Quiz: Would You Survive?

The wilderness can be deadly if you don't know what you're doing. Take our test to rate your survival IQ—and learn a few skills that might save your hide.

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1. Halfway into a weeklong hike in Glacier National Park, you and your buddy have lost the trail. What’s your next move?

A) Shortcut cross-country back toward the path, to avoid wasting daylight.

B) Retrace your steps to your last known landmark.

C) Stop, pitch your tent, and start signaling for help.

D) Climb to the top of the highest nearby peak to get a better view.

2. You have a cell phone and five bars. Which of the following are legitimate reasons to call for rescue? (Choose all that apply)

A) You’re lost on day 2 of a 5-day backpack.

B) You fell 15 feet, got knocked out, then woke up woozy and confused.

C) Your hiking companion dislocated his shoulder. It’s back in now, and pretty sore, but it works OK.

D) Just before dark, your 6-year-old brother wandered away from camp. You can’t find him, and rain has started falling.

E) Your new boyfriend was showing off when he pitched over a cliff with a full pack. He’s conscious, but his lower leg is crooked and he’s squealing in pain.

3. It’s day 8 of your thru-hike of southern Utah’s 812-mile Hayduke Trail, your water bottles are empty, and the map doesn’t show any springs on this high plateau. Now what?

A) Drink any urine you produce.

B) Rest in the shade, then retrace your steps to the last available water once the sun goes down.

C) Find a creekbed and start digging.

You’ll find the water table soon.

D) Follow a cattle trail; it will always lead to water.

4. You’re ready for the first rappel into a technical slot canyon, but the anchors mentioned in the route description aren’t there. Is this a problem?

A) No. Rap on using something else as an anchor, but make sure your cell phone is charged in case anything goes wrong.

B) Not really. But first, check your bolt kit to be certain you have enough anchors to pound in wherever you might need them, and find a good spot to establish the start of your own route.

C) Yes. Retrace your route until you find the anchors.

5. True or false? Hypothermia can be a risk in temps above 55°F.

6. True or false? You can use your analog watch as a compass.

7. You’re hiking in the Grand Canyon in 95°F temps, and you’ve been drinking so much water your belly’s sloshing. Still, you feel weak and tired. What will help?

A) Eat a salty snack, take electrolyte tablets, and sip an energy drink.

B) Nibble on some candy to keep your energy up.

C) Keep drinking—it’s tough to stay hydrated in heat this severe.

D) Rest in the shade with your feet above your heart.

8. You’re scrambling up a steep Colorado Fourteener in June. The moves are fairly easy, but it’s snowier than you expected, and you don’t have an ice axe or crampons. You should:

A) Keep going for a few pitches to check out the route, then retreat if it seems too tough.

B) Go for it. The snow will soften in the sun as the day progresses, making the descent considerably safer.

C) Glissade back down.

D) Retreat via the least snowy, least technical route you can find.

9. A cottonmouth just sank its fangs into your girlfriend’s ankle. After calming her, you should immediately:

A) Tie a tourniquet just below her knee to keep the poison from reaching her heart.

B) Make a deep X cut at the site of the bite and start sucking.

C) Have her do jumping jacks to work the venom out of her system.

D) Keep her lying down and calm, and send for help.

E) Attach a suction-cup venom extractor and pump away.

10. You’re at the trailhead, and the box for self-registration is empty. You haven’t told anyone where you’re going or how long you’ll be gone. Walk on?

A) Sure. John Muir never had anyone tracking him.

B) Yep, but leave a note on your dashboard with your trip plan and expected return, and pack your cell phone.

C) Not so fast. Visit or call the nearest ranger station first to report your expected route and return date.

D) Yes, with caution. As a veteran hiker, you can count on years of backcountry experience.

If you don’t get careless, you’ll be fine.

11. You just hiked to 11,000 feet. After pitching camp, you developed a pounding headache. What’s the cure for this classic case of altitude sickness?

A) Guzzle a liter of water.

B) Do some light exercise around camp to get your respiration and heart rate up.

C) Break camp and descend to a lower elevation before sleeping.

D) Take 200 mg of ibuprofen.

E) A and B

F) A, B, and C

12. Assume spinal injury and immobilize an injured patient whenever he or she:
A) Has taken a long tumble

B) Feels numbness in extremities

C) Feels back or torso pain

D) Has been knocked out from a serious blow to the head

E) All of the above

13. You suddenly realize you’re lost in deep forest. What’s the way out of this fix?

A) Follow the closest creek downstream until it meets a river, because rivers always
lead to civilization.

