SURVIVE THROUGH SKILLS
WEEK 1: SURVIVE THE SUMMER CHALLENGE
Welcome to Week 1 of Survive the Summer! This week your challenge will be to survive through skills by learning about wilderness survival. Then you can continue the challenge by exploring the additional advancements about weather.
Below is the Know, Show, and Go content for each level of Scouting. Refer to your guided worksheet and tracking tools to know which topics to cover for your program level.
KNOW: Learn about what it takes to survive the elements using age-appropriate, guided worksheets.
The content below is for everyone! Refer to your guided worksheets to know which content to capture for your program level in Scouting.
During the first half of the week, spend time learning using all of the Know content.
SHOW: Demonstrate your knowledge by preparing the tools needed to survive
After learning about survival skills, show what you've learned to the rest of your family!
GO: Take your knowledge to the outdoors and go survive!
Take what you've learned from Know, and what you've demonstrated from Show and Go take your skills to the outdoors
Get started on learning about basic wilderness survival techniques! The content below is for everyone! Refer to your guided worksheets to know which content to capture for your program level in Scouting. During the first half of the week, spend time learning using all of the Know content.
Wilderness survival, taking care of ourselves in ways that allow us to come home safely, is what we do whenever we are in the outdoors. Most of the time we get along just fine when we are camping, backpacking, canoeing, and taking part in other outdoor activities. We have brought along the clothing and gear we need. We’ve made good plans, and we do our best to manage any risks. But now and then something unexpected happens. We wander off a trail and lose our way. Someone becomes injured. A storm catches us by surprise. A boat capsizes. A snowmobile runs out of gas far from a road. We no longer know where we are, or we find ourselves without the equipment, water, and food that we usually take on our adventures. When things go wrong, the skills of wilderness survival can help make everything right again. Thinking through the challenges that face us and coming up with good solutions are vital to taking care of ourselves in the outdoors, especially when we must get out of difficulties. Wilderness survival means knowing how to stay alive and well until the emergency is over. It means working with nature rather than against it. It means always having a positive attitude—the one essential that can’t be carried in a pack or a pocket.
The best emergency is the one that never happens. Prevention is the result of preparing well, making good plans, and having the proper equipment. As you begin thinking about what you will do in case of an emergency, it can be helpful to know some of the primary causes of survival situations.
Not planning ahead, or failing to prepare a trip plan
Not having good leadership in your group
Being in poor physical condition, wearing the wrong clothing or footwear, or lacking the motivation or skills for the activity
Not eating enough, or eating the wrong diet
Becoming too tired, too cold or too hot, or thirsty
Not recognizing and dealing with a potential problem
Encountering unexpected changes in the weather or unexpected terrain
A trip plan answers five questions, each beginning with the letter W:
Where are we going and by which route?
When will we return?
Who is going along?
Why are we going?
What are we taking with us?
A copy of your trip plan should be left back home with one or more persons who are responsible, reliable, and available. If you don’t return as scheduled, those back home can alert search-and-rescue personnel and give them a good idea where to start looking for you.
BEING PREPARED AS A GROUP
Many people keep things to themselves. They don’t want to hold up the team or are
worried about what others will think of them. An important step in avoiding backcountry
emergencies is letting your companions know when you are having a hard time or if you
are aware of something that might affect you or the group. Remember, stopping for a few
moments to deal with a hot spot on a heel can avoid bringing the group to a long halt later
in the day when blisters break out. Saying something about changing weather or asking
questions about the route that group leaders have chosen can bring important matters to the attention of the rest of your group and help everyone make good decisions.
"Two heads are better than one." You may have heard that saying before and it is true. Sometimes you may forget a safety rule, or not be aware of a hazard up ahead, but if you are with a buddy, it is easier to stay safe. The buddy system is a great way for Scouts to look after each other. especially on outdoor adventures. When you go hiking, swimming, or camping, you should be assigned a buddy. You keep track of what your buddy is doing, and your buddy knows at all times where you are and how you are doing. The buddy system is a way of sharing the good times and keeping everyone safe. If you and your buddy find yourself away from the rest of the group, make sure to follow the S-T-O-P rules below.
BEING PREPARED YOURSELF
Most important is how you think about things when you are confronted with a survival situation. Learn the right things to do at the right time, then practice these techniques until you know them by heart, and you will build your confidence in dealing with wilderness emergencies.
KEEP A POSITIVE ATTITUDE
Many survivors of wilderness emergencies have said that a willingness to survive is the key factor in getting through a difficult situation. You might assume that everyone has an equal desire to survive, but that is not always the case. Some people will endure almost unbelievable conditions while others in much less difficult situations might simply give up and quit. Make a conscious choice to be among those who can and will endure.
LEARN SURVIVAL SKILLS
Learning how to think about wilderness survival and then mastering skills of staying alive can make all the difference if you ever become lost or face other backcountry emergencies. A good way to begin is by completing the outdoor-oriented requirements for the ranks of Scouting. Earning merit badges like Camping, First Aid, Hiking, Backpacking, Orienteering, and Pioneering can also be helpful. Most of all, spend time in the backcountry having fun, becoming comfortable, and practicing the best ways to take care of yourself in the outdoors.
WHAT TO DO WHEN THINGS GO WRONG
Following the seven priorities of survival in a backcountry or wilderness location will give you a good approach to acting effectively when things don’t go as planned. The priorities are listed below, in order of importance.
Provide first aid
Build a fire
Signal for help
Don’t worry about food
The moment you think you might be lost, stop immediately. If you ever feel fear, stop immediately. Put your hands in your pockets and take a deep breath. Look around and really see what is happening. If there are immediate dangers to avoid—a potential avalanche, a capsized boat, an approaching bear—do what you must to keep yourself and others safe. You might need to put on your rain gear or step around a tree to get out of the wind. You might also need to provide first aid for life-threatening injuries or illnesses. Once that is done, you can begin to figure out what to do next.
The letters of the word STOP hold a special meaning for
staying positive and beginning to take charge of a situation.
Stop / Stay Calm
Stop/Stay Calm. At the beginning of a wilderness survival emergency, the most important thing you can do is stop. Once you have taken care of your immediate safety and that of others in your group, then relax as best you can. Drink some water. Eat a snack. You have time. You have resources. You have a good mind. Now is the time to start using it.
Think. Assemble the group. Use your brain to figure out what is really going on. If you think you are lost, study your map and try to determine where you are. Look around for landmarks. Note the contours of hills, ridges, or mountains, and where you are in relation to streams or lakes. If you don’t have a map, try to remember where you could have gotten off course. What was the last landmark you positively identified? In what direction did you travel from there? If you are on a trail or a road, can you follow it back to your starting point? If you have left footprints in snow, can you retrace your tracks? Don’t go anywhere yet. There is no rush.
Observe. Assess the immediate situation. Does anyone need additional first aid? What are the weather conditions? Where is a good place to take shelter? Inventory everything you have in your pack and pockets, and look around to get a sense of the natural resources nearby. What clothing do you have? How can you improvise with what is available to make it suit your needs? Don’t go anywhere yet. There is no rush.
Plan. When you have figured out what your situation really is, the group can put together a plan for what to do next. Build your plan on what you have observed, what you have in the way of equipment, what you can improvise from native materials, and how you can keep yourself safe. Put into practice the survival steps you have learned, and wait as calmly as you can for help to arrive. Plan carefully and cautiously; don’t make your situation worse by acting hastily. If you left a written trip plan with a responsible person before leaving home, your failure to return on time should trigger a search effort. Most people are found within 24 hours of becoming lost or encountering difficulties in the backcountry. You could, if you had to, survive much longer.
2. PROVIDE FIRST AID
Treat life-threatening injuries and illnesses immediately. As you begin putting together your survival plan, take the time to properly examine anyone who has been hurt, and decide on a course of action to care for that person.
3. SEEK SHELTER
The body’s core is a heat regulator. It does all it can to keep you warm in cold weather and cool in hot weather. If your body gets too hot, you might suffer heat exhaustion or heatstroke. If it gets too cold, hypothermia can set in. Whatever the weather, if your body’s core temperature rises or sinks more than a few degrees from normal, you will find it harder to think and more difficult to function well. In the worst cases, the illnesses of heat and cold can lead to unconsciousness and even death.
Begin by assessing what you have for clothing. Rather than wearing one heavy coat, putting on layers of clothing will allow you to adjust the insulation around you to match the weather conditions you face. Clothing insulates best when it is dry. Protect the clothing you are wearing from rain and snow by putting on any rain gear you might have or by staying under shelter. Turn a plastic trash bag into a raincoat by cutting slits in it for your arms and head. Keep any clothing you aren’t wearing dry by stowing it in a safe place such as your pack, a stuff sack, or a plastic trash bag.
