On a hike

This topic contains 22 replies, has 10 voices, and was last updated by  Mouse Wizard 1 year, 7 months ago.

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  • #5054

    Mouse Wizard

    I have a lot of search and rescue experience. What I see most often is people going out with nothing but a tank top and shorts in the summer. Then they get lost and spend a really cold night or two before the search teams find them. They’re cold, hungry, dehydrated, and most likely will never go into the woods again.

    Now, this is not about survival in the wilderness for days to weeks. There are a ton of youtube videos on that. This is about getting out when lost, or getting found fast when you or your partner breaks an ankle or leg. This is for grid up survival.

    Minimal basic equipment:

    • Sheath knife – 4-5″ blade will do. Doesn’t have to be a $200 “survival” knife. A K-Mart special will do fine as long as you can see the metal of the blade extending all along the top and bottom of the handle (this is known as a full tang knife).
    • Bic lighter.
    • Sweater or light jacket.
    • Water bottle.
    • A few energy bars.
    • A cheap water filter or filter straw.
    • A cheap compass. You don’t need a surveyors or orienteering compass. A little bitty round key fob type will do.
    • A cheap plastic poncho.
    • A cheap AA-powered maglite. K-mart special again. Change the batteries each year.

    All of the above will fit in the bottom of even the smallest day pack.


    • Splitting wood using the Baton method. youtube is your friend. And this is why you have a full tang knife.
    • Feathering a stick as a fire starter. youtube again.
    • This leads to the ability to actually light a fire. Practice in yours or someone’s barbecue grill. Don’t bother with the “start a fire from an ember” survivalist skill – you have a Bic lighter.
    • Actually using the water filter (don’t use it on tap water).

    What to do:

    • LEAVE A NOTE IN THE CAR or with friends/family.
    • Keep track of which general direction you’re going. If you find yourself lost, use the compass to turn around and go back generally in the other direction. If you don’t see something familiar in a half hour or so, then:
    • STOP
    • Eat an energy bar, drink some water.
    • Relax a bit and calm down. Panic does strange things to the mind.
    • BUILD A FIRE (if it’s safe to do so)

    If you do this, SAR will find you. And fast. FLIR from a helicopter can find a campfire in a hot minute. A person wandering in the trees, not so much.

    Once we have your coordinates the team can walk straight to you.

    With youtube and a barbecue grill, the necessary skills can be acquired in one day. There is no excuse.

    The above advice was distilled from the following:

    • Most of the time our teams have to chase down the subject even after the dogs find their trail. They just keep walking trying to find their own way out. Then they fall down a gully, get trapped in a snowdrift, or in general get injured somehow. If they fall in a river they generally turn up dead.
    • One mountain biker got trapped by a sudden snowfall. Where he had clear trails in the morning he had 14 inches of snow by evening. He had the gear and skills, so built a big fire to keep warm. The helicopter spotted him around midnight and dropped a forest penetrator. Lifted him out and everyone was on their way home before we could even unpack the incident base gear.
    • One guy was an Amateur Radio Operator (Ham) and had an APRS-equipped talkie. He had nothing else. No compass, no matches, whatever. But he was able to walk up to the top of a ridge and connect with a repeater to call for help. We got in contact and told him to stay put. He turned on his APRS beacon, it got picked up on http://aprs.fi, and the search team walked straight to him.
    • One was drunk on a hunting trip, shot at a deer with a pistol and chased it over the ridge line. That was the last anyone saw of him. His body turned up three weeks later tangled in some bushes on a river bank 12 miles from where he started. It was 5 miles straight line just to get to the river from where he was last seen. Basically he walked clean out of the search area. Once it rains, the chances of the dogs or man trackers finding you drop significantly. Especially if you keep moving.
    • This topic was modified 2 years, 2 months ago by  Mouse Wizard.
    • This topic was modified 2 years, 2 months ago by  Mouse Wizard. Reason: cleaning up bad markup
  • #5064

    James Mitchner

    Great advice, all.

