10 Deadly Mistakes to Avoid in a Survival Scenario

The stakes are high in survival, and making a mistake could mean the difference between life and death. If you want to have good chances in a survival situation, you’ll want to study up on the things you should never do.

Here are the ten things you should never do in a survival situation:

  1. Leave your group.
  2. Forget the rule of threes.
  3. Stray too far from camp.
  4. Neglect a rescue plan.
  5. Drink unpurified water.
  6. Eat unfamiliar plants or berries.
  7. Forgo protective clothing or footwear.
  8. Live without a fire.
  9. Deviate from your trip plan.
  10. Panic.

If you think you need more info than a bulleted list, you’ve come to the right place! I will include facts and figures, how-to’s, or informative lists for each thing you should never do in a survival situation.

1. Leave Your Group

If you’ve gotten yourself in horror movie-esque situation of wilderness survival, remember how much we all hate when a character breaks from the group in a horror movie. Don’t be the character that gets hurt because they break from the group.

I recommend using the buddy system in any group survival situation. You should always have a group of at least two people when traveling away from your larger group.

Unfortunately, not every survival situation leaves you with a group. If you get into an Aron Ralston-type survival situation, they never leave your group rule is a little more challenging.

2. Forget the Rule of Threes

  • The rule of threes is a valuable rule of thumb for any survival situation, so you should never forget it!
  • Here is the rule of threes for survival:
  • You can survive three minutes without air.
  • You can survive three hours without shelter in harsh weather.
  • You can survive three days without purified drinking water.
  • You can survive three weeks without food.

The rule of three breaks down how long you can survive without different essentials so that you can organize your priorities. Keeping organized priorities is important to ensure all your bases are covered before your time runs out.

Let’s say you get lost on a hiking trip in the forest, and you begin to hear the roar of thunder in the distance. You may find it tempting to find some food before the storm ruins your foraging opportunity, but this is not the right decision.

Using the rule of threes, we know you should look for shelter before food. You’ll only survive three hours amid a fierce thunderstorm, but you can go weeks without finding food.

Now that you can see the importance of the rule of threes, don’t forget!

3. Stray Too Far From Camp

Straying too far from your camp is dangerous in a survival situation. You’re already lost; why would you risk getting lost again?

To illustrate the importance of staying close to camp, I’d like to take a line from renowned survivalist Les Stroud. Les Stroud wrote a piece for Scouting Magazine in which he said: “As a rule, if you don’t have any idea where to go or how to provide for yourself, then staying put makes sense.”

Here are three reasons you should stay close to camp in a survival situation:

  • Better chance for rescue. The longer you live in the same area, the larger the footprint you leave. The noticeable impression you leave from staying in one location will help rescue teams identify your site.
  • Conserves energy. Traveling through rough terrain expends a massive amount of calories. Saving calories will stretch the length of time your food lasts. You can see a comparison of walking vs. hiking calories burned in this article by Pack Your Tent.
  • It keeps you sheltered. If you have shelter at your camp, staying at camp keeps you sheltered. Don’t underestimate the importance of protection! Whenever possible, stay with your shelter.

Unfortunately, it’s not always the safest decision to stay at camp. If you’ve found yourself in a situation where you must leave your camp, remember to signal where you’re going.

Leave a detailed note or marker with the direction you’re heading. If you don’t leave a message or marker, rescue teams may find your camp but never see you.

4. Neglect a Rescue Plan

To truly conquer a survival situation, you must return to civilization. It doesn’t matter if you lived in the woods for 27 years; if you never made it back, you didn’t survive.

Therefore, you must have a rescue plan. Your plan for getting rescued will differ depending on the survival situation.

For example, in the case of a plane crash, you’ll benefit from an emergency locator transmitter to help your rescue process. However, a signal fire will be your best bet for survival if you find yourself off-course on a beach camping trip.

The most crucial point in rescue plans is to use the tools around you. Your environment will give you tools to help you get rescued.

5. Drink Unpurified Water

The last thing you need in a survival situation is to come down with an illness. Drinking unpurified water will guarantee an illness.

Here are three ways you can easily purify water while in a survival situation:

  • Boil your water for 10 minutes.
  • Chemical purification. You can use substances like iodine tablets to purify your water.
  • Filter your water. If you have access to a water filter, filtering water is straightforward. If you don’t have a water filter, you can use methods like sand filtration.

If you don’t own a small water filter, I recommend picking up the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter (available on Amazon). I like the LifeStraw personal water filter because it’s lightweight and portable, so I can easily bring it with me regardless of the size of my bag.

The only water-related problem you may face now will be finding water. Check out the Art of Manliness article on finding water in the wild to cover that base.

6. Eat Unfamiliar Plants or Berries

Eating unfamiliar plants or berries is the second most straightforward way to contract an illness. Plus, the caloric benefit isn’t worth the risk!

According to Health Line, the average calories in 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of berries range from 32 to 57 calories. There is no reason to risk your life for less than 100 calories of unfamiliar plants or berries.

