Survival Skills: Orienteering

Survival skills Orienteering
Photo by Tim Graf on Unsplash

In a world of fancy GPS units, it seems the map and compass are going the way of the dinosaur. Still, in a pinch, a compass and a topography map cost almost nothing and can save your life just as well. Save yourself over a hundred dollars on a handheld GPS and pick up this antique but useful skill.

Orient the map

The first thing you need to do with a map is lay it out in the “correct” direction. That is to say, North on the map should be North on the compass. It is comical to watch rookie navigators moving steadfastly in the wrong direction because they didn’t realize that the map turned when they turned. The map needs to have a single orientation, and this is by far the most important step.
With a topography map of your area, look for a spot that points toward North. You may need to adjust for the difference between magnetic North and actual North, and that will be noted on the map itself. With your compass, figure out which direction is magnetic North, and align the map’s magnetic North with the direction your compass says it should be.

Orient Yourself

Figure out where you are on the map. Hopefully, with the topography features on the map, you can figure it out fairly accurately. My favorite trick is to get on top of a hill, since the tops of hills are easiest to see on topography maps. Otherwise, use landmarks. Some estimation will be a given, but it shouldn’t matter too much if you are using your compass well enough.

With your oriented map, figure out which direction you want to travel in. Use your compass to figure out how many degrees off of North you will need to travel to get where you are going., and then you can fold your map up and follow the compass direction. The best way to do that is to pick an intermediate point that you can see in line with your compass direction. Walk to it, and then repeat the process of figuring out your direction.

Repeat Often

It is surprisingly easy to become turned around. Repeat the process as often as possible in order to make sure you are headed in the right direction. At night, this becomes extra difficult, so amateurs should probably bed down and travel again in the morning.

Blazing your own trail isn’t recommended, but in a pinch, it could be the difference between being stuck in the wilderness and getting home. Practice your skills at home in a park before you take them out into the field. Topography maps are readily available online, in libraries, or from the government, so getting one for your area should be reasonably simple. Have fun with your new skills, and enjoy your time in the wilderness.

Survival Skills: Build a Shelter

Shelter is one of our primitive needs. No matter where you are, having a place to get out of the sun, rain, snow, or wind will be important. Building a shelter in most areas is as simple as being observant and using everything you have to work with.

Sticks and Leaves

The most common shelter I’ve built has been the sticks and leaves shelter. This shelter goes up pretty quickly and anyone can do it. Find a large tree, rock, or log, and begin to lean sticks across it. You will form a rough lean-to structure with your first sticks. Then add a layer of leaves, and then another layer of sticks. Repeat the process, using anything you can including mosses and mud, to make a shelter that is rain resistant and sturdy. This shelter takes only an hour to prepare, even for a novice.

Common mistakes when building this shelter are typically just that you picked a bad site, and made one that you can’t fit in. All the rules for pitching tents apply here! You want to sleep on smooth, dry ground.

Snow Shelters

These are a bit trickier, but are surprisingly warm inside. Building a shelter out of snow can be as simple as making an enormous pile of snow and then hollowing it out. Not all snow will work, as it must be reasonably compacted, but a snow shelter is a really excellent insulator. Other snow shelters that I’ve seen have involved digging a trench in the snow and then building a roof for the trench. This provides great protection from the wind as well, and you could build it pretty quickly if you needed to.

Elevated Shelters

In swamps and areas with awful bugs, it may be best to get a bit off of the ground. With your shoelaces or any cord you can find, you can usually string up cross members into a pair of trees to build a makeshift platform. Waste nothing, and remember that clothing can act as a fine makeshift rope. Try to pick a sheltered spot, and work with everything you have.

Final Tips

Human beings are amazing animals when it comes to adaptation. They have adapted to survive in nearly every environment, from rainforest to desert. Chances are, native peoples built shelters in places just like your location, and they had hundreds of years of practice. If you know how natives lived in your area, follow their designs. Otherwise, think on your feet and get building, since you will almost always require shelter when trying to survive.

Survival Skills: Balancing Risk vs. Rewards

Risk and rewards are a constant fact of life. In our every day, we balance the risks and rewards of daily tasks, and we gamble on little things. Wilderness survival is no different, but compared to other “risky things” like penny stocks or speeding on the highway, the risks are much higher, and the reward might only be living to see tomorrow. When out in the woods, balancing these equations is never simple, and even an expert sometimes comes out on the bottom of what seemed like a good bet.

Keep a Positive Attitude

Staying positive in dire situations can be tough, but it is absolutely necessary. For example, you may find yourself in a situation where staying inside a cozy shelter as it is buried in snow will probably mean asphyxiation. Going outside to keep digging might help, but it is cold and awful. You probably wish you could stay put.

Let’s look at it one way. Staying inside your warm shelter gives you a 99% chance of death. Going outside and fighting for a safer shelter might give you a 90% chance of death. Not so great.
On the positive side, going outside to work on your shelter has ten times the survival rate. If you want to live, it is a no-brainer. The odds are against you, but you can at least get the best odds you can. If you focus on how unlikely your survival is, you will miss out on opportunities to increase your odds.

Mitigate Risks

As we saw above, you should mitigate risks. Suppose you come upon a pool of stagnant water. Drinking it is a risk. Can you mitigate it? Boiling it will probably help. Great! Now you are a bit closer to clean water. It might not be perfect, but it is a start.

Should you drink it though? Well, are you a little thirsty or massively dehydrated? Will this water be the difference between life or death? If so, drink it. If not, think about if another opportunity like this is likely. Maybe you should store the water and keep looking, only drinking it if you have no other choice. Think carefully about whether what you are doing is going to help.

Accept “The Best “Risks

Maybe crossing a river is the only way out for you. It is absolutely a risk, but if it is the “best risk” for getting out, then take it. Sometimes you will need to do things that you were told to “never ever do” in order to survive, but those “high risk” strategies are the only strategies that carry a chance of survival.
One example of this is the tourniquet. This old trick is almost never recommended anymore since it almost always results in the loss of a limb. A loop of rope is loosely fastened around the bleeding appendage and then tightened by twisting a stick into it. Tightened far enough, you will stop losing blood to that area. It is practically never recommended and only seldom taught because it carries such a massive cost. On the other hand, if you had (the classic example) a tree falls on your leg, and you have absolutely no method of getting help and you know that no help is coming since nobody knows where you are, then a tourniquet may be the best way to stop the bleeding so you can get out alive.

Don’t Get into Bad Situations

Overall, you should try to avoid risks in general. The most important step to take is to make sure that when you are in the wilderness, people know where you are going and when to expect you back out. Schedule a time and place to make contact as often as possible, so that people can immediately rescue you if you fail to make it to that place. Try to be as safe as possible, and remember that surviving is the most important part of a wilderness emergency.

