Survival Guide: Rescue

In the last few articles, I have given you some suggestions in how to stay alive, maybe even comfortable, in the wilderness. Today's article contains a few tips in how to hopefully reach the most important stage in wilderness survival: rescue.

There are many ways to signal distress. Most important is that your signal is unusual for the surroundings. Here are some ways to signal for help:
- Three whistle blows. Repeated with a pause between each set.
- Three rock piles arranged in a triangle, visible to your intended viewer (e.g. in a clearing for viewing from above, on a mountain side for viewing from below).
- Three fires arranged in a triangle. (Please make sure you clear an amble area so as not to start the surroundings afire.)
- Hold your arms up in a "Y" visible to passing aircraft.
- Place a large bright object on a dark surface (e.g. an orange blanket on green grass).
- Place a large dark object on a light surface (e.g. a black canvas on white snow).
- Use a mirror (as described below).
If you move away from a signal area, don't forget to indicate your direction in some way (e.g. a large arrow pointed where you're headed, marked trees, etc.).

The method I prefer for getting rescue attention is the "signal mirror". I carry one with me whenever I travel, whether in a populated area or not.

STEP 1: Face your intended target. For example, an approaching plane, distant hikers, or a moving vehicle.
STEP 2: Hold the mirror in one hand, reflective-side facing toward the target.
STEP 3: Extend your free hand (the one not holding the mirror) out between you and your target.
STEP 4: Turn your free hand's palm toward you.
STEP 5: Adjust the mirror at diagonal angles between the sun and your free hand until the light is reflected on to your palm.
STEP 6: Lift your free hand out of the way between the mirror and your target. The reflected light will hit your target. (Remember, to "aim for the eyes"; you want your target to notice you.)
STEP 7: Block the light with your free hand again.
STEP 8: Repeat STEP 6 and STEP 7 in a pattern of three.

It is important to get the attention of possible rescuers, but you also need to take care to conserve your energy. Try not to exhaust yourself through yelling or large gestures until you can clearly hear or see possible rescuers (and not just their vehicles).

When rescue does come, remember to stay calm and follow the instructions of your rescuers. Do everything you can to resist your instincts to panic, as that may endanger you further or endanger your rescuers.


Survival Guide: Find food

In any survival situation, it is important to stay calm and well-hydrated. In situations which become more long-term, one must find shelter and possibly build a fire for warmth. When the length of time before rescue is too long, food becomes a major priority.

In today's article, I'm going to go over some tips for finding food in the wilderness. I've divided this article into two sections: plants and animals. Plants provide an excellent, easy to access, source of energy (in the form of carbohydrates). Animals, meanwhile, can be a source of protein and fat, which can be essential to your body's needs in a long-term survival situation. However, some people choose not to consume other creatures. As I have stated in previous articles, I think knowledge is essential to survival and I encourage you to learn what skills may be necessary for your survival, but out of respect for the life-choices of others, I have clearly indicated the division between the two sections.

When consuming plants, it is always important to "use your senses" and follow the edibility test which I presented in the previous article. That said, I will not focus on that in this article. Instead, I am going to present some general points to remember when for foraging for plants which may be safe to eat (after testing).
- Do NOT eat any plant with milky sap.
- Do NOT eat any plant with white berries.
- Do NOT eat any mushrooms. No mushrooms. If you choose poorly, you will die; you will not simply fall ill, you will drop dead.
- Do NOT eat any plant that looks spoiled, rotten, or with fungus.
- Avoid any plants which smell like almonds.
- Avoid plants near roads and man-made structures. They may be contaminated with pesticides and other chemicals.
- Boiling plants can help lessen any bitter taste.
- Boiling also kills any parasites.
- Do NOT touch or eat any plant with a three-leaf arrangement.
- Watch what other animals eat. Those plants may also be edible to humans.
- Watermelon, papaya, and celery are some of the most moisture-rich fruits and vegetables in the world. Look for these and similar plants for a quick hydration boost.
- Cacti, and other succulents, contain a lot of moisture, but not all are safe to consume.
- Try to select abundant plants, so as to hopefully find a reliable source of energy.

I would highly recommend learning in advance about the edible plants in the area. Furthermore, you may want to pack a small booklet of common edible plants into your pack for faster identification.

WARNING: If taking another creature's life to sustain yourself causes you discomfort, even in the gravest of situations, stop reading now.

