Why People Die in Survival Scenarios

May 31, 2013 by | 9 Comments

Are you a couch commando? One of those guys (or gals) like the tubby fellow to the left who has seen every episode of Man vs. Wild but never spent a night in the wilderness? If so, pardon my bluntness, but you will likely die in a survival scenario.

Your bookshelf may be filled with every survival book written in the last twenty years, but without what I call the survival trifecta, your chances of walking away from a life or death situation are pretty slim even on your best day. Survival comes down to three factors: knowledge, proficiency, and capability.


It’s simple to acquire the knowledge to survive any scenario—simple, but not easy. The first challenge is that there are an unlimited number of scenarios to prepare for, so you have a lot to learn. It’s going to take a considerable amount of time and dedication to gain enough knowledge to survive most scenarios, and it’s an ongoing process. There will always be more to learn.

The second challenge is separating the misinformation from the truth, and unfortunately, there is an obscene amount of misinformation online, in print, and on television. The solution is to acquire as much survival knowledge as you can from a variety of sources and test it in the real world to learn first-hand what works and what doesn’t, which leads into the second factor…


Most people graduate college and quickly realize that they are unable to apply what they “learned” in school—the same applies to survival. You may “know” how to start a fire with a bow drill, but have you ever done it? Have you done it more than once? Have you done it in the rain with cold, numb hands? All survival skills require constant practice to achieve and maintain proficiency. That’s why infantry troops spend so much of their time in the field training.

In order to live through a survival scenario, you must become proficient in the necessary skills needed before you need them. That means practicing often. Practice finding food and water, navigating, starting fires, etc. Practice everything you would need in a survival scenario—this, like acquiring knowledge on the subject, is an ongoing process.


Last winter I took a friend on a hike through a swamp. It didn’t go well for him. He was overweight and out of shape so he had a hard time moving through the brush, sunk as he trudged through the thick mud, and became exhausted quickly. We had only made it about half way to our destination by the time that we should have reached it. Based on our progress and the fact that my friend would have become increasingly slower as we continued, I determined it would take us until nightfall to reach our destination. The unprepared have no business being in the middle of a swamp at night, so I decided it was best to bring him back out. He could barely move for the next few days because his muscles were so sore.

Don’t be that guy. Make sure you stay healthy and in shape. Eat properly and exercise regularly so when you do find yourself in a survival scenario, you are physically capable of doing what you need to do. That might mean trudging though miles of swamp, traversing mountains, or even crawling through a burning building to stay below the smoke. You never know what you’re going to encounter, so ensure you have an adequate blend strength, endurance, and flexibility.

Melanie Swick (a.k.a. Survival Chick) grew up wanting to be a rocket scientist, but when she realized she that required way too much math, she took to her second dream—spending time in the wilderness. Today, when she's not hiking, camping, or hunting, she's blogging about it. You can connect with Melanie on Facebook.

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  • Austin says:

    I love your blog and all the information in it. Keep writing and i need to start practicing/ get in shape.

  • RobertBob says:

    On family hikes, my two boys usually end up becoming tired and not wanting to walk. I’m up to nearly 6 miles with both of them on me (with other gear.)

    • Jeremy Knauff says:

      Great job! It sounds like you’re doing the kind of parenting we used to see; pushing them to develop toughness and character. It’s a rarity these days.

    • John I. says:

      We started our son hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains when he was 5. Now he’s 7 and we just finished a section of the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mt., Ga. to Damascus, Va. He hiked all 470 miles, carrying his own gear. To bad we don’t see more families and young children out in the wilderness learning. Most parents (especially the young parents) would rather p,ay video games or use the TV as an “electronic babysitter.”

    • Kimberly says:

      We have three kids, two of them under 3. My 7 year old tends to run ahead of dad and me since we’re the ones who carry gear (though, she’ll be getting her own bag soon) but its difficult with our two toddlers…neither one like to get carried in a carrier, but both also like distractions and can’t hike. *sigh* I’m hoping that S-doesn’t-HTF before they can learn that distractions aren’t always good.

  • RTinDC says:

    Anybody with a belly as big as yers has little to tell me. Get in shape before you preach survival!

  • Rosalyn says:

    I’m 70 and have some health issues that I have had most of my life. I work around them as much as possible, but still do what I want or need to do to get by. I already have about 4 1/2 cord of firewood cut and stacked in my woodshed toward next winter, having just got through THIS winter a couple of weeks ago. I never cooked beef until after I got married, having lived in the mountains where my Dad was of the opinion if we didn’t grow it or shoot it, we didn’t eat. We raised cattle, but they were for profit and you don’t eat the profit. I still live that way, for the most part. People have a sad awakening coming, I’m afraid. I write about it and have been trying to get more information out there for the ones without a clue. Thank you for posting so many good informational articles. You are doing a Public Service, here.

  • Phred says:

    Lamentably, I do not see myself putting energy into training survival skills in light of the time needed to keep job, family and home running smoothly. The moral is, not everyone can survive. Certainly there are steps I take. I exercise, walk, and store food and fire wood. But any number of scenarios could force us to leave home. Be that as it may, even the survivors will eventually die, even if just of old age and any one of us could be on borrowed time right now. As dire as they may sound to the survivalist, I am at peace with it and that’s all that matters.

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