5 Essential Backcountry Survival Tips

Kathleen Roberts
Columbia Gorge, Oregon Hiker

There are at least five essential backcountry survival tips that you should know if you plan to spend any amount of time in the outdoors. Every year, hundreds of people get lost while hiking, camping and otherwise enjoying the beautiful backcountry. Frequently, those people are not found or found too late. The more you can do to help keep yourself safe, the more likely you are to be found. Knowing these survival tips could save your life.

5 Essential Backcountry Survival Tips

1. Build a Shelter

Before you even venture into the backcountry, you should learn and practice techniques for building a shelter. This may be a make-shift tent, a snow shelter or possibly your vehicle if you are stranded in it during, for example, a snowstorm. If you do take shelter in a vehicle, keep the window slightly cracked for ventilation. If you can run the vehicle, do so in careful intervals only when you are too cold to not run it. Following this technique will conserve the fuel in the vehicle while also protecting yourself from carbon monoxide.

2. Build a Fire

Build a Fire

Even if it isn't winter, you should still build yourself a fire. There is just something about a fire that provides a sense of security which is vital to your survival. A fire can offer a bit of protection from wildlife as well as light, heat and a place to cook food or boil water. A side benefit is that gathering materials to build and maintain a fire will keep you focused, leaving you very little time for panic.As with building a shelter, it is best to learn various fire-building techniques and practice them. In a survival situation, you'll be able to act quicker and be confident with the fact that you know what you're doing. You should consider always carrying something to start a fire if you will be spending time in the wilderness. Matches are good but also have a flint and steel or some sort of sparking tool that will function no matter what the conditions are like.

3. Drink Plenty of Water

Dehydration is very dangerous so be sure to keep drinking water during your outdoor adventure. Experts say if you wait until you feel thirsty, you've waited too long. This is even so if the weather is cold. You should always have some way of purifying water since you certainly can't carry enough to get you through a lengthy survival situation. Get some water purification tablets at the very least and use them with any water you find to drink, even if it looks cleanIdeal water sources should be clear and moving. Stagnant water harbors nasty parasites that can make you extremely ill. However, even water that looks clean can carry these organisms. Purify or find a way to boil all water you find.

4. Be Easy to Find

Hiker with GPS Device

You may have created a great shelter in the underbrush, but you need to consider if it would be easy to recognize by people who were searching for you. Do what you can to make yourself as obvious as possible. There are several steps you can take to make it as easy as possible for rescuers to detect your location. Keeping some wet or green leaves close to your fire to create smoke should help be close by is one way to be visible. Hanging bright colored clothing in an obvious place is another. You can also use a mirror for signaling and use a whistle to make noise.

5. Carry Supplies

The best way to survive is to be prepared in the first place. Carry a small first aid kit in your pack; bring a GPS if you have one; have a written plan and give someone a copy. You should also carry the items listed previously as well as an emergency blanket and an extra layer of clothing.

Prepare to Stay Safe

If you think these essential backcountry survival tips are just for hardcore hikers and campers, think again. Most people that get lost are people who just think they are taking a short walk in the woods or an easy day hike. Always cary basic supplies. No exceptions. Make sure you have basic items to provide yourself with shelter, clean water, fire, signaling and medical essentials.

Don't Panic

The most important survival tip you can know is, don't panic. Panic leads to irrational choices. Irrational choices can cost your life. As soon as you realize you are lost or in trouble, take a deep breath and think. Look at your situation and consider the wisest course of action.

If you always create a plan, give someone a copy of your plan and stick to it, someone should be looking for you when you don't show up at the appointed time. Also consider taking courses in wilderness first aid, navigation and basic survival. If you can't find classes, get a few good reference books, such as Outdoor Survival Guide by Randy Gerke.

5 Essential Backcountry Survival Tips