Every year, there are sto­ries of strand­ed day-hik­ers in the Pacif­ic North­west. Enthu­si­asts set off on a short trail from a visitor’s cen­ter on Mt.Rainier only to get lost and spend an unex­pect­ed night out­doors in shorts and a tee shirt. Unless your day hikes are lim­it­ed to trails where you’re nev­er more than five min­utes from your car, you should con­sid­er the pos­si­bil­i­ty that you may get lost/injured, and what would hap­pen if you did.

Sur­vival 101
There are many places to take a short sur­vival course, which can last any­where from one hour to half a day. Local out­door stores often spon­sor evening or Sat­ur­day sem­i­nars on basic sur­vival skills; hik­ing and moun­taineer­ing clubs may put on half-day cours­es. Even state fish­ing and wildlife agen­cies put on these quick 101-type classes.

One course empha­sizes that among its goals is help­ing hik­ers pre­vent the need to sur­vive. Ide­al­ly, find a course that actu­al­ly takes you out­doors. It’s one thing to read or lis­ten; it’s anoth­er to actu­al­ly sim­u­late sur­vival tech­niques out­side. Real­iz­ing how tru­ly hard it is to light a fire with wet pine nee­dles may prompt you to lis­ten hard­er to the part about pre­vent­ing the need to fight for survival.

svHik­ers get lost – even on well-marked trails
It’s easy to get lost, even on pop­u­lar trails. Many con­tain off-shoots that you can end up on with­out know­ing it – until an hour goes by and you real­ize you nev­er looped back to the park­ing lot. If you aim­less­ly hike for anoth­er hour, pos­si­bly in the wrong direc­tion, who’s going to be able to find you there?

If you lose your way, will you know how to find the trail back? Was there a riv­er or creek near where you were hik­ing? Can you hear it? In sur­vival cours­es, they’ll review how to be aware of your sur­round­ings, and how to look for guide­posts that can help you nav­i­gate. They’ll also give you real-life exam­ples of when it’s often a good idea to stay put and mark your camp with a bright scarf, rather than risk get­ting your­self fur­ther away from where you’re sup­posed to be.

Many of the ben­e­fits of a sur­vival course stem from the exer­cise of think­ing through the “what-if” sce­nar­ios.  In the event you lat­er find your­self in the midst of a live “what-if” sce­nario, remem­ber­ing your options can help you stay calm and make smart choices.