Wilderness Survival Merit Badge Guide

Earning the Wilderness Survival merit badge is a great way to start learning the skills necessary for mastering wilderness survival. With practice, you can learn to light a fire without matches, build a shelter without a tent, signal for help, and practice first aid. Even after earning the merit badge, there is always more to learn when it comes to wilderness survival. Trips to the outdoors that are not emergencies can be a great opportunity to hone these skills.

Wilderness survival is an essential skill for anyone who spends time outdoors. Whether camping, backpacking, canoeing, or engaging in other activities, it is important to be prepared with the right clothing and gear and to make smart plans to manage any risks. Through careful preparation and vigilance, we can ensure our safety and enjoy the wonders of nature.

First Aid for Backcountry Injuries and Illnesses

Show that you know first aid for and how to prevent injuries or illnesses that could occur in backcountry settings, including hypothermia, heat reactions, frostbite, dehydration, blisters, insect stings, tick bites, and snakebites.

Hypothermia: Wrap the person in a warm blanket or warm clothing and provide them with a hot drink. If possible, move the person to a warm, dry location.

Heat Reactions: Move the person to a cooler location and provide them with cool, non-alcoholic drinks. Subsequently apply cool, wet cloths to the person’s skin to help lower their body temperature.

Frostbite: Move the person to a warm, dry location and provide them with warm drinks. Do not rub the affected area. Finally, cover the area with a warm, dry cloth and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Dehydration: Provide the person with plenty of fluids and encourage them to rest. If possible, move the person to a cooler, shaded area.

Blisters: Clean the area with soap and water and cover with a bandage or moleskin. Keep the area dry and avoid activities that cause friction on the area.

Insect Stings: Remove the stinger if present and clean the area with soap and water. Apply a cold compress or ice pack to reduce swelling and seek medical attention if necessary.

Tick Bites: Remove the tick carefully with tweezers and clean the area with soap and water. Similarly to insect stings apply a cold compress or ice pack to reduce swelling and seek medical attention if necessary.

Snakebites: Keep the person still and calm and call for medical help immediately. Do not attempt to capture or kill the snake. Moreover you should not apply a tourniquet or attempt to suck out the venom.

Survival priorities in an unknown environment

From memory, list the seven priorities for survival in a backcountry or wilderness location. Explain the importance of each one with your counselor.

    Seven Priorities
    1. STOP
    2. Provide first aid
    3. Seek shelter
    4. Build a fire
    5. Signal for help
    6. Drink water
    7. Don't worry about food

    Provide first aid

    1. Stop any bleeding: Apply direct pressure to the wound with a clean cloth or gauze. If the bleeding is severe, elevate the injured area above the heart.
    2. Check for signs of shock: If the person is pale and clammy, has a rapid pulse, and is breathing rapidly, they may be in shock. Lie them down and raise their legs slightly to improve circulation.
    3. Treat for shock: Keep the person warm and comfortable. If they are conscious, offer sips of water or a sports drink.
    4. Call for help: In case the person’s condition is serious or you are unable to treat their injuries, call for help immediately.
    5. Treat for pain: Without delay if the person is conscious and in pain, give them over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

    Seek shelter

    1. Find or build a shelter: While you are in a wilderness setting, your best bet for shelter is to find or build a shelter. Look for natural formations like caves, crevices, or trees with overhanging branches. If you do not find natural formations, you can build a shelter from materials found in the environment.
    2. Make sure your shelter is insulated: To keep warm, your shelter should be insulated from the cold ground and air. In order to build a shelter, use leaves, grasses, and other materials that can insulate the shelter and keep heat in.
    3. Make sure your shelter is waterproof: Try to make sure that your shelter is waterproof. This will help to keep you dry and warm in the event of rain or snow. You can also use materials like bark or leaves to create a waterproof barrier.
    4. Make sure your shelter is ventilated: Your shelter should be well-ventilated to avoid carbon dioxide buildup. Additionally leave an opening for air to flow in and out of the shelter.
    5. Bring a fire: Having a fire in your shelter can provide warmth and light in the wilderness. Make sure to have enough fuel to keep the fire going throughout the night.

    Build a fire

    1. Gather tinder, such as dry leaves, grass, pine needles, and bark.
    2. Find a spot that is sheltered from wind and rain.
    3. Create a fire pit by digging a small hole in the ground and surrounding it with stones.
    4. Place the tinder in the center of the fire pit.
    5. Arrange kindling such as small twigs and branches around the tinder.
    6. Light the tinder with a match, lighter, or use the Spitfire survival equipment.
    7. Feed the fire with larger pieces of wood as it grows

    Avoid panic when lost

    Discuss ways to avoid panic and maintain a high level of morale when lost, and explain why this is important.

