by: Ted Scrutton

It began as a warm, sunny day. You became so caught up in your hunting or fishing adventure that you didn't notice that it would soon be dark and that clouding skies and a temperature drop have produced a cold drizzle. Typical Nova Scotia weather! Although you may have been in this situation before and managed to get out to the comforts of home, this time something unexpected happens.

It could be that you have become disoriented or injured or fatigued and cold. Whatever the reason and knowing that travel at night could lead to further problems, you realize that the best thing to do is to stay where you are until you can be found or you can safely make your own way out. This scenario along with many other variations on the theme could prove to be fatal if you are unprepared.

RATE YOUR SURVIVABILITY! (Best to print out form)

When you go on a hunting/fishing/outdoor trip (circle the appropriate answer):

  1. Do you tell people at home:
    • where you are going?
           YES   or   NO
    • how long you expect to be?
           YES   or   NO
    • what your alternate plans may be?
           YES   or   NO
  2. Do you go with other people?
         YES   or   NO

  3. Are you:
    • physically fit?
           YES   or   NO
    • healthy?
           YES   or   NO
  4. Do you eat nutritious food regularly?
         YES   or   NO

  5. Do you have a strong will to live?
         YES   or   NO

  6. Do you have loved ones?
         YES   or   NO

  7. Have you ever had to deal with a survival-like situation?
         YES   or   NO

  8. Do you have with you at all times:
    • extra clothing?
           YES   or   NO
    • sleeping bag?
           YES   or   NO
    • whistle?
           YES   or   NO
    • map/compass?
           YES   or   NO
    • something to provide shelter?
           YES   or   NO
    • something to generate heat?
           YES   or   NO
    • knife/axe/saw?
           YES   or   NO
  9. Can you locate and make use of natural shelter from wind/rain?
         YES   or   NO

  10. Would you be able to light and maintain a fire in rain drenched woods?
         YES   or   NO

  11. Are you a well-rounded woodsman who has spent a lot of time in the wilderness?
         YES   or   NO
The more "yes" answers you have relative to your "no" answers, the more prepared you are for a survival situation.


Look at yourself, not as an individual alone in the woods, but as a survival system, a system that possesses certain resources (outdoor skills and expertise, personality traits, experiences and equipment).

How effectively you can identify and utilize the resources at hand will make the difference.

Lets take a look at the resources available to you in your present survival situation.

Physical resources such as health, state of nutrition, fitness and strength. These all effect the probability of your survival. If you happen to be overweight, out of shape or eating poorly, you could be predisposed to hypothermia, fatigue and possible injury.

Human resources at your disposal should take two forms; those with you and those back home. Should you be fortunate enough to be with other people during your survival vigil, you must be able to pool your resources and cooperate to make the best of the situation.

However, there could be a great many people who could be of use to you even though they may not be a part of your company. The fact that you have loved ones back home will not only inspire you to survive, but also, if they know of your whereabouts and plans, will prompt an early search response that could mean the difference between life and death. Leaving with friends and/or relatives a detailed itinerary of your trip and expected times of arrival would prove to be valuable tools to the rescue unit that will attempt to find you.

Your mental resources could be the most critical determining factor in your efforts to survive. The ability to recognize your dilemma early and promptly make some positive decisions concerning your immediate actions could make the difference. You must remain under control and have a positive attitude towards your situation. There is no room for blame, self-doubt or disgust. Get down to the business at hand.

If you have been in a similar predicament before, you usually can use this to your advantage. It is the novel situation that will cause you the most stress and anxiety. It might be worthwhile setting up controlled experiences on your own so that you can see first hand how you perform.

The wilderness environment provides and abundance of natural resources for your use. The ability to recognize their usefulness then the skill to turn them into useful tools for fire and shelter building, signalling, navigation, etc., are skills that many woodsmen possess. While we as conscientious travellers in the woods, try to minimize our environmental impact, in a survival situation use every resource available to you. It could prove to be the edge you need to survive.

Equipment that you have with you is obviously an excellent resource but people should not rely too heavily on its presence. One thing to remember about equipment, it should perform best when you need it most.

The law requires that you carry a knife or axe, waterproof matches (or matches in a waterproof container) and a compass when travelling in unfamiliar terrain. Some form of light weight shelter material, i.e. 6 mil plastic, would also be desirable. (Space blankets tend to rip and tear in severe weather). A small stove to provide warm liquid as well as the equipment necessary to provide for a fire (waterproofed, strike anywhere matches, as well as some fire starter material) should be carried at all times.

There are many other items that could be carried with you but the type and quantity of equipment that is always on your person depends on your strengths and weaknesses within the other four resources at your disposal. The more highly skilled a woodsman you are and the better you can utilize the environment, the less equipment you might have to take with you. If you have not proven these skills then I suggest you make up for your weaknesses with the appropriate technology.

Your survival system is an interplay between these five resources. The effectiveness of your system is dependent upon how well you can develop each of these components and how expert you have become at utilizing the resources available to you.


