What Does it Take to Survive?

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If you ask the average person on the street what tools they need to survive when disaster strikes, they’re likely to answer with something they think they need every day, like “my cell phone,” than they are with the things that are really needed for survival. It’s too easy not to take the needs for survival seriously because it’s not something we usually have to think about. Instead our minds focus on the things that make our lives enjoyable, not the items necessary to survive.

On the most basic level, survival means keeping your body alive, not keeping your life comfortable. There aren’t really many things your body needs to satisfy that goal, although each and every one is critical for survival. In order of importance, your body needs:

  • Oxygen
  • Homeostasis (maintaining body temperature)
  • Water
  • Food

The priority is rated by how long the human body can live without them. You can only live for a few minutes without oxygen, but for our purposes, we can pretty much assume that oxygen will be available, considering how much of it is in the air around us. Should that oxygen disappear, your best efforts would add mere hours to your life without finding a new source.

The second biggest need is homeostasis, the maintenance of your body temperature. A change of only a couple of degrees higher or lower in body temperature will drastically reduce your ability to function, and a change of a few degrees beyond that will kill you. Someone who falls overboard from a ship into freezing water only has minutes to live. If they are not removed from the water and warmed back up to a safe temperature range, their chances are slim. Hypothermia, the loss of body heat, is one of the biggest killers in the wild.

There are several things that can be done to maintain body temperature, most commonly clothing and shelter. Clothing and accessories, like gloves and hats, insulate the body so that heat isn’t lost as quickly. Shelter provides an environment that protects us from the elements, especially cold. We heat our homes not only for comfort, but to help our bodies maintain optimal temperature.

Without water, you can only survive about three days before the dehydration becomes killer. Figures vary for how much of the human body is made up of water. Depending on where you get your information from, it can be from about 50 percent to over 70 percent. These differences come about from the different methods that are being used to calculate the percentage of water; not all types of cells have the same amount of water, making it difficult to determine the actual water content of the body as a whole. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that it contains a lot of water. Without it, life cannot continue.

Most survival experts say that it takes a minimum of one gallon of water per day to survive. This one gallon is supposed to provide for both drinking and cooking (not cleaning). However, the conditions you’re stuck in can change those requirements. In moderate temperatures, that one gallon might be enough, but in a hot climate, you have to figure on two gallons per person per day. You can sweat out more than a gallon per day of water on a hot day, especially if you are doing physical work or trekking around outside.

Food is an important necessity as well, although it ranks at the bottom of the list. The average person can live for about 30 days without food. While your energy level might suffer without sustenance, you will still be able to function. Anyone who makes it past 30 days will see rapid decline in functioning, even if they still have fat reserves.

A disaster survival kit needs to meet these needs to be effective and must include:

  • Ways of starting a fire to maintain body temperature (also needed for cooking)
  • Shelter, or means of constructing a shelter
  • Water, or ways of purifying water
  • Food, or ways of catching or foraging food


How well the survival kit does these things depends upon the size of the kit, where it is intended to be used and the survival skills of the person who has the kit. A kit that is intended for carrying with you can’t possibly contain enough food and water to survive for a week, although it can contain the necessary equipment for fishing and purifying water. Of course, in places where water is scarce, fishing supplies may not be as useful as hunting supplies.

Having survival equipment without the knowledge to use it is worthless. As I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t matter how many matches a person has; if he or she can’t build a fire, those matches aren’t going to do them much good. On the other hand, someone with strong survival skills can get by with less, as he or she knows how to improvise with what’s available.

Since each of these needs is so important, redundancy is important as well. If you only have one means of purifying water and lose that means, you might die of dysentery. Therefore, it makes sense to have an alternate means of purifying water. The same applies to all of these basic needs.

Situations vary. While the best possible survival situation is to be caught at home when a disaster strikes, things don’t always work out that way. Therefore, it is a good idea to have a home disaster survival kit and an away-from-home disaster survival kit. In both instances, prepare for the worst possible disaster that you can imagine hitting you. That way, your preparations will suffice for all lesser disasters as well.

This book takes an in-depth look at the needs for both home and portable disaster survival kits. Please keep in mind that some of this is subjective. What one person needs may not be the same as what another needs; therefore, each person must customize a survival kit to meet their needs. Items can change depending upon:

  • Local climate
  • The type of disasters likely in that region
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Level of survival training
  • Physical condition and strength


Ultimately, you must decide for yourself what you actually need in order to survive. Your final kit may look quite different than mine. That’s okay just as long as it works for you. You’re the one who is going to have to use it to stay alive in a worst-case scenario so take your personal needs into account.




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