Are You Ready for a Survival Situation?

You’ll want to practice your survival skills in less-than-ideal conditions, such as when it’s cold and dark.
iStockYou’ll want to practice your survival skills in less-than-ideal conditions, such as when it’s cold and dark.

Are you prepared to handle a survival situation in the backcountry? You may think so. You probably even carry some basic survival gear. It’s likely, however, that you are also packing some significant misconceptions about what a survival scenario actually looks like.

Here’s the fundamental thing to understand: Survival situations typically occur when it’s dark or getting dark, when the weather is bad, and/or when someone suffers a potentially debilitating injury.

Compare those scenarios with the way survival skills and techniques are typically taught in classes and presented in books and videos: Weather conditions are comfortable; injuries are absent; and the setting is generally daytime, with adequate light. This seldom-discussed disconnect between depiction and reality can mean that you are actually much less prepared for a real-life emergency than you might think.

Let’s look at these three components of a survival situation and how you can prepare for, or prevent, them.

This peril is greatest for day-hikers who don’t expect to be out past nightfall and neglect to pack a headlamp or flashlight. That simple oversight can have serious consequences.

If your outing takes longer than expected, darkness—and a temperature drop—may catch you by surprise. Without a light, continuing to hike can become difficult and even dangerous. An unplanned night out can abruptly turn into a reality. What’s more, darkness compounds the situation, making survival tasks, such as constructing an emergency shelter, more difficult.

The simple solution, of course, is to always carry a light, avoiding a survival situation before it begins.

Wind, rain, and cold not only increase the possibility of hypothermia, they also make essential survival tasks significantly more difficult.

Have you ever tried to build a fire in the rain, when dry wood is scarce? Or set up an emergency shelter in a raging storm? Neither is easy, to say the least, and may be impossible, depending on conditions.

To best prepare, carry extra clothing for warmth and protection from the elements, including cold nighttime temperatures. You should also pack a heavy-duty trash bag— an essential survival kit item—and know how to turn it into an emergency poncho.


Try this experiment: Attempt to unfold and then wrap yourself in a space blanket, a commonly carried piece of survival gear, using only one hand. It’s exceptionally difficult and illustrates the type of challenge you could face in the wake of an injury, especially if you are alone. Simple tasks can become remarkably hard—even more so in windy and wet conditions. Worse yet, a major leg injury could immobilize you. Do you have the gear and skills needed to deal with such scenarios?

You should always carry a first-aid kit, but you should also evaluate your survival gear for use in the event of a debilitating injury. For example, some fire starters and pocket knives can be operated with only one hand, and in the event of a leg injury, a garbage-bag survival poncho requires much less mobility to construct than an emergency tarp shelter.

Be aware, prepare, and you’re more likely to stay alive out there.


About the Author…

Matt Heid


Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear expert: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.

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