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Recommended Books

Survival Wisdom & Know How: Everything You Need to Know to Thrive in the Wilderness by the editors of Stackpole Books.

Wilderness Survival by Gregory Davenport

How to Stay Alive in the Woods: a complete guide to food, shelter, and self-preservation by Bradford Angier.

Hawke's Green Beret Survival Manual by Myke Hawke.

When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency by Matthew Stein

How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It by James Wesley Rawles

When All Hell Breaks Loose by Cody Lundin

Primitive Wilderness Living & Survival Skills: Naked into the Wilderness by John and Geri McPherson.

The Essential Wilderness Navigator by David Seidman

SAS Survival Handbook: How to Survive in the Wild, in Any Climate, on Land or at Sea by John Lofty Wiseman

US Army Survival Manual: FM 21-76 by Department of Defense

The Backpacker's Field Manual by Rick Curtis


Primitive skills - book excerpts online

Survival IQ

Wilderness Survival Guide

Wildwood Survival

Earth Caretaker


The Tracker School
Watertown, New Jersey. 

Twin Eagles Wilderness School
Sandpoint, Idaho.
New Jersey school.

Aboriginal Living Skills School
Cody Lundin's outfit.

Cottonwood Institute
Nonprofit helping underserved kids learn survival skills.

Vermont Wilderness School

Alderleaf Wilderness College
Monroe, WA

Primitive Ways
Hayward, California

How-To Websites

Building a shelter

How to set up a Tarp Tent
Northwest Woodsman via YouTube

In the event of a long-term catastrophe, rescuers may not be speeding to your location anytime soon. For security and survival, consider evacuating to a wilderness area. Here, you can hunt and forage, build a wood fire for heat and cooking, and avoid the chaos of the city.

Below you'll find detailed notes gleaned from many sources, including Bradford Angier's How to Stay Alive in the Woods, Matt Stein's When Technology Fails, Myke Hawke's Green Beret Survival Manual, Bear Grylls' Man vs. Wild TV series, and the websites listed in the gray box below right. Feel free to copy and paste any page on this website into a text file to print out. (Note: You may need to change the font from white to black if using MS Word or other applications.)

Immediate Priorities

In any survival situation, first determine your priorities, then act calmly and methodically. Bear Grylls uses this memory aid: "Please Remember What's First" Which translates:

P for Protection: Be sure to equip yourself with tools to stave off animal or human predators, extreme weather and other threats.

R for Rescue: When lost, devise a plan for getting help, whether by setting a signal fire, leaving signs on the ground, or writing "SOS" where it can be seen from the sky. (Of course, in a doomsday scenario you may prefer to travel by stealth. )

W for Water: Locating water within 24 hours is essential, since your survival without it is limited to about three days.

F for Fire and Food: Building a fire provides warmth, protection and a way to sterilize germs in food and water. While you can survive a couple weeks without eating, you'll make better progress on a full stomach.

Once these priorities are addressed, you can turn to other matters, including shelter.

Building a Shelter

The easiest and initial approach to constructing a refuge is to use what's already provided in nature. It might be any of the following:

These arrangements fall under the category of a lean-to shelter. Once you've scouted out some existing features, all you need do now is scavenge additonal material to enhance it. This could include logs, branches, palm fronds, vines etc.  Be sure to check for insect and animal activity (e.g. the cave may be a bear's den) before deciding on a spot to pitch camp.

Another important decision involves where to place the entrance to your shelter. Here you might factor in wind direction, snow drift, the sun's path, or the potential for an avalanche. It's also a good idea, whenever possible, to provide for a second, escape route from the shelter in case of attack.

Once the main structure is set up, you can use leaves and soil to build walls, a roof and ground cover to provide insulation, privacy and comfort. Generally speaking, the more insulation you have, the better, especially on the ground. You may not realize it, but cold-damp air rises up into a body in no time at all. If the topography has high and low parts to it, pick a high spot, since the cold, heavy air accumulates at the lower elevations.

