Here are 7 things that could save your life in a survival situation
Over the past few days, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the ‘I shouldn’t be alive’ (ISBA) series on Youtube. It’s a show recreating victim-narrated accounts of survival in the tough extreme conditions out in the wild. However, unlike in Man Vs Wild, the participants here are unwilling, and have in fact, found themselves in such precarious situations quite by chance.
A group of business executives find themselves marooned in the midst of the African wilderness after a plane crash, a bunch of hikers lose their way in the Amazon rainforest, a father and son duo get lost while skiing, two people from a team of divers get left behind, a family goes off the road in a snowstorm and ends up deep inside a nature reserve. Things like that.
Now, it’s only the survivor’s own grit, tenacity, courage, resilience, luck, and determination that can get them out of their respective situations, saving them just in the nick of time.
As the show progresses, the victims are forced to make some rather tough decisions deep inside some of the most inhospitable places in the world like dense jungles, vast oceans, or insurmountable deserts that stretch for miles together. The show begins with the actual survivors introducing themselves and providing the audience some background into their lives. We are then introduced to the actors playing the survivors, re-enacting their distressing journeys with a minute-by-minute narration of the incident from the survivors in the background. Viewers are then firmly frozen to their seats by the anxious nail biting twists and turns in the show documenting the treacherous terrain and life threatening situations which the survivors are forced to endure, and how they eventually make their way out of the situation themselves or are rescued and brought back to the safety of civilization by others.
Being a trekker myself, I could relate to many scenarios the survivors faced in the middle of the wilderness, and how certain tools of survival could have essentially saved their lives earlier.
A lot of ISBA survival stories weren’t hiking related. But they all involved some form of transport, travel, sport, or adventure. So it would be prudent to carry these survival tools with you regardless of whether you’re a seasoned hiker, a backpacker, someone who’s just going river rafting for the weekend, or someone who travels on highways and rural roads frequently. Remember that out there in the wild, things can take a turn for the worse in a matter of seconds. So having certain survival tools on your person, or a first aid kit inside your vehicle would be crucial to your survival. It is this survival toolkit of yours that could make all the difference between life and death.
It’s one thing to undertake such wild risky adventures yourself. It’s completely something else when you make your family including your minor kids a part of it, like this family found out the hard way in this episode of ISBA.
Here are a few survival tools that could come to your rescue in the event of an emergency:
A fire starter
This could be a cigarette lighter, a match box, some camphor, a bottle of fuel along with some old newspapers or any other flammable material. But it has to be complete. If your fire starter kit isn’t complete, then it’s not going to come to your rescue when its most needed, isn’t it?
For each kind of fire starter, you’ve got to carry its own source of ignition, whether that be through a spark, a flame, or something that creates extreme heat; a tinder source which is basically any kind of flammable material that catches fire easily, and finally, something to keep that fire under control and going as long as you need or until rescue arrives.
Here they are again:
- A source of ignition
- A flammable material or some kind of tinder.
- Something to hold the fire and keep it under control for as long as you need.
Will, from Happily Ever Outdoors talks about the “key principle of redundancy”, where besides the basics, survivalists must carry duplicates of each tool, so that if one fails or goes missing you can always depend on the other.
Bear spray, Mace or Pepper spray
You want to remain safe and intact as much as possible while you wait for emergency crews to come rescue you. The last thing you want is for a rescue mission to turn into a recovery one.
While you wait lost injured and debilitated, you are a sitting feast for all the hungry animals in the forest. Humans are usually the preferred choice when it comes to old animals who are too weak and frail to go after their regular prey.
So it would be in your best interest to arm yourself with some bear spray, mace, pepper spray, or any other repellent that would actively discourage any animals who might have got a whiff of your blood or your scent and are looking to make an easy meal out of you. Secondly, you could also combine a deodorant spray can and a cigarette lighter to create a flamethrower that could work wonders in fending off wild animal attacks. There’s really no limit to the number of combinations you could come up with to start a fire inside the forest. It’s all about being resourceful and cleverly making do with whatever you have available to you at that point in time.
Besides following the “key principle of redundancy”, it never hurts to pack different things from different perspectives.
- For example, I could definitely carry a matchbox and some newspaper in my fire starter kit. But I know that wouldn’t double up as a safety device in case of an emergency (matches aren’t waterproof and can break easily). So I thoughtfully carry a cigarette lighter instead, knowing fully well that it could be combined with my deodorant to double up as a weapon in the event of an animal attack.
