If you’re reading this article, you’ve probably been there before. You are out in the wild, whether it be a field, a forest, a desert, on the side of a mountain, or on a glacier just enjoying the outdoors, getting some exercise and fresh air at the same time. Suddenly, something unexpectedly goes seriously wrong.

At this point, you are either going to 1) begin to take action or 2) start to panic. That second one is obviously no good and you should do whatever you can to avoid panicking. To panic is just to be overwhelmed and frozen by fear, and it does nothing to help you. The best way to avoid panicking is to take action, and to take action, you need to be prepared for various scenarios.

In this article, we’re just going to quickly go through a few of the common dangerous scenarios that can play out in the wild, and discuss how you can prepare for them. Being prepared is really the key to dealing with these types of scenarios and to survival in the wild in general. Heck, the Boy Scouts even made “Be Prepared” their motto.

Encountering a Wild Animal

a bear in the wild Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

You’re out in the wild, perhaps walking through a wooded area on a hiking trail. You’re loaded with gear and are a little tired from a day of hiking, suddenly; you feel a little movement in the brush to your side. You stop and look closely and realize there is some sort of large wild animal there. Just as the realization comes to you, the animal stands up a bit taller and looks right at you.

Now what? Well, you should now know what type of animal you are facing. If it is something that you don’t think you need to fear (like a deer), then there is no problem. If it is something to be feared, (like a wolf, mountain lion, bear, etc.) both of you are now facing the instinctual fight or flight conundrum. The animal is probably just as surprised as you, and likely is uncertain about your intentions. If the animal runs away immediately, then the problem is solved. Just don’t go after the animal or in that general direction. If the animal delays, you should begin to back away slowly and move in the opposite direction, away from the animal. Don’t make any sharp or sudden movements, as those may disturb, scare, or provoke the animal.

As you are slowly backing away, without making any sudden movements, you can be going into your gear to get out some form of gear or a weapon to help protect you from the animal. You might even want to just carry that with you in your hands if you are in an area where an encounter is likely to happen. The product that we recommend people carry in the North Woods is bear spray (ad) (more specifically we recommend the SABRE FRONTIERSMAN Bear Attack Deterrent with Hip Holster – Maximum Strength & 30 Foot Range (7.9 oz) (ad)). This spray is effective at 30 feet away. It is essentially pepper spray, so it works on other animals too. Be careful about leaks and don’t get it on yourself!

Besides being prepared in how you are going to deal with animals and thinking through how you will back away and get out certain gear, you also should be prepared to avoid animals altogether. You can do that by watching signs and reading about or researching the area you are going into.

Another aspect of dealing with animal encounters is preparing to avoid animals while sleeping. First, you should pick a spot that doesn’t seem to have regular animal traffic. Depending on the animal, a camp fire might help. You should keep your food and garbage away from where you sleep and suspend the food from a tree. You can buy this awesome rope for that purpose: Rothco 550lb. Type III Nylon Paracord (ad).

Poisonous Plants

Another very common dangerous scenario that plays out in the wild is that moment when you realize you either just walked through poison ivy or poison oak, or you can see you have a rash, dots, or bumps on your skin or your skin begins to really itch or burn. Once you have the realization of what happened, you should be prepared to take action by having spray or our recommended Burt’s Bees Poison Ivy Soap, 2-Ounce (ad) to wash the problem area with everyday until it heals (it should take 2-4 days). You also have to realize that itching will only make it worse and so you need to not itch.

poison ivy and oak

Examples of common poisonous plants. Source: http://blog.firstaidstore.com/

Besides applying lotion and not scratching, you should check the surrounding area to find out where the poisonous plant was so that you know what you are dealing with and so that you can avoid future contact. You also should now be watching where you are going carefully so you don’t encounter more of the poisonous plant in this area.

Realizing You’re Lost

if you are lost, stay put and signal for help Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

“Wait, where am I?” First off, you need to tell people where you are going and when you will return or plan to check in with them. That way, once you are truly lost, people will be aware and will start to look for you.

Hopefully you can avoid getting lost just by using maps, knowing where you are going, staying on a trail, and possibly being in a group. If all of those ways fail you, perhaps you can rely on technology like a cell phone or a gps like this one (the Garmin nüvi 52LM 5-Inch Portable Vehicle GPS with Lifetime US Maps) (ad), but I wouldn’t count on those things working as there usually isn’t much signal in the wild.

The best way to deal with being lost in the wild is to be prepared to survive in the wild. If you know you can live out there, you can avoid panicking and start taking the steps to survive and be found. Some things you will want to do are to 1) Signal for help, 2) build a fire, 3) find shelter, 4) stay warm, and 5) stay in one spot (you should find a good spot and stay put).

