You can read articles about being prepared. You can attend workshops, stock up on gear, and have an arsenal of quotable tips at the ready. But as most folks will tell you, the best advice comes directly from folks who have had to live it. We recently asked this question to some of our Ambassadors and others who have had their survival knowledge put to the test of real life.
Full Question: What is the biggest challenge you've faced where your survival/preparedness knowledge helped? What tips can you give others based on your experience?
(jump to the story of your choice, or scroll down to see them all)
"Stranded on a hunt in Alaska and Canada without a sleeping bag or gear during freezing temperatures. We had issues processing harvested game in time before dark and could not navigate in the dark safely. The knowlege I had of staying as dry as possible was the key to surviving. I was able to get a fire going in the freezing rain and build spruce limb beds to hold our bodies off the cold ground. We also used the limbs as a blanket to keep our warmth in. I suggest that on any adventures a person should carry a day pack with a lighter, larger knife, and a rain jacket."
"May 15, 2011 I soloed the summit of Mount Everest then went completely snow-blind. Hand over hand I descended alone and blind. What should have taken 3 hours took me 7 hours. I had a couple major falls and ran out of oxygen. Not panicking, staying positive and determined faith and focus got me down to high camp."
"I was leading my group, SoCalX, out of an extremely steep ravine we had climbed into to get to a huge waterfall. Heat exhaustion and a horrendous headache came on me pretty hard, making my see dark spots. I had another guy lead so I could keep my concentration on getting to the top. Long story short, a large boulder got dislodged and sent bouncing down the slope and took out a woman named Bles, who was bringing up the rear. From where I stood, I saw her flip through the air and I had a brief moment of panic where I thought, "Holy shit, we killed someone!" As I made my way down to her, another woman yelled up that she was awake and talking, but her leg could be broke. I checked her over. Her leg was heavily scraped up, her hand was bleeding, and she said she couldn't walk. We had absolutely no cell service and couldn't even get signal for 911, so 3 people had to go for help while we baked in the sun, on steep hillside, with no shade.
I guess assessing the situation and status of everyone in the group is where my survival knowledge was put to use. I put the two women next to a boulder that didn't require too much effort for the injured lady to crawl to, and opened a space blanket over them for shade. The others were able to squeeze into small shady spaces in the boulders. I, on the other hand, could barely see straight from the headache. I dug down into the cool soil beside a bush, got down in it and tried to hydrate.
We were out there for a good hour and a half in the sun before the helicopter airlifted Bles to a waiting ambulance while myself and the others had to finish climbing out of the canyon to the waiting paramedics. Bles ended up being ok. Scrapes on her thigh, broken thumb, and a gash on her palm."
"A buddy of mine went into early stages of hypothermia during a snow camping trip we took a few years back. Terrible trail conditions on the way into our camp site left everyone in our party soaked and exhausted by the time it came to set up for the night. Decreased physical activity, sub zero temps, and wet feet made for a quick onset of uncontrollable shivering and confusion. We were able to warm him by sticking him in a hypo kit with some hot water bottles and a warm bag of Mountain House on his chest between his base layer and insulation layer.
Hypothermia can creep up on you even if you're an experienced backcountry traveler, even if you're not that deep, and even if temps aren't that cold. Tip: Be ready to handle whatever potential threats you could face; just because a threat is unlikely doesn't mean it can't happen. Also, always be self assessing. Know your limits and listen to your body. If something feels off, tell your partners. They might pick up on symptoms you don't and prevent a situation escalating from bad to worse."
"When my family spent two weeks camping through Iceland, my knowledge and skills were put to the test because we were in an all new and extreme environment. We had to dress for a climate, weather conditions, and terrain we hadn't encountered before. We had to plan meals that were easy to prepare and had the nutrients we needed for this very physical adventure. (Wish I had thought to pack Mountain House meals!) I always bring a very well-stocked medical kit with me, and it came in handy. What family vacation doesn't include aches, pains, and at least one sick kid? Because of extreme temperatures and the rugged landscape, I planned out exactly what we would do if our vehicle became stranded and made sure we had the gear and supplies to survive.
Even casual family outings, much less adventurous vacations, require some thinking and planning ahead and considering the "What ifs?' that might occur. It's important to prepare for medical emergencies, loss of power and communications, sudden changes in weather, and even potential natural disasters. With plans and a few preps in place, you can relax, knowing you have what it takes to deal with the unexpected."
"When I had a financial downturn a few years back, it wasn't just my supplies that helped. It was my entire prepper mindset.
We were able to completely rethink our living arrangements and move somewhere less expensive, where we used our supplies and skills in a completely new environment. That ability to take a leap made our savings last while I built a business that could take care of my family.
We used our long-term food supplies, made things from scratch, used wood heat, and lived with a reduced dependence on electricity while we were getting back on our feet. Without the preparedness mindset that allowed us to scale back on this level, we would have been completely out of options.
Not all disasters are widespread. Some are simply a financial downturn that affects only your own family."
"In September of 2008, Hurricane Ike wreaked havoc on the coastline of Texas. We were living north of Houston, TX at the time and aside from losing power, all in all, my family and I were ok. I thought that we would be without our modern-day conveniences for maybe a week at the most. Little did I know that things don’t easily go back to normal following natural disasters and this emergency would set me on a life-altering course.
