Fast Facts: Survival in the Wild

Brennan Hawkins (search), the 11-year-old Boy Scout found Tuesday, likely used survival tactics to keep himself alive for the four days he spent alone in the Utah wilderness.

What should you do if you find yourself in a situation like Brennan? First and foremost, don't panic — check around, see if you've got heat, shelter, water and food around. Check a map or compass and try to determine where you are.

Still lost? Here are some tips to get you through:

The Basics

Fear - Try to stay calm to assess the situation around you. Don't let the enemies of panic, pain, cold, thirst, hunger, fatigue, boredom and loneliness interfere with your survival.

Pain - Deal with injuries immediately, don't let them get out of control.

Cold - Cold lowers the ability to think. Don't allow yourself to stop moving or to fall asleep unless you've got shelter.

Thirst - Dehydration can dull your mind, causing you to overlook important survival information.

Hunger - Hunger is dangerous but seldom deadly as it may reduce your ability to think logically.

Fatigue - Fatigue is unavoidable and in an emergency situation this is often the body's way of escaping a difficult situation.

Boredom & Loneliness - Often unanticipated, these may lower the mind's ability to deal with the situation.

How To Navigate

Using a Compass - A magnetic-Sylva type compass is a lost hiker's best friend. First, decide which direction you want to follow then aim over the centre of your compass to the bearing you want to follow and find a landmark on this sighting. After arriving at this landmark repeat the process. Using this pattern you will follow a relatively straight line.

Using the Stars - Don't have a compass? Look to the sky for thelp. The pole star — located off of the top of the Big Dipper constellation, on the opposite side of the handle — offers direction; locate the star and you will be facing north.

Using the Sun - Take your watch, point the hour hand directly at the sun and then bisect the angle between the hour hand and twelve o'clock. This imaginary line will run north/south.

Finding Food and Water

Water - Running water such as springs or streams in isolated areas is generally safe for consumption but be aware that water in stagnant areas such as sloughs and ponds may carry disease and should either be boiled for a minimum of three minutes, or iodine (nine drops per quart) or halazone tablets added. It is wise to carry a water purification pump with you. In areas where no surface water is available, dig into damp soil and allow this muddy water to settle and become clear. Water may also be found on the dew of plants, by collecting rainwater or in fish juices.

During the winter months it is wise to look for water under ice. Melting ice as opposed to snow is more fuel efficient. Remember that hard-packed snow will yield more water than light, fluffy snow. Do not eat snow as it tends to dehydrate the body.

Food - Try and sustain with natural foods before using your emergency survival kit rations. If water is not readily available try to limit your food consumption to carbohydrates, as proteins use more water to digest. Keep in mind that all fur-bearing animals and grass seeds are edible and that there is more food value in the roots of plants than the greens. Extra care should be taken when consuming seafood. Try to avoid mussels during the summer months as they contain certain toxins which are not present during the winter. Sea urchins, a prickly purple or green sea creature, may be consumed by breaking them open and eating the red or yellow eggs inside. Steam snails, clams and limpets. Frogs, snakes, lizards and birds are also edible. Remove the head, entrails and skin before adding them to the pot.

Poisonous Plants - Care should be taken when consuming any unknown plant in the wilderness. Avoid red and white berries, and plants resembling beans, melons and cucumber as they are often poisonous. There are a large variety of mushroom species, most are edible but some are extremely dangerous and should be avoided unless you can positively identify them. Water hemlock is a particularly poisonous plant which is found in swampy areas of British Columbia. It grows up to two meters, with hollow roots and small white flowers. The dangerous baneberry plant grows up to one meter tall and produces small white flowers and white or red berries.

Dealing With Health Problems

When journeying into the wilderness it is important to carry a complete first aid kit and book. It is also wise to take a first aid course. A good diet, cleanliness and appropriate clothing will lower the risk of harmful situations.

Disease, infection and often, insect bites can be avoided when maintaining a proper diet. It is important to bathe daily but if this is not possible be sure to wash your hands frequently. Soap can be made using ashes and animal fat or by boiling the inner bark of a pine tree. Construct a toothbrush by mashing the end of a green twig. When setting out for your journey remember to pack a wide range of clothing and extra footwear.

Sources: Wilderness Survival Guide: Outdoors Educators and Trainers.