Emergency Food For Energy Sustenance

Although not the most important aspect of short term survival, food is still important for energy. Know what foods are most important to a survivor's diet.

As with all aspects of survival (as you are learning), there are often strong opinions in various directions, and the need for food in a survival situation is no different. Opinions range from not needing food at all to highly technical dissertations on the advantages of various macronutrients for various situations. I am not a nutritionist and won’t pretend that I am. I tend to lean towards needing less than more, will explain my reasoning and hopefully provide you with food for thought. You will ultimately make your own decision, and the more information you have, the more informed that decision will be.

Keep in mind that, in today’s world, the majority of people who get lost or stranded in the wilderness are found within a few days. This article is about those first few days. So a discussion on the long term requirements of food in a survival situation is beyond the scope of this article. So, let’s discuss various aspects of short term survival as it relates to food.

In a survival situation, food is not as important as shelter, water, warmth and other survival necessities we have discussed. Many people, when not in a survival situation, eat more than the body needs, and when they do that it is turned to fat. The majority of people, at least in the United States, have enough body fat to last more than a few days without eating. It may not be pleasant, and it might nag at your mind, but you can live without food for a few days.

When you eat you require water. When you have a limited supply of water to consume, you should consume less food. All food requires water for digestion, and if you eat without drinking, your body uses the water already in your system, increasing the process of dehydration. If you have plenty of water to consume, fill up on it, as it can make your stomach, at least, feel full.

Even though you can go longer than you think without food, it doesn’t mean you will maintain your energy level. In a survival situation, we need energy to perform various tasks, so let’s look at the energy equation.

The body changes calories from food into energy. Basically, a calorie isn’t a tangible thing, but a unit of measurement. A calorie is the amount of energy necessary to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the labeling of food in the U.S. does not mean calorie when they say calorie. Are you surprised? A food calorie is actually a kilocalorie (kcal) which is actually 1,000 calories. The word ‘calorie’ is sometimes capitalized to show the difference, but usually is not. Therefore, for the rest of this discussion, when I say calorie, I mean kilocalorie.

There are six major nutrient groups: water, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, protein, and fats. Water is important and transports nutrients to our cells, carries away wastes, etc., but it does not have calories. The nutrients that provide calories to our body – carbohydrates, protein and fats – are referred to as the macronutrients.

A food that encompasses all three macronutrient groups would obviously make a good survival food. However, for a short duration survival situation, carbohydrates with their intrinsic sugars provide quick energy. Even though it dissipates quickly, it can give that boost you need. A candy bar (like a Snickers) or food bar (like a Clif bar) takes up little room in a survival kit, yet provides that necessary energy boost when other food isn’t available or preparation is precluded by the weather or other circumstances.

I read over and over on survival blogs that in a survival situation, protein and fat are vital nutritional needs, and therefore you should be eating all the bugs you can find. They don’t indicate how long of a survival situation, but it must be longer than a few days.

Proteins, although vital in the grand scheme of things, rob your body of water and accelerate dehydration, so if you are short on water, avoid proteins. Your body also uses more energy to process proteins, and we are trying to gain energy here, not lose it. If you have plenty of water, and are not in a hot climate, then indulge in proteins.

Fats contain the most calories, but take the longest for the body to process. For long term survival, go for the fat, but don’t look for quick energy here.

Your best bet in a survival situation is to have survival food with you. Depending on the size of your kit, carry something, even if it is only a candy or food bar. Maybe supplement it with a small bag with a cup-of-soup, bouillon cubes, instant oatmeal, an emergency ration, etc. It is easier to reach into your kit and get something to provide energy than to expend energy looking for something in your surroundings. We’ll discuss emergency food that can be carried in your kit later in this section.

Food collection

If you need to search for food, you are already behind the curve. But if it happens, you will need to collect food available in the environment around you. Depending on where you are, you might not have the selection you desire.

There is always a lot of talk about edible plants. I don’t disagree about foraging edible plants, but you need to know what you are doing. I am a firm believer in learning before needing. Do yourself a favor and spend time with a wild food expert and learn those basic edible plants that you will be able to positively identify when you need them. Many military manuals talk about the “universal edibility test” and it has been regurgitated in many survival manuals. Don’t believe it. It talks about putting just a small amount in your mouth and wait to see what happens. If you do this with poison hemlock, which we have a ton of around my area, you won’t have to wait long – you will be dead! Don’t put anything in your mouth that you cannot 100% identify as edible.

In regard to fishing, hunting or trapping, stay with small prey. I would rather eat several small fish than wait for the big catch. The same goes for animals. A squirrel may not look like much, but for short-term survival, we have already established that you don’t need much protein and fat. Smaller animals are easier to clean and there are no leftovers. Keep in mind that in a short term survival situation, you don’t have time to preserve meat. Eat what you get and move on. If this was a long term situation, I would have other advice, but this article is about the short-term.

Coffee bags, tea bags and Emergen-C Dietary Supplement mix are easily carried in a kit.

Bring It With You Emergency Food and Rations

With a mini kit, you won’t have much room for emergency food. Carry at least some bouillon (either cubes or packets depending on the configuration of your kit). Use this as a simple soup broth, or to hide the taste of some of the things you might catch and cook. Sugar is another item that can be carried in cube or packet form. Use it in a hot drink or as an energy booster. Salt is another item that could be carried. It helps those taste buds with certain foods, and can replace salt loss due to dehydration.

