The wilderness is a dangerous place and I did get lost once with barely a few tools and scraps of food. Since then, I was researching how to survive in the wild with nothing, and I decided to write a post to help you on your next outdoor adventure in case you end up like me!
Let’s assume you are stranded in the woods with nothing but your daily, urban clothing. That begs the question:
How to survive in the wild with nothing? The answer is not surprising: just with knowledge and skill, you stand a decent chance of survival. You can survive long enough if you possess a good understanding of the environment, and if you have the skills needed to use the environment to your advantage. But there are a few things that you should consider right away…
Surviving with nothing makes everything more challenging. But you just need to survive the critical 24-48 hours until rescue arrives. You can do it by dutifully taking care of your basic, organic needs. But here is the catch – your needs should be prioritized based on the type of wild environment that you face. Here is the gist of it…
How to Survive in the Wild with Nothing, Based on Environment
If you are injured or disabled, don’t put your hopes in the cavalry to arrive! Make your peace with the world and expect to reunite with mother nature soon, because that is the most likely scenario! There is no mercy out there in the wild.
But if you are able-bodied and good to work, then you stand a decent chance if you choose the right survival strategy for the environment you are in. If you don’t take care of your basic needs then you will die, so our strategy will base itself on how each environment affects us and our needs:
- Warmth – You need some way of preserving your body heat.
- Hydration – Have clean water to drink.
- Safety – Stay protected against wild animals and predators.
- Food – You need nourishment to keep your energy levels.
Each environment is different and will affect your needs in very many ways. One quick trip through a sun-scorched desert will leave you completely dehydrated, and you’ll collapse from heat-stroke unless you find a cool shade.
On the other hand, in a continental forest from a temperate climate region, the temperatures plummet during the night, so you better find shelter, or you’ll freeze to death.
How about the thick, green mangrove woods? You won’t have to worry as much about hyperthermia or hydration levels, but there are dangerous predators lurking from the shadows: man-eating tigers. So, you better craft a weapon and pay attention to every little sound!
Do you see how basic knowledge of the environment is your biggest asset even when you are completely alone and exposed? Knowledge is your greatest ally. And people have been surviving in the wild with nothing for most of our history, but they did master the environment by understanding it first!
Temperate forests. Making a shelter is your priority. Whether you are waiting, or on the move, the greatest danger is hypothermia. In the nighttime, even in the summertime, temperatures can drop radically. And if they go below 5 degrees C, you won’t have more than 3 hours to find a source of heat.
After you have a shelter, make sure you drink enough water. Since water obeys gravity, there should be a downstream spring or a river, flowing down the mountains. Many forests have edible tree barks, nuts, and berries, so food shouldn’t be a big problem.
Deserts are very inhospitable to life! Hot, scorching deserts like the Sahara or Death Valley will dry and fry you in a matter of minutes unless you find a shady shelter and a source of water. Water is nearly impossible to find, so there’s not much chance you’ll survive.
If you stay in the sun, you’ll collapse from heat-stroke. But if you hide from it, you may survive. Of course, the next greatest danger is dehydration and cold temperatures. Even if deserts are glowing red from heat during the day, the nighttime temperature may drop below zero. So, you’ll need to find shelter to stay warm and find water. Both can be challenging in a flat environment with no trees, rivers or other distinguishing features.
Arctic, snow deserts are the worst. To stand a chance of survival in these inhospitable environments, you will need at least some thick, warm clothing to begin with. Stay warn is such a cold, blazing place is critical, so make your priority finding shelter. Don’t let the snow fool you, these environments are dry, so you will need to melt the snow in your mouth to get a few drops of water.
Find shelter and pray to God you won’t lose your toes to frostbite! The snowy, cold desert is the most dangerous environment with lowest chance of survival, unless you have really thick clothing and shelter.
Swamps and marshes are my favorite places. But not for spending my vacation! It is nearly impossible to move in a straight line with all the crossing rivers, puddles, and trees. They are festering with mosquitoes and insects, and finding clean water is nearly impossible. Not to mention the wild predators: crocodiles, tigers, leopards, jaguars (depending on geographical location).
You will need to stay safe, especially during the night. So, make some improvised weapons like a spear or two. Use leaves to collect fresh rainwater, which is best for drinking. Shelter is important: it protects you from insects and wild animals (they are more likely to attack you in the open). And you have a safe place to sleep and take cover against the rain.
How to Survive in a Wild Forest with Nothing?
First of all, forests are much more hospitable to humans than deserts, marshes, and mountains. The temperatures vary within a smaller range between day and night.
Although forests tend to cool down significantly more during the night, they are full of resources such as wood and leave, so you can create an amazing shelter to hunker down for the night. There aren’t as many dangerous predators (except black bears).
To top it off, most forests are lush in nutritious food and wild game. For the most part, there is plenty of clear, drinking water in the streams and rivers that enrich a forest landscape.
How to survive in the wild with nothing, in a forest? Here is a practical series of steps.
- My first instinct is to relax and look around. What time of day is it? Are there any noticeable geographical features that can tell me where I am? Should I stay and wait, or should I move?
