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Surviving In The Forest

The forest is a beautiful environment, which is why so many people go camping each year. However, it's best to be prepared and know the fundamental survival skills of the forest before you go camping. That way, in the event that you get lost, you will know exactly what to do.

Disclaimer: The survival tips on this website are for informational purposes only. The authors take no responsibility for the reader's individual actions or usage of the information presented on this page.

1. STOP and Think

Use the Boy Scouts mnemonic device of "STOP", which stands for "Stop, Think, Observe, and Plan".
You've just discovered that you are lost in the forest. You're unsure about whether or not rescue will be arriving. Here is a list of what you should be doing:

1. Retrace your steps.
2. Find a source of drinking water.
3. Create a fire.
4. Find or build a shelter before nightfall.
5. Fashion a weapon you can use for self defense.
6. Find a source of food.
7. Travel in one direction during daylight.

2. Retrace Your Steps

The first thing to do is see if it's possible to backtrack and retrace your steps to the last known path.
For the rest of these instructions, we'll assume that you were unable to backtrack and that you are officially lost.

3. Finding Water:

One of your first priorities should be to stay hydrated. The human body can only survive 3 or 4 days without water, so start looking right away for a source of water.

Common Sources of Water:

Any stream or river with running water will be a good source, but keep in mind that just because it looks clean doesn't't mean that it is. You will need to boil the water to kill any bacteria before drinking it. If you have a tin/aluminum can, this will be an effective container to boil water over a fire.

If you come across a lake, this is a great resource for water. You should boil this water also in order to avoid becoming sick from bacteria.

Rain Water:
If it rains, be sure to set out any containers you have to catch falling water. Any large leaves can provide an effective surface for catching rain and funneling it into a container.

Solar Water Still
If there's no rainfall or fresh water available and you have a sheet of plastic available, then you can make a solar water still.

Create a Solar Water Still:
Step 1: Dig a hole in the soil.
Step 2: Place a container in the center of the hole.
Step 3: Fill the gaps surrounding the container with anything wet, such as leaves.
Step 4: Place a plastic sheet over the hole and anchor the sheet in place with larger rocks around the edges of the hole.
Step 5: Place one small rock in the center of the plastic, just over the container.
Step 6: Condensation will occur on the underside of the plastic and run down to the center. It will drip into the container filling it with distilled drinking water.

4. Build a Fire/Stay Warm

Throughout the entire survival steps, you are always going to want to stay dry. Keep yourself warm with layers of clothing.

You'll also want to create a fire each night to keep your body temperature up.
Use the heat from the fire to dry any clothing that you might have gotten wet during the day.

Building The Structure:
Step 1: Gather dry tinder, twigs, and branches of various sizes.
Step 2: Using the smaller twigs, create a tepee shape with tinder placed in the center.

Lighting The Fire:
If you have glasses, binoculars, or a camera, use the lens to concentrate the sun's rays on the tinder to ignite it. Then blow when it starts smoking. Otherwise, your best alternative is to use the "Fire-Plow" method.

The Fire-Plow Method:
Step 1: Find a soft wood and cut a groove in its base.
Step 2: Place some tinder at one end that you will ignite.
Step 3: Using a hard stick, plow the end up and down this groove to create friction.
Step 4: The tinder will begins to smolder, blow on it to help fuel the fire catching process.
Step 5: When the fire catches, place more tinder and small twigs on the fire to help it grow.

5. Build/Find a Shelter

Finding shelter is an important aspect of survival. You need to find a place to rest, while also protecting yourself from the elements, such as wind and rain.

Find a Cave Shelter:
If you are able to find a cave, then choose this as your first option of shelter.
However, before entering the cave, make sure that it is not occupied by animals, such as bears.

If there are no available caves, then your next best option is to create a "Lean-To Shelter". These are relatively easy to make in a short time, so that you can begin focusing your efforts on other survival tasks.

Creating a "Lean-To" shelter:
Step 1: Find a large branch and lean one end onto a tree.
Step 2: Place smaller branches at 45 degree angles along the length of the large branch.
Step 3: Cover the entire structure with leaves and foliage.

6. Predators

When you find yourself lost in the forest, you should be alert to the fact that there are predators and they are dangerous. Try to fashion a spear or knife out of branches to use as protection.

Among the many predators to watch out for, bears are the most dangerous (especially Grizzlies):

Black Bears:
If you see a black bear 50 yards away or more, then keep your distance and continue hiking always making sure to not get closer. If you happen to come across the bear and it doesn't see you, then carefully walk away and talk loudly to alert the bear to your presence.