    I carry a carbon steel blade and a ferrous rod as a back up to other fire starting items.  Stainless will not “throw a spark”.  I also carry a Gerber compact saw that stays retracted in the handle until you unlock it and extend it out. Little weight but great capability for cutting small dried branches for starting a fire.  A set of Mechanic work gloves.  I prefer one of the Energizer head lamps than a handheld light, but its personal preference.  A few yards of paracord takes up almost no room but can come in handy tying out your poncho for a hasty shelter.  I also use paracord for my boot laces to use in a pinch.  A Sierra cup (stainless steel) and a few light packages of tea, instant soup, etc. will be comforting while awaiting rescue.

  • #5073


    Really excellent post. Could I use this on my website as an article with credit to you?

  • #5075

    Peppy P

    Great info.  Happens all the time here.

  • #5153

    Crow Bar

    I have a day pack I take. It has some first aid supplies double wrapped in zip lock bags:

    -Mole skin

    -Band aids

    -4×4 gauze, 6

    -4 NSN vacuum packed roll gauze

    -Medical tape

    -Small finger nail clippers


    Other items:

    -Blast Match and I keep a tin of tinder and charcoal, also double wrapped in zip lock bags. Trying to find dry tinder after a sudden down pour is not easy. It can be done, but with your own tinder it makes it that much easier and increases your chance of a 1<sup>st</sup> time success.

    -Wire saw that can double as a snare.

    -Quality compass with mirror. More accurate in shooting an azimuth, and back azimuth. One thing a lot of people fail to do is mark a tree, make a rock formation, or similar marking. If you are in unfamiliar territory, one tree can look a lot like another. Mark the tree you are stand next to on the side you will be walking away from with your knife. Shoot an azimuth at a tree a 50/100yards away. Walk to that tree, and mark that one. If you have to back track/shoot a back azimuth you have marked trees as reference points. The mirror can be used as a signaling device too.

    -Headlamp. I have two old Petzl head lamps. Three different brightness settings and a strobe setting as a signal light. Some of the newer flashlights have duel fuel energy sources, Ion-lithium or a common AA or AAA battery. Makes them more flexable. Some not only have a strobe function but a actual SOS strobe function to be better seen from the air.

    -550 cord

    -Ka-Bar fixed blade. It is a Becker MachAx. Kinda like a heavy duty small ax. For me it is more a farm tool as I use it all the time out in the fields. And the sheath is really nice. Comfortable, does not chafe. Unfortunately they discontinued it. A lot of knife manufactures skimp on the sheath.

    -Water bladder, with a gravity filter. I use the Platypus brand, but I hear Sawyer is good too. We had a drought here a few years ago. If I had to hump it from town to home, a lot of the water sources had dried up. So, I could fill it in a few minutes 3L of water hanging from a small tree. I did not like the idea of trying to use a Life Straw to suck and spit a 3L water bladder full, call me crazy.

    -GORP, or Good-Ol-Raisins and Peanuts. Some grocery stores sell stuff in bulk. Load up on raisins, peanuts, sunflower seeds, pretzel sticks, and of course some kind of chocolate!

    -Jerky! I prefer to make my own, but if it is a hike on the fly, I will spend the $$ for the over-priced store bought stuff.

    -Bug juice, aka insect repellent.

    -Seasonal appropriate clothing, rain gear, hat, gloves etc.

  • #5158


    Should have a ifak at all times .

    <span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>if not have  blood cotter idf presure bandage and a few triangle </span> banadages good for broken and twisted limbs and super glue incase you need a instand one hand suture.

    Buy a better poncho have it with inside liner of mylar so it is a space blanket and can be used for signalling if in right area.

    Make sure Bic is in a ziplock, I also carry strike anywhere matches two wrapped together heads exposed then stem wrapped in toilet paper. Stem is shoved into a plastic straw excess cut off then dipped in parafun wax. Fire start and a little bit of fuel for fire start in one. Yeah I know burning plastic is bad but this is a life or death situation.



