Survival Basics: The Tropics, by G.S.

Sometime in the not so distant future our lives will be turned upside down by yet another natural or manmade emergency. Start now by doing your research and figure out which type of emergency is most likely to affect your life. Then get ready! Once the stores close their doors and the gas stations are no longer pumping gas, it’s too late! Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. Remember that the survival basics are similar even if the emergency or climatic conditions are different. I’m going to talk about survival in the Tropics.

I was born and raised in the Hawaiian Islands. We came back after 12 years of schooling, working and military service on the USA mainland. I wanted to raise my family on a relatively small island in the Pacific Ocean. Why would I do such a thing? Hint: It was 72 degrees below zero wind chill factor for two weeks during my last of seven winters in Montana! Island living has many advantages:

  •  year round growing season
  • plenty of wild game
  • fruit trees and,
  • let’s not forget to mention the milder warmer climate.

The downside of living on an island is that you’re really on your own. Especially when the commercial ships and planes stop coming over. This could be a blessing during a pathogen type emergency, but that’s another chapter.

I’ve noticed the way residents on a small tropical island do things are usually quite different. Different from how folks would do things in more populated areas. You have to adapt a different attitude for living and dealing with the same people that inhibit that island.  You’re going to interact with those neighbors more often. Similar rules and considerations would probably apply to behavior in a combined family retreat during a TEOTWAWKI or SHTF situation.

Another major consideration is that the resources on an island are very limited. They are very dependent on a robust commercial system. Most of our consumer goods (95%) are shipped here from the Mainland USA. People here are starting to realize some important things. If that “commercial system” went down even for 3 days, the islands would quickly run short of food and other essential goods. A concerted effort is being made by a growing number of residents to think sustainable. They are planting gardens and exploring ways to be more self-sufficient. The island inhabitants did it before us and we still have a long way to go. However, I’ve always felt that the more citizens that are prepared for emergencies the better.

Since you probably don’t own a retreat to bug out to and your emergency supplies are minimal, your emergency plans may include your home or apartment serving as your shelter in place location during a short-term emergency. Now let’s say the emergency lasts longer than expected and your power and water supply have stopped; you better have a plan B and C for moving out. Now comes the hard part about spending your hard earned money. It’s expensive, but gear that you may not use very much but will certainly be a game changer in any emergency. Consider the money you spend on essential gear as an investment and purchase the best equipment you can afford since replacement parts may be next to impossible to get once the stores close their doors and remember, your equipment doesn’t have to be fancy just functional and rugged.


Basics concerning food start by storing as much food as you can afford and have room for and don’t forget to rotate your food supply since they all have expiration dates. One-week supply of food and water should be the minimum amount to have on hand at any time. Energy bars and vitamin supplements should also be stored along with your food supply. If you live in a tropical area harvesting food from the ocean, rivers and streams will involve diving, spearing, netting or fishing and having the correct equipment is vital. Local residents have been living off the bounty from the ocean for centuries and knowing how to be such a hunter-gatherer will be life saving information.

Freeze-dried or MREs:

Choose these types of prepared foods if your plans include moving to a different location since these foods are lightweight making them easier to carry on your back and are worth their high price when you consider how heavy can goods are.   Supplement your diet with whatever you can find along the way if on the move.

Note: Basic ocean food gathering tools including a spin casting fishing rod, swim fins, facemask, spear, underwater flashlight and dive knife should be part of your gear if you live or plan to move to a tropical environment. Optional gear: wet suit, booties, SUP surfboard or small canoes to reach deeper water and assorted nets. Know your limits! Once in the water you’ll need to constantly watch out for big waves, sharp coral and strong rip currents.

Drinking Water:

Clean drinking water is essential to life for us humans and we need to drink at least 2 liters a day to function and more water is required if the climate is hot or your physical activity high. Even if there are clear flowing streams or rivers in your area, precautions should be taken to avoid drinking the water before treating. Pre-filter your unclean water with a cloth or handkerchief and then bring to a boil before drinking if no other purification methods are available. Consider a solar distiller before drinking salty and contaminated water. Drink water before you’re thirsty to avoid dehydration and heat stoke and add Gatorade type powder to your drinking water to keep your electrolytes balanced when under a heavy load.

