What is Survival? – The ultimate guide to surviving in the wilderness and city (+equipment recommendation)
Discover everything about survival and emergencies and what equipment, mindset, and skills are essential in this comprehensive guide.
From Martin Gebhardt. Check out his “About me” page.
👉 The key facts from this guide
- Survival means surviving and includes skills and knowledge to survive in emergencies, especially in the wilderness.
- Essential points for survival are water supply, food supply, shelter, fire, and orientation.
- Survival skills include knowledge of how to make fire, keep warm, find water and food, and find the way back to civilization.
- Survival training can also include preparation for emergencies and crises, including natural disasters and disruptions to social, political, or economic order.
- Important equipment for survival includes a backpack, a survival knife, a fire starter, an ax, a saw, a rope, a compass, and a map.
- Survival can be practiced by anyone, regardless of age or physical fitness. It requires the will to survive and the ability to enjoy challenges and adventures.
What do you do when the fight or flight response is activated and nothing seems safe?
Do you know how to assess and use the wilderness to your advantage?
Do you know what to do in the event of a disaster?
Do you know how to find food and ensure it is safe to eat in a survival scenario?
Get the most out of life by learning all about survival!
This guide provides everything from preparation tips to recommendations for survival gear.
You'll learn what survival means, how to prepare for disasters, and what skills are necessary in emergencies.
What exactly is survival?
Survival comes from the English language and means to stay alive. Survival is the process of staying alive and avoiding death. It is the act of continuing to live, typically under difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable circumstances. It is also about being able to continue living, even if it's not perfect.
In fact, survival literally means "living beyond." It is derived from two Latin words: super, which means "above, over, or beyond," and vivere, which means "to live."
These two words were combined to create the verb supervivere, which over time evolved into the Provençal word sobrevivre and the Old French word sourvivre.
Most commonly, the term "survival" means physical survival, or avoiding physical destruction.
The survivalist pays attention to essential points to ensure their survival.
The following factors play a significant role in survival:
- Water supply
- Food supply
Typically, a person in distress does not have extensive equipment and supplies. How much someone has in an emergency depends heavily on what has happened.
There are cases where people were equipped with only a knife, while others had a vehicle equipped with all kinds of survival gear, as well as a supply of water and food.
The only thing available to the person is usually a handful of useful items and their skills.
The skills mainly involve those that keep you alive in emergencies and allow you to keep a cool head.
So, a survival expert can survive in nature without bringing food, build a sleeping place without a tent, and find their way without a compass. You eat and use what nature provides.
It's about surviving every weather, extreme situation, and natural habitat and restoring normalcy as quickly as possible.
Whether for the fun of adventure or out of necessity, survival stands for the strategic living and survival in the wilderness, even when the situation seems hopeless.
Where does survival come from?
Basically, it has always been about survival for us humans, so there is no specific date when the term emerged. The word "survival" has certainly been around for thousands of years, since people have been dealing with life.
Nevertheless, some times have strongly influenced the term, such as the military or special situations like the Cold War.
Survival in the military means relying on your training as a soldier, sailor, pilot, marine, and coast guard to survive under any conditions or environment.
But also the world economic crisis after the Wall Street crash of 1929 and the Cold War are cited by survivalists as an example of the necessity of survival training.
The American civil defense programs of the Cold War era promoted public bomb shelters, personal atomic bomb shelters, and training for children. All of this was necessary to survive in case of an emergency.
What do you do during survival training?
During survival training, you are taught how to survive in the wilderness. Survival training is a way to prepare optimally for a worst-case scenario.
It's about practicing skills that could one day save your life. In survival training, you learn skills such as making fire, building a shelter that protects you, and finding water sources.
Other common topics covered in these trainings are physical fitness, first aid, wild herb and plant identification, and the ability to track animals.
The skills required for survival in the wilderness are vital and must be practiced to become second nature.
Everyone should know how to build a shelter, make a fire, find food and water, and safely navigate back to civilization.
Does survival also include preparing for crises?
As a survivalist, you can also proactively prepare for emergencies, including natural disasters as well as disruptions of social, political, or economic order.
The preparations can anticipate short-term or long-term scenarios, ranging in magnitude from personal adversity to local service interruptions to international or global catastrophes.
Survival training can be limited to preparing for a personal emergency, such as being stranded in the wilderness or under adverse weather conditions (such as on a deserted island).
The focus is on self-sufficiency, stockpiling, and acquiring survival knowledge and skills.
Survivalists (as well as in prepping) are often knowledgeable in emergency medicine and self-defense, and store food and water. They prepare to become self-sufficient and build structures such as shelters or underground accommodations that can help them survive a disaster.
Who can do survival?
Anyone can participate in survival training or go into the woods and practice on their own. It doesn't matter whether you're 16 or starting at 50 - it will help you become more self-sufficient and self-confident.
And anyone can also call themselves a survivalist. There is no hundred percent clear definition of survival. For some people, for example, prepping is just as much a part of survival as for others the definite determination of herbs.
The term "survival" is not protected, and there is no uniform opinion on where survival begins and where it ends.
Some people like to sleep outside in the woods and prepare something to eat there and call it survival. Others only take a knife, some clothes, a water bottle, stay away from civilization for a week and try to survive.
Parents also take their children out into nature to show them the beauty and diversity on their doorstep. They may even dangle on a rope over a river and call it survival training at the end of the day.
Of course, when people voluntarily choose to simulate an emergency, they are not really fighting for their lives. But they are training, and who knows when they will need these skills.
Just as private individuals practice survival training or attend survival courses, soldiers also practice these skills equally.
Survival is a giant topic, with many niches and styles that often vary due to location, culture, and personality. I advise against speculating on whether someone is a true survivalist or whether something is enough survival. The way you practice survival can be different from the way others practice survival, and that's okay.
What do I need for survival training?
Survival training is an activity you can do with your family or friends. But even alone, survival is a lot of fun.
You need a place to go, which is usually a forest near you (later you can also travel to the jungle). Ideally, there is also water nearby.
Furthermore, some equipment is useful, depending on what you plan to do. For example, you can decide to implement what you learned at home with me here on the website, in my videos, or in books.
To navigate with a map and compass, for example, you need a map, a compass, and a destination. An emergency kit should never be missing.
