Get Out Alive

I cover a lot of outdoor topics here on my blog but I’ve never done one on survival. Strange that I haven’t; It seems to be a topic of great interest among all kinds of outdoor folks – with good reason. I thought I knew survival before the long hikes recounted in The Dying Fish, but nature would show me how ignorant I really was.

Honestly, I kind of hesitate to even begin here – this is a topic for another whole book, not a blog post but maybe I can hit the basics, maybe even keep someone alive this year. In my first survival class ever, the one that came along with my hunter’s safety course in Maine at the age of 10, the instructor seemed stuck on the primary idea of remaining calm, taking deep breaths and sitting down for a bit. I wanted him to hurry up and get to what I should do with my big knife, what to do in case of bears and how to build a shelter. I’m afraid that’s still where a lot of “survivalists” spend their time – on the rare flamboyant aspects of self-preservation. But the old warden who asked us boys to all sit still and think for a bit couldn’t have been more right.

His early advice may be the only reason I’m still here.

When you realize that you actually don’t know where you are, take a break, have a drink and maybe a bite of something. Sit on a mossy log. Hopefully, you have a map. I’m still an adherent of old reliable waterproof paper maps. Think about the last point you can say with certainty you crossed. Now you can see major barriers like streams and woods roads that you couldn’t have crossed without knowing it. Now you know, at least, your perimeter. From this point, use some logic and hopefully a compass as well – one of the primary pieces of equipment that should probably be hung around your neck as soon as you leave camp or the vehicle.

Decide whether you now definitely know your location (and can get yourself out) or whether this needs to be your campsite. Only move if you’re now certain. So many wilderness disasters can be traced back to points at which people decided to keep going just a bit further – further from a road or other people, as it often turns out. Also, while resting, assess your gear. What are your assets? Do you have a survival kit or do you just need to check all your pockets for matches or a whistle? There’s so much more to say but I’m going to cut it short at this point and just run through a list of my recommended basics for a fanny-pack size survival kit. You can survive with less, certainly, but these will allow some modicum of comfort in an inhospitable place, through a lonely night.

How to use these may come in a later post – it’s not all obvious.


The List

  • Water purification tablets
  • Collapsible water container
  • Metal cup


  • Compact survival blanket ( 2, if you can fit them – can be used as shelter roof)
  • Socks
  • Para cord
  • Matches
  • Lighter
  • Tinder material (Vaseline-soaked cotton balls or wax-coated cardboard are great)


  • Heavy-duty tin foil (your cooking pot)
  • Spork
  • Fishing line, hooks, sinker
  • Some dehydrated vegetables
  • Jerky
  • Candy


  • Sharp pocket knife
  • Bandage
  • Band-aids
  • Disinfectant
  • Pain reliever tablets
  • Duct tape
  • Safety pins
  • Bug repellant
  • Compass
  • Compact flashlight


Everything should be in watertight sealable bags! Also, this is not universal; the list will, of course, vary geographically and seasonally.

The equipment is important, but not primary. And remember, when Scotland’s William Wallace was very young and his uncle came to carry him off to schooling in Mainland Europe, he pointed to young William’s noggin and then to the sword he brandished, admonishing, “First Learn to use this, then you can learn to use that.”  (If we can trust the record handed down to us by Mel Gibson.)

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