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Everyone likes to imagine themselves surviving the zombie apocalypse, or any other apocalypse for that matter, like a boss. Finding a great hideout to call Home Base, building it up to the ultimate compound, and maybe even recreating society along the way. Don’t forget the sappy and overused trope name like “Hope,” “New Hope,” or “Utopia.”
But let’s face it, you’re probably going to die in the wild. Maybe during the apocalypse, maybe pre-apocalypse, maybe post. Not to be pessimistic but yeah, a whole lot of dying even without zombie interference.
So How Are You Going to Die in the Wild?
Well let’s have a look at the top 50 potential killers, and what you might be able to do to stop them with a little bit of training and preparation. In fact, the rough draft title of this post was “50 ways you will die in the wild (and what you can do about it).”
So with lots of serious survival issues here, and a few jokes thrown in because we’re fans of dark gallows humor, we are now going to dive into the 50 most likely ways you’re going to die in the wild.
So starting with the most likely and then descending into no particular order…
#1: Death by Dehydration
I mean boring, but probably the most likely one on the list, especially if you go out into the wild unprepared. Surely you can be more creative in your horrible death than just running out of water. But then again, most aren’t.
In all seriousness, there is a reason that water is generally one of the most important priorities when it comes to survival situations out in the wild. In fact in most situations it is possible the single most important thing.
Most people can live three weeks or even more without food, but three days is generally the max to live without water.
Pro Survival Tips:
Never go out on a hike without enough water (and this is not just a desert thing), and make sure if you’re going to very isolated areas, look up the various survival methods for finding water in that area to help you in a survival situation.
Make sure to carry water purification tablets with you as well as a portable water filter like Life Straw to make otherwise questionable water sources in the wild usable and less likely to murder you.
The one thing that can be more important than water in some situations is shelter, and the reason behind that is exposure. Let’s face it: the human body is actually pretty fragile in a wild environment. Even the hairiest of us is a long way from having the warmth of a thin covering of fur, and the lizard scales of the desert are better for such intense heat.
Exposure can mean hypothermia from cold, sun stroke or heat exhaustion from the sun and heat, or sometimes it’s something slightly different or something in-between. Winds battering the body, just general exposure. In addition to the obvious direct ways you can die from exposure, there are indirect ways. Excessive exposure to rain and cold could lead to pneumonia, or excessive time in the sun could lead to a delirious state that leads to falls, getting more lost, or bad decisions of other kind.
Exposure is a serious issue, and that is why not only shelter is important in a wilderness survival situation, but also preparing for environments ahead of time. Deserts are hot in the day but can be freezing at night. If you’re in the far north it might be a pleasant 70 degrees in the woods during the day but drops to 40 or lower at night.
Prepare for the worst case scenario, bring some basic small emergency items for those just in case situations, and you drastically increase your chances of avoiding dying from exposure in the wild.
#3: “Dude, That’s Poison.”
I mean the good news in that situation is that you have someone with you in the middle of nowhere, so you have someone who can get help. The bad news is, you’re lost in the wild. So you think to yourself, “Self, where did this guy with purple ears and squiggly air who looks suspiciously like a poison-induced hallucination out of a Hunter S. Thompson come from?”
Then you may or may not respond to yourself depending on the type and severity of the hallucination.
All joking aside (“Quiet, Self, stop being a hallucination!), just as there are many types of natural edible plants that can be used for food in almost any environment, there are many different plants that can also be poison. The story of Chris McCandless in the book (and later movie) Into the Wild is just one example.
There have also been many examples of mis-identifying mushrooms which is double the tragedy not only because food is much less important than water and shelter, but also even the edible mushrooms just don’t have the calorie counts or levels of nutrients that other plants do, meaning it was a high risk for low reward – something you need to avoid when in a survival situation (look at #46 on this list for confirmation).
Avoid poison. A little education on local dangerous plants, along with taking a survival course to learn about actual edible plants so you can be an expert identifying them,
Then comes that moment where you realize building a raft wasn’t as good an idea as you thought, just as The River wasn’t that great a book compared to Hatchet (sequels – what are you going to do?). First of all, I all but guarantee you don’t know how to build a raft properly.
So considering that both my brother and I swim like cement bathtubs, and float about as effectively, so this is a concern we are both incredibly aware of. Most people overestimate how good they are at swimming and underestimate the power of currents in rivers, creeks, or rip tides in the ocean.
Drowning is a very legitimate worry when out in the wild, and that’s even before bringing in potential issues like flash flooding.
There’s only so much that can be done about this and a lot depends on situation. Don’t jump into the ocean out of a life raft, though that seems a bit obvious. A big one is if you find yourself in a situation where you have to save yourself and get across a river or creek. First of all, if it’s a large river, you’re probably not crossing it.
You might drown crossing it, but unless it’s a tiny meandering thing during a long drought, you’re not going to be able to find a way across. Depending where you are, even strong creeks that only come up waist high can be surprisingly strong.
(Shane: I can attest to this when I forded a shallow creek in Alaska. Despite never being more than three feet deep, the current nearly cut out my legs from under me twice despite being ready for it – and I’m built, as one friend put it, “Like a brick wall on top of two kegs”).
So try to avoid crossing water when you can. If there is no other option, look for the easiest place to cross, and yes, it is worth the energy to go even miles up and down the shore to find a narrow shallow area. When you do cross, carry something that floats. Even a large piece of driftwood to cling onto as you doggie paddle over can make the difference between life (until one of the other 49 items on this list get you) or death.
