Comes to us from Andrew of Texas.
“What is the most important thing in a survival situation, if you are lost in the woods?”
C. Map/Knowledge of Terrain
D. Good attitude
If you guessed “B”, you are INCORRECT! The correct answer is “C”. The most important thing in a survival situation, or if you are lost in the woods is a capable knowledge of the terrain. Its more important than water, food, or shelter. More important than a compass, sleeping bag, or positive mental attitude.
Terrain knowledge is the most important thing, because with knowledge of the terrain, you can navigate safely, obtain shelter and water, and also make your way to civilization. Again, remember, your purpose is not to live in the woods ála Grizzly Adams, but to find help. Now, lets look at the alternate answers and see why each is incorrect.
Food is incorrect, because generally, you can go without food for about two days. Two days should be more than enough time to hike out of wherever you’re stranded. In two days, you should be able to cover 20-30 miles. Go in a consistent direction, and you’ll eventually hit a road, major river, or mark of civilization.
Water is incorrect, because generally, you’re hydrated enough to go for 2-3 days and make it 20-30 miles. Again, you’re not trying to live in the woods for a month. If you need quick hydration, look for a stream and take a couple of sips. Make sure that there are live fish in the stream. This generally means the water is okay to drink. Make sure the water doesn’t taste bitter or musty/musky . If it does, just spit it out. Invariably, someone will ask, “Well what if you’re stranded in the desert. Isn’t water the most important thing?” Well, what are you doing that gets you stranded in the desert anyway? Duh! If you really are stranded in the desert, 100 miles from anywhere, then you try to find shelter during the day, and travel at night. That way, you expend less water than traveling at day. But again, don’t go to the desert to get stranded. Exactly . . .
A compass isn’t useful on its own. Moreover, you can improvise a directional heading using a stick (if you have sunlight) or even a bit of metal wire (if you have a leaf and water). With a stick - you merely place it upright in the ground, trace its shadow, and then wait 15 minutes. At the end of the 15 minutes, you trace the new shadow again. You now make a straight line that bisects the shadow “V” you’ve just created, and now you have a North-South directional line. Draw a line perpendicular to this one, and you now have an East-West directional line. Pretty simple. If you have a leaf, water, and metal wire - what you do is place the leaf upon the water so that it floats. You then take the metal and create static electricity by rubbing it on your hair (the metal must be ferrous/contain iron, this will not work with aluminum) and then place the metal lengthwise upon the leaf. The piece of metal wire should turn the leaf and point north. You can also use the sun to gain direction - sun rises in the East, sets in the West. Pretty easy. You can also use terrain. If you know that on a given grid square, the ridges run Northwest to Southeast, then if you follow the ridge down (using other terrain features as directional aids) then you are going Southeast. You can even use elevation. If you know that the elevation increases, as you head north across a mountain range, then the way up is North. Way down in South. Its not hard, we just like to make it hard.
Look, there are some survival shows on TV that are pure dramatization. The host goes out with a camera crew, but doesn’t tell you that he usually takes guides, has been briefed on the terrain, has looked at maps, and knows where to go. Its totally artificial. Don’t for a minute believe that the host hasn’t studied the terrain.
Moreover, after doing enough land navigation training, you can forgo the compass. You don’t need it anymore and it becomes a hindrance. You now find your location on a map using terrain features such as mountains, power lines, streams, valleys, and trails. At The Basic School (Marine TBS), generally considered the toughest land navigation course in any military, we progressed to the point where at the end of the course, we didn’t need compasses. This happens, because you get so familiar with terrain, the compass slows you down. So, the correct answer is “C”, Knowledge of the terrain . . .