Wilderness Survival

A hike deep into the wilderness is a great way to get away from it all. Calm, peaceful, undisturbed -- you are one with nature, alone with your thoughts. Suddenly you notice the sun is setting. You try to trace your path back to your starting point, but you keep going around in circles. Your heart pounds. Beads of sweat form on your brow. How will you find your way? Getting lost is just one of the risks of venturing into the wilderness alone. Your survival depends on following the No. 1 rule before venturing into the wild: be prepared for anything.

Know Where You're Going
Begin by learning as much as you can about where you are heading. Consult with hikers or rangers who are familiar with the area and learn what skills and equipment are needed. Investigate the terrain, weather possibilities, and physical demands. If you think you aren't up to it, pick an easier route or go another time.

Next, you need a good map, which shows the topography (shape of the land) in addition to other features such as roads, rivers, lakes, etc. Know how to use the map BEFORE you start out.

The same goes for a compass. Even with a map in hand, it is easy to lose your way and your sense of direction. Unfamiliar surroundings can begin to look somewhat the same. The compass can guide you back on the right path. If it has a mirror, it also can be used for signaling.

Backpack Essentials

Once you've studied where you plan to go, fill your pack with basic essentials:

* Food and drink
* First-aid kit with moist towelettes, antibiotic ointment, aspirin or ibuprofen, Band-Aids, tweezers, and scissors
* Rain gear and extra clothing
* Sunglasses and sun screen
* Flashlight
* Pocket knife or utility tool
* Whistle (blowing it loudly three times is a universal distress signal)
* Matches in a waterproof container, a cigarette lighter, and two or three candles

Before you venture out, always tell someone your plans -- where you are going, how long you plan to be gone, and where you are going to park your vehicle, if you have one.

Hike Sensibly
As you are hiking, eat, drink, and rest at regular intervals to maintain energy and hydration levels. Know your limitations and don't overextend yourself. Fatigue leads to accidents. You also should know the symptoms and remedies for dehydration, altitude sickness, hypothermia, heat stroke, and exhaustion.

If you do become lost, or separated from your party, stay calm and stay put. Panic only brings about confusion and clouds your judgment. Continuing to walk in unfamiliar territory might only get you further lost. Your best chance of being located is to remain visible and send distress signals via a whistle, mirror or flashlight, or fire. Conserve your energy and make plans for how to stay warm and out of the elements.

-- Kenneth Krause

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