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Lindsey Patterson

The Fundamental Needs of Surviving 72 Hours in the Wilderness

5 min read

Nobody plans to get lost in the wild. Things happen that may force us to survive in an uncomfortable situation. If search and rescue are out there looking for you, your chances of survival are greatest in the first 72 hours after becoming lost. These critical hours are when the heaviest amount of resources will be dedicated to finding you out there. Knowing how to survive during these 72 hours can mean the difference between life and death. There are ways to prepare for this scenario.


Fundamental Needs


Humans have a few fundamental needs to maintain their existence. These needs are food & water, shelter, clothing, defense, transportation, and communication. Understanding what these needs are and how to meet them is crucial to wilderness survival.


We shouldn’t fear the outdoors because of its dangers. We should remind ourselves of these dangers so that we’re prepared if the situation calls. Utah is a wild wonderland and we should explore and discover its beauty. Wilderness therapy programs are abundant for children and adults that help teach wilderness survival skills focusing on these fundamental needs.


Food & Water


This one can almost go without saying, but many people, each and every year, get lost in the wild and have inadequate food and water supplies. This is one of the major causes of loss of life when in these emergency situations.

As a rule, you’ll want to have two quarts of water per person per day. Before you even start out for the day, ensure that you have enough water in your pack. Carrying water purification devices or tablets in your pack at all times will give you peace of mind and leave you prepared for a survival scenario.

Luckily, we don’t need food as much as we need water but be sure to carry snacks in your bag. Fresh chopped vegetables, granola bars, trail mix, and dried fruits are great snacks for the wilderness.




This one’s a bit tougher to plan for but a shelter is essential if you want to survive 72 hours in the wilderness. Tarps and rain ponchos make great emergency survival shelters but carrying them in your pack for a day hike are not always feasible. Fallen trees, cave entrances, and rock overhangs make great emergency shelters.

Remember, you want to get yourself out of the elements, so finding shelter is a priority. For even greater security, a mylar security blanket makes you visible from the sky and can provide a warm shelter in an emergency. Bonus, it packs up small and you can leave it in your pack to be prepared.




Layers, layers, and layers are the three pieces of advice any experienced hiker or backpacker will give you before you head out on your journeys. Being prepared means you have a three layer system.

The base layer which lays upon your skin should be made of materials like polyester or wool--materials that wick moisture away from your body, keeping you dry and warm. The second layer is usually a vest, light coat, or sweater that will insulate the body and keep it warm. The third and outermost layer is the shell. This is the water repellent and wind resistant layer. Many of today’s wilderness jackets include both of these features.

Keeping to this three-layer system allows you to remove layers as needed and have you prepared for any weather that may come your way.




The fundamental need of defense doesn’t just mean protecting yourself from wild animals, although that is important. A good hunting knife or swiss army knife makes a terrific tool for your everyday pack. A defense can also mean taking care of yourself if the situation calls. An emergency first aid kit with bandages, something to clean wounds, gauze, and other beneficial materials is perfect for the wilderness.




Knowing your way around is a great way to keep yourself from getting lost but things do happen that may be out of your control. A GPS is great to guide you to safety but if you don’t have it, a compass and map are terrific to carry in your pack. Marking your path with string or ribbons can help you find the way back to your camp.




Having a way to communicate with the outside world is critical to survival. Telling people your hiking route in the wilderness will give them a chance to find you easier. Whistles, air horns, and mirrors are excellent tools that take up little space in your pack. Survival means fighting to stay alive so doing whatever you can to attempt to communicate with others is imperative.

Being prepared means understanding the dangers that exist in the wilderness. Many wilderness survival courses will go over all of these details and include more self-sustaining tips like foraging, making a fire, and making yourself seen. Sticking to the fundamental needs will allow you to survive the first 72 hours of an emergency situation.