A shelter extends the effectiveness of your clothing by adding another layer to your insulating and wind-blocking system. As with all aspects of wilderness survival, assess the materials you have around you and make a plan to build an effective shelter. You will want to assemble a shelter that does the job but that takes as little energy as possible for you to set up. If you have a tent, you are in luck. A dining fly or other tarp can also expand your possibilities. A plastic ground cloth or a poncho with the hood tied closed can also serve as a shelter. Pitch it close to the ground to block the wind.
While we often think of a shelter as protection from rain and wind, much body heat can be lost through direct contact with the ground. Insulate the floor of your shelter with a sleeping pad, if you have one, or by piling up evergreen boughs, pine needles, or dry leaves. Sitting on your pack will also help shield you from the chill of bare earth. In a hot environment, find shade in a small gully or under a tree, large shrub, or rock outcrop. (Check for snakes first, though!) If you are rested, scoop out a hollow in soft ground; it can be significantly cooler beneath the surface. Train your eyes to recognize instant natural shelters. You will be surprised at all that nature provides if you look closely enough.
When building a shelter, you might need to know a knot or two! Learn about the 10 basic knots a Scout should learn over time.
LION ALTERNATIVE - SAW
S = Stay Put
A = Answer (if you hear your name)
W = Blow your Whistle
SHEET BEND: Need to tie two ropes together? This is the knot for you. The sheet bend won’t slip when ropes of dissimilar material and size are entwined.
HOW TO: When tying the knot, be sure that the working ends are on the same side; otherwise, the knot might be unreliable. If you tie a thick and thin rope together, use the thick rope to form the “stationary loop” and the thin rope as the “working line.”
TAUT LINE HITCH: To create an adjustable loop that stays in place, use the taut-line hitch. This is the knot to use for staking out the guy lines of your tent.
HOW TO: Pass the running end of the rope around the tent stake. Bring the end over and around the standing part, then back through the loop that has formed. Go around the standing part inside the loop again (this time closer to the tent stake). Going in the same direction, take the end around the standing part outside the loop to tie another half-hitch. Work any slack out the knot. Slide the hitch to tighten or loosen the line.
TRUCKER’S HITCH: The trucker’s hitch is a powerful pulley with a locking knot. Use this when you need a locking pulley with a 2-to-1 mechanical advantage, such as hanging a bear bag, tying a canoe on a car or guying out a tarp. Unlike the taut-line hitch, this knot won’t slip when used with slippery line.
HOW TO: Form the overhand loop. Then pull the loop through. Make the loop exactly as shown; it won’t work if you do it backward. Run the working end of the rope through the loop and then pull hard to form the pulley. Secure the pulley to a stationary object (like a pole or branch) with a quick-release half-hitch or, for extra security, two or more standard half-hitches.
PRUSIK HITCH: A prusik hitch can slide up or down a stationary rope, but it will hold fast when weight is applied. It’s used in a number of self-rescue situations. Mountaineers use the prusik for footholds to help them climb a vertical rope. Campers use it for rigging rain flies or rescuing rock-pinned canoes in a river.
HOW TO: First, use a sheet bend or double fisherman’s knot (instructions below) to make a loop from a length of parachute cord or rope. Then, wrap the loop around the main line three times. The prusik hitch will slide easily along the rope, but it will jam when a load (horizontal or vertical) is applied.
BOWLINE: This knot is popular among mountaineers, climbers, sailors and others. Use the bowline when you need a non-slip loop at the end of a line. The knot won’t slip, regardless of the load applied.
HOW TO: Begin by forming a loop or “rabbit hole.” The “rabbit” (working end) of the rope goes up through the hole, around the tree, then back down the hole. The knot will slip as it tightens, so allow a long working end.
TWO HALF-HITCHES: Use two half hitches to tie a rope to a tree, ring or dock. If you need more security, take a second turn around the tree, or just add more half-hitches.
HOW TO: Pass the running end of the rope around the post or through the grommet. Bring the end over and around the standing part of the rope, then back through the loop that has formed. This makes a half-hitch. Continue taking the end around the standing part to tie another half-hitch (this time outside the loop). Be sure to go around the standing part in the same direction. Pull the knot snug and slide it against the pole or grommet.
DOUBLE FISHERMAN'S KNOT: Use this knot to tie together the ends of one rope, forming a loop. The loop of rope can be used for many purposes, including the prusik hitch, shown above.
SQUARE KNOT: The square knot can be used to join two ropes together. Generally, it works best with two ropes of the same diameter, and should not be used to hold a heavy load.
HOW TO: Hold an end of the rope in each hand. Pass the right end over and under the rope in your left hand. Pass the rope end now in your left hand over and under the one now in your right.Tighten the knot by pulling both running ends at the same time.
CLOVE HITCH: The clove hitch is a versatile knot that is often used in Scouting activities, including servings as the start or finish to many lashings.
HOW TO: Bring the running end of the rope over and under a pole. Take the end around a second time, crossing over the first wrap to form the shape of an X. Bring the rope end around a third time and tuck it under the X. The ends of the rope should come out between the legs of the X. If they come out to either side of the X, you don’t have a clove hitch. Pull the ends of the rope to tighten the hitch.
TIMBER HITCH: The timber hitch is often used to drag a log across the ground or to start a diagonal lashing.
HOW TO: Pass the running end of the rope around a log.Loop the end around the standing part of the rope, then twist the end around itself three or more times. Pull slack out of the rope to tighten the timber hitch against the log. The hitch will stay secure as long as you are pulling on the rope. When you are done using the rope, the timber hitch is easy to loosen and remove from the log.
4. BUILD A FIRE
In chilly and cold weather, a fire can be important for maintaining body warmth, melting snow for water, drying out clothing, signaling for help, and raising your spirits. The importance of a fire means that you should spend plenty of time getting it right. As with most survival skills, practicing when you are not in an emergency situation is the best way to become good at it. It is especially important to practice using fire-lighting methods other than matches and lighters—a magnifying lens, flint and steel, and fire by friction
Select a Leave No Trace Campfire Site
A Leave No Trace campfire site has the following qualities: Fire will cause no further negative impact on the land, and fire cannot spread from it, and the area surrounding the site will not be further degraded by the concentrated trampling of people cooking and socializing.
Matches and Lighters
Preserve your matches by taking plenty of time to prepare your fire before you light it. By ensuring that the tinder catches fire on your first try, you can save the rest of your matches for future fires. Matches can be carried in a waterproof match case, an empty plastic aspirin bottle with a tight lid, or a resealable plastic bag. If you have a butane lighter, guard it against moisture and cold by keeping it tucked inside a pocket close to your body. Bring it out only when your fire lay is complete and you are ready to ignite the tinder.
On a clear day you might be able to focus sunlight through a curved lens such as that found on the baseplates of some compasses and in eyeglasses, a magnifying glass, camera lenses, binoculars, and telescopes. In some cases, you might need to remove the lens from the instrument in which you found it. Hold the lens so that the sunlight streaming through it is concentrated down to a bright pinpoint on your tinder. In a few moments it will generate enough heat to cause the tinder to burn.
Flint and Steel
Striking one hard object against another can sometimes produce sparks. In the backcountry, the most likely objects are a pocketknife and a piece of flint—a dark, shiny stone that fractures easily. Form your fine tinder (dryer lint works well) into a bird’s nest shape the size of a softball. Holding the flint just above the tinder, strike it with the steel to direct the sparks into it. Use a downward motion to strike the steel against an edge of the flint. Nurse a spark into a flame by blowing on it very gently. When the tinder bursts into flame, and the kindling catches fire, push it underneath your fire lay.
Fire by Friction
A skill of old-time Scouts was making a fire using a bow and spindle. For a bowstring, you can use a piece of nylon cord or a shoestring, or a cord off a tent, pack, or tarp. The spindle should be made of very dry hardwood—oak, for example. The hand block with a depression carved into it to fit the top of the spindle should also be made of hardwood. The fireboard is a softer wood that is also dry—cottonwood is a good one to choose. Whittle a notch into the fireboard so that the spindle fits into it, then tuck some very fine tinder beneath the notch. Twist the bowstring once around the spindle, then hold the spindle upright with one end against the notch in the fireboard. Kneel down and put one foot on the fireboard to keep it from moving. Draw the bow back and forth to twirl the spindle, holding it steady with the hand block. Ideally, the friction created as the spindle turns against the fireboard will cause an ember to form next to the tinder. Gently blow on the ember until the tinder bursts into flame. Learn More about Fire by Friction!