A couple of tea bags (or coffee bags that are just like tea bags but hold fresh coffee, in waterproof pouches - my favorite) can be a great morale builder on a cold rainy night. Also easily carried in most kits are small foil packages of electrolyte and energy booster mixes. The first helps to replace electrolytes in the body, such as some sports drinks. The second, which I carry and use, is a dietary supplement mix including 1,000 mg vitamin C, various mineral complexes and vitamins, and antioxidants. It is called Emergen-C and not only tastes good, but can hide the taste of water that doesn’t (such as water with iodine in it).

Clif bars, Snickers bars and Quaker granola bars all offer a boost of energy.

Take along some comfort food, such as instant oatmeal, tuna or Cup-a-Soup.

For all small and medium size kits, carry some candy or energy bars. Of course energy bars (there are hundreds to choose from) provide a maximum of calories (normally 180260), but I haven’t yet found many that taste good. One of the exceptions, at least for me, is Clif bars. They average 240 calories and actually taste good. My favorites are the Oatmeal Raisin Walnut and Chocolate Brownie.

Another staple for quick energy, and a favorite of many hikers, is the Snickers candy bar. With 280 calories, you get a great boost when your energy is low.

I also like granola bars; they taste good, are good for you and don’t melt in the kit. I carry the Quaker Chewy Oatmeal Raisin. It only has 110 calories (about half of power bars), but is only about half the size of a Clif bar and I can carry almost two for one. Being oatmeal and raisin, they make a great breakfast bar. This is one choice that you will have to make, but carry as many as you can fit.

Sometimes, just having some small food items in a kit, can provide you with a little something to sit and relax with. I find that most of my kits allow me to carry a bag of instant oatmeal, some instant soup packages, and even a foil package of tuna, providing energy, comfort and a chance to develop a plan of action.

Emergency food should be carried in every survival kit, except maybe the most mini. A larger kit, such as a pack or vehicle kit, can include emergency rations. These provide more calories and can sustain you for a longer period of time without having to collect food. Emergency food rations are available from two main manufacturers: Survivor Industries and S.O.S. Food Lab.

The smaller Mainstay Energy Bars and MRE main-course entree pouches are two of many options.

Survivor Industries offers Mainstay Emergency Rations. This foil-wrapped package (waterproof) consists of six 16-ounce bars of 400 calories each for a total of 2400 calories. I always have a couple of these in my truck and you would be surprised at how good the bars taste. The package measures six inches long by 3-1/2 inches wide and one inch thick. Mainstay Emergency Rations have a five year shelf life. They also have a new smaller package called Mainstay Energy Bars, which are the same rations, just packaged in a smaller package. It contains three servings with 400 calories each for a total of 1200 calories. I really prefer these now as you can actually carry one in a small pack or fanny pack.

S.O.S. Food Lab also offers emergency food rations. I have not tried these, but have heard that they are also good and have 2000 calories per package. These are handy because they are waterproof (until opened), need no preparation and are relatively small for a larger kit.

A second type of emergency ration is the military or civilian version MRE (Meal Ready to Eat). This is a complete food package that provides an entrée (such as beef stew, chicken and rice pilaf, chili w/macaroni, etc.), a side dish, a dessert, a cracker pack with a spread, a beverage base and condiment pack. The entrée can be eaten right out of the pouch without preparation, but they taste better if heated. The military version provides a heating device that you place in a separate pouch and add water and the entrée pouch. It automatically heats the entrée pouch. They are not included in any of the civilian versions. These rations have a shelf life of about three to five years. They are handy for large kits but are rather bulky. I find that if you carry only the entrée, they take up much less room (of course, less calories).

The last type of emergency ration I will discuss are freeze dried meals. Everyone’s opinion is different, but I find that these taste the best, but are bulky. They can be folded down to take up less space, but be careful not to break the seal. The biggest drawback is the need for water to rehydrate them. In a survival situation where water is scarce, they are not the best choice.

Whatever your choice, carry as many emergency rations as practical in large kits. I have existed on one MRE entrée per day, plus anything I could find to eat, for eight days.

Tools to boil water and cook

We have already discussed some pots under the water collection and purification section, specifically those that fit directly over the bottom of a water bottle. However, there are many types made from various materials. I personally prefer stainless steel and titanium.

A pot that you can carry that folds down very small is a foil mini loaf tin, and you can by one in any grocery store. They measure approximately 6-1/8 inches long by 3-3/4 inches wide and two inches high. I flatten them by folding in the ends and then the sides. This makes a small package and several can be carried in a relatively small space.

You can also buy larger pans for larger kits. I have taken the lasagna pans, which are large but have low sides, and folded them to fit in the back of a pack. They can be used for a fish fry or other cooking purposes in the field. Real handy items, even if only carried as a back-up to your regular pot.

The Esbit Folding Pocket Stove provides stable support for cooking, and the fuel tabs store inside the stove when not in use.


We discussed various ways to cook over a fire in an earlier section, but having a small stove with you makes for quick cooking, especially if the weather is bad or you are short on fuel for a fire. So let’s examine some of the smaller stoves available that fit in a small survival kit.

The first, and one of my favorites for small kits, is the Esbit Folding Pocket Stove. It is compact, measuring only three by four by 3/4 inches and weighing 3-1/4 ounce. You could actually carry this stove in a shirt pocket, but let’s put it in a survival kit. It has two locking positions for cooking: fully open for a large cup or pot, and angled for a small cup.

In either position, it provides a stable support for cooking.

The Esbit stove runs on small solid fuel tablets which are individually sealed in airtight plastic and foil formed packets. Tablets come three per strip, and each tablet burns for about 15 minutes. You can store four tablets inside the stove when it is folded down in the carry position. I have used this stove for a small wood burning stove when the fuel tabs ran out, so it has multi-purpose usage.

