There is a definite sense of comfort in surviving a disaster safely in your home surrounded by all of your supplies and in a climate you understand. However, there is also a need to learn how to survive in a hostile environment far away from every common thing you have ever known. For many, the jungle can seem even less hospitable than the frozen Arctic circle, since the oppressive heat, poisonous insects and reptiles, and overgrowth of vegetation seems much stranger than mere biting cold. As such, learning to survive in the jungle can be a way to overcome your aversion to the strange and hostile in far away places, giving you greater comfort and calm even when traveling to places you’ve never seen.
Disclaimer: I’m no jungle guide, and I certainly don’t wrestle crocodiles for a living. Any trip into hostile areas or thick jungles should definitely involve a plan for returning to civilization and be presided over by experienced guides and experts. Any “survival tips” should always be weighed against expert knowledge, as jungle survival has many unique and difficult challenges.
How do you Survive in the Jungle Alone?
For survival in the jungle it is important to have basic tools and supplies such as having a clean water source, a compass (and knowing how to use it), a survival machete (for clearing your way), moisture resistant clothing and food, and firestarting materials. It is also vital to know how to deal with problem animals and predators, as well as possible health hazards such as heat, poisoning, infections or wounds suffered in the jungle.
Key Tools to Have on You
Obviously you won’t always know that you’re going to be lost in a trackless jungle, but if you have the chance to properly suit up here are some tools and supplies you’ll really want to have:
Portable Water Filtration. There can be an abundance of water if you happen to find a river or collect water during a downpour, but in the hot and humid conditions you’re likely to run into potent strains of bacteria that could leave you helpless for weeks at a time. Make sure you have a small, portable means of filtering water so that you can get enough to stay hydrated.
A compass and knowledge of how to use it. Even if you don’t necessarily know which direction leads to civilization, you at least want to follow a straight-ish line in a given direction rather than wandering in circles. A compass can give you the ability to navigate even without many notable landmarks.
A survival machete. Machetes are of middling use in forests commonly found in North America, but in a jungle many plants are more easily handled with one of those bladed tools. It will still require a great deal of strength and endurance to make any real headway through dense jungle (some guides suggest a mere 50 feet per day of hard cutting in the thickest portions) but at least you will have an option.
Clothing and food that is reasonably moisture resistant. In the moist and humid conditions of a jungle clothing may not dry out as quickly and food will rot more quickly once out of airtight packaging. In some cases “moisture resistance” may amount to just having some extra clothing and particularly socks and underwear available to allow the other set a chance to dry around a campfire at night.
Firestarting materials. Again, much of what you’ll encounter may be damp and you may need to have at least a small flame going before you can build a true campfire out of local materials.
How Travel will Work?
Travel by river is usually favored even by natives of jungled areas.
Unlike forested woods, jungles can be particularly thick with vegetation that makes straight-line travel by foot extremely slow. If possible, travelling on a river or stream is generally preferable though you will need enough skill to know how to dodge debris and avoid waterfalls and other hazards. On the plus side, water and food will be plentiful with a little fishing skill since most fish away from villages and cities won’t be too heavily contaminated and should make good eating.
If water travel isn’t feasible, hoofing it will bring slow going. Your best bet is to select a general bearing and then head on that route in a windy path, with a lot of emphasis on dodging particularly dense jungle even if it involves a lot more walking on open ground. You will also need to routinely mark trees to ensure you follow your bearing properly, and you will also need to deal with the potential for venomous snakes, poisonous insects and spiders, and other land-based dangers.
The papaya tree will provide a good deal of delectable fruit to feed you during your jungle trek.
There are many potential fruit sources in the jungle such as yams, bananas, and papaya. The thickest jungle can actually bear more food than the easier stuff, since particularly dense jungle is usually the result of previously clear land being claimed by the jungle once more.
There are also various insects, particularly grubs and larvae, that will give you plenty of protein. Rotting wood and the underside of rocks can both yield a healthy bounty of grubs for your dinner.
Assuming you don’t have a firearm you may have a hard time hunting anything worth killing for meat. Monkeys can be trapped and eaten, but generally speaking any meat not eaten within a few hours is going to spoil rapidly in the humid conditions. Aside from the occasional fish I recommend going vegetarian (with a slight smattering of insects and grubs) in order to make the best use of your limited bodily resources.
