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Let's imagine for a moment that you're solo hiking somewhere you've never been before and take a fall off the edge of a trail, injure yourself (to the point of limited mobility), and become entirely disoriented.

Obviously, this is a scenario that could be avoided with proper planning and better practices. The best solutions would have been preemptive. Regardless, this scenario is where my question is to be asked from.

You're alone, injured with limited mobility, and lost. Assuming a normal load out (normal clothing, some water, a knife, etc.), what do you do to survive and make it back to a safe place? What are your priorities, and what is your course of action?

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This page on the topic is hilarious, mainly due to the poor translation from Norwegian: katterat.com/Courses.html. But the main conclusion I fully support: DON'T PANIC. –  gerrit Aug 15 at 15:20
    
@gerrit hugg a three –  Ollie Ford Aug 15 at 23:54

4 Answers 4

Obviously, this is a scenario that could be avoided with proper planning and better practices. The best solutions would have been preemptive. Regardless, this scenario is where my question is to be asked from. (...)

Assuming a normal load out (normal clothing, some water, a knife, etc.), what do you do to survive and make it back to a safe place?

I'd say the best planning is to make "a normal load out" adequate to keep you hydrated, fed, and sheltered even if you have to spend the night unexpectedly. On anything more than a casual stroll around the city park, things you should consider carrying include:

  • At least 2L of water, preferably 3 in a hot/dry environment.
  • Means to purify additional water (I carry chlorine dioxide tablets, they're very small and just go in my first aid kit. They purify a bottle of water in 4 hours.)
  • Enough food to survive for a couple days. Throwing extra granola bars in your pack is easy.
  • Clothes to stay warm overnight. Temperatures drop at night. It can also rain unexpectedly. Bringing a rain coat, rain pants, fleece jacket, long underwear, gloves, and a warm hat is a good start.
  • For longer hikes, I bring a small tarp, for even longer hikes I'd consider a bivvy sack.
  • 50' of paracord can help if you need to improvise a shelter. Particularly useful with aformentioned tarp.
  • A headlamp is a must.
  • A good first aid kit, with more than just band-aids.

Basically, you should look at the 10 essentials, and make sure you have those and some additional gear any time you go out.

Now supposing you're actually well prepared as outlined above, your priorities are going to depend on the climate. In any emergency situation, your first priority should be to treat immediately life-threatening injuries – severe bleeding, etc. Anything that won't kill you in the next hour should wait. Then, sit down, eat a good snack, drink water, and take a rest. It's important to be rested, fed, and mentally prepared to tackle the situation. It's easy to freak out in an emergency, so it's crucial that you force yourself to physically sit down and take care of your most basic needs before proceeding.

Hopefully you have enough food, water, and clothing that you can then focus on treating any injuries enough to enable you to walk for help. If you need to spend the night, look for a sheltered spot before it gets dark. You may need some water to clean the wound, so you should be looking for some additional water to use the purification method you brought with you. In a hot environment, water might be a higher priority than finding shelter. It all depends on the environment and context.

Ultimately, the topic of extended wilderness survival is enough to fill entire books. Many organizations also offer wilderness survival classes which you might be interested in. But the most important thing is to make sure that your "normal load out" is sufficient to support you in the even of an emergency.