Survival Skills: Crossing Water

It sometimes happens that a body of water is between you and where you want to be. Crossing water is often the most dangerous part of getting across a landscape. If you are stuck, you may have to get across, but knowing what to avoid is extremely important in these situations.

Still Water

Crossing a lake or still water is generally not that hard. In some cases, you may be able to simply wade across, but you should never assume that a lake is shallow enough to do so unless you have a very good reason to assume that. Something that is barely over your shoulders is more than enough to drown in if you panic or have an accident while crossing.

If you have the time or the inclination, it might be worth making a raft or other watercraft. Rafts are harder than they look, and it generally takes a much bigger raft than people would think to get them across, but if you have rope, rafts are easily lashed together from deadwood. Rafts are an excellent way to cross still water.

If you are crossing and your raft falls apart, don’t panic. The wood itself will still act as a floatation device. Grab the largest log you can and let it help you swim. Relax and take your time. Panic in the water is your enemy.

Moving Water

Moving water is not your friend in a crossing situation. While it makes better drinking water, it also makes a terrible crossing. Currents can be unpredictable and dangerous, and it is easy to underestimate currents when in shallow water. Remember that the river may be moving much faster at the center than the edges would have you believe.

Worse yet, fast currents can overwhelm you and pin you against invisible underwater debris. It is hard to drown in 3 feet of still water, but if the water is moving fast enough, 3 feet could easily be fatal. If you even suspect the water is moving “fairly fast” you may be better off looking for a way around.

If you can’t get across, look for the wide, deep parts where the water is moving slowly. While you may need to work harder to get across it, you risk less from the current. Finally, as a safety margin, always assume the current is much faster than it appears.

Rafts may get you across a river as well, but generally, they are less sturdy than you want them to be and if the river is moving fast, they may break up beneath you. This is absolutely disastrous on a really fast river.

As before, don’t panic if you are in the water, but remember that if you are in the water with debris, a tossed raft, or a capsized canoe, you want to be on the upstream side of the floating object. This is because if you are downstream of the object, the object can pin you. Imagine an underwater rock comes up to about 8 inches of the surface. If you hit it and you are downstream, the canoe pushes on you and the rock pushes back, potentially crushing you or pinning you underwater.

Final Tips

If you don’t have to cross the river, don’t. Keep moving and looking for a more advantageous spot. Typically you can follow a river downstream and eventually find a road, bridge, town, or lake that will be a better option for your survival. Crossing flooded streams is obviously silly as well, and even mild streams can become deadly during spring floods in climates where snowmelt is a problem.
Keep dry if you can, and remember to carefully consider the risks before you ever try to cross a body of water.

Survival Skills: Improvising Camouflage

Camouflage predates all of the fancy fabrics and patterns we see today. Based on the idea of hiding oneself from danger, and hiding danger from your prey, this skill is as primitive as hunter-gatherer cultures and important enough to fuel a large hunting industry. If you are stuck in the wilderness, making your own camouflage can help you to hide effectively from whatever it is you want to hide from.


To start with, you want to design one of two things. Decide if you want to make a blind or an outfit. A blind is a simple structure which hides you from view while providing adequate visibility for you. A blind takes a bit of time to set up, but once constructed, you can usually reuse it with little effort.

To make a blind, begin to make a small shelter out of sticks and bramble. Use materials that you find laying around. Sometimes it helps to make a frame from larger timber or other supplies first, then to weave and pile sticks, grasses, and other woodland debris around it. Ideally, the blind should cover you almost entirely or entirely. It should have ports for you to see from, but depending on what you are hiding from, those may not be necessary. If you plan to hunt from the blind, be sure that the ports look out onto the area you intend to be hunting.

From a distance, the blind should be more or less indistinguishable from the surrounding area. It should blend in well, so avoid all of the hallmarks of a human building. That is to say, organized shapes and right angles are to be avoided. It should look chaotic, not organized. Chaos is the more natural appearance in most areas.

Camouflage Outfits

To make a camouflage outfit, think about how the area you will be in looks. In general, the first thing you want to do is break up your silhouette. This means that you want to get rid of your “human” shape and look more like a bush or a tree. For instance, weaving sticks and grasses into your hat will remove some of your shapes. Sitting down will help as well. Sitting down against something large will help the most.
Think about making yourself the same color as your surroundings. Using local natural materials, pin, tie, weave or somehow add them to your clothing. This is the same principle as the ghillie suit used in the military. While they are bulky, they will make you look like a pile of debris instead of a human. Done expertly, you can even move around, adding to the suit as you do, without being detected.

Final Tips

Always think of yourself as a human trying to act like a bush or tree. Make yourself look like a tree or bush using anything you can, from dust for color to sticks for outline, and you will be just fine. Also remember that nothing is more telling than motion, so if you need to hide, be still. Moving is difficult even for experts, and it takes practice to be able to move in such a way as to not give yourself away.

Survival Skills: Make Your Own Rope

If you are at all like me, the first things you look for in any outdoor situation are ropes and knives. To the skilled mind and hands, rope an knives represent the pinnacle of human achievements, and most other things can be engineered with just those items and a little bit of timber. From bridges for travel to snares for food, rope (and the knives you cut it with) can be the difference between life and death in a survival situation. Of course, if you don’t have it, what do you do?

Spinning Method

Spinning is the ability to turn fibers into rope. Natural ropes (as opposed to synthetic ropes or metal cables) are made by taking long fibers and twisting them into one another. With materials like wool, which are already somewhat knotted together, spin easily and naturally with spinning wheels or you can draw them out (slowly) with your hand and twist as you go. That twisting tightens up the already existing tangles into a thread. Try it with a big ball of cotton or with a bag of polyfill (pillow stuffing). Tease out a bit and twist as you tease. The material will wind into a thread as you tighten it further. Depending on your purposes, a thread or a string of yarn may be ideal.

Braiding Method

If your fibers are really long, you can also make a string by braiding. Weaving takes far longer, but for really long fibers, it can be a superior string. To practice this trick, you can take a few long palm fronds and pull them into individual fibers. The fibers should be pretty long, and if they are bigger than 18 inches, you can try to weave them together. This is long work, but it is simple and takes little energy. Experiment with how tight you want to make the braids. If you make it too tight, the rope might be stiff, and too lose might make it lose its strength. try to stagger the fibers so that you are always weaving a new one in and an old one out. For this reason, I like to braid with five fibers, with two being in transition at any one time.

Once you have the assembled a string, you make a stronger rope from that string by again, twisting or braiding multiple strings together. As the rope thickens, it pays to have a more even twist if you are twisting it together. You can practice this skill with yarn. Yarn is typically weak enough to break with just one person’s force pulling on it, but if you twist three cords of yarn into a single yarn rope, it is much stronger. Twist three of them together and it is quite sturdy, even with weak starting rope.

