7 Steps of Survival

The 7 Steps of Survival

“A few decades ago I took a series of wilderness survival courses through Sea-Grant and our local community schools program. I live in coastal Alaska, and the classes were intended to teach survival in high stress wilderness and marine emergency situations, cold-water survival, CPR, wilderness first aid, survival pack, and numerous others. The one that seemed to have universal meaning to me was the 7 Steps of Survival.”

(Guest article by a Modern Survival Blog Reader)

I found the 7 steps to survival to be much more wide-ranging than just wilderness survival. I’ve applied them to every aspect of my life, and taught them to my son and now my grandson.

I will share the 7 steps of survival and try to give some examples on their usefulness, both in survival situations, and as a general guide to life and prepping. I will also try to relate the steps to the law of threes and some other prepper themes:

7 Steps Of Survival:
Recognition, Inventory, Shelter, Signals, Water, Food, Play

Survival Step 1: RECOGNITION

“The first step to surviving is recognition.” I have pounded that sentence into my and my son’s heads to the point it has become instinct. Of course one cannot take definitive action to insure one’s survival until one recognizes one is in this situation. So simple but soooo overlooked.

The first few seconds and minutes are critical. It doesn’t matter if one is dealing with a boat sinking in cold water, a bear charging, investing in food storage, stocks, gold, bullets, SHTF, no action to mitigate the threat can begin until it is recognized as a threat. (Don’t we all have family and friends who just have no recognition skills?)

Recognition is the essence of situation awareness, the antidote to normalcy bias, in the woods we call it heads up.

Survival Step 2: INVENTORY

How big are the waves? How far from shore are we? Cold water? Where is my survival bag, life vest? What is in my pockets? Who is with me? Are they in recognition, injured, can they swim, run, walk, shoot? Any other boats around? Are they friendly?

Inventory should be applied as broadly as possible. In a situation of SHTF, if you are away from home, inventory could mean your vehicle, route, alternative routes, the condition of the grid, GHB, where your family is, what and where is the threat. Mentally inventory everything and its application to your situation.

Survival Step 3: SHELTER

Keep your body heat, keep cool, keep dry, find cover.

What is the threat to your body or who might be after you that you may need to hide from? Evaluate the threat and insulate yourself from it. I would say having a weapon and knowing how to use it comes under shelter.

Cover, concealment, body armor, gas mask, pandemic protection, rubber gloves, a garbage bag, any type of protection falls under shelter.

Survival Step 4: SIGNALS

Communications radios, cell phones, signal mirrors, flares, three fires on the beach, but also in a crowd or dark ally body language.

Do I look like a mark? When confronted by danger, human or animal what signals do I send out? What signals do I want to send and what signals do I not want to send. Also, what signals are present in my environment, tire tracks, bear tracks, dark clouds, an angry mob?

Survival Step 5: WATER

Average person can live only 3-4 days without water; need to acquire clean, plentiful water source.

[ Ken adds: As most of you know, WATER is VERY important for survival! There are tons of articles here on the blog about this topic. ]

[ Read: Stainless Steel Canteen – Single Walled for Boiling Water ]

Survival Step 6: FOOD

Important to meet energy needs and keep up spirits.

[ Ken adds: Although not as immediately critical as Water, FOOD provides essential ENERGY during a survival situation! ]

Got emergency foods in your kit?

[ Read: About the DATREX Food Bar ]

[ Read: About the CLIF Energy Food Bar ]

Survival Step 7: PLAY

Step 7 is so important. In so many survival situations the person who lives is the person with the right mindset. In a prolonged SHTF scenario morale is make or break. “Reinforces a positive attitude which strengthens the will to

[Ken adds: I found this resource from the United States Coast Guard. A teaching guide outline for the 7 steps of survival. It sheds a little more light on the subject ]

The Rule of Threes

[ Read: The Rule of 3’s ]

A long cherished tool of survival works closely with the seven steps.