Some survival trainers (Find out everything about the job here) believe that you should be physically fit. This is of course advantageous, but if you are not, you can incorporate the appropriate training units for your fitness.
And what is not to be neglected: You also need the will to survive and the ability to have fun with such challenges and adventures!
That's precisely why I developed "Wildimpuls" for beginners (only in German). My Wildimpuls program is particularly aimed at people who want to enjoy their time in nature. Read here what specific content awaits you in the Wildimpuls program.
Now I would like to introduce you to the most important equipment for survival. If you are planning a multi-day expedition, never forget these items.
Survival Gear - The Essential Equipment for Survival
First things first: when it comes to survival training, the goal is to ideally have only the bare essentials with you. It may not always work out that way at the beginning, but gradually you should internalize this principle.
Because luggage means weight - and weight can become a problem when surviving in the wild.
Imagine having to travel 30 km to get to civilization. Do you think you can do that with a 25 kg backpack? Unless you are in good physical shape, this goal is doomed to fail.
Even if physical fitness is present (which plays a big role in survival) - a heavy backpack costs a lot of energy and is impractical eventually.
That's why your equipment for survival is reduced to a minimum and only includes a few useful tools.
However, I will list several pieces of equipment for survival below, and you will have to decide what you need and what you don't.
Many survivalists usually start with a fully packed backpack and then gradually realize what they don't need. That's how it went for me, and nowadays, I know exactly what is optional and what I urgently require (these 11 survival items I absolutely need).
Backpack or bag
A backpack is more than just a fashion statement, it is your companion for every outdoor adventure.
Not only the size and design of a backpack vary, but also the type of material and the integrated pockets.
When it comes to survival, a tactical backpack or a survival backpack that offers more storage space proves to be useful. The easiest backpacks to carry are made of water-repellent plastic material.
A smaller backpack is usually best when carrying lighter gear, while a larger backpack is better suited for multi-day trips.
Because what good is all the survival gear if you can't store it?
And a backpack is ideal for your gear because you have both hands free to work.
If you want something perfect, get the Tasmanian Tiger Unisex Tt Raid Pack Mk Iii, which is great for your first multi-day trips. If you need even more space, get side pockets.
And if the backpack is still too small, then take the 100 liter Tasmanian Tiger TT Range Pack MK II.
If you're looking for something affordable, check out the MOUNTAINTOP Unisex Backpack or the Mardingtop 65L/65+10L Backpack.
I also recommend waterproof bags for your gear. Use them to store your camping gear, clothing, and other equipment in your backpack. Take a closer look at the Dry bags from Exped, they deliver what they promise.
A survival knife is an essential piece of equipment for all survivalists. It is one of the most important tools that you should take with you into the wilderness.
Such a knife has many uses and is an indispensable tool that you should definitely carry on your person.
A good survival knife can chop wood, cut ropes, and fend off attackers. You should also be able to carve well.
Since your knife is your most important tool, you should master the handling of it perfectly and know what skills your knife can do.
Also consider what your knife should be able to do in urban areas, as survival is not limited to the wilderness. A good survival knife should therefore be sturdy enough to pry open windows or doors.
So, your knife should be long, sturdy, robust, and thick. A full-tang knife is also optimal, like the ESEE Model 6, the Fällkniven A1-Z, or the Schrade Outdoor Knife. But if you want to decide in peace, I recommend my buying guide on survival knives. Thereafter, you will definitely know which knife is right for you.
If you're looking for something smaller for everyday use, check out my recommendation for bushcraft knives.
If you want to take your knife outside to practice, you should read my guide here: Which knife is legal or illegal? Find everything about knife law in Germany.
A fire starter is a great tool to have in your survival kit.
First, I recommend a small and light lighter as well as matches that you need to start a fire.
If these two fire starters are defective, wet, or lost, you should still have a fire steel in your luggage.
The fire steel can get wet and still work. With a normal fire steel, you generate about 10,000 ignitions.
Scratch the metal rod with the included scraper to generate sparks (Read the full instructions here). You also need the right tinder to turn sparks into a fire.
Then you build up the fire, first with very thin branches, then larger ones, and finally - when your fire is strong enough - you put the thick logs on it (Read the full instructions here).
Here are my top three fire steels, and one of them is always in the survival gear:
And if the short list is not enough for you, then check out my extensive fire steel buying guide.
The axe is another essential survival tool. It can be used for many tasks such as felling trees, making firewood, and building shelters. Check out the 4 most important axe skills here.
Axes as tools have been used since ancient times. The earliest recorded use of an axe comes from the Egyptians when they built their pyramids.
Axes are typically made of iron or steel and have a sharp blade at one end and a flat part for driving wedges into wood at the other end.
So make sure to pack an axe or hatchet (What's the difference?) in your survival gear.
Also read: The 3 Best Survival Axes.
If an axe is too heavy for you, then start with a lightweight folding saw. It will definitely help you to build a shelter or provide you with firewood.
Saws make things much easier. You usually have plenty of wood to work with in the wilderness, and you can use it to make a variety of things, such as a tripod.
Unfortunately, the Bahco Laplander is only available at a high cost, but there are other quality saws, such as the Silky Ultra Accel, the HARDTWERK Folding Saw, or the Coghlans Folding Saw that are affordable.
I have also written a comprehensive buying guide for saws, check it out here.
Rope, Cord, Paracord
Ropes are essential survival tools for me, just like knives. A rope can be used to tie branches and trees together for a makeshift shelter, rappel down a cliff, or build traps.
You should also learn how to make ropes yourself, but more on that later when we talk about skills.
Therefore, the rope is a versatile tool that can be used for many applications in the wilderness. It is essential to survival, and you should be equipped with a good length of rope (about 30 meters) when venturing into the wilderness.
Which one you choose now doesn't really matter, I recommend the 550 Paracord as well as a 2 to 3 mm thick braided plastic rope.
Reading tip: What is a Paracord and why are these types of ropes so fantastic.
Compass and Map
A compass and a map are essential for survival if you want to navigate in the wilderness. Both will help you find your way back to civilization.
What you may not know: we humans have a favorite leg that we put a little more weight on. Therefore, we tend to walk in circles when we cannot orient ourselves.
