Prioritizing and Improvising for Wilderness Survival


The five basic elements of survival are personal protection, signaling, sustenance, travel, and health. Recognizing and prioritizing these essentials will help settle many of the fears you may have. The exact order in which they're met will, of course, depend upon the environmental difficulties you're currently dealing with. In addition, your condition, the availability of materials, the expected duration of stay, and the given situation will all affect how you meet your needs. For example, in an arctic environment, shelter is going to be of higher priority than it would be in a mild climate. On the other hand, in the desert, you're going to want to put the search for water at the top of your list. By taking the time to logically plan how you will meet your needs and allowing for necessary adjustments, you can greatly diminish the potentially harmful effects of Mother Nature.


Improvising in the wilderness is a necessity. It's the only way you'll be able to construct the equipment you need to meet your needs. The good news is that with a little creativity and imagination, you should be able to improvise the basic survival necessities. This will increase your chances of survival and decrease the amount of stress. Following the five steps below will help you logically think out the best method of improvising to meet a particular need.

Follow these 5 steps when improvising:

  1. As silly as it may sound, start by determining your specific need.
  2. Inventory your available materials both man-made and natural.
  3. Create a list of options for meeting your need.
  4. Logically pick one basing your decision on what is the most efficient use of time, energy, and materials.
  5. Proceed with the plan and confirm, once constructed, that the final product is safe and durable.

Here's an example of the above thought process in action. Imagine that you're lost in a temperate forest during a cool spring evening. It's 8pm and you're in need of a shelter for the night.

  1. Determine your need: You need a shelter.
  2. Inventory your available materials:
    • Man-made: You have cord, a tarp, a poncho, and a large plastic bag.
    • Natural: In the general area, you can see trees, branches, leaves, and cattails.
  3. Consider the different options of how you might meet your need:
    • Build a tarp shelter.
    • Construct a poncho shelter.
    • Use the plastic bag to make a shelter.
    • Find a good tree well and maybe even incorporate your tarp into the lower boughs to add to the natural protection.
    • Construct a natural shelter using cattail leaves to provide the outer covering.
  4. Consider the time, energy, and materials required for each option and then pick one.
    • Time: Options 1 through 4 require little time to construct.
    • Energy: Options 1 through 4 require very little energy.
    • Materials: Options 1, 2, and 3 would require materials that could be put to better use. Options 4 and 5 are good choices, since they spare your man-made resources. Option 4 would use material in an appropriate fashion, provided the tarp was not necessary to meet any of you other needs. Option 4 is the best choice.
  5. Proceed with the plan. Once the shelter has been constructed, double-check its construction to ensure that it is safe and durable enough for the night.

Wilderness Survival by Gregory J. Davenport

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