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Survival of the Fittest :Surviving Fording Water

On or off trail, a hike can cross water. In late summer, it’s easy to ford a stream, but in early summer or after a heavy rain, that stream may look more like a rushing river, so be prepared.

When you ford water, you’ll get wet and cold. If the weather is warm, you may want to wear shorts so you don’t have to deal with soaked pants, or consider water-proof boots like these. Be careful when you cross. The shallowest stream has slippery rocks that can land you in the water with a sprained ankle, and cold water will feel even colder on bare feet. Since you don’t want wet boots, carry a pair of sport sandals or water mocs for fording. They’ll be warmer than bare feet and provide traction on the streambed. Consider a carabiner to clip your boots to your pack.

Assess the stream before you cross. Look at the current, and determine the depth. Check downriver for obstructions, because if you do fall, that’s what you’ll be swept into. Avoid crossing where the current is rapid and there are boulders or logjams downstream from you. Check your map for a better crossing, or find a high spot where you can see up and downstream. If the water is past mid-thigh, only cross if the current is slow, or you’ll be swimming.

Once you’re ready to cross, trade your boots for your crossing footwear. Unclip your pack’s hip belt and loosen the straps; a secure pack can cause you to drown if you fall. Cold water may make you want to rush, but take slow short steps and feel your way with your feet. Find the lowest footing so your foot won’t slip farther down. In water past your knees, use a walking stick or trekking poles to help keep your balance, but put most of your weight on your feet for stability. Don’t try jumping from rock to rock. A wet rock is a slippery rock, and a group of rocks poses a danger to your bones, including your skull, if you fall.

Once you’re out of the water, take off your shoes and dry yourself with absorbent clothing, like this cotton shirt . If the water evaporates, you’ll get colder. Use a pack with a waterproof pocket to store wet clothing separate from dry items. And now you’re ready to hike to the next ford!

(Sources: Molvar, Erik. Hiking Olympic National Park: A Guide to the Park’s Greatest Hiking Adventures. Edition: 2. Globe Pequot, 2008 , ,, )

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Survival of the Fittest: Surviving a Black Bear Attack

If you’re hiking in a forest, whether flatland or mountainous, you may encounter a black bear. An estimated 300,000 of them inhabit 41 of the lower 48 states, from coast to coast. To survive an encounter with a black bear, hike with a group and be prepared. Wear medium hiking boots and carry a backpack with a quick-access pocket on the hip belt. Carry bear spray there. Bear spray contains capsaicin, but it’s a different concentration than spray for people. Make sure it specifies it’s for bears.

“Black” bears can be black, cinnamon, golden, and in some parts of British Columbia, even white. These bears are generally shy, and prefer to avoid contact. If you see a bear, and it hasn’t seen you, back away slowly. Watch the bear but don’t make eye contact. When you’re out of sight, wait until you hear it move away or find a route around it. Bears have very poor eyesight, so if it sees you, wave your arms slowly, and talk in a calm voice to let it know you’re human. Move slowly upwind away from the bear. Never walk up to a bear, and never try to feed it.

In some situations, a bear may see you as a threat. If it’s a mother with first year cubs, she’ll start a defensive attack. She’ll warn you by swatting the ground or chuffiing, moaning, and snapping her teeth. If she approaches you, stand still. She’ll usually stop, and then you can back away and pull out your bear spray. If she comes at you again, use the spray when she’s within 15 feet, and aim for the face. You’ll also be perceived as a threat if a bear is defending a kill. Watch for ravens and other scavengers that may indicate a kill site, and avoid it.

If the bear attacks defensively, play dead, and the bear should leave. If it attacks you aggressively, fight for your life with all your might. Yell, use a knife, fists, or sticks and rocks, and aim for the nose and eyes. As soon as you can get away, head for medical help. If you’re far from help, first treat any bleeding wounds with your first aid kit .

Use good bear sense, and survive for your next hike.

(Sources:,,, )

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Survival of the Fittest: Surviving Heatstroke

With the season well into spring, it’s time to think about summer survival. A major danger in hot summer weather is heatstroke. Left untreated, it can be deadly.

Heatstroke usually begins with heat cramps. Heat cramps have symptoms that include excessive sweating, thirst, exhaustion and muscle cramps. It’s easily treated by moving to a cooler spot, drinking fluids containing electrolytes, like most sports drinks and resting. Avoid fluids with caffeine or alcohol. If you don’t treat cramps, you’ll get heat exhaustion. Symptoms include nausea, headache, dizziness, cool moist skin and dark urine. Treat it the same way you treat heat cramps.

If you don’t treat heat exhaustion, you’ll get heatstroke. Your body temperature will climb to 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, you’ll stop sweating and you may experience hyperventilation and a rapid pulse. As your brain heats up, you could have seizures, pass out, hallucinate, or become confused. Your over-heated muscles, cramping in the early stages, can become either stiff or limp. Shock is a frequent complication of heatstroke.

Since heatstroke can be caused by extreme ambient temperatures, extreme physical activity, or both, it’s not uncommon in people who are hiking or rock climbing, especially in the desert southwest. Avoid it by taking a few simple precautions.

