Oregon Wilderness Survival Guide – 8 Things to Help You Stay Alive

The Wondrous Outside – An Oregon Survival Guide

Let’s talk about a thing that scares many people in this Internet Age: going outside. Oregonians aplenty know about this mysterious outside world, making hiking a popular pastime and “going on adventures” a frequent self-selling-point on social media.


But maybe you’re an Oregonian who inexplicably has retrograde amnesia after being trapped inside by rain, wind, and snow for six months. Maybe you’re new to the state. Maybe you’re secretly from (*gasp!*) California. Either way, don’t worry, because I’m here with this Survival Guide for you before you venture into the mysterious and exotic Outside.

•Pre-hike Fitness
•Stay Cool
•Oregon Weather
•Build Shelter
•First Aid
•When In Distress
•Final Checklist

Fitness? More like fit’n’is whole pizza in my mouth, amirite?

The kind of hiking people plaster all over Instagram isn’t generally the exercising you should be doing to get in shape – it’s the exercise you should be doing once you’re already in shape. Improving your diet is always an excellent start, but what activities should you be doing to prepare for those long social media-worthy jaunts?

  • In storytelling, we would call this the “rising action.” Start slow and easy and build up length and intensity. Long walks around your neighborhood or even short-to-medium strolls through local parks are relaxing, stress-free ways to start your fitness journey. The steep hilly-streets of Oregon City and West Linn are prime for more intense suburban saunters.
  • For the love of God, do these. Seriously, if you do literally nothing else to prepare for the Oregon backcountry, do push-ups, sit-ups, squats, lunges, and stair-steps. My personal approach for stair-steps is to visit a local high school stadium and walk/run up those steps. This also leads into my favorite form of cardio:
  • The VanDeZande-Family Classic. The Stadium Mile. Pretty simple to explain, but it’s a beast of a workout especially if the stadium in question has more than a few staircases. Basically, visit a high school or college track and proceed to run laps. When you reach the bleachers on each lap, run up each stair set in succession, and then run your next lap. Repeat for a mile. Or two. Or as many as you feel. Go crazy! Don’t be limited by my recommendations, you go be as awesome as you want to be!

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Keep your colds cold and your hots also cold

The summer swelter’s a-comin’, and it’s important to know how to stay cool in more ways than just wearing those slick sunglasses. Quickest ways to keep your temperature down while out and about is to drink water (which I’ll talk about in a minute) and to wear light, breathable clothing (or, if you’re feeling especially adventurous, wear no clothing at all). But, barring the whole “au naturel” thing, here are some other ways to stay frosty.

  • Avoid the sun. I know, I know. I’m asking you to avoid direct sunlight… in June… while I’m also telling you to go outside. Luckily, Oregon has natural shade out the wazoo, so just stay as near as you can to things like trees and you’ll be fine!
  • Everyone’s favorite word. Moist. Drape a cool, moist towel or washcloth on your neck and shoulders to cool down quick. Beneath your armpits and in between your thighs are also two important points to keep chill.
  • The early bird doesn’t get heatstroke. What do you mean that’s not the saying? Sure it is. Anyway, unless you’re planning a multi-day hike or other wilderness adventure, try to do all your outside activities in the early mornings before the hot times. That way, you’re all set, you’re energized for you day, and you stayed cool all the way home.

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Don’t trust the (weather) system

As I was drafting this section ahead of Memorial Day weekend, my original point was that preparing for Oregon’s wonky weather is easier than many think. That was before the forecast for the following week, which had claimed the skies would be clear and the temperatures would be 80-plus. That was before the forecast changed last minute to clouds, and then it started raining.

Best advice I can offer is to pack a parka whenever you head out onto the trail – not wear it, just bring it. And be ever-skeptical of official weather forecasts, because Mother Nature will look at them each day and say, “Ha! Nope.”

Told you I’d talk about water

Bring water with you—more than you think you need but not so much that it weighs you down—and study maps beforehand. Oregon’s countryside is cut by many creeks, streams, and rivers, so chances are you’ll be able to find more water if you run out. But that’s also where this can be a bit tricky.

No matter how clean or clear the water looks, sterilize it before drinking. Various outdoor stores sell portable water filters, which is the best way to have clean, potable water in the wild. Barring that, you can either boil the water—not ideal in hot temperatures, to say the least, and it also won’t do anything about dirt, but at least you’ll be drinking sterile mud—or treat it chemically with iodine or chlorine. Chemically treating water won’t always kill everything, and it will give your water that fresh-out-the-swimming-pool taste, but it’s better than nothing.

