Survival skills

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Astronauts participating in tropical survival training at an Air Force Base near the Panama Canal, 1963. From left to right are an unidentified trainer, Neil Armstrong, John H. Glenn Jr., L. Gordon Cooper, and Pete Conrad. Survival training is important for astronauts, as a launch abort or misguided reentry could potentially land them in a remote wilderness area. Astronaut survival training - GPN-2006-000028.jpg
Astronauts participating in tropical survival training at an Air Force Base near the Panama Canal, 1963. From left to right are an unidentified trainer, Neil Armstrong, John H. Glenn Jr., L. Gordon Cooper, and Pete Conrad. Survival training is important for astronauts, as a launch abort or misguided reentry could potentially land them in a remote wilderness area.

Survival skills are techniques that a person may use in order to sustain life in any type of natural environment or built environment. These techniques are meant to provide basic necessities for human life which include water, food, and shelter. The skills also support proper knowledge and interactions with animals and plants to promote the sustaining of life over a period of time. Survival skills are often associated with the need to survive in a disaster situation. [1] Survival skills are often basic ideas and abilities that ancients invented and used themselves for thousands of years. [2] Outdoor activities such as hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, fishing, and hunting all require basic wilderness survival skills, especially in handling emergency situations. Bushcraft and primitive living are most often self-implemented but require many of the same skills.


First aid

A first aid kit containing equipment to treat common injuries and illness First aid 19.jpg
A first aid kit containing equipment to treat common injuries and illness

First aid (wilderness first aid in particular) can help a person survive and function with injuries and illnesses that would otherwise kill or incapacitate him/her. Common and dangerous injuries include:

The survivor may need to apply the contents of a first aid kit or, if possessing the required knowledge, naturally occurring medicinal plants, immobilize injured limbs, or even transport incapacitated comrades.


Shelter built from tarp and sticks. Pictured are displaced persons from the Sri Lankan Civil War Shelter from tarp and sticks.jpg
Shelter built from tarp and sticks. Pictured are displaced persons from the Sri Lankan Civil War

Many people who are forced into survival situations often have a risk of danger because of direct exposure to the elements. Most people in survival situations die of hypo/hyperthermia, or animal attacks. A shelter can range from a natural shelter, such as a cave, overhanging rock outcrop, or fallen-down tree, to an intermediate form of man-made shelter such as a debris hut, tree pit shelter, or snow cave, to completely man-made structures such as a tarp, tent, or longhouse. It is noted that some common properties between these structures are:


Fire is a chemical reaction that typically produces carbon dioxide, water, heat, light, and smoke. The resulting heat from the reaction can postpone or prevent the risk of hypothermia. Lighting a fire without a lighter or matches, e.g. by using natural flint and rock or metal with tinder, is a frequent subject of both books on survival and in survival courses, often due to the lack of said materials if an individual was stranded. There is an emphasis placed on practicing fire-making skills before venturing into the wilderness. [3] Producing fire under adverse conditions has been made much easier by the introduction of tools such as the magnesium striker, solar spark lighter, and the fire piston.

Fires are either started with a concentration of heat, as in the case of the solar spark lighter, or through a spark, as in the case of flint striking a rock or metal. Fires will often be put out if either there is excessive wind (such as either over fanning a fire, or strong winds), or if the fuel or environment is too wet to ignite.

Fire is presented as a tool meeting many survival needs. Along with the need that's mentioned above, it also disinfects water (through boiling and condensing), and can be used to cook and prevent illnesses in foods like animal meat. Another advantage that is presented through fire is an underlooked psychological boost through the sense of safety and protection it gives. In the wild, fire can provide a sensation of home, a focal point, in addition to being an essential energy source. [3] Fire may deter wild animals from interfering with an individual, however wild animals may be attracted to the light and heat of a fire.


