Many of the terms used in reference to survival and self-reliance skills are un-common in our everyday lexicon. To remedy this, we have created a Survival Dictionary......this tool will aid in your understanding and applying the principles and skills found throughout our site. We will be updating and adding to this feature regularly.....

A - F

Agonic Line: Line of zero compass declination along which the compass needle points to both true North and magnetic North.

Altitude sickness: Symptoms of altitude sickness include headache, nausea, fatigue, vomiting, and bluish skin. Ataxia or loss of muscular control and balance indicates a more severe form of altitude sickness. This sickness can occur at altitudes above 8,000 feet. The best prevention is allowing plenty of time for acclimatization at high altitudes, drinking plenty of fluids, and eating a diet rich in carbohydrates. Other related conditions, which can cause death, are high altitude cerebral edema (HACE), which causes fluid accumulation on the brain, and high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), which causes fluid in the lungs. The main treatment for acute mountain sickness is to rapidly descend to lower altitudes. In some cases oxygen may be available to ease symptoms.

Autogenic Breathing: Form of meditation based on the idea of passive concentration: This is, achieving relaxation by not actively working to do so (as in progressive relaxation). As focus is given to each inhale and exhale, oxygen is supplied to the body, the mind is calmed and stress is minimized (in a nutshell).

Azimuth: Commonly used to indicate a directional bearing in degrees. Technically, azimuth refers to one (or fraction thereof) of the 360 degrees of the compass. 

Billy Can: Billy Can, more commonly known simply as a "Billy" (Billy tin in Canada), is a lightweight cooking pot, often improvised from a common coffee or #10 can, which is used on a campfire or camp stove.

Bivouac or Bivy: Temporary or unplanned, emergency encampment.

Blunt Force Trauma: Trauma caused by impact or force applied from a blunt object. Blunt force trauma is the most common type of injury sustained by humans, and is a broad term covering trauma like contusions, abrasions, lacerations, and bone fracture.

Chlorine Dioxide: Chlorine Dioxide tablets are an easy-to-use water purification tablet that is safer than iodine or chlorine. In fact, they are the only water purification tablet or liquid currently registered by the EPA that controls Cryptosporidium, a waterborne cyst. It is an excellent choice to purify water from lakes, rivers, streams and for international travel.

Conduction: Direct or indirect transfer of heat to a cold/warm object or surface. This applies to any surface, which is colder or warmer than the temperature of your exposed skin (92°F). In a winter environment, air and water can be the most dangerous conductor.

Convection: Heat loss through cold air or moisture passing over exposed parts of your body. The moving air transports heat away from your body. Also commonly known as “Wind Chill”, convection can be one of the quickest and deadliest causes of heat loss. #2 cause of heat loss.

Cryptosporidiosis: Diarrheal disease caused by microscopic parasites of the genus Cryptosporidium. This parasite is protected by an outer shell that allows it to survive outside the body for long periods of time and makes it very resistant to chemical disinfection. While this parasite can be transmitted in several different ways, water is the most common method of transmission and Cryptosporidium is one of the most frequent causes of waterborne disease among humans in the United States. Symptoms appear from 2 to 12 days after ingestion, the average being 7 days.

Declination: The difference between true North and magnetic North. Declination is expressed in degrees east or west of the agonic line.

Decompression Sickness: Results from surfacing too quickly from a deep underwater dive, but can also occur when descending from high altitudes. Sometimes referred to as "the bends," symptoms include skin rashes, visual disturbances, balance disturbances, breathing difficulties, unconsciousness and death.

Dehydration: Causes a person's body to lose large amounts of water. A serious and potentially deadly situation when normal body functions are threatened.

Exposure: Phrase used in the description of cold or heat related illness, these include hypothermia, hyperthermia and other environmental related conditions. The human body is a delicate organism, in order for our continued survival we must maintain a core temperature of around 98.6°F, deviation in either direction can have devastating effects. Therefore the ability to regulate that core temperature is vital, thus exposure is the #1 killer of humans caught unprepared in the outdoors.

Evaporation: Body heat and moisture leave the body when we perspire and breathe. The evaporation of this moisture cools the body. Evaporative heat loss is greatest when combined with convective heat loss.

Fuel Wood: Your final step in the fire building process. Once your kindling is sufficiently burning, add your fuel wood. Sizing for your fuel wood should start at thumb size but be no thicker than your wrist.

