barrel cactus will yield about 2 pints of milky juice and this is an exception to the rule to avoid milky-sapped plants.

Food

         

If you have a comfortable shelter, water, and are safe and dry, it is often best to ignore hunger while waiting for rescue since you can last for weeks without food.  It will likely cost you more energy to find food than you will gain.  If you must have food, seek only that which is easily acquired.  Eat small amounts to avoid upset; a bout of diarrhea or vomiting could leave you worse off than when you began.

Food Sources

Plants -

While the leaves and fruits of many shrubs, flowers and trees are edible, do not eat them unless you are positive they are edible.  The following are edible and you should familiarize yourself with them in advance if possible:

Insects -

Many are rich in fat and protein.  Remove stingers, legs and hard shells and wings if present.  Smash into a pulp and may be eaten raw or cooked.  Look for insects in moist and shady areas, rotting logs, under loose tree bard and ground debris.

Reptiles, Amphibians and Fish -

Most are edible once gutted and thoroughly cooked.  Avoid toads.  Eat small amounts at a time.

Birds -

Can be caught, cooked and eaten.  Some may be tough but can still be eaten.

Fish - 

Can be caught (use net, improvised hook and line, spear, etc., cooked and eaten.

Mammals -

Look for tracks to identify species and set traps according to the height of the prey.  One trap that may be utilized to catch prey is the Paiute Deadfall.

The Paiute deadfall has the advantage of being easy to set and use. Tie one end of a piece of cordage to the lower end of the diagonal stick.  Tie the other end of the cordage to another stick about 5 centimeters long.  This 5-centimeter stick is the catch stick.  Bring the cord halfway around the vertical stick with the catch stick at a 90-degree angle.  Place the bait stick with one end against the drop weight, or a peg driven into the ground, and the other against the catch stick.  When a prey disturbs the bait stick, it falls free, releasing the catch stick. As the diagonal stick flies up, the weight falls, crushing the prey.
 

Avoid mushrooms altogether.  They have little food value and many are toxic.

Be sure to store any food that you may have in a bag or similar package and hang them from a tree limb well off the ground so that if animals are attracted by the food, the food will be away from you and safely stored out of the reach of animals such as bear.

Fire

Be sure to choose a site for your fire that is out of the wind, protected from rain and snow.  If cover is not readily available, dig a trench for the fire.  Clear ground debris down to the soil.  If you cannot clear down to the soil (on snow for example), build the fire on a base of green logs.  Never use rocks from a river in or around a fire as they can explode.  If using rocks for surrounding the fire always use dry ones.

Obtain the driest wood available to start fires.  Sources include dead lower tree limbs, hollow logs and sheltered areas.  Gather dried moss, wood shavings and dry bark as tinder.  You will need about 10 armloads of wood to keep a fire going all night.  Other sources of fuel include animal fats and droppings and extra clothing.

Create a mound of tinder on a dry surface like a piece of bark.  Stack small sticks in teepee fashion above the mound and add larger and larger sticks as you work away from the center.  Light tinder and fan gradually until it ignites.  Ensure that the air can be drawn freely to the center of the fire at all times from all directions.  As the fire grows, continue to feed dry wood to the center of the fire, not to the outside.  Stack wood around the fire so that it dries and reflects heat back to you.

Sources of spark other than matches can be sun through a lens on tinder, a car battery (use jumper cables or wires by attaching to the positive and negative terminals.  Slowly bring opposite ends to meet in the tinder pile), etc.

First Aid

It is always good practice to maintain first aid training from an established program such as the American Red Cross First Aid training program.  This training is, of course, something that you will always take with you no matter where you go!

Since this is not a first aid class, but a review of methods available, we will only address some illnesses and injuries that you are most likely to come across and that you should be aware of as well as some suggested basic treatment when in the wilderness with no other care around.

Always remember that your three most important treatments are:

Breathing -

Maintain an open airway at all times.  If there are no neck injuries, simply tilting the head back may accomplish this.  Administer CPR within the confines of your training if necessary, likewise for choking.

Bleeding -

External bleeding will also give you an exposed wound.   Clean it as best you can and remove the foreign material on the surface only.  If an object is imbedded in the wound, do not remove it since this may cause more damage and increase the bleeding.  Build up padding around the object and apply pressure around the wound.  

