There are a lot of understood rules for hikers and backpackers, which include necessary skills to keep yourself and others safe. Whether you are planning to head out for a few hours or a weeklong backcountry adventure, knowing the proper way to handle survival situations and wildlife encounters is a valuable thing when needed. As the number of bear encounters and attacks rises and even more Americans take off to get outside and experience nature in our national parks, take time to acquaint yourself with appropriate skills and know-how well before you need it.
One of the simplest, easiest things you can do to improve your chances of survival should something go wrong is actually to practice good hiking etiquette all along the trail. At the top of the etiquette list is speaking to other hikers as you pass on the trail. Even if it is simply a passing “hi” or “hello,” that moment of eye contact and exchange of words could be a life-saver in the worst of scenarios. Should something go wrong, the hikers you pass on the trail could be the last people to see you and therefore are the best ones to provide information to search and rescue crews. From the state of your overall condition to the last place you were seen on the trail, other hikers are much more likely to remember you if you take just a moment to make a genuine connection.
Read more: Best DIY Emergency Kit List
Another incredibly easy survival skill to remember is how to signal for help. There are several ways you can do this, but the easiest is to use gear or rocks to make a large ‘X’ that can be seen from above. You can also use a mirror or a whistle to signal for help. Another help signal is black smoke, which is produced when you burn petroleum-based products.
If you cannot get help, then knowing how to navigate is invaluable. Even if you don’t have a map or compass, you can still use some of your surroundings to find your way. One way to navigate is by finding north using shadows. Use a large stick or fallen limb that is at least three feet long and place it on the ground in a clear area. Use a rock or another marker to indicate where the tip of the stick’s shadow begins. After at least 15 minutes, mark the tip of the shadow again. The line between the two markers will show a rough estimate of east-west and a line perpendicular to that line will be north-south. This way, you can orient and navigate yourself.
You can also use a watch face to find north. Simply hold the watch with the hour hand pointing toward the sun. South is typically halfway between the hour hand and 12 while north will be in the exact opposite direction. You can even draw a clock face in the dirt to accomplish this if need be. Just remember to use 1:00 instead of 12:00 if it is during a period of daylight savings.
Knowing how to interact with wildlife should you be lucky enough to see it is a huge survival skill to know and hold onto. Most animals will stay hidden if they hear you coming along the trail, so always make some noise or talk as you hike. Startled animals on the trail are usually the ones that respond poorly to human interactions.
It’s also important to consider the time of day you are on the trails. Just like avoiding sharks while swimming in the ocean, bears, mountain lions, and other wildlife tend to be most active around dawn and dusk. So avoid hiking at those times of day.
Should you come face to face with an unfriendly animal, back away slowly while moving sideways so you can see where you are stepping while watching the bear. Talk in a low, quiet voice, too. Be sure that you are not near any young that the animal might have also. You can also carry pepper spray or bear spray.
For black bear attacks specifically, try to move away while making yourself appear larger by getting to higher ground or holding your arms out. If a black bear should attack, fight back and use whatever objects you can to hit and kick the bear — particularly in the face. Grizzly bears and brown bears should not be confronted. Instead, simply play dead. For any kind of bear, always keep your backpack on because it can help protect your back and organs should the bear maul you.
Read more: How to Survive a Bear Attack
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