Week 1: At this point, we were ok. We had supplies for our basic needs. September is still relatively warm in Houston, so aside from not having air conditioning, we could get through it. I considered it an uncomfortable indoor camping trip. We had to ration our light sources because batteries in the area had been sold out from all the hurricane preparations. As well, the use of the generator had to be rationed because of the gasoline it used. We would run it for a few hours to get the temperature back to where it should be and then turn it off. I remember how hot it was that year and it took a lot of self-control not to open the refrigerator door to get a brief reprieve from the heat and humidity. A few days after the hurricane hit, the city announced that the municipal water had been treated and the water should be safe to drink. I turned the water faucet on and it had a profound smell of bleach. With three small children, I didn’t want to chance it, so we continued drinking our bottled water supply. Nighttime was the hardest. My children were 5, 3 and 2 at the time, so it was hard to explain to them why we were in the dark. The sound of generators was always in the background and because we lived in a neighborhood, it was hard to sleep.
Week 2: This “uncomfortable camping trip” was getting to be a nuisance. One aspect of this event we hadn’t prepared for were the mosquitos. They were everywhere! The moment you stepped outside, they were swarming you. I realized then that this is how diseases start up after hurricanes and we stayed inside as much as possible. As well, my small children were getting restless, but because of the mosquitoes outside and the concern of tainted flood water still in puddles around our home, it wasn’t a good idea to let them play in the yard. Grocery stores were unable to keep bottled water and shelf stable food on the shelves, so you had to go very early in the morning before the supplies had been picked through. I was concerned that we wouldn’t have enough water and our children would get dehydrated because of the suffocating heat. Opening windows only did so much at this point. I will say, that our neighbors were very helpful. If you didn’t have something, they would be happy to share.
Week 3: Let’s be honest, no one likes this type of change. We had been off the grid for the better part of a month and everyone was ready for things to get back to normal. As much as we wanted that change, we would have to continue waiting and from the constant bombardment of heat, mosquitoes and not having our modern-day conveniences the community was teetering on the edge. At this point, gas shortages began occurring throughout the city. Because of the debris in the roads, gas stations couldn’t get a fresh supply, and as a result, fights began to break out at the local gas stations to get the remaining gasoline. I also began smelling a pungent odor from the ravine behind my house. It turns out, that my friendly neighbors hadn’t emptied their septic tanks before the storm and were running a hose out to the ravine and dumping their septic waste behind our home. This coupled with the swarming mosquitoes could only mean a disease. To get power back to the city, officials had broken Houston and surrounding cities into zones and we were the last zone to have infrastructure repaired. This was my breaking point. While we had supplies, we were running low and I didn’t know how much longer we could continue. I felt like I had let my children down because we were not as prepared as we should and I vowed to never put them in that position again.
A few days later, my prayers were answered. I saw men working outside my home to restore power. There are no words for how that first breeze of cool air from our air conditioner felt. It truly set my soul at ease because I knew things would get back to normal again.Emotions would go back to normal again.
In retrospect, I was naïve in my preparedness planning. I was planning for the best-case scenario rather than the latter and there were many aspects of preparedness that I hadn’t considered and paid the price for it. I took this situation and decided to learn from it. I equipped my home with more preparedness supplies, studied emergency planning to have a better understanding of what to expect and started my website, www.ReadyNutrition.com. I didn’t want anyone to go through an emergency under prepared like I did. As well, when I saw my neighbors dumping their waste, I made it a goal to educate the public on how communicable diseases can exacerbate following emergencies. The greatest lesson I learned from this is to know ahead of time what to expect and plan for the worst-case scenario. The more prepared we are to live through these minor inconveniences the better off we will be."
"When it comes to survival, I have to say when I forget a piece of gear and I have to improvise and adapt. For example forgetting a spoon or eating utensil, and knowing how to carve one with a straight blade and a stick. Similar circumstances have occurred with a broken tent pole and knowing how to use a ridgeline or make a temporary pole with a sampling. My experiences with preparedness I have mostly dealt with our utilities being down, in other words: the grid not doing it's job. I had prepared for these emergencies and stored three days worth of water, also using an inverter to run power from my car to a refrigerator during a power outage."
"Once, the power went out on us for 5 nights and 4 days in the middle of asub-zero Torontonian/Canadian winter. I have to admit that we weren't ready, and if it wasn't for a pair of really wonderful neighbours, we would've had a downright miserable experience.
It's one thing to know the biggest threats to you locally (in our case, the winter weather), and yet another to actually prepare enough for them. We learned our lesson, however, and have since written up a few guides on what we learned: 1.What we would stockpile for winter emergencies to prevent hardship from happening to us again and, 2.A guide on staying warm indoors when the power's out and it's freezing outside.
Would rather not have learned the hard way, but what's past is past, and so long as we learned (we did!) I'm happy we had the experience."
"Knowing what to prep for first and how to prioritize. It can be overwhelming to prepare for every potential event at once. But there are certain foundation-building activities that will serve you well in almost any event.
1) Water Supply - learning how to supply your own water, whether it is through filtration or your own freshwater cachement system is key.
2) Food Supply - learning how to preserve and store food is critical to master early on. Later on, learning to grow your own food becomes extremely valuable.
3) Survival Medicine - There are no emergency rooms when SHTF, at least don't expect them to be there. Learning simple principles of First Aid and natural treatments can be a life-saving advantage. It's also a skill that enhances your value to others (friends, family, strangers)."