Extreme Survival

What’s your definition of an extreme survival situation? Lost in the Sahara Desert with no water, high in the Himalayas without a coat, both qualify as extreme survival. I doubt any of us will find ourselves in those situations, but … that doesn’t mean we’ll never face an extreme survival situation. If we are in a potential life threatening situation, where we could incur serious injury, up to and including our death, we are faced with an extreme survival crisis. Period.

How do people normally end up in such dire straits? Sometimes through no fault of their own, such as an accident while riding on a charter bus in Mexico’s Yucatan jungle, or a horse going rogue while on a wilderness trail ride in the Rocky Mountains, they are suddenly thrust into a potential life or death situation. But for all practical purposes they find themselves in danger due to being unprepared or over confident of their own abilities.

In any event, it is what it is and you’re in deep trouble. Obviously you won’t be prepared, having packed for a 5-6 hour trip, not an extended journey into the wilderness. This is when Knowledge, the types of skills you’ll learn here will be invaluable. Knowledge is lightweight, it’s carried inside your head, and you can never forget to bring it or leave it in car, for as long as you’re breathing you have access to it. Let’s learn a few extreme survival tips and skills which very well may save our lives one day.

Wood – Weapon of Choice

Wood is quite possibly the most valuable commodity you’ll utilize in any extreme survival scenario. An abundance of available dry wood in various sizes offers easy harvest for building a shelter, maintaining a fire, making spears and/or fishing poles and much more only limited by your skills or imagination.

Location can dictate the available resources you may use to build a shelter. You may have to build a snow cave, stack rocks, use an old abandoned car, whatever is available. But … nearly 8 or 9 times out of 10 you’ll use wood to build your shelter. However, not all wood is created equal for our use. Being trapped in a wet environment where finding dry kindle is nearly impossible because it’s water logged or rotting is an undesirable location, same for barren places where wood is scarce or there is only fast burning scrub brush available.

One scenario never touched on is the environment as a whole. Survey your surrounding, if you are in an area where a spark would most likely start a raging grass fire don’t consider staying and starting a fire. There’s no magic method to contain a floating spark which could trap you in a raging infernal.

Traditional wisdom tells you to stay put and wait for someone to find you, but … you must survive long enough for that to happen and staying exposed to the elements is a sure fire way to reduce those odds. There are circumstances that require you to move. If you’re above the tree line in snow covered mountains or caught in a desolate barren salt flat, you must travel to a better location more conducive to sustaining your life. Those type of areas are some of the hardest places to survive and trying to shelter down there will most likely make your situation must worse.

After locating a more suitable site gather wood and begin constructing a shelter. Using 550 para-cord lash branches together to form a primitive lean to or tee-pee, cover the exterior with branches filled with leaves for better insulation. If you have a thermal reflective blanket use it to cover the exterior of the shelter which will reflect heat inwards toward you. Or lay it inside the shelter to lay on and reflect your own body heat.

Next, gather wood for a campfire. Small twigs for tinder, medium sized limbs for maintaining a flaming fire, logs or large chunks of wood for burning overnight. Before retiring throw several large chunks of wood on the fire, it should burn throughout the night and maintain hot coals for an easy restart in the morning. If not you’ll have to begin new.

Weather – Friend or Foe

When dealing with an extreme survival situation, in fact all survival situations, you’ll have to deal with weather conditions. That’s no surprise, but becoming more attune and aware of weather conditions, and possibly more importantly, anticipated weather conditions, can be a new experience.

Weather will have a direct impact on where we decide to build our shelter. Building a shelter in a large open area or on top of a hill exposes us to windy conditions which could literally tear our shelter to shreds. Valleys and sudden drops in elevation leave us exposed to flash flooding. Sheltering under a dead or lone tree which may be prone to attract a lightening strike is inadvisable. In short use common sense and be aware of your surroundings.


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Hot Weather shelters must protect you from the direct sun, offering shade and a cooler place to rest. If you anticipate a stay longer than 1 day, don’t skimp on the insulation factor of a warm weather shelter, especially if you are sleeping directly on the ground. A 70F night will feel 10 to 15 degrees colder than a 70F day, because cooler air and moisture are returning to the ground from being drawn upwards by the sun’s heat and you don’t have the sun’s UV rays warming you. Most likely you’ll experience a shiver or two and the rising sun will be a pleasant sight.

Make no mistake about it, shade becomes a premium commodity in the scorching heat of a desert sun. Heatstroke is a very real and very dangerous deal. Depending on a person’s physical condition you can go from very hot to dead within an hour. Wear loose fitting clothing, never take clothes off in order to try and remain cool, as one it doesn’t work and secondly, you’ll expose yourself to severe sunburn complicating an already bad situation. Do any required work at dawn or dusk. If you must travel do it at night, hopefully with a flashlight, if not make a torch.

Remember, desert temperatures that hover above 100F during the day can drop to below freezing at night. It’s actually feasible to be overcome by heat stroke during the day and die from hypothermia at night. Build or find a shelter.