Esbit has designed a new small stove called the Esbit Emergency Stove, which comes flat for easy packing. Made from pliable galvanized, hardened steel, it can be bent into a stand-up stove and can be used multiple times. After it cools, fold it flat again and put it back in your pack. Folded flat it measures 4.5 by 3.5 inches. It comes with three heat tabs, and is great for flat-pack survival kits.

The Vargo Titanium Hexagon Wood Stove folds flat for easy storage and transport. Use it to cook or boil water over a fire made of small pieces of wood.

This next stove is new to the survival field and is really innovative. It is called the Vargo Titanium Hexagon Wood Stove, and folds to a slim, compact size for storage. The individual titanium panels are completely hinged and snap easily into place for quick setup, providing you with a wood burning stove. The durable titanium construction can endure long term heat without damage. The conical shape focuses heat upward, directing it to your pot, for quick efficient cooking. A hinged access door can be opened or closed for air control as well as re-fueling. This stove also makes a great wind screen for use with alcohol stoves. The stove comes with a nylon carrying case. Folded flat, it measures five inches wide by 3/8-inch thick. Set-up, the stove is four inches high by five inches at the base and three inches at the top. It weighs only four ounces (4.5 ounces in case).

Because of the flat carrying size this stove fits in most small packs, and it provides a viable means to burn wood as fuel, relieving the need to carry fuel as part of your kit. I have used this stove quite a bit, and it really does focus the heat up towards the pot. I have also experimented with it as a wind screen for various alcohol stoves and it worked well.

Vargo makes a couple of titanium alcohol stoves as well. One, called the Triad, strictly burns alcohol as fuel. The other, called the Triad-XE, burns alcohol or can be reconfigured to burn fuel tabs, such as those from Esbit. I have never been big on alcohol stoves for survival, as you need to carry the alcohol, but there are others who like them. If you have an interest, you can examine them further.

Another wood burning stove that I have been carrying for years is the Pocket Cooker. Although a lot heavier than the Vargo Hexagon stove (two pounds), it does fold flat. If you can afford the weight, it is a good wood burner.

The newest addition to a wood burning stove for the field is called the Grill Top Stove Stand. This stove is built tough like American-made products should be, and is designed by my good friend Rob Simpson at the CanteenShop.com. He designed it out of necessity, with the military issue stoves becoming scarce. He decided to try and improve upon the original, and this one is made of heavy gauge stainless steel right in Cleveland, Ohio. It is compatible with all standard canteen gear, just like the originals, and works great with alcohol stoves, Trangia stoves, or wood fuel. It features a grill top design that keeps your cup above the flames to maximize heat. It can be used as a stove, grill, berry picker, strainer, small shovel, fire starting implement, and whatever else you can think of. If you have a military canteen cup, you need this Grill Top stove!

Find it in the field

If you failed to carry emergency food or rations with you, or you have run out, it will be necessary to obtain food in the field. There are various options, so let’s examine some of them.

Edible plants

The first option is edible plants. There is usually more plants available than animals, and even though plants are easier to catch than animals, like animals, they are not always available.

Many plants are seasonal. I once knew a guy that said he could not only live off edible plants, but that he had never had one run from him. Then I went to the Adirondacks with him in July and asked, “So, what are we going to eat?” He said, well, being most of the edible plants are out of season, we will eat fish. My wife and I probably eat more edible plants than most, but they are not always available (at least not the majority), and the other factor is you really need to know what you are doing.

Many plants out there are not only highly toxic, but deadly poisonous. My rule, as stated earlier in this section, is never put anything in your mouth that you cannot 100% identify as edible.

Foraging for wild edibles is a learned skill, and the best way to learn is with somebody who already knows. If possible, spend the money and learn from an expert in identifying edible wild food. There are many out there, but be careful. I tend to lean toward those who have more than a local knowledge, as there are plants in one area that are not in another.

One of the best experts on the west coast is Christopher Nyerges, who has not only written a book, Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants, and has a DVD on the subject, but takes students out on edible plant walks almost weekly. An expert on the east coast is “Wildman” Steve Brill. He is New York’s best known expert on both edible and medicinal plants and has also written a very detailed book on the subject, called Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places.

I’m not saying these guys are the only two out there, but they are well known, have credentials and offer more than an occasional course.

Last but not least, buy as many books and DVDs on the subject as you can afford. I do not believe in identifying a plant based on just one photo or diagram. Use as many sources as you can, and compare them. Make certain you have identified the plants correctly, as your life depends on it.

Various books help identify wild edibles, but the best set in my opinion was written by Samuel Thayer. He has two books, The Forager’s Harvest and Nature’s Garden. They both have extremely detailed information as well as color photos. Samuel Thayer goes more in depth with the various seasonal aspects of plants than most other books. He also offers a DVD actually showing him in the field explaining the particulars of wild plants.

There are other books available and I can recommend the Peterson Field Guide -Edible Wild Plants for Eastern/Central North America, as a good reference for the usability of edible plants. A couple of other books, although not specifically edible plant books, are very good at helping identify specific plants, at which time you can cross reference that plant to an edible plant book. The first is Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide by Lawrence Newcomb, which provides an excellent system to identify most plants if they have a flower. The next is Botany in a Day by Thomas J. Elpel, which teaches the patterns method of plant identification. Of course there are more, and as I previously said, you can’t have too many books on the subject.

I am often asked about the identification of mushrooms for edibility. I always state that even the best make mistakes, and relate a story about an expert who was a guest at a culinary school who was showing a class an edible variety of mushroom. He consumed it for the class and dropped dead. The identification of mushrooms is a fine art.

