Linking common sense and humanity!

Survival strategies are what are needed when the selection pressure increases to the level that the individual or the group are in danger of loss of life. Such strategies apply to survival in difficult or dangerous situations within the environment and range from being stranded in an arid environment to surviving a pandemic in an urban area. 

Planning, preparation and experience are the basic requirements for survival in the field.  Whilst in the field a person should assess how to survive if something goes wrong: before getting into trouble. Most local environments in the contiguous United States of America are not harsh but even in the temperate zones one can die a few hundred yards from apparent civilization. Lightening, a fall, scorpions, rattlesnake, drowning with a flash flood and heat stroke are all part of the selection pressure that acts upon the population who venture into the field. Personally, I have had friends who have died of rattlesnake bite, eaten by a Great White shark, hit by a truck, and blown-up by a land mine whilst in the field.  Get your survival experience in a non-emergency form!

Survival means staying alive, therefore, if you find yourself in  an emergency situation, all of your energies or resources MUST be focused first on staying alive, second on getting out. 

Forget everything else!

Survival situations may take hours to develop e.g. a lightening storm may be reasonably predicted.  In other cases an emergency may happen suddenly as in snakebite.  Living off-the-land survival situations seldom are an issue: the occur mostly in ship-wrecks and plane-wrecks.

Emergencies terminate, one way or the other, rather rapidly in the field!

Some simple behavior rules in the field follow.

  1. Walk at a slow even pace. Know your pace in mph - horizontal and up-hill. Try to develop the same speed up-slope and down slope by altering your pace. Practice walking at military pace [4 mph].

  2. Never run: especially down slopes.

  3. Walk vertically to the slope going uphill.

  4. Walk sideways to the slope going downhill.

  5. NEVER cross your legs going down slope.

  6. If you are truly lost walk UP ridges and DOWN  vallies. [

  7. To deliberately get lost walk up vallies and down ridges i.e. to evade a pursuer.

There is a difference between being lost and not knowing where you are.


Dehydration is the major problem in the arid environment.  Never conserve water by rationing it.  Thirst is the body's way of saying it is loosing water faster than you are replacing it - respond by drinking - even if it is your last drop. The bodies metabolic activities take place at about 99oF. The prime method of cooling the body to this temperature is sweating.  Hence the need for water replenishment.  An internal increase of 5-7oF can be fatal.  Under strenuous, hot conditions the body can loose one [1] quart of liquid per hour; although it is normally less and for normal work in the field 0.5 quart per hour is a reasonable working figure. Thus in the field you need to replenish with 0.5 quart each hour.

Note: in an arid climate sweating may NOT be visible on the skin.  Thus drink at regular intervals instead of waiting until you are thirsty - you can dehydrate rapidly and not feel thirty.  To conserve water avoid sweating and breath through your nose; cover the body, try to avoid the wind.

DETERMINE YOUR PERSON WATER NEEDS.  This is done by starting out with more water than you need. - say 6 quarts.  Keep a note of the terrain, temperature and time.  Note how much water you have left at the end of the day.  The next day adjust to the amount taken according to previous experience.  In the warm temperate areas one can usually manage with 3 quarts if you drink one quart before starting out and one quart upon return. One trick is to drink as much water as you can hold prior to starting out.  Wait 15 minutes and then urinate.  Then once more drink as much water as you can hold.  On a reasonably cool day it is possible to comfortably last the whole day without feeling much thirst.


A day with a >90oF is classified as hot.  Heat when combined with lack of water, low salt intake, wind and sunburn, exercise and stress can prove fatal.  Acclimatization helps to reduce heat problems: this takes at least 3-days and usually about one week in an area such as the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains for people who come from sea-level.

Note:  if you can handle about 8 quarts of water a day and about 3 grams of salt you will probably avoid heat problems.  Individuals with any kind of cardio-vascular disease, such as diabetes are more susceptible to head problems.  Large does of amphetamines and LSD have been implicated in some heat stroke deaths.

Most heat gets into the body through the eyes!

Wear good sun glasses.

Heat exhaustion:  This is a physiological disorder, similar to fainting with rapid heart rate, and perhaps nausea, vomiting, headache and restlessness as symptoms.  Temperature of the body is not higher than normal and may actually be lower.  The problem is not normally serious within itself.

Treatment: get into the shade and take salty fluids.