Recommended reading: Here you can learn in detail how to navigate with a map and compass. In the article, I also recommend a compass.
Flashlight or Headlamp
A flashlight or headlamp is a portable electric light powered by batteries. It can be used as a portable light source, a signaling device (flashes), or to illuminate an area.
A flashlight or headlamp is essential in an emergency because once it gets dark, you can only make slow progress.
Imagine a day in January when the sun rises at 8 a.m. and disappears at 4 p.m. Few people can cope with such a day without artificial light, let alone in a survival situation.
I recommend the Winzwon Headlamp, which is inexpensive and provides enough light to see a lot at night. If you want more brightness, then go for the PETZL Tikka Headlamp.
First Aid Kit
Many things can go wrong in the wilderness. The most common injuries in the wilderness are cuts and scratches, followed by sprains and fractures.
Make one thing clear: Your body is your most valuable tool.
If your arm is broken, it can mean a death sentence for you in the wilderness.
You should consider a first aid kit as an essential part of your emergency equipment. It should contain enough supplies to meet all your basic needs in case of injury or illness.
The most important things in a first aid kit are: bandages, adhesive plasters, compresses, scissors for cutting bandages and compresses into smaller pieces, and tweezers for removing splinters, thorns, and ticks from the skin.
Some people also feel confident enough to sew wounds, so sterile needles and threads for stitching wounds should be included. For terrible accidents, a tourniquet is essential.
Here is the guide article "Putting together a first aid kit".
Water Container and Water Filter
The human body needs a lot of water to stay hydrated, as it is made up of 60% water itself.
Therefore, you should be aware that without water, you will not be able to survive after 2 to 3 days.
A metal bottle, such as the Bombay Stainless-Steel Water Bottle 1L, is my first choice here, as you can not only transport water in it, but also boil water in it.
The Nalgene water bottles are my second choice because they are made of sturdy plastic and the 1-liter bottles with wide-mouth opening also function as waterproof containers.
If you have both, a water transport device and something to boil water, you have taken a giant step towards successful survival.
If you want to filter the water and remove dirt particles beforehand, then get a water filter.
Lightweight, sturdy, and weather-resistant clothing
In the past, people had to wear thick clothing to protect themselves from the cold. But nowadays, we have access to lightweight and weather-resistant clothing that protects us from the elements.
The new generation of outdoor clothing is light and weather-resistant. It is perfect for people who love adventures and like to stay active outdoors.
A wool hat (like this one) is a must-have for every season. It not only keeps you warm, but can also help you feel comfortable on cold nights. In normal weather, you don't need a tent to sleep outside – just make sure to cover your head.
Moreover, think about good shoes (like the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid) because they are important for outdoor terrain as they grip the ground and provide traction. This can make the difference between a safe and a dangerous journey.
The Ultimate Guide: What Clothing to Wear for Survival Training and Bushcraft? – The right clothing can make the difference between life and death in survival situations. In this guide, we cover what you should wear outdoors.
Plastic sheet or tarp
Sheets are often made of strong materials such as cotton, nylon, or polyester because they need to withstand a lot.
In a survival situation, you will be happy with any kind of sheet, even if it's just a large garbage bag (find here more than 32 survival uses).
Because from a sheet, you can build yourself a great shelter that protects you from rain and wind.
Tarps are not only suitable for use in the rain. They are also great for makeshift sunshades and can serve as a duffel bag.
If you want to travel light, I recommend the DD Tarp MC Camo 3 x 3 m. But for starters, a cheap hardware store sheet (e.g., 3 x 3 meters) or a cheaper tarp, like the one from Unigear, will do. Don't forget paracord to secure it.
And if you're looking for a tarp, be sure to compare it based on various criteria listed in my tarp buying guide.
If you have the opportunity to slip into a sleeping bag, that's wonderful. It keeps you warm on cold nights. But it's not always necessary because it's also possible to sleep without a sleeping bag. I'll tell you more about that in a moment.
If you're looking for a sleeping bag, check out my sleeping bag buying guide.
If you come across a sleeping pad, the night won't be so cold, and your bones will thank you too.
There are many materials for sleeping pads, and you need to find the one that suits you best. Foam pads are comfortable, but they will eventually break and deteriorate.
Air mattresses are more comfortable and easier to break, so they need to be replaced more frequently.
The advantage of air mattresses is that they are lightweight and easy to store. They can be inflated to the desired firmness.
On the other hand, foam pads have a longer lifespan because they are more durable and last longer than an air mattress.
It's best to check out my comprehensive sleeping pad buying guide.
An overall fishing kit with hooks and lines is a lightweight and versatile addition to your survival gear, and can be crucial in an emergency.
There are several reasons why it can be useful to include a fishing kit with hooks and lines in your survival gear:
- Food procurement: If you are stranded in the wilderness, fishing can be a promising way to procure food. Fish are a rich source of protein and other nutrients that your body needs to survive.
- Versatility: A fishing kit can also serve as a tool to retrieve items from the water, or to act as a substitute line for other equipment.
- Stress relief: Fishing can also help reduce the stress and tension that come with a survival situation. The calm and relaxing atmosphere of fishing can help calm and center you.
What skills are useful in a survival situation?
Survival skills encompass everything necessary to meet the basic needs of humans. These include food, water, sleep, safety, hygiene, and warmth.
Below you will find these basic needs grouped by priority in the rule of threes.
The rule of threes is an important survival strategy that helps you orient yourself and prioritize in emergencies. It states that in the extreme case:
- You can only survive 3 minutes without air: This means that in an underwater situation or in a fire, it is vital to act quickly to get enough air and meet your body's oxygen needs.
- You can only survive 3 hours without shelter: In freezing weather conditions, body temperature can quickly drop, causing frostbite or hypothermia. It is therefore important to protect yourself from wind and cold.
- You can only survive 3 days without water: Water is essential to hydrate your body and transport important nutrients. In an emergency, you should therefore look for a water source as quickly as possible, filter it, or clean it in other ways to make it drinkable.
- You can only survive 3 weeks without food: The body needs energy and nutrients to function. It is therefore important to quickly seek food in emergencies to meet the body's energy needs.