5. SIGNAL FOR HELP
Signaling for help can be very important if you have become lost or if you or others in your group are injured and cannot be moved. Think about where you are, how you might be seen, and what you have on hand to make yourself and your location more visible to others. Consider any and all of the following signaling methods:
Recognized signals of distress include three blasts on a whistle, three shouts, three bursts from a boat air horn, or three of any other sounds delivered every minute or two.
Mobile phones are useful in areas with coverage, but many backcountry areas are out of
reach of a cell tower. If possible, research coverage before the trip and carry emergency
contact numbers for park ranger stations, local sheriff departments, and other emergency
services. Remember to start out with fully charged batteries, and carry extra batteries with you. If you have a means of electronic communication, try to use it as soon as is practical after assessing your situation and dealing with first aid or other immediate dangers. The sooner others know of your situation, the sooner they can provide assistance, even if it takes a while to reach your location.
Mirrors and Lights
When the sun is shining, the flash of light reflected with a signal mirror can be seen for miles. Aiming it takes practice. Sight a target through the hole in the center of the mirror or by looking just over the mirror’s top edge. Hold your extended arm in line with the target and adjust the angle of the mirror so that reflected light illuminates fingers of your hand raised to form a “V” through which you can see the target. If you don’t have a signal mirror, you might be able to use a piece of shiny flat metal from an aircraft or remove a rearview mirror from a motor vehicle, or even use the shiny side of a CD or DVD. At night, use a flashlight to send groups of three flashes in the direction where you believe rescuers might be able to see them. Flares can be found on airplanes and in some watercraft and motor vehicles and can be effective if you have a rescue aircraft in sight. They are visible for only a short time, though, so save them for the right moment.
Color and Motion
Hanging brightly colored clothing or camping gear on tree branches can catch the rescuers’ attention. Flags, banners, and contrasting colors can be part of your signaling efforts. If you can see rescuers, wave a shirt over your head or attach it to a pole and wave it as a flag.
Fire and Smoke
A fire will probably already be part of your survival strategy. The light from it might attract attention at night, and smoke can be seen during the day. Experiment with ways to make a fire smoky by adding pitchy wood, damp leaves, branches, ferns, grasses, and other vegetation to the flames without actually putting out the fire.
A simple set of ground-to-air signals will allow you to communicate with searchers flying overhead. Make your symbols as big as you can. Use whatever is on hand to construct symbols that can be seen easily from the air— rocks, overturned sod, piles of branches, and pieces of clothing and equipment. Where snow covers the ground, use your feet to stomp out the shapes of the symbols. Lining the shapes with branches, ashes, soil, or other dark material can make the symbols more visible. When rescuers arrive by helicopter, stand still and wait until the aircraft lands. A crew member will come to you or provide other guidance about what you should do. Follow his or her instructions exactly.
Lay out your ground-to-air signals with an eye toward the sun and you can take advantage of the shadows cast by logs, rocks, and the sides of trenches to make the signals more visible. Orienting the longer legs of signals in a north-south direction will create the most effective shadows, especially early in the morning and late in the afternoon.
6. DRINK PLENTY OF WATER
It bears repeating: Drink plenty of water. Drink plenty of water. Drink plenty of water. You can survive for days without food, but in hot weather without water, only hours. Dehydration happens in cold weather, too, even though you may not feel as thirsty. The best rule is to drink plenty of water—enough so that your urine is clear—whenever you are in the outdoors. Ideally you will be able to find water where you are—from a lake, a stream, or melting snow, or by guiding rainwater down a tarp or tent fly and into a container. Water may have collected in depressions in rocks, in the crotches of trees, or in seeps along cliffs.
Boiling. The surest means of making your water safe is by boiling it. Use a pot or other metal container on a stove or over a fire and bring the water to a full boil.
Chemical Treatment. Water-treatment tablets contain iodine or chlorine to kill waterborne bacteria and viruses. They are effective and easy to use. An emergency survival kit should have a supply of watertreatment tablets.
Filtering. Most backcountry filters are simple handheld pumps used to force water through a screen with pores so small that bacteria and protozoa cannot get through. The finer the screen, the more effective the filter. Information provided with new filters describes their use, maintenance, and the degree of filtration they can provide.
7. DON'T WORRY ABOUT FOOD
Being hungry is not very pleasant, but on the list of survival priorities, it is not very high,
either. Keeping warm in cold weather and cool in hot weather, finding shelter, drinking
plenty of water, and signaling your location are all more important than finding
something to eat. Once you have taken care of the necessities of survival, you can give
some thought to sources of food. You may have the ingredients for camp meals in your
pack. Experts in wilderness survival can tell which plants are safe to eat and which might cause intestinal stress or even poisoning. Unless you are absolutely sure of the identity of a plant and know it is safe to eat, it’s best to leave vegetation alone. The same is true of most wildlife. A length of nylon line and a hook can be useful in using insects or worms to catch a fish or two, but in most cases the energy you burn in trying to capture an animal and prepare it to be safely eaten would be better used improving your shelter, gathering water, and taking care of other survival priorities.
Did you know?
Three blasts of a whistle are generally interpreted as a universal signal for distress.
A pocketknife is a useful tool to have with you, but it can also be dangerous if you don't know how to use it the right way. Learn about three different types of pocketknives and some basic pocketknife safety. REMEMBER: only Bears, Webelos, Scouts, Venturers, and adults are permitted to use pocketknives after a Whittling Chip is earned.
The jack knife is only hinged on one end, but it may have more than one blade. Outdoorsmen
such as hunters, campers and fishermen tend to like these knifes.
The pen knife has hinges and blades on both ends of the knife. Often, they
will have two or three blades at each end. They are also smaller than the other
The multi-purpose knife is popular because there are so many different things they can
have on them. Obviously, they'll have a knife blade, but they can also have a file, scissors,
tweezers, can or bottle openers and even a mini-saw blade.
KNIFE SAFETY RULES TO LEARN AND LIVE BY
A knife is a tool, not a toy.
Know how to sharpen a knife. A sharp knife is safer than a dull knife because it is less likely to slip and cut you.
Keep the blade clean and dry.
Never carry an open pocketknife.
When you are not using your knife, close it using the palm of your hand and put it away.
When you are using the cutting blade, do not try to make big shavings or chips. Cut slowly and steadily.
Make a safety circle. Before you pick up your knife to use it, stretch your arm out and turn in a circle. If you cannot touch anyone or anything else, it is safe to use your knife. While using your knife, be sure to watch in case someone walks toward you and gets too close. If that happens, put your knife away until it is safe to continue.
Always cut away from you, never toward you.
Never hand a knife to someone else blade first. Learn and use the “eye contact” method of handing a knife to someone else. Do not release the knife until the other person makes eye contact with you and acknowledges he has the knife.
Never use a knife on something that will dull or break it.
Never throw a knife for any reason.
Always think before you cut. Do not use your knife to strip bark from a tree or to carve your initials into something that does not belong to you.
THE OUTDOOR CODE
As an American, I will do my best to –
Be clean in my outdoor manners.
Be careful with fire.
Be considerate in the outdoors.
Be conservation minded.
leave no trace
The Boy Scouts of America is a strong supporter of Leave No Trace methods of camping, hiking, and all other outdoor activities. Follow the principles of Leave No Trace whenever you are practicing survival skills. Do everything you can to protect the environment, especially as you are building fires and gathering materials for constructing shelters. However, wilderness situations do not always allow you to practice the low-impact techniques you have been taught. In a real emergency situation, put the safety of yourself and other persons first and take whatever actions you must to survive. Think survival first, low-impact second. Read through the seven principles for Leave No Trace below.
Know Before You Go. Watch for hazards and follow all the rules of the park or outdoor facility. Remember proper clothing, sunscreen, hats, first aid kits, and plenty of drinking water. Use the buddy system. Make sure you carry your family’s name, phone number, and address.
Choose the Right Path. Stay on marked trails whenever possible. Short-cutting trails causes the soil to wear away or to be packed, which eventually kills trees and other vegetation. Trampled wildflowers and vegetation take years to recover. Stick to trails!
Leave What You Find. When visiting any outdoor area, try to leave it the same as you find it. The less impact we each make, the longer we will enjoy what we have. Even picking flowers denies others the opportunity to see them and reduces seeds, which means fewer plants next year. Use established restrooms. Graffiti and vandalism have no place anywhere, and they spoil the experience for others. Leave your mark by doing an approved conservation project.