Cold Weather shelters require extensive work as you must always assume that no matter how cold it is then, it will only get colder. Weather should always be in the forefront of your survival planning because one night without a fire or a proper shelter could prove deadly. Build the shelter as strong and as insulated as possible to stop exposure to wind and falling snow by packing leaves, mud, snow whatever you can into openings. Be mindful of strength because snow becomes heavy as it accumulates and you don’t want the shelter collapsing onto you in the middle of the night.

Snow is not the only moisture to be wary of as rainfall can be just as deadly. A leaking shelter will result in you getting wet and once wet, if you can’t get dry or change clothes, you stand a great risk of incurring hypothermia. The wet clothing saps heat from the body which it can’t replace, which leads to possible death.

It’s imperative to constantly monitor the weather in order to take a pro-active approach to surviving instead of a reactive approach. Know it’s going to rain. Insure the shelter is water proof, set up collection areas for capturing the rainwater, which is drinkable, and start a fire before the wood becomes too wet to burn.


Widow – Maker

Extreme Survival and Wildlife

Finding signs of wildlife can be good as you will need to eat if your so called adventure lasts longer than anticipated. Squirrels, rabbits, birds and other small game are a blessing and can provide much needed protein for energy, however some other wildlife are not so inviting.

Accidentally stumbling into an encounter with a bear, wolf, moose or big cat is one of the most terrifying experiences you can have, and if you live through it you will definitely need a change of clothes, especially pants. There’s no shame in fear.

Make it a point to know what type of wildlife, especially dangerous animals, reside in the area you’re visiting. Are there polar bears in Texas? No, don’t worry about them. However, wild boar are becoming an epidemic and are extremely dangerous. Pay attention to your surroundings or you could easily set your camp up on a well traveled animal trail. Look for tracks, scat or any territorial markings of animals. In extreme survival you are no longer the top of the food chain and you’d better always remember that.


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Large animals are not the only danger to be aware of. Snakes, spiders, centipedes, anything that slithers, crawls or creeps can pose a serious problem, especially if poisonous. Most insects such as mosquitoes, ticks or flies are normally just a nuisance, although a possibly huge nuisance, but insect repellent or a raging fire can help discourage their pestering.

Using extreme survival logic do everything possible to avoid dangerous animals. See bear scat or trees shredded by claws, vacate the area pronto. Don’t sleep directly on the ground or near rocks or rotting wood where snakes and spiders reside.

I’ll say it again. situational awareness is very important for maintaining your well being. Scout the area before making a camp. Make a good fire, a little smoke helps ward off some flying critters, make yourself a spear from a sharpened stick for protection. Rubbing mud or certain plants on your skin will keep some insects from biting, but be sure you know what the plant is. Rubbing poison ivy all over yourself will be a mistake you wish you hadn’t made.

You can co-exist with the wildlife in an extreme survival situation.

1. Sleep on a raised platform not directly on the ground.

  1. Never reach into brush piles or turn over logs with your bare hands

  2. Be aware of your surroundings and any signs of dangerous wildlife

  3. You are no longer on the top of the food chain

Water – Fountain of Youth

In an extreme survival situation finding drinking water is the second pillar of surviving. 2 days without water and you become lethargic and possibly delirious, 3 days without water and you die. If possible know where the nearest water source, river, pond, lake etc is located, you can find these landmarks on a map, which I’m sure you have with you.

Always have a way to purify water in the wilderness as it is rarely potable, it will be stagnant, contaminated by animal feces or swarming with bacteria. Having a metal container which you can boil the water in is one method of making clean drinking water. Using a lightweight water filter such as a lifestraw will purify the water enough to make it safe to drink.

If you decide to make camp near a water source there are certain precautions to take.

  1. Don’t set camp up too close to the water

  2. Any closer than 100 yards exposes you to a multitude of insects

  3. You are exposed to possible flash flood conditions

  4. Big animals visit the water at night, some may not be too friendly

  5. Farther than a 100 yards and you waste energy walking back and forth


The first time I heard this phrase I had no idea what it meant, but a personal experience with one, which I luckily survived, made me very aware of them and they are a very real danger in an extreme survival environment.

Widow-makers are dead trees or large branches that are ready to unexpectedly fall. In my particular experience someone had cut a tree down but it became lodged in another tree and the person simply left it hanging. As Murphy’s law would have it the tree became dislodged and fell skimming the top of my head, as I was bent over looking at something. It knocked me to the ground, but could have busted my head like a melon. There’s no telling how long that tree had hung there before it fell.


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The term is not restricted to only trees. Large boulders which look like they’ve been precariously perched on another rock for a million years, could suddenly fall without warning.

Don’t take chances. Even if a widow-maker appears to be sturdy you have no idea what’s going on inside the tree. Pushing on the tree is fruitless because you pushing against it is a far cry from the power a single gust of wind can exert on it. A tree this size, even dead and hollowed out, can easily crush a car flat.

If you’re in the way of a falling widow-maker there is no escape, especially if you’re sleeping or have your back to it. It is simply too big and falls too fast to cleanly escape. You will be injured, trapped or simply dead. Don’t risk it.

An extreme survival situation and how to handle every aspect is literally impossible to completely cover as there are far to many variables to consider. However, every article you read, every skill you acquire makes you more capable of surviving an extreme survival crisis. Always have situational awareness of your surroundings both on the ground and in the air.

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