However, keep in mind:
- If the weather is warm, your priority should be to find water, while food and shelter can wait.
- If you are cold and wet, you don't need to think about food or water first, as hypothermia is the greatest threat to your survival.
- If you are cold and already shivering, you cannot make any mistakes. Act quickly, otherwise it could be over in three hours.
The rule can be useful in determining the order of priorities in life-threatening situations, and is more of a generalization (or rule of thumb) than scientifically accurate.
By following the rule of threes in survival, you can prioritize and focus on the areas that are most important to your survival.
This rule can help you stay calm and focused on an emergency and take appropriate action as quickly as possible to ensure your survival. However, the rule of threes also has its pitfalls, and I discuss them in this guide in detail.
The core definition of survival skills is the ability to stay alive.
However, I would expand this definition:
Survival is the combined knowledge and skills of methods and techniques used in situations where modern conveniences and infrastructure are not available or damaged.
Survival skills are typically considered in the context of wilderness survival. However, the term is very broad and general.
Although they are central to survival, such as attitude, shelter, water, food, first aid, and safety, one's survival skills can go far beyond the basics.
It can apply to many "levels" of survival. From the simple ability to cook your food, bake your bread, and successfully ignite a fire, to building your own shelter, purifying drinking water, identifying edible wild plants in the outdoors.
Or trapping, hunting, butchering game, and setting up a successful survival self-sufficient garden, building a fence, preserving food, tactics and evasion maneuvers, and so on.
And one topic plays a crucial role:
The underlying theme here is independence. Relying on oneself.
Survival skills depend on the survival scenario and are very individual. There are countless things you should plan for and adapt your skills to.
Everyone has their interests and abilities. And no one can know or do everything.
Usually, people are drawn to the skills they find interesting or enjoyable.
However, it is also an excellent thing to challenge yourself and step out of your comfort zone.
People usually need to be pushed into this (somewhat uncomfortable) zone, but the result is often very rewarding after conquering a new skill.
The idea of being able to survive and make it on your own is just that - an idea.
An open mind, a logical mind, a critical thinking mind, a mind with practical experience, will better enable you to adapt.
Adaptation is probably the biggest survival skill of all. It is a very general term, and no one wants to be a completely adapted person.
But the ability to do something useful, change and affect things with the resources you currently have is a big advantage!
Imagine you are stranded alone in the jungle due to an accident. If you don't adapt there, you won't survive. It's not necessarily fun, but it's necessary.
Modern Survival Skills
To possess survival skills, you don't necessarily have to learn how to go out and live alone in the woods.
Modern survival skills are defined a little differently: perhaps having the skills to work and survive outside the system (to varying degrees) while still functioning in the modern world.
Start small. Investigate what you are "locked" into - the things that stifle your liveliness. Find ways to break the chains. What systems around you are you dependent on? Find alternatives or another way.
Try to become a little more self-sufficient and self-sustaining by growing some of your food - even if it's just seasonal.
Learn some basics like preserving food (it's pretty easy). Think about the skills you believe would help you become more independent and self-reliant.
Start learning some of these skills in your leisure time, maybe on the weekends.
Other important survival skills include:
Finding and Purifying Water
Finding and purifying water is one of the most important skills to possess in a survival situation.
One of the most common methods to find water is to look for a water source, like a stream or a lake. If you can't find water on the surface, digging a hole is effective.
Using the transpiration method allows you to collect water simply and permanently. Check out the method in my video.
Distilling saltwater (because saltwater can kill you) is also very efficient and should be mastered.
One way to treat water is to boil it for at least one minute to kill any bacteria or parasites that may be present. Boiling kills all living organisms and also evaporates some of the water's impurities.
If possible, filter the water beforehand. But this process only helps against dirt particles and not against bacteria or viruses.
ALWAYS boil your water! Filtering is not as important.
Never drink water that has not been boiled. Vomiting and diarrhea can result, leading to dehydration. If you then don't take in enough fluid, it can mean death!
Find and Process Food
When it comes to finding and processing food, you should be a true survival expert. You should know how to find food in the wilderness and how to prepare it for consumption.
It is important to know which plant-based foods are available in the forest or which animal-based foods, such as insects, are easy to catch.
As a general rule, you should first focus on the procurement of plant-based foods, which can be found without much energy expenditure.
The following plants are edible, among others:
- Wild garlic
- Garlic mustard
- and many more, the list is long for spring or autumn.
I remember a story about a lost hiker who started building a bow with arrows to hunt animals. In the end, he didn't catch any animals due to his lack of hunting experience, and he also didn't find water, so he had to die of thirst and hunger. When the rescue team found him, it turned out that there were edible wild plants growing right next to his camp. He just had to pick them.
If you have sufficient knowledge of plants and have collected enough plants, you can seek animal-based food: insects. Then you set up traps, as this is the least energy-intensive method. Only then should you start hunting or fishing. Do not eat raw fish, as it may contain parasites. Always cook meat and fish!
Many other skills are also important, such as making ropes, creating weapons and hunting tools, or reading tracks. You should also learn how to preserve food (e.g., drying meat, drying fish, or smoking).
You can find a comprehensive guide with additional information here: "7 Survival Ways to Find Food in the Wild".
Building a fire
Starting a fire is not always easy – but it is often essential. A fire protects you from animals, cooks your food, and keeps you warm.
The first step in building a fire is finding suitable tinder. But occasionally, you can't find any tinder, or the tinder is wet, and you need to find a way to light it. However, there are many ways to make a fire using the surrounding materials.
One of the easiest ways to make a fire is to use matches or a lighter. Matches are easy to handle and don't require much skill, but lighters have more advantages – they are more wind-resistant, quite waterproof, and last longer.
Another way to start a fire is to use a firesteel. The firesteel produces sparks by scraping the metal against a hard surface until sparks are generated through friction. The tinder is then ignited with these sparks to ignite the fire.
The following short video shows you how to start a fire with a firesteel and birchbark.
Using a striker and flint to start a fire is one of the oldest methods. Sparks are also generated by friction from the striker. However, these sparks are not as hot as those from a firesteel, and you need the right tinder, such as charred punk wood or charred cotton (char cloth).
If you want to be completely independent of technical devices, I recommend mastering the art of starting a fire. For this, you build your own fire drill and create a coal solely through friction.