1, Recognize, “Oh crap.” You can live three seconds without thinking.
2, Inventory, “I can’t breath.” Three minutes without air.
3, Shelter, Three hours without shelter.
4, Signals,
5, Water, Three days without water.
6, Food, Three weeks without food,
7, Play, Three months without friends.

It is vital to imprint the steps. Keep them in your mind through a few days and see how they apply to your daily activities. They are a tool intended to be effective under pressure on a deep level like muscle memory. They are intended to be applied as broadly as possible.

When things get dicey recall the steps and start adapting them to your reality. They are a roadmap for survival adaptable to nearly every situation.

The seven steps are among the finest tools in my mental every day carry bag.


  1. 😎🤙🏻
    Thank you, good reminder,

    I wonder how many people are really capable of recognition? So many just oblivious to anything going on.

  2. Really great article! I really resonated with adapting the steps to all situations, not just the ones most think of when thinking about survival. I’m printing this one out.

  3. Recognition is lacking in most people. Their phone addiction seems to make it worse. The first 10 seconds can be the difference between living and dying. Seen plenty of people standing there like a deer caught in the headlights when everyone else around them are reacting to a situation. This is a great list and a good reminder to do what if scenarios in your head. Definitely a good list to share…

  4. For some it’s the opposite of not recognizing but seeing cause to panic in too many situations. In 2008-9, an uncle came up to me at a family event and said he had told my aunt 2008 was exactly what I had predicted. To which my DH replied “She’s predicted 20 out of the last 8 recessions. I suffer from worst case scenario syndrome and my DH’s comment resonated. Lots of actions I have taken for situations that didn’t warrant them. Now I focus on being ready to act quickly instead. Being debt free and moving to the wods woods will eliminate some threats.

  5. Recognition…..AKA Situational Awareness……..Subjects Covered in this class:

    Example 1) Ever go into a ‘rest stop’ along an Interstate Highway, go into a stall, shut the door (hopefully the ‘latch’ is still operational), drop yer drawers, have a seat, THEN you notice there ain’t no TP?

    Example 2) Have you ever had a problem breaking hardware loose on a vehicle and used a propane torch to ‘warm up’ the hardware hoping it will assist in loosening the hardware and after applying the propane torch to said hardware for several minutes removed torch, setting it aside but within reach and still ‘on ‘, but not looking where it is aimed. Then after a few minutes of torquing the hardware you hear a ‘FOOMP’. Looking around you notice the propane torch has been ‘warming’ the gas line and there is now an impressive 10-12 ft flame coming out of the engine compartment of the vehicle you are working on.

    Example 3) You are taking a ‘short cut’, look at the fuel gauge, determine you have enough gas to make it 30 – 40 miles, then after about 20 miles you see:

    Please be aware that if you answered “yes” to any of the above, you need not come back to this class.

    Recognition training, the hard way.

  6. We know that when you’ve lost your way in the wilderness, panic can begin and poor decisions can be made. In Australia they have ABCDE : Accept the situation. Brew a cup of tea (calm down, make a fire…). Consider your options, Decide on your course of action, Execute your decision. That’s from Desert Survival Skills by Dave Alloway – a good resource book if you live in the Chihuahuan desert like me.

  7. The Recognition resonates with me and it is the one that will kill you the fastest if you are not paying attention. It can also get you if the person or persons you are with do not recognize the situation. And yes, I have close relatives that fall in this category. I was in a dangerous situation with my SIL and at each point when I gave important instruction to keep us safe – she did the opposite. We were just lucky that we were not harmed. So not only did she NOT recognize the immediate danger, she did the opposite of what I instructed (she was driving). It really pissed me off. I will no longer go anywhere with her unless I drive. I love my SIL but she is clueless! And both our spouses were not happy with her when they heard her tell the story later at home as if the whole thing were funny.

    1. Kim YK
      Where did you locate the term GHB? I do not see it linked to any persons call sign is the reason I am asking you this question.

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