    Get a whistle you need it at signal as you cant yell for long,  having surveyor tape and a waterproof  sharpie to mark area if you are moving in leave in line of sight leave a a trail and increases chance of someone seeing neon tape. Wrap some duct tape around sharpie.

    I also carry some mineral salt, nothing worse than cramping from lack of salt.

    There is better stuff than para cord look for kevlar shoe laces they last forever and are much stronger.


    I also carry antihistamine tabs and water purification ones tiny but life savers.

    This is beating a dead horse bit if you are in venomous snake  country bring a venom kit.


    • This reply was modified 2 years, 1 month ago by  namelus. Reason: Added items
  • #5206

    Crow Bar

    I get the idea of Bic lighters.

    But go to a smoking area and watch how many smokers Bic’s fail them.  Fun to watch them pass around the one lighter that works.  Same with Zippos.  They work great . . . until they dont.

  • #5319

    Mouse Wizard

    All the other suggestions are excellent, but my aim is to get people to at least start with the bare minimum. If you keep adding all the excellent suggestions that come up you’ll wind up with my “minimal” survival pack that weighs 16 pounds and has hundreds of dollars worth of gear. Presenting that to the casual hiker is overwhelming. So I recommend the minimum that I’ve observed would result in a successful rescue. After that it’s increasing comfort, more terrain flexibility, better comms, and so forth.

    And Daisy – if your question is to me, then yes.

  • #5320

    Crow Bar

    My pack, before water, might weigh 3lbs.  May be a pound or two more with cold weather gear.  Call it max 11lbs with water and cold weather gear.

    If you went cheap, generic or off brand, you might spend $100.  The gravity water filter being the biggest cost.  But I would rather go for a few bucks more for quality.  Especially if my life might depend on it.

    I use the head lamp, the flashlight, the Ka-Bar all the time in other functions in and around the farm.  They get well used.

  • #5321

    Mouse Wizard

    I agree with the cautionary tale about Bic lighters, but if the person buys the lighter and uses it to practice building a fire, then packs it away with the rest of the gear, it’s likely to work when needed. They typically fail out of the box, which is probably why they’re mostly available in packs of 3-5.

  • #8879


    Another idea is to place some sort of scent on the boot soles.  Whether it’s coffee, or cinnamon oil or scented bug spray, mark the bottom of your shoes so the dogs can find you more easily.  I’ve trained my little dog to “Find”.  You don’t have to wait for a search and rescue operation, if your dog is trained to find you.  Or, help train your friend’s dog.  I started by training my dog to “find” my keys.  Placed them in a muslin bag with a treat and hid it in another room.  Progressed slowly to make it harder to locate the object.

    I’ve also read about making a notch or mark of some sort on the soles of your boots so that your group can distinguish your tracks from any others.

    A trained cadaver dog can find human remains in an archeology dig that were 6,000 years old, and they were also used to locate old graves from the war of 1812 so they could be tended properly.

    Don’t lose hope, but help the dogs out.  The cemetery and arch. dig are very concentrated sites, if you’re out in the forest, that’s a much larger area to search.  Scent is affected by weather conditions, so keep reapplying it.

  • #8905


    Also if tracked by dogs use some powdered bleach one sniff and fido can’t smell anything for a day….

  • #8915

    Crow Bar

    Get a whistle you need it at signal as you cant yell for long, having surveyor tape and a waterproof sharpie to mark area if you are moving in leave in line of sight leave a a trail and increases chance of someone seeing neon tape. Wrap some duct tape around sharpie.

    Rather than carry additional gear, after you have shot your azimuth with your compass, mark a tree with your Ka-BAR as a marker.
    No trees?
    Use the heel of your boot to mark the ground.
    We did this in the USMC.

