Backpacking and Hiking
Activity Plan – Hiking Series ACTpa015
Learning how to survive in an emergency situation is important for everyone.
• Learn the seven basic
Although wilderness-based survival situations are most common, survival situations
survival needs of our
can occur in urban and rural environments, too. The following activities will help
participants learn about the definition of a survival situation, what basic needs must be
• Discover what materials
met to ensure survival, and creative solutions for survival situations.
will help us meet these
needs to survive
The three mini-activities in this lesson will work well for school conservation days, in
class presentations, after school activity, Boys and Girls Clubs, camp nature session,
and many other learning situations.
WHAT TO DO
Activity: Introduction to
• Science: H.8.3.
Bring the group together and
facilitate a discussion about
their current ideas on the topic
personal health and
of “survival skills.”
Ask them to name a “survival
Grade Levels: 4-7
situation.” Typically, they will
identify situations like a plane
Time: 30-45 minutes
crash or hurricane that has a
remote chance of happening to
them. Then ask them to describe an event that could happen to them. What events
• Writing utensils and
could quickly turn into survival situations? Some possibilities include:
paper (1 per group)
• Car crash, particularly in the winter time
• “Basic Needs” signs
• Getting lost in the woods
• “Length of Time” signs
• Hunting accidents
• “Essentials to Put in
• Boating accidents
Your Daypack” handout
• Severe local weather incidents, such as thunderstorms or tornadoes
• “The Seven Basic
Survival Needs” handout
Explain that the group will work together to learn about survival skills in everyday
• Complete survival kit
situations and decide what basic needs our bodies need to survive and what items can
help us meet these needs.
Activity: Seven Basic Needs
For this activity you can keep the group together or divide into smaller groups. First,
• Cut out and laminate the
ask participants to identify the seven basic needs their bodies need to survive. When a
“ Basic Needs” and
youth or small group correctly names one of these needs, hand them the sign for that
“ Length of Time” signs
need and have them stand in front, holding the sign so everyone can see it.
• Assemble a survival kit
As each need is listed, briefly define this need for the group and highlight why it is
important. Ask the youth to give examples of when they have gone without each need
for any extended period of time. For example, “Has anyone ever gone 24 hours
• Created by Jessica Jens,
without sleeping? What did you feel like? How did your body behave?” Continue
4-H Youth Development
until all the “needs” are up in front.
Now, ask the group to arrange the needs from “most” to “least” important. The need
• Outdoor Survival by C.
that we can live without for the least amount of time should be first and the need we
Platt, F. Watts: New
can live without for the most amount of time should be last. Allow the group several
opportunities to get the order correct. After each attempt, tell them which needs are in
• Outdoor Survival,
the right spot and which are still wrong. Once they have the correct order, ask them to
Upham Woods 4-H
also guess how long a person can go without that need.
As they correctly come up with the answers, give the “needs” their corresponding
Education Center Lesson
“length of time” sign.
Plan, Amy Workman,
When all of this is done, ask if there are any questions and clarify any points that the
participants do not understand. Emphasize that they will need to know and use this
information in the next activity.
Activity: Gilligan’s Island
• “Survival Skills,”
Divide the group into small groups of 3-4 participants. Each group should have a
piece of paper and a writing utensil.
Present the following scenario to the groups: You have been ship wrecked on an
island that is exactly like where you are right now. It has the same climate,
vegetation, and weather. You must survive on this island for seven days.
Unfortunately, the wreckage of the airplane has disappeared. You only had time to
take three things out of the airplane to help you survive. Your group may take any
three items you can think of, but all of the items must fit into a small backpack. Tell
them that electronic devices used to contact others for help do not work on this
island. What three items did you take?
Give the group about 10 minutes to discuss which three items they would have taken
from the airplane to help them survive. When the groups are done with their
discussions, each group will present their three items to everyone. The groups should
list their three items and give reasons why they choose each item. Other groups are
welcome to ask them questions. Discuss the merits of each group’s answers and the
pro and cons of their selections.
Activity: Top Ten Survival Items
This final activity assists the youth in applying this information to an imaginary
survival situation. When all the groups are finished, present the “Top 10 Survival
Items” that the experts believe are important in a survival situation. The three items
each group decided on may or may not be on this list. By presenting the “Top Ten”
list, it gives the youth a chance to analyze the decision of survival skills “experts.”
After the list is presented, you may want to give the youth time to talk about the list
and if they agree or disagree with the items and their importance.
If possible, it is nice to collect the ten items (or pictures of the items) in advance and
place them in a bag. As you discuss an item, pull it out of the bag and show it to the
TALK IT OVER
• What is the most important thing to remember in a survival situation?
• What piece of information will you most likely remember?
• If your group was really stranded on an island, what would have been the most
helpful thing to remember?
• How did your small team perform during this activity? Were you an effective
• What from this activity could you apply to your life?
• What are some ways that you could be a more effective team member in the
• What new teamwork behaviors did you learn during these activities? Where else
could you use them in your life?