Trash Your Trash. Make sure all trash is put in a bag or trash receptacle. Trash is unsightly and ruins everyone’s outdoor experience. Your trash can kill wildlife. Even materials, such as orange peels, apple cores and food scraps, take years to break down and may attract unwanted pests that could become a problem. A good rule is "Pack it In, Pack it Out."
Minimize Campfire Impact. If you build a fire, the most important consideration is the potential for resource damage. Whenever possible, use an existing campfire ring in a well-placed campsite. Choose not to have a fire in areas where wood is scarce–at higher elevations, in heavily used areas with a limited wood supply, or in desert settings. True Leave No Trace fires are small. Use dead and downed wood that can be broken easily by hand. When possible, burn all wood to ash and remove all unburned trash and food from the fire ring. If a site has two or more fire rings, you may dismantle all but one and scatter the materials in the surrounding area. Be certain all wood and campfire debris is dead out.
Respect Wildlife. Quick movements and loud noises are stressful to animals. Considerate campers practice these safety methods:
Observe wildlife from afar to avoid disturbing them.
Give animals a wide berth, especially during breeding, nesting, and birthing seasons.
Store food securely and keep garbage and food scraps away from animals so they will not acquire bad habits. Never feed wildlife. Help keep wildlife wild.
Be Kind to Other Visitors. Expect to meet other visitors. Be courteous and make room for others. Control your speed when biking or running. Pass with care and let others know before you pass. Avoid disturbing others by making noise or playing loud music. Respect “No Trespassing” signs. If property boundaries are unclear, do not enter the area.
People readily adapt to routine weather changes that occur with the passage of air masses. Sometimes, however, the weather can become so violent that people need to take special precautions. Forecasters with the National Weather Service issue watches, warnings, and advisories to alert the public to potentially violent, or hazardous weather. There is an important difference between a watch and a warning. A watch means that hazardous weather is possible or that conditions are favorable for it to develop. A warning is a more urgent notice that hazardous conditions already exist or are heading your way. Watches and warnings are issued for events such as winter storms, tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, high winds, and
flash floods. The National Weather Service issues advisories when conditions are expected to
cause serious inconveniences. A common type of advisory alerts motorists to hazards such as
slippery roads caused by wintry weather.
During the winter, some cyclones (low-pressure areas) develop into unusually intense storms that bring heavy snow, strong
winds, and cold temperatures. When the wind is strong enough (above 35 miles per hour) and visibility is reduced to less than
a quarter mile by snow or blowing snow, the event is termed a blizzard. Even if a snowstorm does not quite qualify as a blizzard,
a combination of snow, wind, and cold can be deadly for people caught unprepared.
Another winter event that can be quite severe is freezing rain (or drizzle), or an ice storm. If ice coatings build up enough, tree branches can break, often crashing into power and telephone lines already burdened with ice. Roads become ice-covered and treacherous.
Even without snow or ice, extreme cold can be dangerous. Bitter cold can be even more hazardous when accompanied by
high wind because the two increase the rate of heat loss from exposed skin. The result can be frostbite, which is damage to
skin from freezing, or hypothermia, a dangerous lowering of body temperature.
Meteorologists use wind chill to describe the combined effect of cold and wind. Wind chill temperatures always are the same as or lower than the actual temperature, and decrease with higher winds. For example, with a temperature of 30 degrees, the wind chill also is 30 degrees if winds are nearly calm, but it drops to 4 degrees if winds are blowing at 20 miles per hour. If you are caught outdoors in a winter storm or in extreme cold, it is important to stay dry, cover all exposed parts of your body (several layers of clothing provide more protection than a single heavy coat), and avoid overexertion. These precautions will help prevent frostbite and hypothermia. Watch those around you for signs that they are becoming chilled.
Staying Safe in the Cold
If there is no shelter available, prepare a lean-to, windbreak, or snow cave for protection from the wind. Build a fire if possible. A fire will provide heat and might help attract the attention of rescuers. Rocks placed around the fire will help absorb and reflect heat. It is easy to lose gear in the snow. If snow gets into your clothing, it will melt and can chill you. On the other hand, snow can be an effective resource for building a shelter. It may be as simple as a depression dug into a snowbank so that you can get out of the wind. With more time and energy, you might dig a snow cave or construct a snow trench to create a shelter that will insulate you from the cold. If you are out in a car, stay with the car and tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna so that you might be seen by rescuers. For about 10 minutes each hour, start the car and run the heater. Make sure the car’s exhaust pipe is not blocked; otherwise, deadly exhaust fumes will fill your car. You may move your arms and legs to keep your blood circulating, but try not to sweat or burn too much of the energy you need to keep warm.
Thunderstorms are most common in the tropics and subtropics and during the warm season in the middle latitudes, but they can occur in winter and at polar latitudes. They form when warm, moist air creates updrafts that form large precipitation drops in clouds. As this precipitation develops, positive and negative electrical charges separate and build up in different parts of the clouds and on the ground beneath the clouds. When charges have built up enough, they can “jump the gap” between regions of opposite charge, discharging the areas. This discharge is what we see as lightning. Some lightning flashes strike the ground, but most are from one part of a cloud to another. Lightning ground strikes, fairly common in the United States, can be deadly. In the United States about 90 people die each year from being struck by lightning. Thunder is caused by the great heat generated during the brief time (less than a second) that a lightning discharge occurs. The heat causes the air to expand rapidly, as in an explosion. You hear thunder after you see lightning because of the difference between the speed of sound and the speed of light. Sound travels at a speed of 1,100 feet per second, but light travels at a speed of about 186,000 miles per second. Therefore, you will see a lightning flash almost instantly, but the sound of thunder will take longer to reach you.
Staying Safe During a Thunderstorm
If you are caught outdoors in a thunderstorm, do not stand in open areas or near lightning targets such as trees, power poles, or wire fences. Metal conducts electricity, so also stay away from metal poles (such as tent poles) and such. Remove any metallic frame packs and do not stay near them. Water also conducts electricity, so if you are boating or swimming, get to land immediately when a storm is approaching. When hiking near mountaintops, which are struck by lightning often during summer, get downhill before the lightning begins, if possible. If a storm catches you, take shelter in a cave or a low spot among the rocks, making sure to avoid prominent outcroppings and overhangs. Try to pick an area that is not likely to flood. If you cannot find shelter, become the smallest target you can. Do not lie flat on the ground, because lying flat makes you a bigger target than crouching down. If you feel your hair stand on end or your skin get tingly, crouch down immediately and take the following pose: Squat on the balls of your feet, cover your ears with your hands, and get your head close to your knees. Get small! The less of you that is touching the ground, the better. Take shelter in a steel-framed building or hard-topped motor vehicle (not a convertible) if you can. Such places are safe because the charge stays within the frame of the building or vehicle and is conducted safely to ground without endangering the occupants. When you are taking shelter in a car during a thunderstorm, avoid touching the metal parts. When taking shelter in a building during a thunderstorm, do not use the telephone or hold objects connected to electrical power (such as hair dryers). Staying near stoves, fireplaces, and plumbing is also dangerous, because metal can conduct electricity. Also, do not take a bath or shower or run water.Although the location where lightning will strike is not predictable, some places are much more likely to be struck than others. Because lightning follows the path of least resistance, objects closer to the cloud are more likely to be struck. Trees in an otherwise open space often are targets for lightning, so trees are not a good place to take shelter in a thunderstorm. Thunderstorms can become quite violent, producing large hail, flooding rains, strong winds, and tornadoes. These severe thunderstorms tend to occur where the air mass is very unstable. During winter, a single cyclone can produce blizzards, ice storms, and severe thunderstorms with tornadoes. When taking safety precautions during a thunderstorm, you should stay alert and be ready to revise your plans if a more hazardous weather condition occurs, such as a flash flood.
Floods are an unavoidable part of life along rivers. The torrential rains of thunderstorms or tropical cyclones can cause flooding. Some floods occur when winter or spring rains combine with melting snows to fill river basins with too much water too quickly. Such events usually take several days to develop. Other floods arise suddenly as the result of heavy localized rainfall. These flash floods can become raging torrents very fast, sometimes in less than an hour, and can sweep away everything in their path. Areas of rugged terrain are particularly vulnerable to flash floods. Picturesque river valleys in the mountains can be swept without warning by floods from rains falling some distance away. When camping, stay clear of natural streambeds during the time of year when rainstorms are common. If you camp on low ground, you might be caught unawares, especially when asleep at night.
