The 5 C’s of Survival

If you are stuck out in the woods somewhere without any gear, you are really SOL. The 5Cs of survival are really a minimalist guide to what you need to survive. Think of it as a survival basics.

These 5 items are just things to keep in mind so that when you are prepping and getting your gear together, you will be sure to include these 5 things.

The 5 C’s of Survival: Cutting, Cover, Cordage, Combustion & Container 

These bits of gear are no substitute for an extensive survival kit, but they are more your bare essentials. 

Though many of these tools can be fashioned in nature using natural materials, they would take hours to make and might take up precious energy.

Time and energy are precious commodities when you are already in a tenuous situation. Having all of the basics will increase your chances of getting where you hope to go – safely.

1 C Cutting
1 C Cutting

1st ‘C’ of Survival: Cutting

A cutting tool is arguably the most important thing to carry.  The most classic cutting tool is a good-sized knife.  Big enough that you can chop up wood in an emergency and small enough to accomplish more intricate work. 

There are no shortage of brands and options so it comes down to finding one that do what nature intended – Cut.

A good quality knife can really help when you are building shelter, making cordage, or making a fire. You can even make yourself a container (the 5th C), that is of course, you have the time and energy.

If weight and space is not an issue, then having a few different cutting tools is always better. A good quality axe for example, can be super handy if you are stranded and need to make a proper shelter.  In general, a small axe can accomplish nearly all of the same tasks as a knife can and is more efficient for things like chopping wood.  

A multi-tool like a swiss army knife is also a great addition since it can offer a variety of smaller blades and utility tools. 

2c cover
2c cover

2nd ‘C’ of Survival: Cover

Having something to create a shelter with to protect you from the elements is the second C of Survival. If you have ever spent a night without shelter before, you will know how miserable it can be. 

If you are forced to spend a night exposed to the elements it will put a damper on things – quick.

Keeping your spirits up is perhaps one of the single most important things you can do – if you are in any type of wilderness survival situation. And having shelter is a massive morale boost.

For those unforseen emergency situations, one of the most valuable things you can have is some form of shelter. Whether that is a blanket or plastic tarp, pretty much anything will do short term. They all can act as a great insulator against the cold or shade against the sun.  A wool blanket still keeps 80% of its insulation properties even when it is wet – so fear not. 

A plastic tarps can be used in a number of ways. The classic lean-to style setup gives you a shelter in just a minute or two. 

You can find a small tarp that is lightweight and packs up small so they won’t cramp your style.  You will thank your lucky stars if you have one on hand if you ever need to shelter from the elements.

3c cordage
3c cordage

3rd ‘C’ of Survival: Cordage

Along with a good tarp, cordage is also something you are going to want for setting up your tarp, or for a thousand other handy things.

A good quality paracord is enough. You don’t need to get the really thick stuff as a smaller spool of 5mm will do just fine.  It can usually be broken down into 3 smaller usable strands for other jobs that require more precision.  

In order to keep bears away, making a bear bag will be in order. This is where rope is your friend. You can even just bring a spool of string. Simple. Nothing fancy needed.

See more: Wilderness Survival Checklist

4c combustion
4c combustion

4th “C” of Survival: Combustion

When it comes to surviving against the elements, combustion might just be the difference between life in death – especially if you are in a cold hostile landscape.  Your capacity to start a fire can literally be what it all hangs on, especially if you are exposed, cold and are at risk for hypothermia.  

Once you get a fire going you have instant heat. Not only can you gett warmed up but you can boil water, cook food and keep the shadows at bay.  If an emergency forces you to spend an unplanned night out, setting up a lean-to shelter in proximity to a fire will be a huge morale boost.

In terms of actual fire starting tools, keeping it simple is the name of the game.  A tin box with two lighters and some waterproof matches as well as some cotton balls is a good way to start. 

Of course, you can bring along a small ferro rod, flint and steel or some firestarters.  Always remember that in an emergency you want to be able to start a fire quickly and efficiently – so know how to make a fire, before you go out in the bush.

5c container
5c container

5th ‘C’ of Survival: Container

A good container is the last of the five C’s.  A container as simple as it sounds is perhaps one of the most important. Without a jug to carry water, how long do you think you will make it before you get dehydrated?

Stainless steel is ideal, but anything fire-proof will work – as you want to be able to boil water.  Having potable drinking water is key for getting out alive – more so than most other things you might bring. 

Most water once boiled and purified of harmful bacteria will be drinkable. A 32oz size bottle is ideal.


Planning before setting out into the bush is what you want to be doing.

Bringing along a few extra tools and equipment just in case. It really can be a game-changer and even a lifesaver.  Keep the 5 C’s of Survival in mind and ideally close at hand so that you will make it back Alive! 

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