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8 Things You Must Know Before Going into the Wilderness

hiker going into the wilderness

Think you can survive in the wilderness?  Sure, you might know a lot of wilderness survival tactics and outdoor skills.  But the truth is that every wilderness situation is different.  Someone who is prepared to climb Mt. Everest might be completely lost in a desert survival situation.  To make sure you are prepared for whatever comes your way, don’t go into the wilderness without first knowing these core survival factors.

Wild Animals

A lot of people never go into the wilderness because they are too afraid of wild animals.  The truth is that there are a lot of threats in the wild – but wild animals probably aren’t one of them.  Over the centuries, animals have learned that humans are dangerous and they do a good job staying away from us.  You’d have to be really lucky (or unlucky) to see an animal like a bear, wolf, or cougar in the wild.

But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know about which wild animals are out there.

As far as wild animals go, the most dangerous ones are usually snakes.  If you are really in the wilderness, then bears can also be a big problem. Take some time to learn which animals are out there, and what to do if you encounter them.  Also learn what steps to take to avoid them.  Here are some guides:


Poisonous Plants

Unless you are a botanist, I doubt you will be able to remember every single wild plant in the region you are going to.  But I bet you could learn all of the poisonous plants!  This is very important for a couple reasons:

  • So you don’t touch a poisonous plant (like wiping your butt with poison ivy)
  • If you are lost without food, you can eliminate poisonous plants before performing the Universal Edibility Test.

Daytime and Nighttime Temperatures

Never go into the wilderness without first checking the weather forecast, as well as the average highs/lows for that area in that season.  Do this even if you are only planning on a day trip!


Because you’d be surprised how much daytime and nighttime temperatures can vary.  In the Sahara, for example, daytime temperatures are often over 100 degrees F.  But heat loss at night is extreme, and temperatures can drop by 70 degrees and get down to freezing!

Make sure you know what high/low extremes are possible, and bring clothing and gear appropriate for both just in case you get lost and end up having to survive through the night.

Water Sources

You can only survive about 3 days without water, so you need to know when and where you will be able to obtain water before heading into the wilderness.

Remember that streams, lakes, and even rivers dry up in the hot season!  If you are hiking in the summer, be sure to check whether the water source is still there.  You can often call park rangers or ask other hikers to get this information.  If you can’t be sure that there will be water, then you better learn these techniques for finding water in the wild.

Possible Weather Conditions

Just because the weather forecast said it would be sunny and warm, it doesn’t mean that rain storms won’t occur.  Learn the weather conditions – and the risks that come with these weather conditions – before you set out.  For example, rains might not only bring wetness but flash flooding with them.  Learn the risks or you might find yourself ill prepared for the worst.


Today, people are so spoiled by technology that they have no clue how to function without it.  I’m talking about GPS here.  Many people have gotten lost in the wilderness because they went off-roading or on hikes with just a GPS device.  Well, GPS doesn’t work everywhere!  And then there is the whole issue about batteries going dead.

Even if your GPS doesn’t fail you, please don’t rely on it to help you find your way in the wilderness.  The first reason is that GPS usually shows you the most direct route – it doesn’t take into consideration factors like steepness and trail difficulty.  The only real way to get a feel for the terrain is by looking at a topographical map.

A topographical map can give you a lot of valuable information, such as:

  • Elevation from start to end
  • How difficult trails will be
  • How far/fast you can reasonably expect to travel in the terrain
  • Where water sources are

Of course, you have to know how to read a topographical map in order for it to have any value.  I recommend getting involved in Orienteering, which is a fun way to learn map reading skills.

Nearest Place to Get Help

No matter how skilled you are, you could always find yourself in a situation where you need help.  Before going into the wilderness, find out:

  • If there are park rangers on duty, and where they are stationed
  • Where the nearest roads are, and how much traffic they get
  • Where the nearest hospital is
  • Where the nearest town is
  • Where the nearest anti-venom is located (in snake country)

This information will help you decide how to act in an emergency situation.  For example, if a hiking partner gets injured, you could determine whether it is smarter to go to the ranger station and request help, or to create a stretcher and carry the person to the nearest place for help. If you were to get lost, you’d also have a better idea of which direction to send signals for help.

Your Limitations

The most dangerous thing in the wilderness isn’t wild animals, or even rock slides or extreme weather. The most dangerous thing in the wilderness is STUPIDITY.

It has happened hundreds of times that unfit, or elderly people go for a walk in the woods only to have to be dragged out.  Likewise, people with mediocre map reading skills go for a hike only to have a rescue search called in for them later.

If you aren’t 100% sure of your abilities in the wilderness, then don’t push it.  It is better to start out slow, or take a guide with you, then end up dead.

 What steps do you take to prepare for treks into the wilderness? Let us know in the comments or join the conversation on Facebook.