What if you’re out on your ATV and you break down, crash or become lost? This may seem like a no-brainer but you’d be surprised at how many riders do the wrong things when they get into trouble.

With the cooler weather of fall approaching and hunting season a week away, the woods will be full of people on ATVs. Many people are heading out unprepared. Bringing along the right equipment is just one facet of preparedness, but the most important item you’ll need is the one inside your helmet.

I worked for the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue for about eight years and in that time, I can’t tell you how many times riders (motorcycle, quad and snowmobile) got into trouble and decided to walk out, leaving their vehicle behind. There was a search we did that lasted two days and after a grueling time reaching the stranded snowmobiles, we ended up having to spend another day following two sets of footprints. These guys were lucky. Many others are not.

One of the biggest reasons that people decide to walk out if they get lost or break down is panic. Something in the human brain causes people, during traumatic events, to act irrationally. Many lives have been lost because people ignore the first rule of survival which is to stay put. You almost always stand a better chance of being found sooner if you stay where you are and resort to a few basic survival skills.

Considering that you told someone where you were going and they knew you were on a motorized vehicle are going to be the biggest clues to searchers. It’s a lot easier to track an ATV than it is to track footprints, especially when it’s dry. They will find your tracks and if you stay put, they will find you too. One of the biggest problems is people getting stuck or crashing. By the time you realize that you can’t get yourself out (and after using up all your energy) you are going to be exhausted. Add that to the panic and that’s where the thinking goes haywire.

No matter what, once you have determined you’re not going anywhere, get a shelter built. You can even utilize your ATV if you need to. Exposure is going to be what kills you, especially now that the nights are getting close to freezing. Once you have an adequate shelter built, you need to think about your water supply. Do you have enough? Is there a creek close by? Water is the second most important element of survival.

Now you are going to need to get a fire going to keep you warm. Most people will be prepared but if not, look to your ATV. Even if you ran out of gas, you will have enough fuel in the fuel filter, the bottom of the tank or the carburetor bowl. You can get this fuel on a piece of cloth etc. fairly easily. Your ATV should have tools. Even if you have no matches or lighter, you have a source of ignition right there. Take your spark plug out, ground it on the engine, place a cloth dampened with fuel near it and either pull the pull cord or turn the key. You will get a flame.

I was on a search one time when we found the stranded snowmobiler by his fire. He dipped his underwear in the gas tank and used the spark plug to ignite a torch he made. We saw it and rescued him—true story.

Your recreational off-road vehicle is a source of valuable materials that can help you survive should you get into a bad situation. Unless you absolutely know you can get to help, stay with your machine and get your shelter, water and fire taken care of. Chances are high that you will be found alive.