Learning basic wilderness survival skills isn’t about the likelihood that students will have to use them. It’s about exploring foundational concepts that give students self-confidence and knowledge to use in future decision-making. From building a fire and shelter, to obtaining clean water, students can engage in these hands-on wilderness survival concepts in or outside of the classroom.
Four Key Factors for Wilderness Survival
When in a wilderness survival situation, there are four main priorities to be considered above all else: water, shelter, and fire/heat. With these three basic needs accounted for, the average person could survive many days without food. Give students specific examples of what it means to secure each of these three basic needs:
Remaining calm while you plan how to survive in the wilderness is the most important success factor. The S.P.E.A.R acronym is used to help remember that you should stop, plan, execute, assess, and re-evaluate while working through basic survival skills and techniques.
The human body is made up of over 60% water, so dehydration is a very serious concern when in a survival situation. Anyone venturing into the wilderness should be carrying some water with them, the amount depending on how many clean water sources can be found along the hiking path. Drinking contaminated water is also very dangerous.
If you were to run out of water, there are several different ways to attain and purify it so that it is safe to drink. Water can be purified via chemical treatment, filtration, or boiling.
Direct exposure to the elements can decrease changes of survival in a wilderness survival situation. It’s important to find or create a shelter that takes into account the following factors: location, insulation, heat source.
Natural shelters like caves exist, but the most common/realistic shelter to construct would be from debris (things that you can find in the area).
Even though you can survive without fire, it is one of the most useful tools for increasing chances of survival. Fire can be used to warm your body, dry wet clothes, cook food, and boil water. There are several ways to start fire (a lighter, matches, flint and steel) but creating a fire in poor weather conditions can be very difficult.
Practicing different fire-starting techniques in differing environments and circumstances is important to survival in the wilderness.
Wilderness Survival Group Project or Lesson Plan
Once you’ve covered the 4 important factors to survival in the wilderness, give students a scenario that includes an environment, climate, and list of tools they have along with them. Ask them to research their environment and work through the following discussion questions.
- Environment: Wisconsin Northwoods
- Weather/Climate: Late autumn – 30-50 degrees – Possible light rain showers at night
- Tool Inventory: 2 Liters of water, 3 freeze-dried meals, a lighter, warm jacket, backpack
- Days to survive: 5
In the above example, students would have to consider what types of debris and materials would be available to them in the Wisconsin Northwoods, what type of shelter and fire they must build based on the weather, and how to ration/find food and water to survive for 5 days.
Water: Survival Discussion Questions:
- How many days can I survive with the water I have already?
- Where might I find a source of water?
- How will I attain more water and purify it so that it is safe to drink?
Shelter: Survival Discussion Questions:
- What type of shelter will best protect me from the elements?
- What types of natural debris might I find in my environment?
- How will I stay warm at night in my shelter?
Fire: Survival Discussion Questions:
- What tools will I use to build a fire?
- What type of campfire will help me to survive in my environment?
- How will I keep my fire going/find things to burn?
Once they’ve finished discussing, students will create a plan for survival, and present visually how they would set up their campsite for success. They may choose to use arts & crafts tools to build a 3D model, draw a detailed image, or create a powerpoint presentation of their survival site/environment.
After their survival plan is presented, have the class offer comments or questions to the team about their plan and any factors they may not have considered.
Consider taking the discussion and planning portion of this lesson plan outdoors to inspire students to think about the different ways their environment impacts the way they would survive in the wilderness.
Check out any community nature centers and Parks and Recreation teams that may be available to facilitate a more hands-on learning experience for students. Many offer locations where students can learn more about building shelters and learning other survival skills with the support of a wilderness educational team.
More STEAM Classroom Activities & Lesson Plan Ideas
If you’re looking for more great ways to engage your students and encourage them to explore STEAM concepts and critical thinking, be sure to visit the STEAM/STEM topic page to find more unique and exciting ideas. The School Specialty online store is stocked with all of the tools and supplies you need to make any lesson plan memorable for your students.