Please know that I greatly value the life of every creature. I understand the balance of natural survival and hope that the information I present here will not be mistaken nor misrepresent the respect I have for the creatures which could possibly become prey.

It is entirely possible to subsist on a diet of only plants. However, there are circumstances in which the continuance of your life may depend on taking the life of another creature. Originally, I had planned to present everything necessary for the capture, killing, preparing, cooking, and eating of animals in this article. However, during my own research, I came across a site which provided an impressive assortment of survival articles. That site is Wilderness-Survival.net and it has an especially well-presented section on using animals for food.

I am going to summarize certain animal types and briefly touch on their preparation as food, while I cite the detailed articles found on the Wilderness Survival site. (NOTE: If that site ever becomes unavailable, I will certainly revisit this article and increase its detail.)

(See the Wilderness Survival: "Animals for Food" page for more details. NOTE: My opinion may differ from that article in some areas.)

- Insects and other arthropods are a great source of protein.
- Insect larvae, sometimes called "grubs", can be found in cool, damp places like in rotten logs and under rocks. These can be eaten raw, but may be more palatable when cooked.
- Grasshoppers and crickets, to put it simply, are delicious. Look for them in fields. I recommend roasting them before eating; also, remove the legs.
- Collect ants using a stick, dip the stick into a container of water, then boil. Drink as a "tea".
- Earthworms can (and I think should) be eaten raw. Drown them first, they'll clean themselves out of any foreign material as they die; called "purging".
- Slugs and snails can be eaten raw, but are probably better cooked. You may also want to "purge" them before cooking and eating.
- Cooked crustaceans (crab, lobster, crayfish) are edible.
- Do NOT eat these: mollusks (oysters, clams, etc.), disease carriers (flies, mosquitoes, ticks, etc.), and poison predators (centipedes, scorpions, and spiders).
- Easy rule to follow: If it has eight or more legs (and it's not a crustacean), do NOT eat it.
- Freshwater fish are safe, they are not poisonous.
- I recommend that you cook all fish before eating. It will kill any parasites (in freshwater fish) and lessen the chance of "fish poisoning" (in saltwater fish).
- Watch out for defensive barbs on catfish.
- Saltwater fish should be carefully put through edibility testing.
- Do NOT eat spoiled fish. Only eat them fresh.
- I think you should simply avoid eating amphibians (frogs, salamanders, toads, etc.), however some can be safely eaten.
- NEVER touch or eat any brightly colored frog, especially those with an "X" on their back.
- Do NOT eat toads. Many secrete poison which will make you very ill.
- Catching some reptiles may be more dangerous (crocodiles, vipers, etc.) than others, but most are good sources of protein and can be quite abundant where other sources of food are scarce.
- Do NOT eat turtles. Some carry toxins in their skin. Better safe, than dead.
- Before preparing a snake for eating, remove the head and at least 15 cm (6 in) of its neck. Bury the head and neck.
- Roast reptiles over a fire on a spit (stick) to give the meat better flavor.
- All birds are edible.
- Try to catch birds as they fly from nest to water/feeding areas.
- When preparing birds, choose plucking over skinning. The skin is very nutritious.
- The bigger the animal, the bigger the fight. Be careful how much energy and danger you put yourself in.
- As a general rule, avoid eating liver. Some creatures' livers contain deadly levels of Vitamin A.
- Avoid eating scavengers, as they may carry diseases.

Again, please do not read further if the subject disturbs you. Honestly, I think it should feel unsettling. This is the act of taking another creature's life in order to sustain your own. Respect and honor your prey.
- Killing should be as quick as possible to minimize the creature's suffering.
- For vertebrates, decapitation or severing the spinal column are fastest. If using a blade, cut between neck vertebrae at the base of the head.
- As disgusting as it is, breaking a neck is not as portrayed in movies, the head must be twisted almost entirely around (even off) before the spinal column is cut. This may be very difficult if attempted on larger animals with strong neck muscles.
- Cutting open the throat and/or jugular (arteries supplying blood to the brain) will kill the animal in under a minute.
- Blunt force to the head may kill smaller creatures and stun larger ones. Sever the spinal column if unsure that the creature is dead.
- Suffocation, strangulation, and drowning will be effective for all creatures. (Please understand that, in my opinion, this is the worst way to die. I implore you to use another means to kill the creature or choose smaller prey, such as insects, fish, or birds.)

