Survival Basics

Wilderness Survival – What to do First

Most of the time, we focus on disasters in the prepping and survival community. But that’s not all there is. We are actually more likely to find ourselves in a personal survival situation, than we are in one that affects everyone around us. The classic “lost in the woods” scenario can teach us a lot, not only how to survive in such a situation, but also how to survive a bug out. 

Wilderness is unforgiving

The wilderness is totally unforgiving when it comes to mistakes we make. The grading curve is steep and the cost of failure isn’t just a black mark, it can often be death. There’s no time to learn by trial and error; we have to make the right decisions and take the right actions right from the start. 

When the start happens

So, when is that start? 

Believe it or not, the start happens before you even leave. Letting someone know where you’re going, the route you’re going to take and when you’re going to get back is a critical part of any journey, especially one into the wilderness. That way, if you don’t arrive in time, they can call for help; getting rescue workers looking for you. 

Switch over into survival mode

Other than that, you need to be ready to switch over into survival mode the moment you realize you’re in trouble. That could be because of an injury, getting lost, the car breaking down or the weather turning bad. I’ve had all of these happen to me at one time or another. 

Evaluating the situation

Once in survival mode, the first thing to do is evaluate the situation you are in. What time of day is it? Where are you? What is the weather like? What resources do you have available to you? Condition you are in? You’ve got to decide if you can rescue yourself or if you are better off waiting until someone comes to rescue you. Unless you are sure you can perform a successful self-rescue, you’re better off waiting to be rescued, especially if you’ve let someone know where you are. 

If you’re lost, don’t try to get yourself un-lost; you probably can’t. Even trying to go back and retrace your steps usually won’t work, because everything looks different from the other direction. Instead, find a good spot at least two hours before sundown and set up camp. 

Setting up camp is critical to your survival, as the temperature will probably drop considerably overnight. By then it will be considerably more difficult to set up camp. So, gather enough wood to get through the night, build a shelter and start a fire where you are or near where you are. Don’t waste a lot of time looking for the “ideal” campsite. 

Wilderness Survival

When you wake up in the morning, your first priority is going to be finding a source for water. If you can find something close to where you are, that’s great. But if not, you’ll have to move camp, heading downhill. Leave a marker behind, so that any searchers who find that camp will know which direction you went in. 


Once you find a good source for water, you’ll need to set up camp again. Make it about 200 feet from the water, so that you aren’t preventing wildlife from using it too. Then start working on ways to signal for help, either using what’s in your survival kit or making three smoky fires, separated far enough so that the smoke won’t meld into one column. The number three (3 fires, 3 blasts on a whistle, 3 gunshots) is the international emergency sign for distress. 

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