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What To Do First In a Survival Situation

what to do first in a survival situation

You’re stranded in the woods and all alone. Or you got caught in bad weather far from home and lost communication. Not a pretty thought is it? You’ve ended up in a survival situation that you need to get yourself out of alive. There are several steps that you need to take and things you should keep in mind when you do end up in a situation like this. We’ll explore what to do next.

The first thing to do in a survival situation is to find or make some form of shelter to keep yourself warm and isolated from the weather. From the shelter you set up you can go look for water and food. Get a fire going and scout the area so you can make a plan on how to get back to society. This is the most important thing to do first in any survival situation. Keep reading to find out how to find shelter and what things to do next.

Finding and Creating Shelter

The cold can kill you in hours and intense heat can kill you in a day. It’s good to find shelter as soon as possible. If you are in a hill area you can scout for small caverns and overhangs where you can stay under or can modify with limited time, energy and resources.

Other ways to create shelter with minimal effort might be by finding a hole in the ground and creating a foxhole like the army does. keep in mind though that sleeping on the ground can quickly lower your body temperature so you need to cover the ground with leaves and other insulation materials that you can find.

Shelter, if you can’t find the options above, can be made with sticks and vegetation that you can find around you. This does require some practice to get good at and quickly and efficiently build a solid shelter.

Probably my favourite shelter to make is a debris hut. This can be easily done by placing a ridge pole on the ground with one side and suspend it in the air on cross pieces on the other side. or you can place the suspended part of ridge pole on a part of a tree to suspend it. make sure that you don’t make it to large as you will heat the hut with your body warmth.

Next up is placing insulation on the inside of the hut. As I said before you need to make sure to keep yourself off the ground when you sleep or rest. Dead leaves, grass and pine needles are perfect solutions for this to use. When you enter your debris shelter enter inside the insulation so that it is around you.

Then start by adding ribs to the ridge pole. Place then one foot apart or closer if you have the material and don’t let them stick above the pole. Otherwise water will find its way inside the shelter. After you’ve added the ribs start adding cross pieces to the ribs.

Start adding insulation over the frame that you just made. This consists of dead leaves, grass, pine needles and more stuff like it. Cover the frame with at least 1 foot thick insulation. If you can do more then do it. This is the layer that keeps you warm. After that create the door by weaving together sticks and insulate them with leaves.

Since the shelters tend to blend in with the environment you have to make them visible by hanging bright colours on them so rescue workers can find you.

Finding Water

We normally tend to say food and water. Giving more importance to food rather than water. But we have to face facts. While we are used to getting 3 large meals a day and lots of snacks through out the day, water is the thing we need most. without water an average person can only survive for about 3 days while we can go multiple weeks without food.

The best thing to do is to take enough water with you when you leave home. But since a survival situation can last a long time you need to know how to find and purify water.

Artofmanliness has a strong article on finding water in survival situations. Here are some methods from that post.

Start With the Obvious: Streams, Rivers, Lakes
These are your most obvious sources of water in the wild. Clear, flowing water is your best option, as the movement doesn’t allow bacteria to fester. This means that small streams should be what you look for first. Rivers are acceptable, but larger ones often have a lot of pollution from upstream. Lakes and ponds are okay, but they’re stagnant, meaning there’s an increased chance for bacteria.

Now then, how do you go about finding these bodies of water? First, use your senses. If you stand perfectly still and listen intently, you may be able to hear running water, even if it’s a great distance away.

Next you’ll use your eyes to try and find animal tracks, which could lead to water. Insect swarms, while annoying, are another sign of water close by. And in the mornings and evenings especially, following the flight path of birds may lead you to your much-needed H2O. Watching animal behavior is especially important in the desert. Animal tracks will be easier to spot in the sand, and they’ll almost always eventually lead to water. Birds will also especially flock towards water in dry areas.

Also just scout the environment you’re in. Water runs downhill, so follow valleys, ditches, gullies, etc. Find your way to low ground, and you’ll often run into water.

Collect Rainwater
Collecting and drinking rainwater is one of the safest ways to get hydrated without the risk of bacterial infection. This is especially true in wild, rural areas (in urban centers, the rain first travels through pollution, emissions, etc.).

There are two primary methods of collecting rainwater. The first is to use any and all containers you might have on you. The second is to tie the corners of a poncho or tarp around trees a few feet off the ground, place a small rock in the center to create a depression, and let the water collect.

You can combine these methods and make your containers more effective by tying the poncho or tarp to funnel into your bottle or pot or whatever you have (as long as it doesn’t overflow and waste water!).