First, don’t wear too much clothing. Stick to loose fitting shorts or lightweight pants like these , that provide protection from the sun and can convert to shorts in camp. Lightweight loose polo shirts or a buttoned cotton shirt that provides ventilation will help you stay cooler. Stick with cotton socks that can wick moisture from your feet, and your choice of light hiking boots , and your feet will stay cool. Use sunscreen, and apply it often through the day to all exposed skin.Wear a lightweight hat to protect your head and eyes from the sun.

Try a backpack like this one. The straps vent air away from your body, it carries two 32 ounce water bottles, and has a hydration sleeve for a 3L bladder. Make sure you drink often. Fill a portable cooler cube with sports drinks for anyone who starts feeling heat cramps. Make sure your camp has a shady area and is near a water source, and make sure you have a water filter .

Pay attention to your body to survive. If you feel heat cramps, avoid heatstroke by finding a cool shady place to rest and drink.

(Sources:,http://www.mayoclin... , )

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Survival of the Fittest: Surviving Frostbite

Frostbite, or freezing of body tissues, is one of the worst dangers of winter hiking, camping, or skiing. To survive, learn to prevent it and treat it.

The cold isn’t the only factor in frostbite. Windchill, moisture, skin exposure, body type, dehydration, previous frostbite, and use of alcohol or caffeine can all contribute to frostbite. Another factor is your body’s response to cold. When you start getting cold, blood flow increases to your core to prevent hypothermia, leaving less blood to your extremities. If hypothermia is a possibility, treat that first.

Frostbite falls into two categories, superficial and deep. Superficial frostbite causes you to feel burning and tingling when surface tissue starts freezing. Sometimes called frostnip, only the top layers of skin freezes and it’s usually reversible. Your skin will look waxy and pale, and become numb, but deeper tissues stay unfrozen. Deep frostbite can affect your muscles and bones; the affected area will feel hard and look dead and blackened.

The first parts of your body endangered by frostbite are fingers, toes, ears, and nose. Wear insulated gloves, warm i nsulated boots , a warm hat that covers your ears, and something to cover your nose. Consider wearing a pair of lightweight gloves inside your regular gloves, and look for wool socks that will stay warm when wet. Make sure the socks, gloves, and any other clothes aren’t too tight. Constricting clothes contribute to frostbite. If you feel numbness or tingling in these body parts, head for shelter and warmth.

If you’re far from medical help, start with first aid. Gently but quickly warm the affected area, holding it against someone else’s warm body if necessary. Do not rub the frostbitten area; that can cause cell damage. If possible, put the affected part into warm, not hot, water. Wrap the affected area with sterile gauze from a first aid kit . Put cotton between fingers and toes so they don’t rub against each other. Put dry warmed feet into booties to keep them warm. Give the injured person ibuprofen and warm fluids. Finally, if you’re not absolutely sure that you can keep the frost-bitten area from freezing again, don’t try to warm it. Keep it frozen and get to medical assistance as quickly as possible.

Untreated, frostbitten fingers, toes, hands and feet may become gangrenous and need amputation. Don’t take frostbite lightly if you want to survive.

(Sources: , , , )

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Survival of the Fittest: Surviving Hypothermia

If you’ve followed Survival of the Fittest, you know how to dress for cold weather and how to set up a camp that can protect you in a winter storm. But pay attention: hypothermia, a gradual cooling of your body, can kill. Know the symptoms, how to avoid it and what to do if someone in your group develops it.

The early symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, pale or blue-gray skin, and what the Mayo clinic staff call the “-umbles:” stumbles, mumbles, fumbles, and grumbles. The grumbling may appear as indifference to what’s going on, and the mumbling can also appear as slurred speech. Difficulties with movement and balance are the stumbling part, and can also appear when numbed fingers fumble with tasks like pulling up a zipper. Later symptoms include confusion, slowing of breathing and pulse, muscle stiffness, extreme fatigue and loss of consciousness.

Most people assume that hypothermia occurs only when the temperatures are below freezing. That’s a myth. If the weather is cool and cloudy, and you get soaked with rain and don’t get into dry clothes and a warm place, you can get hypothermia. Cold water is another common cause of hypothermia. Depending on the temperature of the water, it can take several hours or just minutes of exposure to develop hypothermia.

Preventive measures include layering your clothing; wear a thin pair of gloves inside your regular gloves and double up your socks. Keep your head and ears covered with a hat or headband. Avoid too much exertion; evaporating sweat can make you much colder. If you swim in a mountain lake, make sure it’s not too cold and don’t stay in too long.

If someone is wet or cold and showing signs of hypothermia, get them back to camp immediately. Strip all the wet clothing and leave it outside the tent. Dress them in warm, dry clothing or wrap them in a sleeping bag , and warm their feet with dry wool socks or primaloft or down booties. Heat stones in a campfire, wrap them in fabric, and bring them inside to help warm the cold person. Provide plenty of hot liquids to warm the victim from the inside. Get the victim of hypothermia out of the cold and back to a better shelter, and apply medical care if needed, as quickly as possible.

