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Wilderness Safety and the TRUTH About Wilderness Survival

Forget what you see on television (there is NO "reality" in reality television!), forget what you see on YouTube, forget what you see in military survival manuals (for that matter, perhaps even forget what you see/hear from others who hold thenselves out as knowledgible or even "expert"), the FACT is, VERY few people understand the difference between survival and bushcraft, even among those who actuall have the nerve to call themselves "survivalists." Some (mostly sellers) even confuse survival with "prepping." This series of posts introduces (in THIS forum) what REAL wilderness survival actually entails and is really all about.

My trail name is "Survival Gal." I have been a wilderness enthusiast for almost 35 years (land and sea), and a wilderness survivalist for almost as long, and although I would never call myself an "expert", I'm comfortable saying I know more than most, and I like my odds in most situations. As someone once said, "There are no 'experts' in survival, only students." - Dave Gans. Also, "Everyone is a potential victim, NOT everyone is a potential survivor."- John Leach

The first truth is, you don't have to be in some exotic international locale to find yourself in a wilderness survival ordeal. You can be lost within eyesight of the city and you can die just as easily on a day hike, or in the frontcountry of your nearest countryside. In fact, of all the wilderness activities, HIKING is the number one activity that causes most Search And Rescue (SAR) missions. And among the four types of hiking (day hiking, distance hiking, wilderness hiking and bushwhacking), DAY HIKERS are responsible for the VAST majority of those SAR rescues!

The second truth is the notion of an "extended" wilderness ordeal is lagely a myth! About 92% of all victims are rescued within 10 to 24 hours (many much sooner) with most of the rest rescued within 72 hours. Only less than 1% take longer than a week to rescue. Of course that's of the REPORTED incidents or reported missing, but we'll get into that later, I'm sure. For now, here are just a few things to think about (and some possible topics for discussion).

1- Wilderness survival is really just an extension of wilderness safety, and wilderness safety is all about RISK MANAGEMENT.

2- The most important survival tool is your mind, the most important survival skill is self-control!

3- Wilderness survival, REAL wilderness survival, is NOT a game, is not "fun", and is not easy. It is a life threatening EMERGENCY situation that must be brought under control as quickly, as efficiently, as safely as possible.

4- The four cornerstones of wilderness survival are: 1) Knowlege, 2) Skill, 3) Experience, and 4) Common Sense.

5- The Five Essential Steps: 1) Planning, 2) Preparation, 3) Proficiency, 4) Backups, and 5) Basic Survival [concepts and strtegies], this is NOT the same as signaling, sheltering, firem, water and food, That's called The Five Basic Skills (akin to bushcraft).

14 Replies

@SurvivalGal thanks for starting this topic!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

> "At REI, we believe a life outdoors is a life well-lived."

Uh-huh... charming little notion... irrelevant platitude, but charming little notion. Let's stay on point, shall we?


morning wandering (ha! pun!) musings:

what I'm reading is (in best satircal mind voice) (screaming) 'don't leave the trail head unless you are prepared to die...have studied wilderness emergencies...have a survival plan...evaluated your risk management...'

IMO, in reality, everyone is a hiker, earlier I was thinking 'everyone with a pair of hiking boots' is a hiker, but really, anyone who walks beyond the trail head becomes a hiker.

The curious starts out as a hiker,may become a backpacker, who may become a mountaineer or adventurer, mainly because, I assume (for me) they are drawn to the magic cathedral of the outdoors/mountains, a magnet that's hard to overcome, lasts a lifetime, and a life we proselytize for.. (insert John Muir quote here).

I hope hikers 'are compelled' keep hiking, stay out longer, and learn to love it as much as I do.  Learned is the wrong word. doesn't necessarily 'learn' to love it', when for the lucky, it's love at first site.

But...being pragmatic, hopefully one learns to take care of themselves along the journey, but it is a journey.  I hate to say it but Darwin weeds out those that aren't as responsible as they should be. Coming to mind, those who wander down into the grand canyon without water, proper clothing, etc, or who do yoga handstand poses on the lip of a drop off....and drop off. (happens every year).

However the journey to full preparedness and responsibility, starts with little things, the right shoes, some sunscreen, some water, a hat, a map, then the ten essentials, then a pack, a tent, a stove, getting a map, learning to read it, getting a first aid kit, learning how to use it, learning how to fix a hot spot before it becomes a blister...and on and on...then maybe a little rope work, a little climbing, venturing a little higher, a harness, an ice axe, some never stops, if you're lucky.

and we continue to learn about the wilderness

but we should love it and embrace it, respect it, but it's not a war zone

goes to get more coffee....


REI Member Since 1979

@PhilreedshikesLOL, some good observations!

I agree, in my experience (and while many may COME to love the great outdoors), those I find most appreciative and respectful of wilderness areas are those who seem to be naturally dawn from a younger age. As time goes on, the more serious and committed they become, the more they spend their own time and resources toward their next outing.

I sometimes tell those in the 'survival community', "Wilderness survivalists are wilderness enthusiasts, wilderness enthusiasts are wilderness conservationists, wilderness conservationists are wilderness activists."

Trust me, I do NOT consider myself a "tree-hugger" and I'm not particularly fond of granola or GORP, but I find once you spend enough time in the backcountry, you can't help but develop that appreciation and respect. Conversely, it irks me to no end when I see graffiti sprayed on rocks and even TREES! I don't even like seeing random carins that serve no real purpose, it's just another form of graffiti!!

Nevertheless, people who find themselves in trouble tend to be people who don't spend much time thinking, THAT'S why they get into trouble. Consequently, any SAR team member (particularly those in helicopters over mountainous terrain) are absolutely risking their lives for people who appear to care little for their own.

Nobody wants to see anyone get hurt or worse in the wilderness, least of all me. But from my perspective, wilderness survival is just an extension of wilderness safety, and wilderness safety is all about risk management. Being safe in the wilderness is no fluke, it is an intended, calculated result of proper planning, preparation, proficiency, etc. The longer you're out there the more this is true.

Otherwise, I vote for the Darwin approach.

@SurvivalGal, I like this latest post of yours, well said.

REI Member Since 1979