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Intentionality hiking solo lacking a “personal locator beacon” is a bad idea. nationalparkstraveler.com/2007/07/… –  Mazura Aug 15 at 21:14
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@Mazura from that very article, "“A person who carries a PLB should always take the proper measures to prevent themselves from ever having to use it,” Phillips says." They certainly have a place, but even if you do have a PLB, it takes time for the rescue crews to arrive. That article is from 2007; since then the popularity of PLBs has risen dramatically, and in some cases people think "well I have a locator beacon, so I can get help if I need it," leading to less careful decision making and not carrying adequate gear to avoid needing to be rescued in the first place. –  nhinkle Aug 15 at 21:21
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Valid points. However, improper use should not preclude others from using it properly. If they don't send you a bill for extraction like EMS, they should. –  Mazura Aug 15 at 21:35
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@Mazura I agree that technology should not be ruled out because some abuse it, I'm just pointing some caveats. I don't think hiking solo necessitates carrying a PLB... especially if you're in an area where there will be other people, even if they aren't in your own group. By all means it's a useful item to have, but I wouldn't categorize it as essential, and I'd caution people against developing a false sense of security. –  nhinkle Aug 15 at 21:37
  1. Orient yourself to the situation. Admit that you're injured and lost, but stay calm. Don't fool yourself into feeling invincible, but recognize that you are in fact strong enough to survive.
  2. If your current location and situation is a source of danger, immediately move to a safe location. It's better to be alive and lost than dead and not lost.
  3. Stabilize your immediate physical condition. If you're bleeding more than a minor scratch, stop the bleeding and bandage it. If the injury is a broken leg, try to splint it with whatever is available. If you're in a survival situation, you want to keep your health from deteriorating so you can focus on improving your situation, not just fending it off.
  4. Once physically stabilized, develop a simple plan. Unless you plan on living as a mountain man for the rest of your life, how will you find civilization and safety? How long will it take? How much water, food, and shelter will you need to find civilization? How can you aid others in finding where you are?

Once you make it to step four, you can follow most any guide to wilderness survival and reacting to being lost. The first three steps, however, are those that I would prioritize as the most important.

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Two things come to mind above all else

  1. Keep your mind & wits about you
  2. Water

With these two you can survive a ton of scenarios. Stay alert, don't let panic set-in, maintain a positive mindset and stay hydrated as much as you can. If you can do those above all else then good things will happen.

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It's next to impossible to answer your question in a classic "if this/then this" kind of format. There are so many variables and factors that would contribute to choosing what a priority is in any situation like this one. Many will try to "armchair" a situation like this, but really, it's better to have a "toolbox" full of useful skills and techniques that you can pull from when it comes to survival.

How much water am I carrying? Where is the nearest water source? Is it hot out? What season is it? Does it get below freezing at night in this area? Should I worry about freezing or heat? Is my injury severe enough that it is life threatening? How far do I think it is to help? Am I on any kind of life supporting medication (diabetes/heart condition) and when was my last dosage? These are just some of the questions I would be asking myself.

Personally speaking, some things that I could draw on from my skillset would be: I try to always try to have at least 750ml of water with me and collect and purify water whenever I can. I almost always have a sun hat with me in the sunny months. I could make some shade with my pack/hiking poles. In cold months, I usually have extra warm clothing that stays warm when it's wet. I have lots of first aid training and, provided I was able too, could possibly use some gear or clothing to fashion a sling/splint. I might build a smoky fire (if there was wood available) to signal for help and push my GPS locator (if I have one with me).

As you can see, the "right things to do" and priorities are very varied in these situations. Certainly, there are some things that (while basic) will be quite helpful to your survival:

  • Stay calm. Try to think rationally and logically despite the fear and anxiety that you are surely experiencing. Imagine yourself doing a task before you execute it and think about what the one to do after the one that you are doing will be.
  • Water is important. Ration or locate water.
  • Avoiding exposure (to the heat and/or cold) is important. Make a shelter if you are staying put, or, put more sunscreen on!
  • Use anything you've got in your "toolkit" to figure out where you are. Things like this could include: a map, a compass, the position of the sun, the direction/flow of a river, the position of the stars, the side of a tree that moss grows on (although, I tried this once with limited success), your elevation, your gps watch. (I find it strange that if I simply fell off of a trail that I would become disoriented. Although, this is something that could happen to anyone.)

You don't have to do the above items in order. In fact, the order in which you do these things will depend on the time of day, your injury, your energy levels, and much more. You may not do any of these things and still survive. You might do all of them and die. I wouldn't think about that though and I would give the above ideas "a go" before just giving up and allowing my life to pass away.

If all else fails, cut off your arm. ;)

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