There are many poisonous mushrooms and there are edible mushrooms. If you don’t know the exact difference, you can become really sick or dead. But none of this should matter to a person trying to survive. Don’t eat mushrooms. What most books don’t explain is that mushrooms are thermogenic. Thermogenic foods burn more calories to digest than they contain. By eating a thermogenic food, you are actually creating a calorie deficit just trying to digest them. You can literally starve yourself to death eating mushrooms (that is also why they are considered a diet food… you feel full but you gain nothing). A good Morel tastes great cut up and cooked, but, in a survival situation, do yourself a favor and find something else to eat.

Again, my best advice on edible plants is get training from a competent person. This is a skill that takes time to learn and must be ongoing. A survival situation is too late to learn, and you can never know what season a survival situation might occur. If you don’t care to make this a hobby, make sure you carry emergency food or know how to trap or hunt. Edible plants may not run from you, but the wrong ones can make you very sick or kill you.

Small vials hold what you need to catch a fish.

Roll fishing line onto a sewing bobbin or a flat floss bobbin and include it in your kit.

Tools to catch fish

If ponds, streams or rivers are available, fishing is a good way to obtain food in a survival situation, but to be successful, you have to be equipped. Fishing tackle can be made in the field, but you will expend much less energy if you have the basics with you. For this reason, every survival kit should have some type of a fishing kit. Even a mini kit should have the basics for fishing.

The basic fishing tackle to carry in a mini survival kit is at least 12 assorted hooks, six swivels, and six split shot sinkers, as well as braided fishing line. Most of my survival kits have a lot more than that, but this would be the minimum. I normally carry small tackle kits in some type of small plastic vial. As we discussed in the earlier sections, my brimmed hat has fish hooks and braided fishing line embedded, and my neck knife has a small pouch with fishing tackle and is wrapped with braided fishing line.

Also carry at least 50 feet of fishing line, I prefer 12 to 20-pound test. I prefer that it be wound around something so it can be carried in a small place. For mini kits, wind the fishing line around small plastic sewing machine bobbins or on small plastic floss bobbins, depending on the configuration of the kit. I can get about 50 feet on sewing machine bobbins and 100 feet on plastic floss bobbins.

Choose a fishing line that does not have “memory” so it is not curly after being wound on the small holder. Mono-filament line has a bad habit of getting terribly tangled after wrapping it tightly around something. Some lines that I have found effective for this purpose is Spiderwire original braid and PowerPro braided microfilament line. Both are green in color (which attracted my attention), and are very strong.

As survival kits get larger, fishing kits can get larger as well. I try to carry as much tackle as possible, as in our area, fishing is a good way to eat.

Small balloons can be attached to your line and used as a float.

Difficult items to fit into a real small tackle kit are floats. I carry several of the very small balloons, which can be inflated and attached to a line. I prefer the red, yellow and orange ones.

A commercially available item is called the SpeedHook. It is used in many military survival kits and is so effective that it is outlawed in the state of Minnesota. This device is like a mouse trap for fish. It is spring-loaded, and activates and sets the moment a fish takes the bait. No pole is required and it can be used over and over again. It can also be used as a snare to catch small animals. A handy device for any small to large kit.

The SpeedHook is set, and when a fish pulls on the hook, it triggers and sets the hook.

Another device which can be handy for a survival fishing kit is a fishing yo-yo. They are about the diameter of a donut, and therefore only good for medium to large kits. Basically, they are an automatic reel with a stainless steel spring inside a disc. It has a line attached to it so it can be tied to an overhanging limb. This suspends it over the water. There are several feet of nylon line wrapped around the spring. You dangle the end of the line in the water after baiting the hook, and set the trigger mechanism on the side of the yo-yo. When a fish bites, the trigger is tripped, setting the hook. The reel then automatically reels in the fish. Check your local laws before practicing with them, as some states consider it “unattended fishing.”

A gill net is another good supplement to any large survival kit, and required in some aviation survival kits. You can hang it in water with the bottom weighted, or string it between poles.

Improvised fish hooks can be carved from small branches that grow at a close angle to the main branch, and then fire hardened over coals of a fire.

Carry small safety pins for use as fish hooks. The hook at the top is a treble hook made by attaching three opened safety pins back-to-back with wire.

Improvised fishing

If you messed up and didn’t carry any fishing tackle, or lost what you had, you will have to improvise methods to catch fish. If you have any small cordage, even dental floss, you will still need hooks. They can be made from small branches, plant barbs, bones, safety pins, or any item that can be bent into the shape of a fishing hook. Improvise with whatever you can find. When I make hooks from wood, I like to fire-harden them. I am often asked how to get small hooks close enough to the coals of a fire to fire harden them. I wrap a piece of snare wire around a few at a time, and then hang them over the coals, turning to get all sides.

An important aspect of survival fishing is knowing when and where to fish. Various species feed at different times, but as a general rule, fishing is better at dusk and dawn. Watch the water and if you see fish jumping, they are feeding.

Obviously you can’t always choose where you want to fish. In shallow streams, look for shaded areas, where there is overhanging vegetation, or logs across the stream causing shaded spots. Look for undercuts of banks, pools from backwashes and behind rocks on the downside of the flow. These are areas fish might sit. On lakes and ponds, the deepest water is normally the best, as it is the coolest. However, these are also the hardest place to reach. Again, look for shaded areas. Once when in the Adirondacks, I looked across a pond with my binoculars and saw a large shaded area which appeared as though you could pull a canoe in. I headed across the pond in my canoe (which you won’t always have in a survival situation) and was able to pull right under the overhanging trees. It was cool and some of the best fishing of the trip!