If you decide to build a shelter from scratch, here are a few options:

A-frame structure: Two A-shaped braces with a log connecting provide a skeleton over which you'll lay branches and other covering. For this job, you'll need lashing, which can be rope, paracord, vines or clothing cut into ribbon-sized lengths.

Boy scout training typically includes A-frame construction.
Photo: Stuttgart Military Community

Teepee: As shown in the illustration above, you can lash three seven-foot logs tightly together on one end. Then insert and tie a dozen or more poles to this tripod and start weaving in the branches. If necessary, you can brace the structure on the ground by piling up stones or rocks in a circle around it.

At left, a hybrid teepee-A-frame shelter. At right, a nicely camoflaged shelter braced by log. Photo credits: Bushcraft Plus (left) and U.S. Army.

Platform: To get yourself off the ground (especially in the jungle or alligator habitat), create four elevated corners over which you can lay logs, branches and matting for your bed. A platform is generally used in combination with another structure (natural or manmade), providing walls and a roof. As a base, you can either tie together three-foot-long logs into tripods, build up piles of flat rocks, or tie other materials together to give you the right elevation, as shown in the photo below.

Treehouse: Often an easier option to accomplish than it would initially appear, survivalists prefer it because staying high off the ground and hidden is sometimes necessay. Look for two side-by-side branches in one tree, or a single branch in 2-3 trees. From there, all you need to do is wedge (or attach with cordage) logs between these posts, giving you the base of a platform. You can place slats across the logs, and then pile soft materials on top of these. Alternatively, you can weave several vines together into a sort of hammock. Once it's complete, est the structural integrity of this structure thoroughly, and consider how you'll move around it in the dark. You may even need to tie yourself into your bed to keep from falling over the side.

To make a treehouse easier to access from the ground, pound some sticks into the trunk to use as steps. Alternatively, you can fashion a climbing ladder out of vines and sticks. For maximum security, be sure pull the ladder up once you're aloft to keep intruders out.

Tarp Tent: If you have a rain poncho, large garbage bag, sheet of plastic, or cloth, you can create a tent by running a string between two trees, and then drop the tarp across. Secure the ends on each side with more string (i.e. rope or vines), or with rocks.

In this variation of a tarp tent, a pole at the entrance is used in combination with paracord to frame the tarp. Photo:

Hammock: This quick shelter requires weaving together some vines or ropes that are wide enought to hold your body safely. (You can also try cutting several long slits in a bamboo pole.) A rope on either end secures the hammock to the trunks. If you expect rain, you also have to construct some form of cover on the branches above you, as shown in the photo below.

Snow Shelters

Always erect these with your entrance at a right angle to the wind. This will prevent snow piling up and blocking your exit. You must also be mindful of the potential for avalanche. Here are three options:

Notice how the sleeping area is placed on a shelf, with a lower area below it. This takes advantage of the rule in nature that cold air sinks, warm air rises. The shaded area represents the snowpack. Diagram: Rick Curtis, Outdoor Action Program, Princeton University.

How to make a soft mattress

First scoop out some curved holes in the ground to accommodate your shoulder and hip bones. Then lay out young, heavily-needled boughs of balsam, birch or pine. Or you can use pine needles, moss, ferns, or marsh hay. Lay the branches, beginning from the head of your new mattress, and move downward. Remember to turn the branch bottoms up, which is the opposite of how they hang on a tree.

Major Shelter Considerations

At right, a shelter waterproofed with interlocking pine branches.

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Please note: A wilderness expedition can be dangerous or life-threatening. Always consult a professional outdoors expert before undertaking one. Whenever possible, avoid solo ventures and travel with a partner. Discuss any first aid or medical issues beforehand with your health care provider. When doing research, be sure to consult multiple sources to insure accurate information.

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Finding and Disinfecting Water: Page 2

Food and Cooking: Page 3

Other Survival Topics: Page 4

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