- Another example could involve a balaclava. Something which I would usually wrap around my face, neck and head to absorb sweat, but I know for a fact will double up as an item of emergency medical use to either hold bones in place, or to put a stop to excessive bleeding. The possibilities are endless, really.
Beside all the repellent sprays, make sure you carry a fixed blade boot knife for your own safety and security. You never know how it could come in handy in the event of an animal or human attack.
A signalling device
In most episodes of ‘I Shouldn’t Be Alive’, the survivors significantly lacked a signalling source, an item which they could use to signal to rescuers to guide them towards where they were and be rescued.
Check out this particular episode where two boys adrift at sea were literally passed by 3 times over two days before finally being spotted and rescued by a fishing boat which happened to passing in the vicinity.
Now, a whole set of items come to mind when discussing signalling tools. There’s dozens of useful indicators available in the market today which you can use to signal your presence to other humans and get the attention you need.
A handheld mirror, a whistle, a torch, a mouth organ, a horn, a screamer, a reflector; there’s a medley of options to take your pick from in the vast open ocean of survival tools. So what do you choose?
You’ve got to have some kind of audio or visual aid on you so that you can signal to someone in times of distress. Of all the episodes of ISBA that I’ve watched, a signalling device seemed to be the most important item that survivalists lacked. It was literally the one item that could have made all the difference between life and death. In almost all episodes, rescue crews found it extremely difficult to locate stranded hikers, travellers lost out to sea, or adventurers stranded on mountain slopes for the sheer lack of a signalling device.
Search areas mapped out by rescue crews could stretch for miles together in all directions, which significantly reduces your chances of being spotted as a survivor.
Helicopter crews would fly right above the survivors and wouldn’t be able to notice them due to the thick dense foliage dotting mountainsides. Out on the open oceans, small boats and humungous container ships alike would pass right next to survivors who hadn’t eaten for days, not noticing them in the water due to the swell of the waves and the insignificance of a tiny human in the majestic backdrop of a vast blue sea. Add to that the vagaries of the weather like wind, fog, rain, and dust, apart from the thick dense foliage blanketing the mountainsides, and you’ve got the perfect storm ready to hamper any fruitful rescue mission that could have possibly saved the victims just in the nick of time. It was just by sheer luck and their own good stars that many of these survivors were found and rescued right when they were on the very verge of death.
Hence, it is extremely imperative that you pack some kind of signalling device whenever you head out to the woods. Of course, it’s plainly evident from the show that one needn’t necessarily go out into the woods or indulge in adventure activities to find themselves stranded there. Nor does it even have to be in the woods in the first place. Which is why these items should be made mandatory in first-aid and emergency supply kits on board boats, airplanes, cars, trucks, camper vans, trains, cable cars, commuter trains, and basically any type of conveyance or form of adventure.
People not knowing that you’re missing is bad enough. But you know what’s worse? Your loved ones sending out rescue missions to look for you, but not knowing where to look because you couldn’t signal to them.
A water purification kit
In many episodes of ISBA, survivalists did hit upon a source of water but were left scratching their heads on how it could possibly be made drinkable.
The ponds or puddles they stumbled upon would usually be contaminated with forest debris, animal droppings teeming with dangerous parasites, or insect larvae, all of which could cause them serious health complications if ingested. This is where a water purification kit of some sort will come in handy.
Because the worst thing that can happen to you in a survival situation isn’t running out of water. It’s drinking contaminated water and getting awfully sick from it.
Hikers and adventurers must carry a water purification kit in addition to their regular first aid so that they can attend to themselves and others in the event of an emergency. A human can go for weeks without sufficient food but only a day or two without water.
A water purification kit could range from a ‘lifestraw’ that filters out the particles as you’re drinking, a filter bag that lets you filter the water beforehand, or the most basic water purification tablets.
First aid kit and medication
Alongside a water purification kit and a regular first aid kit, it would be great to have a medicine bag full of lifesaving drugs and medication should you fall sick or get injured in a survival situation. These lifesaving drugs will come to your rescue in case of health issues, the least of which involve stomach cramps, nausea, and dehydration. It’s bad enough to be caught in a survival situation. But it’s even worse when you’re fighting ill health and the forest at the same time. So stock up on painkillers, muscle relaxants, antibiotics, altitude sickness pills, anti-viral, diarrhoea and constipation medication, and antihistamines so that you can keep a sane head while plotting your escape or finding your way out of there.