    1. Remind yourself that you are not alone. There are many people and resources available to help you.
    2. Stay calm and focus on the present moment. Remind yourself to take deep breaths and focus on the present moment.
    3. Follow the basic principles of survival. Find shelter, make a fire, and find water.
    4. Look for signs of civilization. Look for roads, trails, or other signs of civilization that can help lead you out of the wilderness.
    5. Stay in one place because it can make it easier for rescuers to find you.
    6. Make noise. For example, yell for help or use a whistle to attract attention from potential rescuers.

    Survive in rough conditions

    Describe the steps you would take to survive in the following conditions:

    1. Cold and snowy
    2. Wet (forest)
    3. Hot and dry (desert)
    4. Windy (mountains or plains)
    5. Water (ocean, lake, or river)

    Cold and snowy conditions

    One of the topics in wilderness survival merit badge is to survive in a snowy environment. Because of the hard conditions you will need to be well-prepared and knowledgeable. The following tips can help you survive in a snowy mountain environment:

    • Dress Appropriately: Wear multiple layers of clothing and waterproof outerwear to keep you warm and dry. Make sure your boots are insulated and waterproof.
    • Take Breaks: Take frequent breaks to rest and stay hydrated.
    • Stay Visible: Carry a whistle or other device to alert search parties if you get lost. Wear bright colors and carry a mirror to reflect sunlight and signal for help.
    • Stay Warm: Build a shelter or snow cave to protect yourself from the elements. Make sure to keep your sleeping bag dry and warm.
    • Melt snow to cook or hydrate yourself.

    Wet conditions

    To survive in wet weather, you should wear waterproof clothing such as a raincoat or a poncho, wear waterproof boots or shoes, and carry an umbrella or a rain hat. You should also bring along a waterproof bag or backpack to store your belongings. Additionally, you should stay dry by avoiding puddles and wet areas, and if you do get wet, be sure to dry off quickly. Finally, it is important to stay hydrated and warm by drinking plenty of fluids and dressing in layers.

    Dry conditions

    To survive in desert dry conditions, it is important to stay hydrated and cool. Drink plenty of water and avoid alcoholic beverages. Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing to reflect the sun’s rays and use a hat or scarf to protect your head and face from the sun. Bring sunscreen and lip balm to protect your skin from sunburn. Carry an emergency kit with items such as a first aid kit, a flashlight, a knife, a compass, and a map. Stay in the shade as much as possible and avoid strenuous activity during the hottest part of the day.

    Windy conditions

    1. Find shelter: If you are lost in windy mountain conditions, the first thing you should do is find shelter. Look for a cave, crevice, or overhang that will provide some protection from the wind and weather.
    2. Make a fire: Once you have found shelter, make a fire. This will provide warmth and light, and help to signal your location to potential rescuers.
    3. Stay put: Unless you are certain of your location and have a plan of action, it is best to stay put and wait for help. Moving around in unfamiliar terrain can be dangerous and increase your chances of getting lost.
    4. Stay hydrated: Make sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. If you are unable to find water, you can melt snow or ice in a container over your fire.
    5. Stay visible: If you are able to, make yourself visible by creating a signal fire or using reflective items such as mirrors or pieces of metal. This will help rescuers find you more quickly.

    Survive in water

    1. Remain Calm: The most important thing to do if you are lost in the ocean is to remain calm. Panic can lead to exhaustion and make it difficult to think clearly.
    2. Find Shelter: Find a piece of debris or other floating object to provide shelter from the sun and wind. This will help you conserve energy and protect you from the elements.
    3. Signal for Help: Use any available materials to signal for help. If you have a whistle, use it to attract attention. If you have a brightly colored cloth, wave it in the air.

    Build a survival kit

    Put together a personal survival kit and explain how each item in it could be useful.

    One of the requirements of wilderness survival merit badge is to prove your knowledge of being able to prepare a survival kit. Below you will find a list of essential and optional tools you can carry with you.

    Essential equipment

    1. First aid kit for injuries
    2. Pocketknife to cut sticks and prepare wood shavings for fire starter
    3.  Extra clothing to protect from cold
    4. Rain gear to stay dry
    5. Survival water bottles often come with features such as a filtration system, a wide mouth for easy filling, and a carrying handle. They may also include additional features such as a compass, a whistle, or a fire starter.
    6. Some source of light. FA flashlight can help you find your way in the dark.
    7. Trail food which includes lightweight, high-calories, nutrient-dense foods (dried fruits and nuts, granola bars, trail mix)
    8. Fire starters such as ferrocerium rod
    9. Some sort of sun protection. Sun screen, hat
    10. Map and compass,  a map can help you plan your route, identify landmarks and obstacles, and navigate to your destination. A compass can help you stay on track and find your way back if you get lost. 