Hydration pack manufactured by Camelbak Hydration pack.jpg
Hydration pack manufactured by Camelbak

A human being can survive an average of three to five days without the intake of water. The issues presented by the need for water dictate that unnecessary water loss by perspiration be avoided in survival situations. The need for water increases with exercise. [4] Since the human body is composed of up to 78% water at birth, with an average of 60%, it should be no surprise that water is higher on the list than fire or food. [5] [6] Although the human water intake varies greatly depending on factors like age, sex, etc. the average should be about 13 cups or 3 liters per day. [7] [8] Many lost people perish due to dehydration, and/or the debilitating effects of water-born pathogens from untreated water. [9] [10]

A typical person will lose minimally two to maximally four liters of water per day under ordinary conditions, and more in hot, dry, or cold weather. Four to six liters of water or other liquids are generally required each day in the wilderness to avoid dehydration and to keep the body functioning properly. [11] The U.S. Army survival manual does not recommend drinking water only when thirsty, as this leads to underhydrating. Instead, water should be drunk at regular intervals. [12] [13] Other groups recommend rationing water through "water discipline". [14]

A lack of water causes dehydration, which may result in lethargy, headaches, dizziness, confusion, and eventually death. Even mild dehydration reduces endurance and impairs concentration, which is dangerous in a survival situation where clear thinking is essential. Dark yellow or brown urine is a diagnostic indicator of dehydration. To avoid dehydration, a high priority is typically assigned to locating a supply of drinking water and making provisions to render that water as safe as possible.

Recent thinking is that boiling or commercial filters are significantly safer than use of chemicals, with the exception of chlorine dioxide. [15] [16] [17]


Culinary root tubers, fruit, edible mushrooms, edible nuts, edible beans, edible cereals or edible leaves, edible cacti and algae can be gathered and, if needed, prepared (mostly by boiling). With the exception of leaves, these foods are relatively high in calories, providing some energy to the body. Plants are some of the easiest food sources to find in the jungle, forest or desert because they are stationary and can thus be had without exerting much effort. [18] Skills and equipment (such as bows, snares, and nets) are necessary to gather animal food in the wild include animal trapping, hunting, and fishing.

Focusing on survival until rescued by presumed searchers, the Boy Scouts of America, or BSA, especially discourages foraging for wild foods on the grounds that the knowledge and skills needed are unlikely to be possessed by those finding themselves in a wilderness survival situation, making the risks (including use of energy) outweigh the benefits.[ citation needed ]

Celestial navigation: using the Southern Cross to navigate South without a compass Pole01-eng.svg
Celestial navigation: using the Southern Cross to navigate South without a compass

Those going for trips and hikes are advised [19] by Search and Rescue Services to notify a trusted contact of their planned return time, then notify them when returning. They can tell them to contact the police for search and rescue if you have not returned by a specific time frame (e.g. 12 hours of the scheduled return time).

Survival situations can often be resolved by finding a way to safety, or a more suitable location to wait for rescue. Types of navigation include:

Mind preparedness

The mind and its processes are critical to survival. The will to live in a life-and-death situation often separates those that live and those that do not. Situations can be stressful to the level that even trained experts may be mentally affected. One should be mentally and physically tough during a disaster.

To the extent that stress results from testing human limits, the benefits of learning to function under stress and determining those limits may outweigh the downside of stress. [20] There are certain strategies and mental tools that can help people cope better in a survival situation, including focusing on manageable tasks, having a Plan B available and recognizing denial. [21]

Urban survival


Governments such as the United States [22] and New Zealand [23] advise that in an earthquake one should "Drop, Cover, and Hold".

New Zealand Civil Defense explains it this way: [24]

The United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) [25] adds that in the event of a building collapse, it is advised that you:

Important survival items

Civilian pilots attending a Survival course at RAF Kinloss learn how to construct shelter from the elements, using materials available in the woodland on the north-east edge of the aerodrome. Building for survival - - 396684.jpg
Civilian pilots attending a Survival course at RAF Kinloss learn how to construct shelter from the elements, using materials available in the woodland on the north-east edge of the aerodrome.

Often survival practitioners will carry with them a "survival kit". This consists of various items that seem necessary or useful for potential survival situations, depending on anticipated challenges and location. Supplies in a survival kit vary greatly by anticipated needs. For wilderness survival, they often contain items like a knife, water container, fire-starting apparatus, first aid equipment, food obtaining devices (snare wire, fish hooks, firearms, or other,) a light, navigational aids, and signaling or communications devices. Often these items will have multiple possible uses as space and weight are often at a premium.