Staying Safe in a Flood
In case of a flood in rugged terrain, climb to high ground immediately, even if it means abandoning your gear. If the floodwaters are already rising, do not get into motor vehicles and attempt to drive away from the flood danger. Never enter a flooded low spot on the road or trail if you do not know how deep the water is, especially if the water is rising.
Most fatalities of floods are victims trapped in automobiles. It takes only 2 feet of water to float a car, and even less to stall a car or truck’s engine. If your vehicle’s engine stalls, abandon it and climb to higher ground. Keep alert to signs of wet weather—not just in your location but also in nearby areas. Listen for distant thunder and watch for lightning flashes. Faster flowing streams or rising water levels can signal rainfall upstream. In seasons when heavy rains are possible, at least one person in your group should carry a portable radio and stay informed about weather conditions when in range of a radio station. When out of radio range, be keenly observant and alert to the weather.
On rare occasions, rapidly rotating columns of air form within a thunderstorm. When these rotating columns reach Earth’s surface, they become tornadoes. Tornadoes can produce the strongest winds on Earth, occasionally reaching 300 miles per hour or more. The tornado is an extreme form of cyclone, with very low pressure at its core. Most tornadoes produce paths of damage that are only a few hundred yards wide or less. Because tornadoes usually last only a few minutes, path lengths typically are a mile or less. A few tornadoes, however, are more than a mile wide and last for an hour or more, producing damage paths more than 100 miles long. Most tornado casualties are caused by flying debris, so the best thing to do if a tornado threatens is to get to a place that provides as much protection from flying debris as possible.
Staying Safe in a Tornado
Avoid taking shelter near trees. They become a source of debris during tornadoes. If you are caught in the open when a tornado approaches, get to a low spot, lie face down, and cover your head. Your goal is to be less of a target for flying debris. Therefore, lying flat is the right position. A ditch or other low spot is a good place to lie down, especially if there is no flood water. Tornadoes can occur while you are in school or at home. Be aware of any plans for tornado safety in your school. You and your family should develop a safety plan at home. If your home has a tornado shelter, use it. If your home has a basement, it can be a good shelter if part of it offers protection from falling debris. For example, you might take shelter under a stairway or a heavy workbench.
If you cannot get to a tornado shelter or basement, put as many solid walls between you and the outside as possible. Closets in interior hallways are good shelters. Bathrooms often have stronger walls than the rest of the house because the plumbing makes a kind of reinforcement. Stay away from windows—flying glass is extremely hazardous. Abandon mobile homes and seek nearby shelter. Take along a radio and some source of fresh water. If your home is hit, be alert to leaking gas from broken pipes. Outside, beware of fallen power lines.
Among the most dangerous storms that affect the United States are hurricanes. They originate in the southern part of the north Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and the southeastern Pacific Ocean off the west coast of Mexico. Similar storms occur elsewhere in the world, notably in the oceans near India and Australia, where they are called cyclones, and in the western Pacific Ocean, where they are called typhoons. A general name for all such storms is tropical cyclone. Unlike the low-pressure systems of middle latitudes, tropical cyclones contain no fronts because they form in a single, tropical air mass. When well-developed, they are nearly circular in shape and vary in diameter from about 100 to 1,000 miles. In rare instances, their winds can exceed 200 miles per hour, spiraling inward to the low-pressure center. The combined effects of the winds and the low pressure act to pile up ocean water at the center of the storm, producing a storm surge. As the storm approaches land, the storm surge can combine with normal tides to produce extensive flooding. It is the storm surge, not the wind, that causes the most damage and the most casualties from hurricanes. Most hurricane deaths are caused by drowning. At the center is the eye of the storm, which can range from about 5 miles to more than 20 miles in diameter. Within the eye, winds are light. Low clouds might be present, or skies might actually be clear within the eye. Surrounding the eye is a ring of deep clouds called the eyewall. The strongest winds in the storm usually are found within the eyewall next to the relatively calm eye. Several cloud bands made up of lines of thunderstorms, called spiral bands, usually are present in a tropical cyclone. They spiral into and join the eyewall from the outer parts of the storm. Torrential rains often accompany the eyewall and the spiral bands. Tropical cyclones “feed” on warm tropical ocean waters. This is how they obtain their strength over the open waters of the tropics and why they normally weaken rapidly and soon dissipate after they meet land. But even a dissipated hurricane can produce extremely heavy rainfall—sometimes well inland from the point where it made landfall.
Staying Safe in a Hurricane
In nearly all cases, hurricane watches and warnings will precede any landfalling hurricane. If you are camping along or near a seashore when hurricane watches are issued, strike camp and leave the area immediately. Encountering a hurricane at sea also is extremely dangerous and should be avoided at all times. If officials have not advised that you evacuate the area, stay indoors, away from windows, and follow the guidelines for tornado safety. After the eye passes, the hurricane winds blow in the opposite direction, breaking trees and other things not quite destroyed by the first round of winds. Do not be fooled by the eye of the storm. Much danger still follows. Follow safety procedures for floods as well.
As recent events in the United States have shown, the skills of wilderness survival can be every bit as important during natural disasters as they are during backcountry outings. Hurricanes, tornadoes, wind storms, blizzards, heat waves, and power outages can put people in situations where the usual networks of support are not available. People might be on their own for a few hours, a few days, or even longer periods of time. The preparations you can take to respond to emergencies, whether in a city, a rural area, or deep in a wilderness, are the same. Whenever an emergency occurs, use your head to size up the situation and seek out solutions.
Wet Forests. While forests can offer an abundance of materials for making shelters and building campfires, they can also be challenging, especially if the weather is wet. The shade of a forest floor can feel chilly, and dampness can make it seem even colder. As in other settings, do what you must to keep yourself and others dry and warm, and be on guard against hypothermia. Dense forests can make signaling to rescuers difficult. You might need to move a short distance to a meadow, stream bank, or other open area visible from an aircraft. Consider your options carefully, though, before changing locations. Mark your route clearly in case you need to find your way back.
Hot and Dry Deserts. While the greatest challenge of desert survival might be staying cool during the day, nights are sometimes cold enough in arid regions for you to need clothing, shelter, and perhaps a fire to keep warm. Rest in a high, shady spot during the day, then complete necessary activities in the cool of the evening or early morning. Wear sun protection if you have it, including long sleeves and a hat. A hat or some type of head cover will help beat the heat, too.
Wind. Wind can make other challenges more difficult to overcome. In hot weather, a wind might help keep you cooler, but it can also sap away moisture and cause you to need to drink water more often. In cold weather, wind can blow warm air away from your body and cause the temperature to seem colder than what is indicated on a thermometer. A steady wind can be exhausting as it hammers away at your energy and morale. Protect yourself from the wind by wearing a windproof outer layer—a jacket, rain gear, or even a tarp or tent rain fly. Seek shelter on the calm side of a boulder or large tree. If the weather is chilly or cold, watch for any signs of hypothermia.
Oceans, Lakes, and Rivers. Emergencies on water often begin when a watercraft capsizes or when someone falls from shore or from a boat. If that is the case, the first concern is to protect those in the water from drowning. They will need to get to dry land, get back into their watercraft, or stay afloat until help arrives. If you are in cold water very near the
shore, get everyone out of the water as soon as possible to help avoid hypothermia. If you capsize far
from shore, try to get as much of your body out of the water as possible by climbing on the capsized
craft. If that is not possible, conserve energy and body heat by floating with your personal flotation
device and clothing on, your head positioned so that you can breathe, and your legs drawn up close
to your trunk. Huddle together with others if you are not alone. A capsized canoe, boat, or other
watercraft, even if damaged, might stay afloat. It is also more visible than a person alone in the water.
Canoes and small boats can sometimes be righted, but don’t waste much energy in the effort. You can
climb into a swamped boat and it should still keep you on the surface. If that isn’t possible, hang onto
the side of the boat and use it to help you rest and keep your head above water. When a survival
situation involves a life raft, look for storage compartments containing an emergency kit that might
contain first-aid supplies,water, signaling devices, and emergency food. Follow the instructions included with the kit.
Making good choices to protect yourself from insects, reptiles, and wild animals is one of the many challenges of wilderness survival. Keep this information in mind on any hike, campout, or other situation where you are sharing the backcountry with wildlife, small and large.
Mosquitoes, chiggers, black flies, and other biting insects can make you miserable in the outdoors, and that can threaten morale. If you have it, use insect repellent. Wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and a hat. Tie a bandanna around your face or use a spare T-shirt to protect your head. Guard your hands with gloves or pull a pair of socks over them. Try smoothing a layer of mud on exposed skin. Build a fire and stay close to the smoke. Consider moving to higher ground that might be breezier and less infested with bugs.
