By Steve Gillman
Survival skills just for backpacking? Why not? For ultralight backpackers like myself, skills replace gear, and therefore weight. If you spend any time in the wilderness, it also just feels good to know you can deal with whatever comes up.
Survival means staying warm and dry, hydrated, uninjured, and finding your way out of the wilderness. Of course, eating is nice too, but not crucial if the situation is just for a few days. Here are some survival skills you can learn easily.
Easy Survival Skills
1. Put dried moss or milkweed fuzz in your pocket as you walk, so you'll have dry tinder to start a fire, just in case it's raining later. Cattail fuzz works well too, and you can experiment with different materials.
2. If it looks and tastes like a blueberry, strawberry, or raspberry - it is. There is no berry in North America that looks like a blueberry, strawberry, or raspberry, and can hurt you from one taste. Take a taste, and just spit it out completely if it doesn't taste right.
3. Make a pile of dry leaves and dead grass to keep warm in an emergency. I have slept warmly without a blanket, in below-freezing weather, in a pile of dry grass.
4. Put a stick upright in the ground, and mark the tip of the shadow. Mark it again fifteen minutes later. Scratch a line between the first and second marks, and it will be pointing east. Techniques like this can save you when your compass is lost.
5. Clouds form in the Rocky Mountains just before the afternoon storms in summer. Hikers are regularly killed by lightning in Colorado. Birds often fly lower before storms. Learning to read the sky and the behavior of animals can keep you out of trouble.
6. The biggest wilderness killer is hypothermia, and getting wet is the biggest cause. Get in the habit of watching for ledges or large fir trees to stand under when you think that rain may be coming. Learning to stay dry is one of the more important survival skills.
7. To stay warmer, sleep with your head slightly downhill. It takes some getting used to, but it works.
8. Get in the habit of filling water bottles every chance you get, and you won't have such a hard time with any long dry stretches of trail. Drink up the last of your water right before you fill the bottles too.
9. Break a "blister" on the trunk of a small spruce or fir tree, and you can use the sap that oozes out as an good antiseptic dressing for small cuts. It also can be used to start a fire, and will burn when wet.
10. Bark from a white birch tree will usually light even when wet. In a jam, you can also use it as a paper substitute if you need to leave a note in an emergency.
The above are just a few tips and techniques you can easily learn. There are many more, and they can make backpacking not only safer, but more interesting. Why not practice one or two of these survival skills?
About The Author
Steve Gillman is a long-time backpacker, and advocate of lightweight backpacking.