A good definition of survival boils down to this: Knowing what to do and how to do it; taking whatever action needed to stay alive and return to your loved ones. This requires advanced preparation and gaining vital experience through study, training, and practice. Preparation and experience…those are the keys.
None of us has perfect knowledge and training for every situation. Few of us are expert at every skill for every situation, but each of us does have the opportunity to improve on what we do know to prevent the most likely threats. The two greatest outdoor threats are 1) becoming lost, and 2) falling victim to hypothermia. Every year these threats are responsible for the loss of several thousand Americans who went outdoors for a day hike, and afternoon of hunting, or backpacking. The third greatest threat is accidental injury.
Preparing for the worst case then means learning how to prevent becoming Lost, Injured, and/or Hypothermic (LIH). That high-level focus on LIH enables us to focus our preparation, both physically and mentally, and the most essential skills needed for preventing and coping with LIH. Those are: Planning, Fire Making, Sheltering, First Aid, Rescue, Navigation, Collecting Water, and Finding Food. (Generally speaking water and food are not the most important survival concerns but can become critical in certain situations which will be explained as we go along.) The focus on LIH highlights not only what skills knowledge we should take to the field, but helps identify what items we physically carry in a survival kit. Some people think of their survival kit as whatever they can fit into a used mint tin, while others try to take along everything imaginable. To find the right answer we next need to come up with a Survival Plan; the first essential skill.