How long could you survive in the wilderness?

Hey guys! I’ve been lurking on this forum for the past two months and finally have something to share so I created an account.

Came across this article titled: Average person thinks they can survive for 2 weeks in the wilderness — but most can’t start a fire

Like the title says, the average American thinks they can survive for 16 days in the wilderness. But out of 2000 American’s surveyed only 17% felt very confident about their ability to start a fire with flint.

52% felt confident that they could identify different plants, but when challenged and shown pictures of plants like poison ivy, few were actually able to correctly identify plants.

Interesting survey. I wonder what the numbers would be like with the prepping crowd. Are we more confident in our skills and abilities and think we can survive longer? Or are we more aware of what it would take and are realistic that we wouldn’t be able to even survive 16 days.

What they don’t go over is what gear if any are these people provided with. So lets assume that it’s what the average person would have on them on a day hike when they might get lost. Maybe a fanny pack, two granola bars, bag of jerky, water bottle, small cheap LED flashlight, and maybe a small cheap multitool. 

So lets figure out what preppers think. How long do you think you can survive in the wilderness? What factors are you putting into your answer?


  • Comments (41)

    • 13

      For me, roughing it is sleeping at a Holiday Inn.  I’d give myself a day or two in the wilds before I starved to death.  Two granola bars is just a snack for me.

      • 4

        Thank you for that comment Redneck, I had a solid laugh at that. 

      • 9

        I’m actually being pretty serious.  Survival in the wilderness, with limited provisions & gear ain’t for the faint of heart nor the old & fat.  I’ve figured with my get home bag, I could walk home from work if required… and that would be on open roads, not the wilderness.  I’m counting on a slow, 2 day walk.  And that is with proper gear & provisions.  In this scenario, most would fail.

      • 5

        Oh I know you were serious I just appreciated the dry humor. A humble, humorous approach to things is a great way to look at life imho.

    • 6

      Lack of clean water would the the quick killer in a few days. Something simple as going out hiking with a Sawyer straw filter could extend your survival dramatically.

      I’ve never tried a friction fire before (so not planning on being able to pick it up automatically) but if I was able to start a fire that way I could purify water, stay warm, cook meat, and signal for help.

      I would probably try throwing rocks at squirrels and rabbits, scavenge for bugs, and look for dandelions (only edible plant I can 100% identify). 

      For shelter I would make a debris hut using already downed branches and leaves. 

      Realistically, I think I could probably survive three days if I was able to make a decent shelter. If I had the addition of fire I would extend that to easily a week.

      Great topic and welcome to the forum. What this topic has taught me is make sure I always have a metal water container, fire starter, and a nice plus would be a water filter. That dramatically increases your chance of survival.

      Ooo… snare wire would be good too. Gotta get them calories 

      • 5

        Without fire, it will be hard to survive long. That would be an interesting further experiment to give someone a cheap lighter and see if they would be able to create a sustainable fire over night. Fire isn’t too overly complicated, but many probably have never even made one.

      • 2

        I recently was practicing how to start a fire with a Ferro rod and I really struggled. Eventually I got frustrated enough that I just grabbed my lighter just to have the satisfaction of actually having a fire going. Imagine my frustration when all of my tinder burnt up before any of the larger fuel could catch! I had forgotten a lot since my old scout days, and some of that was I forgot how much we used liquid fire starter.

        I eventually got a decent little fire going, but it was an eye opening experience.

    • 7

      Good morning Henry,

      The key to the thread’s question can be found in “the prepper crowd”. Most (51%+) do not train nor have wilderness experience. Some preppers are in urban areas and prepare only for urban environments. Some preppers in shore areas can thrive … their campfire is a high-quality seafood restaurant ….. in their environment only. Their deck shoes don’t work well out in the sticks. Those preppers who do have wilderness skills and experience can spend 2 weeks – 16 days – in the wilderness. Tools, equipment are secondary matters.  If not experienced with eg fire-making, the fire stuff won’t work … Remember, the lightning storm is enroute and will be present in 1 hour …  

      A wilderness-focused prepper can make 16 days in the wilderness – IF – in a small group. Medical care cannot be self-administered if not conscious. This is what must not be neglected to factor in.  After all, the venture is generated by an emergency / disaster.

      In the wilderness I can survive perhaps, at most, 3 days 2 nights, if prepared for event. The event could not involve substantial adverse circumstances.

      The factors in my above answer:

      At my age – I’m a senior citizen – my immune system is weakened as a function of the aging process. My vision is less than prior. My dexterity, mobility and energy are at lower levels than “before”.  

      I spent a year in the thorns of Vietnam and 16 days out was common before returning to a forward camp or the big base camp. This is called “history”.  It cannot be accomplished as a senior citizen.

      Will provide some specific examples with photos when we’re at Waffle House.

      • 4

        Age is certainly a deciding factor for many. That’s inspiring that you were able to survive in Vietnam.

        If I had gone to Vietnam, the mosquitoes would have sucked me dry and they would only find a shriveled up corpse of poor Mike. Mosquitoes love me for some reason

      • 3

        Good afternoon Mike,

        My survival in VN was pure fate.

