With the uncertainty and turbulence of COVID-19 continuing, the concept of surviving the ‘unknown’ is something we have all now experienced on different levels. Although the comfort of self-isolating in our home seems like a luxury, there were a number of challenges that impacted the way we lived while maintaining our personal wellbeing.

The epidemic has caused many people to stop and think about their ability to not only survive, but to thrive in an environment that is not comfortable. Many households were forced to review their resources, be thrifty and use what they had to get by. People were in crisis and had limited resources to see their way through. If you transfer this scenario to the field environment, how long could you survive with limited support? In the event that logistics support is not available, do you have a back-up plan? Do you know how to survive without technology? Do you know how to find bush food and potable water?

We’ve asked a number of subject matter experts in Army survival to share their fundamental survival skills with you, including an overview of the survival priorities identified in LWP-G 7-7-6 Environmental Survival. As part of a Survival Skills Series to be featured in future editions of Smart Soldier Magazine, we will explore a range of environmental survival scenarios and what to include in your ultimate survival kit.

Concept of Survival

Priorities for sustaining life

It is essential that the survivor understands the priorities for sustaining life. These can be summarised as follows:

  1. the maintenance of physical and mental wellbeing
  2. the protection of the body from the effects of exposure to the elements
  3. the replenishment of body fluids
  4. obtaining food

Priorities for survival

The priorities for sustaining life inevitably lead to the priorities for survival. These are as follows:

  1. water
  2. shelter
  3. food
  4. warmth
  5. health
  6. rescue

The order of these priorities may vary depending on the conditions that are encountered.

Survival Priorities in Detail

Water – Although there are a number of water purification products available through camping stores, there are ways to identify natural water sources that are safer to drink and also ways to filter water. Conserve perspiration, not water. If possible filter, clarify, purify and sterilise water before drinking. Use fauna and flora to guide you to a potential water source.

Shelter – In the event that you do not have access to sleeping equipment or your Army issue shelter, there are a number of ways to find suitable shelter to protect you from weather, predators and insects.  Use local resources. Consider what you need to shelter from, such as weather, dangerous fauna or insects.

Food – Aside from the rations that you might be carrying in your pack, there are other sources of food within the bush environment that can nourish and sustain you for a period of time. Knowing what vegetation is safe to consume and how to prepare certain bush foods could be the difference between thriving and barely surviving. When trying to ascertain if something is edible, use the SIT (smell, irritation and taste) test. Avoid fungi, legumes and rotten meat. If possible, thoroughly cook everything before eating.

Warmth ­– Warmth can be provided by various means, including:

  1. Clothing – A basic need for survival is clothing, and it is essential to make sure that clothing stays dry as much as possible, especially footwear. Clothing can also help to reduce infections and minor abrasions that can result in more serious injuries or illness over time. Natural fibres tend to be the best. Woollen clothing will retain warmth even when wet.
  2. Fire – The ability to light and maintain fire is important for heat, cooking and also water quality. Once you have established a safe location to start a fire, there are a number of things you need to consider. To start a fire, first produce a spark or ember (heat), which is applied to tinder (fuel), then feed in air (oxygen) until a flame develops. Kindling is progressively added to boost the flame so that heavier fuel may be added to produce a satisfactory fire.
  3. Weather – The weather can be extremely unpredictable and can change your ability to survive from one day to the next. Torrential rain, searing heat and strong winds can alter how you collect and utilise natural resources. Your ability to survive in a range of weather conditions is vital for your ultimate survival. With a little knowledge of the environment, proper planning and appropriate equipment, anyone can overcome the elements. Always be aware of and plan for sudden changes to the weather. Stay tuned for Smart Soldier Edition 66 for a detailed article relating to weather systems. 

Health – Aside from managing minor and major injuries with basic first aid skills, it is also beneficial to understand risk assessments and learn about natural remedies. Seemingly minor ailments that may require attention (such as minor scratches) can become infected and extremely problematic for overall health. Conduct a risk assessment and apply WHS principles for every activity that you undertake. Avoid any or further injury. Bush remedies require good local knowledge and only should be used when positive identification has been obtained.

Rescue – After focusing your energy on surviving in the wilderness, it’s important to know how to be rescued – do you know how to attract attention and provide an indication of your location? A survivor needs to use all available resources to help searchers (ground and air) locate them. This action needs to be taken immediately once the survivor realises they are in an emergency situation. The sooner a survivor can communicate the fact that they are in trouble and identify their location, the sooner they can take advantage of passing aircraft or vehicles and the sooner rescue action can be initiated.

“You cannot adjust the wind, but you can adjust the sails”
– Yiddish proverb

Nature of Survival Situations

Unexpected – Almost by definition, survival situations occur without warning. They normally come as a surprise to the people involved and can prove very disconcerting. This type of situation gives rise to a variety of stresses that can adversely affect the person's will to survive, such as level of emotional resilience and a positive mental attitude.

Unplanned – For most people, the sudden onset of a survival situation puts them in a circumstance and environment that they had not planned for. Many people do not consider 'what could go wrong' and so are unprepared mentally and physically for such a situation. This can leave them poorly equipped to deal with this challenge. The better prepared people are, the less affected and vulnerable they will feel.

Dislocating – As a result of their surprise and lack of preparation, most people will experience some degree of shock and helplessness when confronted with a survival situation. The environment they now find themselves in is significantly different from the comfort they had in their own artificial and technological society. They have an expectation that the emergency services should deal with these types of problems for them. Consequently they do not grasp the need to take responsibility for their own wellbeing. Because they are so far removed from their comfort zone, this dislocation can, in extreme cases, result in them sitting mutely in one spot, doing nothing, either until they are rescued by outside agencies or until they die. For all intents and purposes their survival has now become a matter of luck.

Positive Mental Attitude

The first step in responding to a survival situation is for the survivors to think positively and take responsibility for their own fate. The survivor must realise that everyone has skills and knowledge they can adapt to any survival situation in order to improve their circumstances. All that is required is a logical, common-sense approach to problem solving. Of course, the greater the skill and knowledge of the survivor the more thorough and complete the process will be. Regardless, taking that first positive move towards improving the situation is an essential step along the road to surviving.


The need for survival can happen at any time, in any location. As we have witnessed throughout history, the world around you can change suddenly, even in the home environment where we generally feel safe. Your ability to plan ahead and be adequately prepared will ensure that you continue to thrive in uncomfortable environments with relevant knowledge and resources to maintain your wellbeing and plan your way out. Stay tuned for the next edition of the Survival Skills Series in Smart Soldier, which will be focused on jungle survival.