Very critical to survival is the control of heat loss by the body. Find shelter quickly. Do not expose yourself to the wind, rain or snow any longer than you have to. Insulate yourself from the ground since this contact is a major source of heat loss. Keep major heat loss areas, i.e. head, neck, armpits and groin, covered. Assume some sort of huddle position, either by yourself or with friends, that is comfortable and does not restrict blood flow.

While exercise is an excellent method of warming up the body it should only be done in the early stages of being cold and should not be done if you end up exposing yourself to wind, rain or snow. You can stay in your sheltered area and perform muscle contractions (isometric exercise) with no limb movement.

Food is not essential to survival. You need energy so that you can perform the tasks related to survival but it is totally unnecessary to hunt or trap animals in Nova Scotia. You can live weeks without food. Take some chocolate bars with you on your outings.

Water is extremely necessary, especially in the winter when you dehydrate very easily without knowing it. You may only be able to live three days without water.

Fires have been traditionally foremost in peoples minds when they are getting cold. They can be of great psychological advantage and good for drying and warming clothes as well as heating liquids. However, sitting by a fire can actually make you colder. Heat from the fire causes blood vessels in the skin to dilate which is contrary to the body's initial reaction to cold (a decrease in blood flow). So any heat gained must be more than that which is normally conserved via the body's initial reaction.

Be careful of the misconception that windproof and waterproof matches are what you need. Unfortunately, if you lose or damage the striker you cannot light these matcher. Get strike-anywhere matches.

Shelters may be in grottos and under trees. Searchers may not find you in there hideaways so you must find a way of making yourself visible.

If near open land or a frozen lake, you can construct a large display to attract aircraft. Tramp out letters S.O.S. in the snow and fill in with vegetation or pile branches in the shape of letters or hang a large piece of gear or clothing so that it will wave in the wind like a flag.

Remember, in Nova Scotia, you probably only need to survive 2 or 3 days before being found, so most of your energies should go into stabilizing your situation as quickly as possible and waiting.

Based upon your Survivability Rating and the information presented in this article, can you identify areas where you may need to develop your survival expertise?

While this article in no way exhausts all of the necessities of survival, it is aimed at putting in perspective the concepts of survival for the outdoor enthusiast. In Nova Scotia, we are fortunate to have in place the Nova Scotia Outdoor Leadership Development Program that not only deals in detail with survival but also other outdoor skills such as woodsmanship, leadership and navigation. Further information on NSOLD Programs can be obtained by contacting: Coordinator of Outdoor Recreation, Nova Scotia Department of Culture, Recreation and fitness, P.O. Box 864, Halifax, NS, B3J 2V2, (424-7620).


There are many steps in preparing for a survival situation. One of the best is having suitable equipment and knowing how to use it. A well prepared survival kit can be a lifesaver. to be of value, however, you must always carry it with you in the wilderness.

Your kit should be designed to help you satisfy the five basic needs for survival: Shelter, Warmth, Water, Energy, and a Positive Mental Attitude.


What is needed is a waterproof, windproof covering for the entire body which can be quickly and easily deployed. A few suggestions are listed below.

  • Plastic Tarps (2-6ml.)(approx. size 3mx4m)
  • Nylon tarp or tent fly.
  • Bivi bag - Waterproof bag used as an outside liner for a sleeping bag
  • Industrial Garbage bag/leaf bag.
  • Space blanket
  • String or cord - for securing shelters


Two ways to warm the body are from an external heat source or internally with hot liquids or foods. For these you need to be able to build a fire and heat liquids. Your kit should include something to ignite the fire and something to heat water in. Tinder and something to flavor the water are desirable extras. The following list satisfies these needs.

  • Waterproof matches - (wood matches dipped in wax).
  • Fire starters - (tinder) - Cotton balls dipped in wax - Bar-b-que cubes - Trench candles, and many others
  • Metal container - or aluminum foil - to heat liquids
  • Tea - to flavor hot liquids


The container listed above may be used to carry water, or melt snow.


Food should be included in a survival kit based on the energy it will provide, it's compactness, ease of preparation and ability to keep for a long time. Two foods which serve these needs are listed below.

  • Sugar - provides quick energy - should be wrapped in waterproof cover - to sweeten tea or eaten as is.
  • Bouillon - provides salt to reduce cramps and fatigue

Positive Mental Attitude:

There are many things we could include in a survival kit to help support a positive mental attitude. These items can be classified as tools, information or first-aid.

  • Tools:
    • knife - many cutting uses
    • wire - repairs, pot handle, snares
    • whistle - signal
    • compass - navigation
    • tape - repairs, bandages
    • fishing line - repairs, fishing
    • hooks - fishing
  • Information:
    • paper and pencil - to record situation, leave messages, entertainment
    • brochure or survival cards

  • First-aid:
    • A first-aid kit contains many more items than listed here. These are a few items which have multiple usage.
    • tape - for bandage, sprains, etc.
    • safety pins - splinter removal, holding bandages, repairs
    • wire, string - sewing splints, repairs


The kit should be contained in a waterproof container. A metal can, can serve as a cook pot. Seal with bright color tape. Shelter may be inside or wrapped around outside.