Available in either galvanized steel or plastic, the fishing yo-yo is a good option for medium to large kits.

Concentrate on trying to catch lots of small fish instead of that one big one. Get out several lines if possible. The more you have out there the better chance you have of catching something. Use set-lines by cutting several lengths of line and tying a hook to each one. Bait the hooks and hang each from a limb overhanging the water. Hang them about a foot or two into the water. You can do this all along the water’s edge, wherever there are overhanging branches. This is also a good time to use survival yo-yos discussed earlier, if you have them. This also allows you to work on your shelter or fire while the lines work for you. Check them every so often to see if you got anything.

To use a trotline, weight the main line with rocks to keep it from floating up.

Another method of catching fish is trotlines. A trotline is just a long cord stretched across a stream or inlet with another two-to three-foot long line hanging from it about every three feet. The lines hanging from the main line have hooks and are baited. If there is strong current, add some weight, such as a sinker, to each dangling line to keep it from floating up to the surface. You might have to weight the main line as well in a strong current.

A quick makeshift trotline can also be made by using a long sapling. Hang several baited lines off it and hang it out over the water. Secure it with weight and anchor it well.

When you check it, pull the whole sapling in, remove any fish, re-bait the hooks, and place back out over the water. Again, while trotlines are working, you can be working on something else.

Keep in mind that these techniques are to be used in a survival situation. Unattended fishing is illegal in some areas, so if you want to practice this technique, make sure it is legal in your area.

If you carry a large hook in your kit, you can make a small gaff to help you pull in a fish, to ensure it doesn’t get away from you. The small emergency fishing kit we make at Survival Resources provides a large hook just for this reason, along with a small nail. The hook is attached to a stick with available cordage or snare wire. The nail is not used to actually hold the hook to the stick, but to keep it from being pulled off the end of the stick, from under its attachment.

There are several ways to improvise a fishing spear.

Another means to catch fish in a survival situation is by using a spear. When using a spear, keep the tip of the spear in the water. The refraction of the water’s surface causes parallax, which makes a fish’s position look like it is right in front of you, but is actually off in another direction. If you place your spear tip in the water, when you see it directly in front of a fish, it is actually in front of the fish.

If you make a spear with just a sharp point, you must use it in shallow water. Because there is nothing to keep the fish from falling off the end of the point, you must secure the fish to the bottom and still be able to reach down and grab it, holding it onto the point until you are over land. If the water is too deep, you won’t be able to reach to the bottom to grab the fish without a snorkel.

There are various ways to make a fish spear so that something holds the fish onto the spear until you get it out of the water. There are two that I find useful. The first uses some strong thorns, such as those from a Hawthorn shrub or small tree. The Hawthorn thorns are very strong and large enough to use for this purpose. So effective are these thorns that birds have been known to get caught up in a Hawthorn bush and not be able to get out without being stabbed with one or more of the long thorns.

Take a sapling about five or six feet long and whittle one end a little flat and almost pointed. Make small angled holes in that end with the holes angled back towards the end you’ll be holding. Then insert thorns into the holes (this is also when a small tube of super glue from your kit comes in handy). Now, when you spear a fish, the thorns facing back hold the fish on the spear.

Another option is to split the end of a sapling and carve a wedge that has a point on one end. Use this wedge to hold the split apart, with the pointed part facing forward. You can use cordage or fishing line to tightly wrap the wedge in place. Cut off the ends of the two prongs, or if not long enough use two additional pieces of wood, and make sharp barbs that will face back towards the spear. These can also be tightly wrapped to hold them in place. Now, when you go to spear a fish, the two out-spread prongs direct the fish to the main sharp point. The two backward facing points hold the fish on the spear.

Improvised fish traps are another way to catch fish. With a weir, you place an obstruction completely or partially across a stream which funnels fish into a corral-type area and keeps them from continuing downstream. These are normally made with rocks or lots of wood. They can be time and energy consuming to make and, for short term survival, are probably not advisable.

A basket trap can be made fairly quickly using bendable limbs, such as willow, and small vines or cordage. Basically, tie a bunch of bendable branches together at one end. Spread the other ends apart and hold them there by weaving other bendable smaller branches around the opened ends, so the finished basket looks like a cone open on the wide end. Place bait in the closed pointed end and place it in the water. Hold it in place with either rocks or cordage. As the fish swim downstream, they will swim into the basket. When you pull the basket out of the water, lift it up from the wider open end so the fish does not fall out.

Make a fish trap using two plastic soda bottles, so the small fish caught can easily be extracted by taking the cap off the end. The small fish can be used as bait for larger fish.

If you happen to find a large plastic soda bottle in the field, which often happens, you can use it to make a fish trap. Cut off the neck end, turn it around and push it back into the bottle so the small screw top opening faces the inside of the bottom. Secure it in place by making some small holes around the side using some cordage. If you are lucky enough to find two large bottles, make another type using just the top of one and all but the bottom of the other. What I like about this type, is you can take the cap off the outside bottle to empty the minnows, which are about all you will catch with this type of trap. However, the minnows are edible, or can be used for bait to catch bigger fish!

Make an improvised snare from 24-gauge grass wire or a fishing leader.

Tools to catch meat

To obtain food by catching meat you must be prepared. This means carrying something in your survival kit that will help to obtain a meat source. The first thing that can be carried, even in a mini kit, is snare wire. Snare wire can be wrapped around a sewing bobbin, which allows it to stay un-kinked. Carry as much as you can fit in a kit. Snare wire is another multi-use item; you’ll be able to use it for repairs and other uses. You can also use leaders from your fishing kit to make an improvised snare.