Remember this ditty for safety around coral snakes: red and black— friendly jack; red and yellow—deadly fellow.
While snakes are common in many parts of the country, snakebites are rare and seldom result in death. Snakes try to avoid humans, usually striking only when cornered. The bite of a nonvenomous snake causes only minor puncture wounds. The bite of a venomous snake may cause the victim to feel sharp, burning pain. The area around the bite may swell and become discolored. However, a venomous snake does not always inject venom when it bites. The best advice is to treat every snakebite as if it were inflicted by a venomous snake. Use a hiking stick to poke among stones and brush ahead of you when you walk through areas where snakes are common. Watch where you put your hands as you collect firewood or climb over rocks and logs.
Be especially aware of the kinds of predatory animals you might meet during your adventures. Wolves, coyotes, and cougars (or panthers and pumas) are curious. So, if you happen upon such an animal, face the creature and slowly retreat from the area. Do not approach the animal, run, or play dead. Make yourself as “big” as possible by waving your arms and clothing above your head. Make a lot of noise. If you have no escape or become cornered, throw rocks and sticks. Remember, no matter what kind of wild animal, give all wildlife a wide berth—especially young animals and their mother.
Bears. Bears are part of many backcountry ecosystems. The same guidelines Scouts follow to keep bears and themselves safe during outdoor adventures can be adapted during survival emergencies to allow people and bears to share the same wilderness areas without incident. You might need to adapt some of these guidelines to fit the circumstances of a survival situation.
BEAR SAFETY CHECKLIST
While hiking, alert bears to your approach by making noise. Never approach or provoke a bear. If you encounter a bear, do not run or shout. Stay calm, back away, and avoid eye contact with the bear.
Set up your sleeping area at least 200 feet away from where you will cook and eat.
Allow no smellables—food-soiled clothing, deodorant and antiperspirant, soap—in sleeping tents.
Clean up and pack out any spilled food, food particles, and campsite trash.
Use a bear bag, bear box, or bear canister to protect all unattended smellables.
Dispose of dishwater at least 200 feet from your campsite and sleeping area.
Wash early in the day. Avoid using scented lotions, soaps, deodorants, or shampoos.
Change into clean sleeping clothes before going to bed.
We have explained a method of surviving wilderness emergencies by addressing the following steps:
STOP (Stop, Think, Observe, Plan).
Provide first aid.
Build a fire.
Signal for help.
Don’t worry about food.
Providing first-aid care is high on the list, especially if you or someone with you has suffered
serious injuries or illness. The first-aid emergencies described below are those that you might
encounter in the backcountry. The treatments are ways to manage these risks until help can arrive.
Hypothermia occurs when a person’s body is losing more heat than it can generate. It is a danger for anyone who is not dressed warmly enough, though simple exposure to cold is seldom the only cause. Dehydration is a common factor. Wind, damp clothing, hunger, and exhaustion can compound the danger. The temperature doesn’t have to be below freezing, either. A lightly dressed hiker caught in a cool, windy rain shower can be at great risk. So is a swimmer too far out in chilly water or immersed too long. A person experiencing hypothermia might feel cold and numb; become tired, anxious, irritable, and increasingly clumsy; have slurred speech; shiver uncontrollably; make poor decisions; and lose consciousness.
There are some general guidelines for treating a victim of hypothermia. For starters, prevent the victim from getting colder and, if necessary, use any or all of the following methods to help the body warm again to its normal temperature.
If the person is fully conscious and can drink, offer small amounts of warm liquids (cocoa, soup, fruit juices, water).
Move the person into the shelter of a building or a tent and into dry, warm clothes. The first step in treating hypothermia is preventing the victim from getting any colder.
Zip the person into a dry sleeping bag. Cover the head with a warm hat or sleeping bag hood.
Provide water bottles filled with warm fluid to hold in the armpit and groin areas.
If hypothermia is advanced, aid in rewarming the victim. Be sure to watch the person closely, and be ready to administer other first aid if necessary. Seek medical care.
Did you know?
For many people, the first reaction to a survival situation is to panic. There is fear of the unknown and fear that they don’t know what to do next. Without a plan, whatever they do while panicking probably won’t be very helpful and might, in fact, make matters worse.
A frostbite victim may complain of pain on the ears, nose, fingers, or feet and then numbness, but sometimes the victim won’t notice anything. You may see grayish-white patches on the skin—a sure sign of frostbite.
Get the victim into a tent or other shelter, then warm the injury—and keep it warm. If an ear or cheek is frozen, remove a glove and warm the injury with the palm of your hand. Slip a frostbitten hand under your clothing and tuck it beneath an armpit. Treat frozen toes by putting the victim’s bare feet against the warm skin of your belly. Avoid rubbing frostbitten flesh, as that may damage tissue and skin. You can also warm a frozen part by holding it in warm—never hot— running water. Or wrap it in a dry blanket. Have the victim exercise injured fingers or toes, and do not let the injured area freeze again. Get the victim to a doctor.
Water is essential for nearly every bodily function, including digestion, respiration, brain activity, producing heat, and staying cool. A person who gives off more water than he or she takes in risks becoming dehydrated. The first sign of dehydration usually is dark urine. Other signs can include weariness, headache and body aches, and confusion. Heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and hypothermia may all be caused in part by dehydration.
Protect yourself from dehydration by drinking plenty of fluids. That is easy to do on hot summer days when you are thirsty, but it is just as important in cold weather when you may not feel thirsty. Drink enough so that your urine stays clear and lightly colored, not dark amber.
Heat exhaustion can be brought on by a combination of dehydration and a warm environment. It is not uncommon during outdoor activities conducted in hot weather, especially if participants are not fully acclimated to the conditions. Symptoms can include pale and clammy skin caused by heavy sweating, nausea and tiredness, dizziness and fainting, headache, muscle cramps, and weakness.
Treating Heat Exhaustion
Place the person in the shade and encourage the victim to drink fluids, ideally cool water. Hasten the cooling process by applying wet cloths to the skin and then fanning the person. Activities can resume when the person feels better, though it can take a day or more for full recovery.
Heatstroke occurs when a person’s core temperature rises to life-threatening levels (above 105 degrees). Dehydration and overexertion in hot environments can be factors. Symptoms can include hot, sweaty, red skin; confusion and disorientation; and a rapid pulse.
Get the patient under qualified medical attention as quickly as possible, monitoring the person closely during evacuation to guard against a relapse. The person’s temperature must be lowered quickly and hydration restored. Move the victim to a shady location and loosen tight clothing. If the person is able to drink, give small amounts of cool water. Pour water on the person and further cool by fanning. If you have them, wrap ice packs in a thin barrier (such as a thin towel) and place them under the armpits and against the neck and groin.
Sunburn is a common but potentially serious result of overexposure to the sun. Long-term exposure can result in skin damage and increase the risk of skin cancer. In survival situations, serious or extensive sunburn can be painful enough to limit a person’s ability to function well.
The best treatment for sunburn is prevention. Limit your exposure to the sun, wear loose-fitting clothing that covers your arms and legs, and wear a broad-brimmed hat to shade your neck, ears, and face. Protect exposed skin by liberally applying sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15; reapply it often. If you have no sunscreen, stay in the shade as much as possible, especially in the middle of the day when the sun’s rays can be most damaging. Smoothing a layer of mud on exposed skin can offer some protection, too.
Minor cuts and scrapes usually require only cleaning and disinfecting with soap and water. Allow them to heal in the air, or cover them lightly with a dry, sterile dressing or bandage to help prevent infection. Unless a cut is serious, bleeding probably will stop on its own or with slight pressure on the wound. If a wound is so severe that it does not stop bleeding readily, apply direct and firm pressure using a sterile dressing or compress. It may help to raise the injured limb (if no bones are broken) above heart level. If the bleeding is prolonged, treat for shock and seek medical attention immediately.
A hot spot is a warning that a blister may be forming. Treat a hot spot or blister as soon as you notice it. Gel pads can be taped directly over a hot spot or blister to reduce friction and speed healing. Follow the instructions on the package. To treat a hot spot or blister with moleskin, cut the moleskin slightly larger than the shape of the blister. Used together, a gel pad and moleskin can provide maximum relief for hot spots and blisters. Change bandages every day to help keep wounds clean and avoid infection.
