Patrick Eng
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Week 23 - What I Need to Know About Surviving in the Wild


When it comes to surviving in the wild, there are four basic elements that will get you through:

  1. Water

  2. Shelter

  3. Food

  4. Warmth

These four things, while basic, are all you need to survive in the wild due to some crash, kidnapping, trek, or other disasters. Yes, it might seem basic, but surviving in the wild doesn't come with lattes and flat-screen TVs.

When going on any outdoor adventure, you'll always want to go prepared, regardless of how Doomsday prepper you feel. Basics like food and water rations, materials for tents, or even just matches.

In cases where you don't have all these things though, here's what you need to focus on.

Wilderness Water

As we all know by now through basic science classes, a majority of the human body is composed of water. So what happens when you stop drinking? Well, let's list out what water does for your body:

  • Allows cells to grow and survive

  • Expels waste

  • Lubricates joints

  • Needed in the manufacturing of hormones and neurotransmitters

  • Used in body temperature regulation

  • Used as a shock absorber of brain and spine

  • Aids in digestion

  • Carries oxygen throughout the body

As you can see, when you stop drinking water, either purposefully or because you're stuck in the middle of the desert, lots of basic bodily functions will have issues.

OK, great, so now what do you do?

Well, it depends on where you are. Gathering water in the desert is going to look very different than if you are stranded in the forest.

Right off the bat, you'll want to look for a stream or creek that you can have easy access to. If that's not readily available, you could:

  • Collect morning dew - use your shirt or some other absorbent material and press it into the ground. The next morning, wait for it to collect dew, then drink up.

  • Dragging cloth through underbrush or along the ground - if in a wooded or lush area, plants are natural collectors of water. Wrap some material around your legs and just by walking through plants, you'll start collecting moisture.

  • Follow ants - look for ants climbing up a tree, there might be a cache of water hidden somewhere.

  • Walk parallel to the mountainside - as streams and creeks flow downhill along the mountainside, walking parallel to the mountain, and not up it, increase your chances of crossing a body of water.

  • Dig - a tactic as old as time. Make sure to choose the right spot, preferably around a riverbed or area with lush vegetation.

But just because you found some water doesn't mean you should just pound a glass back. Water, even if it looks crystal clear, could contain a variety of bacteria or diseases like Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Campylobacter, Salmonella, Shigella, E. coli, enterovirus, hepatitis A, norovirus, or rotavirus.

Water Purification

So, how do you make your water drinkable once you find it?

First off, you could always boil it between five and 20 minutes (the longer the better). In cases where you don't have some sort of fire-proof container, you could use hot rocks to boil water for you. Simply fill some container with water, like a wooden bowl, and then heat up some rocks. When you add the hot rocks to the water, it will cause it to boil.

Or, you could use a solar still that basically allows the sun to cause some container of water to evaporate and then you collect the water vapor. In this method, you dig or hole or use two containers. You need to make sure that at the bottom of the still you have a good amount of liquid or things filled with water. The idea is that you'll put another container above that and cover the whole thing with clear plastic. It works because the sun will hit the solar still, and since it's covered with plastic, will create a greenhouse effect and cause condensation to form on the roof (which is the plastic covering). The condensation will then drip down into the other container, thus giving you a source of clean(ish) water.

Even better though, assuming you have the materials, would be a grass-gravel-charcoal filter. You are essentially creating a way to filter water through 3 layers of material. The grass and gravel get rid of the big blemishes, while the charcoal absorbs all those nasty bacteria.

A Five-Star Shelter

When building a shelter in the forest, it can be as easy as finding a fallen tree and then stacking branches and leaves against it until you have a decent covering from the elements (and any other unsavory animals). Just make sure you do it before it gets dark.

Shelters can be quick and easy to build, assuming you are prepared in some way (make sure you carry a tarp and cord with you on wilderness adventures). Besides the fallen tree method, there are plenty of lean-to, teepee, and tarp-tent methods to use. A tip when tying your cord to the tarp: wrap a part of the tarp around a rock and then tie the cord around the rock. This will help the tarp last longer and add extra stability.

Keeping Warm and Fire

Getting cold in the wild is not only uncomfortable, it can be downright deadly. And even though a well-built shelter can help keep you warm, it still relies on your internal body temperature. Maintaining that temperature is important though, and there are plenty of resources you could find that will help insulate any shelter you have, like dirt, leaves, or pine needles.

But, let's say we wanted to go one step further.

