17 Tips to Survive the Jungle Labyrinth

Jungle – Taranaki, New Zealand

Ok, ok, we know what you’re thinking. You’re sitting in a chair, staring at a computer. The jungles of the Amazon are thousands of miles away and all you have is your imagination. But for whatever reason, have you ever wondered what would happen if you were lost there? With nothing but walls of foliage and sounds of the undergrowth, it’s not hard to see why on many an occasion it has tested man’s ability to the limit. So from the downright obvious, to the slightly more obscure, we present 17 tips to survive if you’re lost in the jungle.

Sumatra, Indonesia – jungle forest tree

Orientation in the jungle

1. First, you should figure out where you came from and trace it back to a recognizable travel trail. Of course a map, a compass and a GPS unit would probably solve your problem much easier.

If you’re not part of a group and making noise would only attract animals you’ll have to pick a direction and stick to it. Head downhill to find a water stream, then follow it until it becomes a river, which will lead you out of the jungle. Choose the direction of travel wisely and if it turns out to be bad, quickly come up with a new plan.

2. With low visibility, you may need to rise above the canopy by heading part-way up a hill or ridge to get your bearings. A slight depression in the jungle where one side is higher than the other suggests there could be a river so go ahead and follow it. The wider the river, the more chances you have to find civilization.

Dangers in the jungle

3. Falling trees and branches are the biggest killers of people in the jungle. Therefore you need to choose your night camp on clear grounds and away from trees. Stay alert, move slowly and steadily through the dense jungle and stop periodically to listen and take your bearings.

Image: ggsmith

Jungle in Guam

4. Protect yourself from mosquitoes. Malaria has caused more deaths than all the wars in history combined and if you’re unlucky in the jungle, you might catch it too. In the jungle, using mosquito nets are the best way to prevent you from being bitten.

If you don’t have a net, other options include sap from a camphor tree or eucalyptus oil. However, don’t count on them too much.

5. Keep your footwear and your clothes on you, when you get into the water. Currents, submerged branches that can pull you under, crocodiles, leeches, electric eels, anacondas, piranhas and stingrays, are common in the waters of the jungle. Tread with caution. Jungles are extremely dangerous places.

6. You’ll have to resist the heat and keep your clothes on you. Excessive amounts of sun could lead to sunstroke, sunburn, heatstroke and dehydration. You should protect your head and neck from direct sunlight, drink plenty of water.

7. A machete and a knife always come in handy to cut through the vegetation or to build a shelter where you can stay dry and get some rest at night. Don’t cut unnecessarily and conserve your energy. Also, make sure you don’t make too much noise when you cut, because sound carries long distances in the jungle and wild animals like jaguars may track you down.

8. When you need to cut through or part vegetation, remember to use a stick to prevent biting ants, snakes or venomous spiders from getting a piece of you. If you need to climb slopes don’t grab the brush or vines because they may have spines or sharp thorns, which could most certainly lead to infections.


Food and water

9. Without food a man can survive up to three weeks, but without water it’s just a matter of days. However, contaminated water could lead to problems like dysentery and sickness, which can be life-threatening in the jungle. If you’ve forgotten to pack a few bottles of water, water purification gear or Iodine tablets you’re not totally screwed. Even in the jungle you can do something about it.

A fast flowing water with creatures like cray fish swimming around, means that the water could be harmless, although it is better to boil it before hand (see point 11).

Another way is to let a plant produce water for you in the form of condensation, by putting it in a plastic bag. However, this can taste pretty foul.

10. Plants are the easiest source of food in the jungle because they don’t run out. However, for an inexperienced adventurer it’s not easy to tell the difference between poisonous plants from those that are healthy. The easiest way to tell if they’ll harmful is to test the juice on your skin to see if how it reacts. This isn’t 100% effective however. Usually bright red berries and most of the time, plants with a milky sap should be avoided.

Image: wZa HK


Setting up the fire

11. It’s incredibly important to light a fire at night. Not only will it keep you warm, but it will allow you to cook and boil water, vital for killing parasites and other diseases.

There are two ways to start a fire, using modern and primitive methods. The basic principle is the same however: you lay your tinder, kindling, and fuel so that your fire will burn as long as you need it.

Modern methods

a. Matches or lighters are the most common ways to light a fire

b. Convex lens can only be used on sunny days. Hold the lens on the same spot to concentrate the sun’s rays on the tinder. Blow gently and it turns into flames. Any lens from binoculars, camera, telescopic sights, or magnifying glasses will do.

c. A battery with two wires that you attach one to another, will generate a spark which is enough to ignite the fire.

Image: pt606

Setting up the fire

Primitive methods

Though you might require practice to ensure success with the following methods, you might find yourself in the jungle with no other option, and barely any materials. The two most common ways to ignite a flame are:

a. Flint and Steel, though is the easiest method it’s probably the most reliable. It involves striking a flint with a piece of carbon steel to create a direct spark to ignite the kindling.

b. Fire-Plow. Rubbing a hardwood shaft against a softer wood base will cause friction which will cause ignition. Take a straight groove and cut it in the base, then plow the blunt tip of the shaft up and down the groove. Small particles of wood fibers will be pushed out and will eventually catch fire.


Prevention and motivation

12. To prevent infections or other types of diseases you should always carry some basic drugs in your backpack. Another way would be to read a professional guide about jungle plants that teaches you what to use and for what symptoms. Roughly half of our modern medicines have their roots in the rain forests plants. Ibuprofen for example, was synthesized from a vine called the monkey ladder tree for example.

13. To survive in the wild you have to be able to protect yourself. At night especially, you’re vulnerable to biting ants, spiders, scorpions and snakes. In case you want to sleep at least a few hours to recharge your batteries you’ll have to build a shelter above the ground to avoid the creepy crawlies.

Use logs or small tree trunks to create the frame and add branches and leaves on the roof to keep you dry if it rains. If you have it with you, a hammock would spare time and energy from building the base of the shelter.

14. Conserve your resources as much as possible because you don’t know for sure how many days you’ll last. Personal energy and a healthy mind focused on attaining the final goal, (surviving in the jungle) is essential.

15. Time is not your best friend, so even if you’re sick don’t give up. Fighting to get out of the jungle is like all other battles; won or lost in the mind. Successful people always find ways to keep their spirits up, be it God, a warm bed at home or anything else.

16. Prepare for the best and prepare for the worse. Before going through the jungle make sure to pack the bare essentials for a survival kit to at least increase your chances of getting away if you get lost or anything else happens, but also get your camera for some great shots.

17. Finally, make sure you leave your trip itinerary with a friend, a forest ranger or a camp mate, just in case anything bad happens.