In our modern western culture, many of us are often insulated from the concerns that required our ancestors to have skills to keep them alive. Yet even with today’s conveniences, security and technological advances, situations can still destabilize quickly and make our surroundings unknown territory. 

We can’t control the disasters around us, but preparedness gives us an advantage. Tim MacWelch, founder of the Advance Survival Training School in Virginia, is one of the country’s top experts on urban and wilderness survival, homesteading and disaster preparedness. Next week he will release a new book, Prepare for Anything Survival Manual: 338 Essential Skills, with photos and illustrations showing critical gear, skills and strategies essential to surviving everything from terrorism to natural disasters to the wild.

We caught up with Tim to give us a snapshot of a few of these tips to equip us for uncertain times:

Understand Situational Awareness

Situational awareness is the combined ability to pay attention to details, process the information you gain, use this information to identify threats and create plans to handle or avoid these threats. Like police officers always paying attention to everything around them, we can take steps to develop a more alert mental state. It can be a life-saving ability.

Survive Anything

People with no skills and no gear have survived seemingly insurmountable scenarios, simply because they had the right mindset not to become a casualty. You need mental toughness: the strength of your will can trump physical prowess. Motivation: many survival stories speak of the survivor’s devotion to a higher power or an intense desire to get back to family, friends and loved ones. Adaptability: you must be able to recognize what’s worth continuing and what needs to be abandoned. On the flip side, negative mental states – panic, ignorance and stubbornness – can be your worst enemies.

Obey The Rule Of Threes

This time-honored teaching tool breaks down dangerous hazards in increments of time.  Three seconds to live without blood flow to the brain. Three hours to live without adequate shelter (the most critical being hyperthermia). Three days without water and three weeks to live without food. Prioritize your response to these needs.

Forage Foods

These tasty wild foods can be found in the city and the country. Become familiar with them and sample some on your next outing: garlic mustard, dandelion, wild garlic, chicory, Lamb’s Quarters, evening primrose, wild carrot, burdock, cattail and acorn.


It’s never wise to drink raw water from sources in the wild. Boiling your water before drinking is still the most effective method of removing biological contaminants – killing 100 percent of the living organisms that would cause you to become ill. Avoid galvanized metal containers, which impart toxins into hot water. Ten minutes of actual boiling time will give you a safe window of disinfection.

Get Some Vodka

As a clear spirit, vodka has a surprising number of uses including mouthwash, pain relief for cold sores or blisters, mosquito repellent, itch treatment, mold remover and a deodorizer for clothes.

Burn This, Not That 

Some fuels can be swapped, should you run out of one but have another. Others may be explosive if substituted. Diesel and heating oil are good substitutes for each other in a diesel vehicle or home furnace. Anything other than kerosene or liquid paraffin in an old-fashioned lantern is not an option. Pure alcohol in the form of high-proof ethanol or methanol can be added to gasoline to stretch your vehicle fuel supply, but keep it to around twenty-five percent of the total fuel.

Build A Fire

Whatever your ignition source, you’ll need the same type of materials to get a fire started. The first is tinder – material with lots of surface area and little mass. It should always be fine, fluffy, dead and dry – things like pine needles, crunchy leaves and dead grasses. Next you’ll need very slender dead twigs, wood shavings or wood splinters for kindling. Form the kindling into a cone shape around the tinder. Add a few finger-thick sticks on the exterior of the cone, and it’s ready to light near the bottom.


If you have to punch someone, know where to aim. Target the most fragile areas of your attacker’s body with a fist or elbow strike to stun him long enough to get away. Here are some vulnerable spots: temple, below ear, side of neck, base of throat, solar plexus, armpit, lower abs and groin.

Don’t Get Caught Without Paracord

This incredibly versatile braided cord was first used in parachutes in World War II. Like those paratroopers, you’ll find it’s useful for all kinds of things, including a sling, dental floss, a field wrench, an emergency knife, tourniquet, shoelaces and a bore snake. On this subject, make sure you know how to tie a few of the basic knots – it’s a skill that the inexperienced take for granted until in survival scenarios.

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