Source and filters:

There are so many portable water filters and purification kits around not to have several on hand. Another method of purification is desalination which renders salty and contaminated water safe through evaporation and can be done with readily available materials such as copper tubing and cooking pots with tight lids. Always purify your water when in doubt since getting diarrhea from drinking contaminated water will take the fight right out of you and lessen your chances of survival. Know where your drinking water comes from and always stay alert for other sources of water. Don’t compromise your water sources by bathing or dumping wastes upstream. Rule: Take care of the natural resources and it will take care of you.


Prepare yourself to cook on open fires, small camping stoves or underground and think out of the box when preparing your meals. Consider solar ovens that are easy to build with readily available materials. You’ll be surprised at what looks edible when you’re really hungry! Watch your fires carefully since the Fire Department will probably be very busy during a major event and not be able to respond to every call, so include a fire extinguisher with your gear.

Methods and materials:

Have at least three different methods to start a fire on you at all times. Carry lighters and magnesium fire starters, which will provide you with many fires then learn the basics for fire making and practice them. Remember that burning green stuff means you’ll be making plenty of smoke, which may attract unwanted guests.

Note: Cooking meat, fish and starches underground is a method locals have been using for centuries. After the pit is dug large enough to fit whatever you’re cooking, add enough river rocks (make sure rocks are not wet before putting them into the fire) to cover the bottom and a few extra for the top, which have been heated over the fire until red hot. Food that has been covered with leaves (Hawaiians use ti leaves) can be added to the pit along with other items which are then covered with the extra rocks, banana leaves, dirt and allowed to cook for up to 8 hours. One of the advantages with this cooking method is that once the food is in the ground there’s not much else you have to do until its time to dig everything up and eat! Smoking feral pig meat in homemade smokers and dehydrating fish in a simple screened box under the sun are some of the other ways to preserve food here in the islands.

Shelter in place or move on:

Deciding where and how to shelter could change daily with your situation. Having sufficient supplies at home is the right thing to do, but there may come a time when moving to a safer location is your only option. In that case, go light, fast and stealthy. Make sure you have all the basics together before changing locations and think water, food, shelter and security. Add items like .22 ammo, lighters and small knives that might have barter value along the way and don’t forget to choose the correct sleeping bag for use in colder climates. Plastic tarps and garbage bags have multiple uses as raincoats, rain catchers and shelters.

Moving on:

Transportation will be challenging as everyone tries to move away from the danger. Vehicles are great as long as they have fuel and the roads are passable so keep enough fuel, tools and supplies in your vehicle at all times in case you have to move out. Traveling on foot will be a true test of your physical fitness, planning, know how and survival instincts. Make use of whatever resources you find along the way and stay out of sight whenever possible.

Medical training:

Knowing how to treat bleeding, breathing and shock emergencies will make you and your survival skills more valuable. Stay up on your training since these are perishable skills and learn the rules of triage because when resources are limited, the patients with the best chance of making it will become your main priority. No one said this was going to be easy!

Basic first aid:

Sign up with the American Red Cross, CERT (Community Emergency Response
Team) groups or local community colleges for basic first aid, CPR training or EMT
classes and keep a good first aid manual available for easy reference.

Equipment and Treatment:

First aid kits are an important part of your supplies and should include a pair of EMT scissors, which are great for exposing wounds and other cutting chores (used to call them penny cutters since they could cut a penny in half). Clean and dress your wounds immediately to avoid infection, since a severe infection could mean death without the proper antibiotics or hospitalization. Preventive medicine is the best medicine.

Note: Assemble your medical kits in different sizes so that they can be used at home, in your vehicle or out in the field. Include Quik Clot, trauma dressings and emergency blankets for trauma wounds. Having the proper training and equipment to handle basic medical emergencies will certainly be a lifesaver if a SHTF or TEOTWAWKI situation occurs. Teaming up with individuals who have emergency or clinical medical experience is also highly recommended.