    Optional equipment

    1. Water filter: A water filter or purification tablets can help make water safe to drink.
    2. Communications Equipment: Radios, two-way walkie-talkies, and cell phones can be used to stay in contact with other survivors and coordinate strategies.
    3. Rope: Use rope to build a shelter, hang items from trees, make traps.
    4. Signal mirrors are a simple and effective means of signaling over long distances. When used correctly, they can be used to signal for help.
    5. Fishing line and hook: Cast the line into the water and wait for a bite! Be sure to maintain a light grip on the rod, so you can feel the slightest nibble. When you feel a tug, pull the hook out of the water. Learn how to fish without a bait.

    Three ways to start fires without matches

    Using three different methods (other than matches), build and light three fires.

    1. Using a Flint and Steel: A flint and steel is the most traditional way to start a fire without matches. To use a flint and steel, gather tinder, such as dried grass, bark, leaves, or small twigs. Strike the steel with the flint at an angle until you create sparks that ignite the tinder.
    2. By rubbing sticks: Start by gathering two sticks, a flat piece of wood, and some tinder. Using the flat piece of wood, create a V-shaped notch in the center of the flat piece of wood. Place the tinder in the notch and lay the two sticks across the notch. Rub one of the sticks back and forth rapidly between your palms until the tinder catches on fire. Once the tinder catches fire, you can slowly add larger pieces of wood to build up the fire.
    3. Using a Magnifying Glass: You can start a fire without matches using a magnifying glass. To use this method, gather tinder and focus the sun’s rays by moving the magnifying glass until it concentrates enough heat to create sparks. The sparks will then ignite the tinder.

    Attract attention

    Do the following:

    1. Show five different ways to attract attention when lost.
    2. Demonstrate how to use a signal mirror.
    3. Describe from memory five ground-to-air signals and tell.

    One of the basic tactics to survive while you are lost is to be able to seek for help thus attract attention. Due to this fact, wilderness survival merit badge requires you to demonstrate five different options to attract attention.

    Five ways to attract attention

    1. Wave and shout for help.
    2. Use a whistle to make a loud noise.
    3. Build a signal fire.
    4. Use bright colored clothing or items to signal for help.
    5. Use a signal mirror

    How to use a signal mirror

    1. Locate the sun. To make the most of a signal mirror, you’ll want to make sure the sun is behind you and shining into the mirror.
    2. Aim the mirror at the target. Hold the mirror in front of you so that the reflective side is facing away from you and toward your target. Make sure that the sun is reflecting off of your mirror and hitting the target.
    3. Flash the mirror. Move the mirror back and forth rapidly to create an intermittent flash of light. This will attract attention and help your target locate you.
    4. Monitor for a response. Once you’ve signaled, keep an eye out for a response from your target. If you don’t see one, try signaling again or moving to a higher location.

    Most important ground to air signals

    Use anything you can find to create the signal. This can be clothes, sticks, logs. When a helicopter arrives with rescuers, remain in place and wait until it has landed. A crew member will come to you or give directions on what to do. Make sure to heed their directions exactly.

    V -> Require assistance

    X -> Require medical assistance

    N -> No

    Y -> Yes

    -> Shape an arrow to give them directions

    Build a shelter

    Improvise a natural shelter. For the purpose of this demonstration, use techniques that have little negative impact on the environment. Spend a night in your shelter.

    One of the questions for the wilderness survival merit badge is to be able to build a shelter. This will help you to protect from the wildlife and the elements. On the internet you can find a lot of videos about how to build a shelter. Here you can find a quick guide:

    1. Choose a suitable spot: The most important step in building a shelter in a wilderness setting is finding the right location. Avoid areas that are prone to flooding and try to find a spot that has access to nearby water and food sources.
    2. Collect materials: Look for rocks, sticks, foliage and logs that can be used to construct your shelter. Collect as many materials as you can find, as this will reduce the amount of time spent gathering supplies after the shelter is built.
    3. Construct the shelter: With the materials that have been gathered, start constructing the shelter using logs for the walls and foliage for insulation. Use rocks to hold the logs together and sticks to support the walls. If you have a tarp, use it as a roof to provide extra protection from the elements.
    4. Maintain your shelter: Make sure to check your shelter regularly for any damage and take steps to ensure that it remains secure and weatherproof. Finally, always remember to practice Leave No Trace principles when using your wilderness shelter.

    Protect from wildlife

    Explain how to protect yourself from insects, reptiles, and bears.

