This article has been checked by Jungle Training Wing (JTW), with supplementary comments added and shown as italic text. For more jungle tips, attend a course run by JTW, and check out the new Soldiers’ 5 newsletter which contains tips from JTW.
Although it is unlikely that you will find yourself unexpectedly lost in the jungle, it is possible that you could find yourself in a number of environmental situations as a member of the Australian Army. Therefore, it is important to arm yourself with the knowledge you would need in the event that you find yourself scrambling through vines, stagnant water and damp terrain.
As any Kokoda story will teach you, there was very limited training for conflict in this type of tropical environment, which made conditions even more challenging for those who fought to protect our northern borders back in 1942. Jungle conditions can challenge even the most skilled soldiers and push their limits.
We have tracked down Army’s subject matter experts in jungle survival to bring you the most relevant and useful information to add to your Army Lessons “toolkit”.
- Stop and take a break
- Think clearly
- Observe the environment
- Plan your next step
Actions on lost and separation must always be included in jungle patrol orders. They should be simple to understand and not be glossed over with “As per SOPs”.
Shelter – Due to the amount of damp vegetation underfoot, one option for sleeping is a hammock with a shelter over the top. Bedding that is placed on the ground may quickly soak up moisture and is unlikely to dry under the rainforest canopy during daylight hours. Being elevated may help avoid snakes, insects and dangerous fauna that live on the jungle floor.
Be mindful that snakes do not only exist at ground level, but can also live in trees when wet. Being elevated in a hammock or improvised platform is ideal in the jungle, but test the trees/timber prior to use as some trees/timber will be rotten due to the constant rain.
Skin condition – Check your skin regularly for leeches, bug bites, rashes and fungus that grows in damp clothing like socks and shoes. This can cause foot rot and a number of other medical issues that will adversely affect your comfort and survival.
A change of socks and other under garments will prevent skin irritations that may lead to other health issues.
Staying dry – One of your biggest challenges in the jungle environment is to stay dry when surrounded by dense, humid air. Aside from perspiration, the humidity of jungle environments and high chances of monsoonal rains presents a challenge to keep supplies and clothing dry. Ensure that you have a plan for heavy rain.
Keep all supplies off the jungle floor to avoid excess moisture. Clothes could take up to seven hours to dry, or may not dry at all. Keep bedding dry and clean, and avoid sleeping in damp, dirty clothing that will contaminate your bedding and attract insects and disease.
Analyse your surroundings. What do you know about this environment? What can you immediately see?
Tread carefully – Movement in the jungle environment is slow, and situational awareness is minimised due to vision being restricted to 5-10 metres. This lack of awareness can lead to unexpected cliffs, caves or animal burrows causing significant injury to the body.
Falling foliage – Large trees and branches can be a significant threat to life in the jungle due to the damp conditions that cause wood to rot and encourage wood-eating insects. Ensure that you set up a camp away from large trees and remain vigilant for the sound of falling trees and branches around you. Before setting up for the night, look up through the foliage for any “widow makers” caught up in vines.
Crossing water – Be cautious around running water as it could be rapid and extremely cold. Use natural resources to test the flow and speed of water before crossing or entering. Rocks under the water can also be extremely slippery due to a build-up of moss. Depending on your location, there may also be other dangers hiding in the water, such as crocodiles and parasites. Be aware that crossing water that is greater than knee deep can be dangerous as you can more easily lose your balance or be pushed by the flow.
Drinking water – Suitable drinking water is not easy to find in the jungle. Always try to find running water, and boil before drinking. Avoid stagnant and smelly water, especially when covered in vegetation and lacking movement. The water will be of poor quality and may be filled with life-threatening bacteria. Rainfall provides the best drinking water. It can be captured in large leaves and bamboo stalks. Take the time to prepare a number of water catchment devices to capitalise on sudden, monsoonal rain. If you do not have a container or bottle to collect water, consider using a coconut shell or carve a bowl out of wood.
Stagnant water – There may be a number of pools of stagnant water in the jungle environment due to periods of monsoonal rain and damp conditions under thick canopies of foliage. Stagnant water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes, so it is recommended to avoid pools altogether, including where you set up your camp and stop for breaks.
Following water – Rivers and streams can be a fantastic clue for survival as they usually lead to civilisation, especially villages and towns that rely on water sources. By following the current downstream, you may encounter man-made structures such as bridges, or fording points used by locals. Either way this will enhance your chance of rescue, if lost.
Finding food – Wasting your energy on chasing land animals is unlikely to produce the best outcome. Alternatively, take the time to build a number of effective traps, ensuring that you remember where you placed them to avoid causing injury to yourself (it can happen). There are a number of ways to trap wild animals, fish and other water creatures to provide enough food for your survival. Dig a deep hole and place a piece of fruit inside to attract animals, ensuring that the hole is deep enough that the animal cannot escape, but you are still able to reach the animal. Effective traps are designed to choke, crush, hang, entangle or disorientate wild animals.
Foraging – Keep your eyes open for food sources that are familiar and don’t require a lot of preparation, such as orange, coconut, banana, passionfruit, mango and avocado. Avoid any fruits or plants that don’t look familiar as they may be poisonous.
Animal trails – Pay attention to animal trails. They may lead you to water or to a dangerous animal.
Don’t panic – Despite the temptation to panic when you find yourself lost in the jungle, panicking causes anxiety and also activates your sympathetic nervous system, which will “protect” you and work against your mental and physical wellbeing.
Daylight hours – Due to the thick canopy of foliage in the jungle environment, daylight hours under the canopy can be significantly reduced. It is important to plan ahead and make the most of the daylight where possible. Unless you are in a tactical conflict scenario, it is wise to move during the day and sleep during the night.
Heat injuries – Maintain awareness of your body, including the colour and frequency of urination. Cover your head and neck during daylight hours and always wear clothing to moderate your body temperature and protect your skin.
The need for survival can happen at any time, in any location. As we have witnessed throughout history, the world around you can change suddenly, even in the home environment where we generally feel safe. Your ability to plan ahead and be adequately prepared will ensure that you continue to thrive in uncomfortable environments with relevant knowledge and resources to maintain your wellbeing and plan your way out. Stay tuned for the next edition of the Survival Series in a following Smart Soldier.