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Outdoor Survival Skills

Learning to Assess Risk Could Save Your Hike— and Your Life



The Kennebec River was raging. It was the middle of April, and the ice clung to its banks while the current swept past. As I stripped naked and waded into the frigid current, the risks and potential consequences of what I was doing didn’t even cross my mind.

I was 25 years old and in the middle of a winter Appalachian Trail thru-hike, and this river was the most pressing obstacle between me and the finish line. I had alternatives to swimming across a barely-melted Maine river, but I was out of food and shivering, so I decided to ignore them. The river was deep, and the crossing required swimming; on the other side, I had to quickly bundle up in all my dry layers to warm up. 

There was a lot of pressure behind my decision to swim a dangerous river. Besides hunger, I knew that I had to move quickly if I wanted to meet my goal of completing the calendar year Triple Crown. Beyond that, I was feeling the same drive to move forward that pushes fatigued mountaineers into danger or convinces dayhikers to keep climbing even when their gear clearly isn’t up to the task.

I successfully forded the river, but the decision still haunts me. It was a risk I shouldn’t have taken and has become an experience I measure other decisions against. In the years since, I’ve come to realize just how unforgiving and dangerous the backcountry can be. Needless to say, my risk tolerance has changed dramatically throughout the years due to experience. Turning back is still difficult, but in the seven years since crossing the Kennebec River, I have worked to find a healthy balance that allows me to take chances without gambling my safety or future away.

Learn from Experience

Reaching the summit is the obvious goal when you leave the parking lot. But your hike isn’t over until you make it back home, and while the difficulty doesn’t end at the summit, the ego pushing you to the top often does. Once that fades, it can be sobering to honestly confront your situation.

Last summer, I was in the middle of a 37-mile route in the Bridger Mountains in Montana. I took off early in the morning and enjoyed a brilliant sunrise and in the crisp morning air. The crux of the route was water, and as the temperature slowly rose throughout the day, I began to ration the little I had brought. 

Too little, it turned out: . After a few hours, my body began shutting down. There were only six miles to go, and the final rise of the ridgeline loomed just ahead. But the muscles in my hands began to cramp. It was the first obvious sign of oncoming dehydration.  

As desperately as I wanted to continue, the choice was simple. I had been dehydrated enough times to know exactly where this day was heading should I push forward. Two years previously, I had been faced with the same problem, chosen to continue, and almost needed my partner to call an ambulance. 

So, 31 miles into a 37-mile route, I dropped off the ridge and found the nearest creek to rehydrate and lower my body temperature. I might have made a mistake once, but I had learned from it, and confidently made the decision to cut this adventure short.

hiking by headlamp
A hiker negotiates a trail by headlamp (Photo: Cavan Images via Getty)

Know Your Alternatives

Before an adventure, I try to assess the likelihood of a bad outcome and understand just what the consequences of it might be. Considering the risks and understanding when taking a detour or just turning back may be necessary has increased my confidence in venturing into the backcountry both alone and with all levels of backcountry partners. It builds a mental decision tree that I can consider throughout an adventure rather than trying to make rational choices when emotions are running high. 

Last year I decided to try a 50-mile route that crosses the Snake River through Hells Canyon. The adventure involved swimming the river twice without any prior scouting, a risky proposition from the get-go. I packed and set out to do the entire route, but I also accepted there was a high possibility that I would turn around at the river if the crossing did not feel safe.

By the time I left, my plan already included the possibility that I would have to turn back; when I finally ended up having to do just that, having that contingency in place made the decision that much easier. Upon seeing the raging river, a solo crossing felt irresponsible, so I simply called it and retraced my steps.  


Improvement and learning don’t occur during an adventure for me. Instead, that processing usually happens before and afterward. Before I set out, I try to consider what I’ve learned in the past; when it’s all done, I take some time to reflect on the new lessons I brought home with me. Take the time to make an honest assessment of everything from how your gear performed, how realistic your mileage goals were (and what happened if you failed to meet them), how the elevation and climate affected you, and how your body held up throughout it all. 

There is a push and pull to finding an acceptable risk tolerance that lets you get out of your comfort zone without assuming too much danger, and there are few things more helpful in doing so than your lived experience. Take it seriously.

