So you’re in a bad situation. You’re in the middle of nowhere; you don’t have much food and very little water. Maybe it’s the desert, maybe it’s a mountain or a forest. Either way, survival skills may change with your environment, but the basics stay the same.
First, what do you have? If you’re lucky, you have a bottle of water, a power bar, your keys, a belt, and the clothes on your back. In reality, what you have is more than you think. Everything in survival can have a purpose, so save everything, from your soon-to-be-empty water bottle to your power bar wrapper.
Three main priorities are shelter, water, and food, but you shouldn’t waste all the water and energy you already have in your body trying to obtain these things. Humans can live on average for three days without water, but weeks without food, so the first thing you need to focus on is water.
Water comes before food for more than one reason. Digestion requires water, especially for foods high in protein. Protein requires more water that fats do to digest. Try to eat edible roots, veggies, or fruits; their higher water content can give you that little water that you’ll need to survive.
The first step is conserving the water you already have—the water you may have in a bottle and the water you already have internally. First off, don’t stop drinking from your bottle, but sip from it. Do not chug your water. Remember the best place to store water is your body.
You need to lower the amount of water your body needs. You know sweating happens from a combination of heat and movement, so stop doing that. Work and move during the coolest parts of the day—mornings and evening. Rest during the hotter parts of the day and seek shelter from the sun. Besides making you sweat more, the sun will evaporate the sweat much faster.
So it’s hot and you’re standing in a nice cool breeze, letting your body cool down. Your body temperature may drop and you may feel better. Your morale will be raised, that’s for sure. But, believe it or not, unless you are overheated, you’re doing yourself more harm than good. The wind will evaporate the moisture and water from the surface of your skin and that increases the demand for water. So you should try your hardest to shield yourself from the wind.
The wind can cool you, but you want to avoid the wind, as I have already pointed out. How else are you supposed to cool down? Well, you may come across some water but you are not exactly desperate enough to drink from a stagnant puddle. Get ready to get dirty and start to wet your clothes, your hair, pretty much everything besides your feet. You may need a shower, but your body can cool off and keep more water in your body.
Breathe through your nose when possible. Breathing air through your quickly dries it out, requiring more water to replace it. Here’s a harder one—urinating. Well that sucks, because you should hold it as long as possible. Your body won’t use as much excess water to urinate if you hold it.
By minimizing the water your body is using, you’re guaranteeing that you can last that little bit longer in order to be rescued. In a bad situation, however, you may need even more time than your body can allow. You absolutely have to find water.
You’ve established shelter and your camp. You’ve built your fire and now you need your water. You’re still strong and haven’t felt the effects of dehydration yet. We know that luck hasn’t dealt you a great hand because you’re stranded. What’s the chance you’ll find a rushing stream right beside your camp?
If you’re just a little lucky, you may find a dry river bed. Congratulations, you found water. Start digging, about a foot deep, and wait to see if it fills. If it doesn’t, it’s time to start taking out a few handfuls of mud. Take off your shirt, lay it down, and put the mud in the center of it. Start twisting the shirt, tightening it down, squeezing the mud, and forcing the water out.
This isn’t the safest way to get water, but if you have nothing to boil your water in or any other way to purify it, it’s worth the risk.
Another option is to use a vegetable still, which requires some kind of plastic covering (tarp, plastic grocery bag, or poncho). Fill your plastic item with big leafy plants. You want to bend and crush the plants inside, breaking the water resistant cuticle. Set it in the sun and let the greenhouse effect take over. The water will evaporate out and run down to the bottom of the bag. This takes time, but is worth it due to minimal work for the survivor.
So you have a few ways to save water, a few ways to get water, and now you’re starting to get hungry. While your body can last much longer without food than water, food will make you stronger, can lift morale, and give you that edge to survive.
While not tasty, a ton of plants are edible with no side effects. Berries, edible roots, and even nuts could be available. It’s most important you know your area and your edible plants. Ferns, for example, are common everywhere and are edible. The best way to test plants is to smell them. If anything smells peachy or like almonds, do not eat it. Also, anything that is bitter tasting should be avoided as well.
Try rubbing it on a part of your body like the back of your hand. After half an hour without any negative reaction, try rubbing the plant on your lips. Then after half an hour with no reaction, put it under your tongue and wait once more. If nothing has happened by this time, try eating small amounts slowly.
Let’s hope you aren’t very squeamish, because worms, grasshoppers, and crickets are completely edible. They are easy to catch and easy to find, and can give you some prime nutrition. Stay away from spiders and wasps, but it’s doubtful that I really have to tell you that. The basic rule of thumb is not to eat it if it bites, stings, or stinks.
Most small game is faster and more equipped for the wild than you. Primitive traps can be your best option to catch game. These take practice and skill to build. If you find a burrow and have the patience, you can stand near and watch it, waiting with a good stick to take the animal when it returns or tries to exit.
One animal that’s edible and easy to catch is a snake. There’s not a lot of meat, but more than you had before. Snakes are cold blooded and won’t carry blood-borne diseases. Common sense says stay away from the poisonous snakes. Do not eat the organs from animals, as you face the risk of contracting all sorts of different diseases from this.
If you do catch game, remember to skin the game, drain the blood, and remove useless parts like the feet, tail, and head. You can use these parts to bait traps for bigger meals. Remember everything you have or find can be used for something.
The biggest part of survival is your mental attitude; you cannot give up. Set priorities and goals, and work to accomplish them. Keeping busy in a way that doesn’t overheat or exhaust you can save your life. The human body is a wonderful machine and it takes a lot for it to give up.
Make your mind the same way.