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Cougar or Mountain Lion
Ralph Teller

Outdoor Survival Skills

by Ralph Teller

Survival Skills to Maintain Safety in The Outdoors and Wilderness

Each of us at some point in our lives may find ourselves in a situation where knowledge of basic survival skills will make the difference between life or death. This may occur while traveling, trail running, hiking, climbing, running, cycling, skiing, or other outdoor activity, or from a natural or other disaster, or power outage.

1. Inform of Destination. In advance of your trip, let people know the details of your destination, who you will be with, when your trip begins and how long you will be gone. When taking a long hike, I also note my destination in advance on my public online exercise log. See Ralph's 1Vigor Log Calendar

2. Maintain Composure. Keep calm and keep a clear mind. Anxiety increases breathing rhythm and heart rate, which in turn will cause you to spend unnecessary energy and quicken dehyration and fatigue. Good breathing rhythm is long, slow, deep and regular inhales and exhales. Maintaining a relaxed breathing rhythm will also help you maintain clear thinking. See Breathing Rhythm for Relaxation. See also Clear Thinking Skills. Remaining calm will help you make good decisions and reach safety.

3. Determine Direction. Knowing direction can be an important aspect of the safety equation. If you do not have a compass there are several ways to determine direction.

If the Sun is out:

- Place a stick upright in the ground and find the stick's shadow.
- Place your 1st rock at the tip of the stick's shadow. This is your 'West' mark.
- Wait approximately 20 - 30 minutes for the stick's shadow to move a few inches or centimeters.
- Place the 2nd rock at the tip of this other stick's shadow. This is your 'East' mark.
- Draw a straight line or lay a 1st straight stick from your 'East' rock to your 'West' rock. This is your 'East to West' line/stick.
- Draw a straight line or lay 2nd straight stick across your 'East to West' line/stick. This is your 'North-South' line/stick.
- NOTE The above instructions are for the Northern Hemisphere. For the Southern Hemisphere, the only difference is that North and South are reversed, but East and West remain the same.

If it's Cloudy, in the Northern Hemisphere, trees with thick, rough, linear bark, the up and down lines are usually wider on the South side and tighter on the North side, and more moss will be growing on the North side of the tree. The reverse is true in the Southern Hemisphere.

4. Seek Shelter. Shelter is the survival skill by which you find protection from excess exposure from sun, heat, cold, wind, rain or snow. Trees offer good protection from sun, rain and snow. Other natural shelters include fall trees, caves, rocks and hillsides. If you do not find natural existing shelters, it is possible to make a shelter out of tree limbs, branches and leaves.

5. Hydration, Electrolytes and Nutrition. Maintaining good hydration is a key first line defense to maintain core body temperature, as dehydration can cause hypothermia. The first line of defense against dehydration is to begin your trip fully hydrated, by hydrating well the week before your outing. Various weather considerations require differing hydration considerations and strategies. For a list of hydration consideration and strategies in various weather conditions, include hot, humid, cold, dry and windy conditions, or in high altitude See Hydration for Hiking and Climbing. See also the same article for the importance of maintaining electrolyte balance and a list of natural sources of electrolytes you should consumer prior to your outing so that you begin your outing will good electrolyte balance.

6. Caffeine, Excessive Salt and Refined Sugars. It's important to note that caffeine, excessive salt, and refined sugars can be very dehydrating. If you are in a survival situation and low on water or fluids, products with caffeine, excessive salts and heavy in refined sugar content may lead to quicker dehydration. To learn more about Caffeine, See Caffeine and Athletic Performance.

7. Maintain Normal Core Body Temperature. Maintaining normal core body temperature is essential to remaining safe, injury free and survival. A chilled body core lowers the immune system and causes us to become disoriented. As noted above, maintaining good hydration is a key first line defense to maintain core body temperature, as dehydration can cause hypothermia. For a list of hydration consideration and strategies in various weather conditions, include hot, humid, cold, dry and windy conditions, or in high altitude See Hydration for Hiking and Climbing.