Getting the Fibers

Knowing where to get fibers can be tough. Linden trees are known for having pliable fibers just beneath the bark. Soaking these for a day in water yields great fibers. Hemp and jute are other famous fibers for just this purpose. Thin strips of leather have been used in historic times for this purpose, and long animal hairs will work in a pinch. High on the gross factor, animal sinew is an effective string as well. For the most part, though, you will probably use trial and error. Find a sapling, strip the bark, and see if you can pull fibers off of it. A surprising number of trees and plants will work, including bamboo.

Survival Skills: Acorn Whistles

If you want to be found, creating a shrill, piercing, and unmistakably human noise is a great start. Whistles are a common piece of kit for campers because of their signaling capacities, but if you don’t have a whistle, it isn’t hard to make one if you know what to look for.

Improvising a Whistle

A whistle is typically composed of a sharp lip (to cut your air and create the vibration) and a small resonator chamber. While you probably can’t machine plastic while lost in the woods, an acorn cap will do nicely for both tasks. This trick was once common knowledge amongst boys who played outdoors, but alas, video games and the internet have reduced our outdoors skills.

If you don’t have an acorn cap, you can use a hollowed out acorn, or even a soda bottle cap. Anything with that tiny cup shape will work, though it may not be as piercing.

Making the Whistle Sound

Once you have your “whistle,” you need to hold it very carefully. Start by curling the non-thumb fingers of both hands, and bring the sides of your thumbs together. Grasp the acorn cap in both hands between your thumbs and the sides of your pointer fingers. It should rest below your first knuckle on your thumbs.
Now, curl your thumb tips outward to reveal a wedge of the cap. It should be facing cup upwards, so you can see the edge. Rest your lower lip on your thumbs, just below where they make a ‘Y’ and then blow down the ‘Y’ and onto the lip of your acorn. It may take some experimentation with varying the angle and airspeed, but you will eventually hear a whistle.

Signaling Help

Emergency whistles, like signal fires, are in groups of three. Whistle three strong notes before resting to signal that you are in need of assistance. It can easily be heard well outside of visual distance, and it is unencumbered by fog or other distractions.

Emergency whistles aren’t expensive, and I recommend you carry one at all times when in the woods anyway. That said, it never hurts to know how to make a whistle out of natural materials in a pinch. Try this out ahead of time just to be prepared. I do it with soda bottle caps all of the time just to get people’s attention, and it keeps me in practice… just in case.

Survival Skills: Moving when Lost

In general, if you are lost in the wilderness, you should stay put. Someone should know where you are in general, and search parties will be on the way. Unfortunately, there may come a circumstance where moving is your only option, and if that happens, you should know how to move with maximum safety.

Getting More Lost

Especially in woodland environments, it is easy to go from “lost” to “very lost” and eventually, “un-findable.” What does that mean? Suppose you wandered off a path to track an animal and then found yourself disoriented and unable to get back to the path. Chances are, you aren’t too far away from the path already, and provided that you told Someone where you were going, searchers fanning out from that path will find you sooner. If you wander more, you may get out sooner, but you might also go in the wrong direction, making it harder for searchers to find you. The key thing in getting out when lost is that you make yourself findable.

In general, don’t move unless you have to. There are reasons you might have to such as no available water supply, a gravely injured companion, or, in the worst case, nobody knows where you are and how long you planned to be there.

Orient Yourself Easily

If you have a compass, it is your friend. Perhaps you know that the path you left is to the south of you. Let the compass guide you back by walking due south. One thing to remember with this strategy is to check the compass often. It is easy to get turned around outside, and then you will waste time and valuable energy walking in circles. A common strategy is to line the compass up with a landmark in your direction, walk to the landmark, and then take another reading and pick a new landmark. This is slow, but it tends to avoid beginner mistakes in orienteering.

Follow A Landmark

As you traverse terrain when lost, streams and paths can help you. If you reach a flowing stream, follow it downstream (unless you know there is something upstream). Typically, you will eventually come to a place where the stream crosses a real road. At least by following the stream, you will be headed in one direction the entire time. The same goes for lakes. Follow the lakeshore until you hit a stream.
With roads, some caution is recommended. In Canada, where I often go fishing, you could easily stumble upon a logging road and follow it for days without seeing anything. Worse yet, if you are headed up the road toward a disused lumber site, you are likely to get to the end and then realize you have to turn around. Use your knowledge of the area to decide if following the road is a good idea. In most of the United States, this isn’t a big problem and most roads will lead you to something you can use (like a shelter) or some civilization.

Things Not to Do

It is a bad idea to use the sun or a large landmark in the distance as a navigation aid. If you are walking straight toward the landmark, that may be okay, but if you try to keep it to one side of you, you will walk in a giant circle. Similarly, the sun is a moving target, and people following the sun easily get lost. If the sun is your only navigational aid, then you probably should remain still and wait for rescue.

Final Tips

Use everything you know about an area to get out alive. A compass in your pocket might save your life as well, so don’t neglect the low-tech standby of generations of outdoorsmen. Finally, and above all else, make sure someone knows where you are and how long you are supposed to be there so that they can recognize that you are lost immediately. This simple advice is the most important thing you can do when headed out into the woods.

Survival Skills: Netting Fish

Freshwater is one of your friends when surviving in the wilderness. It is a source of water, bathing, recreation, and almost all of your needs. In addition, it is probably a decent source of protein. While you probably won’t gain weight trying to net fish, netting fish is easier than building a spear and spearing them for most people, and a nibble of fish might be just the thing to keep your spirits up.

Survival Supplies

I’m assuming that you have little to no supplies. This means you don’t even have an emergency survival kit with a needle and thread. Assuming, however, that you are wearing a shirt, you have almost everything you need to start. Thread branches into the shirt, through the sleeves and out the bottom, and possibly between both sleeves, to make a cheap net.

Catch Something

Chances are, this net will only barely drain water, so you can’t net the big fish by dragging it over them. This net is for flipping out baitfish. Set the net in a shallow area, all the way on the bottom. Keep a hand on the net and stand very still. Eventually, the baitfish that you scared off when you waded into the water will emerge. They are usually quite tiny, at most 2 inches long, but they are relatively simple to pull up your net around.

Getting the speed right will take practice. Too fast will flip them out, and too slow will disturb them and they will swim off.

Ideally, you can net 5-6 of these little guys in an hour and set them aside. They are almost too small to cook, but they can usually be eaten raw or boiled whole. Remember, this is survival, not fine dining. They probably will be less energy than it takes to catch them, but the point is to get protein, not energy. If you need energy, work on nuts, acorns, or berries (provided you know that they are not poisonous and/or how to clear the toxins if they are).