For further details about the preparation of animals as food, see the Wilderness Survival: "Preparation of fish and game for cooking and storage" page.
- The larger the animal, the more preparation necessary before consumption.
- Some animals will need to be bled before preparation.
- Some animals will need to be skinned.
- It may be possible to prepare the meat of some animals in a way to preserve it's edibility for a longer duration.


Survival Guide: How to test what you eat

Before describing techniques on building a fire, I made sure to go over basic wilderness first-aid. With the same care, I would like to first present my version of the "Universal Edibility Test" before I discuss finding food in future articles.

Some experts criticize the use of edibility tests. Some say it is too strict in that it eliminates potential foods or is an unnecessary waste of energy and resources in a life-threatening situation. Others say that it creates a false sense of safety in eating unknown materials, opting instead to teach people to fast and focus on finding water and rescue.

It's good to know the pros and cons in order to make an educated decision in a time of need, but it's also important to understand the skill in the first place. It is better to know too much than too little.

Almost all edibility tests use the same process of separate, test, and wait. My version uses the same methods, but I stress the senses and digestive systems you are evaluating with each step.

Separate the possible food into parts (e.g. roots, stems, leaves, fruit, flowers). Before beginning the test, do not eat for at least 8 hours. During the suggested wait periods pay close attention to your mind and body, sensing for any reactions to potential poisons.
STEP 1: Select a specific food part.
STEP 2: Wash and prepare (cook, boil, etc.) a very small portion (a "pinch"), as you would to eat.
STEP 3: Smell the possible food. Wait 1 minute. "Bad" smells may be questionable, but anything "nauseating" should definitely be avoided.
STEP 4: Touch the food against the soft skin of your wrist or inner-elbow. Wait 15 minutes.
STEP 5: Touch the food against the skin of your lip for 2 minutes. Wait 15 minutes.
STEP 6: Taste the food for 15 minutes. (Meaning, rest the food on your tongue.) Do NOT swallow.
STEP 7: Chew the food, without swallowing for 15 minutes. Again, do NOT swallow.
STEP 8: Swallow the chewed food. Wait 6 hours.
STEP 9: Prepare a larger portion (about a handful) of the same food part, if no adverse reactions have occurred.
STEP 10: Test once more using the larger portion.
If all is well after this testing, it is probably safe to assume that specific food part is safe.

Remember to use extreme caution when ingesting unknown items; everything you prepare and eat could possibly contain a poison or bacteria which might kill you. When fasting (going without food) until rescue isn't an option due to time or distance, you may find edibility tests a necessary risk, but I leave that choice to you.


Survival Guide: How to build a fire

Having provided instructions in finding water and having presented basic wilderness first-aid information, I think it's now safe(r) to discuss some methods of building and starting a fire in the wilderness.

As with building a shelter, one of the most important decisions in building a fire is choosing its location.
- Pick a location at least somewhat protected from the weather (wind, rain, etc.).
- Try to pick a location near -- not next-to -- a good supply of fuel for your fire.
- Clear away any debris next-to the spot where you will build your fire.
Once you have chosen a suitable location, it's time to gather the necessary materials for building your fire.
STEP 1: Gather tinder. This is small, light, and dry material which can easily ignite. (e.g. dry leaves, dead pine needles, paper, bark shavings, cotton cloth, etc.)
STEP 2: Gather kindling. Slightly larger than tinder, kindling is fuel which take a bit more heat to ignite. (e.g. thick bark, small twigs, etc.)
STEP 3: Gather medium fuel. For example, sticks which are at least the width of two fingers. You'll only need about an armful.
STEP 4: Gather heavy fuel. One or two thigh-sized log sections would do.
STEP 5: Arrange your fuel by size near your fire's location: tinder, kindling, medium, heavy.
Once you have gathered all of your materials, you can begin building a fire. There are many ways to build a fire, I am going to provide you with only one: the pit tepee.