You then transport this coal to a tinder nest, which you blow on to create flames. The method is more than 8000 years old and works flawlessly with the right wood and the right fire drill technique.
However, the process with the fire drill requires a lot of practice and patience, but once you master it, you will never have problems making a fire in the wild again.
And if you want to take it a step further, then learn methods that require very little material. For the Rüdiger Roll, you only need cotton and ash.
Starting a fire is a big topic because it is so essential in the wilderness. There are many other ways to start a fire without a lighter or matches, such as with a magnifying glass, a bamboo saw, a light bulb, or a polished tin can bottom.
I have also included all my knowledge about fire in my book "The Fire Primer".
Building a sleeping place and emergency shelter
A shelter is the place where you will survive. It should be safe from animals and provide protection from the elements. There you will sleep to rest and regain strength.
A survival shelter can be built using materials found in nature. These include things like fallen trees, large rocks, or logs arranged together to create a kind of camp.
The materials used vary depending on what is available in the area where you are located.
Or you can build your survival emergency shelter using old tarps or garbage bags to make the shelter waterproof. You can find garbage, for example, on the beach if you are stranded.
There are some general guidelines for building a survival shelter:
- Find a suitable location (Look up, don't camp in valleys, not too close to the river, not on animal trails)
- Build your shelter before nightfall (so start early!)
- Keep the shelter small enough, so you can warm it with your body heat
- Cover the roof well, so it doesn't get wet inside
- Insulate the ground well by building a trapper bed (build a wooden frame and fill it with many leaves and small branches)
In my detailed guide, I show you in detail how to build an emergency shelter that will keep you warm and dry. Find it here.
Along with that, you should know the most common knots, like a square knot or a marlin spike hitch.
In survival, everything revolves around self-sufficiency. Therefore, handling a knife, saw, and axe is an absolute necessity if you have access to them.
If all else fails, you can probably do most things with a knife. But an axe can also replace the knife perfectly, and in some situations, I would prefer an axe over a knife.
Knives are much more versatile than just for cooking and cutting. They are used to building shelters, making fires, sharpening sticks, and create other survival purposes. There are at least 5 knife skills you should master.
And if you want to be even more skilled and safe with your knife, enroll in my online course "Knife Basics."
Another important tool that is extremely useful is your saw - using it can help you make a variety of cuts quickly and efficiently. This can be cutting down trees or cutting pieces of wood to make room for your campfire or shelter.
The axe is another important tool in survival. If you own one in an emergency, you can consider yourself lucky. It is a multipurpose tool that is used to fell trees and split wood. Find here the most important axe skills you should master in the wilderness.
Building Weapons and Traps for Hunting
Weapons can serve for self-defense, which may be particularly useful when you are fighting for your survival in an area where hostile humans are present.
First and foremost, however, you must ensure that you have enough energy to fight or pursue an animal. Hunting can demand a lot from you, and if you are not experienced at it, you will not catch a larger animal.
So, you need to make sure that you have taken in enough food to keep your energy level high enough for hunting.
Many people, for example, think they can catch a wild boar and then enjoy it by the campfire like Asterix and Obelix.
I have to disappoint you because without years of hunting practice and the necessary equipment, you will never catch a large animal.
However, traps that you set up around your camp are recommended. It costs little energy, and you hunt passively, that is, without much work. You check and rebuild them several times a day. This way, you can get small rodents (mice, rats, squirrels) or birds, which provide you with the necessary protein.
The first type of weapon that is useful is a spear. Spears work great because you can throw them, which gives you an advantage over other weapons like knives or axes.
Navigating with a Compass
Navigating with a compass is an essential survival skill. You should note that not all compasses are equipped the same way. Some have a mirror, some have a magnifying glass, and then there are different degree markings. It is important to find out which compass is best suited to your needs.
In this article, you will learn how to navigate with a compass and how to find your way back if you get lost. I will also show you how a compass is structured and what all the features are for.
You will also find the video about navigating with a compass in the article.
Orientation and Navigation without a Map and Compass
Occasionally, you do not have a compass and a map, so it is essential to deal with natural orientation. If you can determine the cardinal directions, then you may also be able to reach your goals. Learn here how to orient yourself in the wilderness without a map and compass.
Crossing Terrain, Abseiling, and Crossing Bodies of Water
Survivors must be able to overcome difficult terrain that is difficult to navigate. This can be done by using a pole or stick as a walking aid.
You may also need to abseil from cliffs or other steep slopes if there is no other safe way to descend.
For survivors, it is also important to know how to cross water safely to find food and shelter from predators lurking in the area where they are located.
Crossing a river safely with these tips – If you plan to cross a river, you should know how to do it safely. Here are some tips and tricks you should use.
Interpreting Animal Tracks and Signs
A fantastic way to get food is by interpreting tracks and signs. This is a skill that has been used by indigenous peoples for centuries to hunt animals and find food. They know what kind of animal they tracked, how old it was, how fast it went, and where it went.
For a beginner's guide to the topic, check out my tracking guide with many pictures.
Botany and Zoology
There are many species of plants that can be found in the wild. You should know how they look and how to identify them by their leaves or fruits.
You should also know which ones are edible and which ones are not, as it is essential for survival. If you are not certain, you can perform a plant edibility test. However, this test should be the last resort before you starve.
In our forests, you can find a lot of emergency food, such as fruits, roots, leaves, or nuts – but you need to know where to find these things. Make sure to read my comprehensive guide on emergency plant food in the forest, and also learn which plants to gather in autumn or spring.
Wild animals are also a good source of food. It doesn't always have to be the whole dead animal that you want to eat. For example, bird eggs are also animal food.
You should also know how the animals look so that you don't mistake them for other animals that are poisonous or dangerous.
In Germany, there are not many dangerous animals, like bears in Canada or Russia. But still, you should have the three most important ones in mind: the wild boar, the wolf, and the tick.
If you find yourself in a survival situation, you should first assess the risks and dangers.
If you don't take risks, it means you will stay alive longer.
You MUST minimize the risks as much as possible and find a good middle ground.
But sitting there and waiting is not always the best solution either. However, you should be aware that your body is your most important tool, and you must protect it. A broken leg in the wilderness can mean death.