        I vividly remember, like in the States, Surgeon General Terry’s warning about the health hazards of cigarette smoking printed on the 4 pack of cigarettes in C-rations. When assigning one’s life span, at most, 4 weeks/28 days, cigarettes won’t harm one’s health – relatively speaking.

        I did get malaria and still have remnants.  I easily chill to this day.

        The best mosquito repellant was cigarette smoke.

    • 4

      I will be bold and give myself 10 days assuming I could choose to be in Southern Appalachia where I grew up and during a decent time of year.  I spent a lot of time outside in my youth and could forage pretty well.  Having said that, I suspect I would spend the first couple days doing okay, then decline mentally over the next few days from hunger, bugs, general discomfort and boredom.  That would lead to me doing something stupid (like tripping or falling somehow) and receiving some other injury that would slowly kill me over my several remaining days.  Not particularly glamorous.  

      I think the location is crucial.  There was a great Survivorman episode where he was on a tropical beach and within a day was sitting by the fire eating crab and clams steamed in a coconut shell.  To prove a point, he decided to then go inland through the jungle to ‘look for help’ or something and within hours had been stung by some terrible insect, was overheating, and I think injured himself somehow.  Likely scripted to some degree, but was consistent with my experiences.  There are many environments where I would measure my survival time in hours rather than days.

      • 3

        Current story in the news about an Oregon fisherman who survived for 17days in the “wilderness”. Apparently built some sort of shelter. other details lacking.

      • 4

        Hikermor, I saw that story as well. It was frustrating because I wanted  to know more details on how he survived, why he was out there, etc…

      • 2

        AT, You make a good point about location. People in Florida with plenty of water and food sources will probably be able to survive longer than someone living in northern Alaska. (extreme example, but true) 

        I’ve always been envious of the survival shows like Survivorman where they demonstrate surviving on a beach or in a bamboo forest with plenty of materials and resources. Some of us are not so lucky and some might only have sage brush to suck on. So many variables

    • 4

      If I were in the Tennessee woods around here, assuming temperate weather, I think I could last about a week with that set of gear. I could easily build a shelter with a Leatherman and water is easy to find. Food would be trickier. There aren’t that many squirrels in the woods here anymore. Lots of deer, though. I might could stun one with a rock and stab it with a wooden spear, but it’d be ugly. But really it’d be a lot of sitting around, saving my energy, and trying to not sweat to death.

    • 4

      Hi Henry, Welcome to the forum.

      Great idea for a topic and a good way to test our survival skills.

      I am going to frame this exercise as getting lost in an area that would be common in my region and with the resources and wildlife that inhabit it.

      My supplies are per your list: “fanny pack, two granola bars, bag of jerky, water bottle, small cheap LED flashlight, and maybe a small cheap multitool.”

      If I got lost in a wilderness area, the people I informed of my plans would alert the authorities when I failed to return and could supply SAR with a copy of my itinerary and map of area I planned to hike.

      Because they would know this, unless it was life over limb, I would stay put. Usually people get lost in areas that are not far from their route. Wandering can delay rescue. If I had to relocate, then I would cut trail markers into trees that would mark my movement and direction.

      My first concern would be a water source to keep my Katadyne water bottle filled while keeping in mind that bears and other wildlife can also frequent water sources.  If I didn’t have a potable water filter bottle (I wouldn’t hike without one) and assuming the water bottle is a common plastic bottle, then filtration through socks or fabric cut from a t-shirt and stretched over an empty plastic water bottle like this, could work in a pinch:


      Next, while my energy is still sound and not depleted due to lack of food, I would gather dead wood from the area and spark a fire with the battery from the flashlight. If I had a flint, I would use it instead.


      In my region we have many of the fire starters in this article:


      If there was a clearing, and the materials I would spell out SOS.

      Wild berries are plentiful here. The water can be a source of fish and I would create a trap to catch fish for a protein source. Before I began to fish, I would soak green sticks in water to use for cooking later. The jerky could be cut into pieces for bait and a lure made with a bit of shiny buckle cut from the fanny pack.

      Here is an example of a fish trap made using upright sticks:


      or one made of rocks:


      Some people also use fish baskets to catch fish by weaving and tying a cone shaped basket.

      The fish can be gutted and cleaned with the multitool, then strung onto the soaked sticks and cooked.

      Wild plantain is common here and can make a nice raw side dish:


      I would follow the Indigenous method of fire building and maintenance: Use less resources by building a smaller fire and sit closer to it.

      Then I would hope for rescue. If all the above failed, then I would be wrestling some poor squirrel for his nuts 🙂


      • 4

        Wow… Impressive! I would last maybe 2 days, but from the looks of it, you will be able to survive months out there with that strategy.

      • 2

        Thanks Mike, but the credit goes to much smarter people than myself who shared their survival skills, including my Dad.

