Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Finding Yourself

Or at least helping others find you...

Last week I talked about how not to get lost, and why to stay with your rig if you do get lost. Sometimes staying with the vehicle isn't an option, though. There are times when it is more dangerous to stay put, though they are few and far between. In those circumstances, you have to set out from your vehicle to try and find help.

Your overall goal is still to get back to civilization, whether you find it or it finds you. The main focus of this piece is helping civilization find you. There are a lot of ways to do this. The ways you use will depend on your location, available supplies, and the situation you find yourself in.

Rule of 3
No, not that Rule of 3; this one is different. In survival situations, things in groups of three signal distress: three gunshots in succession, three blasts on a whistle, a group of three fires, and various other distinctive signals grouped into three are all attention-grabbing signals of distress. Survival whistles are kind of an underrated hero here; they're incredibly inexpensive, and carry much further than the human voice, expending far less effort. This is useful even if you stay with your rig.

Leave a Note
It was good advice when you were a kid and went to play before your mom got home, and it remains good advice today. If you walk away from your vehicle, leave a note with your name, the date and time you left, the direction you intend to travel, and any other pertinent information you can think of. Leave it someplace where it is obvious and easy to find, but protected from the weather (such as on the dashboard, visible through the windshield). This helps narrow the search and rescue efforts, and allows for the use of more efficient, more directed search methods, meaning help gets to you faster.

Make Your Trail Obvious
You're looking to be found, and quickly. Trail markers aid that goal, and also allow you to backtrack if the need arises. There are practically unlimited ways to do this, depending on the situation and the materials you have at hand. Here are a few suggestions that may prove useful:

Neon flagging tape is cheap, light, and handy. In forested areas, or places with a lot of scrub or juniper cover, it truly shines. Tie a flag every couple hundred yards, making sure that you can still see your last flag when you tie the next one. Be sure too choose a bright color that contrasts with your local vegetation.

Cairns are small piles of rock that are commonly used as trail markers in the deserts of the southwestern USA. They require no materials to be carried, and work wonderfully in areas with little or no vegetation. Much like flags, make sure that you can still see the previous one when constructing another.

Blaze cuts are notches cut into the bark of a tree trunk. It is the origin of the phrase  "blaze a trail" and the term "trailblazer." They were originally used by foresters to indicate trees that were to be removed, but in our world they indicate a trail you've walked. They are however a very situational signal, and the least preferred option, as they can only be seen from one side of the tree and require certain kinds of trees to work at all. They can also do permanent damage to the trees if done improperly.

To blaze a tree, you first need a tree with a trunk that is open and exposed to well above head height. This gives you the best chance of your mark being seen. Using a large knife, axe, or machete, cut and remove a notch from the bark of the tree, facing the direction you came from, which is the likely direction help will come from.

Make Yourself More Obvious
Being seen is the best way to be found. We established last week that a human is a pretty small thing to find, so you need all the help you can get. Bright, shiny objects get noticed, as do larger objects. This leads us to a couple simple ideas.

Bright clothing works well, and can double as a flag to signal to aircraft. Anything in hunting orange is easily seen against most foliage.

Mylar space blankets are both big and shiny. They're light and inexpensive, and serve the additional function of keeping you warm. They make a reflective surface that is roughly 5'x7', greatly enhancing your visibility.

Signal mirrors are an active way to make yourself seen. They take some practice to become proficient, but can be seen from miles away. They've been used for the past 250 years to send signals for dozens of miles, and remain a valid tool today.

Be bright, be loud, be obvious, and you will be found.


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