In nearly every recounting of a survival experience there is a single moment that turns everyday outdoor recreation — a casual fishing trip, mountain bike ride, or weekend camping getaway — into a survival situation. But that’s the trick of survival preparedness and training. You never know when that moment will occur. That next step could be a broken ankle; that bend in the trail could make you lose your bearings; that rustle in the bushes could be more than a rambunctious squirrel. The truth is that no matter how well prepared you are, you are never really prepared for a survival situation unless you have the right survival mindset. 

We have talked about how Navy SEALs train their mind to be better snipers or how prisoners of war use a kind of grounded optimism to weather long stints in captivity. But when it comes to straight-up wilderness survival, you need to strap on a different kind of mentality. In his book, Hawke’s Special Forces Survival Handbook, Mykel Hawke, former Army Special Forces Captain and survival expert, lays out how to prepare yourself mentally for a survival situation. 

Start Your Preparation at Home

Anyone who has been in the military knows that preparation for an operation usually starts in the comfort of the command tent. Map reconnaissance, intel gathering, and assessments of force strength and readiness are crucial factors to any successful mission. Survival is no different. Hawke reminds us that ignorance is at the heart of fear and fear is cancer to survival. 

Beat your ignorance with preparation. Acknowledge the risks of your activity. Study up on the flora and fauna of where you’re going. If you don’t have access to a map of the area, get on Google Maps and switch to satellite mode. You’d be surprised how much detail you can glean from a half-hour of intentional map recon. Next, make a plan and share that plan with others. If people don’t know when and where to be expecting you, they won’t come looking. Most of all, familiarize yourself with your gear. You’d be surprised how many people pack a first-aid or survival kit that’s never been opened. 

Survival tips
Having a simple signaling device and doing the correct map reconnaissance can lifesaving in a survival situation.

Building Your Survival Kit

The ideal survival kit provides the highest amount of utility in the smallest package. Zeroing in on the size and intricacy of your kit is something that will come with time and experience. There is no shortage of ready-made kits out there that can help you get a start. But there are two absolutely crucial items you need to always have in your kit: a knife and a comms device. 

Some guys are going to read this and go buy a KABAR or a machete. That’s fine if you’re one of those guys. But the reality is that big blades are really only good for bog jobs. Sure, they make building the shelter easier, but they can actually be really dangerous for small tasks like building snares, cleaning game, and fashioning other tools or weapons. Look for something in the middle. A four- to six-inch folding knife is typically adequate for just about anything you’ll need to do in a survival setting. 

You should also have at least one comms device. The easiest thing these days is a cell phone, but if you’re out in the bush for longer than a day, your cell phone becomes a useless brick. Pack a strobe or beacon, a signaling mirror, or even a flare. If you’re packing something that relies on batteries, always check them (or better yet replace them with fresh ones) before you head out. After all, the easiest way to overcome a survival situation is to get out quickly. 

Laws of Survival

Hawke breaks down what he calls “Hawke’s Laws of Survival.” Understanding these essential tenets of survival will help prepare you mentally before you ever set foot in the wilderness: