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Backpacker Magazine – November 2010

How to Do Everything - The Survivor

Take care of yourself in the backcountry with these tips and laugh (or at least smile knowingly in the face of 10 common wilderness threats.

by: Kristin Bjornsen

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 Cody Lundin & Other Characters | Do This/Not That


  Do This... Not This...
Lightning Get to a forest, gully, ravine, or rolling hills. Spread 25 to 50 feet apart, and squat atop an insulated mat—head down, arms wrapped around legs. Don’t stand near lone trees—the “cone of protection” myth has been dispelled—or on highpoints, marshy soil, or near water. Don’t hold metal, which draws ground current.
Lost Backtrack to your last known location (get a better view from a highpoint). No luck? Wait for rescue in a safe spot. Don’t panic or charge forward thinking your destination is just around the corner. Avoid night travel (unless you can’t bivy safely).
Whiteout Have your partner leapfrog ahead along the compass bearing, so you can keep a straight course. Place wands as you go. Throw snowballs to help reveal the slope’s pitch. If you can’t keep a bearing (you don’t have a map, your GPS lacks sufficient waypoints, wind is pushing you off course, etc.), don’t stumble blindly ahead. Hunker down in a sheltered spot or build a snow wall or cave.
Heat Exhaustion Symptoms: dizziness, nausea, clammy skin, and extreme lethargy. Rest in the shade. Lower your core temp by pouring cold water over yourself and drinking cool, electrolyte-rich liquids. Don’t overdrink. This can cause a deadly condition called hyponatremia. Research has disproven the idea that dehydration and heat exhaustion go hand in hand. Let thirst and pee color (dark = bad) guide you.
Swept Away Lie on your back (feet downstream) and use your legs to push off of rocks. Look ahead for obstacles and eddies. Don’t stand up or swim toward downed trees (rocks and roots, respectively, can trap you). Avoid or climb over the latter.
Gaping Wound Apply pressure with fabric. Irrigate with water when bleeding stops; rebandage and tape. Raise feet to treat for shock. If blood soaks the bandage, don’t remove it; simply apply more on top of the original. For animal bites, don’t tape closed the cut.
Hypothermia Signs: shivers, clumsiness, slurred speech, confusion. Get into dry clothes; do squats; sip a hot drink; and/or tuck into a sleeping bag with warm water bottles at your chest, back, and groin. No need to spoon naked with your partner as was once thought. A 1994 Canadian study found that warm water bottles work just as well. (Immediately forget this tip if your partner is Keira Knightley.)
Despair Recall what you have to live for. “The drive to get back home has proven to be the #1 factor in many survival stories,” says survival guru Tony Nester. Do not visualize the gruesome things that could happen—death, dismemberment, horrible disfigurement. Your body viscerally responds to what the mind imagines.

Over Achieve
with all our "How to Do Everything" articles

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Star Star Star Star Star
AZ Hiker
Jun 11, 2013

Never lose your way or succumb to exposure just because you want to avoid the crowds on a glorious trail! Know how to find your way by reading "Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart" (Amazon). Learn how to orient yourself using a compass, a compass and a map, a map and no compass, no compass and no map. A compass doesn't need satellites or batteries and works in all types of weather but you need to know how to use it and this book makes learning how to use a compass easy. Look for it on Amazon, "Felix the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart." The ability to know your way and know where you are is something we all need in any survival situation not just while hiking. Learn how to stay found day or night by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. Learn what to pack for a day-hike, what to do if you get lost, how to get rescued, and survival packing just incase you end up unexpectedly spending the night outdoors.


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