Here’s 7 to Consider.
by Byron Kerns
Early in a course, when my instruction shifts to the priorities of survival, each student is asked to name several priorities, in their order of importance. And, each and every time, their choices and order are like spilled marbles - all over the place - with water predominant as the number one priority. What would your list of survival priorities be?
At the onset of an unexpected survival situation, your response actions will be determined, in large part, by injuries suffered and by attitude. Are you free of life-threatening injuries and are you a physically capable human being? Are you going to be overcome by a case of give-up-itis? Or, will you panic and make some bad decisions? Your Priority #1 must be Positive Mental Attitude.
Priority #2 , Wilderness First Aid, is the most not-thought-of priority. Oh, pardon me … please let me make you a fire and maybe set-up a trap or two while that bone protrudes through the skin of your upper arm. Wrong. Immediately after getting your head on straight and locating your positive mental attitude, you must diagnose and treat any medical problems. Common sense dictates. Notice, we don’t say ‘first aid’. In the back country, we add the wilderness designation because we are > one hour from technological help. Remiss of any quick neighborhood 911 response, we must be able to maintain a patient’s ‘Big Three’ (respiratory, circulatory, and nervous) within our level of medical knowledge and available resources.
Now, we best must be thinking about protecting ourselves from the elements. We need to seek and build Shelter - Priority #3. Do we have any man-made materials, such as a tarp or tent? Do we have rope or cord? Will unpreparedness force us to use only available natural resources? Can you build an immediate-action shelter in five-minutes? Do you know the techniques?
For nine different reasons*, a survivor makes Fire – Priority #4. Some folks argue quite a tad and say that fire should come before shelter. Only once have I put fire before shelter - my hands being so cold they wouldn’t cooperate. But, if you’ve ever been at altitude in a situation where you had ten-minutes to build a snow cave or you’d turn into a Popsicle, you’ll understand why shelter before fire. Can you build a knee-high fire in the pouring rain using flint & steel in less than four-minutes?
There’s a magical woodsy beauty to Priorities #3 and #4. They constitute personal protection - helping to keep us humans at or near 98.6-degrees F. If we go above or go below this temperature, we get weird. A bodacious woods person is well-skilled, with a calm humble confidence, regarding shelter and fire.
OK, we’ve have a great attitude, fixed what’s broken, and we have a terrific shelter with a warm, cozy fire. Now, let’s get the hell out of Dodge by attracting attention to ourselves with a Signal - Priority #5. Rescuers will come three ways: 1) by air; 2) by land; and, 3) by water - using aircraft, land vehicles of all descriptions, human leg power, and various types of watercraft. Having a whistle and mirror on your person and your ability to make fire are crucial to your signaling success. And, remember. Three of anything - three whistle blasts, three gunshots, three honks of a horn, three equidistant fires, three flashes of a mirror - is an international distress signal.
My selection of these priorities, as #1 through #5, is for a reason. These are the priorities that satisfy a “short-term” survival situation - one with duration of 72-hours or less. You’re probably thinking what about water. Why isn’t water one of the first five? Because of the Rule of 3’s - 3-minutes air, 3-days water, 3-weeks food. In most situations, the ordinary human can go 3-days without water. But, come day four he or she better find water.
Water, bodaciously wet and satisfying, is Priority #6. Skills in locating water and the ability to disinfect procured water (with the exception of dew, condensation, and rain) are essential. It is very important to have familiarity with chemical treatment (iodine and chlorine) and commercial water filters. Improvised devices, such as water catches and transpiration bags, and the ability to make fire for boiling water (the best way to remove all bacteria and viruses) are all helpful techniques to achieve safe drinking water. Lack of water will make a person weak. You must remain strong in a survival situation and water is key.
Though most humans eat three meals a day and snack on their sofa late at night, food is not that big a deal in a survival situation. If you do everything right, there is no need to be in a survival situation longer than 3-days - worse yet, being in a survival situation > two-weeks or three. If in such a longer duration, Food becomes Priority #7. Understand you must know how to identify edible plants, improvise weapons, and devise traps and snares when in a long-term period of survival. As a former USAF SERE Instructor, I’m known as a ‘bug eater’. Why? Because the most readily available source of protein in a wilderness environment is bugs (with six legs or less). While snaring animals is a somewhat ornery and difficult task, anyone can catch a bug.
Positive mental attitude, wilderness first aid, shelter, fire, water, and food are seven priorities to consider in laying a foundation of skills and knowledge to become accomplished in the art of wilderness survival. Though I have a tad of experience (some would say a s*** load), I am not a survival expert. The main reason is that Mother Nature sure doesn’t look too kindly on that type of personality. I can only recommend - and, these seven important priorities, in their order of importance, I highly and bodaciously recommend.
*Regarding Fire - Priority #4, here are the nine reasons why a survivor would have fire: 1) light; 2) heat; 3) morale; 4) dry clothes; 5) preserve meat; 6) boil water; 7) protection; 8) cook; and, 9) signal.