In a survival situation, many people panic because of a lack of wilderness experience or knowledge of survival skills. Even if you lack hard skills, however, you can use simple strategies to prioritize tasks and maintain a positive mental state. By staying focused on your mental clarity, you can use common sense to stay safe until you are rescued.
Stay calm. Although your first instinct in a survival situation will likely be to panic, it is crucial to stay calm and maintain a positive attitude. In the book “Deep Survival,” author Laurence Gonzales explores the factors that allow stranded people to survive despite overwhelming odds. His website mentions that the first aspect of survival is mental; he writes that you should admit to yourself that you are in a survival situation and assign yourself tasks that will aide in your rescue or safety. For example: set up a shelter, find water and gather wood for a fire.
Assess your environment. Prioritize your survival strategies based on the situation. Use your instincts to determine the greatest danger to your personal safety and health, and take the first step to eliminate that risk. If you are stranded in the mountains in the winter, your first goal should be to make a shelter to shield you from snow or rain at night. Then, focus on making a fire to stay warm. If you are in an area where bears are a danger, place any food you have in a high, safe place–hang it from a high tree branch away from your shelter area, for example.
Find water. Dehydration is a serious danger to people in a survival situation. Humans can survive longer without food than without water, so make it a priority to find and collect water. Streams are good options, or you can melt ice or snow. If you are in an area with no immediately available water, the Wilderness Survival website suggests digging a large, deep hole; water will collect in the bottom. You can also collect rainwater in a tarp or waterproof jacket.
Make a fire. In many environments, a fire is important for warmth or to deter animals. If you have matches or a lighter with you, use them. If you do not, you can build a fire with friction. Use your shoelace and pieces of wood to create a bow-drill fire, as described on the Wildwood Survival website: tie the ends around a flexible piece of wood, twist in a narrow spindle and use the bow to rotate the spindle on top of a bottom board to create friction and a coal.
Evaluate movement. Before you move, stop to think carefully about the surrounding area. What knowledge do you have of the terrain? Can you remember a road nearby? Use the sun’s motion to help you find direction, and only move when you have evaluated your safety and set limits for stopping. If you are traveling through mountains, for example, be sure to start early and stop before afternoon weather rolls in. If you are in a hot area, consider traveling during the cooler parts of the morning and late evening to avoid heat stroke and further dehydration.