Protecting yourself and supplies from bullies and others not so well prepared could be an issue during any extended emergency, since the Police may not be able to respond to your urgent calls. You can share and starve or protect your essential supplies. Remember, you are not responsible for everyone’s welfare and you won’t be able to help anyone (including yourself) if you become a victim! Be ready to make some tough decisions and THINK SAFETY FIRST.

Weapons of choice:

Figure out what caliber weapons are right for you. Decide how much ammo you can carry and if you’ll be able to resupply from other sources. Consider a handgun and long gun for personal use and keep your weapon at your side at all times. If you decide on just one firearm; select a rugged accurate rifle for hunting and protection. Learn how to use your weapon, then practice shooting and reloading!

Note: Basic gear for a youth might include a Marlin 22-mag lever action rifle, which is adequate for the small game like wild chickens. Rifle holds 12 rounds in its tubular magazine and should be equipped with a 4-power scope. Kukri knife is good for camp type chores and the Cold Steel Hunter knife is ideal for cleaning game. Optional gear: IR red dot sight, Ruger Stainless Steel .38 caliber, speed loaders and wire screen chicken traps which can be baited with bird seed or fruit.


Rifle slings and holsters will free your hands up to do other things. Add extra ammo, magazines and a good gun cleaning kit to your load along with flashlights with rechargeable batteries. Consider adding a lightweight flexible portable solar panel, deep cycle battery and inverter to recharge your batteries or else plan on carrying plenty of extra batteries. Stock up on plenty of ammo and reloading equipment. Lee has several styles of portable reloading presses that are field-tested, reliable and lightweight.

Note: Basic gear for a woman might include a .223-caliber rifle with a 3×9 power scope, extra 5 round magazines and a Lite Hunter knife. Optional gear: Beretta .380 semi auto, holster, extra 13 round magazines, pepper spray, push knife, bullet bandolier, 12” Ontario machete and a IR red dot sight.

Environmental considerations:

Prepare for temperature extremes in your area by keeping the proper rain gear and cold weather gear close at hand. Don’t forget gloves, hat and extra socks if you’re in cold wet weather. Include a sharp machete, heavy-duty ponchos and paracord with your gear to increase your chances of survival in the tropics since these items are essential for shelter, water collecting and jungle clearing when on the move. Learn about the edible plants and animals in your area (e.g. feral pigs, chickens, goats and deer are common here) and how to prepare them. The oceans are full of opportunities both good and bad so know your limits before getting into the water and learn to identify the edible sea life in your area.

Cold, hot or tropical:

Select the proper clothing for your climate. Military spec clothing and gear will last longer in the field, which is important since replacements may be hard to come by. I recommend good old Army boots with sure grip for hikes on loose ground and slippery muddy trails. Don’t forget the needle, thread and duct tape to make repairs.

Note: Climatic conditions in tropical locations can range anywhere from hot dry desert heat to cold wet rain forests or freezing snow covered mountains. The temperature variation in the tropics can range anywhere from 30 – 90 degrees F. Each zone will need different strategies, equipment and know how.

Long-term vs. short-term emergencies:

Figure out what supplies you’ll need to survive in your area. Food, water, shelter and security items will be your most valuable items. How long will your supplies last? Remember at least 2 liters of water and 2000 calories minimum for each person per day. Purchase freeze-dried products or MREs for their longer shelf life and lighter weight if your plans include moving on foot. Make sure you add several means of gathering food in case the emergency last for a while.

Calculate supply limits:

How much food and water you carry will depend on whether you’re in a vehicle or walking. Separate your essential camping supplies from your home essentials for quick access and have a plan B in case the vehicle breaks down. A good backpack, worn sturdy boots and good physical fitness will be essential if you have to move on foot. And remember that living off the land by scavenging and hunting is hard physical work, so start getting in shape now!

Note: Gear for your alpha male might include a Remington .30-06 with a 9×40 scope designed for hunting larger game like wild pigs, which are abundant here. Optional equipment: night vision, range finder, 12 gauge pump shotgun, .45 ACP pistol, a 10/22 semi auto rifle and wire snares. Check your wire snares that you set up along pig trails frequently.

