Preparation means outdoor survival
June 30, 2007
In the Discovery program "Man vs. Wild," Bear Grylls drops into isolated wilderness locations with nothing but a knife.
Once on the ground, he finds shelter, water and food. Grylls, an ex-British Special Forces member, faces extreme conditions, eats raw meat and uses ingenuity to teach his viewers how to survive.
"It’s an awesome show," said Matt Mravetz, hard goods buyer and guide for White Pine Touring, who also spent some time in the military.
Mravetz, however, said the best thing people can take from the show is simple: don’t get yourself into the same position.
Every year, though, many people do, and some of them don’t survive. Even a day hike could turn into a fight for survival if not prepared.
Jason Cyr, an avid biker and hiker who also works for White Pine Touring, recently was part of a hair-raising experience.
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Cyr was hiking near the Tetons with his girlfriend. He is always over prepared even on simple hikes. He makes sure his backpack is filled with more than enough tools to be comfortable and safe no matter what happens in the unpredictable outdoors. Often, he said, his girlfriend will make fun of him for the load he carries. This time she didn’t.
After hiking about eight miles, a bull moose stepped onto the trail ahead of them.
"Moose are so big," he said.
The moose wouldn’t leave the trail and Cyr didn’t want to walk near it. The sun started setting, the weather started to look grim and Cyr and his girlfriend still had six miles to go.
Finally, they decided to risk walking by the moose.
"He was this far away," Cyr said with an outstretched arm grabbing a White Pine sales rack.
Luckily, the moose didn’t charge, but once they passed the animal, they found a family of four that was ill-prepared to face what was coming.
"They didn’t have anything," Cyr said, "and they were (facing) a six-mile hike."
The family didn’t have water, rain jackets, flashlights, or anything but their clothes.
"A lot of times in national parks, they get a false sense of security, but there’s no reason not to even bring a water bottle," Cyr said.
Then thunder rumbled in the clouds, hail started pelting the ground and lightning struck within 100 yards. They all started sprinting down the trail.
"People forget that storms are unpredictable in the mountains," Mravetz said.
Cyr’s mind started rolling through the items in his backpack. He carried enough water and emergency gear for himself and his girlfriend, but not enough for the family.
The group made it back without incident, but it was a close call that made Cyr even more of a believer in preparedness.
In every trek outdoors, even small hikes, Cyr and Mravetz said it is important for people to be prepared, because they never know what can happen outdoors, whether it’s injury, weather, allergic reactions, or contact with wildlife. There’s a saying that once you get on the trail, you’re part of the food chain.
"Nothing in nature is static," Mravetz said. "The outdoor environment is a dynamic place."
Mravetz said that applies to those who are seasoned outdoorsmen, who feel they know a trail well. People that get too comfortable are often the ones who get into trouble.
"Just because you know a trail, doesn’t mean the conditions will be the same the next time you go there," Mravetz said.
If lost, Mravetz said a big component to survival is to stay calm and use creativity to survive.
"Keep your head about you, use common sense, don’t panic, and above all, think outside the box," says Grylls on his TV show.
Prior planning and preparation can avert most disasters. Getting the right equipment and understanding how it works can save the day. Nobody wants to be in an emergency situation and then have to read the instructions on a flint, GPS instrument or tent. One needs to operate the equipment without thinking.
Mravetz said, during his time in the military, they would inspect each part of their gear before going into the field. Many times they would find something that wasn’t working correctly.
"It’s the little things that can turn into big things," Mravetz said.
Every circumstance can’t be prevented, but preparation will help people deal with the situation and could make the difference between living or dying.
"Things will go wrong, how wrong is up to you," Mravetz said. "It’s the fact of the outdoors."
Mravetz suggests people go into the local outdoor shops for maps and to get suggestions before heading into an unfamiliar area.
*A lighter or flint with small pieces of wood to start a fire. This should be kept in a watertight box. Fire can keep one warm, cook food and help people find you if you’re lost, Mravetz said.
*Emergency blankets. There are inexpensive waterproof thermal energy blankets that reflect up to 90 percent of the body heat. They are light and can fit easily into any backpack. If forced to stay overnight, this can prevent hypothermia and keep you relatively dry if it rains.
"In the mountains, it gets so cold at night," Cyr said. "People think it’s going to stay 85 degrees in the summer, but it will drop down below 50 at night."
*Light, waterproof jackets and fleece.
*Whistle. The forest damps out sound and the human voice has a hard time carrying through the trees. Cyr suggests pealess whistles, like a howler, that can work in wet weather. Rescuers sometimes can’t find lost hikers even though they might be within short distances. A whistle can lead the rescuers to your location.
"The howler reaches 122 decibels, that’s like 20,000 people yelling in a Jazz game," Cyr said.
*Bowl and water bottle. One can live without food for a long time, but not without water. Often dew will collect on leaves and pine needles overnight, so if you’re desperately in need of water, this can be a lifesaver. Cyr said if you find water, drink it. If it does have any bacteria, it won’t hit for a few days.
*Fifty-five gallon trash bags. These can be used for collecting water or as a poncho.
*Duck tape. Mravetz said there are many ways this can save someone or make things more comfortable. It can do everything from temporarily fixing equipment to easing the pain of hiking blisters.
*Flashlight, bug spray and sunscreen. This may or may not save one’s life, but it will make things more comfortable in an already stressful situation.
*Knife or multi-tool such as a Leatherman.
*Compass. Mravetz said people rely too much on technology such as GPS systems. Those things can fail or stop working but a compass won’t. "People forget the basics. Technology should be secondary," he said.
If you are without a compass and need to find bearings on a sunny day, you can find north, east, south and west by using the shadow and stick method, Mravetz said. Find a stick, insert it into the ground and it will cast a shadow. Mark where the end of the shadow is and leave the stick for 15 minutes. Mark the next point and that will create an east-west line.
Overall Survival Tips:
*Always make sure that someone knows where you are going and when you’re planning to come back. If something goes wrong, they will know to alert the appropriate authorities.
*Do your homework before going on a trip, accumulate and understand your equipment, know the basic geography of the destination and familiarize yourself with edible plants.
*Use common sense. If you are lost, try to get your bearings before moving on. If you’re tired, rest. If you’re hungry, try to find food. Follow canyons and streams, they will eventually lead you to civilization.
*Expect luck in your life. In most survival stories, people come through hopeless situations because they push themselves to extraordinary places. Don’t underestimate how far you can go.