Surviving With a Group

Once television networks started launching wilderness survival series, it was inevitable that scenarios would come about that included groups of people. Unfortunately, practically every single show gets one extremely important aspect of group survival wrong.

Survival is not a competition.

When two or more people find themselves in a harrowing survival ordeal, it’s all about cooperation — something Scouting has always promoted. 

Stay on the Sunny Side

Everything changes when you are in a survival situation with someone else. Sometimes it’s more challenging — if you choose to look at it that way. Yes, if you come across food, you have to share it with others; however, with more people present, you might be able to acquire much more food. Most of us recognize the advantages of having someone with you during an ordeal.

Photo by Michael Hanson

Allow me to digress for a moment: I use the term “ordeal” all the time when discussing survival. Let’s remember that nothing about survival is fun. It is painful. It is scary. It is depressing. It is ugly. There is only one thing you want to do, and it’s not to build a nice A-frame shelter. It’s to go home.

Survival will always be an ordeal one must get through, or — for this subject — a few must get through. To get through something together is to work together. With one survival partner or with many, you can have a shoulder to cry on, someone to commiserate with, someone to acknowledge your situation is bad and that you wish you were home. They might help boost your morale.

The bottom line is, you know you’re not alone, and this is incredibly important to your mental well-being in an extremely stressful situation.

Working Together

Let’s walk through the process: You’re standing beside a rushing river, soaking wet, looking at the three other people in your group, minutes after you’ve all climbed ashore. Your canoes are busted and have washed a long way downriver.

The first thing to do in this situation — as with every situation — is to calm down. I stress the words “to do”because I like to think of calming down as an action.

Strangely enough, group survival can present slight disadvantages here. Panic is one of them. Panic is contagious. That’s why it’s important to keep a level head and reassure and calm down whomever is anxious.

Photo by Laura Bombier

Once everyone is calm, you can all assess the situation. More people usually means more supplies on hand. Better yet, more minds can work together to make smart decisions. Much second-guessing is eliminated when you have multiple opinions to consider rather than just your own. In this scenario, you have four sets of personalities, intellects and muscles at your advantage.

In a group, arguments can break out over what to do. Any arguments should play out more as debates over the options rather than become mean-spirited.

The physical advantage bears repeating. “Many hands make light work” is the old adage. If a shelter must be built, it’s now 400% easier to do so. Cuddled up in that shelter sharing body heat while you all attempt to sleep will save lives.

A Big Challenge

On hundreds of survival days I’ve filmed, there is always one aspect that I have never truly been able to get over: boredom. It’s true I could keep myself busy working my camera gear or spending time gathering firewood, but boredom is a crippling moment in survival. It will burn deep into your mental attitude and reduce you to tears.

Photo by Laura Bombier

If you’re with others, boredom can still seep into things if the ordeal is a long one, but it’s far less likely, especially with talks of meals you’re going to have when you get home.

And again, that’s what group survival is all about: working together to get home.

Les Stroud, aka Survivorman, is an adventurer and an award-winning filmmaker and author. He’s writing a children’s book on adventure, hosting a new series on American Public Television and launching a podcast, “Surviving Life with Les Stroud!” Visit or follow him on social media @reallesstroud

Just So You Know …

Actions depicted in this article represent extreme scenarios and may not precisely follow standard procedures. When instructing youth, always consult official BSA guidelines.

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