How could we build a fire that can help raise our body temperature, especially when we don't have matches or a Boring Company not-a-flamethrower laying around?

Reflective or magnification materials are the name of the game.

You can magnify and redirect the sun's rays with anything from a condom filled with water to a frozen sheet of ice. In cases where you carry around a mirror or magnifying glass, those will also work very well to light any tinder you have.


Now that we have water, shelter and warmth setup and ready to go, we need to eat. Yes, we can go longer without food than water, but being hangry is not a good place to be.

But just because there's no Chipotle in a 2,000-mile radius of the wilderness doesn't mean you're going to starve to death. We've been doing it for millions of years, c'mon people. You can eat all the bugs, wild animals, berries, and vegetables to your heart's content, assuming you are able to catch and find it all first.

I personally have never gone hunting, but I've learned from friends that have that you could be out all day and not even see anything. So maybe suck it up and chow down on some ants, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, or caterpillars. Or, if you're near some body of water, try your hand at fishing.

When it comes to vegetation, however, be wary. Many plants could be poisonous, so only eat what you know is safe. Or do what I do and never eat vegetables in the first place.

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More often than not, bears are just as surprised to see us in the forest than we are to see them (not really sure if that's proper english but you get the point). Human and bear interactions have increased over the years due to climate change, habitat loss, and general human expansion.

In the rare chance you run into a bear though, you'll probably want to know how not to get mauled to death. In my years of watching TV, I know that there are certain things you're supposed to do in situations just like this, like running downhill or get big and make a lot of noise. Let's see if TV is educating us in the right way or not.

Brown (Grizzly) Bears

Unfortunately, the bears you encounter in the world won't be trying to steal your picnic baskets. In general, though, brown bears are bigger and more aggressive than black bears and can be found in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Wyoming.

If you encounter one though, don't run. And if you have bear spray, get it out slowly and be ready to use it (it's probably better to use bear spray than a gun if you have one). Back away slowly from the bear and use the spray if it follows you.

In cases where the bear charges you, either use the spray, stop drop (on your stomach) and cover your neck, play dead, or fight it (you will most likely lose a boxing match with a bear). Brown bears want to neutralize you as a threat, so the less threatening you are, the faster the bear will leave you alone.

Black Bears

Black bears are generally smaller and less aggressive and come in two types, American and Asiatic. When it comes to facing off with an American black bear, some of the same principles apply, like making noise, getting big, using bear spray, and fighting when needed. Do NOT run away, and do NOT climb a tree to get away, as black bears are also great climbers.

Polar Bears

If you encounter a polar bear out in your tundra adventures, well then that sucks. Polar bears are the biggest and most carnivorous bear, meaning playing dead is a free meal for them and fighting back is going to be even harder.

When coming nose-to-nose with Coca-Cola's favorite animal, act threatening, use bear spray, and go for the nose and eyes. Or, if they haven't seen or smelled you yet, try to just avoid them completely.

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In today's world of air conditioning and GPS-enabled smartphones, it might be hard to think of a moment where you might not have a phone to use and are stuck in the middle of a forest. Luckily, after reading this post though, you'll know the 12 things you need to do in order to survive until help comes (or just impress your significant other on a hike or camping trip).

1. Know Where to Set Up Camp

Where you set up your base of operations is important both in terms of available natural resources (water and dry wood) and protection from the elements. You'll want to be close to a river or stream, but not so close that you'll get flooded during a sudden rain. Also, make sure to be near some sort of rock wall and away from insect nests, overhanging dead branches, and falling rocks.

2. Building Shelter

When people die in cold weather wildernesses, it's usually the hypothermia that got them. A simple lean-to shelter can help prevent this from happening. All you need is a fallen tree and a good amount of leafy branches to cover all the sides but one. Make sure to also pad the ground, as it will lovingly suck the heat from your body as you sleep.

3. Starting a Fire (battery)

If you have some live batteries laying around, you can short-circuit them to cause some shocking results (that was so bad I had a serious debate with myself as to if I should even include that). A simple trick is to rub steel wool against the terminals on the battery and you'll see the wool come to life. Make sure to immediately surround it with your tinder though and get it burning.

4. Starting a Fire (regular)

When it comes to building a fire in general though, there are four main ingredients: tinder (think cotton balls) and wood the size of toothpicks, Q-tips, and pencils. These four ingredients, when combined in the correct order, are how you build a fire of any size. The key is to start small and slowly add bigger pieces of wood as the fire grows.