Read also: Dangers in the forest – you should be able to handle them.
In urban survival, you will probably encounter people. And in the wilderness, wild animals can become dangerous to you. Regardless of the situation, self-defense is something that everyone should master. Especially in the urban environment – where many people gather – you should stay safe.
Providing First Aid
A first aid kit is a collection of tools that can be used for first aid. I recommend that you ALWAYS bring a first aid kit with you – whether you go into the woods for two hours or start an expedition.
You must splint severe injuries, such as bone fractures, and treat severe bleeding with a pressure bandage or, if the pressure bandage is not effective, with a tourniquet.
You should bring band-aids and gauze bandages. I also find it useful to bring a tick kit, allergy tablets, medication such as painkillers, and alcohol swabs.
If you are further away from civilization, you should consider sewing wounds yourself. Then a sterile needle and thread are essential. But before you do this, you should practice and seek medical advice.
Your first-aid kit should also be tailored to the needs of different people and situations. For example, a kit for children should contain items such as bandages and medications that are suitable for a child's size and age.
Remember: a healthy body is important if you want to survive in an emergency situation where no rescue service is available. Therefore, it is important to always have a first-aid kit with you to be prepared in case of an emergency.
You can find out which items I pack in my first-aid kit in my guide "First-Aid Kit: assembling and using".
Mental Strength and Resilience
In addition to all the skills mentioned above, there is one crucial one: the mental ability to cope with extreme situations.
Natural disasters, hunger, and exhaustion can mentally drain you.
That's why an experienced survival professional is also mentally trained and can remain calm even in the most intense situations.
Because all the skills are useless if you are overwhelmed by panic in critical moments. If it does happen, you can find help in my guide "How to deal with panic in emergency situations".
The Top 7 Priorities for Survival
If you ever find yourself in a wilderness survival situation, you will need to carefully consider and prioritize your actions.
Water, warmth, signals, shelter, and food are the generally known top 5 priorities in a survival situation.
I also like to add a positive mental attitude and first aid to these priorities. First aid is not always necessary, but if you or a member of your group are injured, this should be your first priority.
Typically, your survival priorities will be in the following order. However, the nature of the survival situation ultimately determines the final order.
- Positive attitude
- First aid
1. Positive Attitude
Survival is a state of mind. Control your fears and avoid panic. It only takes 3 seconds to make a bad decision, so stay calm, relax, and assess your situation.
You can only plan an effective course of action once you have considered the aspects of your situation. Maintaining a calm, positive mental attitude is the key to surviving an outdoor emergency.
2. First Aid
If you or a member of your hiking group are injured, this should be your first priority. Administering first aid to yourself or others to treat airway, breathing, circulation, or life-threatening bleeding should always take priority as long as there is no other immediate danger such as a fire.
I strongly recommend having wilderness first aid knowledge and training, but common sense can also help you distinguish between urgent problems and stable, minor problems.
At extremely low temperatures and in wet and cold conditions, it is essential to protect yourself from wind, precipitation, and the ground. You must keep your body warm to reduce the risk of hypothermia. In extremely hot temperatures, it is important to protect yourself from the sun.
Your body loses and gains heat through radiation (sun, fire, body), convection (hot and cold wind), sweat (heat loss through evaporation), conduction (sleeping on snow), breathing (heat loss), and drinking (heat gain/loss).
Water is your most valuable resource. It is used by most processes in the human body, so it is naturally one of our most important needs.
Always treat suspicious water, but remember that it is better to drink dirty water than to die of dehydration.
Stay away from water with obvious signs of toxicity, such as dead animals and no vegetation. Common sense should be your guide here. Your water needs to depend on how hot and humid the environment is and how active you are.
If the heat is extreme, rest during the day and consider traveling at night. Do not overexert yourself if you are dehydrated, and be aware that dehydration can prevent you from thinking clearly.
In cool climates, drinking water is equally important. You want your body to perform, and dehydration impairs your ability to regulate your temperature. Do not eat snow (it cools you down) if you can melt snow with fire and a sock. If you can't melt snow, eating snow should be your last resort.
A fire is important. It keeps you warm, dries wet clothes, purifies water, melts snow for water, creates light, sends signals to rescuers, heats food or drinks (which helps you stay warm), and boosts your morale.
It's important to maintain a positive mental attitude, and a fire helps with that. The list of benefits that fire provides in a survival situation is almost endless.
Clothing and fire are effective means of maintaining your body temperature. If that's not enough, seek or build shelter to minimize heat loss or gain. Your survival kit should contain multiple tools to start a fire.
The ability to start a fire under different conditions with various tools is a crucial survival skill. From natural materials to modern tools, it's advisable to be familiar with a variety of methods for starting fires.
Sending a signal is not as urgent as first aid or shelter. But you should always be ready to signal for help as soon as possible.
You never know when the next opportunity to send a signal will arise. Try to find a high point to send a help message if there are cell towers nearby.
If necessary, use signal fires, signal mirrors, and whistles. A colored backpack cover tied to a tree, a large signal made of branches on the ground (such as SOS) may help - anything that attracts attention increases your chances of being found.
Use a whistle and signal in threes. Do not shout for help, as shouting does not help much and only costs energy. A mirror or other object that reflects the sun can mean a help message for a helicopter or plane. If there is no chance that someone will look for you, you must plan to go it alone.
Our bodies are naturally prepared for short periods of hunger, so they tend to accumulate fat.
Only a few short-term survival situations require you to deal with food.
If you get lost in the bush, most people panic because they fear running out of food.
If you are lost in a remote location and there is no prospect of being found in the coming weeks or months, food is a priority. For most short-term survival situations, obtaining food is not necessary.
Think carefully about whether it makes sense to waste your energy finding food. Continue to conserve the energy reserves of your body. Staying in place, building a shelter, finding water, signaling for help, or rescuing yourself is your best option.
Use these rules as a guide to survive in an emergency.
The Rule of Three Survival and the Seven Priorities of Survival should be used as a guide to create the best survival opportunities.
The Rule of Three Survival is a great rule to rely on when making a split-second decision in an emergency.
It's also a good rule of thumb to remember when planning your trips and putting together your survival gear.