STEP 1: Scoop out a shallow pit in the center of your well-chosen location.
STEP 2: Gently lay some tinder in the center of the pit. Fluff it up to make air space.
STEP 3: Carefully place kindling on and around your tinder. Be sure to leave an "door" open downwind (away from the wind) through which you can access the tinder.
STEP 4: Lean medium fuel in a cone-shaped "tepee" over the kindling. Still keep that "door" open.
STEP 5: Ignite the tinder through the open door. (I'll go over that next.) The tinder will light the kindling, which will light the medium fuel.
STEP 6: Add one piece of heavy fuel to the fire. Be careful not to put out the fire when you do.
STEP 7: Add more medium fuel as needed to start the heavy fuel burning.
STEP 8: Repeat steps 6 and 7 as necessary to keep the fire going.
Keeping the fire going is one thing, lighting it is the more difficult task. I kept it simple in step 5 above "Ignite the tinder", but it would be best to present you with a few options in how to actually start a fire.
- Pack matches or a lighter in a sealed plastic bag, preferably kept on you at all times.
- Strike flint and steel to create a spark to ignite tinder.
- Use friction methods to create enough heat to ignite tinder. For example, the "plow" (detailed below) or "bow and drill" (described here [NatureSkills]) methods.
- Create a hot-spot on tinder using glass (especially lens) with the sun.
This is my favorite way to start a fire. I can "feel" the energy building into making the flame.
STEP 1: Split a groove part way into a stick about three fingers wide.
STEP 2: Place tinder at the open end of the groove.
STEP 3: Rub the tip of another smaller stick up and down the groove. The rubbing creates heat through friction. Small particles of wood will ignite with the friction.
STEP 4: The stick will push the particles into the tinder causing a small glow and some smoke.
STEP 5: Gently blow on your the tinder until you get a flame.

Fire can be used to provide warmth, cook food, boil water, signal for help, and so much more. Treat this versatile tool with the respect it deserves.


Survival Guide: Wilderness first-aid

It is my primary intention with these "Survival" Guides to provide readers with the knowledge, skills, and techniques which can be of significant benefit in life-threatening wilderness circumstances. As I have stated previously, most of my knowledge on these subjects comes from my experiences with the Boy Scouts of America and a lifetime of curiosity and practice. That said, I do NOT consider myself an expert and I am certainly not a professional. So, please, use your own brain, a proper degree of caution, and seek the advice of appropriate officials.

Why the disclaimer?
Looking at the sky, building shelters, and even safe drinking water are relatively mundane. Starting today, though, I am going to get into some serious stuff. Beginning with Wilderness first-aid.

Things can always go wrong. Even more so when you're under stress, like being lost or stranded. When things go wrong, the chance of injury increases. In this article, I hope to give you some simple pointers on the basic treatment of medical circumstances in the wilderness.

