Outdoor Survival Series: Understanding Survival

To understand outdoor survival, it is crucial to be aware of possible hazards you may encounter during any outdoor adventure.
CPW photo by Nick Clement

To understand outdoor survival, it is crucial to be aware of possible hazards you may encounter during any outdoor adventure. Preparing for a trip into the Rocky Mountains should starts with identifying potential threats and practicing the skills needed to endure those threats.


Lighting is common in the Rocky Mountains and if you are exposed at higher elevations you need to have a plan. Here are a few basic safety tips to keep in mind as you head into the mountains.

  • Don’t be connected to the tallest object in the area. Reduce your exposure by moving to a lower altitude. If you are above timberline, move down to the treeline and stay there until the storm passes.
  • Keep your feet close together with the least amount of contact to ground and get in a tight ball.
  • Keep metal away from your body. Metal on your body does not increase attraction, but it will burn you if you are struck by lightning.
  • Get away from open water. Fishermen should get off the water and into a car as quickly as possible

I have been caught in numerous thunderstorms while hunting and fishing in Colorado’s high country. Storms can develop quickly. If I hear thunder approaching, I always move to a lower elevation as quickly as possible.


Climbing in altitude without proper preparation may lead to becoming hypoxic. Hypoxic is when your brain and body do not function properly due to lack of oxygen. Preventing oxygen deprivation is a lot easier than coping with it after the fact. Here are some general tips to avoid hypoxia:

  • Start Fit – Get in shape by working out and staying active. Run, bike, swim, lift weights or do anything to increase your heart rate on a consistent basis. The air is thin in Colorado, so even if you are in top shape at sea level you will feel the effects of the altitude. As a former college athlete, staying in shape is a part of my daily routine but no matter how well conditioned I am, I always feel the effects when hiking at elevation. This holds true despite the fact I live at 5,280 feet.
  • Acclimate – It’s a good idea to spend a few days at an intermediate altitude. Take the opportunity to see some of the sights around Denver or Colorado Springs before attempting to head into the backcountry.
  • Stay Hydrated – If you are planning a high-country trip, drink twice as much water as you normally would. It is also a good idea to avoid coffee and alcohol.
  • Don’t take any chances – No matter how tempting it may be to continue your trip even after you start feeling ill or that headache comes on, you should move to a lower elevation immediately until a medical professional tells you otherwise.

Know What You’re In For

Staying protected from the elements requires proper clothing and equipment. Colorado averages around 300 days of sunshine each year and the clear skies can lead to overheating during the day and battling hyperthermia at night. In this video will cover the most important threats to consider when exploring Colorado’s backcountry.

Outdoor Survival Series

Peter Kummerfeldt has been teaching outdoor survival nearly his entire life. His approach is practical and proven. Colorado Parks and Wildlife partnered with Peter in the production of a video outdoor survival series. As an avid outdoors person and survival enthusiast, I was fortunate to produce the project. And I learned a number of skills and knowledge that have helped me immensely. For more outdoor survival tips, please see the following:

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