[JWR Adds: In the tropics it is best to opt for as many stainless steel guns as possible. Use synthetic stocks.]

Resources in your area:

Find out what kinds of people, plants and animals live in your area before something happens. Knowing who and what resources are in your area will be critical in developing your shelter-in or bug out plans. If gangs or druggies have a habit of hanging out in your neighborhood…plan to move out early! Locations near seashores, reservoirs, lakes and rivers offer plenty of opportunities for food gathering, if you know how and have the right gear.

Hunting and gathering:

Learn about hunting, trapping or gardening skills. Think of dumpster diving as a means to resupply and don’t forget about the bow, arrow or crossbow for hunting quietly. Gunshots may bring unwanted attention or guests your way, so stay alert!

Note: Resources like banana, coconut and breadfruit trees are common in the more tropical areas. Parts of these plants can be used for eating, cooking food and made into shelter material. Learn what plants grow in your area and how they can help you during an emergency. Storing seeds from your garden will come in handy once things settle down and you can plant them. Avoid GMO seeds since they can’t reproduce themselves.


How will you get the information you’ll need to decide where to go and what to do? Portable communication equipment will function if you have a power source or rechargeable batteries with some way of charging them. Take all information from a single source with a grain of salt and use your common sense. Good communications is always one of the most important aspects of any emergency. Humans need that personal interaction with others and hearing news events or where to find supplies will be helpful during any type of emergency.

Local or International News:

Will the local radio or authorities be able to broadcast event information Are there any ham radio operators in your area who will be able to monitor world events? Police scanners can be a useful source of local information during emergencies.

Note: Compact rechargeable communication gear you might consider before the electricity goes down includes a simple crank AM/FM radio, rechargeable FRS/GMRS radios, ham radio, rechargeable battery pack, solar photovoltaic panel, and AC/DC inverter. Don’t forget the AA, AAA rechargeable batteries and charger!

Basic equipment:

Well-built firearms, knives (small size for cleaning game), sharpening devices, fire making devices, water-purifying kits and food-gathering materials are just some of the basic gear you’ll need. Carry these items in a sturdy backpack.  Remember that compact is better if you’re on the move. Don’t forget the fishing line, hooks, lead weights and snares and include a change of clothes that will protect you from the outdoor climate extremes in your area. Stay dry since hypothermia is a real threat even in the tropics. You will be outdoors for an excessive amount of time. Add a long brim hat, bandanas, sunglasses, and sun block lotion. Supplies may be few and far between: Add extra eyeglasses and any necessary medications.

Note: Researching the poisonous critters or dangerous plants in your area should be part of your threat assessment since you’ll likely be spending more time in the great outdoors. We have all kinds of biting insects, barracudas, thorny plants and big sharks here in the tropics and knowing how to avoid these types of threats will increase your chances of surviving the next crisis.

Threat assessment:

Narrow it down! You can’t prepare for every possible threat out there.  Example: Water, food, shelter and security should come to mind for starters. The same basic necessities are needed for your survival.  It doesn’t matter if it’s for a hurricane or a more extreme situation like a pandemic or EMP event.

Prepare yourself mentally to do whatever it takes to survive during the emergency situation and be hyper vigilante for opportunities to resupply. Do what you can for others along the way without becoming a victim and protect yourself with whatever means are available. Consider teaming up with other trustworthy people who have different survival skills to increase your security and your available skill sets.

Research and practice your survival skills before an emergency happens. Start your functional physical fitness training now. This will enable you to perform those everyday survival chores without hurting yourself. Try hiking or walking with a backpack. Prepare simple meals on a fire. Learn to enjoy the outdoors for practice and outdoor skills building.

After a short emergency it’s great to get out there and help each other recover. However, if the emergency is more severe and lasts longer don’t be surprised if people get desperate and dangerous. Protect yourself and loved ones by researching, preparing and training now.
Remember that you are responsible for your own safety during any emergency. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box!

See also:

Survival Spearfishing, by Daniel B.

Selecting Footwear and Foot Care Basics, by K.B.