5. Collecting Clean Water

There are two types of water in the wild, the first is safe to drink and the other will kill you. Mother nature is a merciless lover.

When in doubt, boil it. Boiled water is the more surefire way to ensure drinkable water. When boiling isn't an option though, dew and general environmental moisture is a great way to collect water while just walking around. Just tie some material around yourself and rub up against some moist plants. Squeeze the fabric dry and repeat.

6. Collecting Clean Water (using sweat)

Plants sweat just like us, in a way,  and is a great way to get some water if you don't mind waiting a little bit. Simply wrap a clear plastic bag around the plant and let the sun do its work. When you come back later, condensation should have appeared on the inside of the bag, ready for you to drink.

7. Eat Your Greens

Just kidding, vegetables are for fools. But, if you really NEED to eat some plants, focus on dandelions, cattail, chickweed, amaranth, or asparagus. But remember kids, don't eat your vegetables unless it's a life or death situation (which is every day of your life if you think about it).

8. Spearing

Is it better to have one head or four? Well, when it comes to hunting or fishing with spears, you'll want to be gigging. Gigging means hunting with multi-pronged spears, kinda like what that dude in hunger games used, except in this case he was kinda hunting humans and weird Hive-like monsters. Rest in pepperonis bro.

9. Navigation (Day)

Day navigation will basically use the sun as the guide. The sun, for those who don't know, rises in the East and sets in the West.

You could also find the north-south line using an analog watch. "Just hold the watch horizontally and point the hour hand at the sun. Imagine a line running exactly midway between the hour hand and 12 o’clock. This is the north-south line."

10. Navigation (Night)

Ah, the stars. Too bad light pollution ruins the moment in basically every city.

The classic take on this is to find the little of the big dipper. If you can find the little dipper, follow the constellation until you see the last star at the very end of the handle. That star happens to be Polaris, otherwise known as the North Star.

11. Learning to be Knotty

Boy Scouts 101, I think. Never made it past cub scouts so not entirely sure what goes on.

Regardless, when out in the wild, you'll want to have a handful of knots in your armory. If that sounds too intimidating, start with this one and go from there.

12. Sending Signals

Hopefully, someone will be looking for you if you go missing. When those rescuers come by, whether by land, sea or air, you'll need a way to get their attention. As most movies and TV shows will tell you, the best way to get their attention is by either lighting a big-ass fire or blinding them with the reflection from a mirror.

Make sure that if you go with the fire signal method, that you've stockpiled a good amount of dry wood, lots of easily combustible material, and fresh branches (live branches will make more smoke). Also, make sure that your bonfire is raised from the ground to prevent moisture from saturating the wood.

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Too Long; Didn't Read

When it comes to surviving in the wilderness, you can survive on very basic items and lot's can kill you. As I said, Mother Nature is a merciless lover.

In essence, all you need is water, food, shelter, and some source of warmth. How you get all these things will vary based on where you are, but if you manage it all, you'll survive until hopefully someone rescues you.

When it comes to water, you'll always want to make sure it is safe to drink, even if it looks crystal clear. The easiest way to do that is to boil it. If that's not an option, you could always use a grass-gravel-charcoal filter or just steal the moisture from your environment with a cloth.

With shelter, the easiest thing to do is find a safe area close but far enough away from a river (to avoid flash floods) that has a fallen tree at a 30-degree angle. You can then layer the leaves and branches to make a lean-to that will provide some basic protection from the elements. Make sure to insulate it though!

Food can be found everywhere, from that beetle you just stepped on to the elk you just passed. The easiest source is bugs and fruits/vegetables, just make sure you don't eat anything poisonous. And if you try to go spearfishing, make sure you have a multi-pronged spear to increase your hit chance.

And finally, we come to the fire. This rudimentary element that made so much possible.

Methods for making fires vary, but the idea is that you'll need some sort of tinder and then 3 sizes of wood, ranging from toothpick to pencil. Light that tinder with a battery/steel wool or magnifying glass and then slowly add wood to it, making sure to not overfeed the fire and kill it in the process.

Depending on which area you're in, you might even encounter a bear. When it comes to all bears, you'll always want to make sure you use your bear spray, preferably when they're still at least 25 feet away. You'll also just want to avoid encountering a bear in the first place, but if you do, make noise and get big. Fight if you need to, going for the nose and eyes. Black bears will run more often than Brown or Polar bears, but don't try to escape black bear by climbing a tree.

In general though, if you're going to be in a place where there are bears, bring some bear spray.

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Patrick Eng