Heat stroke:  This results from inadequate sweating. Normally the rate of sweating reduces with activity in a heat environment.  Respiration can get so low that the heat regulatory mechanism breaks down - the onset may be rapid. The victim becomes confused and when the body temperature gets to 105oF death can follow rapidly.

Treatment: Cool the body as rapidly as possible.  All untreated cases are fatal due to brain damage.

Heat stroke is one of the few true medical emergencies experienced in the field.!

Heat cramps:  Severe spasmodic contractions of muscles, usually legs and abdomen that may last up to 15 minutes.

Treatment: Stretch the legs.

Sun blindness:  This is very rare, but can be serious when it occurs - wear sunglasses and a hat with a brim.  It is accentuated during periods of high glare.


Mountain malaise: The initial symptoms of altitude sickness start at approximate 6,000 feet as preliminary mountain sickness and progresses to acute mountain sickness. Tiredness, disturbed sleep, headache and sometimes nausea are characteristics of preliminary mountain sickness.

Treatment: Three days of acclimatization and drink 6-8 quarts of water a day.  It is primarily a result of approximately a 20% reduction in the efficiency of the red blood cells as oxygen carriers.  The body reacts by producing more red cells. Over 20 years field experience in the mountains has indicated to me that mountain malaise can be averted by drinking lots of water.

Acute mountain sickness [AMS]: This usually occurs at 7,000 - 8,000 feet after rapid ascent. Headache, nausea sometimes with vomiting, shortness of breath, disturbed sleep, difficulty in thinking are characteristics.

Treatment: acclimatization and drink 6 quarts of water a day.  It is primarily a result of the reduced efficiency of the blood cells. The problem rarely requires descent or further treatment.

High altitude pulmonary edema [HAPE}: This generally occurs above 9,000 - 10,000 feet. This normally takes 36-72 hours to become obvious. The symptoms are shortness of breath, severe headache, fatigue, cough with blood sputum and often a high fever. The result may be unconsciousness and death. It may be misdiagnosed as pneumonia. I have had this illness at 10,500 feet in the Rocky Mountains.  It took 48 hours to develop.  Headache and nausea symptoms were removed by dropping 500 feet and all other symptoms removed by descent to 8,500 feet.

Treatment: if the victim is ambulatory keep moving down slope until below 9,000 feet.

High altitude cerebral edema [HACE}: This occurs above 12,000 feet. It usually takes several days to develop, but rarely may come on quickly. Symptoms are increasing headache, poor judgment, auditory and visual hallucinations, uncoordinated behavior, stumbling walk -ataxia], drowsiness, coma and death. From personal knowledge in the Tibetan Himalayas at 17,000 feet I can assure you this is not an experience you want to have.  I was acclimatized to 12,000 feet but went rapidly to 17,000 feet in a field vehicle. Dropping 1,000 feet removed the VERY severe headache, drowsiness and nausea but symptoms were not completely removed until descending to Lhasa.

Treatment: get the victim down, quickly, at least 1,000 feet. In severe cases seek immediate medical help at a lower altitude.

Lightening: this is one of the greatest threats in many mountainous field areas.  A direct hit is not necessary for a fatal strike: a strike within 100 feet can be fatal.  Avoid prominences and avoid caves:  Louisiana State University lost two students by a lightening strike during field work in Colorado.  They took shelter in a small cave and the lightening struck the ground above them, and then went through the cave, through them and then continued through the floor of the cave. In mountainous areas during lightening move down slope as quickly as possible.

Treatment: IMMEDIATE first aid should be cardio-vascular and mouth-to-mouth.  This can revive some supposedly dead people.


Cacti are the most irritating problem in arid areas . Wear long trousers and long sleeved shirts in the field.

Treatment: use a hand lens and tweezers.

Rattlesnakes: about 10 people die each year from snake bites in the USA.

Treatment: keep quite, no alcohol, get to a physician.  Unless the bite is directly into a blood vessel there is plenty of time [hours] to get treatment so stay calm and move slowly.

Scorpions: the 3 inch long Bark Scorpion [Centruroides sculpturatus] is the main culprit in the USA. During a 30 year period in Arizona scorpions killed 3 people for every 1 rattlesnake death! With medical treatment the bite of a scorpion is not usually fatal. Remember to shake-out boots, socks and bedding before using.  Do not turn-over rocks with your hands: use a stick, knife or rock hammer.

Never walk barefoot!