Grizzly Bears:
If you come into direct contact with a Grizzly bear, avoid eye contact. Back away slowly and allow the bear enough room to escape. Speak softly, but try not to show any sign of fear.

Never run from any bear. This might encourage the bear to chase you and they will catch you.

The most dangerous scenario is to be between a mother bear and her cubs. If you see a mother and cub, then be aware that other cubs may be in the area.

What to do if a bear attacks:
Black Bears: Fight back. Use sticks, rocks, or your bare hands if you have to.
Grizzly Bears: Play dead. Try to show no signs of life. When the bear is done checking to see that you are dead and leaves, don't get up until the bear is gone. Grizzlies have been known to check back.

Depending on which forest you are located, there are insects and spiders that are poisonous. To avoid exposure, keep your clothing tucked in and limit the amount of areas that insects can crawl inside your clothing. Try to set up your shelter so it is off of the ground.

7. Traveling/Resting

If you left your house and told people that you were going to the woods, then chances are that there will be a rescue party. If this is the case, then stay put. It will be easier for them to find you if you are not traveling.

If you are unsure that a rescue party is coming, at least stay in the same general area to find out. Use the other steps listed in this guide to survive the wait.

When you have decided that no rescue is coming, then it's time to take matters into your own hands. You're going to need to walk yourself back to civilization. To do this, you'll need to follow the steps outlined here, but add hiking into the mix.

Travel each day during the daylight hours, then sleep at night.

Your best way to get back to civilization is to find a stream and follow it downhill. As the saying goes, “all streams lead to the ocean”. In the case of forests, think to yourself "all streams lead to a trail or road".

Begin by heading out in one direction until you find a river or stream. Regardless of whether the stream is dry or not, it will still be pointing you in the direction you want to head.

By following the stream, you run a greater chance of eventually hitting signs of civilization.

8. Tools and Weapons:

If you have a knife, this is your most valuable tool in any survival situation. You'll need it for various tasks that require you to puncture, slash, chop, and cut. Knives also serve as a means of self defense and as a tool for creating and carving other tools out of the materials at your disposal.

The problem is that many people in survival situations don't have access to a knife, so the next best thing is to create one from the materials in the forest.

Making a Stone Knife:
Step 1: Find stone made of obsidian or any other rock that has a smooth glass-like surface.
Step 2: Find a larger stone and use it to chip off pieces.
Step 3: By chipping off pieces, you will eventually chip off a piece that is similar to the sharpness of a knife.

A wood spear stick can be used for hunting and cleaning fish, roasting food over a fire, and as a self defense weapon.

Making a Wood Spear:
Step 1: Find a tree branch. The harder the wood, the better.
Step 2: Make sure the thickest part of the branch acts as a comfortable handle.
Step 3: Use your knife to carve the tip into a effective point for stabbing.

9. Finding Food:

There are two sources of food in the forest...plants and animals.
Unless you have a guidebook on which plants are edible, it's best to play it save and not eat any.

Characteristics of Poisonous Plants:
White or Yellow Berries
Bitter or Soapy Taste.
Clear/Shiny Leaves
Leaves in Groups of 3
Umbrella Shaped Flowers
Milky Sap
Almond Odor

Trapping Animals:
Don't hunt animals unless you are a highly skilled hunter. Your best option is to trap animals.
Hunting animals uses up precious energy that you should be using to perform the other survival tasks in this guide.

The 4-Figure Deadfall Trap:
Step 1: Gather 3 branches and a heavy stone.
Step 2: Cut notches in the branches as indicated in the illustration below.
Step 3: Hold up the rock with one hand, while positioning sticks "A" and "C".
Step 4: Once the weight of the rock is resting on "A" and "C", use your free hand to insert and mount the trigger stick "B".
Step 5: Let go and the trap should be balanced and set.
Step 6: When a bird or animal comes along to eat the bait, the trigger stick will trip and the rock will kill with a fatal blow.

10. Getting Rescued

Keep in mind that the instructions above are in the event that you are alone, lost, and there is no way that a rescue party will be looking for you. If your friends and family know that you are in the forest somewhere, then the rescue party will look for you.

In this case, you will not want to move much from the place where you first discovered you were lost. This will make it easier for the rescue party to find you.

If days have gone by and you are still not rescued, then your other option is to find a stream and make your way back to civilization.

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