Hiking in the wilderness can bring about a sense of tremendous peace and relaxation, and the Pacific Northwest offers plenty of deep forests and long tracts of wilderness for escaping the demands of daily life. The farther you stray from the beaten path, however, the greater the chances your situation might turn on a dime, transforming peace and relaxation into a fight for survival.
Becoming lost in the woods is always a real possibility, and dangerous terrain, unpredictable weather or aggressive wildlife can turn a simple hiking trip into a nightmare. Every spring and summer, the newspapers report stories of lost hikers and the resulting search and rescue missions. The hikers whose stories have happy endings can usually attribute their survival to a combination of luck, smarts and emergency preparedness.
As you plan your spring and summer forays into the woods this year, it’s also a good idea to plan how you would survive if you became lost. There are five basic essentials for wilderness survival: fire, shelter, food, water and first aid. Following is a look at some crucial emergency gear to bring and how to use it to stay alive.
LED Flashlight: Sending a Signal
Many hikers fail to bring along emergency lighting they plan to be hiking only during daylight hours. However, an LED flashlight could be the most critical piece of survival gear you own. Not only will it help you see what you’re doing at night, but it can also be used to send an emergency signal. Many lost hikers have been found alive solely because searchers spotted their LED flashlights.
A high-quality LED flashlight is a good choice for emergency lighting. Its powerful, focused beam can be seen from much farther away than a traditional incandescent flashlight, plus its energy efficiency means the batteries will last longer, which will extend your ability to survive.
Sending an emergency signal: To use your flashlight as emergency lighting, you want to be in a location where you can be seen from above as well as from afar. Turn the flashlight on and off to create three blasts of light in a row. Use your LED flashlight sparingly to preserve the battery life; flash your signal periodically throughout the night, or if you hear or see potential rescuers in the distance.
Folding Knife: Foraging for Fire and Shelter
A folding knife is another universally handy emergency tool. A knife can be used to cut branches for building a shelter, to shave bark off a tree for tinder or to improvise by turning something you have into something you need.
To get the most mileage out of your folding knife, choose a multi-tool that has not only a sturdy knife blade but other useful items such as a serrated saw blade, scissors, wire cutters and any other attachments you think might be useful.
Building a fire: To build a fire in the wilderness, all you need is a spark, tinder, fuel and oxygen. Common mistakes when attempting to start a fire include choosing poor tinder, failing to protect the spark from the wind and smothering the flames with overly large fuel.
Dry grass, dry bark, wood shavings, cloth lint and paper all make good tinder. Use your folding knife to cut strips of bark or shave wood off a branch. You’ll also want small kindling as well as larger pieces of wood for fuel. If you have a multi-tool, use the saw blade to cut smaller branches for kindling.
Arrange your tinder in a teepee, with the driest pieces on the bottom. Now you’ll need a spark, which is why your hiking emergency kit should always include waterproof matches, flint and steel or at minimum a cigarette lighter. Apply the spark to the tinder, being careful to shelter it from the wind, and coax your fire to life using small pieces of kindling.
Building a shelter: There are several ways to build an emergency shelter, such as propping up branches to create a lean-to or wigwam. Bark, tree boughs, thick grasses or tarp can all be used as covering. In the woods, one of the easiest ways to create a shelter is to find a fallen tree, enlarge the natural pit beneath it and line it with boughs or bark. Your folding knife or multi-tool will be extremely useful for gathering the necessary supplies and cutting rope for lashing branches together.
Emergency Kit Checklist
Here’s a list of essential items to carry with you when hiking:
- LED flashlight
- Folding knife or multi-tool
- Waterproof matches, lighter or flint and steel
- First-aid kit
- Water bottle and container for boiling water
- Survival blanket
- Compass and map
- Rope or cord
- Extra food and clothing
[ Photo by: Alaskan Dude ]