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Teaching Kids About Wilderness Safety and Survival




Exploring the great outdoors offers numerous benefits for children, from fostering a love of nature to promoting physical activity and learning valuable life skills. However, venturing into the wilderness also comes with inherent risks. Teaching kids about wilderness safety and survival not only empowers them to enjoy outdoor adventures responsibly but also prepares them to handle unexpected situations effectively.

Understanding the Environment

The first step in teaching kids about wilderness safety is helping them understand the environment they’ll be exploring. Discuss potential hazards such as uneven terrain, wildlife encounters, and changes in weather conditions. Encourage curiosity about nature while emphasizing the importance of respecting its power and unpredictability.

Hiking Essentials

Before setting out on a hike, ensure that your children are equipped with the essential gear and knowledge to stay safe. Teach them to dress appropriately for the weather, wear sturdy footwear, and carry essentials such as water, snacks, a map, and a whistle. Emphasize the importance of staying on marked trails and never wandering off alone.

Navigation Skills

Teach children basic navigation skills to help them stay oriented in the wilderness. Show them how to read a map and use a compass, pointing out landmarks and trail markers along the way. Encourage them to pay attention to their surroundings and make mental notes of key features to aid in navigation.

Emergency Procedures

Prepare children for emergencies by teaching them essential survival skills and emergency procedures. Demonstrate how to signal for help using a whistle or mirror, build a shelter using natural materials, and start a fire safely. Discuss what to do in case they become lost or separated from the group, emphasizing the importance of staying calm and staying put to make rescue easier.

Wildlife Safety

Educate children about the wildlife they may encounter in the wilderness and how to coexist safely. Teach them to observe animals from a distance and never approach or attempt to feed them. Discuss how to react in the event of a wildlife encounter, such as backing away slowly from bears or standing tall and making noise to deter smaller animals.

Water Safety

If your outdoor adventures include activities near water, such as swimming or boating, it’s crucial to teach children about water safety. Emphasize the importance of wearing a life jacket, swimming with a buddy, and avoiding strong currents or dangerous water conditions. Teach them how to recognize signs of drowning and how to perform basic water rescue techniques if necessary.

Leave No Trace Principles

Instill in children the importance of practicing Leave No Trace principles to minimize their impact on the environment. Teach them to pack out their trash, stay on designated trails, and avoid disturbing wildlife or natural habitats. Encourage them to appreciate the beauty of nature while also being responsible stewards of the land.

Teaching kids about wilderness safety and survival empowers them to enjoy outdoor adventures responsibly while equipping them with valuable life skills. By helping children understand the environment, providing essential gear and knowledge, and emphasizing the importance of safety and respect for nature, parents can foster a love of the outdoors that lasts a lifetime. Encourage curiosity, exploration, and a sense of adventure, while always prioritizing safety above all else.

How do you teach children about wilderness safety? Leave your tips for other parents in the comments below.

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Family-Friendly Wilderness Survival Skills: Navigating Nature Together



When it comes to venturing into the wilderness as a family, being equipped with essential survival skills can turn what might seem like a daunting prospect into a thrilling adventure. From navigating rugged terrain to building shelters and finding sustenance, knowing how to handle various wilderness scenarios not only ensures safety but also fosters a deeper connection with nature. Here, we’ll delve into some family-friendly wilderness survival skills that are both practical and empowering for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages.

Navigating Nature’s Maze: The Art of Orientation

Wilderness navigation skills are absolutely necessary for survival. Teach your family members how to read a map and use a compass. Turn it into a game, plotting imaginary routes or exploring nearby trails. Understanding how to interpret natural landmarks, such as mountains or rivers, can serve as invaluable guideposts when technology fails or trails grow faint.

Shelter from the Storm: Building Safe Havens


Constructing a shelter in the wilderness isn’t just about protection from the elements; it’s also an opportunity to foster teamwork and resourcefulness. Encourage your family to work together to build a shelter using readily available materials like branches, leaves, and logs. Even practicing with a simple tarp or emergency blanket in the backyard can instill confidence and prepare everyone for unexpected situations.

Quenching Thirst: Finding and Purifying Water Sources

woman taking water from forest spring

Water is essential for survival, but finding safe sources in the wilderness can be challenging. Teach your family how to locate water sources such as streams or springs, and emphasize the importance of purifying water before drinking. Show them how to boil water over a campfire or use portable water filtration systems. It’s not just about quenching thirst; it’s about ensuring hydration without compromising health.

