The 5 C’s of Survival

The 5 C’s of Survival

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The great outdoors is a place of discovery and wonder for many of us and there exist myriad of activities that we can take part in, from hiking and trekking to canoeing, climbing and bushcrafting, just to name a few. Many times these activities can take us to remote places far away from cities or towns where our basic necessities can be found or where we can go in case of an emergency. 

Therefore, participating in any of these outdoor activities requires a certain preparedness.  Having some basic tools on hand as a precaution in case of an emergency is highly recommended. 

You never know when injuries, harsh weather conditions or even a natural disaster can take place and threaten your health and even your survival.  However by simply packing a few extra items, you can prevent or avoid many unexpected dangers.  

So what extra items or tools to carry in case of an emergency? 

The answer can be found in what is refered to as ‘The 5 C’s of Survival’ : 

Cutting, Cover, Cordage, Combustion, Container 

In what follows, we’ll explore each of these Five C’s in order to understand their importance and any practical elements and suggestions that may help you in putting together your own basic survival gear and increase your general preparedness before setting out into the wild.  

It should be noted that this is of course not an extensive survival kit and many important items are not mentioned such as a standard first-aid kit or food supplies.  The ‘Five C’s’ do however highlight some of the most important tools for turning around a difficult situation where survival is a stake.  

It is also true that many tools and items can be fashionned in nature using natural materials, but they will often be very primitive and more importantly will require hours of time and energy to make.  

Time and energy are a precious commodity when you are already in a hazardous or threatening situation and therefore having all of the basics on hand is essential.  Without further ado let’s look at each one of the 5 C’s.

1 C Cutting
1 C Cutting

1C. Cutting

A cutting tool is arguably the most important thing to carry in case of an emergency.  The most classic cutting tool is a good-sized knife.  Big enough that you can chop up wood in an emergency and small enough to accomplish more intricate work. 

There exist many options on the market and so it comes down to finding one that best suits your general needs.  Most folks who spend large amounts of time in nature keep a good sized knife attached to their waist or always close by in their packs.

It is also known that with one good quality knife you can build shelter, cordage, produce combustion and you can even make yourself a container, that is of course, if you have the know-how, time and energy at your disposal.

If weight and space is not an issue, then having a few different cutting tools on hand is recommended.  A good quality axe for example, can be very useful in case of an emergency.  In general, a small axe can accomplish nearly all of the same tasks as a knife can and is more efficient for things like chopping wood.  

A multi-tool like a swiss army knife is also a great addition since it can offer a variety of smaller blades and utility tools.  For example, many multi-tools include a very sharp saw as well as things like a file and pliers. 

2c cover
2c cover

2C. Cover

Having something to create a shelter with can also be indispensable when you are out in the wild.  At times an emergency may arise when there is a rapid change in the weather which impeeds movement or travel making it essential to seek shelter. 

There are many accounts of people having to spend a night or more out in the wild due to an emergency where they were very meagerly equipped for such an event. 

For these unforseen emergency situations, one of the most valuable items to always pack is a large blanket.  A blanket can act as a great insulator against the cold or can even be used as a shade structure to protect from a harsh sun.  Moreover, it is said that wool retains approximately 80% of its insulation value even when it is wet.  It can also act as a make shift sleeping bag if it is big enough.  

In tandem with a blanket comes a good quality tarp. Trekker tarps for example, are very durable and can be used in a number of ways. The classic lean-to style setup is extremely easy to recreate with a tarp and gives you a shelter in just a minute or two. 

Trekker tarps or other similar good quality tarps exist in various sizes and thicknesses as well as waterproofing levels.  These days some are designed to be extremely lightweight and pack up very small so they are not a burden to carry around.  They can of course be used even outside of emergencies to create a quick and cozy shelter from the elements.

3c cordage
3c cordage

3C. Cordage

Along with a good tarp, cordage is also essential in setting up your tarp or for lashing or building a more complex shelter using the materials you find around you. 

A good quality paracord is will do just fine and you don’t need to get the really thick stuff as a smaller spool of 5mm will do just fine.  It can usually be broken down into 3 smaller usable strands for other jobs that require more precision.  

Cordage can also be very useful for raising your food bag off the ground, if you have one, in order to keep bears and other animals away.  Cordage is also very useful for first-aid when you need to make an emergency splint or for repairing gear or fastening things to your pack or vehicle.  A ball or spool of cordage is lightweight and easily packed away in case of an emergency.   

See more: Wilderness Survival Checklist

4c combustion
4c combustion

4C. Combustion

When it comes to emergency preparedness, combustion is also an extremely important element.  Simply put, it is your capacity to start a fire and this can really be a game-changer when the weather turns cold suddenly.  It can also be a lifesaver then things get really cold and there is a risk of hypothermia.  

Once you get a fire going you have instant heat and it also allows you to boil water and thus purify it or even cook food if the emergency prolongs itself.  If an emergency forces you to spend an unplanned night out in the wild, setting up a lean-to shelter in close proximity to a fire also allows you the possibility of getting some important hours of rest and sleep when the weather is cold.   

In terms of actual fire starting tools for emergency situations, keeping it simple is the name of the game.  A tin box with two lighters and some waterproof matches as well as some cotton balls or some more fancy ‘firestarters’ is a good way to start. 

Of course you can bring along a small ferro rod or other more bushcrafty fire making tools but best if you are already familiar and experienced with their use.  Always remember that in an emergency you want to be able to start a fire quickly and efficiently.

Meaning that before setting out on your outdoor adventure, it is better to dress with more warm layers than is necessary and then peel some off when you get to hot. 

Then when the weather becomes cooler or you unexpectedly need to spend the night out in the woods, you have those extra layers to fall back upon. 

5c container
5c container

5C. Container

A good container is also an essential tool for survival.  More specifically one that you can carry water in and also boil it.  The good news is that you will probably be already carrying one or many. 

The important recommendation here is to make sure that at least one of your bottles is made of stainless steel and can be placed in a fire to boil water.  Having pottable drinking water is essential for survival moreso than most other things. 

Generally, any water that doesn’t have toxic chemicals in it, can be boiled and purified of harmful bacteria.   Moreover, a 32oz size bottle is recommended since many of the water purifying tablets use 32oz as a measurement standard and it is also a good size to carry in general. 

There also exist other types of containers that allow for greater versatility of use such as having a container in which you can cook food and so if space permits you can pack those along too.


Planning wisely before setting out into the bush regardless of whether you are setting out on a short day trip or a multi-day adventure is essential.  

Bringing along a few extra tools and equipment just in case of an emergency can really be a game-changer and even a lifesaver.  Therefore keep the 5 C’s of Survival in mind and ideally close at hand. 

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Bram Johnson
Hi, My Name is Bram, the Editor of Survival Artist. Here you will find all things Wilderness, Survival, & Primitive Living. I grew up in the backcountry and got hooked on the simple chop wood carry water lifestyle. If you know anything about me then you know you can find me either running up mountain trails or sipping coffee over a book of philosophy.