Survival kits may be purchased from various retailers or individual components may be bought and assembled into a kit.

Common questionable survival skills

Some survival books promote the "Universal Edibility Test". [26] Allegedly, it is possible to distinguish edible foods from toxic ones by a series of progressive exposures to skin and mouth prior to ingestion, with waiting periods and checks for symptoms. [27] However, many experts reject this method[ weasel words ], stating that even a small amount of some "potential foods" can cause physical discomfort, illness, or death. [28]

Many mainstream survival experts have recommended the act of drinking urine in times of dehydration and malnutrition. [29] However, the U.S. Army Survival Field Manual (FM 21-76) instructs that this technique is a myth and should never be applied. [30] Several reasons for not drinking urine include the high salt content of urine, potential contaminants, and sometimes bacteria growth, despite urine being generally "sterile". [31]

Many classic cowboy movies, classic survival books, and even some school textbooks suggest that sucking the venom out of a snake bite by mouth is an appropriate treatment and/or also for the bitten person to drink their urine after the poisonous animal bite or poisonous insect bite as a mean for the body to provide natural anti-venom. However, the venom can not be sucked out and it may be dangerous for a rescuer to attempt to do so. Modern snakebite treatment involves pressure bandages and prompt medical treatment. [32]

See also

Related Research Articles

Hypothermia Human body core temperature below 35.0 °C

Hypothermia is defined as a body core temperature below 35.0 °C (95.0 °F) in humans. Symptoms depend on the temperature. In mild hypothermia, there is shivering and mental confusion. In moderate hypothermia, shivering stops and confusion increases. In severe hypothermia, there may be hallucinations and paradoxical undressing, in which a person removes their clothing, as well as an increased risk of the heart stopping.

Dehydration Deficit of total body water

In physiology, dehydration is a lack of total body water, with an accompanying disruption of metabolic processes. It occurs when free water loss exceeds free water intake, usually due to exercise, disease, or high environmental temperature. Mild dehydration can also be caused by immersion diuresis, which may increase risk of decompression sickness in divers.

Survivalism is a social movement of individuals or groups who proactively prepare for emergencies, including natural disasters, as well as disruptions to social, political, or economic order. Preparations may anticipate short-term scenarios or long-term, on scales ranging from personal adversity, to local disruption of services, to international or global catastrophe. Survivalism may be limited to preparing for a personal emergency, such as job loss or being stranded in the wild or under adverse weather conditions. The emphasis is on self-reliance, stockpiling supplies, and gaining survival knowledge and skills. Survivalists often acquire emergency medical and self-defense training, stockpile food and water, prepare to become self-sufficient, and build structures such as survival retreats or underground shelters that may help them survive a catastrophe.

Camping Outdoor recreational activity

Camping is an outdoor activity involving overnight stays away from home, either without shelter or using basic shelter such as a tent or a recreational vehicle. Typically participants leave developed areas to spend time outdoors in more natural ones in pursuit of activities providing them enjoyment or an educational experience. The night spent outdoors distinguishes camping from day-tripping, picnicking, and other similarly short-term recreational activities.

Backpacking (hiking) Outdoor recreation of carrying gear on ones back, while hiking for more than a day

Backpacking is the outdoor recreation of carrying gear on one's back, while hiking for more than a day. It is often an extended journey, and may involve camping outdoors. In North America tenting is common, where simple shelters and mountain huts, widely found in Europe, are rare. In New Zealand, hiking is called tramping and tents are used alongside a nationwide network of huts. Hill walking is an equivalent in Britain, though backpackers make use of a variety of accommodation, in addition to camping. Backpackers use simple huts in South Africa. Trekking and bushwalking are other word used to describe such multi-day trips.

Staphylococcal enteritis Medical condition

Staphylococcal enteritis is an inflammation that is usually caused by eating or drinking substances contaminated with staph enterotoxin. The toxin, not the bacterium, settles in the small intestine and causes inflammation and swelling. This in turn can cause abdominal pain, cramping, dehydration, diarrhea and fever.