Frostbite: Injury to tissues exposed to extreme cold. Often afflicts the nose, ears or other extremities of the body. Related to Hypothermia. In extreme cases gangrene or amputation may result.

G - L

Gangrene: Death of body tissue due to bacterial infection or the lack of blood circulation. Gangrene results from surgery or in extreme situations where an individual is pinned under a fallen object and blood flow is disrupted for long periods of time.

Giardia: Diarrheal illness caused by a microscopic parasite, Giardia intestinalis (also known as Giardia lamblia). Once a person has been infected with Giardia, the parasite lives in the intestine and is passed in feces. Because the parasite is protected by an outer shell, it can survive outside the body and in the environment for long periods of time (i.e., months). Symptoms of giardiasis normally begin 1 to 2 weeks (average 7 days) after becoming infected.

Heat cramps: Mildest form of heat disease, are generally caused by strenuous activity in a hot environment. Cramps occur due to excessive perspiration and depletion of salt level in your blood and skin tissue. Symptoms include leg and abdominal cramps.  Treatment includes rest and replacement of depleted salt reserves. Recovery occurs soon after salt intake.

Heat Stroke: Most severe of heat related conditions, possibly life threatening. Occurs when the body’s core temperature rises above 105°F. Symptoms include nausea, headache, dizziness, confusion, physical collapse, skin feels hot and dry. Treatment heat stroke is LIFE THREATENING, decrease core temp. ASAP, loosen clothing, move to shade, apply damp cloth to head, neck, armpits and groin. ACQUIRE MEDICAL HELP.

Hyperthermia: Otherwise known as heat exhaustion, heatstroke or sunstroke occurs when the body absorbs too much heat. Heat regulation within the body becomes compromised, leading to a rapid climb in body temperature requiring immediate medical attention.

Hypoadrenia: Also known as adrenal exhaustion or adrenal fatigue. Responsible for the short-term stress response known as "fight or flight," the adrenal glands can function improperly when overstressed, leading to fatigue, mood disorders and depression.

Hyponatremia: State of low sodium levels in the blood. This problem is due to drinking too much water that is deficient in required salts and electrolytes. Symptoms are very similar to those of someone suffering from dehydration. To accurately determine between the two, the clarity and color of urine is a tell-tale sign. Dark, cloudy urine = Dehydration. Clear, copious urine = Hyponatremia. Treat with restoring electrolyte and sodium level in the body.

Hypothermia: Condition of having an extremely low body temperature, often as a result of exposure to cold water or frigid atmospheric conditions. Normal body functions become impaired and the condition can eventually become fatal.

Insulating Layer: Layer which provides warmth by trapping body heat within pockets of dead air and should also be the most interchangeable, different activities/temperatures may demand more or less insulation.

Kindling: Step #2 in the fire building process. Kindling can be divided into two categories: Fine Kindling and Kindling. Fine kindling is thicker than a match but thinner than a pencil. Your next level of kindling is thicker than a pencil, but smaller in diameter than your thumb. In the construction of a teepee fire, create a tri-pod with your fine kindling adding your larger kindling on top of this. Remember your tinder nest will be placed into the heart of this structure, so leave enough room. As with you tinder, Kindling should be DRY dead wood. Add fuel wood.


M - R

Malaria: Usually transmitted to humans by mosquitoes, malaria can cause fever, shivering, joint pain, vomiting, anemia, and convulsions, which can ultimately lead to coma and death if untreated — especially in young children. Occurs in wet, warm, marshy regions.

Protective Layering: Wind and water rob the body of warmth, therefore, choosing outerwear that are both wind and waterproof will benefit the user most.

Protozoa: Single cell organisms which have the ability to rapidly multiply inside the human body, which can allow the development of serious infections. These parasites are usually transmitted through contact with infected feces (for example, through contaminated food, or water) often the result of unwashed hands. In the U.S., the most common protozoa are Guardia and Cryptosporidium.

Radiation:  Heat emitted or absorbed into our bodies in the form of particles or waves. When the outside air is warmer than our skin temperature, we gain heat. As with all the heat Loss/Gain Mechanisms, heat always travels to cooler areas. Radiation is the #1 cause of heat loss.

Pea-less whistle: "Pea-less" whistles operate without the presence of a cork ball in the chamber. Often, they use a combination of chamber shapes to produce multiple tones that make the whistle's sound more audible above other noises such as howling winds.

