A compilation of long term wilderness survival tips and lessons from all the seasons of the Alone TV series. I extracted and summarized the lessons for you:
Alone Season 1: Long Term Wilderness Survival Tips
North Vancouver Island, Canada
Winner Alan Kay (56 days)
Do not let fear paralyze you.
Deal with it before it grows. Turn it around. Instead of being scared of wildlife embrace the opportunity of having abundant food. Eat the bears, or be eaten. Change your mindset. Josh Chavez tapped out after one night for fear of wildlife.
Learn to start a fire in really adverse conditions.
It is easy to start fires in ideal conditions; the real challenge is starting a fire when everything is soaking wet and it is raining. Learn to find or make dry tinder in every weather condition. Almost all the participants were struggling to start a fire with their ferro rods. Even wet wood can be shaven down to the center where the wood is dry; make a tinder bundle out of the dry shaving et voila. Sea kayaking guides taught me this trick in Vancouver Island.
Be comfortable with insecurity.
You must accept that you can’t be safe 100% of the time. It is an illusion. If you are the kind of person that always packs a gun just in case; you might want to get used to not having a weapon too. Chris Weatherman tapped out after two days because he wasn’t comfortable in predator territory without a firearm. Do not grow too dependent on your tools; otherwise you won’t know how to live without them. And do not live in fear.
Make your essential gear highly visible.
Joe Robinet decided to tap out after he lost his only firestarter: a ferro rod. One of the lessons from this is to choose gear that is highly visible. Joe actually suggests painting your essential gear with eye-catching colors. Cody Lundin is also a fan of bright colored gear.
Dehydration is no joke
Without water your mind will be unpredictable. Other than finding refuge from extreme temperatures, water is the most important need. Brant McGee tapped out after 6 days; he drank water from a source that was polluted with salt water.
Don’t cook where you sleep, If you are worried about predators
Keep your sleeping area free from attractive odors. Otherwise curious animals will come nearby.
Build a shelter that will keep you calm
I personally know how demoralizing it is to spend a night out and be terrified of falling trees and lightning. When I spent six months in the wild we had storms that brought hundreds of trees down in a single day. We had a huge tripod of logs that would have protected us from falling trees (in theory). We also chose a shelter location with less chances of a lightning strike. Dustin Feher tapped out after a night with crazy winds.
Be happy doing nothing
Many people can’t stand still and do nothing at all. In the wilderness you must learn the art of doing nothing. Do not always do nothing of course; be cyclical, work hard when you have to but rest a lot as well.
Good attitude is the greatest survival asset
Attitude will trump skill, gear and knowledge. With the wrong mindset all the other assets you have are useless. But a good mindset will go a long way, specially when everything goes wrong. Sam Larson was the youngest and probably one of the less knowledgeable and skilled, but his good attitude pulled him through to day 55.
Alone Season 2: Long Term Wilderness Survival Tips
North Vancouver Island, Canada
Winner Dave McIntyre (66 days)
Wild animals are not there to search and destroy
Predators are looking for easy meals. As long as you don’t give them a reason to attack you they normally won’t. Deathly wildlife encounters are very rare; the odds are in your favor.
Minimize the use of your cutting tools
Cutting tools can be dangerous, so don’t use them if you don’t need to (risk vs. reward). This preserves their edge as well. You don’t have to cut every single stick with your axe; in fact, minimize your energy use by burning them from the ends.
Be ready to kill a big predator
If you are in for the long term, hunting a bear might be the best chance to secure a lot of fat and protein. Change your mindset: do whatever it takes to survive. Have your bow or spear ready for when the opportunity arises.
Do not exercise when you are in a deficit of food
Justin Vititoe made a “jungle gym” to exercise while in the show. I really doubt that the morale boost is worth the energy spent. If you want to exercise, then go fishing or hunting. Almost everything you do should give you a return on energy invested.
Always keep tabs of your essential gear.
