Better to have it and not need it, than to not have it and need it

I heard a story on the news the other day about a mother who hiked out 30 miles in a snowstorm after she and her family became stuck in the mud looking for the Grand Canyon.  So many things went wrong in this story that I thought I would put together a list of some items and tips that can help you, should you become lost in the woods.

The story can be seen here: Mom walks 30 Miles to Save Family on CNN

Basic Tips:

First off, no matter where you are going, especially if it is out into the wilderness, let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back.  If no one is aware you are possibly missing and you can’t call out, then no one will know to look for you.  This is also a good survival tip for the urban wilderness also.  It’s always a good idea for someone to know where you are going to be.

Plan where you are going.  This family could have avoided the issue altogether by making a couple of phone calls before they left for the Grand Canyon.  The National Parks have information lines you can call to get travel and visitor info.  With impending snow storms, it was probably not the best day to wander out to the canyon.  If you know where you are going and how you want to get there ahead of time, you will save yourself a lot of trouble.

Plan your route.  You should not rely on your GPS unit to let you know where to go.  GPS units today are great at finding routes but really don’t know the basics of road conditions and travel restrictions that may lay upon your route.  A simple call to the ranger stations at the Grand Canyon would have told them that the roads they wanted to take to the rim would have been closed.

Know your limits.  Are you an avid hiker and backcountry camper?  Is everyone with you at the same level?  If not, your trip that you would normally take by yourself will become that much harder as you have to help the lesser experienced members keep up.  Are you and your family not very outdoors-minded or you have small children?  Then it is probably best to stick with known routes and spend more time planning.  Picking up on the planning theme yet?

Be willing to quit.  If you head out for your planned adventure and things start to go wrong, be willing to quit, as in, turn around and head back.  Being able to make it back to safety is much better than dying trying to reach your goal.  There will always be another time to attempt your trek.  Many rescues have started with people so focused on making the goal and ignoring the warnings that they got into trouble.

Stay put: If you do get into trouble, the best thing you can do is stay where you are.  Find shelter from the elements and a way to stay warm and dry.  The family in the news story was in their car as night fell and they got stuck in a ditch.  With the snow coming down, the wife decided to hike out for help.  They had no idea where they were or where she should go to find help.  She left the safety of the car in freezing temperatures without proper gear to hike through waist deep snow.  The next morning, the husband was able to climb to higher ground and make a phone call for help.  His wife was lost by that time, if she had just stayed with them, it would have been only one rescue instead of two.

The tech that can help you out:

There are millions of items out there that can help you should you get into a bad situation.  The problem with most of them is that you need to have them with you when you need them.  Even the most advanced gear can’t help you if you don’t have it with you.


Spot MessengerBeing able to call for help, or notify someone of your progress is the number one way to ensure your survival should you get into trouble.  Cell phones are great, but if you are headed into the wilderness, chances are it’s not going to work the way you would expect it to.  I would count the phone as the least reliable method of staying in touch during an emergency.  One of the best reviewed and relied on items for emergency comms is the Spot 3 Messenger

Here are some of its features:

  • S.O.S. With the push of a button, GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center provides your GPS coordinates and information to local response teams
  • CHECK IN Let friends know you’re ok when you’re out of cell phone range. Send a text message with GPS coordinates or an email with a map link to your contacts with your location
  • SPOT ASSIST Alert your personal contacts that you need help in non life-threatening situations. Or use SPOT Assist for professional services on land. Additional service required
  • TRACKING Allow friends and family to follow your progress online in near real time and save waypoints so you can review your entire route at a later date


Baofeng UV-5RThe Spot Messengers use satellite communications to broadcast your position to people you choose or to professional rescue services.
As I stated in a previous post, another great way to make sure you have constant comms is a HAM radio.  It provides more power and great coverage than a CB or GMRS radio.  There are some great and cheap handheld radios to be had that can give you piece of mind in an emergency for under $30.  Check out my post about getting your HAM radio license.



Food and Water:

These are the basics, should you become stuck somewhere you will need water first, then food.  You can reasonably survive a couple of weeks holed up in one place without eating, you won’t feel good, but you probably won’t die. Water, on the other hand, is essential, you can only go a day or two without water.  If it is hot and you are losing a lot of water to sweat then your window for survival goes way down.  You should always carry some food and water with you in your vehicle, if you are hiking, you should put some extra water and snacks in your pack.  You will almost always use more water than you think you will.

If you run out of water but are near a water source it’s a good idea to have a small filter to make sure the water won’t make you sick, on top of the problems you are already trying to solve.  Good, small filters are easy to order online ahead of time and can be stored for near forever.  It would be a good idea to have one in an emergency pack in your vehicle.

portable water filterCheck out the Sawyer Brand Mini Water Filtration System:

  • Ideal for outdoor recreation, hiking, camping, scouting, domestic and international travel and emergency preparedness
  • High performance filter fits in the palm of your hand; weighs just 2 ounces; 0.1 Micron absolute hollow fiber membrane inline filter
  • Attaches to included drinking pouch, standard disposable water bottles, hydration packs, or use the straw to drink directly from your water source
  • Removes 99.99999% of all bacteria, such as salmonella, cholera, and E.coli; removes 99.9999% of all protozoa, such as giardia and cryptosporidium
  • Filter rated up to 100,000 gallons; includes 16-ounce reusable squeeze pouch, 7-inch drinking straw, and cleaning plunger




Staying Warm:

Bivvy SackOne of the most important things when trying to survive in the outdoors is a shelter.  Once you handle food and water, a shelter is the last thing to account for.  If you are stuck in a car, then the staying dry part should be taken care of, but you will still need to stay warm.  A car will idle for many hours to run the heater, as long as you have a full tank of gas to start with.  You will just want to make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked by snow or other debris.  Should you be low on gas then it would be a good idea to have several good quality blankets in the car with you.  You can conserve a lot of heat by covering yourself up.

If you are stuck outdoors without a shelter, the bivvy sack is a tried and tested way to stay warm and dry in the absence of actual shelter.  You can get one like the Survive Outdoors Bivvy Sack.

The bivvy sack is a basic shelter that is sealed from the weather and will keep you dry and warm by radiating your own body heat back onto you.  Now you would not want to live in this thing for an extended period, but it could get you through the first night so you could work on a better shelter the next day.  It also comes in bright orange to make you easier to see.


First Aid:

First Aid KitGetting hurt in the outdoors is hard to overcome, especially if you are by yourself.  You need to have a basic first aid kit with you in case something goes wrong, and more importantly, you need to know how to use it.  Your local community college and Red Cross usually offer basic first aid classes and you can search the internet for outdoor/survival first aid classes to really take your understanding to the next level.

The main idea of first aid is to stabilize a life-threatening situation until you can reach the next level of care.  You should have a well-stocked emergency kit in your car, in your home, and with you on the trail.

Bottom Line

The best way to survive in the outdoors is to not get into trouble in the first place, and the best way to do that is to plan your trip.  Now should you run into problems, it’s always good to be prepared.  A simple emergency kit in your vehicle or backpack will help increase your chances of being rescued.  This was not meant to be a comprehensive list of things you might need.  I just hope to give you a couple of ideas to get you started thinking about stuff you might need and should carry with you in case the unthinkable happens.

What are your survival suggestions or tips?  Leave them in the comments below.  Also, please sign up for my email newsletter so you can always be sure to get the latest from Average Guy Tech!