Content approved by Jerry Parker
Exploring the wilderness as a Boy Scout can be exhilarating, and kids often make memories that stay with them forever as they hike through the woods and sleep under the stars. One of the keys to having a successful camping trip is preparation. Planning the necessities that will be needed, packing them carefully, and learning a few survival tricks will help ensure a fun and safe experience. Even if unexpected issues arise, careful preparation should make it possible to respond quickly and avert a crisis.
Survival Gear to Pack
Everyone who embarks on an adventure into the back country needs to have survival gear packed for unexpected events. Survival gear includes:
- First-aid kit
- Sun protection
- Water bottle
- Matches and fire-starters
- Map and compass
- Rain gear
- Extra clothes
- Nonperishable food
When an unexpected problem comes up while camping, the first step is to assess the issue and set priorities for responding to it. The first priority is always the immediate safety and security of everyone in the party. Whatever danger is present, everybody should move away from it right away. If the event has caused injuries, the next step is assessing and attending to the injuries with supplies in your first-aid kit. While performing this step, also be aware of other potential dangers, such as predators. If risks are present, have something to use for defense, such as a sharp stick or a knife. Finally, you need to attend to everyone’s ongoing physical needs for shelter, warmth, water, food, and hygiene. Although an event like this can be stressful, try to remain positive to keep people in your party optimistic.
Basic First-Aid Techniques
Having a few first-aid skills will help you respond in a variety of situations. It’s often possible to address small cuts and wounds by merely washing them, keeping them clean, and watching for signs of infection such as redness and inflammation.
- Deep Wounds: Place firm pressure on a deep wound to stop the bleeding. If the bleeding won’t stop, a tourniquet might be necessary. Make a one-inch-wide tourniquet out of a strip of clothing or a belt. Tighten the tourniquet around the limb above the injury, just tightening to the point when the bleeding stops. Cover the wound with something clean to protect it.
- Fractures and Dislocations: A dislocated bone needs to be reset. Shoulders might be reset by rolling on the ground or pushing firmly against a hard surface. A kneecap might pop back into place by stretching out the leg and forcing it firmly back into the socket. A fracture needs to be splinted with sticks to stabilize it. You might tie the sticks around the injured limb with shoelaces to hold it in place.
- Burns: A second-degree burn from a fire will usually have blisters. Remove clothing from around the burn, and run lukewarm water over the area. Wrap the burn loosely with a damp piece of clothing. If you don’t have access to water, clean the burn as well as you can. Elevate the burned area if possible, and don’t break open any blisters.
In the wilderness, you might come across wild animals such as bears, wolves, coyotes, or cougars. With most wild animals, the best approach is to face the animal and back away slowly. Never approach, run, or play dead. If you feel threatened, make yourself feel and look as big as possible by spreading out your arms and making lots of noise. Try throwing objects at the animal. If you are attacked, try to block its mouth with your non-dominant arm. Smash the heel of your hand into its nose or eyes to try to disable it long enough for you to get away.
If you are in an emergency situation and you need shelter, you may have to build a temporary one. A temporary shelter needs to block the elements and help keep you warm. Even a tarp draped over a few downed tree limbs can suffice to keep you out of the rain or sun. Your shelter just needs to protect you from the wind and cold.
Building a fire will be the next requirement. Choose a spot that’s away from dry grass and leaves, overhanging branches, and rotten stumps. You can use either a magnifying glass or far-sighted glasses to create a spark to ignite dry leaves or other kindling. You might also use a bottle of water to focus the sun’s rays to create a single point of heat. This can take a while, but once you get a flame, blow on it lightly to make it bigger. If it’s cloudy or nighttime, a cell phone battery and steel wool can be used to create a spark between the positive and negative terminals. Some people also have success creating friction with two sticks.
Drinking water needs to be a priority. If your water supply is depleted and a body of water isn’t obvious nearby, you may have to play detective to find one. Grazing animals usually seek out water at sunrise and sunset, so follow them if you can. Mosquitoes and flies often stay close to water. If you find stagnant water, it won’t be safe to drink even after boiling it. You might collect dew on the grass by passing a piece of clothing through the grass as you walk through it. After you find water, boil it if possible to kill microbes and parasites.
Edible plants can relieve hunger. Acorns are edible, as are pine cones and the inner bark from pine trees. Cattail stalks are edible, and you can also make flour from the roots. Grass can also provide you with both water and carbohydrates. If you’re not sure about the safety of a plant, test it. Place a small piece of a plant against your lips and then on your tongue, waiting for an adverse reaction. If all is well, place it in your mouth and swallow it. You may have to wait eight hours to know if a plant is safe or poisonous.
Basic long-term hygiene depends on where you are. You can use a piece of cloth to wipe your teeth clean. If you’re in a warm and humid place, you may need to use baby powder or cornstarch to absorb moisture from skin folds. Primitive toilet paper might come down to plant leaves, but be careful about choosing just any leaf to wipe with. The best choice, if it’s nearby, is mullein.
If you become lost in the wilderness, it’s often best to stay where you are and wait for help to find you. But if you decide to move, determine the cardinal directions first. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, so you should be able to determine which way is north. If you know the area, try to move toward the nearest road or town. If you aren’t familiar with the area, try to find flowing water and walk downstream alongside it.
If you’re waiting to get rescued, you’ll need to stay alert to helicopters and airplanes flying overhead. Waving at aircraft is usually used to tell them not to land, so don’t wave. Instead, hold your arms up in a V shape to signal that you need help. If you have flares or a flashlight, use the light to attract an aircraft’s attention. If you hear rescuers nearby, call out in a low voice to get their attention.
- Scout Outdoor Essentials Checklist
- The Ultimate Camping Checklist
- Camp in Comfort Using These Handy Tips
- What to Bring to Summer Camp
- Boy Scout Camping List for Your New Boy Scout
- Ten Camping Hacks to Borrow From the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts
- Seven Sins of Boy Scouts While Backpacking
- Individual Campout Checklist for a Pack Overnighter
- Summer Camp Packing List
- The Ultimate Camping List
- Wilderness and Camping Survival Tips From Eagle Scouts
- Guide to Safe Scouting (PDF)
- Flash Flood Safety Tips
- Wilderness Survival Guide
- 15 Cold-Weather Camping Tips
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