In cold conditions, as leaves or needles make for excellent insulation, stuff your shirt, pants and hat with leaves or needles. Dry leaves or needles are more insulating. Significant heat loss occurs through the head.

If you are lost into the night while hiking or skiing and cannot find shelter or build a snow cave, it is recommended not to sleep as you will increase your chances of hypothermia or freezing to death. Instead, it is recommended you walk at a moderate pace to maintain your normal core body temperature. The key here is to pace yourself to be able to sustain the walk into the morning. You may want to walk in a circle so you do not become further lost and to create a path in the snow to make the walking easier.

8. Signaling. Signaling is the survival techniques that help you be found by alerting any and all potential rescuers that you are in need of help. Signaling skills include (i) a daylight smokey fire (without setting surrounding on fire), (ii) laying out to air signal in an open area S.O.S. in rocks, bright clothing, or logs, (iii) blowing a whistle, (iv) mirrors or other reflective materials to reflect the sun, and (v) cell phones, if there is coverage, or gps devices.

9. Wildlife. Many of us encounter wildlife whether near where we live or when we travel. Most of these encounters are without incident. However, sometimes there are confrontations with wildlife due to either the animal being hungry, surprised or protective of their young. Hunger can be due to either illness, injury of low or late food supply due to colder than average weather conditions.

- Cougars or Mountain Lions. Cougars (aka Mountain Lions) encounters are rare, and attacks are even more unlikely. However, as Cougars are powerful animals, encounters with them should be taken very seriously. If confronted with a cougar, it is recommended to (i) maintain eye contact, (ii) wave hands in the air, as it makes you appear bigger, (iii) do not run, (iv) make loud noise, and (v) do not appear afraid. Cougars like to attack from behind or from above from a tree limb. As Cougars are skilled at killing by first going for the throat, it is important to protect your throat at all times if attacked by a Cougar. If a Cougar attacks it is most likely due to hunger.
- Bears. Bears are much more prevalent and encounters with bears more prevalent. As Bears, like Cougar, mostly avoid human contact, it is good to make noise if you are in an area where Bear habitate. By making noise, you are less likely to have an encounter with a bear, or a bear and her cub, that is a surprise to it. When encountering a bear, it is recommended to avoid eye contact. It is thought eye contact causes the Bear to become more 'interested'. Bears are deceiving fast for their size and incredibly strong. Do not run! You could not outrun a Bear. If attacked by a Bear, it is recommended to lay down and play dead. This strategy however seems to be best where the attack is due to surprise or in protecting a cub. However, if the attack is due to the bear being hungry, you will have to fight back. In fighting back, the key seems to be to remain standing. Get back on your feet every time the Bear knocks you down. When on the ground, you are defenseless if you are on the ground on your stomach. If outdoors in an area known as Bear Habitat, it is a good idea to carry pepper spray, which acts as a good repellant.

10. Ten Essentials. Carrying with you the Ten Essentials will help you maintain safety. Here is a list of the The Ten Essentials.

11. Fire. Of all the survival skills, fire may be the most important. Fire will (i) give you warmth to maintain normal core body temperature, (ii) allow you to cook and boil water, (iii) dry out your clothes, if wet, (iv) provide you a way to signal for help. Waterproof matches are one of the Ten Essentials to carry with you on outings. With your waterproof matches, it is a good idea to carry wind resistant matches. Tinder (very fine, thin, dry grass, pine needles, dry leaves, shredded bark) is the primary fire starting material. Once you have your fire started using Tinder, begin to add Kindling (thin, narrow pieces of wood) to the fire. Then add your sustainable fuel of larger wood pieces. Instead of piling your fuel on top of one another, it is more efficient to place several pieces of wood perpendicular to the fire with one tip of the wood piece in the fire center. You can then therefore push each piece of wood toward the center of the fire as the beginning tip has burned up. This fire layout will use much less wood for a longer burning fire.

More about Ralph Teller. See Ralph's 1Vigor Log Calendar.

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