Getting More

Practice will help a lot, but having a real emergency survival kit with fishing line and hooks will help more. If you had one of these, then you would have used those baitfish as bait, not food. Remember that worms and grubs can be decent food as well, so you may have to eat gross insects to stay alive. Staying alive is worth it though, and the gross things you ate will more than make up for their disgusting value in the stories you can tell in the future.

Survival Skills: Beat the Heat

Surviving in the warmer months can be really great, or it can be deadly. If you have a limited supply of water for drinking and cooling yourself, it is vital that you conserve your water and not waste it on the heat of the day.

Avoiding the Heat

If you are trying to survive, then there is always plenty of work to do. Be it repairing a shelter or finding food, you probably have better things to do then taking a nap. On the other hand, the rules change in hot climates. Once the weather is above 85 degrees Fahrenheit or so, you need to consider your water situation. If you have an abundance of fresh water, then do as you please as long as you don’t get too far from it. If you are traveling, never travel away from your fresh water if dehydration is a serious risk. You can dry out in only a few hours, so be prepared to sit out the heat of the day.

Heat can be avoided altogether by finding a shady spot and sticking to it. In the worst situations, you may be stuck beneath a tree for four or five hours awaiting cooler temperatures. take a nap or otherwise relax. You do yourself absolutely no favors if you use up your water due to impatience. Use the nap to stay up into the evening working, or wake up earlier and take advantage of pre-dawn light.

Moderating the Heat

If you must work in the heat of the day, there are steps you can take to moderate your temperature. The first is to simply be wet. If you are near a water supply (even if it isn’t drinkable), you can douse yourself and/or your clothing in water, repeating as needed. A swim usually will keep you cool for up to a half an hour due to evaporative heat losses. Humid days seem to lessen the effect.

Another tactic is taken from native peoples around the world. Wear bigger clothing. Lightweight, open fabrics that don’t sit heavily upon you are surprisingly cooling. As long as the wind can get through, they provide a shade for your body. While you probably won’t be making your textiles when lost in the wilderness, it is something to consider when heading out into the wilds to begin with.

Hats are also a lifesaver. Something with a brim large enough to shade your eyes and the back of your neck will really reduce your internal temperature and make the midday sunless oppressive.

Final Tips

Heat is a fact of life. We survived millennia without air conditioning and climate control, and you can make it through the hottest of days as long as you take it easy. If you have abundant water, the heat might only slow you down, but if water isn’t plentiful, consider your options and take the safest route when dealing with the midday sun.

Survival Skills: Lashing

While it may not be the first thing you think of when you imagine wilderness survival, you are probably more dependent than you think on constructed objects. From shelter frames and bridges to simple rafts, your ability to thrive in the wilderness is dependent upon your ability to build things. Now, assuming you didn’t go out into the wilds with a bag of nails and a hammer, how are you going to accomplish all of the construction that you will need to? For generations, people have relied on lashing to build the necessities of life. Lashing is simple, elegant, and not hard once you have gotten some decent string or rope.

Getting Rope

If you have string(or something made of sturdy fabric that you are willing to sacrifice), you are all set. You can braid it to make it stronger if your original cord isn’t strong enough on its own. Unfortunately, you might not have the cord you need when you get out into the woods.

There are a few solutions to this problem. The first is to sacrifice clothing. Carefully cut your clothing into long strips, and braid them into each other for strength. Tying them together will work in a pinch, but all of those knots will make working with it hard. I’ve found it best to just braid a few strips at long staggered intervals and to braid a new one in as an old one is reaching its end. As long as your fabric isn’t really slippery or stretchy, the braid will bind everything together well enough.

Another option is to harvest natural fibers. Long strands of plant fibers from trees will generally work as long as they can be bent and braided without breaking. You can always twist a few together at first to make the cord you intend to braid with. This is a time-consuming process though, but it can be a good way to kill time if you have a surplus of it and want to keep your mind on progress.

Wrapping and Frapping

Lashing itself is a process of wrapping and then tightening those wraps. Lashings exist for almost any intersection of poles (or in your case, trees or branches) that you can imagine. Western lashings start by tying a hitch (such as a clove hitch) around your first stick and then wrapping the sticks as tightly as you can in specific patterns, depending on the joint required.

Once the wrapping is done, the frapping begins. Frapping is done by tightly wrapping the rope between the joints. This compounds the pressure and secures the lashing. This must be extremely tight to secure the entire object.

Finishing Up

If this process sounds complex, relax. It is much easier with illustrations. If you want a field guide, the most compact reference I can recommend is the Pioneering Merit Badge from the Boy Scouts of America. It has illustrations of common lashings, methods of making rope, and basic knot knowledge.
If you are ready to start lashing, try it out at home. You would be surprised some of the useful things you can make. I’ve seen entire beds made from lashed-together small tree trunks, and it was both artistic and awesome. If it matched my decor, I might do the same.

Regardless, this is a good skill to have. It teaches you to look at objects in terms of basic engineering instead of in terms of lumber and firewood. I highly recommend you try lashing out.

Survival Skills: Finding Protein

The importance of protein in the modern diet is quite a controversial issue. There are low-carb-dieters and bodybuilders who believe it is everything and vegans proving that it really isn’t so hard to come by, but when wilderness survival is the goal, having a source of protein, even occasionally, is of extreme importance. From preserving muscle mass to regenerating damaged tissues, it is indisputable that your body needs protein to survive, and it is well accepted that animal protein is the source that we are best adapted to handle. Getting your hands on that protein when you can’t hit the grocery store aisles is another matter.

Get Creative with What You Consider “Food”

When trying to survive, you should probably get over all of your food phobias. Be it bugs, pigeons, fish, or snakes, if it is edible, you will probably have to knuckle under and eat it. Be ready to eat parts of animals that aren’t meat, and be ready to like it.

The only exception I would make is for something that I knew I had an allergy to, or any food that I knew was highly toxic in my area. Examples of this could be filter-feeding or scavenging shellfish downriver from industrial sites. I would need to be on the verge of absolute starvation before I considered eating the crabs from New Jersey’s Arthur Kill, since decades of industrial work have made them all but a guarantee of cancer. That said, if I were left with no choice at all, I would even eat them, because cancer can be treated later, while starvation has to be treated now.

Tap into your Skills and Materials

Catching animals to eat isn’t always easy. Most things don’t want to be eaten. Digging for insects is usually fairly simple in many areas, but it is a lot of work for only small payoffs. Remember, you will often burn more energy than you get out of the food, so protein specifically should be a secondary concern to having a generally available food source like acorns (once leeched of tannins) or berries.