#5: Fight Big Foot with the Wrong Machete
Look, if you attack Big Foot with the wrong type of machete you are just asking for trouble. Look a good bolo machete can take you a long way and give you a fighting chance, and although a Bowie knife machete was developed more as a commercial money grab than to be helpful, in a Sasquatch fight it might do in a pinch.
Then there’s the legendary Kukri blades…yeah those will do some damage in the hands of a pro. In fact we believe that may be a good reason there are far fewer Big Foot sightings in Southeast Asia.
The cane, billhook, or panga machetes…just no. Why would you hunt Big Foot with one of those machetes? Sugar cane doesn’t punch back, you need a more heavy duty blade if you’re going to tangle with Big Foot.
Look if you don’t know much about machetes, then take a look at our best machetes buying guide. A general top ten and thousands of words of education on which machete is best used for what task.
But don’t take on Big Foot with the wrong machete. That’s how you end up beaten to death by Big Foot.
#6: Food Poisoning Can Be Deadly
This is still true in civilized life, and many people don’t realize just how dangerous symptoms of food poisoning can be. Aside from the sickness itself, severe dehydration and diarrhea in mass amounts can kill. This is usually not a big deal in first world nations because clean water, Pepto Bismol, and further medical attention is close by.
Think about how often you can wait these things out just because you have that access. Now imagine not having it, not being able to control your stomach or digestion, not having medications on hand, not having clean water.
Yup – food poisoning is nasty in the best of situations, and being in a survival situation in the wild is not the best of situations. Add in the additional stress, exposure, and other challenges and a relatively simple case of food poisoning can easily become deadly. If that particular case is a serious one, that is very bad news.
So food poisoning is how you’ll die. You just had to eat that, didn’t you?
Killed by paper cut. Well probably not paper, unless you had a really strange wilderness death experience, but many people don’t realize how much of an issue infections are even today. Infection at its most severe is called sepsis and even in the United States that afflicts an average of 1 million Americans a year, with 15% or more of those cases dying (LINK).
That’s just in the United States, and many of those cases happen in hospitals – a place where extreme cleanliness and attention to preventing infection is important everywhere.
Now imagine having an infection in the middle of nowhere, in a place with dirt, mud, sand, compost, all kinds of crud that can cause infection. The body can only fight off so much by itself, and even small cuts or injuries in the wild can lead to infections, blood poisoning, or even gangrene and death.
Cuts, gouges, scrapes, gashes, wounds, animal bites, broken blisters – all of these can lead to infection in the wild. This is possibly the biggest reason most the population would die in a zombie apocalypse and that’s not including the zombie virus.
If you find yourself in a survival situation, properly clean and bandage every wound and stay on that – it’s crucial to staying alive for rescue…or the building of a Robinson Crusoe type island.
#8: Catch the Plague – No, Really the Plague Is Still Out There!
If you are lost west of the Mississippi River, plague might actually be an issue. The bubonic plague, the same disease that caused the Black Death in Europe during Medieval Times is still alive and well. In the United States alone there have been an average of 7 cases of the plague a year, every year, for the last five or six decades, according to the CDC.
Some years there are as few as one or two, there was one particularly rough year with 17 reported cases. This sounds crazy, but don’t worry, there isn’t likely to be a large outbreak because of modern medical infrastructure.
However if you’re stranded in the wild that’s not going to help. Even worse, the best sources of protein you’re likely to find, small mammal rodents, are the main carriers of the fleas that carry the plague.
But hey, silver lining, death by plague is definitely retro and will get some double take reactions from people reading the obituaries.
Truth be told, you need to be lost in the middle of nowhere a very long time in most cases for this to become a valid threat, but if you are stranded and no one knows where you are (or that you’re even lost) this can become a problem. If you have a very low amount of body fat that can also limit the amount of time you have to less than the conventional “3 weeks” rule of thumb.
Starvation is not a pretty way to go and there are many health issues related to long term lack of food that can kill you, as well. This isn’t just referring to diabetics or those with insulin issues, but the lack of food can lead to major stress on the body which leads to heart attacks or “brain fog” that can result in a fall, an injury, or a bad decision in the wild.
Getting even a limited amount of calories is very important, as your body can adapt as long as there is something coming in.
Wilderness survival requires a clear head, and food definitely plays a part of that. It’s fuel for the system, for the mind, and that is crucial when surviving.
You don’t want to die this way. Plus unless you’re in Death Valley are something, some smartass will look at the online pictures and point to a half dozen edible plants all around your corpse. Jerks.
#10: Beaver Fever
Wow…this is a very unpleasant way to go…to put it mildly. “Beaver Fever” is the common name given to Giardiasis. This is a bowel infection that occurs mainly from exposure to infected fecal matter. Since beavers do everything in the water, it got this nickname as many people getting sick from pioneer times on where beavers swam in water would consistently get that problem.
Usually giardiasis isn’t necessarily fatal, but that’s because of modern medicine and the ability to treat violent bowel spasms and the dehydration that comes from massive diarrhea. Once again if you’re in a wilderness survival situation you see the obvious problem.
Dying because of a beaver isn’t completely embarrassing. Those teeth are incredibly sharp and can tear through flesh (which is why swimming in beaver infested waters is stupid).
Dying because beaver waste gave you violent bowel spasms because you didn’t purify the water…yeah, that’s another story. That is not going to leave a pretty corpse, either.
Ideally you should always boil water and use a filter, however just having a portable water filter like the super popular Life Straw is still a far better option than having nothing.