Pre-made snares are also available, and some of the best locking snares are made by Thompson Survival Snares and available from Survival Resources.

Frog gigs can be carried in a survival kit and attached to a pole in the field. Frog gigs are used to spear frogs near water. You want the pole fairly long, about six to 10 feet. Stealth is required or you lose dinner. The best way to gig is by wading around the edge of a pond or lake, but if getting wet might cause hypothermia, try to stay on shore. You won’t be as successful, but you will stay dry.

Ready-made frog gigs can be carried in a kit and attached to a pole in the field. The one on the left is commercially available and the one on the right is a modified barbecue fork.

Frog gigging is done best at night using a headlamp, but again, be careful as moving around at night can be dangerous. With a headlamp, scan the shore, lily pads and other objects in shallow water. Look for two little eyes reflecting back at you.

Once you see a frog, move slowly towards it, trying to keep the light from your headlamp shining in its eyes. When you get your gig about four to 12 inches from the frog, trust it forward in one swift motion. If in shallow water, try to pin it in the mud and reach down and grab it. If not, try to use the spear to throw it up onto shore and retrieve it from there. Sounds easier than it is.

Most people my age (old) remember that every small boy had a slingshot in his back pocket. In today’s world, with states like New York outlawing slingshots, you don’t see it so much. However, they are not toys and are still formidable weapons for small game. They can be built in the field if you carry rubber tubing, such as surgical tubing, or just the replacement rubber with pouch for a manufactured slingshot. They can definitely help put food in the pot in a survival situation.

The SlingBow, designed by Dave Cantervury, modifies a slingshot to shoot arrows.

A new type of slingshot, designed by Dave Canterbury, is called the SlingBow. It is actually a modified slingshot that allows you to shoot arrows. he basically added a whisker biscuit to the uprights of a slingshot. A whisker biscuit is an arrow rest designed for a compound bow, and is used to stabilize an arrow. When Dave first came up with this idea, he took the nock off the back of the arrow and glued a golf tee in the end. This allowed him to effectively hold the back of the arrow with the leather pouch on the slingshot as he pulled back on the pouch. The whisker biscuit was attached so you could fold it down and still use the slingshot with normal ammo.

In order to carry arrows in a smaller pack, Dave, and his good friend Steve “Critr” Davis, began work on an arrow that was cut in half and could then be screwed back together. They finally got the balance right and it flew straight. I asked Steve Davis if there was a means to use an arrow with a nock, so it could still be used with a bow made in the field. He told me to just add a piece of cordage through the holes in the side of the pouch and tie it off in the back. Now I could use a regular arrow with the whisker biscuit, or fold the whisker biscuit down, take off the piece of cordage and use the slingshot normally.

Add a mounting hole for wire in the rear corner of a rat trap so it won’t get dragged away.

Another readily available item you can add to a survival kit for food gathering is a rat trap. They are very effective for catching small game in the field. Drill a hole in a corner of the back end so you can attach the trap to a tree or stake with a piece of wire, and an animal can’t run off with it. Although not necessary, I prefer to paint mine OD-green, so they blend in better with my environment. In a desert environment the normal beige color might be best, but I would paint over the name, which is normally red in color.

Another handy item to carry in a kit is peanut butter. Not only is it extra food for you, it is excellent bait for rat traps and other traps in the field. After all, a squirrel is just a large rodent (so are beavers), and I catch mice in my traps at home all the time with peanut butter. You can get small packages of peanut butter commercially, as well as in some packages of MRE’s. These small packages can be easily carried in your trapping kit. I use a small waterproof vial and refill it with my main peanut butter jar. I just use a small stick to get it out and apply it to a trap.

The large food gathering kit can be held in one hand. When opened, the inside is divided into separate zip pouches for holding the various components.

These components provide a wide range of food gathering capability.

For a large survival kit or a kit kept in a vehicle, consider a larger food gathering kit. For long term, I have a kit made up in a multi-pouched bag which holds all my food gathering supplies, both fishing and meat gathering.

The left inside pocket holds a replacement slingshot rubber with pouch, two galvanized survival yoyos, a small collapsible fishing pole with reel, the larger of two fishing tackle vials and a waterproof tube of peanut butter. The right side holds two rat traps, 100 feet of 24-gauge brass snare wire, and 150 yards of 20-pound test braided fishing line. The outside zippered compartment holds all of the readymade Thompson Survival Snares. Although large, this kit provides a wide range of food gathering capability.

Improvised meat gathering

The most basic improvised tool for meat gathering is the spear. However, it is not the easiest to use, especially on small game. If you decide to make a spear, DO NOT tie your knife to a pole to make a spear, as shown in so many books and movies. Use your knife to sharpen the end of the pole. That way, if you throw the spear and lose it (especially if it sticks in an animal and it runs off with it) you haven’t lost your most important survival tool, outside of your brain. You still have a knife to make another spear.

When you carve a point onto the end of a spear, in order to make the point harder, fire-harden it over the coals of a fire. Don’t stick the point into the coals, but hold it over, and above, the coals. Keep turning the pole so that all sides get heated and hardened. You don’t want the point so close to the coals that it catches fire. You want to heat it until it turns dark brown, which must be done slowly.

Split a pole for a four-tine frog gig. Make a wedge with a point to hold the four tines open. Completed the four-tine frog gig with the center wedge/point, in place.