On the other hand, setting traps and snares for rabbits and small game is often simple enough, takes minor effort, and while the payoff is sporadic, a squirrel or rabbit constitutes a feast in the wild. Rabbits are practically made for snaring. A good example of a snare can be found at this website. Figure 4 traps, also listed on that website, are a versatile small game trap that will often win you a meal. remember that you are playing the odds, so you should set up as many traps in multiple places as you can. Some will get sprung with nothing, but eventually, one will give you a nice, protein-rich meal.

Remember that fish are great too. fish can be netted, caught traditionally on lines, or even trapped if you are really creative. Just about anything is worth a try at eating if you are desperate enough. Just remember to avoid brightly colored insects, caterpillars (unless you can identify them expertly enough to know that they are safe), and the livers of arctic animals (which for reasons of survival are so extremely rich in vitamins that they flood your body, giving you hypervitaminosis).

Final Tips

Remember that all of your “city ideas” have to go out the window in a survival situation. In general, I would never want to eat kidneys but put me in the forest for four days with no meat, and you can be absolutely sure I’ll eat kidneys. Meat, be it muscle or organ, can’t be wasted. If you aren’t sure if something is edible, eat only extremely tiny amounts of it until you can document no reaction. Also, remember to cook everything to “well done” status to avoid potentially dangerous parasites.

The last note I will leave you with is on risk balancing. Remember that you are always risk balancing against the odds in the wilderness. Survival is a matter of playing the safest bets you can. If you have to choose between long-term and short-term consequences, take the long-term consequence, since that requires you to live long enough to experience that problem.

Survival Skills: Testing Foods for Poisons

If you are stranded in the wilderness, you have to eat. Of course, knowing what to eat is tough. Sometimes, you have to take the plunge and eat something that may or may not kill you. Knowing when to do this is important, as is knowing how to do it. This can be a scary thought, but learning how to eat potentially poisonous things might save your life someday.

When to Eat an Unknown

Eating anything that didn’t come from a supermarket is risky, but many things like apples and raspberries, are unmistakable. Other things, like mushrooms, can be a ticket to doom, even for people who know what they are doing. Eating an unknown, like all things in survival, is a balance of risk vs. reward.

To begin with, remember that you should never take an unnecessary risk. That means, if you aren’t stranded and dying, why would you eat an unsafe mushroom. If you are just curious, bag it and bring it with you out of the woods where you can identify it in a book. Don’t get killed because you were too impatient to look it up.

Second, remember that some things are riskier than others. Freshwater fish and mammals are generally safe when cooked, while insects are “usually safe” and mushrooms and berries are downright dangerous. Eat the least risky things you can.

Eating an Unknown

Before you consider eating an “unknown,” try a skin test. This is usually quite safe. Mash up a bit of it and hold it on your skin for 15 minutes or so. Then, wait for a few hours to see if there is a bad reaction. This will rule out anything with a topical poison. If you think poison ivy on your skin is bad, imagine how bad it would be in your mouth and throat.

Start on eating unknown foods carefully. To begin with, take a small sliver of your food and chew it. If it tastes okay, that is a good sign, but don’t swallow yet. Spit out the sliver and now wait, at least 8 but up to 24 hours, before trying any more. Some sources ask for less than an hour, but the longer you wait, the better. If your mouth goes numb or you get any other side effects, that is a good indication to stay away from that plant.

The next step is the small swallow test. In this step, you swallow a small mouthful of the substance. Again, wait for hours before continuing on. This could make you violently ill though, so be ready.
The last step is the meal step. You eat a small meal of the substance. If that goes down alright and you don’t have side effects for a day or two, you still might be eating a poison, but at least you know it isn’t an immediate killer. Humans have survived in many areas by eating weakly poisonous foods during famines and it is still common in developing countries.

Survival Tips to Remember

The steps above are no guarantee. At any step in the process above, a poison could have killed you. Only a few seeds from a yew (whose berries are actually edible if you remove the seeds) would kill you. Harmless looking Death Cap Mushrooms are almost always fatal. Just a few castor beans would poison you fatally. Essentially, you should remember that ingesting unknown food is inviting disaster, and you should only do so when you have no other choice. If your choice is between certain death by starvation and possible death by poison, choose the possibility of life, but if the choice is between sleeping hungry and eating an unknown mushroom, sleep hungry.

Survival Skills: How to Dry Food

Dehydration has been a time-honored tradition in food preservation. By and large, things that are dry are also nearly free from decomposition. Of course, when you have a food product in abundance, it is a race to preserve it before decomposition takes hold. A few traditional methods will generally do the trick for almost any circumstance.

Sun Drying

The sun is your friend in drying things. Solar drying has been used for everything from raisins to meat, so don’t convince yourself that it is too slow or impractical for any situation.

To sundry foods, you first need to make sure they are placed in a dry, sunny spot. Obviously, rain can be catastrophic in this process. Laying food onto stones in a sunny spot is typically sufficient. If it is a fruit, it will probably dry faster if it is mashed and laid in a thin layer, drying into fruit leather. If it is a meat product, then it may be better to hang it in the sun over a branch, since this will let the air get under it and across it. With meats especially, you want it to be a dry day, as humidity slows the drying process.

Smoke Drying

Smoking is another method of reducing moisture. Also, the smoke imparts flavor and preserves the foods. This is typically a meat process, and it is the preferred method for preserving fish if you can’t salt them. The dryer you get it, the longer it will last, but you can go overboard and turn your meat into rocks as well. If you do this, grind it between two stones and you can eat the chew that is left over. Meat chew is an acquired taste, but it beats wasting the meat.

To smoke your meat, you can construct a hut from natural materials that takes a small, smoldering fire and holds the smoke in the room. Alternately, you can hold your meat quite high above a small cooking fire until it is dry. The first method is more difficult but easier to control.

Final Notes

Food is typically hard to come by in a survival situation. Many native peoples had boom and bust cycles and had to learn to preserve food from the booms in preparation for the busts. Never waste an opportunity to gather copious amounts of food, but as you do, keep in mind the need to preserve it and be ready to work to keep your food for longer than a few weeks.

Survival Skills: Avoid Rabbit Starvation

Rabbits are an amazing prey animal when trying to live in the wilderness. They breed extremely quickly, fall prey to traps easily, and make a pretty great meal once caught. Catching them with snares and traps is generally pretty simple if you know where the rabbits are in the area, and you can harvest them aggressively throughout the year. Their abundance, however, does not make them the perfect survival meal!

Rabbit Starvation

Survivalists are keen to note that protein is of utmost importance and that having an occasional source of protein in your diet prevents significant malnutrition and loss of strength. Of all the macronutrients, protein is the one that your body will use for energy and to rebuild itself physically, making it required nutrition.

Rabbit meat is nearly pure protein, making it seem ideal. What is unrecognized though is that the meat has almost no fat content. The lack of fat content means that people who attempt to subsist on rabbits will often find themselves in a situation of rabbit starvation.