To achieve those first four things, gear can help. You should be carrying a survival kit that contains:
• Water- We recommend bringing at least 24 ounces of water with you. You also could bring a filtering water straw that will allow you to drink from dirty water sources if necessary.
• Food- Stuff a few granola or energy bars into your survival kit. You can go a long time without eating, and there is food in the wild, but having food with you will provide you with some energy and make you a little more comfortable and less panicky.
• A First Aid kit- You may end up being stranded due to injury, in which case a first aid kit could be the difference between life and death. Your kit should include bandages, gauze, medical tape, cotton swabs, anti-bacterial wipes and cream, hydro-cortisone, aspirin, cold compress, latex gloves, tweezers, scissors, oral thermometer, and a first aid instructional booklet.
• Box of matches
• Flashlight with extra batteries
• 7 day supply of medications (if applicable)
• Identifying information
• Emergency blanket
• Map of area
• Knife
• Rope or string
• Flares
• Cell Phone or hand radio
GPS: Garmin nüvi 52LM 5-Inch Portable Vehicle GPS with Lifetime Maps (US) (ad)

You also might want to pack some bug spray and sun lotion. If you have that gear with you and you know how to use it, you should be able to survive in the wild for quite a long time while search crews look for you. Try to make yourself easy to be found by creating a signal fire (be careful about it and don’t start a forest fire!) and marking your location.

Hazardous Weather

lightning in the wild Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Whenever you are going on a trip, you need to be aware of what the weather will be like and you should also prepare for any weather that might happen. Just because the forecast currently says it will be sunny for the next week doesn’t mean that won’t change. You could be out there on a sunny day, hours from civilization, when you realize it is getting cloudy. In a few minutes the sky is dark and you hear BOOM as the thunder begins. You think to yourself, “Oh, shit!” Next thing you know there is lightning everywhere. Are you prepared for this?

When faced with inclement weather, you need to have access to dry shelter and you need to stay warm. That typically just means a tent and sleeping bag which are graded for the correct temperatures. The tent we currently are recommending is the Kelty Salida 2 (ad) and our favorite sleeping bag is the Kelty Ignite DriDown 20 Degree sleeping bag (ad).

You also need to be aware of what is going on with the weather while you are out in it, and to do that, you need to either have a smartphone with signal or a weather radio like this one: Midland HH54VP Portable Emergency Weather Radio with SAME (Black) (ad). Depending on where you are, you also might need to worry about things like avalanches or flash floods. Choose your campsite carefully!

Getting Injured

slippery rocks Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Probably the worst scenario possible when you are out in the wild is to get injured when you are alone. This can happen many different ways and the injuries can be of various degrees, but the most common ways to get injured in the wild are to either slip on a wet spot on a rocky surface or trip over something (such as a stick or rock) and fall. Falling can cause anything from skinned knees to broken bones.

The best way to avoid getting injured by slipping or tripping and falling is just to avoid those types of situations. Watch where you are going and avoid dangerous areas. A lot of people think it is fun to jump or climb on downed trees or stand on rocks in or near rivers, but those are also very dangerous situations that those people are putting themselves into, and you shouldn’t do that if you are alone in the wild. You also might want to avoid it if you are in a group and are far from home, or if you think you have a high risk of getting injured (for instance, a young athlete might be very confident they can climb to the top of a rock and balance there without falling, but someone who is older or out of shape might have problems with that same activity). Use common sense and be careful.

Once you are injured, you should have someone with you to help you and you should have the gear that will enable you to be helped. Our recommended survival kit (which you can read about in the get lost section as well as in our safety guide) has the basics which will serve you well in just about every situation. Using the medical wrap and some sticks, you would be able to fasten a splint. Our survival kit (you can read about that in the lost section above or here) does include a first aid booklet that will help you figure out how to deal with a lot of different types of injuries. Make sure you have a first aid kit like this one any time you are out in the wild: Coleman Expedition First Aid Kit (205-Piece), Red (ad).

If you find yourself injured and are alone in the wild, it essentially is the same as being lost in the wild, except that you need to care for your injuries and will have more difficulty following the 5 lost in the wild steps, which again are to 1) signal for help, 2) build a fire, 3) find shelter, 4) stay warm, and 5) stay in one spot (you should find a good spot and stay put).


So there you have it! Our list of the most common dangerous scenarios that can happen in the wild and how you can deal with them. The key to almost every scenario is to be prepared, and being prepared often means being supplied. Please be sure you are adequately supplied before your next excursion into the wild!

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