Mastering the Flames: The Art of Fire Building

Building a fire in the wilderness is not only a practical skill but also a primal experience that connects us to our ancestors. Teach your family the basics of fire building: selecting dry tinder, arranging kindling, and patiently nurturing the flames. Show them how to practice fire safety, such as keeping a safe distance from combustible materials and extinguishing fires completely before leaving a campsite.

Harmonizing with Wildlife: Respectful Coexistence

Encounters with wildlife are part of the allure of wilderness exploration, but they also require caution and respect. Educate your family about local wildlife, teaching them to recognize signs of activity and respond appropriately. Instill in them a sense of awe and appreciation for the natural world while emphasizing the importance of maintaining a safe distance and avoiding confrontations.

Equipping your family with wilderness survival skills is not just about preparing for the worst-case scenario; it’s about empowering them to explore and thrive in the great outdoors. By teaching navigation techniques, shelter-building skills, water purification methods, fire-building basics, and wildlife awareness, you’re not only ensuring their safety but also nurturing a lifelong love for nature and adventure. So, gather your loved ones, pack your gear, and embark on unforgettable journeys into the heart of the wilderness, where every challenge becomes an opportunity to learn and grow together.

Do you practice wilderness survival with your family? What do you do? Leave your pointers in the comments below.

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Outdoor Survival Skills

Banding Together In Times Of Crisis: The Important of Survival Communities




In times of crisis, whether natural disasters, economic downturns, or other emergencies, fostering community resilience is paramount for families to navigate challenges successfully. Building strong bonds and collaborating with neighbors can provide essential support networks and resources. In this article, we’ll explore strategies for families to work together and contribute to community resilience during times of crisis.

Establish Communication Channels

Clear and reliable communication channels are essential for coordinating efforts and sharing critical information within the community. Establish methods such as neighborhood watch groups, social media networks, or communication apps to stay connected with neighbors. Create contact lists with essential contact information for each household and designate emergency communication protocols.

Collaborate on Emergency Preparedness

Encourage collaboration among families in preparing for potential emergencies. Organize community-wide preparedness events or workshops to share knowledge, resources, and skills. Pooling resources such as emergency supplies, tools, and equipment can enhance the collective readiness of the community. Develop evacuation plans and designate meeting points in case of evacuation orders.

Share Skills and Resources

Identify the skills, expertise, and resources available within the community and leverage them to support one another. Encourage neighbors to share their knowledge of gardening, first aid, construction, or other relevant skills. Create a network for exchanging goods and services, such as food, water, tools, and shelter materials. By collaborating and supporting each other, families can address challenges more effectively.

Establish Mutual Aid Networks

Establish mutual aid networks to provide assistance and support to vulnerable members of the community during times of crisis. Identify individuals or families who may need extra help, such as elderly residents, people with disabilities, or single parents. Coordinate efforts to check on their well-being, provide assistance with essential tasks, or evacuate them safely if necessary.

Organize Community Resilience Projects

Prepper Community

Engage in community resilience projects that enhance the overall preparedness and resilience of the neighborhood. Examples include community gardens, rainwater harvesting systems, emergency shelters, and neighborhood watch programs. Work together on initiatives that promote self-sufficiency, sustainability, and disaster resilience.

Foster Social Connections

Building strong social connections within the community fosters a sense of belonging and solidarity, which is crucial during times of crisis. Organize regular neighborhood gatherings, potlucks, or block parties to strengthen relationships and build trust among neighbors. Encourage open communication, empathy, and mutual support to create a resilient community fabric.

Participate in Training and Exercises

Participate in training sessions and emergency preparedness exercises as a community to enhance readiness and coordination. Practice scenarios such as earthquake drills, fire evacuation drills, or first aid training exercises. Evaluate and refine emergency plans based on lessons learned from simulations and real-life experiences.

Engage with Local Authorities and Organizations

Collaborate with local authorities, emergency responders, and community organizations to enhance resilience efforts. Stay informed about emergency protocols, evacuation routes, and available resources in your area. Advocate for community resilience initiatives and participate in local planning committees or advisory boards.

By working together and building strong community connections, families can significantly enhance their resilience and ability to withstand crises. By establishing communication channels, collaborating on preparedness efforts, sharing skills and resources, and fostering social connections, families can contribute to building a resilient community that supports its members in times of need. Remember, resilience is built through collective action and mutual support.

Are you a part of a bigger survival community? If not, do you plan on changing that? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. 


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