B) Find shelter, stay warm and dry, and wait for rescue.

C) Note your location and surrounding landmarks carefully, then retrace your steps to the last point where you knew you were on route.

D) Call 911 for directions on your cell phone.

14. Your youth group just summited Mt. Marcy, and some of the kids are descending faster than others. As leader, should you round them up?

A) Nah, relax and enjoy the hike. The kids might get spread out, but all they have to do is drop back down the same way they came. Besides, you have an adult with a two-way radio sweeping the trail.

B) Sort of. Split the adult chaperones to form two distinct hiking groups.

C) Yes, by telling the slow kids to cut the switchbacks so they can keep up.

D) Yes. Keep everybody together. That’s the deal and you told ’em so at the start.

15. The most common avalanche snow condition is:

A) Hard-packed snow

B) Wet slush

C) Old wind crust

D) Fresh, wind-drifted snow

16. While crossing a class III pass, you encounter a cliff that requires sketchier rock-climbing moves than you expected. Still, you’ve been doing this stuff for a decade. What now?

A) Look for a route that avoids the hazard, or turn back.

B) Buck up and climb on, Dean. Two minutes, and you’ll be in the clear.

C) Make a cell call to your spouse and tell her what you’re going to try.

D) Rig a safety line with tent cord or your bear-bagging rope.

17. What’s the most dangerous animal in the wilderness?

A) Grizzly bear

B) Rattlesnake

C) The one in your mirror

D) Wasp

E) Wild hog in heat

F) Another human

18. You’re in the middle of a long desert hike, days from your car. You’re stoveless, your water filter broke hours ago, and you’re gazing down at a nasty cattle pond. It’s decision time. Pick one:

A) Drink up and fill all of your bottles.

B) Chop open a cactus and wring the water from it.

C) Suck on some hard candy until you find the next water hole, because the fetid water will surely make you sick.

D) Look for birds, which usually nest near potable water.

19. A violent lightning storm is bearing down on your high-meadow campsite. You should immediately:

A) Grab your trekking poles and stab them into the dirt to ground yourself.

B) Look for a rock overhang to hide under.

C) Leave your tent for a low, sheltered spot away from tall trees, and crouch on your sleeping pad.

D) Have everyone move downhill and separate from one another.

20. It’s broiling out, and your friend just collapsed trailside. He’s not sweating, but it’s clear from feeling his forehead that his body temperature is well above normal. What’s the problem?

A) Heat exhaustion

B) Dehydration

C) Heatstroke

E) Hyponatremia

F) Exertional rhabdomyolosis

G) Nothing (he’s faking to buy some break time)

21. Your canoe just swamped in remote Canadian rapids. The water is only chest-deep, but the current is very strong. You need to:

A) Stand up and signal for help.

B) Use your paddle to self-arrest.

C) Swim toward the nearest log stretching across the river.

D) Roll onto your back, and float feet-first downstream until you reach calmer water

22. Blood is pumping from your thumb after your salami knife slipped. Which of these procedures is not a recommended geyser-stopper?

A) Apply a bandage.

B) Apply direct pressure on the wound.

C) Apply a tourniquet.

D) Hold your thumb up in the air high above your heart.

23. True or false: Naked spooning is the most effective way to revive a semiconscious hypothermia victim.

24. The most common cause of wilderness fatality is:

A) Flash flood

B) Avalanche

C) Hypothermia

D) Bear attack

E) Wasp or bee sting

F) Fall

G) Drowning

H) Suicide

25. The best way not to get lost is:

A) Carry a map and know how to read it.

B) Carry a compass and know how to use it.

C) Look behind you at regular intervals, so you’ll recognize the terrain on your return.

D) Start with a plan and a good route description.

E) All of the above

26. A grizzly popped out of the woods just as you turned a corner, but hasn’t seen you yet. How can you save your own skin?

A) Sprint like Justin Gatlin on ‘roids.

B) Drop into a tight ball and don’t move.

C) Stand tall, wave your arms slowly, and talk loudly but calmly so the bear can tell you’re a human.

D) Drop some food and back up slowly.

33. True or false? The best practice when fording rivers that are more than calf-deep is to keep your sternum
strap and hipbelt buckled. If you fall in, you’ll need the pack’s buoyancy to keep you at the surface until you
can swim to safety.

27. True or false? The best practice when fording rivers that are more than calf-deep is to keep your sternum

strap and hipbelt buckled. If you fall in, you’ll need the pack’s buoyancy to keep you at the surface until you can swim to safety.