    Protect from insects

    1. Wear protective clothing. Long sleeves and long pants will help protect your skin from insect bites. Choose light colors, as darker colors attract more insects. Wear closed-toe shoes and socks to better protect your feet.
    2. Use insect repellent. Apply insect repellent to your skin and clothing to repel insects such as mosquitoes, ticks, and flies. DEET-based repellents are the most effective at repelling insects and are safe to use when used as directed.
    3. Set up a bug net. Wrap your sleeping area with a net to keep out insects such as mosquitoes, ticks, and flies.
    4. Avoid fragrances. Avoid wearing perfumes or scented products when in the wilderness, as they can attract insects.
    5. Stay out of tall grass. Avoid walking through tall grasses or other areas that may be home to insects, as these can easily the breeding ground for insects.
    6. Use a campfire or citronella candles. A campfire or citronella candles can help repel insects while you’re in the wilderness.

    Protect from reptiles

    1. Avoid areas that are known to have a large reptile population.
    2. Wear protective clothing such as long pants, boots, and long sleeves.
    3. Check your clothes, sleeping bag, and other gear for signs of reptiles before using them.
    4. Keep a flashlight handy and use it to look for reptiles before sitting or lying down.
    5. Avoid sleeping on the ground and use an elevated sleeping platform such as a hammock or cot.
    6. Listen for the sound of reptiles and be aware of your surroundings.
    7. If you see a reptile, back away slowly and never try to catch or disturb it.
    8. Dip or spray clothes and gear with insect repellent products containing DEET to help repel reptiles.

    Protect from bears

    1. Make noise: Bears will generally avoid areas with a lot of noise, so make sure to make lots of noise when travelling through areas that may contain bears. Sing, shout, or clap as you go.
    2. Carry bear spray: Bear spray is a powerful and effective deterrent for bears and other wildlife. Make yourself familiar with how to use it before heading into the wilderness.
    3. Keep your distance: If you spot a bear, remain calm and back away slowly. If the bear notices you and approaches, stand your ground and make yourself look as big as possible. Do not run, as this may trigger the bear’s chase instinct.
    4. Stay in groups: Bears are less likely to approach larger groups of people. If you’re heading out into bear country, make sure you have at least one other person with you.
    wild bear

    Purify water found in the nature

    Demonstrate three ways to treat water found in the outdoors to prepare it for drinking.

    1. Remove large debris: Start by skimming any sticks, leaves, or other large debris from the water.
    2. Filter the water: Run the water through a coffee filter, paper towel, or cotton cloth to remove smaller particles like dirt and sediment.
    3. Boil the water: Boil the water for at least one minute to kill any bacteria and other microorganisms.
    4. Add purification tablets: Add water purification tablets or drops to kill any remaining bacteria and viruses. Following always the directions on the package/bottle for proper dosage.
    5. Let the water sit: Let the water sit for at least 30 minutes to allow any remaining particles to settle to the bottom.

    Suitable clothing for an overnight

    Show that you know the proper clothing to wear in your area on an overnight in extremely hot weather and in extremely cold weather.

    Overnight in extremely cold weather

    When packing for an overnight in cold weather, it’s important to bring layers of warm, comfortable clothing. A good selection would include:

    1. Long underwear
    2. Fleece jacket or vest
    3. Wool or synthetic sweater
    4. Waterproof jacket or coat
    5. Warm hat
    6. Wool or synthetic gloves
    7. Waterproof boots
    8. Jeans or warm, waterproof pants
    9. Scarf
    10. Thermal socks

    Overnight in extremely hot weather

    1. Light, breathable clothing like cotton or linen
    2. A lightweight, long sleeve shirt
    3. Lightweight shorts or pants
    4. Swimsuit
    5. Sandals
    6. Hat
    7. Sunglasses
    8. Lightweight blanket or sheet
    9. Insect repellent
    10. Lightweight sleeping bag or hammock

    Why not eat edible wild plants

    Explain why it usually is not wise to eat edible wild plants or wildlife in a wilderness survival situation.

    There are several reasons why not to eat edible wildlife plants. These include potential health risks from consuming wild plants, potential for consuming toxic substances, potential for consuming plants that can cause digestive upset, and the potential for unintentionally consuming plants that are not actually edible.

    Final Verdict

    Merit badges help the scouts to acquire knowledge about surviving and improve their skills. More importantly the wilderness survival merit badge will give them the foundation they need to proceed with the rest of the tests.

    The purpose of the wilderness survival merit badge is to prove that you have the knowledge to survive into the nature and return home safely. The key to success is to read the pamphlet of Wilderness Survival Merit Badge and take under consideration your counselor advises. Although it is not one of the hardest badges to earn it is probably the most practical.

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