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Hiking Survival 101: A Few Simple Tips to Keep You Breathing While Waiting for Help

Some good survival gear is essential when trekking the great outdoor, here we cover a few fundamentals.

Southern California has many habitats nestled in its expansive mountain ranges and between each canyon and peak lie an array of striking colors and smells which can easily mask hidden dangers.  

For any hiker, camper or visitor, a core supply of survival gear is not only a good idea, but vital when trekking the outdoors.

Many books have been written about the art of survival and compiling every piece of information into one article would have turned this piece into a digital book, not to mention it would have really irritated my editor.

To spare him the agony of editing a dissertation on survival and saving the reader valuable time, I am going to share some simple essentials that should help keep you breathing at least long enough until help arrives if you're lost or trapped.

A friend of mine who was in the US Air Force’s Pararescue division used to always tell me a simple acronym that stuck; K.I.S.S., which stood for Keep It Simple, Stupid; words to live by in a survival situation. So in that spirit, let us stick to the most simple of survival items.

FOOD AND WATER

Water is the most essential element of life. A human being can survive 15 days or more with water and no food. However, take the liquid away and the number can drop to as low as three days, depending on temperature.

As many locals know, our landscapes which consist of lots chaparral terrain, can become extremely hot in the summer months and the average person needs about two to three liters of water a day to function optimally. But when sun exposure and constant movement is thrown into the mix, the number rises significantly.

My advice; always take extra water no matter how long the hike or how safe you feel about it. And just to be on the safe side, invest in some water purification tablets, which are light, easy to carry and can save your life one day.

The tablets come in many forms and can be found in almost every camping supply store. In case of dire emergencies such as earthquakes or long-term power outages, when purification tablets or water filters may not be handy, one can always use bleach.

Here is the formula that is only to be used in case of emergencies: one gallon of water plus a quarter teaspoon of household bleach. Wait 40 minutes to an hour for cloudy water and smell the liquid for a chlorine odor. If you pick up the scent and the water is clear, then it worked.

Always pack some sort of food when going on long excursions. The higher the calories, the better. It could be candy bars, trail mix or my favorite, fruit, because it not only nourishes, but also provides hydration. Personally, since I usually hike with my spouse and child, I like to take not only food, but also emergency ration bars that are lightweight and have enough energy to keep a couple people going for a few days until help arrives.

FIRE, LIGHT AND WARMTH

Almost every area around Southern California has a fire hazard and while I strongly advise everyone to follow local, federal and state laws dealing with starting a fire in the wilderness, in a dire survival situation, it’s always a good idea to have some sort of kindling method.

I have made a case of storm proof matches and some cotton balls as part of my essential core survival gear. It helps me psychologically to know that if worse came to worst, I could always battle hypothermia with a little bonfire. But even in a survival situation a fire should be a last resort because the flames themselves could turn out to be more dangerous in combustible areas than being stranded or lost.

Always carry some form of light, headlamp, or flashlight. And rather than starting a fire and creating a potentially dangerous wildfire scenario, keep an emergency blanket to keep you warm. A small emergency blanket that fits in the palm of your hand can be found in most camping supply stores.

A COMPASS: GOOD FOR THE PSYCHE AND FINDING YOUR WAY HOME

I cannot stress how important knowing that you’re heading the right way can mean to one’s mind and soul. The human mind can get easily confused in the outdoors when all the terrain is so similar and no unique landmarks can be found. Survivalists call it “system overload” and it’s when your brain keeps searching for patterns to try distinguish a location or direction, but is overloaded by constant repetitive images.

“Trees, rock, trees, rocks, trees, rocks, trees, bushes . . . where am I!!!”

You get the idea. A compass can at the very least keep you from going in circles and considering that you might hike somewhere in the local ranges, heading in a straight line is bound to get you close to some form civilization eventually. It is also a great plus psychologically to know that you aren’t moving in circles constantly.

All of the survival gear aside, one of the most important things might be something you carry around with you every day. In a previous article featuring the Malibu Search and Rescue Team, I asked the captain of team what he felt the most important survival item was and his answer: “a cell phone.”

Just make sure you have good provider.

Betsy June 10, 2011 at 06:02 PM
Great article!, I know by my own experience it pays to be prepared! A friend and I, became lost for almost eight hours on what was to be a 2 hr hike, What is important also is to ALWAYS hike with another person!, and even then that is not a Guarantee for an uneventful return. We got lost during a hike with a group (thou the leader counted The # of heads at start and collected a fee, for guiding and marking the trail as went, At some point, she assumed all hikers were always just a few step behind and stop marking the trail for Those who had fell behind (4 of us) thou 2 decided to turn around and go back before markings had stop. What was worst is she forgot to count all at end or even contact afterwards by phone/email to make sure all Made it back, ok. So important too, always leave word behind with someone, as to your wereabouts, hiking time/return And call them back to report you are at home or car. My friend and I were lucky! In that someone we knew had seen us heading to meet the hiking group and we both had cellphones to call him! That did not guranteed reception, I had to climb 2 hills before he got clear notice of where we were and called the sheriffs for rescue. And that happened Right here in our area!!

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