What you need to know for securing an emergency rescue

By Vin T. Sparano

What you need to know for securing an emergency rescue

Vin T. Sparano, as excerpted from Complete Guide to Camping and Wilderness Survival

RESCUE

The survivor can dramatically improve his chances of being rescued if he knows, and can use, some basic signaling skills. Being seen or heard is the key. No person should ever venture off into the woods, go anywhere in their car, boat, or plane, or engage in any other outdoor activity without a signal mirror and a whistle. You can’t out-scream the best whistles, and even if you could, you could not sustain the effort.

The signal mirror is second only to the radio or telephone for communicating your need for help. Unfortunately, outside of the military, which uses signal mirrors religiously (including them in every survival kit), the general public has only limited knowledge of the value of a signal mirror. A targetable signal mirror—such as the official Air Force Star Flash, which enables the survivor to aim the signal flash—is the key.

Other widely available signaling devices include flashlights, strobe lights, and chemical lights. Highintensity,12-hour chemical lights are a better choice in most instances than a flashlight, because they are lighter in weight and do not require batteries. A small string tied to the end of a chemical light and spun in a circle over your head makes an excellent night signal that can be seen from a great distance. Moreover, when considering items to place in your home disaster kit, take into account that the spark from the switch of a flashlight can trigger an explosion in a gas-filled room, while a chemical light poses no such danger. With signaling and rescue devices, the key is to be seen. Bigger, louder, and more is better. A recognized international symbol of distress is a series of three signals. Three blasts of your whistle, three long honks of your car horn, three small fires (smoke or flame), or three shots from your rifle or shotgun are examples.

You’re Lost . . . Now What?

You’re lost in the woods! It can happen to anyone. I have a good friend who was suddenly stunned when he realized he was going to have to spend his first night in the woods alone. Darkness caught up with him while he was tracking a buck and he lost his way in the dark. It can happen easily when you’re concentrating on tracks on the ground and not keeping your eyes on your surroundings. Fortunately, my friend didn’t panic and his raingear saved him from a wet, cold night in the woods.

Panic is your worst enemy when you realize you’re lost. As scary as it might sound, your first night in the woods alone does not have to be a horrid experience. I have a very important rule when I’m camping or hiking and I never break it under any circumstances. When I leave camp, I always carry enough gear to keep warm and survive 72 hours, which is the longest most hikers stay lost or stranded. With most search-and-rescue techniques, lost hikers usually do not have to spend more than one night in the woods. First, remember the rule of threes: you can live three weeks without food, three days without water, three hours without protection in bad weather, and three minutes without air.

Never go hiking alone during winter, especially if you’re out of shape. It’s also important to tell your family or a friend where you are going and when you expect to return. If you are alone and become disabled or lost, this may be your only salvation.

Your survival kit should fit in a small daypack and you should focus on shelter, warmth, and food. A fully charged cell phone and a handheld GPS should be your first line of defense, but never count on batteries or phone towers to get you out of trouble. This means your pack should include rain gear, waterproof matches, space blanket, high-energy food, water, knife, map and compass, whistle, flashlight, and spare socks and gloves.

The purpose of the daypack is twofold: survival and peace of mind. Over the years, I’ve made some adjustments to my pack. For example, I carry two space blankets. They are no bigger than a deck of cards and one can make an emergency roof. I fill a plastic food bag with peanuts and raisins. It’s a trail mix that will give you an energy jolt. I’ve added a box of juice, the kind you puncture with a straw. I also carry spare batteries and a bulb for my flashlight, a half-dozen Band-Aids for minor cuts and blisters, toilet tissue, and, if I’m hunting, enough spare ammunition to fire signal shots.

Nothing can warm the soul, calm fear, and bring hope to a survivor than a warm fire. Build a big and bright fire. In snow, you will have to start a fire on rocks or logs. A fire will do more than just keep you warm. It will give you light, dry clothes, a signal, hot food, and water from melted snow. Your pack should include a good supply of wood strike-anywhere matches or waterproof matches.

If you can’t find waterproof matches, you can do the job yourself by dipping the whole batch in melted paraffin. I also carry a small candle for starting a fire. It burns a lot longer than any match. Carry several fire starters. Any kind will do, but I like the jelly in a tube. It’s easy to use and a line of it on a log will set it ablaze. I urge any sportsman to practice starting a fire, especially in bad weather. Don’t wait until your life depends on it. When you can get a warm fire going in the rain, you will feel more confident in an emergency.

I always feel more comfortable staying in the woods later in the day knowing that if I get “turned around” I can spend a night in the woods without fear or panic. You can customize your daypack to make yourself comfortable, but the basic gear listed here can get you through a night in the woods. You can build a shelter, start a campfire, snuggle up in a blanket, and have something to eat and drink. Who knows? You might even enjoy the new experience!

 

 

 

 

About the author:

Vin T. Sparano is the author of Complete Outdoors Encyclopedia as well as three other guides for Rizzoli

He has been an outdoor editor and writer for more than fifty years. He is editor emeritus of Outdoor Life, and has written and edited more than fifteen books about the outdoors. In 2013, he was inducted into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame.


About the Author: Vin T. Sparano is the author of Complete Outdoors Encyclopedia as well as three other guides for Rizzoli

He has been an outdoor editor and writer for more than fifty years. He is editor emeritus of Outdoor Life, and has written and edited more than fifteen books about the outdoors. In 2013, he was inducted into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame.

Subscribe for future Step Outside News!