Outdoorsman: Survival is a State of Mind

June 13, 2006
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Ask anyone who had a camping trip go so badly that they ended up in a survival situation, and they’ll freely admit (if they’re honest) that one of the most difficult tasks was keeping their (and others with them) wits together. Your brain is the most important survival tool you have. If you lose the ability to think clearly and calmly, you will not be able to keep yourself alive.

Once you take control of your thoughts and refuse to panic, you can work productively to improve your situation. Here are some steps you can take to give yourself a better chance of survival if you find yourself in a bad situation.
- Start a campfire. It will keep you warm and help drive away the demons of fear, worry or extreme loneliness that can lead to panic.

- Erect some kind of shelter, even if it’s nothing more than a simple lean-to made of branches and brush. Shelter can create a feeling of safety and emotional well-being.

- If possible, have a hot meal or a hot drink. Fatigue and hunger can lead to depression. A hot meal can boost energy and make the situation seem less threatening.

- Use audible signals (blowing a whistle) and visual signals (a smoking fire during daylight or a blazing fire at night; or three objects laid out in a triangle or in a row, which is an international sign of emergency) to attract attention. Taking an active role in your rescue can make you feel more secure.

- Evaluate your situation. Make a mental checklist of what you need to get through the first night. Talk yourself through each task: “First, I’ve got to find a spot of dry, level ground, maybe with a natural windbreak. Second, I need to find materials to build shelter…” This process can keep you focused, organized and calm.

- Take inventory of every item you have, from food to shoelaces. Think of all the things you can do with each item. Look around and take stock of the natural resources that can be put to work for your benefit —downed trees for firewood, natural shelter, pine duff for insulation, dry grasses for tinder, open areas for signaling, etc.

- Give yourself a goal to work toward. Think about improving your shelter, getting your signaling systems to work better, building up a firewood supply, locating water, etc. Having something to look forward to can give purpose and contribute to your mental strength.

- Positive thinking and talk are the only things you should listen to. If you are part of a group, this is especially important. Negativity can spawn group panic. If negative talk erupts, quietly ask those people to work on tasks they can easily accomplish. Then, thank them for their positive contribution.

Ninety percent of staying alive is in your head. It’s the outdoor skills you’ve mastered and the experiences you’ve had that you can now draw upon; but the other part is purely psychological. It’s about your mental stability — a rock-solid conviction that you are going to make it through; the absolute refusal to give up and your ability to set correct priorities, and work with vigor and hope. When you’ve got your head right, surviving a bad situation is much easier.

For more of survival expert Rich Johnson’s advice, pick up a copy of “Prepared To Survive” on DVD. Johnson and a team of outdoor survival authorities including Buck Tilton, Doug Ritter and Gretchen Cordy (veteran of the first “Survivor” TV series) offer step-by-step instructions that can keep you alive in the outdoors. LifeView Outdoors: 800/395-LIFE; lifeviewoutdoors.com.


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