In a survival situation, you may only have the skills in your head and the gear in your pockets to get you through the crisis. It's a good idea to make sure that you're well trained in the use of the items you choose to keep in your EDC. If you were left with only a knife… would you survive and thrive?
Every few months I like to head into the wilderness to test out my survival skills and gear. On each challenge, I have a specific location, gear list, and weather forecast designated to give me new and interesting challenges.
The Knife-Only Survival Challenge: Surviving 72 hours
For my most recent challenge, I wanted to attempt the mother of all challenges. A hotly debated topic amongst survival specialists is if surviving with only a knife would be feasible. When I first started writing I strongly argued that it was not realistic and that it was downright dangerous to even consider it. However, as I have advanced in my survival experience my opinion has changed.
For this challenge, I wanted to head out with only the clothes on my back and the knife at my side, forcing me to get more creative with the resources I could find in the area. I also wanted to increase the difficulty by completing this challenge during the wettest week of the year. There was nearly a 100% chance of rain in the forecast all three days of the challenge. The survival cycle is considered 72 hours because you must find shelter, food, and drinkable water in that window to be able to survive.
I entered the area on day one as soon as the rain subsided for a moment. Everything around my camp site was soaking wet, but I wanted to try to avoid working in the pouring rain. I started hiking and found an area next to a field with a pond with a few old fruit trees.
One of these would make an ideal site for a shelter. The canopy of the tree was dome shaped, and the branches nearly drooped to the ground. This shape helps to block the wind and the rain if you can build a shelter underneath. As I hiked in, I had also found a few plastic bottles that somebody had discarded. These would be perfect to collect some water.
The knife I brought with me was a long, heavy camp knife that is perfect for chopping and for more detailed work. I used this to cut down a small maple for a ridge pole on my shelter. I found a fruit tree that also had a smaller tree growing at the edge of its canopy.
I was able to slide the ridge pole into crooks in both trees to support the weight. I then started cutting down smaller branches about four feet long and less than one inch in diameter. These were laid at a 45-degree angle as a framework for my lean-to.
I also stumbled across an old board that had been burned into three pieces. I leaned these boards against the ridge pole to make a portion of my shelter even more waterproof.
At this point, I was getting thirsty, but I knew I would not be drinking from the pond. The water would definitely have parasites and bacteria that would make me sick. Everything was too wet for friction fire, so boiling the water was out.
It was too cloudy to use ultraviolet light for purification, and it was too muddy to dig a proximity well. I would have to collect rainwater if I wanted to drink. After scouting the area, I found a dip in a rock structure that had collected rainwater the night before. It was large enough that this spot would supply plenty of clean water for the three days.
Back To Work
I went back to working on my shelter and started pulling up dead grasses for thatching on the roof. The grass was damp, but it would still work for a water-resistant roof.
The canopy of the tree would block a portion of the rain as well. I started at the bottom of the lean-to, stacking layer after layer of dead grass until the roof was completely filled in.
Keeping Off The Mud
I piled about 10 inches of grasses inside the shelter for a bed to get me up off of the mud. Thankfully the clothes I was wearing were water resistant, so I did not have to worry about them getting soaked through.
Food For Thought
Collecting food was next. I would have been able to spear bullfrogs or catch fish with a trap, but without a way to cook the meat I would most certainly end up with parasites. I started looking around for wild edible plants and found an abundance of my favorites.
There was an old peach tree that had tiny unripe peaches about the size of marbles. They were bitter but provided some sugars. There were wild burdock and wild carrots along the edges of the field.
The roots of these plants can be peeled and eaten for starches. There were plenty of maple seed pods around that looked like a helicopter blade as they fell. The seeds inside provide a small amount of protein, and they have the texture of sunflower seeds. Finally, there were a half dozen different varieties of edible greens that provided some added calories, vitamins, and minerals. I collected so much food in 20 minutes that I could not finish it all. I saved some for the next day.
Food, Water, Shelter…What's left?
I now had food, water, and shelter covered. The only challenge left would be the weather. The rains started again that night and did not stop again until the end of my challenge. The roof of my shelter held up fine, and the canopy of the tree did a good job of blocking the wind.
My only frustration was that water started to pool up next to my shelter, but it could not be avoided. I ended up staying in my shelter virtually the entire rest of the three days. If my clothes would have become saturated, nighttime temperatures would have caused hypothermia and I would be done.
Troels Gelan shows how to survive for 24 hours only a knife:
The storms were fierce, but with the resources I found, I was able to complete the challenge. It turns out that areas all around me faced severe flooding and flash flooding while I huddled in my little lean-to. I was a bit sore from lying in the shelter for three days, but I am always sore after a challenge.
This was a learning experience for me as I was able to really test my skills for building a shelter and finding food and water. Out of all my challenges, this was the first during which I ever built a shelter without cordage.
I also built it without a tool specifically designed for cutting wood. I have survived on plants alone during other challenges, but have never found this amount and variety of edible plants. My belly stayed full the whole time. In addition, I had never relied solely on rainwater before. I truly enjoyed the experience, and look forward to finding a new challenge next time.
Out of all my challenges, this was the first during which I ever built a shelter without cordage. I also built it without a tool specifically designed for cutting wood. I have survived on plants alone during other challenges, but have never found this amount and variety of edible plants. My belly stayed full the whole time. In addition, I had never relied solely on rainwater before. I truly enjoyed the experience, and look forward to finding a new challenge next time.
What “extreme” trials you put yourself through to keep up your training?
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Editor's Note: This was first published in July 16, 2017 and has been updated for quality and relevancy.