Aside from rivers and streams, you may occasionally happen upon coconuts that can yield some delicious and clean milk that is both hydrating and nutritious. Any other source of water (such as the stuff collected on leaves and puddles) should be carefully filtered just as you would with river water. Remember that by the time it reached the floor where you were located that rain has to run down many leaves and branches that are covered in bug feces, dirt, and teeming with bacteria. Check for mosquito larva as well, and be sure to sift and boil any water with larva in it to save your filter.
Fire Building Materials
If you lack a firestarter, you will be hard pressed to find much dry material to work with. However, occasionally particularly large trees will have a few dry spots where the foliage blocks the rain, giving you access to a few pieces of dry-ish wood that could start a good fire and let you burn moist wood more easily. Make sure to check for grubs before you toss anything that looks rotten on the fire!
Dangers of the Jungle
We’ve only covered the essential basics here: we’ll delve into many of the common enemies and threats that can harm you while you’re out in the jungle and how to keep yourself safe.
Mosquitoes can be one of the most annoying and most deadly dangers in the jungle.
Although many monkeys, birds, and other denizens of the jungle will be making a horrible racket while you’re trying to sleep generally speaking they will want nothing to do with you. The real pests will be the same ones that threaten you at home: mosquitoes. Unlike the ones at home however, these guys will be packing many diseases bred in the humid and moist conditions including malaria and yellow fever. Smoke and proper netting materials are your best consistent defenses against these bloodsuckers.
A similar enemy, the leech, will also be attempting to suck a little blood from your veins. Although you may think of them as primarily inhabiting rivers, in truth they also wait on leaves much like ticks do in order to snag a ride. Though they do not transfer specific known diseases like mosquitoes are known for, leech bite sites do become infected readily and you should immediately clean any leech bite once you pull one of those suckers off.
After seeing one of these in your boot, you’ll be much more thorough in searching through everything for other critters!
Scorpions and spiders are both major concerns because their bites can be quite deadly and they are easily overlooked. Although there is little you can do to help yourself once bitten or stung, careful and thorough inspections of bedding, clothing, and particularly shoes can keep you fairly safe. Again, smoke is also a good way of driving these pests off, though it can be more difficult since they tend to be more stubborn than mosquitoes.
Hornets are well known in North America for their aggressive nature and the jungle variety is no different. The difference here is that each wound is a potential source of infection, and the thick vegetation means that you may be unable to flee far enough before you succumb to the sheer number of stings. Beware hornets and their nests!
Snakes are particularly frightening given their venomous nature, but honestly you have more to fear of the spiders and scorpions and mosquitoes. Snakes are generally large enough to see, and so long as you move hollow logs and stones with a stick you shouldn’t sustain a bite. Just remember to give snakes their space and to carefully inspect warm bedding or boots where they may elect to rest.
Wounds and Infections
Jungles are major sources of rotting organic material, and their moisture and humidity work together to make a perfect soup for bacteria to fester in. As a result, many wounds will rapidly become infected if not properly cleaned and bandaged. Regardless of the source, all wounds should be considered serious and require immediate care. As a result, it is a good idea to carefully strip and search your entire body for any small cut or sore that might need tending. This is also a good opportunity to find a few niggling leeches that might have hidden in the folds of your shirt or pants!
Falling coconuts are a great food source, but they are also deadly missiles when they’re on the way down.
Generally speaking there are many edible plants, but you should always carefully test any fruit or seed you plan to eat by eating a tiny amount and waiting to see the effect. In particular, anything that causes nausea or a burning sensation in your mouth should not be eaten under any circumstances. Under no circumstances should you eat any mushrooms or other fungi, as taste testing is insufficient and you could still suffer extreme harm from a tiny bite.
On a side note, any coconut tree provides great sustenance but should never be used as a shelter. Falling coconuts can kill a man by striking him on the head!
The Heat and the Moisture
If you live in an area that becomes humid at some point during the year, you know how miserable it can be even in mild temperatures. A jungle will crank that up 100% and make things truly horrible in many cases, and it can present a health problem. Not only does the constant humidity and moisture prevent clothing from drying well, it also dehydrates you and can cause skin to chafe and rub itself raw. The best way to overcome dehydration is to constantly drink water when you get the chance, and then take occasional sips when water is more scarce. Chafing can be helped with oil from coconuts or by padding with excess socks or other soft clothing.
If you can avoid all of these threats, you should be able to survive long enough to escape or be rescued. Just be cautious at first, since even the best advice cannot overcome a lack of practical experience.