Preparedness in the Backcountry

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In honor of’s forthcoming issue on “Ruin and Renewal” (online October 1), we present a guest editorial with a few tips on preparing yourself for survival in the backcountry… should the need arise.

The British Columbia wilderness. Photo by Simmons Buntin.Many people pat themselves on the back for being able to survive in the “backcountry,” thinking that watching emergency food preparedness shows translates to ready survival skills. First, let’s define backcountry, which loosely refers to any area of wilderness in which you are isolated from humans, and thus, ready access to emergency services.

In order to survive being stranded in the backcountry, you must think ahead well before heading out, and prepare for any eventualities. This will increase your chances of survival should you find yourself in serious trouble. Whatever the circumstances or time frame, good planning could save your life. So here are five tips on how to stay prepared for survival in backcountry areas:

Know your true skills.
If you are an excellent fisherman, then it would be far wiser to carry around spare hooks and fishing line, as you know you would be able to provide sustenance. This means, unless you are a surgeon, that you can leave the bone saw at home and make room for items that you can actually use, such as needles, twine, and fishing gear.

Know your weaknesses.
If you have areas of knowledge that need improvement, identify and work to strengthen them now, rather than after you have an incident out in the wilderness. The more knowledge you acquire before you head out, the greater your chances of survival. This is true whether for long-term emergency food preparedness or a simple misstep during a long hike. If you have proper expertise, you can improvise, but all the equipment in the world won’t help you learn how to shoot a compound bow or stitch a wound.

Always take, stash, and make essentials.
Building a cache or carrying around a thorough kit of essentials can make a survival situation easier, and often more comfortable. Whether you are lost exploring the woods or have a cabin deep in the forest, you can always have a few essentials to help get you by. Some must-haves include dried freeze food, a compass, a lighter, string, and a knife. With just these few implements, you can eat, build shelter, and create heat.

Don’t panic.
Even the most seasoned outdoor enthusiast can panic in the right (or rather, wrong) situation; however, this is the worst thing you can do. When you panic, you lose sight of your current situation, and lose opportunities to improve it. Stay focused on the most important and immediate task at hand instead.

Don’t overlook ready-made.
Finally, dried freeze foods, canned heat and fire logs are just a few things you can stock up on that could help you be comfortable. You don’t have to make a situation harder than it already is, so don’t miss the chance to have some luxuries as well.

Whether you are planning on hunkering down in isolation for life or simply happen to get lost in the woods, by following these few steps even before you head out, you can make a bad situation bearable. Just remember, your brain is the best tool you have. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.