Internal bleeding such as bleeding from the mouth, rectum or with blood in the urine or feces.  Provide shelter and warmth and treat for shock.  If there is a nose bleed this can be treated by tilting the head forward (not back as once thought) and squeezing the nostrils for 5 to 10 minutes.  

Shock -

Shock may cause rapid shallow pulse, pale clammy skin, nausea and vomiting and overall weakness.  Note that it may not occur immediately after an injury and can take an hour or more for symptoms to arise.  Stop any external bleeding.  Have the victim lay down and keep them calm, warm and dry.  Monitor the breathing and pulse.  

Burns -

Remove all jewelry and tight clothing before swelling begins.  Immerse the burned area in cold water or apply cold compress for 10 minutes to reduce swelling.  Cover with a sterile dressing and, have the victim drink plenty of fluids.

Fractures -

Fractures can cause severe pain which may be caused by attempted movement of the injured part.  Swelling and deformity of the limb may appear.  If the bone projects out, treat it as an imbedded object.  Immobilize the area as well as possible using splints, cloth and padding.  Remember, anything can be used as a splint;  magazines, branches, etc.  Be sure to secure above and below the fracture.  The objective is to isolate the area and reduce movement that could worsen the injury.

Neck or Back Injury -

With this type of injury, the victim is unable to move their fingers and/or toes.  Loss of sensation in the extremities may also appear.  Do not move or lift the person unless they are in imminent danger (the plane is on fire, etc.).  If you must move them, pull on the armpits while keeping the back and head flat.  Do not allow them to use a pillow, fluids or medication.  Provide shelter and treat for shock.

Head Injury -

With a head injury, blood or watery discharge may be observed coming from the nose, ears or mouth of the person.  The pupils may be uneven in size, slurred speech and seizures may occur.  Treat as if it were a back injury and realize that this is a very serious injury.

Heart Attack -

Symptoms may be severe pain in the chest, lower jaw or upper arm.  The person may be grayish in color and have excessive sweating.  If breathing stops, administer CPR within the confines of your training.

Heat Exposure -

Symptoms may be excessive sweating, cramps, spasms and nausea.  Move the victim out of the heat, loosen their clothing, administer fluids (salted if possible) and apply cold compresses to specific areas such as the back of the neck, under the arms, forehead, etc.  

Cold Exposure -

Symptoms may be excessive shivering, slurred speech and grogginess.  Get the victim to shelter, remove any wet clothing, cover the head, rewarm the person with heat from another person, dry their clothing, give warm drinks, nibble high energy food, and monitor their breathing.  Don't attempt to rewarm the victim by placing them in hot water as this can cause irreversible tissue damage.

Animal And Insect Bites -

Rabies:   All wounds inflicted by mammals - bites and scratches can cause rabies.  Clean the wound as best you can.  

Snakebite:  The victims should stop moving or move as little as possible and relax.  Snakebite kits such as the Extractor are excellent units and should be kept in every first aid kit if you are in snake country.  This unit is best utilized within the first minute of the bite.  Immobilize the limb below the hear level and apply a bandage above and below the wound.

Stings:   Clean the area and immediately remove the stinger if you can see it.  It can be removed by scraping it with the edge of a knife or even a credit card.  Scrape in the direction of the stinger, not against it.  Remove it as soon as possible to lessen the amount of venom injected.  Apply cold compresses if available.

Ticks:   Disease carrying bugs (ticks) found in brushy areas get onto their victims when the victim passes the insect.  They tend to migrate to insulated areas in the head, armpit and groin.  Check for ticks daily and remove them with tweezers.  Remember, in order to get Lyme Disease, the "Deer Tick" must be attached for approximately 24 hours to its host.  The Deer Tick is much smaller than a wood tick which most people are use to seeing.

Signals

Tips for Signaling Rescuers -

Survival Essentials

All of the survival essentials above can be kept in a waterproof bag or fanny pack that you can always take into the backcountry!

General Sea Survival Tips

Immediate Action

Protection Against Exposure

In Cold Oceans:

In Warm Oceans:
Care of Raft

Click Here For More In-Depth Information On Survival At Sea!