#11: Anaphylactic Shock
Aside from the venomous snake bite in the middle of nowhere, getting swarmed by a lot of bees or wasps is the next middle of nowhere fear for me. Whether from bee stings, scorpions, centipedes, or a powerful allergic reaction to something that would be considered a mild poison not generally life-threatening, if you add anaphylactic shock to the mix, things get potentially deadly.
For mild cases, a lot of Benadryl is usually enough, which is also why I carry this around at all times. Someone with severe allergies needs their epipen, but are also going to carry that around.
That being said, those are one use and many times the individual still needs medical attention. If you’re one of the unfortuante souls who is heavily allergic then unlucky #11 might be how you’re going to die in the wild.
As with many of the “dangerous animals” related ways to die, the best you can often do here is to be prepared, be aware of your surroundings, and do everything in your power to avoid a situation where this could be a danger.
#12: Venomous Snake Bite
Ooh boy, this is one that has caused some controversy with some readers, but we’re not backing down on some of the things about to be said here. This is also a truly terrifying way to go out for those of us who are afraid of snakes, myself included.
There are dozens of species of venomous snakes in the United States alone, as well as even more sub-species. While deaths in the U.S. by snake bite are relatively rare now, normally numbering in the single digits each year, these things do happen and this is a danger that most outdoor enthusiasts are keenly aware of.
While a bite from a copperhead usually won’t be fatal to a healthy adult that is also making a few assumptions: they aren’t allergic, that they can get medical assistance, and that they’re not going to be in a situation where they need to do a lot – and thus not rest or possibly make a damaged limb worse. In the wild, this gets much dicier.
Rattlesnakes, coral snakes, and water moccasins can all deliver fatal bites (though if you manage to get a coral snake to chew through your skin and envenomate you chances are Darwin is selecting you out at this point for gene pool removal). The problem with getting bit if you are stranded, lost, or otherwise too far away from help is that the only reason snake bites are so rarely fatal is because of the easy access to medical treatments including anti-venom.
Without that modern treatment, those bites are still more than enough to kill most people. And to answer the question about what you can do if you can’t get to help within 24 hours or less…the answer is not much, to be honest. Snake bite kits don’t work and are frankly dangerous. We go into that in detail.
The best thing to do is to keep ultra aware for any native venomous snakes in the area, to know which kind to be looking for, and there are some types of clothing that are designed specifically to protect from venomous snake bites, those being snake proof boots and snake gaiters.
Otherwise really avoid messing with snakes. If it’s a food thing, it’s not worth going after venomous snakes. If you’re not sure, just don’t chance it. There are other sources of food around for sure, and a venomous snake bite is a literal killer out in the wild. Even the usually non-fatal copperhead could be fatal because of long-term damage to limbs, muscles, and your overall system when it isn’t treated at all.
Snakes: still a potential wilderness killer.
We have a LOT of great resources about dealing with this topic including:
- Do snake bite kits really work
- Complete venomous snake guide for United States
- How to identify copperhead vs look-alike
- Common rattlesnake questions
- Coral snake vs. king snake identification
- Best snake proof gaiters
- Best snake proof boots
#13: Tree Sharks
First remember that there’s no such thing as a tree shark and calm down and don’t be stupid. However if you find yourself in an alternative place dimension where sharks come down from the foliage to bite off arms, then…
The first step is to be wary of obvious traps. Tree sharks are a crafty predator, but they’re still working with the brain of a shark so the aware hunter or angler will be able to spot the warning signs as long as they keep their eyes open.
First, look for poorly written “No tre srks here” signs. The poor spelling is a dead give away, as is the fact that despite educational attempts most DNR rangers just don’t want to listen to anyone warning about tree sharks. So it’s not big on the prevention list.
Second, look for unnatural camouflage. If you’re hiking in the desert a single oak tree is going to be pretty suspicious. The Jaws soundtrack on repeat in the distance is also a good indication you should probably just back up the way you came. Finally, there’s the giant shark fin, teeth, or nose sticking out of foliage.
If you see any of these things then you should probably stay away from that tree. Nothing good is going to come from coming any closer.
Avoid tree sharks…there really isn’t any excuse to die in this way, although admittedly the news story of your death would get a lot of second looks.
#14: Bad Fall (and Inability to Get Back Up)
Yes, definitely playing on the old commercial with this one, but need to change the phrasing to avoid potential copyright lawsuits. While this might seem like something to snicker at, there are literally thousands of injuries every year while hiking, and many of them require air evacuation because of the severity of the injury and inability of the person at that point to make their way anywhere else.
Many people are surprised to learn that there are often dozens or even hundreds of deaths occur from falling every year just outdoors – often hiking, climbing, or exploring state and national parks. This is nothing to sneeze at, it happens all the time and anyone who has watched videos of their favorite YouTube thru hiker (case in point: Second Chance Hiker’s injury video here).
Imagine an injury like that if there were no other people around. If no one knew where you were. Not good.
And in the case of the video, it was soft tissue damage. This isn’t one of the gnarly injuries that involves broken bones, compound fractures, or straight out death.
Watch your footing, and watch your step!
#15: Suffocation via Snow Cave
There’s no question that a snow cave can be an incredible shelter in winter. Snow can make a great insulator and can be molded into a little shelter and your body heat is enough in a well-built snow cave to really keep you from freezing, and if you have any type of sleeping bag or gear you’re in good shape.
I mean until you suffocate and die in your sleep, anyway.
See there is an absolutely crucial part of the design of a proper snow cave that unfortunately most people don’t seem to know about – making them death traps to the layman instead of the life-saving shelters they should be. Basically, you need to have a hole punched into the roof to allow carbon dioxide to escape and oxygen come in.
