News You Can Use: How to Survive in the Wilderness

In real life, survivors don't get voted off the island; they simply leave. But surviving usually takes preparation and a little know-how, along with some luck.

There are lessons to be learned, experts say, in the tragic death of James Kim, the San Francisco father whose body was discovered in the snowy wilderness last month, four days after he left his stranded family members in their car to look for help in a remote section of the Oregon mountains.

Preparation is essential, and should begin before you head out, especially in winter. Put an emergency kit or sleeping bag in the back of your car or in your backpack.

While you're at it, pack a little food and some water, too. The Kims had little food with them when they became stranded, officials said. However Kati Kim breast-fed her two daughters during the ordeal, and her breast milk may have saved her children's lives.

If you do bring along water, add a sports-drink powder to it. The sodium will alter the temperature at which the water freezes, and the electrolytes will give you an energy boost.

Energy bars aren't always the best choice for food because they can harden in cold weather.

Try to pack something that is high in fat and less likely to freeze up. And always leave a map or a detailed itinerary with a friend or family member.

But one wrong turn or a sudden snowstorm can bring peril. If you get stuck, don't panic. Mike Roberts, executive editor of Outside magazine, offered some advice: "Before you freak out, stop and think things through. Organize and make a plan. Use your intellect."

For instance, if you have a car, stay with it and look around in the glove compartment; you might find something unexpected. "If you don't have the right stuff, you have to be a bit McGyver about it," said Roberts.

If you're stranded without shelter, the first order of business is finding some.

Ashby Robertson teaches wilderness survival at the REI Outdoor School. "You will die much more quickly from exposure and hypothermia than dehydration, and hunger is way down on the list," he said.

Robertson suggested that if you're in an area with some pine trees, burrow under the lowest branches because snow rarely penetrates the thick pine boughs. If there's no other shelter, you can try to fashion a snow cave. Snow can act as an insulator, but it can also make you very wet, and moisture is a big enemy in the cold.

Still, a snow shelter is better than no shelter, so make the hole about 3 feet wide and 1 foot longer than your body. And pack the snow hard after you're done digging. Remember, it takes a lot of energy to build a shelter in the snow. And with little food or water, it won't be easy to muster the strength .

The next order of business is finding some water, but Robertson cautioned, "It's not as easy as you would think to melt snow. It takes energy from your body to convert the ice to water. Try to just melt a few snowflakes at a time on your tongue." And you also run the risk of cooling down your core body temperature.

As for food, although very few people will actually die of starvation, it can become an obsession when you're stranded.

Joe Arterburn, a longtime outdoorsman and the spokesman for Cabela's, a large outdoor outfitter company, said, "The main problem about hunger is that it occupies your thoughts." If you're thinking about food or the lack of it, you may not be concentrating on a rescue.

Arterburn added that very few people, other than committed naturalists, can differentiate between safe and unsafe foods in the wilderness. Your best chance, of course, is to be rescued before starvation sets in.

To that end, do anything you can to attract attention. James Vlahos, contributing editor of National Geographic Adventure Magazine, offered some ideas. "Use anything you have. If you have a CD in your backpack, it can be used as a signal. Or try the shiny hologram on the back of your credit card."

Kati Kim and her daughters were spotted near their car, in part, because Kati waived an umbrella at a passing helicopter.

Although there are exceptions to the rule, try to stay in one place. "Bring help to you," said Vlahos.

Perhaps the most comprehensive survival guide is the U.S. Army Survival Manual. The manual covers extremes from getting stranded in the desert to cold weather survival.

In all life-and-death situations, however, the manual offers a common guide to follow, based on letters from the world survivors:

S -- Size up your situation

U -- Use all your senses

R -- Remember where you are

V -- Vanquish fear and panic

I -- Improvise

V -- Value living

A -- Act like the natives

L -- Live by your wits

So, if you find yourself stranded, remember: SURVIVAL can be the key.