A blister is a pocket of skin filled with fluid, such as blood (red/purple), plasma (clear), or pus (green/white from infection).
- Plasma helps with the growth of new tissue in the damaged area, so draining it should be avoided if possible.
- Sometimes it's necessary to drain even a plasma blister as it may not be possible to allow a it to heal naturally without impeding necessary function (such as employing survival skills).
- Blood blisters and infected blisters can be drained to relieve pressure. However...
- Blisters should always be drained using the most clean supplies.
- If you must drain a blister, use the following steps:
STEP 1: Carefully clean the area over and surrounding the blister.
STEP 2: Puncture the blister with a clean (preferably sterile) needle.
STEP 3: Use gauze or a clean cloth to apply pressure to the blister and drain the fluid.
STEP 4: Apply ointments to fight infection (such as antibacterial).
STEP 5: Lightly bandage (or band-aid) the affected area.
- Find out what caused the pressure. Try to reduce the friction and/or moisture in that area.
- Cramps can be caused a few things; most commonly lack of oxygen, water, or salt for your muscles/body.
- To relieve a cramp:
STEP 1: Stretch the muscle while taking very deep breaths (to increase the oxygen in your bloodstream).
STEP 2: Slowly drink water. Allow the water time to enter your system before continuing activity.
STEP 3: Eat salty foods to replenish your body's reserves, as they may be depleted through perspiration and other bodily processes.
- Do NOT massage or punch the sore muscle, it will only make the aching worse as it increases the flow of blood and lactic acid to the muscle.
- Bites should always be treated as if they could source infection.
- Beware of Rabies, if bitten by a carnivore. Did the animal exhibit an of the common signs of the virus? (e.g. foaming mouth, self-mutilation, growling, jerky behavior, red eyes)
- If you suspect the animal to be venomous, look for green or purple coloration around the bite.
- Do NOT attempt to suck out the venom.
- Do NOT attempt to expose the bite to heat or cold.
- If the victim of a venomous bite cannot reach medical:
STEP 1: Sit the victim up. (Raising the heart.)
STEP 2: Keep the bite lowered and away from the heart.
STEP 3: Remove any constrictive accessories/clothing (e.g. jewelry) on or around the swelling.
STEP 4: Tie a bandage, loose enough to fit a finger under, about 7 cm (3 in) above (toward the heart) the bite.
STEP 5: Get the victim professional medical attention as soon as possible.
- Some venom can paralyze the heart and/or lungs. Be prepared to administer CPR.
- Anaphylactic shock "anaphylaxis" is a severe bodily reaction to an allergen (e.g. insect bites or stings). Anaphylaxis causes rapid swelling which can close the victim's airway. Quickly administer epinephrine and antihistamine.
- Exposure (or "hypothermia"), according to the Wikipedia article on the subject, is when a person's core temperature drops below 35°C (95°F).
- Symptoms may include uncontrollable shivering, stiffness and confusion.
- Warm the victim slowly as sudden warming may cause heart failure.
- Heat illness occurs when a person's core temperature rises above 40°C (104°F).
- Symptoms may include fainting, weakness, confusion, convulsions. (The latter two symtoms indicate a sever heat illness.)
- Treatment:
STEP 1: CLay the victim down, raise the legs.
STEP 2: Cool the victim. (e.g. fanning, applying damp cloths).
STEP 3: Slowly hydrate the victim and give them salty foods.
STEP 4: Massage the victims limps to help move cooled blood through the bloodstream.
- Heat illness can cause major damage to the body's organs.
- Treating most wounds:
STEP 1: Quickly remove foreign material from the wound.
STEP 2: Apply pressure. No, really, apply pressure! Your goal is to try to stop the bleeding.
STEP 3: Keep your pressure on the wound for 15 minutes.
STEP 4: Check if the bleeding has stopped.
STEP 5: Wash the wound when bleeding is under control.
- Avoid use of tourniquet unless blood loss cannot be slowed using the above steps. Remember, tourniquets may lead to the loss of a limb.
- Split the break with two straight sticks tied around the extremity, if applicable.
- Try not to move the victim as it may cause more injuries.
- If the skin is broken, see above for treating a wound.
- Symptoms may include nausea, sweating, discomfort in the center of the chest, and difficulty breathing. There may also be pain in the shoulder or arm, sometimes even the jaw; usually on the left side.
- Assisting someone having a heart attack:
STEP 1: Lay the victim down comfortably. (They may sit slightly, if having trouble breathing.)
STEP 2: Have the victim take slow deep breaths.
STEP 3: Give the victim aspirin, if available.
STEP 4: Help calm the victim and keep the comfortably warm.
STEP 5: Allow the victim to rest for eight hours before allowing them to move without assistance.
- You can also attempt to follow the same steps, if treating yourself during a heart attack.

Prepare yourself for any medical emergency. Knowledge is the first step, action is what is necessary. If something goes wrong when you're away from immediate medical assistance, remain calm and confident.


Survival Guide: Find water

Water is everything. Staying hydrated should always be your first priority; this is true whether you're stranded in the middle of the wilderness or standing in line at the grocery store.

In favorable conditions, a human can live without water for three to five days. In fact, that time frame is the reason I chose to stagger the publishing of these survival guides by four days.

You should drink about two liters of water per day (2 L ≈ .5 gal) under normal circumstances. In more strenuous situations, you should intake four to six liters per day; "strenuous" describes anything outside tolerable temperatures (21°C ≈ 70°F) or stress levels (physical or mental). Basically, drink 2 liters when you're feeling average; more if you're not feeling average.

Situations threatening our survival are among the most stressful situations we can face. Those would generally be the very same situations in which finding water to consume would be challenging at best. In this article I will present a variety of means you can attempt when trying to locate water in the wilderness.

- Water flows down. Find streams and rivers in valleys and flood plains.
- Collect flowing water, as opposed to stagnant water. Not too fast, though, as that stirs up sediment.
- Look for reeds, like cattails, which grow in marshy conditions.
- Watch for birds at dawn and dusk. They tend to hunt around bodies of water during those times.
- Collect undisturbed ice and snow from your surroundings.
- Snow-melt and glaciers are common sources of water flow. Follow upstream to look for these sources.
- Avoid consuming water while it is still frozen.
- Trees with thick roots tend to grow near good sources of groundwater. (e.g. willows, cottonwoods, and many other deciduous trees).
- Moisture is easier to find at the base of cliffs or beneath rocks.
- Once you find damp soil, dig into it with a stick or rock. Dig deep to where water begins to fill the hole. (The surrounding soil acts as a basic filter.)
- There may be underground water next to stagnant pools. Avoid the pool itself, using "filtered" water around it. (See "filtration" below.)
- Gather water using the "distillation" process below.
- Collect moisture from the air and foliage with (or wearing) absorbent cloth like cotton.
- Use leaves and water resistant materials to funnel rainwater into a centralized location.