Otherwise you suffocate during the night. Most people don’t know about the air hole or just how important it is, and it has to stay open during the night. If that means getting up repeatedly to clear it out from fresh snow, then that’s what needs to be done, and yes that means it’ll be slightly colder – but better than dead.
Make sure to learn the right way to create a snow cave with vents included before putting it to practice in the wild. This instructional article is a good resource to get started.
#16: Heart Attack
Heart attacks might be a more obvious potential cause of death for some people than others, but keep in mind that there are many factors that can contribute to an otherwise healthy person having their heart just give out on them – and you can potentially find most of those issues in your average wilderness survival situation.
Heavy levels of stress, lack of food, exposure to extreme heat or cold (or both), lack of water, heavy physical exertion, especially with any of those other factors coming into play and suddenly even a relatively young heart can find itself pushed beyond its limits. The longer you find yourself struggling in the wild, the more true this becomes.
There is a certain point where after piling on stress after stress your heart will stop being strong and eventually your heart just says “fuck it” and quits.
Fitness matters, yo. So does taking care of yourself in extreme circumstances because that type of pressure really piles on and it adds up.
#17: Doing a Thor Impression
Norse gods can absorb lightning strikes from the heavens. You should try to avoid doing a similar impression. While there are actually many strange stories of people being struck by lightning and living, and even getting up and walking away after re-gaining consciousness, there are almost always physical health repercussions.
Aside from needing to immediately check on the heart and your body’s electrical systems, just resting is an important part of recovery. After all, the last thing your body needs after taking a lightning bolt is strenuous activity.
Avoid the Thor impression, and learn what to do when caught outdoors in a storm. Doing so is crucial to avoid being hit by lightning and becoming yet another lightning death statistic.
Yup – not a great way to go. Very much a winter concern, but keep in mind if it is a late snow melt this can be an early spring issue, as well. An avalanche can happen all at once and be instantly fatal or keep you buried under the snow. If you find yourself conscious and buried, you need to find a way to pack down some snow, figure out which way is up, and dig your way out.
The best way to do this is to spit. If you get hit by an avalanche, by the time you’re awake you don’t know which way is up down or otherwise, and you can’t see. If the spit hits your face, you’re facing up (thank you, gravity). If it goes straight down, you know you’re facing down and need to dig in the other direction.
Beat the avalanche. Don’t let the avalanche beat you.
Also don’t go insane if you’re stranded in a cabin
#19: Flash Flooding
Flooding can absolutely kill, and some of the most dangerous flooding is flash flooding. Over the past three decades, nearly 90 people a year have died directly from flooding. Many of these are going to be related to drowning deaths, but some are from impact.
In many places where a flash flood occurs, the water is moving at a stunning rate and carrying massive debris with it. Sometimes enough where striking the debris can be fatal.
Another reason flash flooding in particular can kill you is because it often happens in places where visitors don’t expect it. Many deserts have areas that are affected by flash flooding, and this can happen suddenly being triggered from a storm that is many miles away.
Be wary of any flash flood warnings or signs and if you’re out in the wild – don’t be so high up to become a lightning rod, but beware of any “dry” gullies or trenches. That’s a clear warning sign you might be kneeling down in a flood spot.
#20: Insects – Nastier Than at First Glance
While insects can be one of the best consistent sources of food while out in the wilderness, there are some that can cause major potential problems, as well. While “death by insect” isn’t the most likely way to go once you toss wasps and bees out of the picture, there are still some ways that insects can kill you.
First let’s not forget that mosquitoes are responsible for more human deaths around the world than any other animal. Carriers of many deadly diseases, and diseases that might be fatal if they weren’t in a 1st world country, this blood-sucking pests can be nearly impossible to get away from.
Sheer exposure can become an issue as enough blood taken in huge amounts will add up over time, and if you’ve ever lived in Alaska or hiked the PCT in northern California during summer – you know just how massive and aggressive those swarms can become. Not a pleasant experience.
Speaking of blood suckers, ticks are out in abundance in many places and even if they don’t directly cause your death in a survival situation, just imagine trying to function and get rescued if you get hammered with Lyme Disease. Hint: it’s not going to be a pretty sight. Knowing to check for ticks and how to safely remove them is crucial to make sure you don’t lose your life because of an insect.
Finally, what’s the most embarrassing way to die via insect? How about by choking on them after you eat them? Crickets and grasshoppers are great to find when surviving. They are plentiful in many places, are a good source of protein, and a little can go a long way when you’re fighting for survival.
That being said, you need to remove their legs. This is step #1 when it comes to eating insects yet few people know this. Grasshoppers and crickets have serrated legs that can get caught in the throat and cause damage and choking. If you have to eat them for some protein, pull off the legs first.
Let’s face it: death by insect just doesn’t sound like the most outdoorsy way to go out. You can do better.
#21: Spider Bite
I mean you’re in a rare group if you die because of this…although not the type of “rare company” that you would hope for. While there are continents with truly scary spiders (Australia, we’re staring at you and whatever murder-hobo god created all your wildlife), actually dying from a spider bite isn’t likely to happen to your normal adult – especially right away.
In the U.S. this would almost certainly take an allergic reaction, a compromised immune system, or a child/extreme elderly individual. Black widow spiders and brown recluse spiders are the most dangerous to people, but generally speaking the worst side effects will be pain, swelling, and sometimes localized tissue damage.
There are multiple stories of a brown recluse spider bite doing long-term damage and having lingering effects even years after, but these have never been fully confirmed. So dying by spider would be…well it would be uniquely you.