TICK, CHIGGER, SPIDER BITES, AND STINGS
The bites or stings of insects, ticks, chiggers, and spiders can be painful. Some may cause infection.
To treat bee stings, scrape away the stinger with the edge of a knife blade. Don’t squeeze the sac attached to the stinger—that might force more venom into the skin. Use an ice pack to reduce pain and swelling.
Treating Tick Bites
Ticks are small, bloodsucking creatures that bury their heads in the skin. Protect yourself whenever you are in tick-infested woodlands and fields by wearing long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Button your collar and tuck the cuffs of your pants into your boots or socks. Inspect yourself daily, especially the hairy parts of your body, and immediately remove any ticks you find. If a tick has attached itself, grasp it with tweezers close to the skin and gently pull until it comes loose. Don’t squeeze, twist, or jerk the tick, as that may leave its mouth parts buried in the skin. Wash the wound with soap and water, and apply antiseptic. After dealing with a tick, thoroughly wash your hands.
Treating Chigger Bites
Chiggers are almost invisible. They burrow into skin pores, causing itching and small welts. Try not to scratch chigger bites. You may find some relief by covering a chigger bite with calamine lotion or by dabbing it with clear fingernail polish or mud.
Treating Spider Bites
The bite of a female black widow spider can cause redness and sharp pain at the wound site. The victim may suffer sweating, nausea and vomiting, stomach pain and cramps, severe muscle pain and spasms, and shock. Breathing may become difficult and convulsions may occur. The bite of a brown recluse spider might not hurt right away, but within two to eight hours there can be pain, redness, and swelling at the wound. An open sore is likely to develop. The victim may suffer fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, joint pain, and a faint rash.
If you are bitten by a snake, assume that it is venomous unless it can be absolutely identified as nonvenomous. Learn to recognize venomous varieties to know when there is danger and what action to take. Two types of venomous snakes are found in the United States. Pit vipers (rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths) have triangular-shaped heads with pits on each side in front of the eyes. Coral snakes have black snouts and bands of red and yellow separated by bands of black. Pit viper venom affects the circulatory system; coral snakes inject a powerful venom that works on the victim’s nervous system.
Treating Nonvenomous Snakebites
The bite of a nonvenomous snake requires only ordinary first aid for small wounds— scrub with soap and water, then treat with an antiseptic. Snakes are not warm-blooded and so cannot carry rabies.
Treating Venomous Snakebites
Get the victim under medical care as soon as possible so that physicians can neutralize the venom. A person who has been bitten by a venomous snake might not be affected by the venom for an hour or more. Within that time, the closer to medical attention you can get the victim, the better off he or she will be. The victim might be able to walk, but carrying the victim also might be an option. Before setting out, do the following:
Encourage the patient to stay calm; reassure the person that he or she is being cared for.
Remove rings and other jewelry that may cause problems if the area around a bite swells.
Immobilize a bitten arm with a splint and a sling, keeping the wound lower than the level of the victim’s heart.
If the victim must wait for medical attention to arrive, have the victim lie down and remain still. Position the injured area lower than the victim’s heart, and immobilize the bitten limb with a splint. For the bite of a coral snake, to slow the spread of venom, wrap the area with a bandanna or strip of cloth at least 1 inch wide, 2 to 4 inches above the bite (between the heart and the bite). This is not a tourniquet; it is intended to impede the lymphatic system but not the circulation of blood. Make the band comfortably snug but loose enough to slip a finger under easily. Periodically check for a pulse on both sides of the band. You must not cut off blood circulation entirely. Do not use a constriction band around a finger, a toe, the head, or the trunk.
Demonstrate your knowledge by preparing the tools needed to survive. After learning about survival skills, show what you've learned to the rest of your family!
Knot tying is an essential skill for many outdoor activities. If you're going to participate in them, you should know how to tie knots. But knots aren't just for the outdoors. We usually don't think about how we use knots at home. We tie our shoes, we tie a package, and the boys tie their own neckties. We can't forget that for some folks, knot tying is a hobby.
Pick one of the knots demonstrated above and show someone else at home how to tie it! Knots to choose from:
Double Fisherman's Knot
Emergency Survival Kits
The very fact that you are putting together a survival kit to carry will improve your chances by providing you with a few items that will make your life easier. Perhaps even more important is that you are thinking about dealing with possible emergencies long before they can develop. Every survival kit begins with the essentials. Get into the habit of having them with you on every trip into the backcountry.
First Aid Kit
- Filled Water Bottle
- Trail Food
- Sun protection
Webelos should prepare a survival kit using the Scouts BSA Outdoor Essentials
scouts bsa outdoor essentials
Matches and fire starters
Map and compass
Adding some or all of the following items to your emergency kit can come in handy during survival situations.
Duct Tape. Wrap a length of it around a plastic water bottle and you will always have some handy.
Whistle. A whistle can be heard for longer distances than shouting can and requires less energy.
Signal Mirror. A metal signal mirror can be slipped into your first-aid kit or a side pocket of your pack. Keep it in its case or slip it inside a spare sock to protect it from becoming scratched and dull.
Thin Wire. A few feet of thin wire can come in handy for repairing camping gear.
Garbage Bag. A heavy-duty 30- to 39-gallon plastic bag, preferably in a bright color, can be used for emergency rain gear, to protect tinder and kindling from the rain, and to shield your sleeping bag and other equipment.
Fishing Line and Hooks. Fifty feet of nylon fishing line can have many uses for making repairs. Add a few hooks and you will have the gear you need to try fishing in lakes and streams.
make your own survival kit
Put together a personal survival kit and show your family members how each item in it could be useful.
clothing as survival gear
Clothing is your first line of defense against the elements. It keeps you warm in the winter, cool in the summer, dry in storms, and sheltered from insects, sun, and wind. To help decide what you need, learn about the materials from which clothing is made.
Wool. For generations of backcountry travelers, wool was the fabric of choice. Of course, that’s about all there was for making warm clothing. Wool is still terrific for many coldweather adventures. It is durable and water-resistant, and can help you keep warm even when the fabric is wet. A wool shirt or sweater can ward off the chill of summer evenings, too. Wool is also an excellent choice in hiking socks, hats, and mittens. (If wool irritates your skin, you may be able to wear wool blends or wear woolen layers over clothing made of other fabrics.)
Cotton. Cotton clothing is cool and comfortable. That makes it very good for hot-weather shirts and shorts, especially in dry climates. If cotton becomes wet, though, it loses its ability to insulate, and it may be slow to dry. That can be a real danger on cool days, especially when mist, rain, and wind bring with them the threat of hypothermia.
Synthetics. Outdoor clothing made of nylon, polypropylene, and other manufactured fabrics can be sturdy and comfortable and can maintain warmth even when wet. Look for synthetics in underwear, shirts, sweaters, jackets, pants, mittens, and hats. Lightweight nylon shorts and shirts are ideal for hot weather, drying quickly when wet. Waterproof and breathable synthetic fabrics are used in parkas and rain gear and as the shells of mittens and gloves. Choose layers of clothing that, when combined, will meet the most extreme weather you expect to encounter. On a chilly autumn day, for example, you might set out from the trailhead wearing long pants, a wool shirt, a fleece sweater, mittens, and a stocking hat. As you hike, the effort will cause your body to generate heat. Peel off the sweater and stuff it in your pack. If you are still too warm, loosen a few buttons on your shirt or slip off your mittens and hat. When you are no longer exerting yourself, stay warm by reversing the procedure, pulling on enough layers of clothing to stay comfortable. After the sun goes down, you may want to add an insulated parka and fleece pants or long underwear
Basic Warm-Weather Clothing Checklist
T-shirt or lightweight short-sleeved shirt
Long-sleeved shirt (lightweight)
Long pants (lightweight)
Sweater or warm jacket
Appropriate hiking footwear
Basic Cold-Weather Clothing Checklist
Long pants (fleece, wool, or synthetic blend)
Sweater (fleece or wool)
Long underwear (polypropylene)
Socks (wool or synthetic blend)
Warm hooded parka or jacket
Stocking hat (fleece or wool)
Mittens or gloves (fleece or wool) with water-resistant shells
Appropriate cold/wet weather footwear
show what to wear
Show what you know what to wear! Gather a set of clothes for each type of weather.
A shelter extends the effectiveness of your clothing by adding another layer to your insulating and wind-blocking system. As with all aspects of wilderness survival, assess the materials you have around you and make a plan to build an effective shelter. You will want to assemble a shelter that does the job but that takes as little energy as possible for you to set up. If you have a tent, you are in luck. A dining fly or other tarp can also expand your possibilities. A plastic ground cloth or a poncho with the hood tied closed can also serve as a shelter. Pitch it close to the ground to block the wind.