Now that I’ve noted the lack of calories in plants and berries, I should mention that plants and berries are a great source of essential mineral vitamins. Therefore, you may want to educate yourself on safe-to-eat plants and berries.

I recommend 276 Edible Plants of the United States and Canada (available on Amazon) to start your research. I love how this guide uses images and identifying feature charts to ensure I’ve foraged the right plant or berry!

7. Forgo Protective Clothing or Footwear

The type of clothing and footwear you have will contribute to your safety in a survival situation. It would be best if you always considered safety above fashion and comfort when it’s life or death.

Here are five dos and don’ts of survival clothing and footwear:

  • Do wear closed-toed shoes. Give your feet the protection needed for the inevitable strenuous activity from survival situations. Surviving in the wild can call for hiking through serious terrain. Open-toed shoes, while comfortable, will not be ideal for walking through rough territories.
  • Don’t expose your skin to the Sun. I’ll let Johns Hopkins University explain the adverse effects of sunburns. To avoid the harmful nature of the Sun’s UV rays, you need to limit exposure. Limiting exposure starts with your clothing, so choose clothing that shields your exposed skin.
  • Do wear pants that cover your ankles. Wearing pants that cover your ankles is especially important in regions where wildlife like snakes and ticks are common. Long-legged pants shield your ankles from potentially dangerous snakes and tick bites.
  • Do keep your clothes dry. Walking around with wet clothes can slow you down and have deadly consequences. According to the Province of Alberta’s Health Information page, wet clothes significantly increase the chance of contracting hypothermia, so make drying those socks a priority!
  • Don’t neglect your hands. An often overlooked piece of survival clothing is gloves. I don’t think gloves should be left off any survival clothing list. Your hands are your most vital tool, so make sure to afford your hands the same care you would afford any other body part.

Just remember to dress for the weather you have, not the weather you want.

8. Live Without a Fire

Fire is your life in the wild. You can use fire to sanitize water, keep yourself warm, cook food, etc. Therefore, you need to start and maintain a fire.

In a survival situation, you may need to start a fire without a match or lighter. Thankfully, you can use plenty of common items to start a fire.

Here are five items you can use to start a fire:

  • Flint and steel. Using flint in steel has a bit of a learning curve, but it’s a reliable firestarter once you get the hang of it. Scraping the two materials together, you can produce a spark with flint and steel. The spark from flint and steel can catch your tinder on fire, kickstarting your campfire.
  • Glasses. In a pinch, you can use your eyeglasses to start a fire! In the same way, you’ve heard of kids using magnifying glasses to catch ants on fire; you can use your glasses to catch tinder on fire. Simply concentrate the Sun’s light through your eyeglasses onto your tinder until it starts to burn.
  • Hand drill. A hand drill is a tried and true fire-starting method dating back thousands of years. The mechanics behind a hand drill involve friction to produce enough heat to ignite tinder.
  • An empty lighter. If you have a lighter but run out of fuel, you have a tiny flint and steel machine! Remove your lighter’s safety guard, and you can access your lighter’s built-in flint and steel. To light a fire with the flint and steel, gently spin the lighter wheel to build up ferrocerium, which you can spark to kickstart a fire.
  • Water. Using water may sound counterintuitive, but there is a method, I promise. Using the same principle as starting a fire with glasses, you can create a fire with the Sun. Fill a clear plastic bag or clear plastic bottle with water. Once filled, you can use the concentration of light from the bag or bottle of water to start a fire.

Learning to start a fire is a tough task. I recommend you know how to start a fire now, so you don’t have to learn under the pressure of a survival situation.

emergency plan

9. Deviate From Your Trip Plan

Telling a trusted friend or family member your trip details is the best method to ensure a timely rescue. Therefore, do not deviate from your plan if you leave for a trip.

Sometimes trip plans become unrecoverable in survival situations after you’ve lost your sense of direction. However, if you can backtrack to a location you’ve told someone you’ll be, you should prioritize reaching that location.

By returning to your location set out on your trip plan, you put yourself in the exact location rescue teams will search first. Rescue teams are your best chance at finding your way back home, so it’s always best to stick to your trip plan.

10. Panic

Lastly, don’t panic. Survival situations call for clear thinking so that you can make the best decisions.

Unfortunately, survival situations negatively contribute to your stress levels. This makes it extremely common to panic in a survival situation.

If you find yourself panicking, your new priority is to calm down. As long as you stay calm throughout your misfortunes, you will have a greater chance of returning to civilization.


It’s essential to be aware of the things you should never do in a survival situation to increase your chances of survival. These include leaving your group, forgetting the rule of threes, straying too far from camp, neglecting a rescue plan, drinking unpurified water, eating unfamiliar plants or berries, forgoing protective clothing or footwear, living without a fire, deviating from your trip plan, and panicking.

Following these guidelines and being prepared can increase your chances of survival in any situation.

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