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The 5 C’s of Survival: What You Need to Know

The 5 C’s of Survival: What You Need to Know

The 5 C’s of survival are essential tools for surviving in the wilderness. Whether in an emergency or enjoying time in the natural world, these five tools can make or break your trip. Keep reading to learn what the 5 C’s of survival are and what survival skills you should have before heading out beyond your backyard. Let’s get started!

What Basic Survival Skills Do You Need to Know?   

Many of us think that because we have a cell phone, water, a protein bar, and a few bandaids in our backpacks, we can head out on a hike. Usually, those tools are all you’ll need. 

But anything can happen at any given moment. When exploring areas without amenities and medical services, something unexpected might happen. Having survival skills in your tool belt and gear in your backpack goes a long way in keeping you safe and alive. These include knowing how to build a shelter, build a fire, purify water, and forage for food.

5C's of Survivability Quick Run Down1

One of the most crucial survival skills is your attitude, or what many people call expedition behavior. Hiking with the belief that a bear will attack or you’ll fall and sprain your ankle is an excellent way to ensure that something negative will happen. 

On the other hand, head onto the trails with a positive attitude, envisioning a successful hike. Even when something unplanned happens, you’re better prepared to adjust and react positively. 

One way to have a positive attitude is to prepare with the survival rule of 3s. Those rules state that humans can survive in the wilderness for three minutes without air, three hours without shelter, three days without water, and three weeks without food.

These imperative guidelines help determine what you need in an emergency or unplanned situation while away from immediate medical services or human contact.

Pro Tip: Learn more about the survival rule of 3s here!

Survival gear at campsite
Being well prepared is key to successfully navigating survival situations.

What Are the 5 C’s of Survival?

Along with knowing the survival rule of 3’s, you must bring a few tools. Those tools are a cutting tool, a combustion device, a cover, a container, and cordage. In the outdoor world, these are the 5 C’s of survival and can help change a possible emergency scenario into a successful survival one.

Cutting Tool

A cutting tool or knife is an essential survival item in the wilderness. You can use knives to create shelter and make fire, open cans, cut rope or fishing line, defend yourself from animals, and more. 

A knife can differentiate between life and death in a dire situation. For example, if you need to build a shelter quickly before nightfall, a sharp knife will be invaluable for cutting branches. In addition to providing protection from the elements, having a sturdy blade is also advantageous for hunting small prey or preparing meals. 

A suitable knife is an indispensable must-have for any outdoor adventure. With a knife and adequate training, you can craft the other C’s of survival. This makes a cutting tool a top priority.

Pro Tip: Don’t forget to pack one of these 6 Best Survival Knives for Wilderness Adventures and Bushcraft in your bag!

Combustion Device

Combustion devices are handy survival tools in the wilderness. Primitive fire kits, lighters, and matches can help you start a campfire to keep warm, cook food, boil clean water, ward off predators, and provide comfort. 

Lighters are the most common combustion device because of their ease of use. However, they can fail you if they are wet or run out of fuel. A backup combustion device is a must. Matches are excellent for backup sources if a lighter runs out of fuel, gets wet, or goes missing. But since you can also get matches wet, we recommend a third source. 

Primitive fire kits like flint and steel and bow drills have been around for centuries. They provide a reliable way to start fires when all else fails. However, some fire kits require more practice than others. So practice before a survival situation occurs. Combustion devices provide warmth, comfort, and safety in the wilderness. 

Man cooking over campfire
A combustion device is crucial to help you build a fire while trying to survive in the wilderness.


Another excellent tool for safety in the 5 C’s of survival is a cover. This cover could be a tarp, a thermal emergency survival blanket, or even a jacket. In addition to providing protection and warmth, covers are often lightweight enough to carry without taking up too much space.

A thermal emergency blanket is a must-have for cold weather, as it can provide insulation and warmth to keep you alive. Emergency blankets also make excellent reflectors for signaling for help, as they are highly visible from a long distance.

EVERLIT Survival Emergency Mylar Thermal Blanket,...
  • DESIGNED BY NASA-Made of insulating mylar material designed by...
  • HYPOTHERMIA RESCUE ESSENTIAL- Perfect for emergency situations...

You can tie tarps between trees to create a makeshift shelter for protection from rain and snow. You can also use them to collect water, creating a makeshift funnel from leaves or grass that leads into a large container. 

Access to these items can mean the difference between life and death in an emergency. This is especially true when you combine them with one of the other 5 C’s of survival.


Using a tarp as a funnel to collect rainwater in a container is a clever use of survival resources. That is why a container is one of the 5 C’s of survival. A container can store food, water, and other supplies. You can also use it for boiling or purifying water.

Containers adequate for backpacking or wilderness use are hard-sided plastic or stainless steel containers. These are ideal as they are highly durable and resistant to punctures. Metal containers work excellently for boiling water.

Nalgene bottles and other water containers provide lightweight options for carrying water and other supplies. Lastly, collapsible water bladders are beneficial for storing liquid without sacrificing too much space in your pack. All options are crucial tools in a wilderness survival situation. 


Cordage is another essential tool for your pack. Usually rope, twine, or even plant material like vines, cordage provides a way to build shelters, set up traps, and secure items. 

You can use specialized cordage for rappelling down cliffs, tying off boats and rafts, and building fires by creating a bow drill. In addition, cordage has various uses in repair, improvisation of tools, and crafting items when the correct materials are not readily available. Cordage is incredibly versatile and lightweight, so you should always include it in any survival kit.

Survivalist gear in forest
Having the 5 C’s on hand can help you in the wilderness.

How Long Could the Average Person Survive in the Wilderness? 

With the 5 C’s of survival, a positive attitude, and wilderness survival skills, people can survive in the wilderness longer than you might think. If you follow the survival rule of 3’s, by first taking a breath and then finding shelter from the elements, you can survive for a few days without water access. 

Once you have created a shelter, you’ll have more capacity to think of the following priorities, including water and then food. However, even if you don’t have fortified survival skills, and you’re an average person with the right attitude and resources, you could survive for up to a few weeks.

How Vital Is Shelter to Your Survival? 

What makes survival possible is your attitude and shelter. On the tiered survival rule of 3s, after ensuring you can breathe, shelter is the first order of business.

It protects from extreme weather conditions like sunburn, hot temperatures, and frostbite. The shelter also shields you from wind and drafts that can worsen hypothermia or cause respiratory illness. 

Additionally, shelter can decrease the risk of insect bites, resulting in severe diseases like malaria or Lyme. Finally, having shelter at night allows you to rest and regenerate energy so that you are better prepared to take on any challenges ahead.

Survival tools paired with a knowledge of survival skills is the key to success.

How Do You Prepare for the Wilderness? 

Going into the wilderness requires some preparation. Even though shelter is a vital survival tool, the best survival method is never to enter a survival situation in the first place.

The first step in preparing for the wilderness is letting someone know where you are going. When you make others aware of your journey, they know where to start looking if you don’t show up according to plan.

The next step in preparing for the wilderness is practice. Practice the skills you might need when there is no emergency. Build a natural shelter. Practice primitive fire skills. Build a campfire. Learn how to use a compass, cook on your backpacking stove, and use water filters. The more familiar you are with your tools and skills, the better prepared you’ll be when the unexpected happens.

Prepare for the unexpected. Even if you’re only on a day trip, carry some essentials. The 5 C’s of survival are lightweight and compact. Bring them on every hiking or camping trip. Add basic first aid materials like bandaids, gauze pads, antibiotic creams, blister kits, pain medication, and antihistamines. With all of this, your rate of survival becomes much more significant.

Pro Tip: Before you hit the trail, make sure you know these Basic Survival Skills Everyone Should Know.

20 Wilderness Survival Tips and Bushcraft Skills

Brush Up on Your Survival Skills Should You Need Them 

We have one last piece of advice to prepare for the wilderness. Because you’ve practiced your survival skills, are carrying a first aid kit, and have the 5 C’s of survival, you can confidently head into the wilderness. You can also start your journey with a smile on your face. 

Backpacking, camping, hiking, climbing, paddling, and whatever gets you into nature is something that you should enjoy. Since you’ve worked ahead by brushing up on your survival skills, telling people where you’re going, and packing all the right things, that smile signifies the best insurance policy ever. When the unexpected happens, you’ll be ready for it!

Do you have all the 5 C’s of survival? Tell us in the comments!

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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