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5 Life-Saving Survival Skills You Just Might Need One Day

Increase your chances of escaping dangerous quicksand, being buried alive, deadly bear attacks, and more.

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How to escape quicksand

Quicksand, formed when sand becomes so saturated with water that it can no longer support weight, can be dangerous—animals and people have died after becoming stuck in the sludge. But an encounter with quicksand doesn’t spell certain doom, as some movies might lead you to believe. Your body is less dense than the quicksand so it’s nearly impossible to completely sink (or be sucked under) if you stay calm. To escape, slowly pull each leg to the surface. Once you’re horizontal, either on your stomach or on your back, you’ll float better and be able to wriggle your way to solid ground. 

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What to do if you’re buried alive

Modern embalming procedure and the amount of pressure created by tons of dirt on top of the casket make the possibility of waking up six feet under nearly impossible. Still, it happens, so it’s good to be prepared.

Step 1. Hope that you’ve been buried in a cheap pine or wicker box. The chances of breaking out of a more fortified casket are bleak. Step 2. Stay calm. You have about three hours’ worth of oxygen, at most. Yelling and/or panicking will use up some of that precious O2 (as will lighting a match or lighter, if you happen to have one). Step 3. Take off your shirt and use it to protect your face from dirt that will fall into the coffin. Step 4. Kick the lid of the coffin until it breaks. As the dirt rushes in, pack it into the space around your legs and feet. Step 5. Sit up and continue to push the loose dirt into the coffin. Step 6. Stand up and dig your way out of the hole.

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How to find water in the desert

In hot, arid desert conditions you’ll survive only a few days without water. Luckily, it’s not impossible to find a little H20—if you know where to look. Green vegetation such as cottonwood, willow, ash, and sycamore trees and damp sand can signal the presence of a nearby spring or water underground; you want to dig about a foot down and see if your hole fills up with water. Indentions in large rocks and north-facing basins might hold un-evaporated rainwater, too. Finally, pay attention to birds, bees, mosquitoes, flies and other creatures that need water. You may be able to follow them to their source. 

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How to survive a bear attack

Bear attacks get a lot of press, but between 2010 and 2012, only eight people were killed by bears—that’s an annual average of about three bear attack deaths, five times fewer people than are killed by dogs each year. But all bears aren’t as congenial as Smokey. Wild bears can become aggressive when startled or when they’re looking for food. When camping, elevate your food at least 12 feet off the ground and 200 feet from your tent. When hiking in bear country, make noise—clap, sing, talk loudly—when rounding a blind corner. If a bear charges, bear pepper spray is your best defense. If you run out of spray, play dead by lying on your stomach with your hands covering your head and neck. 

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What to do if you’re driving during a tornado

Though there are some miraculous stories of people surviving tornadoes, the best survival technique is to stay far away from a twister. If you’re inside: Avoid windows and go to an interior room on the lowest floor. If you have any helmets around (bike, motorcycle, football, baseball), wear one. The CDC calls a car or bus the “least desirable place to be in a tornado”; some twisters’ winds can reach more than 300 mph and have no trouble tossing cars like toys. But don’t get out of the car and don’t park under an overpass, advises the National Weather Service. If you see a tornado while you’re driving, seek shelter at a truck stop, convenience store, restaurant or other business.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest