Outdoor Survival–The Basics, by Alan B.

Your car broke down on the side of the road, miles from help. You didn’t even bring an heavier jacket, because you figured you wouldn’t even be getting out of the car. Your cell phone batteries dead or has no signal. You have no choose but to walk for it. It’s only 50 degrees out there. That 50 degrees is now going down to 30 as the night comes on. In the morning they found you all huddled up in a ditch, trying to get out of the wind. They took your body off to the morgue and they called your family. What could you have done differently?

Life is a survival situation. When we go to work we are making money to buy the things we need to survive. If we have enough then we help(should help) others to survive too. It’s not just the Christian way, it’s the human. Few other animals help each other the way that human beings do.

I know a lot of people just don’t feel that they have the time or resources to prepare for something they believe will never happen. All I can say is read your history books. Catastrophes happen every day. It may not be the end of the world for everyone else, but it might be for you.

I’ve read a lot of survival manuals and I think this article pretty much puts it all together in simple terms. You do need to practice as many survival techniques as you can. I could hardly get an ember going with a primitive bow drill, but I eventually did it. It took a better part of an afternoon to learn how. This is truly valuable experience.

The Boy Scout handbook is a good place to start. [JWR Adds: I recommend buying a pre-1970 edition, to learn about serious outdoor survival and woodcraft skills. The more recent editions have been horribly sissified.] Outdoor Survival Skills by Larry Dean Olsen teaches the basics in Primitive survival. A couple of other good books are SAS Survival Handbook and the Air Force Search and Rescue Survival Training Manual. Also FEMA has online courses that are very informative.

I use specialized kits as a way to carry items for situations I might be in. One kit can be added to the other kits or you can make them all redundant kits–just in case. The following lists my kits and their contents:

A. Personal Carry Kit

B. Mini Kit

C. Pouch/Butt Pack Kit

D. Backpack Kit

E. Automobile / Boat Kit

F. Home Kit

G. Shelter



A. Personal Carry

1. Lighter or matches

2. Pocket knife (multi-blade/tool type preferred)

3. Small Flashlight

4. Optional: compass, small First Aid kit, trash bags

Note: I realize few people carry flash lights and compasses in their pockets. I have to force myself to carry a lighter after I quit smoking. My pocket knife has a compass on it.


B. Mini Kit

1. Waterproof matches

2. Razor blade or small knife

3. Aluminum foil

4. Large magnetized needle

5. Zip lock bag

6. Trash bag

7. Fishing line, hooks and sinkers

8. Thin wire for snares

9.Wire saw

10. Electrical tape to wrap the tin to keep it water proof

11. 550 para cord wrapped around tin (15-20 ft.)

12. A candy tin to put it all in

13. Optional; a small camera pouch to wear it on belt

The main thing here is to have something small you can carry in your pocket, purse, or belt. I keep mine in my glove box in the truck. If I take a walk in the woods I just grab it and go. The aluminum foil can be used for cooking or signaling. The magnetized needle can be used for repairs and turned into a compass by floating the needle on a leaf in a still puddle. The zip lock bag is for carrying water. The trash bag can be used for a rain jacket (with a few holes added) or to retain body heat. The candy tin can also be used for cooking or signaling. I put several warps of electric tape (for waterproofing) around the tin because you never know what repairs it could be used for. One extra item I put in the pouch is a credit card survival multi-tool.

C. Belt Pouch/Butt Pack/Haversack/Day Pack

1. Map of Area

2. Compass

3. Flashlight/radio

4. Magnesium/Flint and Tinder

5. Multi-tool

6. 2 large Trash Bags

7. Several small safety pins

8. Aluminum Foil (2-3 ft.)

9. Large needles (magnetized)

10. 10 ft. thin wire

11. 20-50 ft. of 550 Para cord

12 Small Fishing kit

13. Emergency blanket/poncho

14. Water purification Tablets

15. Solar Still (desert areas or at sea)

16. Bullion flavor packets

17. 1/2 in. width masking tape 2-3 ft.

18. Large balloon, condom, surgical gloves (water containers)

19. Good hunting or survival knife

20. Pepper spray(works good on man or beast)

21. Food bars

Instead of zip-Loc bags I carry a small purifier bottle. Without water in it, it’s light and I can drink from puddles if need be. As I live in the mid-west so I’m not really worried about not being able to find water, just how polluted it is. Carry one or more solar stills if you live in an arid area. Cotton soaked with petroleum jelly (tinder) is a great fire starter on wet wood.


D. Backpack or Bug Out Bag

1. Water

2. Food

3. Tent/tarp

4. Sleeping Bag and pad

5. Cooking stove and fuel

6. Cooking kit

7. First Aid Kit and medications

8. Sewing and repair kit

9. Tools – hunting knife, axe, shovel, machete or whatever you feel the need to carry

10. Rope – to keep food away from bears.

11. Personnel items-towel, soap ,comb, toilet paper, etc..

12. Extra clothes, Winter clothing, and rain gear.

13. Gun and Ammo

14. Mobile Phone, CB Radio, or other communication devices/extra batteries

A survival backpack is basically a Hikers backpack with a few minor changes. Remember to add the other kits along with this one. Food would be MREs and Ration Bars to last for longer periods of time. Freeze dried may taste better. If you want the better food you will need to rotate your food. You can also use a Dufflebag to pack up more food. Store water in 2 liter containers, since they are stronger than plastic milk jugs. This list can be as long as what you want to carry.