- If it’s dusk, then you need to find a warm, cozy shelter for the night. Same goes if it’s about to rain! Find as many branches as you can and build a shelter, under a downed tree, or a hollow opening in a rock wall, or in a hole in the ground. Find leaves to cover the shelter, at least partially!
- Optional: Make a small campfire. Create a bow drill or use two dry pieces of woods to ignite embers and then blow under flames emerges. The drier vegetation you can find, the better; Your fire is going to need it. Don’t go for leaves only, they burn fast. Woods is optimal because it burns longer and provides more heat.
- Next day: Search for water. There should be streams, especially around a mountain. Use leaves to collect rainwater. Water is subject to gravity so the lower you descend, the higher the likelihood that you find water.
- Worry about food later. You can fast a day or so without too much loss of energy from food deprivation. Humans can survive a month without food, so don’t make it a priority over warmth and water.
The key to forest survival is finding shelter and preserving body heat. Of course, you can live out there forever, so what’s the backup plan? Is anyone looking for you? Does anyone know where to look? Should you move or wait and signal your whereabouts?
How Long Can You Survive Alone with Nothing at All?
Indefinitely, if you possess the skill and the knowledge, and if you are willing to make every single day’s priority survival. Woodlands, forests, and rainforests are decent environments and many tribes live and thrive to this day in those wildernesses.
Off course if you are alone, then your chances of success sink dramatically even in the most hospitable regions.
Most urban-dwellers die within 24-48 hours after getting lost in the woods. The primary causes of death are exposure and hypothermia. Your average city person has no idea about the first thing to do in a natural environment. Let alone how to survive in the wild with nothing.
Hot and cold deserts are the most inhospitable. Death is expected within hours due to heat-stroke and severe hypothermia.
Mountainous regions are dangerous as well. You won’t last more than a few days and that’s only if you find shelter.
A competent person who knows what they are doing can survive for years if they avoid getting stranded during a storm, falling off a cliff, and accidents. They would always carry a weapon, a bow, and a spear to repel dangerous predators.
How do you Survive Without A Shelter?
You don’t! At least not more than 3 hours. When the sun goes down and the temperature starts dropping, you will lose more and more body heat.
Maintaining core body temperature should be your priority in the wild. Since this post is about how to survive in the wild with nothing, I assume you won’t have a thick, fluffy blanket to wrap yourself with! A shelter is a second-best thing, even if it’s poorly made.
If you have no way to preserve body heat, your core temperature will drop, and you will develop fatal symptoms that lead to cardiac arrest (heart stopping). The human body must sustain a temperature within a 5-degree variation to its normal.
A shelter protects against the scorching sun and the blistering frost. It shields you from exposure such as shock, hypothermia, hyperthermia, being bitten, buried, drowned or battered with hail and rain.
How Long You Survive Without Food, Water, and Warmth?
Without warmth you can barely make it 3 hours until your body stops functioning, you lose consciousness and die from heart arrest, eventually suffocating. That is hypothermia: a fast, painless way to go.
On the other hand, if you wander out in the desert at high-noon when the temperature is soaring high, it won’t be any less pleasant. If you don’t find shade, your body will overheat and transpire to cool itself. That means dehydration. But even that won’t lower your core temperate and you will collapse because of hyperthermia, lose consciousness and die in the desert.
Without water, your body can survive much longer, up to three days. But unless you find something to drink, your body will dehydrate, and the weakening effect of dehydration will begin to wear you down. Eventually, you will be too weak to move and search for water.
The rate at which your body dehydrates depends on environmental conditions. Hot, dry regions increase the rate at which you lose bodily fluids. You will suffer the damaging effect of dehydration much sooner in a hot desert than in a thick, cool, and humid woodland.
Food should be your least concern. You can survive a whole month without food. According to some studies in the 1950s, you can even lessen the effect of caloric restriction by eating in a time restricted window. When you don’t have much food at your disposal, don’t eat throughout the day, rather narrow down your eating within a few hours. Your body will burn fat rather than crave food.
What to eat in the wood to stay alive? Nuts, seeds, fruit, and berries are easier to find. Edible flowers, mushrooms, and tree bark can be risky unless you know what you are looking for. Insects and larvae are great sources of protein. If you can improvise a trap, then small game like birds and rodents are the thing on the menu.
Can you survive on leaves and grass? No. The human digestive system is weak and ineffectual at digesting base materials like leaves and grass. They contain cellulose and only ruminating animals have the digestive capacity to decompose it further into something that can be nutritious for the body.
What is the first sign of dehydration? The fastest way to tell if you are hydrated is an acute thirst, accompanied by dark-colored urine. I know it is counter-intuitive, but people often don’t read it as a sign. The next symptom is a general weakness and fuzzy-mindedness.
Even though it is completely possible to survive in the wild with nothing, I highly suggest that you come prepared. Both practically, with tools, food and water. But especially mentally, with the right knowledge of the environment you are going to encounter.
So, before you pack your stuff, do your research and understand what you need to do in every possible scenario. Preparation beats improvisation!