If you didn’t put a commercially made frog gig in your kit, you might want to make one in the field. There are various techniques to do this. I have seen people split a pole one way, then the other, so they have four individual tines at the end. Then they place a small stick between the first split and then the other. This spreads the four tines out. Be sure to wrap behind the splits with cordage to keep the pole from splitting further when spreading with the sticks.

When I make a four-pronged frog gig, I split the pole twice as well. But, I then carve a quick pointed stick with square sides at the back, to use as a wedge. After wrapping behind the initial splits, I then use the pointed wedge to spread the four tines. This provides a center point on the frog gig to help hold the frog in place.

Throwing sticks are quick, easily-made weapons that will take down small game.

A throwing stick is another quick and easy weapon that will take down small game. It can simply be a stick of adequate weight that can be thrown at an animal, or a curved piece of wood (much like a boomerang) where you carve down the front and back side to give it a little more aerodynamics.

A noose stick can be made quickly with a small stick and some cordage. A noose stick works best on birds, such as grouse, lizards, other reptiles and snakes. I have seen them very effective to catch lizards. I was in the transition zone between the Mojave Desert and the San Bernardino Mountains in California with Lance Canterbury, Dave Canterbury’s son. He had just gotten out of the Army after returning from overseas. He was catching lizards like crazy using just a noose stick.

Make a noose stick with a pull for tightening the noose.

One way is to make a slipknot in one end of the cordage and tie the other end of the cordage to the end of a stick. When you slip the noose over the head, you quickly raise the stick closing the slipknot noose around the neck.

The second way is to slightly flatten one end of a stick with a knife. Then using an awl, or other means, make a small hole completely through the stick. Now tie one end of cordage to the end of the stick just behind the hole. Then place the other end of the cordage through the hole. Leaving a loop in the cordage, when you get the head of your target in the noose, you pull the end of the cordage that went through the hole. This also works well using snare wire instead of cordage, which is what I prefer for snakes.

Traps and snares

Because of the scope of this article, it would be difficult to address traps and snares in a complete manner. However, we will discuss the basics so you have a general idea about how to make and place general traps and snares. Keep in mind that this is another one of those areas where hands-on training and practice is important in order to be proficient in the techniques discussed. Many books on survival devote a large section to traps and snares, yet few people are effective using them. I don’t mean to say that these devices cannot be effective, but just because you set them out doesn’t mean you will catch something.

First, let’s discuss the legalities. The use of traps and snares is illegal in most situations, and should only be used for emergency survival. Be warned, each state has its own regulations. In New York State, even with a trapping license, snares cannot be used for trapping and you may not set a trap in such a manner that it causes a captured animal to be fully suspended in the air.

So if you are going to practice the making of traps or snares, take them down after you practice triggering them, so they don’t catch a neighbors pet. A student once asked what would happen in a survival situation if an official of a government department regulating trapping caught them trapping. I stated that they would probably be taken to a warm place, given a phone call and possibly a warm meal. Survival situation over! In a survival situation, only you can make the decision in regard to how you will stay alive.

There are three major methods for traps and snares. They are as follows:


– The animal is crushed when a heavy object such as a log, rock, etc. falls on it.


-The animal is strangled when a snare or other type noose is tightened around the neck.


-The an animal is held in place by some type of a containers, such as a box, hole, etc.

In a survival situation I prefer the first two, crushing or strangling. With a hold trap, you never know what you might catch, and you have to be willing to kill it once you do. Just because you are trying to catch a squirrel or rabbit doesn’t mean a larger animal might not get caught by the foot.

A trap or snare can be active or passive. An active trap or snare is considered active if it attracts an animal to it, such as a baited trap, or because it is activated by a trigger of some type.

A passive trap or snare is one that does not use bait to lure an animal to it, nor does not use a trigger. These traps or snares are often used for animals that have regular pathways.

The placement of traps and snares is also important. Try to disturb the area around a trap or snare as little as possible. Use well-traveled trails, and try to funnel the animal’s travel into the trap or snare. You can use surrounding vegetation, logs, rocks, etc. to get the animal to move directly into the trap or snare. Make them strong and camouflage them as well as you can. Avoid removing any more bark than necessary (they don’t have to be pretty, just functional), and in areas where bark has been removed, rub with dirt. If available, use gloves so that you avoid leaving your scent on the traps or snares. Keep in mind that with traps and snares, there is strength in numbers. The more you set out, the greater chance you have of catching something. Don’t think that the setting of just one will yield you a meal.

A Figure Four Trap crusher trap is built using two logs and two uprights, and is usually placed across a game trail.

Crushing traps

I will only cover two crushing traps, one without cordage and the other with cordage. The first is the Figure Four Deadfall, which is my favorite, as you don’t need cordage. This can be built with only three sticks and a knife, yet it is very effective. Basically you have an upright, with an angled stick, and a cross stick, and when put together they resemble a “4”. It is held together with a series of notches that is held together from the weight of the rock, log, etc. used as the crusher.

The next crushing trap is a Paiute Deadfall. Basically it uses only two sticks, a toggle and a piece of cordage. The angled stick is held in place with a short piece of cordage tied to a toggle. When the cordage is wrapped around the upright, a trigger stick is wedged between the toggle and the crusher.

Make a snare from a piece of 24-gauge brass wire.

Prop the snare using two small uprights and two blades of grass.

Strangle traps

Strangle traps use a looped piece of wire or cordage tied so that it will slide closed under tension, such as when an animal tries to pass through it. This type of trap is called a snare. My preference is wire and the various types have been discussed above.

Snares should be positioned off the ground so that an animal’s head will pass through the loop but the animal’s body will not. This will cause the loop to tighten around the animal’s neck, causing strangulation.

