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.