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Minecraft simulator

They say that life imitates art, and exploring the Oregon wilderness is obviously an imitation of Mojang’s global phenomenon Minecraft. As such, you need to know how to build shelters lest the zombies, skeletons, and exploding creepers ruin your day.

  • Coming to a Chipotle near you. My personal favorite makeshift abode, not for its effectiveness (because it’s not effective, really) but just for its name: the tarp burrito. Just lay a tarp down, fold it like a burrito, and shove whatever you’re sleeping on in through the top. Your bodyweight will hold all the flaps closed except the entrance. It’s best suited for dry climates, as it won’t really do much to keep you safe from inclement weather (read as: you’ll probably end up soaked to the core).
  • Lean-2.0. I first learned how to make a lean-to in sixth grade, and it has since been my most-used shelter. Begin by bracing a long pole or straight branch between two points, usually two trees but a large rock would work, as well. Lean some smaller poles against that long pole and then cover the outside with bark or leaves and voila, shelter!https://www.pinterest.com/pin/394979829799939712/
  • Wiki.tent. The wickiup is the Taj Mahal of tipis. AKA the Louvre of lean-tos. AKA the Cologne Cathedral of camping. AKA the baus house. The wicki-up is the structure to build if you want to make other structure-builders jealous. Take some tall forked poles and tie them together to make a tripod, then lean some other poles around until your tree-branch tipi is complete. Veil it in vegetation for the shade factor and to protect from rain and you have yourself a veritable middle-of-the-woods mansion.

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Buy a first aid kit, schmuck

First aid’s first, and by that I mean buy a first aid kit. But if you either lost your kit, forgot your kit, or are a schmuck who just chose not to follow the prime “buy a first aid kid” directive, here are some kit-free solutions to injuries you can sustain while hiking.

  • Clean bleed. If you have water on you (so you can carry water but not your first aid kit, huh?) that will be enough to properly clean most cuts and scrapes. Always clean a wound before you try to bandage it.
  • This is why you don’t hike in your favorite shirt. If you are bleeding and you have no bandages, you have to use what’s available. Start with the cleanest piece of fabric nearby (which I’m guessing isn’t your shorts, huh?) and you’ll have to tear off at least two strips. Wad the first strip into a pad and press it firmly against the cut or wound to staunch the bleeding. Cinch the second strip around the first to hold it in place and either call for help or retreat from your hike via the path of least resistance.
  • If it’s stupid but it works, it isn’t stupid. Jury-rigging a splint requires creativity, ingenuity, and some good old-fashioned Oregon oddness. Sometimes you’ll have to be willing to try things that most people wouldn’t think of, such as using shoelaces and sticks to immobilize a joint. Or vines and trekking poles. Shoe soles and more pieces from your ever-more-torn shirt. It might look goofy, but as long as the splint is padded, the joints above-and-below the break are immobilized, and you can still wiggle your toes or fingers, it’s not. It’s genius.

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Is that a phone in your pocket or are you having an unfortunate day?

If you become lost or injured, call for help. Phone’s in your pocket. Just whip that beast out and dial somebody and they can use GPS to track you. If your phone isn’t in your pocket, that’s… not as bad as you might think. There are many ways to call for help, both low-tech and high-tech.

  • Get low when the whistle go – *bass drop* Whistles are inexpensive, lightweight, and can be worn safely around your neck in case you are ever in trouble and without your other supplies. Three loud, sharp bursts is among the most universally-recognized distress signals.
  • Where there’s smoke, there’s you. Smoke signals are recognizable, well-known, and great for signaling for help over long distances during the day (i.e., for those among us who go hard in paint when we get lost). Similarly, fire is tops for attracting aid at night. Either way, though, still be extra careful so you don’t burn the forest down.
  • Triangles save lives. In a location or situation where your phone cannot save you, you’ll be thankful for a personal locator beacon (PLB). If you’re in danger, activating a PLB will triangulate your position and send the data to the authorities, who will scramble to come help.

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One (or more) more thing(s)!

You’re almost there. You’re in shape, you know how to stay chill, you have clean water figured out, you’ve bought a first aid kit (or so help me…), and you know how to signal for help in need. Last thing is a list of essentials.

  • These Boots are Made for Hiking Buy some hiking boots.
  • The Questing Map Buy a map.
  • Every Rose has its Thorns Buy a compass.
  • Pole Dance Buy some trekking poles.
  • Hold the world in your hands Buy a handheld or wrist-mounted GPS.
  • Two noculars are better than one nocular Buy some binoculars.

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The Wondrous Outside – An Oregon Survival Guide

Know any other cool hiking tips, tricks, or recommendations? Share them in the comments section below or let us know over on Facebook! Thanks for reading!

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