#22: Forgetting Your Spot on the Food Chain
Aside from aforementioned Big Foots and Tree Sharks, you need to remember that when in the wild you’re not the natural apex predator. Bears, mountain lions, and alligators are just some examples of wild animals that can (and have) killed people while looking for food. Keep in mind that an angry cow is more than a match for an unarmed person, and you don’t really want to mess with a python in the Everglades or a large group of feral cats.
There are plenty of instances of a single dog mauling a person to death, and dogs like to run in packs. If you have to face down a pack of dogs because you were careless, you’re in for a truly horrifying bad (and likely final) time.
In other words, when you find yourself in a survival situation you need to be very aware that the natural boost civilization gives you isn’t there anymore.
Consider that even non-meat eaters are more than capable of giving you a fatal beating. Moose, cows, and even deer will murder the shit out of you in the right/wrong situation. Speaking of deer turning the table on hunters…
#23: Bambi’s Revenge
Man hunts deer. During season and with proper licenses from the DNR, or course. Until the deer decide to turn the tables. Granted, most death by deer happens in the most passive aggressive form of revenge ever by leaping out in front of your car and taking you with them, but there are other instances.
Deer have antlers and hooves and while overwhelmingly they will run, once in a while they can get worked up (especially during rut) and at that time can turn aggressive. There are plenty of videos of hunters who soaked themselves in doe urine to have a buck come up and beat the crap out of them with their hooves. Those things are sharp and can give plenty of impact.
In other words the skittish nature of most deer is why they’re rarely dangerous outside a car…but there are times they aren’t so skittish. Fun additional fact: deer are opportunistic carnivores meaning there are recorded cases of them turning to meat when it was an easy meal without much else available.
Meaning although there are no verified recorded instances of this happening yet, technically it means Bambi could eat you after killing you. That’s a humiliating way to go…try to avoid this one.
#24: Death by Diarrhea
Alliteration aside, there’s not much to like about this one. There are many infections, diseases, bacteria, viruses, and other things that can cause severe diarrhea – and when you don’t have easy access to clean water, doctors, and medicine, this can very quickly become deadly.
In most cases this is the really messy way to die via dehydration, which comes from severe diarrhea. However, this can cause other health issues as well, not the least of which are hygiene and general health involved.
Don’t underestimate how important even off the shelf medication is…at least until you don’t have access. This is definitely one of the most unpleasant ways to go on the list, and it is a way of dying in the wild that is strongly in play during the entire time stuck in your life or death struggle.
I shouldn’t have to advise to try to avoid this, but taking proper precautions and having the ability to filter water and make fire will go a long way towards at least reducing the chances of this happening, at least on a fatal level.
#25: Death by Pinecone
Actually this isn’t even one of the “funny” ones involving Sasquatch or Tree Sharks (Though here at Amazing Outdoor Adventures we don’t believe any violent assaults by Big Foot are funny – though some tree shark attacks are). You know those gigantic trees you can find in many California National Parks?
Many of them have giant pine cones much bigger than the size of a human head and weighing multiple pounds. When that hits terminal velocity if you’re standing right under it…that’s a really bad time.
Don’t laugh – there are plenty of stories of severe or critical injuries due to heavy falling pine cones like this one, a public warning to city residents about dangerous pine cones, or you can think about the fact that pine cones from a certain tree are referred to as “widow makers.”
The good news is that these are found in limited areas so if you see giant falling pine cones that could crush your skull the good news is you’re probably not too far from rescue. The bad news is that you are walking under giant trees with falling pine cones that can crush your skull.
So keep the eyes open, and don’t fall asleep under the tree without shelter. Also run like hell if someone suddenly yells “Heads up!”
#26: Landslides (Not the Stevie Nicks Type)
This shouldn’t be a breaking news flash, but the sides of mountains aren’t always stable. Rock slides can send large rocks or even boulders just hammering down the sides of a long slope – and for a surprising amount of distance.
This is dangerous to people setting up tents for the night as well as hikers and climbers. Physics has a lot to say about this because a lot of weight combined with a lot of momentum means a pretty bad time for any squishy body at the receiving end.
In plains or deserts these are less of a concern but even in areas not widely known for rocky terrain, this hazard can exist and it should be taken seriously.
#27: Stupidity & Panic
These can be completely separate or they can go hand in hand but stupidity, panic, and over-confidence are enormous killers when trying to survive an emergency situation. While doing something stupid might just get you made fun of in everyday life, in a truly life or death situation like this, it is often quite fatal.
From choosing a bad shelter spot to cooking food by your shelter in bear country, to believing you can free climb those loose rocks or ford that fast moving creek, there are many different ways stupidity or over-confidence can kill you.
Panic in the middle of nowhere is the force multiplier that makes everything potentially deadly even more so.
While keeping calm and avoiding stupid mistakes isn’t enough by itself to avoid dying while struggling in a survival situation, they do definitely shift the odds much more strongly in your favor.
#28: Random Isolated Psychopaths
So this is one of the major fears that comes from tons of horror movies, from natural distrust of other people, from the fact that sometimes unfortunately this does happen. People are scary.
This is not nearly as common as horror movies would have you believe but there are some murders that happen this way and that’s the unfortunate reality. This is one of the true long-shots on the list, and looking at the PCT and AT make this clear. Millions of people every year hike those trails and hundreds (or sometimes thousands) hike the entire trail, and there are as there are only three recorded murders on these two trails combined over 70 years.
