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It's often said that those who cannot learn from history are condemned to repeat it. This statement isn't just applicable to shortsighted warlords who choose to invade Russia during the winter — it also holds true when we discuss individual survival.
Studying the mistakes and misfortunes of hikers, backpackers, campers, and hunters who ended up in survival situations can often help us avoid them entirely. Even if we end up in a disastrous circumstance through no fault of our own, knowing survival statistics can guide us to make wise choices and increase our odds of making it home safely.
A recent article on SmokyMountains.com titled “Safe & Found” compiled and analyzed the survival stories of more than 100 individuals. These experiences ranged from 1 to 90 days in duration, and occurred throughout the United States and Canada.
First, the article delves into how these hikers got lost or stranded:
The majority left the established trail and were unable to get their bearings, as was the case in the story of Sajean Geer. Weather was the second-most likely cause of trouble, so if you're able to stick to the path and watch for incoming storms, your odds of survival will increase substantially.
Next, the article explains how each person found warmth, shelter, water, and food, assuming they were able to do so.
Warmth — 12% relied on clothing alone, 10% built a fire, and 10% used camping gear they had on hand. Other heat sources included body heat from other people or pets, physical exercise, or digging in to shelter from the elements.
Shelter — 11% of survivors used camping gear, while 9% found existing shelter in the form of caves or structures. The remainder improvised shelter from trees, rocks, snow banks, or the ground itself.
Water — Unsurprisingly, most were able to find natural water sources, either as large bodies of water or small deposits of snow or rainwater. Those who weren't so lucky tried to make existing supplies last as long as possible, or returned to safety fast enough that they didn't need a water source to survive. A handful drank their own urine — as we've said many times before, this is never a good idea, yet the harmful myth persists.
Food — Aside from those who relied on existing food supplies or their bodies' fat reserves to sustain them, this graph is pretty much an upside-down food chain. Finding berries, fruit, or other edible plants is usually possible, while hunting for a consistent source of calories is much more difficult.
The SmokyMountains article also discusses how these survivors returned to safety. While most experts agree that it's best to stay put if there's a reasonable likelihood of being found, a majority of the study's subjects kept moving. More than three quarters were rescued — only 23% managed to get out on their own.
Finally, SmokyMountains asked survival instructor Andrew Herrington to share his overall recommendations and advice on each of the above categories. He extols the importance of preparedness before any adventure, and shares numerous valuable tips that are simple enough for anyone to remember. To read Herrington's input and browse a table of the data from all 103 survivors, go to SmokyMountains.com/safe-and-found.