Survival Qualities: The Necessary Traits of a Survival Artist
As I prepared for another challenge as a survival artist, I thought, what does it take to become a successful survival artist?
What mindset should each of us have?
After extensive research, I have compiled a list of characteristics and qualities that many survival artists have in common.
So, what are the necessary survival qualities? Here's the short list:
- Adaptability - You must be able to survive in any environment
- Self-control - Cooler heads prevail
- Creativity - Use your environment to your advantage
- The ability to learn - absorb new methods and knowledge
- Motivation - a strong desire to survive
But is this the complete list? And how do we acquire and learn these qualities? In a future guide, I will further examine the mindset of a survivalist.
Why should you do survival? What are the benefits of survival training?
Survival training is one of the best ways to learn how to survive in the wilderness. The benefits of survival training are numerous.
Survival training will help you build new skills, boost your confidence, and teach you how to handle difficult situations.
It will also teach you how to become more self-sufficient and independent.
Survival training has many benefits, but there are some main reasons why people do it:
- To learn how to survive in the wilderness
- To test themselves
- To tackle new challenges
- To get closer to nature
If you possess survival skills, you can rest assured. Survival skills also allow you to better adapt to situations without panicking and make better decisions in times of crisis.
Survival skills are a valuable asset in times of disaster.
Having survival skills, although not necessary in our modern world (where much thinking is taken away from us), will shape you into a more confident person - someone who knows they don't necessarily have to rely on all our modern infrastructure systems to survive.
The growing numbers of survival courses and YouTube videos prove it: survival in the wilderness fascinates us humans. But why do more and more people voluntarily expose themselves to these extreme situations?
Another answer is: Man is himself nature and wants to feel by being close to the original nature. He wants to feel that he is alive.
A development of our modern society: man lives so isolated and disharmoniously with nature (i.e., himself) that he longs to restore the harmony between nature and man.
If you practice survival or bushcraft, you will experience and feel what is denied to most city dwellers and makes up for everything: the most original encounter between a human being and our planet.
You will not only see nature in an entirely different way, but also encounter yourself on a raw and deep level.
A level that was lost in the hustle and bustle of the city and the routine of everyday life.
In survival, every day challenges you anew. You exchange the external security of civilization for the freedom to be close to nature.
Yes, this can be unsettling and cause a queasy feeling. Because in the wilderness, you are completely on your own.
If you want to get rid of or change this feeling, start and complete my free Survival Power Course.
Is Survival allowed in Germany?
Survival training is generally allowed in Germany as long as you comply with all laws. For this, you must comply with the Federal Nature Conservation Act (Bundesnaturschutzgesetz) and the State Forest Act (LWaldG) of your respective federal state.
I have listed all the laws of the federal states here.
Now let's discuss the tricky things you need to watch out for in Germany.
- Fire: In case of a disaster, fires may only be made without permission if there is no other way to keep warm. However, any kind of fire is prohibited when practicing outdoors in the forest - even a tea light. Exceptions can be obtained if you register your fire (e.g., with the forester, the municipality, the forest owner). Attention: fines of up to several 10,000 euros may be imposed. If you start a forest fire, you may even face a prison sentence. You can find all the details in the state forest laws of your federal state - check them out in my guide on making fire in the forest.
- Shelters: Building shelters in the forest - such as a natural shelter or a tent - is also prohibited without permission. Exceptions and gray areas are hammocks and tarps. If you want to be on the safe side, sleep only in a sleeping bag.
- Sleeping in the forest: You may only camp on your own private property or on designated campsites. It is not allowed to go into a forest or on a meadow and set up a tent there. In my guide on this special topic, you will find all the answers.
- Collecting branches and wood: Is it allowed to collect branches in Germany and take them out of the forest? Basically, you won't get into trouble if you take a few branches to carve a wooden spoon. But there are some conditions once you want to take more or use in the forest. Collecting branches in Germany and removing them from the forest requires a permit.
- Catching fish: In Germany, you are not allowed to catch fish without a permit and a valid fishing license. In addition, only special fishing methods are allowed. So if you want to grill a fresh fish (never eat raw fish!) and you are not in a real survival situation, you need a fishing license and permission for the body of water.
- Hunting animals: Without permission, you are not allowed to hunt animals or build traps in Germany. Whether you hunt by hand, with a bow and arrow, a sling, a spear, or a gun. If you do, it falls under poaching and is a crime.
Whether you are doing survival training, are a bushcrafter, or go camping, make sure to read up on the legal situation in Germany by checking out my legal guide.
What is the difference between survival and bushcraft?
Survival is the act of surviving. It is a general term that can be applied to many situations.
For example, it could be used in a disaster situation where people have to survive without food or water for days. It could also be used when someone has to survive in the wilderness, e.g., when they are lost or stranded in the forest.
Bushcraft is a style of outdoor living combined with survival skills, camping, scouting, and survival techniques, with a focus on self-sufficiency, sustainability, and traditional knowledge.
Skills have been passed down through generations and include the use of natural materials to build shelters, find edible plants and animals, make fire, etc.
The difference between survival and bushcraft is that bushcraft focuses more on nature, and the bushcrafter wants to be in nature.
While survival can take place anywhere and anytime, with all available resources, the survivalist wants to get out of the (wilderness) situation and return to their normal everyday life.
What do survival and bushcraft have in common?
Survivalists as well as bushcrafters work with natural materials and use traditional methods to create things that make life in the forest or in the city easier.
They need these things to live well in the wilderness, or to survive or escape from an emergency situation.
For example, both groups have important tools such as a knife, an axe, a saw, and a rope.
And both groups should master the following:
- making fire
- building a shelter
- finding, processing, and cooking food
- purifying water
- making things like ropes, tools, or containers
What do preppers and survivalists have in common?
The most important thing is that both share a similar core value. This value consists of both groups striving to survive any type of natural disaster, war, civil unrest, and other potential threats.
They choose self-sufficiency. Instead of relying on others and the government to help them after these severe events. None of these people necessarily live their lives in constant everyday fear, as they are often portrayed.
They simply possess a stronger desire to survive challenges than most other people. To achieve this, both groups require planning and preparation long before these frightening scenarios ever play out.