This would be like the city of Los Angeles not having a murder for decades based on how many people have hiked these trails. That being said, the random weirdo or psychopath is something you need to be aware of.
Odds of this unfortunate demise go up if you find yourself in the middle of horror movie or an abandoned summer camp.
#29: Not Knowing Your Local Animal Threats
Most animals are more scared of humans than we are of them, but if you’re going out into the wild there’s no excuse to not know about the most likely dangerous animal threats. This not only goes with knowing about venomous snakes in the area or if there are issues like rabies or distemper going around, but it means knowing local predators.
The way you treat a brown bear versus a black bear, for example, are completely different. Mixing up the proper way to deal with them can be fatal. Mountain lions are ambush predators which means you need to get big and confront them.
Do research to any place that you are going ahead of time and understand what the local threats are. This will increase your chances of not dying to local animals.
But since you were too busy updating Facebook to do research, you will probably die via local animal. Make sure it’s not an embarrassingly stupid one.
#30: Well Technically the Signal Fire Worked…
Look, I understand that letting that signal fire take off through the extremely dry forest during the extremely windy day definitely got attention. When you start a forest fire the size of a small state, you will get plenty of fire fighters, rangers, and similar professionals out there.
However forest fires create their own wind that can be unbelievably inconsistent when it comes to direction, power, and speed. Starting a fire in the wild…surprisingly difficult if you haven’t trained constantly on how to do so.
The fire getting completely out of control and burning you to death? Surprisingly easy. Keep signal fires carefully contained because if it gets out of control and you burn to death because of your own fire – doesn’t really matter if technically the signal fire worked getting attention.
Pro Survival Tip: Stone circles are important for a reason, and if you can set up in a really good area to wait for rescue (water, shelter, food close by, etc.) then have a stone pit for cooking fires and have a large signal fire that you wait to light until you see signs of aerial rescue. And have water close by…just in case!
#31: Bad Hygiene
Hygiene isn’t something that pops up in people’s minds but this matters for a wide variety of reasons. Sickness is an absolute killer in even modern societies. That gets all the more dangerous when you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere waiting for rescue, or trying to rescue yourself.
In addition to this good hygiene can help you avoid infection, avoid sickness, and avoid other common issues that can come from long-term surviving. This could be lesions, fungus, or other issues. Add in how bad hygiene can make things a struggle, and good hygiene has a strong positive psychological effect when you need it most, and this is something to pay attention to.
Shower foot is annoying at home. Trench foot can be a literal crippler and killer away from it.
Don’t die from bad hygiene. At least try to leave a prettier corpse for the eventual searchers.
#32: Night Travel
In a survival situation there is virtually no reason to travel at night. Seriously, it’s just not a good idea. What to break a leg? Hike at night. Want to be up and about while big predators are hunting? Travel at night. Want to lose track of where you are and where you’re going? Travel at night. Want to run out of water BEFORE the hottest part of the day? Travel at night. Want to abandon any perfectly found camp setup where you had what you needed to survive? Travel at night.
Seriously, unless there’s a giant forest fire coming in your direction there is no reason for night travel.
#33: Failure to Properly Signal for Rescue
Did you know if you’re waving your arms (and people don’t know you’re in trouble) that’s a signal that you’re okay? Oops. You should have stood with your arms up, steady, and out. That is a signal for needing rescue.
There are international signals when it comes to getting help, and you should learn those not only in case you ever need to signal for help, but also to recognize if someone else is using a signal. This could be arm signals, it could be three loud rapid sounds followed by 5 seconds of silence and then the same signal again.
We have an entire post about how to signal for rescue, and it’s a set of skills you need to know if you want to avoid dying because you accidentally waved off a potential rescue party.
That would be a humiliating way to die (not to mention super deflating while still alive to hope for rescue).
Exhaustion can come in many forms, and is often a part of other ways of dying on this list. The human body is versatile but there is only so much pressure it can take especially when stress and pressure comes from so many different causes.
Exhaustion is a physical affliction, it is a mental affliction, and it can be the killer of hope and stubbornness. If you lose the will to fight on to survive, and nothing feels better than closing your eyes, there’s a better than even chance you don’t wake up.
This goes well beyond being tired or fatigued. Although being exhausted definitely includes this, it is the combination of physical and mental struggles that combine with things like force of will. This often goes hand in hand with hopelessness and needs to be avoided if you are going to fight your way through and avoid dying.
Though at least this way of “ways you’ll die” at least indicates you fought for life. Better than dying of stupidity, though the end result is the same.
#35: Drinking Toxic Water
You need water to survive, and if you’re on the verge of dying from dehydration then yeah, you take a chance with toxic looking water even without a filter or the ability to boil water. There will likely be consequences but you get a bit more time.
However, not all water in the wild is fresh and safe to drink. In fact, most of it won’t be. There are portable filters like the Life Straw mentioned earlier in this article which will take care of the majority of issues. There are plenty of filtered water bottles that also take care of the far majority of problems.
The safest way is to boil water thoroughly. This removes virtually everything, and the boiled water can kill viruses and things like that potentially could move past a normal filter.
Being prepared and having survival skills is important, and if there’s rain you want to figure out how to gather it because that’s going to be better than toxic water that is often found in stagnant areas.
Unfortunately if you find yourself having drank a lot of toxic water and the rescue doesn’t come, at some point that will catch up to you. Possibly in the guises of reasons #1, 10, 24, & 34, but it will be one of the ways you will die.
