The Guide to Getting Home Alive: What to do if You're Stranded Outside

The Guide to Getting Home Alive: What to do if You're Stranded Outside

Every good man should seek out adventure often as possible, in any way an opportunity presents itself. Whether that be huddled behind the captain’s wheel on the high seas, scaling the tallest mountainsides, trudging through unknown jungles, cruising down road after winding road or searching high and low for quietude and peace, man should be willing to lose himself, find himself and grow himself whenever possible.

Romanticism aside, exploration and adventure isn’t just about the journey; it’s about coming home. That sounds like a joke, but we live in a world that’s trying to kill us by design—in the terrain we were never meant to explore, the beasts we were never meant to tame and, most of all, in the limits we were never meant to push. Hell, we could write an entire book on exhilarating ways to kill oneself. Dying is the easy part. But surviving? That takes knowledge, skill and tact, and the sooner one arms oneself with those weapons, the better off they’ll be.

Here’s The Guide to Getting Home Alive: What to do if You’re Stranded Outside.

Books to Read

We’re going to be covering the basics here, but grabbing a good field manual to study from and keep packed as a reference guide is going to do more for you than this write-up ever could. That said, here’s some reading material we recommend for every emergency survival situation:

The US Army Survival Manual: FM 21-76—$10.26

This is an inexpensive, basic field manual that was first produced by the U.S. Department of Defense and was standard issue for the U.S. Army for some time. It offers survival tips for every climate, as well as things like starting fires, rendering first aid, identifying snakes and edible/poisonous plants, etc. While it’s obviously a little outdated (October, 1970), it’s an excellent book.

Primitive Wilderness Living & Survival Skills: Naked into the Wilderness—$17.88

Considered by many to be the definitive outdoors survival guide, Primitive Wilderness Living & Survival Skills offers detailed instructions with extra tips and tricks, and is geared specifically for people who have no idea what they’re doing.

How to Stay Alive in the Woods: A Complete Guide to Food, Shelfer and Self-Preservation—$21.95

Everyone from novice explorers to hardcore survivalists give this book the nod of approval because of its exceptional survival information and detailed pictures. Spend the extra money and grab the hardcover version, which comes with detailed color photos.

The Outdoor Survival Handbook: A Guide to the Resources & Material Available in the Wild & How to Use Them for Food, Shelter, Warmth, & Navigation--$13.04

If you’re going to purchase one single book on this list, it should be this one. For 13 bucks, you’re getting a crash course in literally everything you’ll need to stay alive and get home safely. We can’t recommend this one enough.

Considering Your Environment

You can find yourself lost or stranded outside for a multitude of legitimate, if even somewhat common reasons. You were out hiking and took a wrong turn on the trail route. Those flurries turned to a blizzard barrage and you’re stranded roadside. You found yourself in the midst of a natural disaster and had to head for the hills. These things do happen to normal, unsuspecting people all the time.

Our first piece of advice should be obvious, but in times of panic and cognitive disarray, it’s an easy rule to forget: Remain calm no matter what.

Every single move you need to make, from finding shelter and food, to finding a way to be rescued, is only going to be more difficult if you’re panicking. Remember: The majority of people who find themselves in these kinds of situations are located within the first three days.

Now that we have that out of the way, the first thing you should consider is your environment. Where are you? What is the climate like? Is it cold and rainy? Is it snowing? Is it steamy and hot? About how far away from civilization are you? Are there any immediate threats to your safety, or is there anything in your immediate vicinity you might be able to use for shelter or to your benefit?

You need to consider all of these things right off the bat in order to understand how to proceed.

Considering Your Resources

Once you’ve had a look around to assess your situation, conduct a careful audit of every resource at your disposal. Do you have a vehicle? What kind of clothing do you have? Do you have immediate access to food? Is your emergency kit on hand (because you have one of those, right?)?

You need to consider everything you have at your disposal, and everything that may be a strength or potential weakness. For instance, things seemingly unimportant as footwear can make a tremendous difference in your ability to survive, depending on where you are. If you’re stuck in a blizzard wearing canvas shoes, you won’t be getting very far if you’re dumb/desperate enough to make a run for it.

Knowing what you have at your disposal and how you can best utilize those things will drastically impact your chances of survival.

Getting Down to Business

Alright. So, you’re stranded, and it sucks, and by this point, you’ve had a look around at everything available to you—both in your immediate environment, and in the stuff you had on and/or got stuck with.

Your next step is obtaining these four things, in this order: Shelter, heat, water and food. Shelter comes first because you cannot survive when left in the elements. Whether you’re constructing a debris hut or going full-on MacGyver and tossing together a primitive clay hut, shelter needs to be your first and primary concern. If you have a car—even if it’s inoperable—you’re still miles ahead of the game and should consider yourself lucky.

From there, you’re going to need a heat source. Even if it’s 100 degrees outside, you’re going to need to create a source of fire to do things like purify water, melt snow into drinking water, cook, etc. Plus, the smoke from your fire is one of the primary ways to be seen by help. With the right tools and knowledge, creating fire is simple.

After you secure shelter and heat/fire, you need to find drinking water. Whether it’s stuff you packed in an emergency kit, water from a running stream (you can use pond water if it’s boiled first), a way to collect rain water or a means of melting snow into drinking water (eating non-melted snow is discouraged because it can drastically drop your body temperature), you need to find it as soon as possible. It’s prioritized over food because, believe it or not, the human body is exceptionally resilient. Technically, you can survive three weeks without food. Without water, you’ll be lucky to make it four days.

After all that, you need to find a source of food. If you’ve never hunted before, trapping and hunting can prove extremely difficult. It’s best to familiarize yourself with the local plant life (or make sure you keep a detailed guide to edible outdoor foods handy) and stockpile all the food you can. Think: nuts, roots, seeds and fruits.

If you can find your way to some game—smaller animals, fish and even some insects—it’ll prove invaluable to you later. This guide gives a brief tutorial on what you need and what you should be looking for, including some pretty useful tips and tricks. For instance, stay away from white berries, mushrooms or fungi, and always remember that if a bird is eating it, it’s probably safe for human consumption. And speaking of birds, this primitive trap is a simple and surefire way to trap, prepare and cook a wild bird. It’s no KFC, but it’ll keep you alive.

What to Pack in an Emergency Kit

Whether you’re heading out for a weekend on the trails or just want something to keep in the trunk of your car, you should always have some kind of emergency provisions within reach. It sounds silly until having it means saving your ass.

But what should every good survival kit include? First and foremost, like we said above, always have some kind of field manual or reference guide along with you for the ride. We cannot stress how valuable those things can be if you’re stranded in a bad spot.

Aside from that, you want to include items that you won’t find around you in time of need. A good multipurpose tool is at the top of our list, and one that we recommend to everyone is the Leatherman Signal. Leatherman is known the world over for their multi-purpose tools, but the signal comes with everything from pliers, wire cutters, can openers, a blade and saw, to a hammer, an emergency whistle, a blade sharpener and most importantly, a fire starter.

You should also have a proper first aid kit that include things like bandages, sterile gauze pads, antiseptic wipes, splints, ointments, a thermometer, bug bite spray, aspirin, etc. You can put a kit together yourself or invest in something like this. Either way, a proper first aid kit is essential.

Other necessities include a change of warm dry clothing, a flashlight, non-perishable food items, a LifeStraw (seriously, these things are incredible and inexpensive), water, a solar-powered survival radio, a compact emergency sleeping bag, all-weather matches, some garbage bags (to use as rain gear/foot covers) and if you have the room and budget, an all-season personal tent can really make all the difference. Oh, and definitely don’t forget your compass and regional map book.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.