Saturday, July 17, 2010


Is it more important to have food, water, shelter or fire?

There is a common belief that shelter is always the highest priority, followed by fire, followed by water and then food. Logical arguments can be made for that being the correct order, but survival situations are not always so simple as to leave us with a single order of priorities.  Examples:
  • If the problem is that you fall overboard in 40-degree Lake Manitscold, the most important survival consideration is to stay afloat until you are rescued. 
  • If the problem is that you accidentally shot your buddy through the leg with your killer broadhead, first aid becomes the first priority. 
  • If the problem is that you’re lost in the woods and night is coming on, everything depends upon whether it’s August or February and the woods in question are located on Oahu or the north end of Vancouver Island. 
You get the picture. There are many factors involved in making the determination about what is the most important survival issue at the moment. But because you can only do one thing at a time, you have to know how to decide where to start and why. This is really a question of knowing how to set priorities.

Establishing priorities is extremely important to the successful outcome of a survival situation, because if you don’t know what’s most important, you’re likely to work on the wrong thing.

In order to establish a reasonable priority list, you must evaluate the following elements of your situation realistically:

  • Immediate threats to life 
  • Long-term threats 
  • State of physical health — illness or injuries 
  • Mental / emotional condition 
  • Terrain — swamp, mountains, desert, etc. 
  • Location — do you know exactly where you are? 
  • Weather — immediate and long-term 
  • Number of people in the survival party 
  • Available resources — equipment, food, water, medical supplies 
  • Natural resources — shelter, fire, water, food 
  • Likelihood of rescue 
Once you clearly understand the situation, you can begin to formulate a survival plan. But you can only do this if you honestly understand the first and second points on our list — immediate and long-term threats to life. In chronological order, the human body is threatened in the following ways: 

  • You can die almost instantly from any number of things, such as drowning, animal attack, a fall from a cliff, being overrun by a wildfire, etc. 
  • You can die from exposure to heat or cold in a matter of hours or even less. 
  • You can die from lack of water intake in a few days. 
  • You can die from illnesses or injuries on a varying schedule that ranges from almost immediately to months, depending upon the seriousness of the malady. 
  • You can die from starvation in a month. You probably won’t live long enough to die from starvation, if you fail to take care of more urgent needs. However, if you can’t get enough nourishment, your ability to think and function will be severely hampered, and that will play a detrimental role in your ability to survive. 
From this, we might be tempted to jump to an unfortunate conclusion and make a general assumption that food is not as important as shelter. But survival situations can be so varied that items on the priority list can easily swap positions. There may actually be a situation in which food is the priority, because every other item on the list is either not critical at the moment or is satisfied already. Example: You’re marooned in good health on Survivor Island where the temperature is always pleasant and a freshwater spring is right at your camp — all you need right now is food to bolster your energy and comfort you psychologically. Work on a lightweight shelter after lunch, then try to figure out some signal devices. 

Obviously, we can’t carve priority lists in granite. There is no one-size-fits-all list, because each situation must be evaluated on its own merits. Only then can priorities be established. But being able to accurately identify your most urgent needs is where the whole survival process begins. 

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