Survival in isolation - how to behave during escape or in enemy territory
In this blog post, we are going to talk about the most important to us elements of survival, which come in handy in an emergency situation, during the escape from the enemy, or SERE B and C courses, about which you can read in our previous blog post about SERE courses, those abilities will also profit us in everyday life. We will shortly talk about what survival is, its four essential elements, which help us prepare for such situations, ways to gather food and water, building shelter, camouflage, and movement, which are five basic abilities for successful survival.
Survival - what it is, its essential elements, and who will benefit from its knowledge
Survival is a process that leads to our successful subsistence in unfriendly conditions (it does not make a difference if we are lost in the forest, caught in fights in our city, lost in mountains, or adrift at sea). There are many variables that play their part in how effective this process is, but polish adventurer and discoverer of sources of the Amazonian river Jacek Pałkiewicz managed to describe the four most important elements and form them in a pyramid, thus prioritizing the most important aspects to survival. Those are:
- Will to survive
This so-called “Pałkiewicz pyramid” allows us to quickly check which part of it needs more of our effort in getting prepared. Even the best equipment will be worth nothing if our willpower will be broken, or if we will not know how to use it (which is not really the worst case, because we can always use the trial and error method).
Thanks to its universal values and a good influence on life organization, students of survival can feel the benefits of this knowledge in their everyday lives. Thanks to that, this knowledge should feel interesting to everyone, not only people who may be more prone to isolation or getting themselves in such situations but also fans of the outdoors and those living their lives in city jungles.
Gathering food and water and ways to open the doors of forest granary
The most important element of every survival situation, or when we are cut off from supplies in the form of food and water, is to find a way to get them. It is no different in the situation of isolation in enemy territory or when trying to escape. As much as we are able to survive a few weeks without food, lack of water will kill us in days. In the situation of isolation, we cannot allow ourselves to be weakened because of lack of food or water, because that would greatly lower our chances of survival and avoidance of the eventual enemy.
The easiest way to get drinkable water is to find a river or a stream because flowing water is our biggest ally. The flowing water is constantly mixed, thus thinning out eventual dangerous substances with fresh water coming down the stream.
When talking about standing water, we need to remember that it imposes a way bigger risk of catching a bacterial infection or getting poisoned in another way, because water gathering in holes travels through the surface, gathering all dangerous substances like pesticides, feces, or oil spills. Such water does not have circulation like flowing water, thus more and more such substances gather in it with time, increasing the risk of infection or getting poisoned, some of which could be lethal. Such water would need to be thoroughly filtered mechanically and chemically prior to consumption, for example with water filtration system, to minimize the risk of unwanted effects.
In places that tend to lack conventional water sources, we can utilize more advanced methods. In environments with high daily amplitude of temperatures, we can build a dew-gathering station. This station resembles an inverted pyramid and gathers forming dew, which then flows to the container positioned below. Unfortunately, this station is big and easy to notice.
Gathering food from the environment also is not the easiest task, but if we know this type of terrain, we may find out that we have access to a granary full of food. Of course, it will be way harder to find food in a sandy desert, than in a temperate forest, but finding food is possible everywhere. In our forests, we can find many plants and mushrooms which, now forgotten, were the base of diets for our ancestors through centuries.
In summer, we can gather blueberries or strawberries, in autumn and late summer we can search for edible (and edible is a keyword there) mushrooms. In winter, we can search for edible roots and set traps for little animals or fish. Why little animals? Because preparing big animals consumes a lot of time and leaves as many traces, which could lead to the discovery of our position or attract predators.
Natures first aid kit - utilizing natural resources in wound treatment
Most of the personnel in danger of isolation will have their own equipped first aid kit, nevertheless, it may get destroyed or rendered unusable in another way. In such moments we can utilize herbs, plants, and resources available in nature as improvised bandages, splints, salves, and teas to treat the most common health problems.
Many people remember plantain from their childhood. Its wide leaves were readily available bandages in the outdoor adventures of many kids. Many of you probably also heard about birchbark infusion, which has antiseptic properties and can be drunk as a natural antibiotic. If we catch a cold we can drink tea made from young pine needles, as they are rich in vitamin C, and those are only some of the most basic elements of nature's first aid kit.
