Define “Survival” from a Survival Instructor Point of View

I never liked the word “Survival”;  to me it meant barely staying alive…you’re miserable, uncomfortable, cold, hungry and scared out of your mind.  From what I understand no Native American tribe had a word in their language for what we call “survival”  If we were to try and explain what we meant by our term after a while they might smile and say “are you talking about just living in the woods?”

To get a little more technical and detailed Survival and teaching Survival is

  • Learning how to adapt to fluctuating demands of a situation
  • Relying on and reconfiguring your mental resources to meet those demands and satisfy your needs of Shelter, Water, Fire, and Food
  • Shift your perspective from one of “Oh s*!t I’m gonna die” to one of “I’m in a situation that I have trained for and now I need to
    1. Access the situation
    2. Inventory what resources you have available, including all of the things you learned that are now in your head.
    3. Formulate a plan
    4. Enact that plan

The final objective is to be able to live comfortably (being physically safe, staying warm and dry, having pure drinking water, having food to eat, and dealing with medical situations as best you can with what is available) with no equipment or gear.  However, most people start off with being able to do all of those things BUT having 40+ pounds of equipment and gear that they need to carry on their back to do it.  My job as a survival instructor is to gradually teach that person skills to eliminate that gear, one piece at a time, with either thing they can acquire from Nature, things they can find in the woods or information they can learn and carry in their head.  LEARNING survival skills is mostly knowledge and that’s mental which is why our survival classes, at least the basic 101 classes, are not physically demanding at all, a person needs to learn the skills and become somewhat proficient at those skills before they walk out into the woods into a more rigorous environment, to test themselves.

Teaching “Survival” is also about acquiring a new mindset on how you see things.  The Marines have a motto of “adapt and overcome” which is a good way to look at survival or rather a “self-reliance” situation.  You find yourself in a set of circumstances you didn’t plan to be in and you do not have all the gear or equipment you wish you had to deal with your circumstance…now what?  This is the reality 99.9 of the time and you need to adapt, what items do I have that will satisfy my survival needs of Shelter, Fire, Water, and Food (with food not being a critical concern at this point).  IF you do have resources like a car, crashed airplane, backpack with some gear…GREAT, if not then your Plan B is to “make what you need” from Nature.  Equipped with the knowledge of WHAT to do from your survival training, you will overcome your unexpected situation and have a great story to tell your friends and kids.

Most people also start looking at things differently once they take a survival, or rather “self-reliance” class.  The best example I can give to illustrate this is a year or so ago I received a call from a recent student who called to share how the class altered his way of seeing things.  He was doing some home plumbing and needed fittings. As he was browsing the bins at the hardware store he passed the 1/2″ pipe caps. He said the first thing that came to my mind was “that would make a handy Bow Drill handhold in a pinch”.  It’s that kind of thinking that will allow you to become your own McGyver and see things in objects that others, without your training, will not see.


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