Respiration: The loss of body heat and water vapor through the body’s act of respiration. This occurs when we inhale cool air, which is warmed as it travels through our body into our lungs, then that warm air is exhaled. Note: also a means of water loss.

S - Z

Situational Awareness(SA): 3 step process by which any situation can be quickly assessed (be they traumatic or otherwise), allowing you to respond accordingly: 1) What is happening and WHY? 2) What will happen NEXT? 3) What are my OPTIONS? This mental exercise can aid you in "seeing the situation for what it is". Maintain flexibility and trust your instincts.

Snow blindness: Photokeratitis or ultraviolet keratitis is a painful eye condition, caused by exposure of insufficiently protected eyes to the ultraviolet (UV) rays from either natural (snow, water or sand) or artificial sources. Snow blindness is akin to sunburn of the cornea and conjunctiva, and is not usually noticed until several hours after exposure. Symptoms include increased tears, a feeling of gritty pain in the eyes. Sunglasses should always be worn, even with an overcast sky, as UV rays can pass through clouds. In the event of lost or damaged sunglasses, emergency goggles can be made by cutting slits in fabric, bark or duct tape folded back onto itself. Blackening the skin under the eyes with charcoal can be used to reduce further reflection.

Solar Water Disinfection (SODIS): Simple, environmentally sustainable, low-cost solution for drinking water treatment on a household or community level for people consuming biologically contaminated wild water. SODIS uses solar energy to destroy pathogenic microorganisms causing water borne diseases improving the quality of drinking water. Pathogenic microorganisms are vulnerable to two effects of the sunlight: radiation in the spectrum of UV-A light (wavelength 320-400nm) and heat (+50 degrees C).

Survivor’s Mantra: Form of self Hypnosis, in which you are in charge of guiding your self-talk, creating a life affirming internal environment and overcoming negative thought patterns. When it comes to prepping for a crisis situation, mental exercises are just as, if not more important as physical preparedness and skill building.

Thermoregulation: The ability of a human to keep its body temperature (98.6º) within certain boundaries, even when the environmental temperature is very different. This process is an aspect of homeostasis: a state of stability between a mammal's internal environment and its external environment. If the body is unable to maintain a normal temperature and it increases significantly above normal, a condition known as hyperthermia results. This occurs when the body is exposed to constant temperatures of approximately 131° F, any prolonged exposure (longer than a few hours) at this temperature and up to around 158° F death is almost inevitable. The opposite condition, when body temperature decreases below normal levels, is known as hypothermia.

Tinder: THE foundation in the construction of a fire. The biggest mistake inexperienced fire starters makes is putting too large fuel wood on too little heat. To be effective your tinder MUST be DRY, FINE material. Dryness can be assured by gathering tinder from "up", off the ground and listening for that distinct SNAP when broken. Ideal tinder consists of shredded inner cottonwood, sagebrush or cedar/juniper bark, birds’ nests, dry grasses and leaves, pine pitch clumps, dry pine/fir or spruce needles (Indian kerosene), anything that will provide a fibrous bundle. Materials should be no thicker than an average matchstick.  Form material into “bird nest” or ball the size of your fist. Hollow out with your thumbs, next rub your tinder material between hands, do this over a bandana or piece of cloth to catch refined and separated fibers, place this fine material in the hollowed inner nest. This inner nest is your point of ignition, place your firestarter, magnesium shavings or lit match at this point. Blow ember into flame if necessary. Remember fire prefers to burn upward, so once your flame begins to spread turn your nest providing more fuel for your flame. Add fine kindling.

Transpiration: Transpiration refers to the evaporation of water vapor from a biological surface, such as leaves, skin, or lungs. In its most common usage, transpiration refers to the loss of water from plant foliage (such as leaves and flowers), occurring through microscopic pores known as stomata. Transpiration is a component of a larger process known as evapo-transpiration, which is the evaporation of water from a landscape, such as soil, bodies of water, and biological surfaces such as foliage.

Ventilating Layer: “Next to skin” layer - Most importantly, this layer is non-cotton. It should also fit tightly, for the best wicking effect.

Wilderness acquired diarrhea(WAD): Backcountry diarrhea, is diarrhea that is caused by pathogens that have infected people in the wilderness. It is a much-discussed hazard among backpackers, hikers, campers and other outdoorsmen who visit remote areas of the developed world. Risk factors include insufficient washing of hands and food utensils and, to a lesser extent, drinking untreated surface water.




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