Your Bank Account
Whether you are in the outback or in an urban environment, you need to understand your body’s “bank account” and how to save your body’s resources for important withdrawals.
In an emergency, you should keep your body’s account of heat, stamina, and water safe. If you don’t conserve them, you might not have them to withdraw when needed to make better shelter, get food, or do other essential actions.
What I call “quick shelter” is a deceptively simple idea: if you want to reduce loss in your body’s bank account, do simple things to quickly stop losses of water and energy.
Whatever it takes, become very protective of the body temperature, stamina, nutrition and water you have in your body when you don’t need to work. I’ve seen many people deplete their resources by exerting themselves or staying out exposed to the elements for no good reason. Save it for when you build, travel, get food, etc.
In cool climates, put on head and hand gear, pile leaves on yourself, sit against a rock that reflects warm sunlight. Zip up your coat and sit on the leeward side of a tree to protect against cold and wind. Wipe snow or water from your clothes.
In hot areas, lying in shade, avoiding activity, and enjoying a cool breeze does wonders. Deserts can be broiling hot in the day but turn cold at night. When heat starts to drop, gather any easy insulation, from plants to clothing, in case it’s needed at night.
Strong wind can deplete your stores in any environment, too, so try to stay protected.
These simple steps that take no technical skills can conserve energy and might be enough to help get you through until help arrives or you’ve figured out how to make better shelter.
Only Slightly More Work
If no natural windbreak is available, you can make one by simply piling up anything. This can work for snow as well, especially if you find ways to stay dry like putting boughs or a tarp on the area where you’ll be lying.
You can build your fire near a large rock that will act as a windbreak and give you a lot more warmth by reflecting heat.
Another quick and clever solution is to sleep just downhill from a log that you know is secured (so it won’t roll over you) or long, low rock. You can build your fire and enjoy the heat reflecting back off it, and the downslope breeze can carry smoke away from you.
Check out areas under evergreens in snowy areas. Sometimes, you can find a protected space under there.
Rock overhangs and cave entrances can be fantastic shelters if located well. The effort-to-shelter ratio is great. Just make sure nobody else is living there, and don’t go climbing into mines or other potentially dangerous places.
Also remember that night seems to fall quickly in equatorial and jungle areas, so don’t count on a lingering evening in which to finish up things. Gather wood and get important work done before darkness surrounds you suddenly.
How Do I Decide What to Do?
“Rule of 3s”
Here’s a guesstimate to help you prioritize. You can survive 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter from extreme elements, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food. Obviously, this isn’t meant as an exact measure. Serious wounds, previous exertion, and other factors figure in.
Once you know you’re in a relatively safe situation, (away from a burning vehicle or dangerous animals, no bleeding, etc.) stop. Just stop and think. In fact, you can use this acronym to help you: S.T.O.P.: Sit, Think, Observe, Plan
–Sit: Let that adrenaline level go down. Sit. Breathe. Running around or making decisions in a panic isn’t going to help you.
–Think: Take stock of what you have, where you are, what you figure will happen.
–Observe: Note the time of day, weather, a pain in your leg and blood, a nearby road-whatever might be useful in deciding what to do.
–Plan: Now that your brain’s not in “blind panic” mode, take what you’ve thought about and observed and do something with it.
Even taking only a minute to think and look around, make decisions, and prioritize could save your life.
You might decide to stay by the road and sit against a rock or wall waiting for a car. Or, you need to make a simple, temporary shelter against the snow.
You might be in an urban location and need to move to the sunny side of the street or a place that provides good shelter like a clothes donation collection center (just remember that others might think of this, too).
Maybe your ankle is twisted, but you know a plane will be flying by soon. So you haul out anything contrastive/shiny and start building a fire belching smoke from green boughs.
Maybe it means you see a long-term stay in your future, so you find a spot with good resources: water, fuel, shelter materials.
A List of Things to Do
Here’s one basic way to approach survival shelter. But, you’re the best person to decide how to adjust and adapt it for your conditions. In the first few minutes:
b. If lost, try to stay in the same location. Searchers have the best chance of finding you.
c. If you haven’t already, quick shelter as needed.
In the first few hours:
d. Build a fire. Unless you’re near something like volatile gasses, a safely-built fire will be useful in any climate.
e. Establish some sort of temporary shelter
f. Get water
g. Set up some way to signal for help
If you remain at that location, you can later:
h. Improve your shelter (the subject of another article), clothing, position, firewood, signal methods, etc.
i. Find food
Whenever possible, use good shelter like a lean-to, tent, cabin, car, or boat. However, if you’re caught out, using S.T.O.P. and simple quick sheltering will help make a plan and reduce your body’s losses.
© Mark Dorr 2013, All Rights Reserved