Once you think you've gathered enough water, you can attempt to purify it using the methods below. It's important that you purify the water before consumption.

STEP 1: Enclose (but don't seal) your water within a container.
STEP 2: Heat the water to a "rolling boil". (Meaning, big wavy air bubbles.)
STEP 3: Allow the water to boil for a minimum of 5 minutes, 10 minutes is safer.
STEP 4: Let the water cool and condense in the container.
There are many chemical treatments available for purchase (such as iodine). If you have no other options, you can even use a very tiny dose of bleach as a chemical treatment. In my opinion, no chemical treatment (aka poison) should be consumed regularly.

STEP 1: Carefully drop a single dose of the chemical into your water container.
STEP 2: Tightly seal your container.
STEP 3: Shake well.
STEP 4: Wait at least 20 minutes.
STEP 5: Carefully unseal your container; avoid dropping any foreign material (or untreated water) into it.
If you don't have access to consumer available filters, you may have to make your own using the method below. Filtration is an essential step in the treatment of water and, therefore, I encourage you to use all or some of these steps no matter how you gathered your water.

STEP 1: Layer cloth, sand, and pebbles over (or between two) container(s).
STEP 2: Pour the water repeatedly through the layers until it runs clear.
STEP 1: Dig a hole that is about 25 cm (10 in) deep. It needs to be as wide as your collection container. (The hole should fit two containers, if distilling already collected water.)
STEP 2: Place your empty container in the hole right-side-up. (If distilling collected water, also place the container containing the water in the hole right-side-up alongside the other.)
STEP 3: Open the container(s).
STEP 4: Cover the hole with thin flexible plastic, like plastic wrap or a bit of trash bag.
STEP 5: Seal the edges around the hole by weighing down the plastic.
STEP 6: Make a small puncture in the plastic above the empty container.
STEP 7: Place a small rock nearly atop the hole, making the plastic stretch into a funnel shape.
STEP 8: The sun will evaporate the water. It will then condense on the plastic and run down the funnel and into the collection container. (This process can take hours.)

My personal purification preference is to combine the methods above when necessary and possible:

Sometimes, even after purification, the water may not be as clear as you are accustomed. This is due to the sediments in the water (aka "hard water"). Your body will be most accustomed to consuming the water in your primary region, so you may notice some discomfort as any remaining bacteria or sediment in the water may not be what your body normally processes.

Remember, staying hydrated should always be your first priority!


Survival Guide: Find shelter

In the Survival Guide about finding North, I touched on the importance of finding shelter. In other previous articles I've also mentioned how weather conditions interfering with those techniques are most likely conditions in which your focus should be on finding refuge in the immediate area. Today I will present some thoughts and techniques in finding and/or building shelter for yourself in a variety of conditions. Almost all of what I've written here comes from the knowledge I gained in the Boy Scouts of America, especially the Wilderness Survival merit badge.

The most important thing about shelter is it's location. Said a different way for emphasis, the place in which you are going to try to stay safe needs to already be safe.
- Avoid natural disasters. Consider what types of issues may occur in your region. For example, if you're sheltering yourself from rain, it would be wise to stay out of areas where flooding may occur. If on a mountain, you would want to avoid areas of avalanche or rock slides. Also, remember that heat rises; if you're trying to stay warm, stay out of the valleys.
- Avoid harm and injury. Don't place yourself under trees which look like they may fall. Take care and caution as you move materials. Don't take shelter in or near plants which may be poisonous.
- Do not wander. Pick a location quickly, preferably one where you can find building materials (if needed) in the immediate area. As I've said previously, you risk injury and death, decrease the odds of rescue, and increase your panic when you are lost.
- Try to use the shelter of your natural surroundings first. Only build a shelter if environmental conditions threaten your survival.
- Avoid wildlife. Don't make your shelter on or near the home of creatures, especially ants. Don't claim another creature's home as your own. (Meaning, check for vacancy before you occupy.) Don't make your shelter along a "game trail" or anywhere predators may be hunting (e.g. near a body of water, grazing areas, etc.).
- Don't build a trap for yourself. Use sturdy building materials, but only items which you can lift alone. Make a safe haven NOT a death trap.
Making sure to follow those guidelines, let's look at some options for shelters presented by environmental conditions.