Rabbit starvation is code for acute protein poisoning. Your body, in absence of vitamins, minerals, and other energy sources, will begin to have trouble running on pure protein. Without fat to help absorb minerals and without carbohydrates for energy, the rabbit will provide too little nutrition to your body and you will begin to need other food sources.

Rabbit Starvation Symptoms

Rabbit starvation symptoms set in when under significant stress from survival already, and can be deadly if you can’t adjust or be rescued in time. First, a feeling of insatiable hunger sets in. This is your body craving non-protein and attempting to tell you as much. Diarrhea, fatigue, and headache are also common problems. Eventually, it could kill you.

Avoiding Rabbit Starvation

Fortunately, rabbit starvation is an extreme problem brought on by extreme conditions. All it takes to avoid it is a diverse diet. In warmer months, diversity of diet is quite easy, and this is almost unheard of. In winter, or in extreme climates, survival on rabbits can be a serious problem though.

Some experts recommend that if you are given no other option, broaden your definition of food. Eat everything on the rabbit (except for the fur). Brains, eyes, liver, and yes, the intestines, are all sources of important nutrition that you may miss out on if you don’t eat them. For instance, brains and bone marrow contain significant amounts of fat.

As always, incorporating amounts of vegetables is incredibly important as well. Getting vitamins from animal organs is sub-optimal in many cases, and relying upon it is a shaky way to survive. Knowing local edible plants will go a long way in helping you fight off malnutrition as well.

Final Tips

Don’t turn your nose up at food where you can get it. Animals, rabbits included, are still extremely important when trying to survive. The main lesson is to never rely solely on a single food source. Rabbits highlight the problems with reliance upon single sources of food in a dramatic fashion. Also, remember that you still need protein, fat, and carbohydrates to survive in the long run. Some may be more easily available on a seasonal basis, but you must do what you have to in order to obtain all three.

My father tells a story about hunting caribou with Inuit peoples in Canada. When they felled a caribou, they promptly cut the fat from its back, treating it as a valuable commodity. They then sliced the liver (still raw) and used it to shovel the insides of the last stomach pouches into their mouths. They explained that vegetation was rare in the area, and that the lichens the deer ate would be digested far enough for humans to eat in the last stomach compartments. Thus, this meal of fat, liver, and pre-digested lichen was a powerful survival meal for them. It is that kind of thinking that allows them to survive in the wilderness, and that is what you must emulate to survive as well.

Survival Skills: Avoiding Wound Infections

Survival is about keeping the odds in your favor, or as close to in your favor as you can. many things which are “no big deal” within the limits of a society become life-threatening in a survival situation. For instance, a simple wound infection can turn deadly quite quickly without access to antibiotics. Gangrene, wound botulism, and other infections are all quite deadly, and without modern hygiene, they aren’t as uncommon as you would think.

Avoid Getting Wounded

his should go without saying. Don’t get hurt, and avoid it as hard as you possibly can. Being hurt, even in a minor way, dramatically hurts your odds of survival. A paper-cut could be the infection that kills you, so where possible, avoid taking risks where being hurt is a concern.

Of course, that is impossible for a human being. You are going to cut yourself, tear your skin, and be generally exposed to pathogens, so don’t be paranoid. What I’m trying to get across is that you should not be careless. For instance, pay attention to the spiny fins on fish. These are typically a short route to an infected puncture wound if you get caught with one, and by being mindful, they are typically easy to avoid.

Keep Wounds Maintained

When you do get hurt, and you will probably get hurt, keep your wounds clean and dry. Wash them in the cleanest water you can and remove any foreign debris. Let wounds clot and don’t pick at the clot once it is formed. If you have it available, put a clean, dry compress on the wound after washing it. Change the compress every 24 hours.

Don’t let wounds sit in moisture. It may mean taking off your shoes every 2 hours to dry your feet or taking frequent breaks to let the sweat dry from your groin, but if you let it remain wet and humid, you create ideal conditions for infection.

Environment plays a huge role in this as well. Humid, moist areas are notorious for breeding infections. Swampy water is filled with bacteria, and if you are never dry, it can live on your skin and in your wounds. This is a ticket for disaster.

If you have the luxury of waiting and resting, do so. Give yourself time and remember that you need to heal before you can be back to full steam. You should especially take time to keep your wound clean and dry.

Natural Disinfectants

Plants are prone to infection too, and many of them have evolved disinfectant properties. Many plant oils have topical disinfectant properties but knowing which ones isn’t always easy. This is largely a question of where you are and knowing the environment. Consulting a field guide to your area and/or asking a native guide may yield some helpful tips.

Urine is a mild topical disinfectant too, provided that you don’t have an infection already started. Using urine to clean a wound is a strategy some folks recommend, but urine can become a host for germs if given enough time to collect them. I’m undecided on this method myself, and I hope I never have to try it.

Surviving a wound is normally not a big deal, but be constantly aware of the risks of infection, and be ready to take steps to prevent an infection. In the long run, this could save your limbs or your life, and keeping dry and clean is a big step in that battle.

Survival Skills: Eating Acorns

Acorns make great survival food. Native Americans would cultivate oak forests because of their abundance. Best of all, you can typically find acorns throughout the winter, when other food sources are all but gone. That said, acorns are poisonous if untreated, and they take a little bit of work. If you anticipate needing food for some time though, acorns are a dense energy source that almost anyone can get.

Preparing Acorns

Acorns, like most poisonous foods, require preparation. In this case, the primary preparation is known as leeching, in which you pull the toxins. In this case, the primary toxins are tannins. Tannins are okay in small doses, but in large doses, they can be very harmful. Assuming you are in a survival situation, the last thing you need is bowel irritation or kidney disease.

Fortunately, tannins are extremely soluble in water. All it takes to remove them is time and water. There are a few options for this process, but they all employ the same techniques. You must remove the hull and peel the acorn to expose the flesh. Some people boil them to soften the hull, and other just crush it between rocks.

Leech the Tannins Out

Now if you took a nibble, you would be struck by the high concentration of tannins in the flesh. To get them out, you need to put your acorn meat into water and wait. Some people employ multiple changes of water in a pot over the course of a few days. This will most probably work, though some people employ methods to speed the process. One method is to boil them, changing the water when the water becomes brown. When it stops turning brown, the acorns will be ready to eat.

Another method is to grind the acorns into meal first, then put the acorn meal into a basket with a cloth lining and dip it into a lake multiple times.. The ground meal leeches far faster in a river or a lake. This method will lose you some of the oils, but on the plus side, you are left with a completely processed flour. The flour is still used today in a few traditional foods.