      • 3

        And now you share with us. Your dad has left quite the legacy

    • 5

      I have done two weeks in the wilderness several times in Upper Peninsula of  Michigan.  Its an experience! Making your own outhouse, watching for wolfs and bears, trying to stay warm, cutting wood for fires. Did for 5 years in a row, two weeks at time. Usually in the month of early November. Tell ya what you learn a lot about yourself and cooperative friends.  

      • 2

        Rider, Good on you for practising actual skills and rising to the challenge.

        What did you learn about yourself and friends?

        My brother used to snow hunt – gun and burrow in the snow banks as shelter.

    • 3

      may I just say I’ve roughed it with minimal supplies for 3 days. How you ask? I was out hunting with my cousin (i live in siskyou county california scott valley. All hills and dry evergreen forest.) I had a 30-aught6 rifle, a 38 ruger handgun. A rack saw ,ammo, a old switch blade, (ya ik not ilegeal at all, no one cares here. It was my grandfathers.) And other assorted things, long story short we spread up to track deer… id tell the whole story but i have to go feed my ducks.

      • 1

        Jack Bruck, I’d love to hear more about your hunting trip. Like what you did for water and shelter. What do you wish you had brought with you. And I’d love to hear about your ducks.

    • 3

      My shelter was one of those really low to the ground lean-tos supported against a rotten log, which I actually got a few tiny grubs out of my first rather dark night. I don’t think you realize how dark it is until you try and live in it. I didn’t manage to make fire the entire time. Got close with a hand drill, the smoke didn’t do me much good. I packed the thing full of nettle, wasn’t the most comfortable thing but it kept me warm. The survival i performed at the time was very rough cut. The only thing i ate was a turkey sandwich from home and thoose grubs i mentioned. I wish i had a lighter, i wish i had a lighter so i coud cook the birds that flew around my “Camp” cal fire found me eventually.

      Also this is charlie, Jacks friend hehe. He had no survival “experience” so he asked me to write this for him, so i might just go make my own account. Buh bye.

      • 4

        Yup I’ve only dreamt of survival, I personally haven’t roughed it out yet. 

        – Jack

    • 2

      I’m shocked that most people think they can last 16 days. I imagine I’d only last a couple. My biggest issue would be food, as I’m no hunter or fisher and I already know that I’m no good at identifying plants to eat. I think I could figure out a shelter, maybe a fire (I need more practice though to be confident), but food is gonna be an issue.

    • 2

      “What they don’t go over is what gear if any are these people provided with. So lets assume that it’s what the average person would have on them on a day hike when they might get lost”

      what an ‘average’ person might have on them, or what someone from the prepper community might have on them on a day hike?

      I personally never go out without water purifacation tabs, a source of fire, a steel water bottle that can be used to boil water, signal mirror, foil survival blanket, compass, means of communication, weather appropriate clothing, light weight shelter tarp and paracord

      I would hope to be able to last long enough, even in harsh conditions, to await rescue with that minimum loadout

      • 1

        Definitely having some gear like water purification tabs, fire, and signaling devices will greatly increase your likelihood of survival and duration that you would be able to survive or even be found.

    • 2

      Depends what you mean by wilderness, the nearest we have to a wilderness over here is a peat moorland, and I have spent 7+days just living off what I carried on my back.

      • 1

        That’s got to have been a great experience. Did you pack your own food for those seven days or live off of the land? Was there enough firewood on the moors?

      • 2

        I packed in my own food.

        because of the peat which can catch fire open fires are not allowed, you have to pack in a small camp stove.

    • 2

      Some important variables – which wilderness?  during what season?  What tools/resources do you have?  There is immense variability in “wilderness” and in some situations I could survive, even thrive, indefinitely.  In others circumstances, i would be toast in 48 hours.

      Basically meaningless question…..

      • 2

        Good evening Hikermor,

        Exactly !

        Cold weather in the Rockeys, cold weather in the Green Mounts of New Hampshire … believe most winds in contageous US are there … 

        I join you; I’ll be “toast”.

    • 2

      To be absolutely frank, I don’t know. The UK is almost entirely comprised of managed landscape, there is very little true wilderness. No higher predators  and not much game. Most of the national parks can be walked across within a day, it is possible to walk coast to coast in 3 days.

      • 2

        There is no wilderness in the UK except for maybe the Highlands of Scotland.

        there is plenty of game in my part of rural England, whether a person can catch any of it is another question. thats down to what skills they have.

      • 1

        When you have your DSC1&2 you can lecture me on hunting skills Paul.

      • 1

        okay got it now, Deer Stalking qualification.

        I wont be stalking any deer either now or post SHTF.

      • 1

        I wasnt lecturing anyone Smitty.

        I merely said there is plenty of game in my neck of the woods, whether anyone has the skills to catch it is another matter.

        thats a fact not a lecture.

      • 2

        When people say they’re confident that they can start a fire with a flint do they mean true flint and steel or one of those ferrocerium sticks and the back of a knife? There is a world of difference!

      • 1

        still produces a spark whatever it is.

        even the steel bit of a flint and steel is a man made product.