STEP 1: Decide if you want to make a cave or a trench. Trenches take less work to dig, but require more materials to make cover. (NOTE: You may not be able to dig a cave in loose sand or snow and, therefore, should choose to dig a trench.)
STEP 2: Gather your materials. You will need dry leaves and debris for insulation. You should also find a large stick or branch for digging, rather than your hands and risk frostbite or blistering. If building a trench, you will need to find branches (or canvas) to place over the trench for cover.
STEP 3: Dig a tight fit. Make only enough room for yourself and a bit of insulation.
STEP 4: If digging a cave, dig your entrance at a very small incline before digging parallel to the ground for the remainder of the space. If making a trench place branches over the trench and anchor them down (on the sides) with snow or sand.
STEP 5: Poke an air hole diagonally down into your shelter; a few centimeters in diameter. Keep it open, but not blocked, with sticks if you can.
STEP 6: Insulate. Stuff as much insulation as you can find into your trench or cave. Stuff some in between your clothing layers as well. (You are wearing layers, right?)
STEP 7: Burrow feet-first into your shelter.
STEP 1: Firmly lean (and secure) a large branch against a log, stump, or rock. The branch must be longer than you are tall. This is called the "ridge pole" of the structure we are building, you should lean it so that one end is on the ground and the other is against the prop.
STEP 2: Lean sticks and branches around the ridge pole (called the ribbing), extending diagonally from the ground to the ridge pole. Make sure you have just enough room inside for yourself and some insulation; no more, no less.
STEP 3: Place and weave smaller sticks and branches over the ribbing.
STEP 4: Cover the weave with leaves and debris. Place additional material over the debris if you need to anchor it to your shelter.
STEP 5: Insulate. As the instructions above, stuff as much dry insulation as you can find into your shelter. Stuff some in between your clothing layers as well. (You are wearing layers, right?)
STEP 6: Burrow feet-first into your shelter from the tall side.
STEP 1: Crack a window on the side facing away from the wind.
STEP 2: Start your car for only brief periods to provide heat (or cooling). 10 minutes for every hour is a good guideline. Do NOT sleep while the engine is running.
STEP 3: Keep your light on when the engine is running. (For the possibility of rescue.)
STEP 4: Check your tailpipe occasionally to ensure that it is clear of obstructions.
STEP 5: Keep your blood flowing by moving around, if trying to stay warm. Stretch out and spread your limbs, if trying to stay cool.

Please keep in mind that there are many ways to make shelters in the wilderness; those listed here are only a small selection. Any option you consider in finding shelter for yourself should protect you from the elements and keep you safe from injury and illness for at least one night (or day).


Survival Guide: Predict the weather

In previous Survival Guides, I've mentioned the importance of finding shelter when weather conditions are not in a state allowing you to employ other survival techniques. In this article I'm going to present some ideas on how to try to predict the weather using only an observation of your surroundings. Much of the information I present below is found in a WikiHow article on "How to Predict the Weather Without a Forecast". I will attempt to summarize some of the information presented there, but I encourage you to read the original article.

- Take a deep breath. Plants release more particle matter in low pressure, which means that their scent is stronger. (e.g. flowers smell better, trees are more pungent, etc.) Low pressure systems indicate the approach of moisture soon.
- Look for signs of humidity. Leaves will curl and pine cones will be closed in high humidity. Humidity tends to precede heavy rain.

- "Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning." Fronts tend to move West to East, so a red sky at sunset (looking West) indicates dry air moving toward you. Therefore, a red sky at sunrise (looking East) would indicate dry air moving away (moist air moving in).
- Look for a rainbow at sunrise or sunset. A rainbow might indicate the location of moisture. A rainbow in the West at sunrise likely means moisture is on the way (remember, West to East). A rainbow in the East at sunset means moisture is moving away from you.