Finally, the last method I have heard of is to expose the flesh, and then put them in a basket or an improvised cloth sack in a stream. The moving water will change itself, so you don’t have to work as hard. You can leave them overnight or longer, and they are ready to eat when they can be munched on with no bitterness.

Eating Acorns for Fun

As an educational activity, you can serve acorns to children and people interested in Native American food. In fact, almost every culture that lived in acorn rich areas ate them at one point or another, but the abundance of grain with the dawn of agriculture removed most interest in them as a food. They are actually a tasty nut, once properly prepared, and you can get them for free throughout the world with just a little searching.

Survival Skills: Find Water Safely

Water is one of the first things to consider when trying to survive. Even in cool weather, you can’t live for long without water. If you dry up, you won’t be able to worry about other considerations like shelter, fire, or food. Unless you are injured or the weather threatens to harm you already, think about water first and foremost.

On Risk Balancing

No matter what your conditions are, you are going to be taking risks for water. When lost in the wilderness, everything you do is a calculated risk. You will never know if the water that you are about to drink might kill you, so you should avoid drinking water without taking precautions. At the same time, you know that dehydration will kill you, so you are going to have to take that risk.

As an example, I was on a long cycling trip in early spring. The weather became unbearably hot one day, and I ran out of water. Stuck out in the sun in 95 degree weather would be fatal if I couldn’t get water, but my choices were limited. The canal next to me was stagnant and likely filled with agricultural runoff (very bad). I did grab a cupfull of it, boiled it for a long spell, and tucked it away in case I found nothing else, but I was not going to drink that unless my life depended on it. Fortunately, I found a cliff face with an abundant spring coming out of it about halfway down. I did the math and decided that actively flowing water coming out of a rock face was probably the closest to filtered water I would find. It was above the farmland, so I wasn’t at risk of drinking runoff, and there were no mines in the area. A small taste was fresh, so I filled up my canteens and took the risk, knowing that I could make it to a hospital if the water bought me more than 2 hours of riding. It was risky, but a groundwater spring would be my best bet to live through the day, and I took it.

Surface Water

In many cases, surface water isn’t hard to find. It may, however, be poisonous. No matter your circumstances, you should probably boil it if you have the time and opportunity. Boiling kills most parasites, so boil it for 10 minutes and then let that cool before you drink it.

Regardless of your boiling it, there are a few things to consider. Stagnant water is a no-no. If it is sitting still, it is probably gathering contamination. Stagnant water like puddles take runoff and concentrate it, so unless there is no other choice, avoid puddles. Very large lakes are a different story, but ideally, flowing water is your best bet.

Even if it is flowing, avoid agricultural runoff. The more animal manure and fertilizer in the water, the more likely it is that you are going to become dreadfully ill. Chances are good that if you are already struggling to find water, something as lame as diarrhea will be a fatal illness. Avoid anything at a lower elevation than farmland, or from water that has farmland upstream from it.

Ground Water

Sometimes you can dig for water. Digging down in a low lying area, even a foot or so, will often find you mud, and after a few hours of waiting, the mud will often fill into a puddle. Dry creek beds are another good place to try this technique. This won’t get you a lot of water, but it will keep you going. Again, this is assuming that everything obvious has already failed. In some sandy areas, you will find that ground water is only a few inches below the surface, and the sand acts as a particle filter.

Rain Water

This is the holy grail of survival water. It is almost always safe to drink if you can collect it. Collect it any way you can. Make funnels out of broad leaves for your canteen, or collect it on garbage bags in your emergency survival kit. Raingear also makes a good rain collector.

Found Water

Advanced techniques like making a solar still, distilling salt water, or even drinking pee can work in a pinch. Personally, I would like to recommend you look to these only in desperation. If you know you are in an arid area, you should know how to get water ahead of time, or you should probably not be heading out into the wilds. There are plenty of techniques for cheating water from plants, debris, or puddles, but none are easy to explain nor foolproof, and being able to take surface water is usually best if possible.

Final Tips

Remember, survival is a game against the odds. You should consider each action you take when trying to survive. Each action you take may make survival easier or harder, and in the worst case scenario, it might kill you. Being ready to acknowledge that risk and lessen it is key to staying alive. As always, remember to tell people where you are going and how long you are going to be there. With that in place, you are far more likely to be rescued. Have fun on your camping trip, but always be prepared for the worst.

Survival Skills: How to Make an Emergency Solar Water Still

In any emergency situation, having clean water can mean the difference between life and death. A solar still can produce clean, distilled water for your survival if you ever need it. You can make your own solar water still if you have the right materials and a little bit of knowledge of how a solar still works, so you can adapt the still for your situation.

To make a basic solar still, there are a few necessary items you will need. The basic items you need to make your solar water still are a large piece of clear plastic, a container to hold the clean water, a source of water or moisture, and the sun.

Here is the basic idea of how a solar still works: dig a hole in the ground, and place a cup in the bottom of the hole. Put the plastic somewhat loosely over the hole, and set some rocks or dirt around the edges to hold it down. Put a rock on the plastic directly over the cup. When the sun hits the plastic, it will begin to heat up the air in the hole. Droplets of water will begin to condense on the underside of the sheet of plastic. These water droplets are pure water you can drink. Because you put something heavy in the middle of the plastic (the rock), the droplets will drip downwards into your cup. Just reach under the plastic, grab your cup, and drink the pure water.

That is how to make a basic solar still. There are many variations for different situations and climates. For a dry climate, this method works fine as long as there is any moisture in the soil. A good size to dig your hole is three to four feet square, and two feet deep. You don’t want it too much bigger than that, or the air might take too long to heat up to condense the moisture. Dirt is better than rocks or other objects to hold down the sides of the plastic, because you want to prevent any hot air from escaping the hole. Place any plant materials you find into the hole around your cup, to get any moisture from the vegetation as well.

If you have a large shallow basin of any type, you can also use that instead of digging a hole in the ground. Fill the basin with water, even sea water will work. Cover the basin with the plastic and secure it as much as possible. Set it up like you would with the hole. Just make sure the water level is lower than the top of your cup.

You will need several hours to get any drinkable water, so start early in the morning, and let the sun condense the water all day. As long as you have plenty of sun and the sheet of plastic, you should be able to get some fresh water from your solar still. Everything else you can adapt to your situation. You can use rope or string to tie down the plastic, or use a large curved leaf to collect the fresh water if you don’t have a cup.

Survival Skills: Making an Inexpensive Solar Oven


If you ever are in a survival situation, you will want a way to cook your food, even if you don’t have any fuel or a fire. With a few common household items, you can build yourself an easy solar oven, almost free of cost. To make your solar oven, all you will need two cardboard boxes, and a roll of aluminum foil, and a roll of plastic wrap. You will also need plenty of sun if you want your solar oven to work, so this oven, of course, won’t be useful on a cloudy day.

