A little emergency preparedness goes a long way when adventuring in the outdoors. The emergency disaster kits your mom sent with you to elementary school every year won’t cut it when you’re in the wild. You’re going to need more than canned tuna and apocalypse-resistant crackers when faced with an emergency on the road. These key precautions and procedures make it safe to sleep in your car. Although we hope that these disaster measures will never need to be used, we urge you to practice them to stay ready for whatever Mother Nature throws your way.
Pregame the party
Obviously, the easiest way to save yourself in case of an emergency is by avoiding emergencies altogether. Proper preparation can help to ensure you won’t face any crises while sleeping in a car. Be sure to research wildlife information and weather forecasts prior to departure. If you are going to be in an area that has had frequent wildlife sightings or traveling during a particularly busy mating season, it’s useful to be aware of the recommended approaches to native species.
Proceed with caution
The holy trinity of natural emergency safety is hydration, body temperature, and food. Always keep these three key components in mind when traveling. If you find that you’re running low on your water supply or your snack pack feels a little light during the beginning of your trip, revise your plans accordingly to secure more provisions before the going really gets rough. Take risks in your fashion choices, not in the outdoors.
The human body can go up to three weeks without food, but can only make it 3-5 days without water. This means that quenching your thirst should be prioritized above all else if you find yourself stranded. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends accounting for one gallon of water per person per day, with at least a 3-day supply for every person or pet accounted for. Dehydration is a real sneaky scoundrel so make sure to continuously sip water throughout the day. If you start to feel thirsty then you are already dehydrated!
This is when experience with those emergency kits from third grade really come in handy. Forget about your summer bod and ditch the low-carb, sugar-free diet that’s been trending on Facebook. You’re going to want to have foods that are dense in carbohydrates and protein to keep you fuller for longer. Provisions like peanut butter, beans, and protein bars are great sources of fuel. You’re also going to want to avoid foods that will make you thirsty so try to stick to a low sodium diet (unless it’s hot—then you need to replenish your iodine supply!). It is widely recommended to have a backup supply of 3-days worth of food when you set out for your destination. Having a few extra snacks on hand never hurt anyone.
Map it out
Call us old-fashioned, but a paper map is a necessity when venturing outside. Having some sense of direction when lost is imperative in the event that you stray too far off course. Being able to actually read the map that you pack is also very important. Take time to familiarize yourself with the map to be able to understand the landscape it depicts. It can be tempting to disregard physical maps when you’ve got the power of Google Earth in your pocket. However, a phone offers as much navigational assistance as an empty shoebox when you’re stranded without a signal or battery charge. Having a physical map won’t cost you more than a couple of bucks and takes up almost no space in your glove compartment. Think of it as a low-cost investment with a high potential payoff.
Spread the word
Tell people where you’re going! You don’t have to leave a trail of breadcrumbs for someone to follow (or birds to eat), but you should at least let someone know your itinerary. Having even a general idea of your possible whereabouts is a huge advantage in the unlikely event that someone needs to track you down in case of an emergency.
Keep calm and carry on
Remaining calm in the face of an emergency is far easier said than done, but it is undoubtedly a crucial response to any crisis. S.T.O.P. (Stop, Think, Observe, and Plan) and begin by assessing the situation as calmly as possible to first decide what matters are the most pressing for you to address. Make sure you have the basics of food, water, and body temperature covered before you expel any resources on a rescue mission. Focus on immediate, attainable solutions that you can manage, such as rationing food or building a shelter. Freaking out will do nothing to improve the situation so try your best to keep your cool.
Drop it like it’s hot
Do! Not! Roam! It’s better to stay put if you are anything less than certain about an exit route when lost. The only time you should leave your last known location is if you’re absolutely confident that you will be making progress towards a known destination. If it is night time or you’re injured or exhausted, you should stay where you are regardless of your certainty in direction. Some sources suggest you head downhill if you’re confident that rescuers won’t be able to find you in your current location. Heading downhill can usually lead to a road or some sort of civilization if you walk far enough, though this is typically a last resort.
If you know, you know
Lastly, always trust your gut! Skedaddle if you have a feeling that you aren’t where you should be. Follow your intuition, then follow your map to get home safely.