28. Never leave on a dayhike without _____. (Choose all that apply)

A) Map

B) Waterproof hat

C) Extra food

D) GPS unit

E) Reese’s peanut butter cups

F) Cell phone

G) Personal locator beacon

H) Warm clothes

I) Waterproof matches or butane lighter

J) Antibiotic ointment

K) Headlamp

29. The most common trigger of fatal avalanches is:

A) Shouting

B) Gunshots

C) Underground tremors

D) Aircraft noise

E) Humans crossing the slope

30. The safest way to cross a raging, rain-swollen river that’s more than hip-deep is:

A) Barefoot

B) With sandals

C) With boots on

D) In a wetsuit

E) With a life preserver

F) Not at all

31. What is the single best way to prevent hypothermia?

A) Move vigorously.

B) Dress in several warm layers.

C) Eat hearty snacks every 30 minutes.

D) Pound some hot buttered rum.

E) Never let yourself get wet, either from snow or sweat.

32. While we’re at it, what should you wear to prevent hypothermia?

A) Waterproof/breathable rain suit

B) Warm gloves

C) Thick socks

D) A warm hat

E) A thick parka

33. The most common reason for a backcountry rescue is:

A) Bear mauling

B) Avalanche

C) Sprained or broken knee or ankle

D) Knife or axe wound

E) Rockfall

F) Altitude sickness

34. You and your partner just climbed to high camp on Kilimanjaro and now he’s having difficulty breathing. You listen to his lungs and hear a bubbling, crackling sound when he exhales. He probably has:

A) A chest cold. He should rest and take aspirin for fever.

B) Asthma. He’s probably allergic to something nearby.

C) Pulmonary edema. Descend immediately before he’s incapacitated.

D) Pneumonia. Give him antibiotics (you packed them, right?).

35. You’re planning a CDT thru-hike for next summer, and you want to gain emergency skills. The best approach is to:

A) Take an aboriginal-skills survival course to learn about foraging, firecraft, and more.

B) Enroll in a monthlong NOLS course.

C) Memorize the answers in this quiz.

D) Complete a Wilderness First Responder or Wilderness EMT course.

Extra Credit (6 points)

Which of the following common drugstore substances might contribute to your survival on a wilderness backpacking trip? (Choose all that apply)

A) Ibuprofen

B) Diphenhydramine hydrochloride

C) Sildenafil citrate

D) Povidone

E) Tadalafil

F) Acetaminophen

G) Progestin

H) Cyanoacrylate


J) All of the above


Give yourself 2 points for each correct answer, plus 6 points if you nailed the
extra credit question.

1 B. You have company, supplies, and gear—so solve this yourself. If you’re still off the trail after a day or two, try C. Following option A is a major reason hikers get lost.

2 B, D, and E. Head injuries are always serious due to possible brain swelling. Small children are at risk for hypothermia because of their body-to-mass ratio. The boyfriend is going nowhere with a displaced leg fracture.

3 B. While urine can be 95 percent water and only 5 percent waste, concentrated urine can increase thirst, mess up your electrolytes, and induce vomiting. C is a myth.

4 C. Flash floods may have stripped anchors you need, or you might be in the wrong canyon. Either way, a slot canyon is usually a one-way trip, so make sure you can get through before proceeding.

5 True, especially if it’s raining and windy. Just ask the rangers in the Smokies, who see a surprising number of cases every spring.

6 False. An analog watch be used to find an approximate north and south during certain times of day, but it can’t determine direction with enough accuracy for dependable navigation. (Try an altimeter watch with a digital compass.)

7 A. You’re probably getting hyponatremia, an electrolyte imbalance caused by heavy sweating, excessive water consumption, and a lack of food and salt intake. You’ll go into seizures and die if it progresses.

8 D. It’s easier to fall on a descent, even in soft snow, and you have no tools with which to self-arrest.

9 D. Keeping the victim immobile slows the diffusion of venom into the system and minimizes the risk of shock until you can arrange evacuation for antivenom treatment. Snakebites are rarely fatal, but some people suffer serious limb dysfunction afterward.

10 B and C are both good ideas, especially C. No ranger to call? Phone a friend instead.

11 F. Dehydration is often a factor in early altitude symptoms, so guzzle away. A sudden drop-off in physical activity can also lead to headaches; a bit of exercise will draw more oxygen into your system. If the ache doesn’t abate within an hour or two, the best treatment is a descent of 1,000 to 2,000 feet. You might be able to reascend painlessly the following day, but don’t push it. Acute mountain sickness is miserable, and potentially fatal conditions such as cerebral and pulmonary edema have been known to occur at this altitude.