To make your solar oven, you will need two cardboard boxes. One needs to be slightly larger than the other one. The boxes you use for your solar oven should be wide and shallow. The smaller box, when set inside the bigger box, should leave at least a half an inch gap between the two boxes on all sides. The gaps can be wider than that, and they don’t have to be the same all the way around. The air gap creates insulation that retains heat.

Cut off all four of the closing flaps from the inside box. Also cut off all of the closing flaps of the outside box, except for one. This closing flap on the outside box will be used as your reflector. Now, line the insides of both boxes with the foil, with the shinier side facing outwards. The bottom of the inside box should be lined too, as well as the inward facing side of the reflector flap.

You can glue or tape the foil on if you like, but it isn’t an absolute necessity, as you can wrap it around the sides if you need to. The plastic wrap goes over the top of the inner box to hold in the heat and steam created by the sun reflecting inside the box. You might want to use a few layers of plastic wrap to hold the heat in better.

To cook your food, you can simply wrap it in foil and place it in the box if you have no other means. However, you can use any pot or pan that fits in the box. One of the best ways to cook food in a solar oven is to cook in glass jars. That way you can make foods like soups or stews, or other foods containing liquids, or for heating drinks. Make sure you poke holes in the lid of the jar to let the steam escape. You can even put in several jars of food at once. Use jars with wide openings to easily get your food in and out.

Solar ovens work best if you have several hours of sun. A solar oven can even be used in cold weather, as long as the sun is shining and reflecting into the box. Face the box towards the sun, and angle the reflector into the sun, so the light goes directly into the inner box. You can prop the reflector up with sticks or narrow sections of cardboard stuck in between the two boxes. Some foods will take a few hours to cook, so you will need to turn the box occasionally to keep it lined up with the sun.

Foods cooked in your solar oven can get very hot! Use care when handling your pots and pans, and especially if you are using glass jars. You can get burned more easily than you might think. Be sure to watch out for hot steam as well.

Survival Skills: Urban Survival

When I say urban survival I am referring to cases like Hurricane Katrina, or situations that we have seen in the recent past like earthquakes or other major floods. In the case of New Orleans one of the things that amaze me is the amount of people suffering from dehydration. Please do not take this the wrong way because I am not trying to arm chair quarterback at people’s misfortune, but there was literally water all over the place.

This is why it is so important to have urban survival skills, finding water in an urban survival situation is not difficult if you know where to look or how to treat the water that is flowing around you. In this article we will discuss where to locate water and how to treat it so it is safe to drink.

The Water Heater

Yep the water heater, in an urban survival situation your home water heater will hold fresh drinking water. Most home hot water heaters hold at least 35 gallons, in an urban survival situation that fresh water will be gold, all you need to do is hook a hose up to it and drain the water out. Another thought is that if homes in your area are abandoned due to the situation that put you in urban survival mode, they will have water heaters also.

Boiling Water

In the case of a flood, water may be all around you, but that doesn’t mean that it is safe to drink. In an urban survival situation it is smart to treat the water whether you are in a flood or not. To treat water by boiling it, simply fill a clean pot with water and bring it to a rolling boil for at least ten minutes.

Your Water Pipes

If you have used the water in your water heater then you can crawl under your house and get the water out of your water pipes. Even if you do not have running water it does not mean that you do not have water in your pipes, you have to have pressure to get the water out of the faucet. Now if there is a flood this option may not be available to you, unless you hold your breath really well, but then if there is a flood it should not be difficult to locate water.

As you can see if you find yourself in a position where you have to put your urban survival skills into practice, it is possible to find water. The most important thing to remember in any survival situation is to keep your head and do what needs to be done to keep your self and your loved ones alive.

Bonus Survival Skills: Surviving a Dog Attack

The vast majority of dogs, even seemingly aggressive ones, have no desire to hurt humans. In fact, even a snarling maniac of a dog would much rather walk away from a fight than risk his or her own safety by charging at someone. But some dogs, as a result of abuse, poor socialization, training to be aggressive, and other factors, may attack a human. If you find yourself in a position where an unfamiliar dog is snarling at you, here’s what to do to stay safe:

Don’t Try to Be Friends

When dogs bark, snarl, growl, or show their hackles, they are communicating very clearly that they want you to go away. Some dog lovers believe that by being friendly they will calm the dog but this is, in fact, one of the very best things you can do to get bitten. To a fearful or aggressive dog, a smile can look like a growl, and making eye contact is clearly a threatening gesture. If you reach to pet the dog, the dog may fear that you are going to hit her. Similarly, approaching the dog and bending down tells the dog that you’re not listening to her warnings to back up. She may feel that she has no choice but to bite. No matter how much you love dogs, if a dog is growling at you, now is not the time to make friends. The consequences can be catastrophic to both you and the dog.

Don’t Run

If a dog behaves aggressively, your first instinct may be to run, but this can activate a dog’s prey drive. Instead, calmly and slowly walk away.

Don’t Fight the Dog

When dogs bite people on their hands or legs, many people panic and hit or kick the dog, trying to fight the dog off. This often makes the dog feel more threatened and increases the likelihood of a further attack. If a dog has nipped at you, walk away; do not make any sudden movements that indicate to the dog that you might be a threat.

Throw Something

If you have something you can throw behind the dog’s head, throw it. Dogs love to chase things, and the opportunity to chase after something interesting may make the dog stop thinking about you because dogs have notoriously short attention spans.

Channel the Dog’s Inner Pet

The vast majority of dogs are trained to listen to people, even aggressive ones. If a dog starts attacking you, say in a firm voice, “NO!” or, “Down.” The dog may pause long enough for you to escape.

Use a Fake Appendage

Dogs tend to believe that anything attached to a human is part of that human. Therefore, if a dog is determined to attack you, giving her something that looks like- but is not- you, may give you a few seconds to escape. Take off a shirt and throw it to the dog, giving her more and more things to chew on till you can escape.

Grab a Shield

A nearby garbage can, umbrella, or any large stick can be used to shield yourself from individual bites. If you can find a large stick, sticking it in the dog’s mouth may stop the attack for long enough for you to either get away or find cover.

Don’t Pull Away

Some of the most severe injuries during dog attacks happen when humans try to pull an arm or leg out of dog’s jaws, resulting in torn skin and damage to blood vessels. Hard as it may be, don’t suddenly pull away or you risk further injury. Instead, focus on covering your throat, head, and chest.

Dog attacks are unpredictable events and there’s no guarantee that any single behavior will stop or prevent an attack. The best way to avoid bad interactions with dogs is to plan ahead. Carry pepper spray and a phone with you, and avoid areas where unfamiliar or aggressive dogs run loose. If you’re concerned about a particular dog, talk to the dog’s owner.

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