Seven Priorities For Survival In A Backcountry Or Wilderness

Packing a survival kit before going hiking and having one in your vehicle may not be enough to protect you in the event of an emergency. According to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), injury and/or death can occur in seconds from panic or lack of thinking; minutes from lack of oxygen; hours from lack of shelter; and days from lack of water or weeks from lack of food. The BSA teaches seven priorities for survival.


Stop, Think, Observe, & Plan Stop and relax. Observe your surroundings, equipment, the weather and natural resources. Determine what you need to do to survive and help others find you.

First Aid

See if you, or anyone with you, are in need of first aid. If there is a need, provide first aid immediately. This is the second priority for survival.


• The third priority for survival is to find or construct shelter. Natural cover such as caves or under a rock overhang or the bottom branches of a strong tree are quick solutions. Check for signs of snakes or other animals. In the absence of natural shelter, use small branches to build a frame. Cover it with ponchos, garbage bags or emergency blankets.

Build a Fire

• A fire can be used for comfort, sterilization, purifying water, protection, cooking and signaling. Don't build a fire in your shelter unless it's well ventilated. If you can find a location that is near your shelter, build a wall about 2 feet high out of rocks. Arrange the rocks in the shape of a "C" with the opening pointed towards your shelter. This will direct the heat in your direction. You can also warm rocks in the fire and bury them under your shelter for heat. If the wind is an issue, dig a shallow pit for your wood. Clear a four-foot area surrounding the fire.
A small fire is more controllable. Large, smoky fires are more visible. Add green or wet leaves to increase the smoke.


• Use smoke or signal mirrors to signal for help. Whistle instead of yelling. It carries further and requires less energy.
Three is the universal distress signal. If you're near a clearing, arrange three fires or piles of rocks in a field. You can also scratch a message into the dirt or sand.


• Due to cold, hot, exertion, stress and waste removal, your body loses vital fluids. Collect rainwater in a plastic sheet or in a can before it hits the ground or a cloth to collect dew. Cactus pulp can be sucked in small amounts. Water from lakes, rivers and creeks can be boiled for 30 minutes or more to remove contaminants. However, it is better to drink water that hasn't been purified than to dehydrate. Do not drink sea water or urine, eat snow or suck plants that are not edible.


• According to the BSA manual, the capture and preparation of an animal requires too much energy. You can safely eat insects, small amounts of grass, cattails, acorns, dandelions and sunflowers. Pine needles can be chopped and boiled as a tea.

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