Here are some links to items you should always carry for safe water
- LifeStraw portable filter
- Water purification tablets
- Survival Spark Magnesium Fire Stick (to start fires)
#36: Going in Circles
Getting lost in the wild is easy, especially if you’re survivor of a bush plane crash or some other situation that finds you stranded in a place you didn’t know you had to be familiar with. There have been multiple studies showing that many people who knew they had to rescue themselves but then they proceeded to go in circles, spending days eventually getting to a spot close to where they started.
This is especially prevalent in landscapes without obvious landmarks in the distance, but can take place in areas with plenty of landmarks. Studies have actually shown that a person will naturally drift the direction of their dominant hand, slowly but steadily, which has them circle back towards where they started.
There’s a lot of theory around why this is, with most being that it was good during hunter gatherer times to ensure they stayed close to camp or would naturally get back towards home, but this can be deadly in the wild.
You need to consciously choose a point in the distance, something that sticks out, and keep moving straight for that point so you know you’re going in one steady direction. If you’re in an environment where there’s nothing obvious, this is harder but it’s important.
Generally if you’re right handed you will drift . Generally conservation of energy is important but if all else fails throw a rock straight ahead, walk up to it and then take two to three steps to the side opposite of your dominant hand. Repeat. Keep going. Do this only long enough to see a clear landmark in the distance that sticks out and allows you to follow it.
If you do decide you need to save yourself, you had better know how to navigate in the wild because if you aren’t centering on a point you can keep marching towards, by instinct you will start going in circles, eventually winding back to around where you started.
Now that you’re aware of this, you can PROBABLY move this off the list of ways you’ll die…probably.
#37: Pneumonia Can Still Kill
In cold rainy weather, yeah pneumonia is a bad one. This can still kill people in modern society, and the cousin walking pneumonia can do plenty of damage, as well. These don’t kill nearly as many people because of modern medicine and the ability to recover inside homes where you can control the temperature, have the optimal recovery settings, and have food, water, and medicine at the ready.
But in the wild the fever and the sickness can spread and many immune systems can’t fight back without help. If you’re struggling with shelter, warmth, exhaustion, or food – that gets even worse. When it is very cold and wet, sleet type weather, that is often called “killer weather” because it’s the most dangerous to survive in.
If the hypothermia from exposure doesn’t get you, the pneumonia probably will.
#38: Bleed Out
You want to avoid injuries when in an emergency rescue scenario, but particularly nasty gashes are dangerous. When you can’t get stitches and you can’t get blood to make up for blood loss, a big gash can become deadly and that’s even before looking at the likely infection issues that are also going to take place.
Bleeding out can happen in plenty of emergency situations whether in the wild or a survival situation or not, which just makes major gashes that much more dangerous when you are isolated and a long way away from help.
The most important thing is to stop the bleeding, and if that means tearing up a t-shirt or clothing to wrap tightly around the wound as you apply pressure to shut it, that’s what has to happen – leaving you open to other survival issues. If you lose enough blood to go unconscious, you’re done for.
Avoid the stupid decisions or dangerous decisions or general carelessness that can lead to these severe injuries.
#39: Lack of Knowledge
Many times people have died in the wilderness when there was plenty of edible food around, plenty of areas to clean water, plenty of materials to make a viable shelter. In these cases more than anything the lack of knowledge is what will kill you. This isn’t the same as stupidity.
Lack of knowledge goes back to that old saying of “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Unfortunately if you don’t know, you are far more likely to die in emergency situations, especially ones that involve words like “lost,” “wilderness,” “survival,” or any other synonyms that fit in with these words.
While it’s true that knowing things intellectually or reading a survival guide is far different from actually being able to put that into practice in real life, being ignorant stops you from the start.
Many, many a lost or stranded person died from not knowing what resources were right there. Will you be one of them?
#40: Killed by Falling Coconuts
#41: You Built Your Shelter Downwind from the Fire
Apparently in this case you weren’t paying attention or you’re just not too bright (and you thought #27 was a joke), but this is one of those things that should be common sense and yet people have died from this. Many of the materials used to insulate a survival shelter are flammable. Don’t be downwind of flames, sparks, or embers.
Seriously, this is a really dumb way to go out, and chances are by the time you would wake up, it might be too late. Even if you didn’t completely get burned to death while setting the woods on fire, second and third degree burns are serious issues and the chance of infection when you’re out in the wild and injured is huge.
So be careful and mindful where you build your shelter – you don’t want it to become a tomb.
#42: Killed by Experimental Explosive Artillery Shells
Lesson #1: Don’t wander onto a military testing facility
Lesson #2: Take a map when wandering anywhere remotely close to military testing facilities
Lesson #3: Do not walk towards the sounds of explosions especially if you have to cross a chain link fence to get there
Lesson #4: Don’t wander onto a military testing facility
#43: Re-enacting that Scene from Twister
Tornadoes. The swirling death clouds from the sky that can level towns, forests, reshape hills & local geography, that can cause weird seemingly impossible things like putting pieces of hay through a solid barn door – and you want to tie a rope around your waist and take your chances.
This is a very quick and terrifying way to die. While bonus points to the really old cultural reference to a movie that was inexplicably huge and then thoroughly forgotten, the tornado will kill you. Find shelter. Hunker down. Don’t be a moron.
In the man vs. tornado fight the tornado is going to win.
I mean if it takes 100 years to find you, chances are overwhelmingly high that you probably didn’t make it. If you did, and especially if you have a relatively youthful look, you might be a Highlander. Learn to sword fight ASAP.
Also kudos to surviving for decades and somehow having the insane talent to remain lost that entire time. That’s…well that is certainly something.
