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If You Didn't Bring It - You Don't Have It: An Example of Survival Basics

Although stories of extreme survival aren’t unheard of, there are some stories that leave a lasting impression. Stories of ordinary people in dire circumstances strike us the most because they almost always occur in normal situations. Whether it's a young man trapped by a bolder or a couple stranded in the snow with a nursing infant, we often find ourselves wondering why they weren’t more prepared.

For those of us in the survival industry, keeping survival items around is second nature. We realized that some don't take the time to consider all the bad things that could happen. Few people plan to be trapped in a terrible situation. Regardless, you can literally save lives by keeping even the smallest survival kit in your home, car, backpack, or boat. Aron Ralston’s harrowing tale of 127 painful hours best exemplifies how even the most knowledgeable can fail to consider basic survival guidelines.


The Story

For those that are unfamiliar, Aron Ralston is an accomplished mountain biker, rock climber, and avid outdoorsman. In 2003, Ralston was rock climbing in Canyonlands National Park in Utah when a suspended boulder trapped his hand against the canyon wall. Unfortunately, he brought minimal equipment and forgot to tell anyone where he was going. Armed with a gallon of water, five chocolate bars, two burritos, and a muffin, he began to try to free himself. Because it was only a day hike, he had nothing to keep him warm and no way of alerting people to his dilemma. Ralston desperately tried to free himself with his climbing gear as he recorded the event with camera equipment. He ran out of rations after 5 days and, with little hope of rescue, Ralston was forced to consider an extreme option. Using an off-brand Leatherman multitool, he freed himself by amputating his own arm.


Preventable Mistakes

Impressively, he was rescued just four hours after amputating his arm. Ralston left for his trip, trusting his skills with little equipment to back up his plan. Despite having enough food and water to last several days, his lack of emergency planning, signaling equipment, and protective clothing stands out the most. If it hadn’t been for a nearby family, the distance from help coupled with a lack of first aid could have done him in. Whether you are simply going for a day hike or preparing for a week-long trek in the woods, there are some survival essentials and skills that you must have.


Always Remember

  • Make a plan and communicate with others; this applies to all circumstances. When going on a venture, always tell at least one person where you are going and when to expect you back. It is impossible to count on rescue teams when no one knows where to look.
  • Carry equipment that compliments the environment. Despite years of outdoors experience, Ralston brought only what he needed for that day. Always consider the possibilities of the environment. It is essential to carry several tools that can signal for help. Carry at least two signal devices: whistle, signal mirror, signal panel, or emergency strobe light, .
  • Educate yourself and practice skills before going into the wild. Ralston was educated enough to understand his arm would require more than a simple amputation. He was also acutely aware of his symptoms as he struggled with dehydration and loss of circulation. Knowing basic first aid skills and taking the time to practice is just the beginning.


Aron Ralston’s bravery and determination for survival is most important survival skill he had and ultimately it saved his life. He faced desperate odds with little hope of rescue yet his survival psychology ultimately led him to safety. Ralston was an educated and experienced hiker and outdoorsman; however, his story best exemplifies the concept of “if you didn’t bring it, you don’t have it”.


Remember - "Fortuna favet præparaverat  -  Fortune Favors the Prepared!"

This entry was posted on August 28, 2012 by Patrick Carey.


Ralston, A. (2004) “Between a Rock and a Hard Place: The Basis of the Motion Picture 127 Hours”.

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