By Deborah Courson Smith Big Sky Connection

HELENA – A Montana survival skills expert says you do not need to be an expert to survive. Michael Jarnevic is an Army Special Forces medic who says TV reality shows have been misleading people when it comes to survival situations, situations that can happen quickly not far from Montana’s cities and towns.

Jarnevic’s insights: The first priorities are shelter, warmth and fire, followed by finding water and signaling for help. But what do most people do first? He said he’s found that they waste time and energy focused on food.

“Human beings can live upwards of two months without food,” he said. “It admittedly would not be a pleasant experience, but you could do it. But you could die within hours from hypothermia or lack of water, and so those need to be your priorities.”

Even someone going on a day hike should take a survival kit, Jarnevic says. Some of the items to include: fire starters, parachute cord, water-purification tablets, energy bars, cable saw, first aid kit, whistle, flashlight and cell phone.

Jarnevic has found that getting lost is the most common survival situation. Other instances include darkness, weather and an injury or illness. He said health issues are worst-case scenarios.

“It doesn’t have to be that far into the backcountry to have something really go south fast,” he said. “Say, for instance, you’re out hiking alone and you take a fall and you break your leg. And suddenly, immediately, you’re in a survival situation.”

Jarnevic recently taught a class in the Welcome Creek Wilderness for the Montana Chapter of the Sierra Club, and plans to teach another one later this year.