12 E. And just to be safe, assume the worst if your friend displays any signs of head injury: vision or speaking problems, confusion, bleeding from the ears, motor skills impairment, etc.

13 C. If that doesn’t work, go with B. A is a myth.

14 D. Dividing the group into two parties reduces your manpower in the event of an emergency, and letting the group string out along the path increases the risk that someone will make a wrong turn on a side trail. Always keep ’em tight.

15 D. Most avalanches occur during or shortly after storms, in areas where wind drift has created “pillows” of wind-stiffened snow overlying weak, unconsolidated layers. But instability can last for days, and avalanches can occur in the other conditions, too.

16 A. Unroped falls, often solo, are the most common wilderness killers.

17 C. There isn’t even a close second.

18 A. It’s a matter of priorities. Better to get diarrhea and live than skip a skanky pool and die. Use your bandana to filter out the big stuff. The only water in cacti is bound up as an acidic mucus; you’ll just barf it back up.

19 C for sure, and D if there’s time. Separating the group reduces the risk that a single strike will knock out the entire group—leaving no one to perform first aid.

20 C. Heatstroke is an advanced and often fatal combination of heat exhaustion and dehydration. Get him into shade, douse him with water, and fan him if there’s no wind. Make him drink liquids—the cooler the better. Arrange for evacuation as soon as possible.

21 D. The “easy-chair position” lets you push clear of obstacles with your feet. Standing up too soon can cause your foot to snag in the rocks; then the current will push you under and dishrag you until you drown. Avoid strainers at all costs; if you can’t avoid one of these downed logs, swim straight at it and aggressively vault your upper body over it.

22 C. Applying a tourniquet for serious bleeding is a last resort, and should only be used for life-threatening blood loss, since it might result in amputation of the affected limb due to loss of circulation. If you ever need to apply a tourniquet, try loosening it every 15 minutes to see if clotting has solved the problem.

23 False. The best treatment is to place the hypothermic person in warm, dry insulation, wrap them in a tarp to reduce heat loss, feed them warm drinks and food, place hot-water bottles around their core, and let them shiver themselves warm.

24 It’s a tie: F in the mountains, G in lake and river country.

25 E. Map and compass skills are mandatory for any backpacker; up-to-date info and a plan are always smart. Even if your navigation skills are weak, it can’t hurt to look back often, especially at trail intersections, to memorize details for return or retreat.

26 C. If it charges and hits you, switch to B. A bear will often knock you around a bit, then lose interest. If playing dead doesn’t work—and the bear starts feeding on you—fight back aggressively.

27 False. You need to shed your pack quickly if you get swept downriver. If you don’t, your pack will indeed float…on top of you.

28 A, C, H, I, and K are basic survival items for any three-season adventure. The rest are fine if they fit in your pack.

29 E. At least 90 percent of the time, victims themselves trigger the avalanches that drag them down the mountain.

30 F. Better to hunker down for a rescue, retreat hungry, or wait for low water than to attempt a dangerous whitewater crossing.

31 A, B, and C are all wise, but E is most vital, because moisture conducts cold rapidly. The old adage is true: It’s easier to stay warm and dry than to get warm and dry.

32 A. All are important, but wind and rain on the body’s core are the biggest challenges in three-season conditions.

33 C. By a long shot.

34 C. And even if your diagnosis is wrong, the best first step for all the above is to descend. Pulmonary edema often gets worse at night, and victims can rapidly become immobile, so leave immediately.

35 B for beginners, D for veterans. Most experts agree that general outdoor skills and judgment are more important in laying the foundation for survival than first-aid expertise. Once you’ve mastered the basics, though, it’s wise to learn the symptoms and protocols of emergency medicine.

Extra Credit: We often pack A (Advil), B (Benadryl), D (Betadine iodine solution), F (Tylenol), H (Superglue), and I (ethyl alcohol) in our first-aid or emergency kits. The survival value of C (Viagra), E (Cialis), and G (birth-control pills) is debatable.


0–20 points Time for a remedial backpacking course! Right now, your life-insurance policy is what financial advisors call a solid investment…for your spouse.

20–40 points You’re skating on thin ice, Ringo. Before you go hiking again, carefully study the skills in this issue and a how-to guide such as Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills ($30; The Mountaineers Books).

40–60 points Welcome to the great middle ground of risk. You might get the chance to pass on your genes, but those lapses add up the more you throw the dice.

60–80 points Just watch your driving; you have the wilderness stuff pretty much dialed.

80–90 points Keep your cholesterol down, Reinhold, and you’ll still be climbing those mountains when you’re 99.

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