Electral, glucose, and hydration salts
If you don’t manage to hit upon a food source for days out in the jungle or oceans or deserts, Electrolytes and Glucose are what will keep your body going providing direct sugar to your brain, letting you think straight, and enabling you to take the next course of action to make it out of there alive.
After weeks out in the jungle in ISBA, many survivors faced malnutrition as a result of which debilitating sickness took over, which led some of them to a near certain death. Because of this, their brains chose to conserve resources for survival, impeding their ability to think straight.
They wasted precious days conserving energy and doing absolutely nothing, besides pointlessly fighting with the forest for survival. If only they had had access to hydration salts and glucose, they could have provided their brains with sugars vital to thinking straight, they would have been able get themselves out of the situation faster than they did.
Maps and navigation tools
The very last one on my list of survival essentials to have on a trek is navigation tools. This will especially come in handy once you get to know you’re lost and need to find your way out of there. There are plenty of navigation workshops conducted offline as well as online, and as someone who travels a lot or ventures out into the wild frequently, it would do you some good to attend one of these sessions.
Once you finish all the levels of a navigation boot camp, you’ll be able to accurately read maps, compasses, and GPS devices, enabling you to match what you see on the device to what you see on the ground. This will greatly help facilitate your escape in the event you are lost and don’t know how to find your bearings. Memorizing and marking landmarks like waterfalls, streams, rivers, peaks, campgrounds, anti-poaching camps, existing trails, secondary trails, easy crossing points on valleys, or any other kind of local landmark while embarking on exploratory missions, will be crucial to your survival once you realize you’re missing and don’t know which direction to head in on subsequent treks.
Along with possessing online as well as offline maps of the forest system you’ll be entering on a particular day, it would be priceless to have a GPS system on your person as well. This not only enables you to track your route right from the beginning of the trek, but also helps you in getting back to the last known waypoint in case you get lost.
In my opinion every trekker must be equipped with a GPS device, which could either be an application on their phones, or a separate handheld GPS device itself along with a compass and trail map of the location. I would say go with the latter, since a phone’s battery must be preserved for its original purpose, and can only do so much doubling up as a GPS device.
Remember, a handheld navigation system might cost you a few hundred dollars. Your life on the other hand, is priceless.
Bonus point number 8— Your social skills
I kept the most important one for last. Aside from all the physical and tangible stuff you’ll be requiring in your survival arsenal, the intangible — your ability to keep everyone together in times of hardship, is what will make or break your survival spirit in a survival situation. Even with all the survival gear in the world, it’s pointless to survive if you aren’t getting throught it as a group, which is exactly what happened during this particular survival incident in this group on ISBA.
Having the ability to maintain your calm and composure, and the skill to bring people together and galvanize their common strengths towards plotting your collective escape out of there when things are going downhill, is what will ultimately make the difference between life and death during extended periods of survival.
As it is, your mental resources are stretched to the limit by all the vagaries of the situation aided by the hardship of the terrain. The last thing you need is insurrection from within the group and a mutiny on your hands to deal with when you’re already busy fighting all the elements of nature. Possesing the diplomatic skills of maintaining peace within the group when nothing’s going right is not enough. Group dynamics drastically change with the change in circumstances, and your word must have supremacy over a situation. Just think about that for a second.
How powerful must your leadership skills be, that your team mates are ready to hold your instructions to higher value, than a physically demanding situation thats right in front of them?
While most ISBA situations happened due to carelessness and stupidity, a whole different set of things could go wrong on your next trip, things that might not even be in your control. Even with all the care, discernment and planning you do while preparing for your next trek or adventure, something could go wrong. Your gear could get damaged or just fail on you. The weather could force you towards a part of the forest you’ve never been to before. Or even worse, your very own body condition could force you to take a break in the most unlikeliest of places. So its best to not get ahead of yourself no matter how skilled you are or how much experience you carry in the wild.
You’ve got to be prepared for any kind of exigency out there. You can begin by creating your very own survival toolkit today.
It’s really disappointing when such life saving survival equipment isn’t standard on board even the most frequently used airplanes and tourist boats. Incidents such as these greatly erode the trust of the public in such endeavours, and they are likely to stay away from such kinds of fun in the future for fear of falling victim to such incidents.
LEGAL DISCLAIMER: All the points mentioned in this article are suggestive in nature and should not be taken as a substitute for medical advice or professional instructions from certified wilderness and survival experts. I am in no way responsible for anything that may or may not happen to you, out in the wild or anywhere else, should you choose to implement any of the suggestions mentioned in this article.