Cover from weather and sight of your enemy - building concealed shelter
If we become isolated behind enemy lines our main task is to survive and link up with allied forces. If we are civilians lost somewhere, our main task will be to find the closest settlement, that is for sure. On the other hand, we need to remember about keeping our power levels high and staying rested, because lack of rest and sleep can severely decrease our chances of survival and fulfilling our goals. To rest it is advised to build concealed, temporary shelters, which will allow us to hide not only from the eyes of our enemies but also from the weather.
There are many ways to build a concealed shelter in a survival scenario, we could even say that we are only limited by our creativity and the environment, in which we have to operate. One thing that is universally true is to utilize elements already found in place, like fallen trees, caves, or holes (of course after making sure that it is safe, and the old inhabitant will not find us sleeping in his house) to build a concealed shelter. A hole in the place where formerly tree roots were buried in the ground can be quickly deepened and concealed, a fallen tree can be used as a frame for our lean-to, and a good cave can cover us not only from elements but also from enemy eyes in the sky.
While building or choosing a shelter we need to remember, that in the situation of isolation it does not only have to cover us from elements, but also from enemy search teams or unmanned aerial vehicles which may be searching for us in the area. Going up the tree to spend a night tied to a trunk may have worked before thermal vision and UAVs were invented. Spending a night in a barn that you have stumbled upon may end with a visit from more than an angry owner.
Stealthy movement in enemy territory is the safest way to ensure safety - camouflage methods
We have managed to secure sources of food and water, gathered some natural medicines to help with our injuries, and built our concealed shelter, everything starts to look pretty comfy, but then the enemy finds our position. We must have forgotten about something, but what was it? Right! The whole area is full of our tracks! The ability to cover our tracks and move stealthily is one of the most important aspects when we find ourselves in unfriendly territory. If till now we were the hunters, blazing through waves of enemies, now is the time to start thinking as potential prey, ready to fight for its right to survive.
For concealment, it is good to utilize both general issue as well as private or self-made equipment like face paints, ghillie suits, and pieces of local vegetation. If we see that the colors of our clothes stand out from the environment, rendering us easier to detect or our skin color stands out from the background, we may utilize natural resources such as mud or snow to change them.
Another important factor is our smell. Humans tend to smell of soap, shower gels, shampoos, perfumes, and cigarettes. Our clothing smells of detergent and fabric softener, sometimes gasoline or car oil, and let us not forget about that stain from the last dinner. Every one of those smells will stand out from the other smells in the outdoors, and a well-trained tracker will be able to tell that we are in the area without the need of using dogs.
One of the options to conceal our smell is to roll on the ground trying to catch as much smell of the ground, moss, mud, or dirt as possible. During this activity, some of those smells will stick to our bodies and clothes, masking our scents and giving us a higher chance to stay undetected.
Another element worth mentioning is heat signature, about which we have talked more in our post about thermal imaging devices, and the sources of an open flame. These two elements have to go together because if there is a fire, there is an increased temperature. Using open flame in such a situation of isolation in enemy territory brings a lot of danger, because of potential smoke pillars, smell, light it produces, and very easily distinguishable heat signature both for person with thermal image camera as well as UAV.
All of those aspects can quickly expose our position to the eyes of the enemy, especially in an era of unmanned aerial vehicles, able to silently circle over the area for a very long time searching for all anomalous heat signatures. Our body also emits a heat signature, but this can be partially masked if we cover exposed body parts and keep the outer temperature of our clothes close to the temperature of the environment.
Land navigation is a key to success - how to keep going in a good direction
If we find ourselves in isolation, or simply lost somewhere, our main task after surviving is to link up with friendly forces or to find the closest village or town in case we got lost. In the case of the first one, the best method is to go to a place where they should be. To achieve that, we need to know how to navigate utilizing available resources and methods.
Every personnel in danger of isolation and everyone that goes outdoors with the risk of getting lost should have a compass and map. These two devices offer us a quick and easy method to find ourselves in the terrain and where we should try to get to next. We just need to find our position by utilizing key terrain features, find the azimuth we need to follow, and there we go!
In case of a lack of such devices, one might have to resort to more primitive methods of finding the north. Ant hills tend to be steeper on the northern part, lone trees will have more moss on their northern side. If we have an analog clock, we can use it in conjunction with the sun to find the south at noon. During the night we can search for polar star or the cross of the south. With this information, we can more or less estimate which way we should go.
Images provided thanks to courtesy of SurvivalTech.