This area of observation might take some preparatory study. (More information on "Forecasting the Weather using the Clouds" [WikiHow])
- Feel which way the wind is blowing. Winds pulling in from the East may indicate an approaching low pressure system coming from the West. Winds pushing out from the West may indicate a low pressure system moving away toward the East.
- Clouds going in different directions show signs of circular air currents which might produce hail.
- Towering fluffy clouds (Cumulonimbus) play a significant role in severe weather. Watch for their development and location in the sky.
- Streamers in the high sky (Cirrus) indicate bad weather within the next 2 days.
- Scaly clouds (Altocumulus) also indicate bad weather within the next 2 days.
- Heavy cloud cover on a Winter night keeps in the heat, so you can expect warm weather the next day.

Some animals change their behavior with the weather. Here are some of the most notable.
- How high are the birds flying? If they're staying close to the ground, it could indicate a storm is coming.
- Bees and butterflies take refuge when foul weather is approaching.
- Ants like to reinforce their hills before a rain.
- Livestock (e.g. cows, sheep, etc.) tends to huddle together before severe weather.
- Frogs get louder as rain is coming into the area.

It is important for your survival that you ALWAYS be wary of your surroundings. Find shelter as soon as possible, when you suspect bad weather. A bad situation will only get worse, even life-threatening, if you "get caught in the rain".


7 billion "typical" humans

In an article published at midnight (UTC) on January 1st, I drew attention to the fact that this year (2011) the human population of our planet will reach 7 billion.

As part of their seven-part series on the subject of "Population 7 Billion", National Geographic took a look at "The Face of 7 Billion" [National Geographic] to study the "typical" human.

["The Face of 7 Billion" - National Geographic]

Right now is the date and time of the midpoint (182.5 days) of this year (2011-07-01 12:00:00 UTC). Inspired by the statistics National Geographic presented, I want to gather my own and add some detail to what we understand of our humanity.

Mandarin Chinese (845 million): 12.43%
Spanish (329 million): 4.84%
English (328 million): 4.82%
Arabic (221 million): 3.25%
Hindi (182 million): 2.68%
Bengali (181 million): 2.66%
Portuguese (178 million): 2.62%
Russian (144 million): 2.12%
Japanese (122 million): 1.79%
German (3 million): 0.04%
sum of all others: ≈ 62.75%

According to a statistical study by Ethnologue, over 62 percent of the human population doesn't recognize one of the top 10 languages as their primary language. Our ability to communicate with words is something which makes us somewhat unique among other animals. Even so, the breadth our diversity is clearly evident in this first statistic.

Christianity (2.1 billion): 30.88%
Islam (1.5 billion): 22.06%
Hinduism (900 million): 13.24%
Irreligious/agnostic (theistic) (550 million): 8.09%
Atheistic (550 million): 8.09%
Chinese traditional religion (394 million): 5.79%
Buddhism (376 million): 5.53%
Animist religions (300 million): 4.41%
African traditional/diasporic religions (100 million): 1.47%
Sikhism (23 million): 0.34%
sum of all others: ≈ 0.1%

In 2005, Adherents.com listed "Major Religions Ranked by Number of Adherents". As you can see in my summary, no one religion is in the majority. In fact, if we combine the irreligious and atheistic, we see that those who are not religious and/or are atheistic rank 3rd among the beliefs of humanity.

Lack access to safe drinking water (1.1 billion): 17.74%
Lack access to basic sanitation (2.6 billion): 41.93%

The numbers above are from a UNICEF (UNICEF is the United Nations Children's Fund) estimate in 2005. Thanks almost entirely to humanitarian efforts throughout the years, especially by the UN*, those percentages have gone down. Today, almost 90% of humanity has access to safe drinking water, but that remaining 10% is still serious as it constitutes nearly 700 million people in our world of 7 billion.

Age 15 and over can read and write: 82%

Much of the human population is literate, which is very important considering the impact that education has on the other demographics I've listed. That said, it's worth noting that "over two-thirds of the world's ... illiterate adults are found in only eight countries (Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Pakistan)" [CIA World Factbook].

If we seek to balance our relationship with our planet, as I suggested in January, we need to also open our minds to the diversity and beauty of what it means to be human and check our "resolve to becoming an organism who seeks the balance of a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship with Earth and the other approximately 6,999,999,999 people on it." ["2011: The year of 7 billion" - INDY Blog]

* To be honest, I think the United Nations deserves far more recognition for all it does in the way of improving the lives of humans all over Earth. The organization and the people who truly drive its efforts are nothing like the portrayal in minds and media: the bureaucratic soap-box for arrogant and selfish politicians.