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The 10 C’s of Wilderness Survival

The 10 C’s of Wilderness Survival is a huge part of learning wilderness survival skills and is picking up some of the learning tools provided by the experts that have come before us.  If you look back at the way people survived 100, 1000, or even 10,000 years ago you will learn a great deal about what you need to do to survive in the present-day wilderness.

Out in the bush where the canopy is so thick you can barely see the sun, it is all the same.  When you look around you, you are seeing the same woods that likely were there when Native Americans survived in that area.  Thankfully survivalists like Dave Canterbury have condensed some of the survival knowledge from previous generations into rules like the 10 C’s of survival.  

Dave is one of a handful of survivalists that I truly respect and admire.  The man is a bit of a legend.  In his books, videos, and television shows he always provides valuable information.  In this article, we will cover the 10 C’s of wilderness survival and how you can implement this rule into your survival plan.

What are the 10 C’s of Survival?

Versus just listing out the 10 C’s, let’s break down what this rule is for.  The 10 C’s are tools starting with the letter C that you need for the best chance of surviving in the wilderness.  The reason we come up with rules like these is because they are easy to remember.  It is like ‘stop, drop, and roll’ for fire safety or SING for self-defense.  

There are two primary times that I find myself going over the 10 C’s of wilderness survival.  One is when I am building a bug-out bag, a get-home bag, or an everyday carry kit.  All of these packs need to focus on the 10 C’s of wilderness survival despite the fact that the size and contents of each pack will be different.  A rule like this helps simplify planning.  

The other time I think about the 10 C’s of survival is when running a two-minute drill.  From time to time, I like to pretend that I’m not fully prepared and that I don’t have my bug-out bag packed and ready to go at all times.  The two-minute drill gives me 120 seconds to grab everything I can for survival and get out the door.  The 10 C’s will tell me which items I absolutely need so I can move quickly and bug out before danger is at my doorstep.

Cutting Tools

By far the most important tool for wilderness survival is a reliable blade.  A good survival knife is a fixed blade, full tang design with a blade between four and ten inches long.  You want the blade to be big enough for heavy tasks like batoning firewood, but you also want it small enough that you can do fine work like whittling or cleaning small game.  I always go for a high-carbon steel so that it can be used with a Ferro rod to start a fire.  I also always consider the exact steel type to be sure it will retain an edge well.  I have several knives that fit these parameters, so I would quickly grab one of those.

The other cutting tools you should consider are wood processing tools like axes and saws.  You can work with wood using a large knife, but it will wear you out quickly and dull your blade.  There are several different types of saws you could bring, but I like a good folding saw.  It works like a pocketknife taking up little space but can handle logs up to about six inches in diameter. You could also consider a camp axe or hatchet, but I’m bringing the saw.

Combustion Tool

This is just a fancy name for a Firestarter.  You really should have a Firestarter with you at all times.  This could be a Zippo lighter, a book of matches, or a ferro rod.  Fire is one of the four pillars of survival, so you need a reliable way to get one started.  This will help you purify water, cook food, and keep warm.  

I am a big fan of redundancy when it comes to fire starting, so I would probably grab a couple of lighters and a couple of ferro rods.  A ferro rod is waterproof, windproof, requires no fuel, and shoots out sparks at 3000F.  I would also grab some waterproof tinder such as Wetfire Cubes or FireStix.  


In order to have cover in the wilderness, you can bring several different options.  Your first line of defense from the elements is your clothing.  I would always consider grabbing a jacket, boots, gloves, and a hat if you don’t already have them.  Rain gear is a good idea as well.  Remember that hypothermia is the number one reason for people dying in survival scenarios.  

Cover can also be something like an emergency blanket.  These have a shiny side that reflects 90% of your body heat back to you.  They are also waterproof so you can wrap up in the rain or you can use it to build a shelter.  The one I would grab is a tarp-style emergency blanket with grommets at the corners.  You can also consider a tent or sleeping bag cover, but they typically take up too much space.


This may seem like a weird choice, but you may need a metal container that can be put on the fire to boil water or cook food.  I would consider grabbing a steel cup from my gear, but you can also use plastic bottles found in the wild.  After 16 completed wilderness survival challenges, I can say that I found plastic bottles in the woods on every occasion.  If you know what you are doing, you can cook and purify water in one of those.


One of the toughest tools to recreate with natural materials is cordage.  It is needed for so many different survival tasks, so you should grab some as you go.  I always keep cordage on me in the form of 550 paracord.  I like to replace my boot laces with paracord and also keep paracord lanyards on me.  Paracord is thin and strong, and it can also be split open to use the internal strands for cordage.  

Cotton Bandannas

Having some extra cotton cloth with you can be helpful for filtering water, keeping the sun off of your head, or for first aid purposes.  I like a larger version called a shemagh which you often see worn by military personnel in hot, dry climates.  On my first survival challenge, I had to rip the sleeves off of my t-shirt and cut the back pockets out of my pants to have enough cotton cloth to finish the challenge.  Having a shemagh would have been nice.  

Cargo Tape

Let’s face it… we are talking abut duct tape.  This stuff can be used for everything.  While I did not necessarily agree with the choice, I have seen several survivalists take duct tape as their only item from home on survival challenges.  The beauty is that it is so strong from the fibers inside.  Use it to build a shelter, make shoes, or form a bowl for water. It’s no survival knife, but it is coming with me.

Compass and Map

While it is possible to navigate without a compass, it is not easy.  By far the best way to keep your bearings is to have a map of the area and a compass to orient it.  Many of my survival tools have compasses built in, so I frequently have two or three on me at a time.

Cloth Sail Needle

These large needles are hard to find, but they are quite helpful.  They are much larger than standard sewing needles, so you can use them with just about any cordage to repair just about any fabric item that needs it.  You can also use it to stitch a wound if you sanitize it in the fire first. I suggest keeping it in the sheath with your knife.

Candling Tool

A candling tool is simply a light source.  Even going to relieve yourself at night can be dangerous without light. Just one bad step and you can end up falling and hurting yourself.  Flashlights and headlamps are a must for this reason. I prefer headlamps so that I have my hands free for other tasks.  


Closing Thoughts

Well, there it is folks.  These are the 10 items that you should grab first when you are headed into the wilderness.  If you do not own at least one item from each category, do your research and find an inexpensive one to get you started.  It is important not only to own these tools, but to practice with them.  A ferro rod does you no good if you have no idea how to use it.  I suggest you periodically review this tool that Dave Canterbury has so graciously given us.  When your life is on the line, it might be the one thing you remember that gets you out alive. 

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