Survival Skills Reality Check

There are a lot things referred to as survival skills these days that have nothing to do with survival. Survival is keeping your body alive. It’s pretty simple, but not easy. Over the short-term, defined by how long you can fast and go without food (longer than a month), you need to maintain your body temperature, drink enough water and get enough sleep to remain rational. We call this the survival equation:

Body Temperature + Hydration + Sleep = 40 Days

The core skills are what allow you accomplish this in the north, especially in cold weather:

Yes: fire, shelter, water disinfection.

No: food (trapping, hunting, fishing, edible plants, etc.), awareness (tracking, bird language, naturalist skills, etc.)

For the past few years we’ve run a program called The Frozen 48. It consists of 48 hours in the winter woods of northern Maine alone with very limited kit, consisting of your clothes, an axe, a metal pot, a tarp, a firelighter, and whatever you can fit in your pockets (string, toilet paper, etc.). The weather has always been cold, below zero F at night. We’ve debriefed with every person who’s gone through the experience, and not one mentioned anything but the core skills listed above as helping them through it.

Don’t read this the wrong way. I think things like awareness, foraging, etc., add an amazing level of depth and connection to the natural world and enrich a life spent outdoors. But they’re not survival skills and shouldn’t be labeled as such.

So if you’re interested in learning survival skills, keep the survival equation in mind. Learn how to create microclimate for your body to maintain it’s warm temperature, make it comfortable enough to sleep in, and carry or make a container you can boil water in. If you want to learn more, listen to The Principles Of Wilderness Survival on our podcast.

Blog, Rants

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Well said and spoken from someone in the field for a long time. It would seem that media has taken over the field of Survival, and everyone is afraid to starve to death or be eaten by a bear, those should be the least of your worries and like you said, and most don’t, sleep is a priority. Good job!

  • DC

    While I agree that the skills you list normally rank at the top, I reject your premise that “Survival” is defined as short-term. While the body can go a month or so without food, it is certainly aided by food, and after that point, it is a necessity. Furthermore, awareness my keep you alive (surviving), by allowing you to avoid or escape from a dangerous situation. Thus, it is a survival skill. Again, if you accept your definition of survival as only the first month, then your logic is sound. But I don’t.

  • DC

    I reject your basic premise, and therefore, your assessment. Specifically, you state that “survival” is only as long as you can live without food. I disagree. You can still be in a survival situation after several months, and at that point, obtaining food would be a true survival skill. I do agree, though, that in the short term, the skills you state are indeed at the top of the list.

  • Thanks Brian

  • Thanks for the comments DC.

JMBS Master Calendar
All scheduled programs.
· JMBS Master Calendar
JMBS Sites
· Field School – Professional Training, Semester & Expedition Programs. Masardis, Maine.
· Classic Wilderness Guiding – Canoe, Snowshoe & Sea Kayak Trips
· School Of The Forest – Teen & Youth Programs
· JMB Web Portal – Guide To All Our Programs & Sites
Community platform & online courses.
Typos, Etc.
Anything that appears to be an error in spelling or grammar is actually the author’s clever use of the vernacular, and as such is not an error, but rather a carefully placed literary device demonstrating prodigious artistic prowess.

JMB Blog & Media Hub
Home to our blog, videos, podcast, photos and updates, going back to 2006.
· JMB Media
Email List
Join our email list and keep up with what we’re doing. More Info.

Featured In:
Jack Mountain Bushcraft Media Appearances Image

Life Member – MPGA
mpga graphic
Life Member – MWGO
mwgo graphic

MWGO Quality Endorsement

Academic Partner – UMPI
UMPI graphic
Academic Partner – WSCU
WSCU graphic