This is where the line is drawn to separate the two, as a prepper and a survivalist prepare in very different ways.
The differences between preppers and survivalists
To the untrained eye, preppers and survivalists may seem like the same type of people. Often, these terms are even mistakenly used interchangeably. But as it turns out, they differ more than they are alike.
Here is a look at the most obvious differences between them.
Preppers stockpile supplies
Preppers focus more on stockpiling gear and supplies to survive an emergency situation. They focus more on survival "stuff." If a person were to enter their house, it would be easier to recognize the prepper and the preparations they have made.
Preppers tend to collect enough non-perishable food, tools, and supplies so that they can comfortably live in their homes long after the end of an emergency situation.
However, there is a certain level of difference in how far a prepper is willing to go. There are preppers out there who take prepping to a whole different level and go even further by creating bug-out locations far away from their homes to secure their survival.
Survivalists can also stockpile, but they are more interested in living off of their surrounding resources rather than storing them in one place. They are more of a minimalist type of person, while preppers follow a storage approach when it comes to survival items.
Survival is not something these people only apply when the crisis is happening. Remember, survivalists apply survival skills daily so that they are not dependent on others. Survival is a lifestyle.
What is urban survival?
Imagine this… the power is out, the tap is running dry, the mob has looted the stores and supermarkets, and in the distance, the sound of chaos can be heard.
Welcome to the world of urban survival.
This is how you recognize the warning signs to prepare for a crisis.
Urban-Survival is a method that helps people in urban areas to survive in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency.
It involves having the skills and abilities to survive a crisis or disaster in a city that is both widespread (such as a blackout) or long-lasting (such as a flood). Such a disaster can last for several days, weeks, or longer.
Then it is about finding clean water and food in the city, as well as the supplies you need for your home, office, car, or camper.
Here are 9 tips to help you adapt and survive when the organized city landscape turns into a nightmare.
- Find shelter
- Collect and purify water
- Find food
- Don't stand out - blend in with the crowd
- Develop the ability to repair things
- Take care of waste
- Know the safe zones
- Be vigilant
- Choose a reliable vehicle
You can find out more about which skills are important in detail in my guide "11 underestimated Urban Survival Skills".
The essential urban survival gear
Needless to say, stocking up on the right food and fuel is essential to survive an urban disaster.
But without the right urban survival gear, it can be complicated to survive an SHTF situation like an EMP outbreak or a gas crisis.
So, here are some of the most important things you should include in your urban survival kit.
- Folding knife - This is one of the most important things you should carry with you. It can help in a variety of situations and can easily remain hidden.
- Crowbar or axe - If you intend to search for food, the crowbar, or axe is an effective tool for getting into locked buildings. You can also use it as an effective escape tool by hacking through walls.
- Flashlight - This is a must-have when walking through dark alleys and trying to read a map in the dark. Make sure you have enough spare batteries that last for a few months.
- Solar charger - This is an essential component of any survival kit. A solar panel is great for powering flashlights, rechargeable batteries, emergency radios, and a lot of other equipment. Read here for what to look for when buying.
- Water filter - Another important piece of equipment for accessing fresh and safe water. Read my buying guide for the best water filters.
- Work gloves - A pair of sturdy gloves protects your hands when digging or shoveling. In my buying guide, I recommend gloves for the outdoors.
- Tape - You use this to seal food packaging. It can also be used as handcuffs. Furthermore, it burns well, and you can use it to build a shelter.
- Money - If you're stuck in a city with millions of survivors, ATMs will inevitably not work or be all out of cash. So, it can be life-saving to have some cash on hand. Never keep all the cash in one place. Make sure you distribute it at home.
- Tools - Apart from a multitool, there are a few other utensils that are essential for surviving an emergency. These include a hammer, saw, screwdriver, drill, shovel, and some paracord.
- Lighter - A cheap lighter can be a lifesaver in some critical situations. It's best to pack a few in your emergency kit.
- Bucket - Buckets can be used for a variety of situations, including storing food and disposing of waste. So, keep a few of them with waterproof lids.
- Radio - If you don't have internet to keep you updated, a small radio will keep you up to date with the latest updates. A NOAA Weather Radio is particularly effective during natural disasters.
Other supplies for surviving in the city
There are some everyday items that are difficult to find when things are going haywire.
Although they are not necessarily essential, they can significantly ease your life in difficult moments. They can also help you interact and negotiate with other people.
Take a look at some of them.
- Coffee and tea
- Salt and sugar
- Hygiene products
- Nail clippers
- Bottles of water
How does survival affect the environment and animals?
The environment is affected by deforestation, overpopulation, and pollution, all of which threaten survival. When we go into the forest to train for survival, we can also harm the environment.
It is therefore essential that we leave no trace.
This means behaving in such a way that no one can tell you were there afterward.
The biggest no-go is to burden the environment and damage nature.
For this reason, as a survivalist, you should apply the "Leave No Trace" principle.
The basic rules of the Leave No Trace principle are:
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on designated routes and areas
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave areas as you found them
- Minimize the impact of campfires
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of other visitors
If you find yourself in a real survival situation, then it is of course a matter of life and death. These rules do not apply in such situations.
If you want to know how to survive in the wild, the first thing you need to know is to always be prepared. You do not want to go out without equipment.
Never even take a "short walk" in the woods without bringing a fire starter, knife, water, and rain jacket.
Even if you do not plan to go into the wilderness, you should still be equipped with survival gear. Keep a car emergency kit in your vehicle in case you break down on a remote road. Have a Bug Out Bag ready in case you need to leave your home to seek shelter.
But you can't always be prepared for everything.
You could go for a hike, fall into a river, and lose all your gear.
The bottom line is that you should be prepared for everything by knowing how to survive in the wild.
If you are not injured or sick, you only need 4 things to survive in the wild. Yes, only 4!
Hopefully, you have the equipment and skills to help you obtain these 4 things - like emergency food and water rations, a tent for shelter, and matches to start a fire to keep warm.
But if not, don't despair. You have many more resources around you than you think!
Wherever you are, slow down, think, and consider your actions carefully.
Do you know how to survive in the wild? Share your tips and tricks with me!
Sources for the guide
Colin Towell (2011). Essential Survival Skills. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-7566-7338-3.
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