We do our best to be prepared and carry the 10 Essentials when we hit the trail, and most of the time that's all we need to handle whatever the backcountry throws at us. However, when the unexpected happens, survival can hinge on more than the 10 Essentials, but also your skills, resourcefulness, and a little luck. One overlooked resource that you will probably always have with you when hiking, backpacking or camping is a good pair of hiking socks. Your socks can do a lot more than keep your feet blister free, in fact socks have a long history of saving lives (remember the Apollo 13 Astronauts?), and here are 10 ways your hiking socks can be used in a wilderness survival situation.
A hiking sock pulled over the mouth of a water bottle makes a perfect pre-filter to prevent particles and floaters from getting in your water. A clean sock is preferable, but even a dirty socks works since you will need to purify the water before drinking.
Pro-Tip: You can purify your water by boiling or using a backpacking filter, but keeping water purification tablets in your first aid kit is an easy backup for emergency situations.
If you are unable to find a source of substantial water, a hiking sock can be used like a sponge to collect dew or rain drops from leaves and other surfaces. Then simply wring the water out of the sock and into a container. Alternatively, you can fill your sock with mud and then squeeze the water out. Simply repeat either method until you have enough water to purify.
If you have a wound that is bleeding severely and you have nothing else, a clean sock can stop the bleeding and save your life. Fold the sock over several times and apply pressure. If the wound is on your arm or calf, you can even cut the toe off the other sock and slide it on your limb to hold the field dressing in place once the bleeding has stopped.
Keeping your fingers warm with a pair of hiking socks will ward off frostbite and preserve dexterity so you can more easily build an emergency shelter, or start a fire. If it is really cold and you have more than one pair of socks, double them up for even more warmth.
Experts agree that in a wilderness emergency, your odds of being rescued increase if you stay put. However, if you are in a situation where you don't think help is on the way or your condition requires you to move, it is a good idea to indicate to potential rescuers which why you are heading. Make arrows with rocks, branches or cut strips of sock and tie on branches to mark your path. This will also help you find your way back if you need to return.
This tip can come in handy on routine backpacking trips in snowy or sandy areas, where tent stakes wont stay anchored. Fill a sock with snow or sand, tie your lines to the sock, and then burry the sock and your tarp or tent will now stay secured. Use this method to secure a tarp and create an emergency shelter.
Wishing you had packed your crampons? You can use an extra pair of hiking socks to add traction when making a treacherous glacier crossing. Simply pull socks over your hiking footwear and the fibers of the sock will stick to the slick ice and give you increased traction.
In a wilderness survival situation finding food can be a life saver. You can use socks as containers to carry wild berries and other edible plants as you gather them. Gather as much as you can carry, because you never know when you will find more.
If you are able to start a fire you can use a warm rock and a sock to create a heat pack. Find a few large rocks, of similar size so you can replace the rock in your sock as it cools. Look for the biggest rocks that will fit in your sock, as they will provide the most thermal mass and longest warmth. Place your rocks in your fire to heat up. Once one is hot use a stick to pull it away from the fire. Let it cool for a few minutes so you can safely get it inside your sock, and then put it under your jacket or inside your sleeping bag and you'll soon be cozy and warm.
Has all that surviving built up your appetite? Fill your sock with one or more of the rocks you used to stay warm last night, tie a knot in the end for a handle, and you've got a weapon you can swing or throw at small game.
Austin lives in the Pacific Northwest where he enjoys hiking and backpacking in the Olympic and Cascade mountains.
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