Guns? Remember your in a survival situation not a hiking trip, you may have to deal with dangerous animals, criminals, or crooked officials. A gun might be the difference of whether you eat that night, or not.

A grab and run bag (or “bug out bag”) has it’s merits. One thing you might consider is a canoe, if you live close to a river or lake. They carry up to 800 lbs. (that’s me and 600 lbs. of gear and food).They call it canoe camping when done for fun. Also a bicycle can be altered to carry extra stuff too. You’d be pushing your stuff instead of carrying it. Remember we’re not talking hiking here we’re talking survival.


E. Automobile

1. Highway trouble kit

2. Small Mechanics tool kit

3. Food

4. Water

5. Extra clothes (Cold weather)

6. Larger tent (if desired)

7. Rifle or Shotgun

8. Extra Gasoline

This list could get really long, but it depends on whether you keep all the supplies in your vehicle all the time. Foods must be able to tolerate extreme temps. The best foods for this are USCG approved ER Ration bars. A three day supply only costs $3 to $6 and takes up little space. If your not a good mechanic, then you’d probably be better off to carry money or trade items like cigarettes, booze, etc… I figure even if you know how to fix it, where will you get the materials. Also have a couple of pre-planned routes and destinations. You can’t drive around forever.


F. Home

1. Water (55 gal. Barrel)

2. Food (up to a year)

3. Candles and oil lamps. [JWR Adds: Candles should be considered only a backup lighting source, and exceptional safety precautions must be used to prevent fires!]

4. Back-up heating system (wood stove or kerosene heater)

5. Back up electric (photovoltaic or generator)

6. Garden–or at least seeds

7. Livestock

The “stuff hit the fan” (survivalist slang) and you are still alive with your home intact. The electric and gas are out and it’s freezing outside. You’ve got drinking water and plenty of stored food including MRE rations, and canned goods to last a while. You got a wood stove and plenty of wood. You’ve got candles and kerosene for the oil lamps. Yes, the cable television is out, but you’ve got all those survival books you meant to read. There’s a lot of things you can do to make your house more survivable. Solar power. Kerosene heaters. Raise chickens, rabbits, or a garden in the backyard. Having talked to Great Depression era people I’ve found the hardest things to come by were clothing, and shoes. All these would also be great barter items. Trade and commerce is why the Vikings actually sailed the world.

It won’t take long for the government to get back on it’s feet and demand a piece of your pie. They’ll probably want you to go kill someone in some war too! Remember the war that started all this. So keep your guns and ammo close you’ll probably need it one way or another. If your Amish your life probably won’t change that much. Horse and buggy would be nice to have. Hmmm. Maybe mules or pack dogs.

G. Shelter

Shelters should be conceived with the intent to survive catastrophes. Nuclear bombs, Tornados, House fires, etc… You will need to study your area. Build the best shelter suited for your area or your budget. You need plenty of food and water and all the aforementioned survival items. If you don’t have a shelter, then know where to go for protection. A simple shelter is to dig a hole and place logs or railroad ties over the top. Cover with tarps and then dirt.

Thoughts on Modern Survival

If you’ve noticed, there is a lot of stuff that a modern survivalist could carry. The problem is we probably wouldn’t want to carry all this stuff if you are hiking down the road to a safer place. The early military organizations gave their soldiers very little to carry and even then they dumped a lot of stuff along the way. To keep it simple carry Kits A, B, and C. Add a wool blanket, tarp, canteen, and maybe some cookware. Put it all in a small pack. Take as much food as you can carry. Learn what plants are edible. All meat is edible wither road kill or the family pets. Know how to purify water, sine clear running streams today are full of mercury, PCBs, bacteria, viruses and who knows what.

There are a lot of things you can do to prepare yourself for trouble. Something as simple as a squeeze generator flashlight or wind up radio. A survival knife stashed in the car or a solar blanket. These things may save your life or keep you from being lost or maimed. Ultimately, “survival” is in your head, along with some good preparation. Take trapping for instance. You don’t have to do it unless you really need to, but you need to know how. Trapping is more profitable then hunting and you can be doing something else while your traps are catching game. Like planting a garden.

Take your family camping, it’s fun and good practice for survival. Even a little survival knowledge can help you survive a lot.

Most citizens are older people, children, and handicapped. They are more likely to be refugees than combatants. If you expect the government to save you you’ll probably be dead in no time.

Look at the experience of Hurricane Katrina. It was a week before the government got around to doing anything. People died. One family dragged their grandmother around for days and they could not help her. She died in the street. People went without food for a week and [because they lacked water filters] they were forced to drink the muddy polluted water.

Eventually the troops came pouring in to save the day (and to clean up the mess). They were shot at by gang members who had been robbing, raping, and terrorizing the locals. Some of the police had given up and fled with their families. It wasn’t a complete breakdown of civilization, but it was close.

Most people’s response is that “It can’t happen here.” Let me point out that the most severe earthquake in American history happened in the mid-west. It was on the New Madrid fault. Luckily it hit in the 19th century were there were few settlers there. The Mississippi ran backwards and changed it’s course of flow. It also created a large lake in the area.

The American population is growing and makes it more likely that a small event could kill lots of people and make many homeless. Simple and small steps to prepare can make a difference in whether or not you survive. It doesn’t hurt to have a pantry of extra food on hand for special occasions.