After talking with my boss about my week end adventure I noticed not every one would know what to do in case they were lost or stuck out in the middle of no where. She went as far as to say she would have died if it were her. Having grown up in the middle of no where, playing in the woods and camping on my own since the age of 13 I am very comfortable in the woods. I also have done a lot of studying and practicing of various survival techniques. My back ground in survival ranges from lots and lots of books to military training to simple trial and error. How ever, not every one has this same skill set as I have and I at times forget that some things I think of as rather elementary, some people would never think of. This is no one's fault, really. Some people have spent most of their lives in suburban areas and have never set foot in real woods other than nearby parks with out much real wildlife present. There are some "naturalist" type people who like to get out of the city and go hiking and stuff, many people refer to them as "hippies" or other such names. While they may be comfortable in the woods, I suspect that they really have no experience with real survival situations.
So I feel it may be necessary to at least get a few readers at least a rudimentary understanding of survival tips and techniques before they get the gold fever and get lost out in the woods some where. I realize that there is so much out there to learn about survival and much of it depends on the type of terrain one is stuck in, that there is no way to cover it all in this blog. Heck, there is still a LOT I do not know myself. The best source of any knowledge is books. The written word is the most powerful tool or weapon on earth. With it and a little practice the difference between dieing in the wild and making it out becomes immensely more favorable for you. I have stated in previous articles that I read about wild edible plants almost fanatically (see: Treasure hunting: Ramps) but there are just so many of them and they vary depending on where you are and there are a lot of look-alikes that are even toxic so I probably won't get into them.
This article will be mainly about tools that would increase your chances of survival.
Perhaps the most important thing you could put in your pocket before going out into the woods would be a pocket knife. Remember that movie "Castaway" with Tom Hanks in which he was wrecked on an uninhabited island? He held onto a single package the whole time, only to find out once he got off the island it had all kinds of stuff including a pocket knife. My point here is that if he had made use of that stuff he would have had a much easier time on the island.
A knife can be used to defend yourself, to produce tools, to clean food, to make rope and so on and so on. The simple fact is, you would have to be crazy to set foot into the wilderness with out one. I have a small pocket knife that I carry in places I know there are not many dangerous animals and my larger K-bar from my time in the military for places where there may be wolves, coyotes, or even bears. (granted a gun would be more suitable for bears)
The second most important thing to bring with you is matches. Fire can and will save your life in the wild. It scares off a lot of animals, it sterilizes water and kills bacteria and parasites in food, it keeps you warm and dry and provides light. While a lighter is good, matches are better. A lighter can break in a fall or the flint can get wet, but matches stores in a water tight container, which can be bought for just a few cents, will be usable no mater how bad of a tumble you take down a hill or what have you.
When building a fire there are many things to consider. Depending on those things there are many different fire set-ups to choose from. Here is a list of different types of fires that can be built. I will note that the star fire listed there is for places where there is not an abundance of burnable wood.
A sleeping bag is another good thing to have with you. When selecting a bag you should never take the big rectangle ones as there is a lot more space in them that has to be heated up in order to keep you warm. Because of this they lose heat more quickly than a mummy bag and are pretty much useless in situations where you need it for survival, unless you're lucky enough to have some one hot enough to share the bag with. ;) The rest of us however will need to stick with the mummy bags. Always get bags filled with wool. goose down or synthetic materials. Absolutely NEVER buy cotton. The porous nature of cotton causes it to retain water and hold it against your skin This will actually wick away the heat and make you colder and possibly kill you. Have you ever been sitting around the house and wondering why your feet are still cold even though you have socks on? It's because those socks are probably made of cotton. Take them off and your feet will actually stay warmer with out them. The best fabric to get is wool, since it will keep you warm even if it gets wet. It may be a bit heavier to carry in, but it is worth the extra exercise.
With these items and a little knowledge you will gain a distinct advantage in the wild, but like I said before reading is the most powerful tool you can have. Some reading material you should look into.
US Army Survival Manual: FM 21-76
Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide
The Trapper's Bible: Traps, Snares & Pathguards
I will be covering some of the material in these books in later articles but it never hurts to have the book yourself for reference.