5 Survival Skills Every Backpacker Should Know

survival gearWhen you’re backpacking in the wilderness, you never know what type of situation you might run into, which is why it’s important to be prepared for anything. Your pack is your lifeline, carrying all of the gear and emergency supplies you’ll need to survive away from civilization; however, you’re limited in terms of how much you can put in it.

Since loading your pack with extra gear to prepare for every contingency is as impossible as it is impractical, smart backpackers load up on survival skills instead. Not only do skills take up zero weight in your pack, but they lessen your overall reliance on gear so you can survive longer on fewer supplies. With the right skills and a few basic tools, including a hunting knife and an LED flashlight, you can boost your chances of making it home. By practicing these skills before you end up in a survival situation, you’ll be more confident and less likely to lose your head in an emergency.

Here’s a list of survival skills every backpacker should master:

1. Building a fire without matches.

Staying warm is the number-one priority when lost or stranded in the wilderness, as hypothermia can kill you much more quickly than starvation or dehydration. Most hikers carry waterproof matches so they can light a fire for warmth. But what if you run out of matches or lose your pack?

A true survivalist can build a fire with nothing but a sporting knife and a few foraged materials; some can even forego the sporting knife. It takes a lot of practice, but starting a fire using the primitive friction method does work. Before venturing out into the wilderness, a backpacker should become proficient at several different ways of striking a spark, including the friction technique.

2. Purifying water.

Staying hydrated is the next big concern. A backpacker can only carry so much drinking water, and natural sources such as lakes and streams contain microbes that must be killed before the water is safe to drink. If your water runs out before help arrives, you need to know how to find and purify water for drinking. Most hikers carry water purification tablets or some other filtration method, but it’s also a good idea to learn how to manually strain, boil and distill water for drinking.

3. Foraging for food.

Nature is filled with edible plants that can keep you alive, as long as you know what to look for and how to eat them. Unfortunately, nature is also filled with poisonous pitfalls for the incautious forager. Before embarking on a backpacking adventure, familiarize yourself with some of the local edible fauna, and learn how to spot dangerous plants to avoid.

In addition to recognizing wild edibles, you should also know the correct ways to harvest and prepare them for eating. Your hunting knife can be an invaluable tool in this endeavor.

4. Treating common injuries.

Survival in the wilderness depends on your ability to function. If you become injured, you’ll need to know how to treat your injury in order to continue functioning at the highest level possible. Find out what to do for common injuries and health issues backpackers face, such as sprained ankles, blisters, burns, heat stroke, snakebites, punctures and infections. Learn how to treat these injuries even without the first aid supplies in your pack.

5. Signaling for help.

If you do become injured or stranded in the wilderness, chances are someone will come looking for you eventually. Your likelihood of being found increases exponentially if you’re able to get their attention and communicate your position. An emergency whistle is a great tool to have, as the sound carries much farther than shouting and with less energy expended. In case no one’s in earshot, however, you should also be prepared to send a visual signal. Familiarize yourself with multiple ways to attract the attention of search parties, including building a signal fire and using your LED flashlight as a distress beacon.

[ photo by: mrbill ]

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