This is an occurring theme: people lose gear in the outdoors. Either carry redundant equipment or do not lose it. Make a habit of always searching for items, in the areas where you’ve been, that you might have misplaced or forgotten to pack. Always place your equipment in the same secure place. In season 1 and 2 there were two participants that lost their only fire starter.
Keep your shelter simple and easy
Many participants spent a lot of time and effort building their shelter. That time could have been spent focusing on food acquisition. Keep in mind that you might move later to a better location. Every week that passes in caloric deficit saps the energy out of your body. For long term survival, focus on meeting the need for food ASAP. Just build a quick simple shelter, if you already have a sleeping bag and a tarp you’re almost done. This advice is for areas where the winter isn’t brutal though.
After food deprivation, loneliness is the hardest challenge
Do not underestimate the toll that isolation can have on you. It makes everything much harder.
Seize every opportunity for food
If you think you have more in your plate that you can handle, preserve it. Nature is cyclical: food comes and goes. Nicole Apelian let go a fish that she could have really appreciated a few days later.
You can’t afford to fall
“How good you are at wilderness survival can come down to how well you can walk on slippery rocks”. This quote by Dave McIntyre highlights the importance of being careful while walking. Something as small as slipping in a rock can take you out.
Keep it simple (foraging strategy)
Jose Martinez spent a lot of energy and time making a fragile kayak that didn’t get him fish in the end. He could have been better off by moving his camp by land closer to the river and fishing with his gill net like Nicole Apelian. Simple plans are more reliable and easier to execute.
Alone Season 3: Long Term Wilderness Survival Tips
Winner Zachary Fowler (87 days)
Focus on getting food ASAP
Set fishing lines and gill nets since day one. You shouldn’t wait until you are hungry to really start working hard on foraging. You will get weaker every day that you aren’t meeting your food intake. So get going before you lose your energy.
Be extremely careful and mindful when using cutting tools
It doesn’t matter how skillful you are. In a survival situation you must use your tools in a safe way. Especially if your mind is not performing at its best. Remember that you are tired and it is easy to make a stupid mistake. Be disciplined and force yourself to do stuff safely. Zachary Gault was evacuated for cutting his hand with his axe after 8 days.
Take the time to find the ideal shelter location
Don’t overbuild your shelter if you might move it later. Just do enough. The location of your shelter is the most important thing. It should be close to food and water. Many participants from all the seasons of Alone moved their shelters later to a better location.
The most reliable source of energy is your own body
If there is one source of calories you can count on is your fat, so build up your reserves. Check my post on wilderness starving to check how much extra fat you need. Consider gaining 35 lbs of fat if you want to stay 4 months.
Set projects to do
Having small projects planned can help you focus your mind in being in the place where you are and making the most out of it. Working on different projects according to the weather, will keep your mind busy. Projects will also give you an edge in the waiting game.
Step by step
Wilderness survivors often are able to accomplish unimaginable things by breaking them down into steps. They partition their journeys, and take them step by step or even inch by inch. One focuses on reaching the next bend of the river, and then when one reaches the bend, one sets another bend as a goal. This partitioning helps break an overwhelming objective into various smaller, reasonable objectives that our mind can deal with.
Food deprivation will change your mindset
Do not underestimate the challenge of being food deprived. You will go through extreme mood swings, and you will be very irritable. So have strategies in place to avoid making impulsive or bad decisions.
Don’t ration your food if you really need it now
Dave Nessia rationed fish fillets and let his body weight drop too much. Starvation is a slippery slope. The mind depends on a healthy body, so don’t push the limits if you have an option. Preserving food is only an option if you are foraging at least half your daily energy needs. What’s the point of rationing your food to stay longer if your mind-body will be too far gone the rabbit hole?
Alone Season 4: Long Term Wilderness Survival Tips
North Vancouver Island, Canada
You are your worst enemy
A common theme outdoors is losing gear and getting injured, but this can be avoided. Being focused on the task at hand and erring on the side of caution should be your mantra. Risk vs. reward should always be in the back of your mind as well.