Everybody makes mistakes, we are after all only human. In most circumstances, mistakes can be a learning experience, but in a wilderness survival situation, they can get you dead!
Here are 7 of the most common simple mistakes that can get you killed if you make them in the “great outdoors,” and how to avoid them!
- Heading Out Alone – Yes, I get the “rugged individualist,” and the “man (or woman) against nature thing.” But the truth is, every time you venture out into the woods, the waves, or other wilderness location alone, you are putting yourself at greater risk. A simple injury can lead to devastating consequences if it immobilizes you, and you are alone.
Avoidance: This is probably the easiest mistake to prevent on this list – simply NEVER venture out alone!
- Getting Lost – Over a period of the last 10 years, nearly 70,000 people required a search and rescue operation (SAR) in our National Park alone! Despite all of our modern technology, that is a lot of lost people, and not all of them get found alive. There are a lot of reasons people get lost in the wild: taking a wrong trail, misjudging the distance you traveled, GPS signal lost, etc. But there really is only one reason to get lost in the wilderness, and that is that whoever was leading your group, lacked basic navigation skills, and there really is no excuse for that.
Avoidance: The best way to prevent getting lost is to learn basic land navigation and practice it in a “safe” area until you are confident in your skills. It’s not enough to bring a map and compass with you into the wild. You’ll need to know how to shoot an azimuth and back azimuth, account for declination and determine distances (among many other skills). Here is a great video on the basics.
- Poison Plants – Roughly 40 people each year become sick each year and about 5 dies from eating the “wrong” kinds of mushroom in the woods. That may not sound like too many in the grand scheme of things…unless you are one of them! If you’re lost and starving, hunger can be a powerful persuader, but that doesn’t mean you should eat any plant or wild mushroom in your path.
Avoidance: This is another simple fix — if you are unsure about a plant or mushroom DON’T EAT IT. If you are not in an emergency situation, play it safe, and don’t just try to sample something for the hell of it, and if you are lost, still avoid eating any plant, berry, or mushroom you are unsure of. Most of us can go three-weeks without food – most SAR situations are resolved within 24 -48 hours, you won’t starve.
- We Didn’t Start the Fire – Usually, the times we most need a fire to survive, are the times it is the hardest to start one – such as in the wind, rain, and cold.
Avoidance: Carry waterproof matches and multiple fire-starting tools and devices. Also, bone up on starting a fire without any matches or other modern-day fire starters. It is never as easy to do as they show in the movies, but you can learn, and it can save your life!
- Wrong Clothes – When venturing out don’t “dress to impress,” dress to survive! The clothing you choose will not only impact your comfort on the trail, but it can affect your very survival if things go south.
Avoidance: Always choose functionality over fashion. Dress in layers, bring extra clothes and pick the right fabrics for the situation.
- Not Trusting Your Guts – Animal survive and thrive in the wilderness mostly on their instincts. Modern man no longer lives on instinct, but we retain this ability of other animals and of our ancestors. We have all had that “feeling” when something just seems “off.” In the wild, realizing to trust your guts, could save your life.
Avoidance: Do not ignore that little voice in your head. Trust your gut instincts. If the little hairs prick up on the back of your neck, telling you “not to touch that,” or “don’t go that way.” LISTEN TO THEM!
- Yielding to Panic – If you have read any of my books, or are a regular reader of these columns, then you know that my mantra is “Preparedness is Power over Panic.” The surest killer in any survival situation is losing your head to panic.
Avoidance: The surest way to avoid panic, is to be prepared to face any situation you may find yourself in. That means following all the tips to avoid the other deadly situations on this list. But, even if you find yourself in a situation you are not prepared for, you need to face your fears, and keep your wits about you. Do deep breathing, focus on a task, pray… do anything that can calm you down and keep your mind focused on the task at hand – getting home alive!