Novice Versus Nature: Digital Technology Can Worsen Odds Of Wilderness Survival


SPOT emergency personal communicator device, with "SOS" button. Image credit:Amazon ad.

Many younger Americans, devoid of such early life experiences as one would get from Boy Scouting or hunting with experienced companions, emboldened by a proliferation of cheap GPS devices, and perhaps encouraged by the recent outpouring of 'survival shows' are doing the dumb dance into the wild. This digitally-driven risk taking by "greenhorns" can be at significant public and personal expense. New York Times has some Darwin Award-worthy anecdotes to share. My favorite is this one.

"Every once in a while we get a call from someone who has gone to the top of a peak, the weather has turned and they are confused about how to get down and they want someone to personally escort them," Ms. Skaggs said. "The answer is that you are up there for the night."

What to do?
I learned to navigate the back woods while hunting with Dad. This was before GPS and cellular communication existed. Our compasses were and are of limited value where I grew up because local magnetite (iron ore) deposits would occasionally make the needle spin! So, we ended up relying mostly on landscape clues and maps to find our way.

Twice in my life I got lost and found my way out after a few hours of wandering. The confidence of following my instincts successfully is still in my head.

Do I have some advice for the techno-savy greenhorn longing for some wilderness experience? Yes. Leave the cell phone and gps at home until you learn how to orient first with a paper map and compass. If you are in a hurry, hire a guide and let him/her bring the emergency communication stuff.

If you are worried about maps getting wet, try this trick. Dip the paper map in boiled linseed oil a few weeks before you leave. Hanging the linseed-oil soaked map out in the sun for a week will result in leathery looking but totally waterproof map that will no longer tear on the folds.

There are plenty of wilderness-oriented organizations that you can get involved with which will get you in contact with people who know what they are doing where it is you want to go. Sierra Club is a good place to start.

That redneck relative who votes reliably Republican probably has some things he could teach you if you can steel yourself for a visit. Eat a little crow maybe.

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