Solar still

A solar still distills water with substances dissolved in it by using the heat of the Sun to evaporate water so that it may be cooled and collected, thereby purifying it. They are used in areas where drinking water is unavailable, so that clean water is obtained from dirty water or from plants by exposing them to sunlight.

Urophagia is the consumption of urine. Urine was used in several ancient cultures for various health, healing, and cosmetic purposes; urine drinking is still practiced today, though there is no proof of it providing health benefits. In extreme cases, people may drink urine if no other potable fluids are available, although numerous credible sources advise against it. Urine may also be consumed as a sexual activity.

Survival kit Emergency equipment

A survival kit is a package of basic tools and supplies prepared as an aid to survival in an emergency. Civil and military aircraft, lifeboats, and spacecraft are equipped with survival kits.

Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape U.S. military survival training program

Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) is a training program, best known by its military acronym, that prepares U.S. military personnel, U.S. Department of Defense civilians, and private military contractors to survive and "return with honor" in survival scenarios. The curriculum includes survival skills, evading capture, application of the military code of conduct, and techniques for escape from captivity. Formally established by the U.S. Air Force at the end of World War II and the start of the Cold War, it was extended to the Navy and United States Marine Corps and consolidated within the Air Force during the Korean War with greater focus on "resistance training".

Ten Essentials Survival items recommended by hiking and Scouting organizations

The Ten Essentials are survival items that hiking and Scouting organizations recommend for safe travel in the backcountry.

Hazards of outdoor recreation

Outdoor recreation, such as hiking, camping, canoeing, cycling, or skiing, entails risks, even if participants do not recklessly place themselves in harm's way. In some circumstances, such as being in remote locations or in extreme weather conditions, even a minor accident may create a dangerous situation that requires survival skills. However, with correct precautions, even fairly adventurous outdoor recreation can be enjoyable and safe.

Mini survival kit Small kit containing essential survival tools

A mini survival kit contains essential outdoor survival tools and supplies. It is intended to be carried on one's person at all times, be appropriate to all environments, and be a comprehensive kit without being too large. Mini survival kits are intended to provide the basic needs of a survival situation, self-rescue, assistance or a return to normalcy in optimum situations.

<i>Nuclear War Survival Skills</i> 1979 book by Cresson Kearny

Nuclear War Survival Skills or NWSS, by Cresson Kearny, is a civil defense manual. It contains information gleaned from research performed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory during the Cold War, as well as from Kearny's extensive jungle living and international travels.

Ultralight backpacking Style of hiking

Ultralight backpacking is a subset of lightweight backpacking, a style of backpacking which emphasizes carrying the lightest and least amount of gear. While no technical standards exist, contemporary hikers generally consider "ultralight" to mean an initial base weight of less than ten pounds. Base weight is defined as the weight of a fully loaded backpack at the start of a trip, plus the gear inside and outside it, excluding consumables such as food, water, and fuel. Reducing base weight as much as possible is accomplished through reducing the weight of the gear carried, as well as reducing the weight of consumables. Ultralight backpacking is most popular among thru-hikers—those hikers on extended trips requiring resupply.

Hiking equipment is the equipment taken on outdoor walking trips. Hiking is usually divided into day-hikes and multiple-day hikes, called backpacking, trekking, and walking tours.

Bradford Angier was an American wilderness survivalist and proponent of back-to-earth living. He authored more than 35 books on how to survive in the wild and how to live minimalisticly off the land.

Camping food

Backcountry camping food includes ingredients used to prepare food suitable for backcountry camping and backpacking. The foods differ substantially from the ingredients found in a typical home kitchen. The primary differences relate to campers' and backpackers' special needs for foods that have appropriate cooking time, perishability, weight, and nutritional content.

<i>The SAS Survival Handbook</i>

The SAS Survival Handbook is a survival guide by British author and professional soldier, John Wiseman, first published by Williams Collins in 1986. Second, revised edition came out in 2009. A digital app for smartphones based on the book is also available. The book spans over 11 sections, and an introduction and postscript, detailing how to survive in dangerous surroundings.

Poncho tent

A poncho tent is a type of improvised emergency shelter, constructed using a rain poncho. Using materials on hand that were intended for use as rain gear, it becomes possible to re-purpose them as a shelter.


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Further reading