Don’t Believe The Sacred Order Of Wilderness Survival

I’ve been hearing about the so-called “sacred order of survival” for twenty years, and while it looks good on paper, in the winter bush it is not only bad advice, but can be deadly. Such ill-conceived advice also usually advocates building a debris shelter, which is an A-frame insulated with leaves. The questions I’ve posed to the participants in our courses over the years about this are:

1) Where are you going to get a big pile of leaves in the conifer forests of the north?

2) Where are you going to get leaves, or other insulative material, in the winter when it’s covered by several feet of snow?

The simple answer is that you’re not. So have a backup plan and beware where you get your information. Dogma kills, knowledge and experience do not. If you only know how to make one kind of shelter and you don’t have the materials for it, you’re out of luck. And if your entire framework of knowledge is built around this as your saving grace, it’s time to expand your understanding of what it takes to survive in the bush.

To Recap:


Pearls of wisdom from Boyd Shaffer on survival and bushcraft from his manual “Northern Wilderness Survival; A Manual For All Who Live Or Travel In The North”:

“I have given this narrative to acquaint the reader with my idea of what it takes to survive in the wilderness without a giant pack of goodies. Perhaps only a knife. What you must have is a working knowledge of the ecosystems you are to travel in, and the habits and distributions of all mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles if present, fishes, invertebrates, and all edible, poisonous, medicinal, and otherwise useful plant life, rocks and minerals that can be used for special purposes, weather patterns, sheltered areas, and self nursing. Most importantly: How to make fire in wet, or in freezing winter weather. Without fire you cannot survive.”


Perhaps the most useful approach is to consider what is sometimes called the “Sacred Order of Survival”, which states that in order to survive in the wilderness, you need four things in the following order of importance – shelter, water, fire, and food.

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