TechniqueTrip Reports

Wilderness Survival School Presentation

Photo: Lena Conlan

Tim Smith, the owner and founder of Jack Mountain Bushcraft School, often gives a presentation about wilderness survival at Canoecopia. He also teaches bushcraft and wilderness survival at his school. I’ve attended several of his Canoecopia presentations.

Basically, during the presentation, he talks about wilderness survival, discusses making fire, what to have in your survival kit, and a survival plan.  These skills are essential to anyone heading into the woods (Also, check out my article: Nessmuking’s Core Philosophy). His main point is this:

  • Survival = Maintaining body temp, getting eight hours of sleep a day, and staying hydrated.

If you can carry out those three activities, there’s a good chance that you’ll survive 40 days.

Survival Plan

His basic strategy aligns with what many in the search and rescue field advise: stay in one location, sit, get fire, and wait to be rescued. During the presentation he broke down his survival plan or his plan to show you “what’s going to kill you first”:

  1. First Aid (If you survive 30 minutes after the injury, you have a 65% chance to make it 3 days).
  2. Fire lighting (no fire then insulate).
  3. Make a shelter.
  4. Gather purified water.
  5. Signal when the rescuers get near (three short whistle blasts).

In an article on his website, he elaborates further by stating NEVER forget matches, a sleeping bag, a shelter, a way to purify water, and food. The goal is to stay out of situations that would need a survival plan, and if you find yourself in a situation, make sure that you’re prepared to wait for rescue and you have the skills to carry-out that wait–essentially, practice the old British army adage: prior planning and preparation prevents piss-poor performance.

Survival kit

During the presentation, he stated that your survival kit needs stuff to address sleep, hydration, and maintaining body temp. If it doesn’t do these then leave it at home. Your kit should reflect your level of training and have items specific to the activity or application. Make the kit small enough so you carry it with you on your person, because if it’s downstream in a runaway pack you can’t use it. It should specifically include a knife and fire makers.

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Important items for survival:

  • Warm clothing.
  • Fire-making skills and equipment, like matches.
  • Knife: sturdy fixed blade, carbon steel, 25 degree angled blade, deep sheath, good steel. It helps during fire-making.
  • Pocket-sized first aid kit. It must have a way to deal with knife and axe cuts if you carry a knife or axe. Include steri-strips, band-aids, duct tape, and small magnifying lens.
  • Signaling devices: whistle, signaling mirror, and signal fires.
  • Navigation equipment and skills: map, compass.
  • 30′ string or cordage (know slippery knots!!!).
  • Other tools to think about bringing because they make things easier:
    • Shelter components
    • big pad
    • axe
    • saw
    • metal pot

Survival School Training

Smith also talked about something not preached about hard enough: that the skills that help you survive are built through Practice! Practice! Practice! Reading a book or website isn’t enough. You must get out and practice fire starting, shelter building, etc…  in a safe location before you need to use the skill in the woods and in an emergency.

He says this accomplishes a couple of things that help you during a survival situation:

  • Memorizing makes rapid progress during an event.
  • Rapid progress helps regain a sense of control.
  • A sense of control helps boost confidence.
  • Acting quickly takes advantage of adrenaline.

Favorite Quote

“It takes four nights to own a shelter.” Important to think about for those who po-po a tarp after only using it one night.

Wilderness Survival Resources



  • Thanks for the review and the links. Looking forward to Madison in March!

  • Hey, Tim. Thanks for the comment.

    This review, recap was tucked away in an old post and I thought it deserved its own place.

    Just to add a bit more of a review, your presentations are not only enjoyable, but they also give a ton of information. You seem able to balance both the audience’s need for information and entertainment perfectly.

  • I believe and enjoy reading the re-emphasis on practicing, not just reading about what to do in an emergency. He is so right on!

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