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Courtesy Jason Knight/Alderleaf Wilderness College

Surviving Washington's Wilderness

Part of the lure of the Northwest is the proximity to wilderness areas to hike, snowshoe and camp in. But every year dozens of people hiking in Mt. Rainier National Park get lost or injured, requiring the help of search and rescue teams. Jason Knight is a co-founder of Alderleaf Wilderness College and program director of the Wilderness Certification Program. He talks with Ross Reynolds and answers listener questions about what you should know before you journey into Washington's wilderness. Below are some highlights from the interview.


If you’re preparing for an adventure in Washington’s wilderness, Jason recommends nine items that everyone should consider taking.

  • Shelter
  • Clothing: Wear layers and bring extra. It always gets colder than you expect.
  • Rain Gear: It can rain at any time, unexpectedly. Staying dry can save your life.
  • Fire: Bring multiple ways of making fire such as a lighter, backup lighter, flint and steel.
  • Water: Bring more than you think you’ll need. A water-filter straw can help if you become stranded. They can filter upwards of 20 gallons directly from a water source.
  • Food: Bring extra. Protein bars are great for extra calories.
  • Maps: The best type of map to use while hiking is a USGS topographical map. They show you terrain, water, roads and trails. (Hint: study them in advance.)
  • Compass
  • Knife: A small three- to four-inch fixed blade knife is really durable and can be used in a wide variety of situations. Multi-tools are also useful, but have the potential to be less durable.


If you find yourself in the Washington wilderness with little or no food, here are some basic survival foods you can learn to identify and recognize.

  • Grasses: The green parts aren't very digestible, but you can chew on them for juices and nutrients. The base of the leaves are like corn and can be eaten raw or cooked.
  • Conifer trees: Stay away from the poisonous yew trees, but the inner bark of other conifers are edible and a good source of nutrients.
  • Cattails: They're called "the supermarket of the swamp." Even in winter you can eat the roots as a source of starch.
  • Acorns: They grow on oak trees. You can leech out the tannins by boiling in a few changes of water or soaking them in a stream for a few days to make them less bitter.
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