#45: Death by Zombie
I mean most articles like this revolve around the on-going half joke of “Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse” that came into full swing in the early 2000s with Max Brooks’ “Zombie Survival Guide” and follow-up book “World War Z” and like zombies themselves, just refuse to stay dead.
So let’s face it, in the highly unlikely event that a zombie apocalypse does break out, you are almost certainly going to die by zombie. At some point. And then possibly kill others as a zombie. It really is a self-perpetuating cycle.
Also, if you want to prepare yourself like everybody’s favorite zombie-killing Redneck, we have a pretty dang good article on Darryl Dixon’s Crossbows Reviewed that you might want to check out there.
#46: High-Risk, Low-Reward Decisions
There are the smart decisions you should make in these situations, and while there is an ideal situation vs. less than ideal, sometimes you have to take action. Realizing you need to save yourself as opposed to staying in one area and waiting for rescue is an example of one of these situations.
However, that means leaving during the day when you have sunlight and are bursting with water if you have to leave a water source (and if you have a steady water source think VERY carefully before leaving it behind). Not in the middle of night in the woods when you can’t see a thing. On the other side, don’t travel through the desert mid-day. That is the one case where very slowly and carefully, travelling at night might be the lesser of two evils.
When making decisions you need to avoid high-risk, low-reward decisions at all costs and make the smartest possible decisions. Risking life and limb for two raw bird’s eggs – bad decision. Very high chance of catastrophic injury for a tiny amount of food – one of the lower concerns when in a wilderness emergency situation.
Be smart with your decisions, especially when taking a risk because if you take enough of the bad types of decisions, you will eventually be killed by #46 here.
#47: Killed by Seemingly Stupid Animal in Australia
We’re not talking about the deadly animals that are renowned and would get you in the news like saltwater crocodile, great white shark, venomous snake, venomous spider, or even deadly jellyfish. This is Australia – and there are many animals that sound utterly embarrassing to be hurt by except in Australia, they can kill the shit out of you.
Nope, no cool obituary involving spiders that chased you down on their hind legs before murdering you or one of the over hundred legendary venomous snakes.
Yours will sound ridiculous as somehow you were killed by a cute tiny blue ring octopus, a poisonous snail (textile cone or sea snail – take your pick), the slow swimming stonefish, European honey bees, or even be the second fatal victim among the 270+ serious recorded injuries from the Cassowary Bird.
Yup, a bird. Congratulations on an obituary that causes family members to laugh…after an appropriate amount of time has passed, of course.
#48: Shot by Musket or Stupid Old Tyme Black Powder Pistol
There are some limited areas where black powder rifle hunting is still allowed. There are also some very isolated places with a lot of old old school mountain men in old school country. Maybe one takes a shot with a black powder pistol instead of rifle. Maybe you get challenged to a duel.
Whatever the reason, technically it’s still possible?
Just remember if you’re one of the unfortunate souls who survive getting shot by one of the old tyme (Time-EE) black powder pistol, stop the the bleeding and do not dig the bullet out. This isn’t the movies, that’s how people bleed out and die.
Stop the bleeding, and if it turns out the person who shot you is re-loading as opposed to helping, you have about 40 seconds. Run and zig-zag.
#49: Alien Abduction
Not much we can do to help with this one. Clench. Clench very tight. Also at one point the Complete Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook indicates when being abducted you should keep thinking about horribly deadly and contagious diseases and viruses. You know, in case the aliens are telepathic or read H.G. Wells.
#50: Death by Severe Constipation
Yes, this is as painful as it sounds. The polar opposite of bowel problems, and not as common as dying via massive diarrhea, this is still possible and incredibly painful. You can read this mention in a Cracked.com article for more.
We…we don’t need to go into it beyond that.
Shifting Your Odds
Wait, you’re still reading? Seriously? You’re not dead yet?
Huh, well good for you. If you’re looking to shift your odds so if you are ever lost in the wild there are some things you can do. The key here is understanding there are many levels to wilderness survival and each situation is different. Start with the absolute basics, build that skill foundation, and then you can go from there.
The best pieces of advice is not just to study survival tips, but to practice wilderness survival in safe spaces as you build up your skills. While at some point you’ll want to make a weekend run at somewhere isolated, in the beginning this means just camping out on the weekends at your local park with fire ring. You can even bring the camper if you don’t want to leave it at home!
Early on for the true beginner avoiding dying requires baby steps. You have an emergency fire starter? Great – now start fires all weekend to cook or sit around at night with said equipment. Flint and steel isn’t easy to use and even modern magnesium fire starters require practice to get down, and that’s in optimal conditions.
Have a book on edible plants in the wild? Look up ones you can find locally and spend a hike trying to actually identify them and find them when you don’t need them to survive. Get used to using a knife, to tying knots, to improvising around the campsite to build little useful creature comforts.
Not only do you get to spend multiple summer weekends camping (always awesome) but you can then get used to using good wilderness survival gear before it becomes a life or death situation. This type of education is crucial if you want to avoiding dying in the wild during an emergency or survival situation.
Once this is second nature, consider an actual week long survival course taught at an actual survival school by professionals. Then you might even have a fighting chance…assuming you avoid tree sharks and have the right machete to fight Big Foot 🙂
Seriously, though, best you can do:
- Buy the right survival gear and get familiar using the tools
- Practice wilderness survival skills during safe camping trips
- Never stop learning or training
A great resource for survival tips can be found HERE. That’s a great starting point, with the next being buying copies of military survival guides and other similar books on Amazon and building up your library from there.