Place the loop at an approximate height that the animal’s head will be. You can’t just use any height hoping to catch just any animal. You need a general idea of what type of animal you are going after.

First, make a looped snare. Using wire from your kit, wrap the end of a piece of wire, about one or 1.5 inches, around a very small stick twice, then spin the stick so that the end wraps around the remaining piece. Break off the stick and you now have a double loop through which you pass the other end of the wire. It is that easy.

There are various ways to prop a snare so that it stays where you want it, and this is an area where creativity comes into play. One of my favorite ways to prop a snare in position is using two blades of grass. Using a small stick as an upright on each side of the snare, use your knife and cut down on the stick making a grove, leaving the small cut piece in place. Use one piece of grass on each side, wrapping it around the snare loop, and bring it back on itself. Then slide the blade of grass into the slot you made in the upright to hold it in place. This technique allows you to use a natural source, the blade of grass, and, although it holds the loop in place, it will easily break away when the animal passes through the loop.

Wire snares can also be attached directly to logs or other obstacles that you know an animal travels over. A squirrel run can be made on a log that leans against a tree. I have often studied these in the woods and you will notice that a squirrel uses a log to get up a tree, as it is a shorter distance than going to the ground and up. A leaning log that has squirrel traffic is an ideal spot to place a bunch of snares at different angles. As the squirrel tries to navigate up the log, it will most likely pass through one of the snares.

This can also be done on a log that crosses over a stream. Squirrels and other animals use logs to get from one side to the other. Just make sure that the log is high enough from the surface of the water so that an animal caught in a snare will not hang into the water.

A two-pin toggle is one option to trigger a spring pole.

A rolling snare trigger is another option to trigger a spring pole.

Spring poles

If you are in an area where you are competing with other animals for food, use a means to raise the animal you caught in a snare, up and off the ground. These types of snares are called twitch-ups, spring poles, spring snares and branch lifts. For the purpose of this article, when I talk about the engine that raises the caught animal, I will call it a spring pole.

The engine that raises the animal doesn’t have to be a branch or spring pole. It can be a large log or rock tied to a piece of cordage that goes up and over the branch of a tree, or even a seesaw type engine that has weight on one end and raises the animal when caught. If you do use a sapling as your spring pole, make sure you clean all the limbs off it, as it will spring up much faster when it is bare. Also keep in mind that, if you do not have a green sapling next to an animal run where you want to place a snare, you can cut a sapling and tie it to a larger tree next to the animal run. Tie the bottom, wide portion securely to a tree using stout cordage like parachute cord. Now bend the top portion over for your engine, just as if you had a sapling where you wanted it.

For the spring pole to raise the animal after it is caught in the snare loop, you need some type of trigger. There are hundreds of triggers, but in order to give you an idea of the simplicity of some triggers, I will show only a few. Keep in mind - and this is important - the snare wire must always be connected to the part of the trigger that is attached to the spring pole engine. Otherwise, when the trigger disengages, the spring pole will go up but the animal won’t.

The first trigger is a two-pin toggle, which just uses two carved pieces of wood that mate and are held together by the upward pressure from the engine. The snare wire and the cordage going to the engine are both secured to the top piece of the two-pin toggle.

When an animal is caught in the snare, the movement disengages the two toggles and the snare is raised up by the engine. It is simple to make.

The next trigger is called a rolling snare and uses two “Y” branches. One is cut with one long side, which can be pounded securely in the ground. The other piece has one part of the Y stick slightly longer than the other. The cordage going to the engine is attached to the second Y stick, as well as the snare wire. The upward pressure of the engine holds the trigger in place. When there is movement one Y will roll off the other, disengaging the trigger and the engine will raise the animal.

Figure “H” trigger for a spring pole.

The third trigger is the Figure “H”. This trigger uses two uprights pounded in the ground with a notch on the top side of each one. When pounded in the ground, you face one in one direction of the animal trail, and the other notch in the opposite direction. A stick that stretches across the width of both uprights is used to attach the snare and the spring pole. When the spring pole is pulled down, you engage one side of the cross stick in one of the notches, and the opposite end in the other notch. The upward pressure of the spring pole holds the cross stick in place. The purpose of a notch in the uprights facing in opposite directions is so the snare can be triggered in either direction. If both notches were on one side, it would only be a one direction snare, and you never know what direction the animal will come from.

The last trigger I will discuss is the baited spring leg. This trigger is a little more elaborate than the previous ones, but it is one of my students’ favorites and is often selected when they must go out and build a spring pole snare setup.

The baited spring leg needs a good size “Y” stick, whereby both ends of the Y must be pounded into the ground. Another piece of wood, called the bait stick, must be long enough to reach across both sides of the Y stick in the ground, and stick out one end to drape the snare over, or under (I prefer over). A third piece of wood, called the toggle stick (which both the snare and engine is connected to) is used to hold the bait stick in place. It is placed through the Y stick, with one end of the toggle placed against the Y stick, and the other end placed against the bait stick. Remember that when the toggle stick is passed under the Y stick, both the cordage attached to the spring pole and the snare wire must remain on the side you passed through from. If you have the spring pole cordage on one side and the snare wire on the other, when it triggers, the animal will be pulled against the Y stick and will not be raise up with the spring pole.

Extreme caution advised

Whenever using any type of a spring pole engine to lift an animal, use extreme caution when setting the trigger. Keep your face and other body parts out of the line of pull. If the trigger is activated, even by accident while trying to set it up, the trigger will be pulled up at a high rate of speed. The flying trigger can poke out an eye or otherwise injure a body part. When experimenting with these things, wear safety glasses.

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