Survivalists and Bushcrafters and pretty consistent when it comes to preparation. They have the skills necessary to survive by building shelter, making a fire, finding water, and in many cases making cordage, foraging foods, trapping, and building all the necessary items needed. Practicing these skills usually takes a lot of time and effort. It’s hard to find someone who has spent considerable time in the wild alone and utilized all their skills in one trip. When you do it they talk about it like it’s nothing and are happy to share their wisdom of experience! 

Why the first 48? 

The first 48 hours of a survival situation is critical. Most important is a source of water and shelter from the elements. Obviously, the most immediate need depends on climate, danger, and efficiency of the individual. But it’s safe to say that making a shelter, finding a water source and creating a fire will keep someone alive during the first 48 hours, regardless of climate. 

Finding moving water in a survival situation is incredibly important.

The human body can’t last without water for very long and building a shelter takes a lot of energy and sweat. In all environments conservation of energy is essential. So, it’s safe to say that time is the enemy at the beginning of any survival situation. 

What’s important about the first week? 

Food and the body: 

The first week is the deciding factor for the majority of the time to follow. Once a shelter is established and a proper water source is found the first week consists of fortifying a structure and finding food sources. There are other tasks that can be accomplished during this time but It's safe to say a strong shelter and food are at the top of the list. 

Having a strong and reinforced ridgepole will allow you to transition from a tarp shelter to a brush shelter with no major issues.

As time goes on and the human body continues to work without caloric intake the muscles will begin to degrade. They are used even before the stored fat inside the body is used. Because of the lack of calories and the breakdown of muscles an individual will feel fatigued very quickly. Mistakes from experienced individuals often happen during this timeframe as their mind begins to wander to fatigue and reality of the situation. However, if someone is able to practice these skills and begin to become efficient at trap making, gathering, hunting, and fishing in a variety of landscapes and seasons this period of survival may not be as difficult.  

The Mind: 

Can you imagine being on your own for days on end with no one to talk to? To me, it’s a dream come true. For others it’s a nightmare. No matter if you look forward to being alone or forward to being surrounded by people everyone’s mind will begin to wander. The time it takes to build a figure 4 trap is more than enough to think about friends, family, what you’ll do with all the food you’ll catch, how you’re going to go skydiving eventually, etc. It can be taxing on the morale of the individual in ways that are often unexpected. 

Even if you are in a survival situation with others tensions will run high. Caloric loss and exhaustion mean tempters and egos will rise. Fighting and arguments are not unheard of when survival is on the line. While the body begins to wear down so does patience. If there is one skill to always be proficient in it’s being able to handle someone else's tempter with grace. 

After the first week: 

When most people speak about long times in nature and survival they always seem to love and dread the first week. It’s a time for becoming better at skills and to use them both efficiently and safely. They look back with fondness on what they overcame and determine what new skills they must acquire. Many who find themselves in survival situations because of disaster or bad luck they leave with a deeper sense of understanding and respect for what they have experience.  

Those who frequent the wilds for weeks on end will tell you that after the first week – sometimes 2 weeks – things become incredibly boring. The rush of the first 48 hours followed by the preparation of the next 5 days gives the impression that their entire trip will be fast paced. The reality is far from this expectation.  

What Happens Next? 

Once food, water, and shelter are secured there isn’t much to do. One of the benefits of bushcraft is the focus and emphasis on continuing to build and make unique structures and tools with what is available. Mallets, canoes, shovels, axes, knives, towers. Everything necessary for survival is already there, but it takes time to become better prepared. So, many take this time to make unique and essential tools which make work easier and hands busy. 

No matter what is being made, the mind still moves to other tasks. Missing family, relationships, and even religious expectations seem to change as self-reflection takes place. Depression can quickly set in. For those with a choice, they may return home to the ones they miss. It takes a strong individual to stay and continue the work they started. 

Depression and anxiety can easily set in during a survival situation. It's important to stay positive and set goals for the immediate future.

I would say, historically the first 48 hours determines the success of the first week or two. The first week determines the success of the first month. The first month determines the success of the first season. The first season determines the success of the first year. 

How can we better prepare for the first week? 

Some of the most influential figures in survival and bushcraft have spent their lives talking about the first week in the woods. What their focus has been is how to make the most difficult parts of survival easy through skills, items, and mindset. Nessmuk always spoke about his shelter which he could set up quickly and what lightweight items he carried with him. It wasn’t to show off what he had but what seemed to work well for him. Often, he talked about how his shelter and fire could be setup within the matter of hours. One of his best quotes is: 

“We do not go to the green woods and crystal waters to rough it, we go to smooth it. We get it rough enough at home; in towns and cities; in shops, offices, stores, banks anywhere that we may be placed—with the necessity always present of being on time and up to our work; of providing for the dependent ones; of keeping up, catching up, or getting left.”  -Nessmuk

In my opinion, the best way to be prepared for the first 48 hours is to practice making the first 7 days as easy and productive as possible. 

Lightweight shelters are a great 'carry-all' option. This Warbonnet Blackburn Tarp and Hammock shelter will work in almost any environment.

Dos and Don’ts: 

There are a few things anyone can do in their share time to be better prepared in the wilds. 

Don’t make a shelter that is never used.  Do make a shelter that you have problems with and fix those problems. 
Don’t carry every tool you will need.  Do learn to make tools which will help you become more efficient.  
Don’t do the same thing one way.  Do practice multiple ways in case the first doesn’t work. 
Don’t make things which are never used or useless.  Do use every item you can and become comfortable with making and repairing the items. 
Don’t rely on experience of others.  Do learn from others but also create your own experiences. 
Don’t ignore your mental well-being.  Do use the time alone to reflect and strengthen mental fortitude. 
Don’t take unnecessary risks.  Do weigh the pros and cons of every action; especially when hungry or emotional. 
Unused or improperly maintained tools are prone to clutter up a camp, attract insect, and become more of a hazard if they are used.


Every moment of survival is both essential and important. Many out there seem to focus on goods, items, kits, experience, and knowledge when they lack efficiency and wisdom through practice and experience. Some of the best teachers have spent decades being better prepared and because of this they find peace and tranquility in nature. If your reasons for preparation are because of an anticipated disaster or catastrophe utilizing that wisdom will allow you to focus on more important or dangerous issues. 

A tarp shelter can be quickly set up and taken down. This may be a great option to practice knife and fire-making skills if you don't have a predetermined campsite.

Overall, the most important factor in all of this is to enjoy the time you spend doing these activities. You may agree or disagree with my opinion or the opinion of anyone else but I would implore everyone to find what works best for them and share it with the world. 


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