BUILDING A SHELTER
Before building a shelter, think about how you will build it and then locate the right site
for it. The site should be relatively level but sloping enough and high enough to provide
adequate drainage. The site should not be exposed to wind or drifting sand or snow.
Don’t choose a site under dead branches or close to a dead tree that is still standing. If
you will be building your shelter from native materials, is there a sufficient supply
nearby? The closer the materials are, the less energy you will use gathering them. Is
there a plentiful supply of firewood? Also, evaluate any risk of rockfalls, landslides, flood, avalanches, lightning, or any other hazard. A good site will be near water—one of your priorities for surviving—but not so near that you could be threatened by flash floods, insects, shifting river courses, or high tides.
Visibility from the air should be considered for aircraft trying to pinpoint your location, although if necessary you can set out a signal in a nearby clearing that points to where you are. A fallen tree or log; a large rock outcrop; an exposed root base; thickly vegetated brush or small spruce, fir, or pine trees; a snapped-over sapling or a lashed tripod—all can be used to improvise a shelter. Always remember that a small shelter means less work to build and less area to heat. Build the smallest shelter that is adequate for your needs. A shelter 7 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 2 feet high is large enough for one person in most survival situations. You will probably use it only a night or two anyway. If using a fallen tree, a rock, or a root base, first build a framework by propping up branches that are 1 to 3 inches in diameter against the leeward (downwind) side. Point the tips of the branches downward to form a 60-degree angle with the ground. This will help to shed rain. Then weave smaller branches between the larger ones and work large pieces of bark and boughs into this framework. If you brought along a rescue blanket or large sheet of plastic, drape it over the framework, and anchor it with rocks if necessary.
If you are faced with a real survival situation, by all means use live branches. Your life far outweighs any ecological detriment caused by stripping off the boughs you need for shelter. If you lack a ground cloth, you will need a substantial mat of branches to insulate your body from the ground as well. Thickly vegetated brush or small spruce trees can be bunched together and tied off at the top to fashion a fine shelter. By weaving other brush or branches into any gaps, you can weatherproof your shelter to withstand even a wind-driven downpour. A snapped-over sapling is an effective way to start building your shelter. Pull over a sapling so that it snaps 4 to 5 feet above the ground, but don’t break it off completely. Let the top remain hinged to the trunk with the tip resting on the ground; you might need a large rock to hold it down. Then prop branches that are 1 to 3 inches in diameter on both sides similar to the log or rock shelter. Weave in smaller branches, cover it with material, and pile on boughs.
TYPES OF SHELTERS
Branch Shelters. Choosing the best place to build a survival shelter is important. It should be in the driest spot you can find. Nothing sucks out body heat faster than wetness. If it isn’t too cold, build a shelter on high ground. Breezes will help keep the bugs away, and you’ll be easier to see if a search party passes nearby. If a cold wind is blowing, choose a spot sheltered by trees. But don’t build in the bottom of deep valleys or ravines where cold air settles at night.
The Cocoon. If it’s almost dark and you can hurriedly collect dry debris (leaves, pine needles,
bark) from the forest floor, make a pile two or three feet high and longer than you are tall. When
you burrow into the pile, you are in a natural sleeping bag that protects against heat loss.
The Fallen Tree. The simplest shelter is a fallen tree that has enough room under it for you to
crawl in. Lean branches against the windward side of the tree (so the wind is blowing into it and
not against it) to make a wall. Make the wall thick enough to keep out wind. If you can build a fire
on the open side of your shelter, the heat will help keep you warm.
The Lean-To. If you find a fallen tree without enough room under it, or a rock or a small
overhang, you can build a simple lean-to. Start by leaning fallen limbs against the object, such as
the top edge of an overhang, to create a wall. Lean the limbs at an angle to help shield rain. Cover
the leaning limbs with leaves, boughs, pine needles, bark or whatever the forest offers. When you
have built a thick wall, you can crawl underneath into your shelter. Remember to make your shelter no bigger than you need to fit you and anybody else with you. The bigger the space, the harder it is to keep warm. You can also build a lean-to by placing one end of a long stick across a low limb of a tree and propping up the other end of the stick with two more sticks. Tie the ends of the sticks together with your boot laces or belt. Lean more sticks against the horizontal stick. Then pile leaves and other forest debris against the leaning sticks until you have a wall. Once again, a fire on the open side of the lean-to will add much heat to your “room.”
The A-Frame. If you can’t make a lean-to, you can make an A-frame shelter. You’ll need two
sticks four or five feet long and one stick 10 to 12 feet long. Prop the two shorter sticks up in the
shape of the letter A. Prop the longer stick up at the top of the A. Tie the three sticks together
where they meet. The three sticks will be in the shape of an A-frame tent with one end collapsed
against the ground. Now prop up more sticks against the longer stick, and pile forest debris against the sticks until you have an insulated shelter open at the high end.
A Tarp. When you have a tarp, sheet of plastic or Space Blanket with you, and some rope or cord,
tie a line between two trees. Tie it low to the ground with just enough room for you to lie beneath.
Stretch the tarp over the line. Place large rocks or logs on the ends of the tarp to hold it in place
with the edges close to the ground. If it’s snowing, tie the line off higher on the trees. Steeper walls
will shed snow better. Now you have an emergency tent.
Snow Shelters. Snow can insulate you against the cold and block the wind. The simplest snow shelter is a burrow dug or tramped into a drift. That can provide you with a minimum of protection while you consider your next steps. More effective shelters include the tree pit, snow pit, snow trench, and snow cave. In each case, you will need a tool for digging and shaping snow. That might be a shovel, a cook pot, a sturdy piece of bark, a stout stick, a license plate, or anything else you can improvise into a tool.
Tree Pit. The area beneath the branches of a large evergreen tree can be nearly free of snow.
Crawl underneath and form a small living space. Bare earth radiates some heat, so remove the
snow from the tree pit floor if you can. Use a foam pad protected by a ground cloth as insulation
beneath you. A fir or spruce tree will shed snow outside of the pit.
Snow Pit. Where snow is deep enough, you can dig a long, narrow pit for an emergency
shelter. Form a roof by stretching a tarp or ground cloth over the top of the trench. Weigh down
the edges with snow, stones, or branches, then cover the roof with several inches of snow to
provide insulation. Insulate the floor of the pit with a sleeping pad if you have one and, when
you are inside, fill the entry with your pack or with more snow to keep out the cold. Poke a few
ventilation holes near the entrance and check them occasionally to be sure that they remain
Snow Trench. Where the snow is compacted and you have a way to cut it into blocks, shape
a 36-inch-deep trench that tapers from 24 inches at the top to 36 to 48 inches at the base. Place the blocks on edge along the sides of the trench, then lean them against each other to form a pitched roof. Insulate the trench floor with a sleeping pad.
Snow Cave. A snow cave provides terrific protection in the worst winter storms. The drawback is that it takes a good deal of time to construct. You will also need to be careful not to get your clothing wet as you dig, either by sweating or by snow melting and soaking into the fabric. Start excavating a snow cave by burrowing a tunnel into the side of a deep, stable drift, angling the tunnel upward for several feet. Next, excavate a dome-shaped room at the top of the tunnel, judging the thickness of the roof by watching from the inside for a light blue color of the snow that indicates the wall thickness is about right. Smooth the curved roof to remove sharp edges that may cause moisture to drip onto your gear. Finally, use a ski pole, shovel handle, or stick of wood to punch several ventilation holes in the ceiling at a 45-degree angle to the floor. Since the entrance tunnel slants upward, rising warm air won’t escape through it and heavier cold air can’t seep in.
design your own shelter
Create your own shelter design! Use items you have at home or draw what your shelter will look like
Take your knowledge to the outdoors! Go outside and create your own wilderness survival shelter!
BUILD YOUR SHELTER
Take your knowledge and shelter design to the outdoors and build a shelter! If you don't have access to build a shelter outside, build one in your basement!
BUILD a fire
In an emergency, a fire can keep you warm. It can let you cook food so you don't go hungry. And it can help rescuers find you if you are lost. In an emergency, you might need to start a fire without matches. Yes, you can do it! Use the techniques above to make your fire.
NOTE: Lions, Tigers, Wolves, and Bears are prohibited to make a fire. However, an older Scout or an adult can demonstrate how to build a fire without using matches.
continue the challenge
Continue learning about wilderness survival by exploring how hazardous weather is caused.