There is a psychological challenge for everyone to face when they are forced into a survival situation. Making the wrong decision could kill you but could also save your life if you know what to do. The most important thing you can do is never quit and keep your wits about you. If you panic you’re done! Even the smallest things could change your outlook like nice weather or making a fire at night not only for warmth but to cook with and or to boil water for purification.

The first thing that you should always have in your backpack is an emergency survival kit and I will tell you everything that should be in there. You will have to sacrifice a little weight here but it will be worth it if things go south on you. Your kit should be in a water resistant case or better yet waterproof. You can use a band aid box or first aid kit box. Something big enough for the items you need but not too big that you will lose a lot of room in your pack. Here is a list of what is in my pack:

1: first aid items (small band aids, gauze, anti-bacterial ointment (Neosporin), surgical blade, butterfly sutures, ibuprofen and •Oxytetracycline tablets (diarrhea or infection).

2: signal mirror or whistle

3: emergency 8 hour candle

4: emergency space blanket

5: chap stick

6: needle and thread

7: fishing line and hook(s)

8: knife and multi tool (ex. Leatherman)

9: compass

10: waterproof matches in a waterproof match case

11: fire steel (never lets you down)

12: wire or 25 ft. of lanyard (strong)

13: water purification tablets or drops.

Note: all of these items minus a knife/multi tool should fit into a small case the size of a disposable camera.

Your #1 task: WATER

You will need an adequate amount of water to keep you alive. The golden rule is “you can survive up to 3 weeks without food but only about 3 days without water”. You need to find water and make sure its drinkable. More than 75% of your body is made up of fluids and if you’re in a hot climate you will lose even more fluids through perspiration. You will need to maintain at least 2 liters of water a day to maintain your efficiency level.  Your body will lose fluid from exertion, heat, cold and stress.

Once you find water weather it’s a stream, river, lake or pond you want to make sure that the water is safe to drink and not full of parasites that can cause diarrhea and other “nasty’s”. You should always boil your water to purify it. You can filter it through a shirt or piece of clothing to get all of the grit out.

If you’re in a colder climate (snow), you should never eat snow to get the water. It will lower your body’s core temperature and hypothermia can set in a lot faster. Snow should be melted in a water bottle next to your body (but not next to exposed skin). Between you’re under layer and jacket. You can also melt the snow in a metal pan or cup.

Your #2 task is a SHELTER (in case your tent or bivy is of no further use or lost). There are many different types of man-made shelters you can make with very little experience. Use what nature provides in ALL situations. There is always something to use (trees, rocks, caves)

You can make a simple “lean-to” which is very easy to make and can be fun if you’re not panicked. It might be just the task to lift your spirits and bring out the kid in you. Here are some step by step instructions on how you can make your own lean-to.


1: find a flat area. Make sure it’s away from any steep hills in case of rain.

2: find a tree trunk or large rock to make the start of the frame.

3: put a few long branches  up against the tree trunk or rock at an angle to the ground and secure it with some lashing (rope from your emergency kit or long thin branches that bent easily could also be used.

4: use other “green leafy” branches to put on top to keep out the wind and rain. Note: the more leaves and branches are on the roof the more efficient the shelter will be.

5: if you made it correctly you should have enough room to lie down and sit up inside of it.

Teepee shelter:

1: find 3 long straight branches (at least 6’) and place them on the ground together in a row.

2: lash the three branches together tightly on one end about 1 ft. from the end.

3: take the middle branch and move it between the other two branches and over the top (this will tourniquet on itself and make the structure a lot stronger.

4: at this point stand the three branches up now and make the “tripod”. You will want to sink the main support branches down into the dirt a little for stability in case of harsh winds.

5: start putting other branches around the structure leaving room for the doorway to get in and out.

6: the rule here is “the more the merrier” it depends on your climate. If you are trying to stay dry use more green branches with leaves all around. The more branches with leaves the warmer your shelter will be as well so take that into consideration if it’s not cold outside.

Note: if you plan on having a fire inside your teepee than the very top of your shelter will need to stay open for venting the fire (think chimney).

There are many types of shelters you can make including the ones above. If you are stuck on a snow covered mountain for example and night is closing in. You can dig a snow cave to keep you out of the wind (wind chill factor is serious and should not be taken lightly). What you can do here is dig a small hole big enough to crawl into. You don’t want to make it too big or your cave will not be as efficient to maintain your body heat. Too small and your cave will shrink when the snow melts a little (not good either). Make sure you dig your hole away from the direction of the wind (very important). Once you’re in your cave you need to dig a small trench near the floor of the cave called a cold well. The rule of thumb here is “hot air rises and cold air sinks” so the purpose of the cold well is for cold air to sink into the floor of your cave  so the cold air in your cave will stay off of you! You will also want to slightly close up the entrance hole with big chunks of snow and make sure that you don’t close it off completely. Always make sure to poke your hand through the entrance hole a few times to make sure that your entrance isn’t freezing shut on you.

Note: if you’ve ever watched “Man vs. Wild” with Bear Grylls you may have seen him make a snow cave. He has done it on several episodes.

Your #3 task will be fire.

You will need to be able to build a fire for many reasons.

#1 Warmth and comfort

#2 cooking and preserving food

#3 Purify water

#4 Sterilize bandages and utensils

#5 Signal for rescue

#6 Protections from animals and insects

#7 A calming and relaxing psychological effect on the mind. Fires are mesmerizing most of the time and make you feel good about your surroundings.

You ALWAYS want to make sure that when building a fire you are safe and practice smart fire building.

There is a principle called simply “The Fire Triangle” which means 3 things to remember. #1 Air #2 Heat #3 Fuel. If any of these are removed from the triangle the fire will not stay lit and will go out. There are a certain amount of questions involved with creating a fire that you should ask yourself.

Why do I need a fire? What materials do I have? How much time do I have to build a fire? What kind of terrain am I around? (Climate and Altitude).
you always want to look for a dry flat spot that’s away and protected from the wind. Make sure that the fire is placed close to your shelter. Placing the fire in front of a large rock will reflect the heat back towards you and is always a good practice. If you have extra time or some kind of light you can go looking for more firewood to carry the fire burning through the night.

Building a fire:

1st thing you will need is good tinder (dry and light that will catch a spark and produce a flame)

Here are some great examples:

Pocket lint (you know we all have it). Other idea that I use is dryer lint. It’s easy to get and free and everyone who has a dryer has some. This is very light weight and what I do is ball some of it up and pour wax on it and wait till it dries than put it in my emergency pack. It burns very well and the wax will keep it burning for a while for you to get the fire going. Other things you can use are dead evergreen needles, dead grass, ferns, moss and fungus, fine wood shavings, birch bark, Old Man’s Beard (moss hanging from oak and other types of trees. Here’s one more (Fritos chips) they will burn believe it or not. They have a lot of saturated fat and you can light one and hold onto it like a candle for a little while (another good tinder if you happen to carry Fritos with you).

2nd thing you will need is good kindling.

Here are some examples:

Small twigs, small strips of wood, cardboard and split wood are all good to use.

3rd thing you will need is fuel (heavier larger pieces of wood to burn through the night. You can actually burn green wood but it must be split and thin.

Starting the fire requires a few small steps. You ALWAYS want to light your fire from the upwind side. You can light your tinder in a variety of different ways. If you have a lighter (won’t last forever), waterproof matches, regular matches (not recommended), metal flint (my favorite) or you can use the age old method of a fire drill or bow and drill method.

Once your tinder is lit you can start adding the kindling to make the heat rise and you can slowly start to add more and more wood to your desired heat level or need.