Collect Heavy Morning Dew
Looking for a way to collect up to a liter of water per hour? Tie some absorbent clothes/cloths or tufts of fine grass around your ankles, and take a pre-sunrise walk through tall grass, meadows, etc. Wring out the water when the cloths are saturated, and repeat. Just be sure you aren’t collecting dew from any poisonous plants.

You can find more ways to find water is the post here.

When you do locate water you need some way to purify it. When you head out into the outdoors be sure to pack some purification tablets or bring a lifestrpaw.

Purification tablets to their work pretty quickly after you’ve added them to the water. Just drop a tablet into the water and wait a few hours for it to be drinkable.

A lifestraw on the other hand can be used to drink directly from the found water source. It’s basically like drinking from a regular straw except it filters the contaminants from the water directly.

Finding Food

Next to shelter and water, food is the third most important thing to look for when you end up in a survival situation. Gathering or hunting for food should always be a priority.

The best thing to do is when you go out to pack a couple of MRE’s in your bag. But not everyone has that luxury. While it is recommended to carry an EDC kit, they don’t exactly contain sources of food. Rather they contain tools used to get food.

Crisistimes.com has a good post about finding food in the wilderness. Below are some options you have from that post

Animals for Food
Unless you have the chance to take large game, concentrate your efforts on the smaller animals, due to their abundance. The smaller animal species are also easier to prepare. You must not know all the animal species that are suitable as food. Relatively few are poisonous, and they make a smaller list to remember. What is important is to learn the habits and behavioral patterns of classes of animals. For example, animals that are excellent choices for trapping, those that inhabit a particular range and occupy a den or nest, those that have somewhat fixed feeding areas, and those that have trails leading from one area to another. Larger, herding animals, such as elk or caribou, roam vast areas and are somewhat more difficult to trap.

Also, you must understand the food choices of a particular species. You can, with relatively few exceptions, eat anything that crawls, swims, walks, or flies. The first obstacle is overcoming your natural aversion to a particular food source. Historically, people in starvation situations have resorted to eating everything imaginable for nourishment. A person who ignores an otherwise healthy food source due to a personal bias, or because he feels it is unappetizing, is risking his own survival. Although it may prove difficult at first, a survivor must eat what is available to maintain his health.

The most abundant life-form on earth, insects are easily caught. Insects provide 65 to 80 percent protein compared to 20 percent for beef. This fact makes insects an important, if not overly appetizing, food source. Insects to avoid include all adults that sting or bite, hairy or brightly colored insects, and caterpillars and insects that have a pungent odor. Also avoid spiders and common disease carriers such as ticks, flies, and mosquitoes.

Rotting logs lying on the ground are excellent places to look for a variety of insects including ants, termites, beetles, and grubs, which are beetle larvae. Do not overlook insect nests on or in the ground. Grassy areas, such as fields, are good areas to search because the insects are easily seen. Stones, boards, or other materials lying on the ground provide the insects with good nesting sites. Check these sites. Insect larvae are also edible. Insects such as beetles and grasshoppers that have a hard outer shell will have parasites. Cook them before eating. Remove any wings and barbed legs also. You can eat most insects raw. The taste varies from one species to another. Wood grubs are bland, while some species of ants store honey in their bodies, giving them a sweet taste. You can grind a collection of insects into a paste. You can mix them with edible vegetation. You can cook them to improve their taste.

Worms (Annelidea) are an excellent protein source. Dig for them in damp humus soil or watch for them on the ground after a rain. After capturing them, drop them into clean, potable water for a few minutes. The worms will naturally purge or wash themselves out, after which you can eat them raw.


best thing to keep in mind when you end up in a survival situation is to find shelter to keep yourself warm first.

Then find water and food to keep yourself alive.

Best thing to do is to pack enough water and food in your bag when you head out.

But if you do end up in a situation where you aren’t prepared. The skills and tactics in this article can help you out.


3 thoughts on “What To Do First In a Survival Situation”

  1. Super knowledgeable blog post I agree shelter and water are the most important when first starting out. I think a lot would say food but you can live without food for a little while. Shelter and water first and foremost!

  2. Hi Alan,
    Thank you for another informative post. One suggestion though: Most prepping/survival blogs and articles are just words, without helpful illustrations (or at least sketchings) and/or actual photos. Perhaps you could remedy this situation? Because regardless how well a person writes, it is still hard for someone new to visualize how something should look like in real life.
    Thanks for taking note!


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