Wilderness Survival vs. Primitive Living – Part 1

Wilderness Survival vs. Primitive Living


Wilderness Survival vs. Primitive Living – Part 1

I often hear these terms used interchangeably. To me, they are very different topics. They are certainly related, but I look at them as similar topics on a continuum. Primitive Living is a skill set that all of our ancestors knew at one point in time. These were skills that allowed we humans to thrive, not just survive. Wilderness Survival is a skill-set that one uses to get out of a survival situation. All of the skills involved are used to keep oneself alive long enough to 1) Find your way back to civilization or 2) Be rescued. This article will focus on Wilderness Survival.

Some of the key skills for Wilderness Survival are: navigation, signaling, wilderness first-aid, and survival. We can delineate survival out into knowledge of fire, food, shelter, and water. The energy of all of these skills is to do enough to make something functional while using as little energy as possible. The key concept is conservation of energy.

In a Wilderness Survival situation you need to be aware of your priorities. What is most likely to kill you? You need to be thorough, but efficient with this assessment. An acronym you can use in a survival situation is S.T.O.P.


When you realize that you are lost, injured, stuck, etc. it is essential to take a deep breath, stop what you are doing and gain your composure. Having gone to your sit spot and having that experience in your body is an incredible tool for this. You know what it’s like to sit still, find that inner silence, and listen to the important voices. Panic begets trouble. Once you’ve stopped. It’s time to think and observe.

What materials do I have? What can I make out of these things that will help maintain my core body temperature? Should I wait for someone to find me or should I look for the trail? These are all important questions to think about and try to answer. Using your intuition can save your life.

Alright, you’ve become lost on a dayhike in the mountains. It’s late winter and temperatures will dip below freezing. You have 3 hours of daylight. You backpack contains a small first-aid kit, a Snickers bar, half a liter of water, a rain-jacket and an extra pair of socks.What should you do?

Make a plan. What do you have in your backpack? What trees and shrubs are prominent in the area? Maybe you want to try and see if you can find the trail. Make a mark on a prominent tree so you can trace your path – it is not uncommon to walk in circles when you are lost. This can be a terrible feeling, but it is important to gain your bearings. Your plan can be to look for the trail for 1.5 hours and then you have to start building a shelter and fire. Whatever your plan is stick with it.

Survival Priorities

You basic survival priorities are fire, shelter, water, and food. Depending on your environment and your supplies, these priorities likely need to be addressed. There is no specific formula to cover all these for every environment. Typically shelter comes first. Hypothermia is the biggest killer in survival situations. Dehydration is high on the list of conditions that will affect your survival. Drinking water is a high priority in a survival situation. If you don’t have chemicals or a water filter, boiling is your most reliable option. To boil water you need a container and a fire.

The lowest on the priority list is food. You can survive a month or more without food. Now this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t eat when given the opportunity. This, again, is where your naturalist knowledge can be a life-saver. You do not want to experiment with foods in a survival situation. Adding poisoning to your list of concerns is not helpful. But gathering chickweed, or dandelion, or wood sorrel while you are building a shelter can boost your energy. But if you don’t feel confident, it is better to fast.

Survival Kit

There’s a saying in survival that goes “The more you know, the less you need”. That said, a few items in a survival kit can be the difference between life and death. Having several ways to make fire, some water-purification tablets, a knife, a compass, a lightweight reflective blanket, and a signal mirror can save you a lot of time and energy. The key with these items is that they are sturdy, light, waterproof, and compact. This can be something that you carry with you on all of your adventures. It is essential that you practice with these items before you need them to help save your life!

Big Picture

There is much more to discuss about Wilderness Survival. This is just a start of the conversation. Your experience with doing Kamana is a huge step towards getting yourself out of a survival situation. Knowledge of trees, shrubs, plants, mammals, insects, and birds will be extremely helpful.

But the biggest advantage you will have is the ability to go back to all that dirt-time of being outside at your sit spot. Your sit spot will help you confront challenges like being cold, wet, dirty, scared of the dark, etc. in more bite-sized chunks. This experience is invaluable.

Part 2 will discuss Primitive Living and how it compares and contrasts to Wilderness Survival

Emergency Essentials/BePrepared

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