You may switch the order of the activities by facilitating the “Gilligan Island”
activity first. In this method, the youth would be involved in a hands-on activity at
the start of the lesson. By facilitating the lesson in the order presented (Gilligan
Island activity after the Seven Basic Needs activity), the youth have an opportunity to
use the knowledge they learned about basic needs and apply that to their group
decision in “Gilligan Island.” The order of activities is left up to the individual
Because this lesson is meant to encourage the development of teambuilding skills
and youth/adult partnerships in its participants, it’s a good idea to keep the following
ideas in mind:
• Youth who have pre-existing knowledge or experience in the area of survival
skills can be recruited to co-facilitate some of the activities or give examples of
their personal experiences in survival or semi-survival situations. These youth
can also serve as team leaders or “resources” for the groups during the Gilligan
• If possible, know your group ahead of time; have an idea of what size small
groups will facilitate effective teamwork. Sometimes groups of three work well,
other times groups of five may work better. Split the entire group into the
optimum-sized small groups for the Gilligan’s Island activity.
• Front-load the lesson and individual activities with tips for good teamwork. For
example, before the Gilligan’s Island activity, you can highlight traits of
effective teamwork: listening to each other, using all the team members’ skills,
using a group decision-making process, and engaging all team members in the
• If desired, you can break the entire group into small groups for the Seven Basic
Needs activity. Each small group may be asked to come up with a basic need as
a group and then present their answer to the entire class. When the youth are
working in small teams, walk around and facilitate effective teamwork through
questions and short discussions. Ask the entire team to present their answers, not
just one spokesperson.
Reviewed by Wisconsin 4-H Curriculum Team: June 2006
An EEO/AA employer, University of Wisconsin-Extension provides equal opportunities in employment and
programming, including Title IX and American with Disabilities (ADA) requirements. © 2006 by the Board of
Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Developed by the Wisconsin 4-H Office, 431 Lowell Hall, 610
Langdon St., Madison, WI 53703. The 4-H name and emblem are federally protected under Title 18 US Code 707.
The Seven Basic Survival Needs
In any survival situation, the following seven basic needs must be met.
1. PMA (Postive Mental Attitude, or “Don’t lose your head!”): The most important thing in any
survival situation is not to panic. Your brain is your best tool for inventorying what resources
you have and for coming up with a plan to provide for your needs. Panic can lead to making
irrational, counter-productive decisions that actually make the situation worse, not better.
How long? 3 seconds. If your car breaks through the ice on a frozen lake and you panic, you
may waste time pounding against the windows when you should be rolling them down.
People have saved themselves by popping the trunk, pulling down the back seats and
2. AIR (oxygen): Although we take air for granted, in a drowning, choking, or toxic fume
situation it becomes critical to maintain an adequate supply of oxygen to the brain.
How Long? 3 minutes. After that, brain cells begin to die.
3. SHELTER: A shelter is used to conserve the heat your body already has. Clothing is
considered shelter because it traps a layer of warm air and holds it next to your body. Shelters
do not add heat. Fires or electric blankets may add heat. Would you be warmer standing
outside in winter in a swimsuit next to a fire, or in a parka and snowpants with no fire? The
best way to keep warm is to keep from losing heat.
How long? 3 hours. If you are wet and exposed to wind and/or cold temperatures, failure to
seek shelter can lead to fatal hypothermia. Keeping yourself dry and out of the wind are the
two most important assets of any shelter.
4. WARMTH: If you are in an extended survival situation that may last for days, shelter alone
may not be enough to prevent frostbite and/or hypothermia. Warmth can be added through
building a fire or drinking hot liquids. Physical activity of any kind will increase blood flow
and raise body temperature. The body heat from a warm person can be used to add heat to a
How long? 3 hours-3 days: The length of time varies, depending upon conditions.
5. REST (sleep): Any physical activity will burn calories – energy that cannot be used later. Resting
will conserve calories so that they may be burned slowly for warmth over time. Before any
activity, make sure to weigh the benefits and costs, especially if you have no food to give yourself
How long? 1-3 days: Variable, depending upon conditions. About 24 hours without sleep or
rest will lead to fuzzy thinking and bad decision making for most people.
6. WATER: It is possible to survive a full three days without water, but as the body dehydrates
it begins to function less efficiently. Water loss can occur through breathing, sweating, and
How long? 3 days: Especially in winter, people forget to drink because they are not hot. Drink
even before you are thirsty! Thirst is a warning signal telling you that you are already
dehydrated. If snow is the only source of water, melt it first so you do not cool your body
temperature by eating snow.
7. FOOD: In most survival situations, food is not a top priority. However, food helps your body
stay warm by adding calories to burn and raising body temperature by activating your
How long? 3 weeks: Without food, your body will burn fat reserves as fuel. After fat reserves
are used up, the body will begin to metabolize protein, burning muscle as a food source.
Essentials to Put in Your Daypack
Here are 10 essential items that you will want to take with you on a hike . . .
plus five extra optional items.
1. Knife: a small, folding model with a locking-blade will do. All-purpose
knives are big and bulky and tend to get left behind.
2. Cigarette lighter: The plastic variety. The striker won’t work if wet, so keep
it dry and warm.
3. Garbage bag: You can use it as a sack for an unplanned “bivouac.” You can
use it as a rain jacket when you’re caught in a storm. You can even use it as
an insulating layer by putting it on, then stuffing it with leaves or grass. It
also works well for carrying water.
4. 1-2 full bottles of water.
5. High-energy food like a sports bar, candy bar, or dried fruit.
6. Map and compass.
7. Rain gear.
8. Extra warm clothes.
9. Whistle and mirror for signaling.
10. Small medical kit.
12. Headlamp with spare batteries and bulbs.
13. Fire starter.
14. Iodine for treating water.
15. Emergency kit with everything from fish hooks to nylon cord.
Source: “Survival Skills,” Backpacker Magazine, June, 1995.