Enjoy winter sports and mountain lakes, but make sure you can survive hypothermia.

(Sources: ,, )

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Survival of the Fittest: Surviving a Flash Flood

Canyon white water rafting or shooting rapids in a kayak or canoe is an experience more exciting than any roller coaster. But remember these sports can turn deadly in the event of a flash flood.

Whatever craft you’re using, you need to pack basic equipment. A waterproof bag is a starting place, something to keep your food and most valuable gear, including things like a camera , a waterproof flashlight, your goggles (when you’re not wearing them to protect your eyes), and a first aid kit, although the Paddler by Adventure Medical Kits comes in its own drybag and includes both an emergency blanket for two people as well as waterproof matches. On the water, whether it’s smooth or not, you should be wearing a flotation device, and a helmet to protect your head from rocks.

The absolute best way to survive flash floods is to avoid them. Before you start, check the weather forecast. If it includes thunderstorms or heavy rain, even 30 miles away, be aware that a flash flood is likely, so don’t go. The waterways feeding the river are likely to fill or overflow with rainfall or snow melt, then enter your river all at once, creating a flash flood. Having a portable waterproof radio can help you keep track of weather conditions and help you avoid floods.

Keep an eye on the sky and the water upstream as you run the river. If you see thunderheads, afar away, get out of the water and get to high ground, out of the canyon if possible. If you hear a sudden loud rushing noise, get out and to high ground as fast as you can. A flash flood comes down a canyon like a wall of water, and you may have little time to get out.

If you can’t get out, hang on to your raft and kayak, even if it capsizes, and try to use your paddles to push away from rocks and debris in the water. You may survive the flash flood with a great story to tell.

(Sources:, ; )

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Survival of the Fittest: Surviving a Winter Storm While Camping

The experienced wilderness survivor knows the joys of winter camping, like silence and solitude. You already know how to dress; next, is to prepare for a winter storm. A winter storm can come out of nowhere in the mountains. So, let’s set up your base camp so it’s storm-ready.

Make your camp in a sheltered spot, like the down-wind side of a group of trees. Check them for dead branches and pull down any you find. Trample the base for your tent wearing your snowshoes or skis; make it as level as possible.

Start with an insulating footprint for your tent. The best tents are shaped to shed snow, like a dome tent., and also provide plenty of space. A tent fly can keep your tent walls freezing. Erect the tent on the footprint with the entrance away from the prevailing wind. Build a packed snow wall three to four feet high and a foot away from your tent walls along the back and around the sides to the entrance as a windbreak and for extra insulation.

Place a tarp or space blanket, like the one inside your first aid kit, on the tent floor for more insulation. Keep a brush just outside your tent (or in the vestibule) to knock off any snow on your clothes and boots, and keep it outside your tent. Use warm sleeping pads under a good winter sleeping bag like this one from Sierra Designs that’s good to 30 degrees. Sleep in your baselayer top and bottom, and bring your outer clothes inside your sleeping bag to warm up before you put them on. Wear a hat or balaclava for warmth while you sleep as well as when you’re outside, and make sure you’re breathing outside your sleeping bag to avoid humidity building up.

Use your stove to cook and to melt snow; keep waterbottles upside down. Cook outside your tent; fuel fumes can be deadly. Eat plenty of carbohydrates, and make warm drinks throughout the day to help keep your core warm and to avoid dehydration.

Now that you’ve set up a storm-sturdy camp, your next big danger is hypothermia.

( Sources:,, )

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Survival of the Fittest: Surviving a Broken Limb

No matter how experienced you are, there’s always the risk of slipping and falling when you’re in the wilderness. But what if you fall and break your bones? The first thing you need on any outdoor excursion is a first aid kit . This one includes a guide to wilderness and travel medicine, along with some supplies for a broken limb. If you love the wilderness, you should also consider taking a basic first aid class.

Examine the injury to make sure it’s a break, not a sprain. You’ll need a splint on both sides of a broken leg; if you have a tent, you can use the poles. If not, look for two sturdy long sticks. If you can’t find anything, use a bandage wrap from your first aid kit to splint the broken leg to the other leg, and make sure the splint is secure the entire length of the leg. If the fracture is compound (bone breaks through the skin), pull it straight so that the bones align, clean the wound, apply an antibiotic cream, dress and bandage the wound firmly, then splint the leg.

Splint an arm with a rolled up magazine or newspaper, or with shorter poles or sticks. Put the arm in a sling, made from any fabric you have. Whether the break is an arm or leg, give the injured person pain killers from the kit, and make sure you can see fingers or toes so you can tell if the splint is too tight – if the fingers or toes turn red or purple, then it’s on too tight. The limb needs circulation.

Step two is to get the injured person to real medical help. If he has a broken arm, he can probably still walk. If it’s a leg, and you have two uninjured people, make a litter with the tent fabric or a sleeping bag and two tent poles or two long sticks. If there’s only one of you to help, make a travois instead, and keep the leg elevated at the high end of the travois. Keep the injured person warm to avoid shock.

Stay calm, know what to do, and you can survive a fracture in the wilderness.

(Sources: , , )