  • #9008

    Mouse Wizard

    Trained search dogs use a scent article provided by the subject’s family. Generally a pillowcase or a recently worn shirt. Applying a “scent” to your boots will mask the scent they’re looking for. Good way to not get found except by your own dog, who may be by your side and thus useless for the purpose.

    If you’re going to train your dog to find family members, use the normal scent articles. Better yet, join a canine SAR team and get them trained for real.

  • #9009


    Hi Mouse,

    Good to know.  How did you like your SAR training and can you recommend a book or website or youtube channel as for me the nearest SAR team is over 6 hours away.  I have to do dog training via distance learning.  I was taking into consideration how the weather will degrade the scent, as noted by others, therefore was thinking about additional, longer lasting scents.  So using a dab of coffee or cinnamon or suchlike will cover my scent completely?  What about deodorant and shampoo?  I haven’t been able to disguise my scent that way, or else my dog associates me with coffee.  Smart dog.

  • #9035

    Mouse Wizard

    I don’t have a trained tracking dog, I’ve just been the target of some training sessions, so I don’t have any references of materials for training your dog. From what I’ve experienced, no dog needs a “special” scent to identify you. The handlers just wave one of my spare hats under their nose and they go zoom and find me toot sweet. Even when I’ve walked in circles and hidden in a high spot or low spot.

  • #9038


    A question why is your dog not with you on hike? I don’t leave home without one, rest are at farm but have one with me 90 percent of the time, even the bank and village office let them sit outside in summer more places have a dog area with water, shade and sometimes treats.


    Even police station let’s you have dog in back of pick up… they are all over my town. Maybe it’s just a small rural town thing.

  • #9044

    Mouse Wizard

    i don’t divulge personal details like that.

  • #9098

    OldMt Woman

    Mouse Wizard….for the purpose you stated, I like this list very much.  I’m quite the packrat and would usually add this and that.  But you’ve got simple/cheap basics and advice to “stay put and quit making it harder to find you.”

    I live in fairly rugged mountain country out west.  All sorts of dangers from lightning strikes [folks die every year!] to the more exotic like cougar attack [very rare..unless you aren’t watching your small child].   I used to get folks stopping in their vehicles on the roads – and I’m on horseback –  asking me  HOW DO I GET OUT OF HERE?  The roads are a bit odd around here due to rough terrain.  There’s only one four-way intersection in the whole area that I know of.  All others are Y or T intersections.  Folks can’t find their way out of here cuz it’s not laid out like a grid!  It’s actually too hard to explain it – I began carrying a map of this immediate area to give to them.  Not sure all of them could follow the roads on the map.

    Off road….well even I could get turned around in the wilderness up here.  I never went off-road with my horse but you can bet I still had many of those things in my saddle packs and on my person – in case the horse and I should part ways….

    OldMtWoman  …yep, I like it especially for newbies.

  • #9102

    Mouse Wizard

    One thing I’ve learned over the years is there’s no “perfect pack” you can just have on the shelf to grab and go. Once you get beyond EDC and some core items, everything else is a decision based on season, terrain, number in your party, and so forth. I don’t start those kind of discussions because they become The Never Ending Story.

    The real epiphany to me was the shocking lack of even basic EDC items on most hikers.

  • #11286

    Mouse Wizard, very practical things to carry on a hike and you’ve got experience with rescues. Over the past few years I’ve been steering my ship towards preparation and survival. Picking up a few simple items here and there like flint and strike and learning some basic concepts. It’s an overlooked skill these days. I need to get out there and try some of this stuff, I work to dang much. Thanks, I’m gonna make it a point to practice some simple things and get a little experience as you suggested.

  • #19950

    Jack Simonton

    Hello Mouse,
    I am really happy to see the post. Great post and great credits.
    Thanks a lot for sharing this post.

  • #19956

    Mouse Wizard

    I have no idea what works and what doesn’t. I was just amazed by how fast the dogs found me. I suspect your dog has a wide variety of scents associated with you, gained from experience over time.

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