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The Beginner’s Guide to Surviving on a Desert Island


Have you ever wondered how you’d do if you were stuck on an island by yourself? Ah, what a nice little vacation, right? Well, if you don’t know the essentials for basic survival, it probably would be pretty miserable.

As you can probably guess, the two things you really need in this situation is water, and also fire to build a signal to attract potential rescuers. We are going to assume that you can forage for something to eat – leaves, bark, bugs, crabs, etc.

Here’s how to survive on a deserted island:

First of all:

1. Build a Solar Still

This is a very nifty and simple little project that could well save your bacon: It will produce water so you do not die of thirst.

Here’s what it looks like:


All you need to build your solar still is:

1. A plastic sheet (hopefully you can salvage something like this out of your wrecked plane, boat, etc etc).
2. A hole or some sort of depression in the earth
3. Something to serve as weights – rocks, sand, dirt
4. Some small container to collect water – cup, bowl, empty can
5. Plant matter, leaves, foliage

Got all these items? Great. Now here is what you do with them:

1. Place the small container in the bottom of the hole, and place the foliage around the sides of the hole.
2. Put the plastic sheet over the hole. Put rocks or sand on the edges and stretch it fairly tightly over the hole, but not too tightly.
3. Place a rock in the middle of the sheet over the hole. The sheet should bend slightly in the middle.

Over many hours, you should see condensation form on the inside of the sheet, which will drain towards the middle of the sheet and down into your container. Hopefully you will be able to at least get a mouthful or two of water out of this to keep you alive. By the way, the best way to use the still is to drink through a straw or a hollow piece of grass, if you can find it…so you don’t need to disassemble your still every time you drink.

The still works because the sheet is cooler than the surrounding soil or sand. You are drawing moisture from the soil , and from the foliage, and it is forming on the plastic sheet.

If this does not work well, try the next step:

2. Build a Tree Still

In this case, you will try to borrow some water from any trees in the area to provide you with water. To do this, all you need is a small plastic bag and a tree.

To build your still, simply put the bag over a branch of the tree. Tie it as tightly as you can with anything you have, such as your shoestrings. If you wait over night, you should have a small amount of water collected in your bag in the morning.

Again, the still works because of the condensation that forms because of the temperature difference between the tree and the plastic material.

If you are fortunate enough to have a potable water source on your deserted island, be sure to:

3. Boil Your Water to Kill Bacteria


Try to find a can, coconut shell, pot etc. in which to boil your water so you do not die from potential bacteria. Of course, to boil your water, you will need to:

4. Build a Fire

The best way to make your fire is to use a bow. Here is what it looks like:


Here’s what you need:

1. A flexible (living) stick or branch
2. Wood shavings, dry grass
3. Vine, live grass, for the string of your bow
4. A stiffer stick or branch (probably dead)
5. Small piece of wood with hole for the top of the stiff branch
6. Another small piece of wood with hole for bottom of stiff branch

What you do now is wrap the vine/grass once around the stiff stick, then tie the ends to your flexible stick, so that the stick is slightly bowed. Place one piece of wood at the top of the stick for your hand to hold. Then put the other at the bottom of the stiff stick, surrounded by the dry grass or wood shavings.

Now you pull the bow to and fro quickly. You are trying to generate enough friction at the bottom of the stick to create a spark and light the dry grass. See the picture above.

Watch this guy build a fire with a bow drill.

5. Get Rescued!

It’s been grand to get yourself water and a fire, but you probably want to get out of here. So, you should build fires to get attention. The world known sign for distress is 3 fires in a triangle shape. Once you start your fires, throw on live plants to create a lot of smoke.

If you’re industrious, and your still idea worked so you have some water, you also could try this:


We hope that the next time you are stuck on a deserted island, these survival tips will help you!

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6 Responses to The Beginner’s Guide to Surviving on a Desert Island

  1. g moynes November 21, 2011 at 12:30 am #

    If I’m on an island, maybe I should put water around my still as it would increase the efficiency by a factor of three. Yes salt water would work too.

  2. JMP November 21, 2011 at 10:14 pm #

    Yes, that completely makes sense. Thanks for the tip! JMP

  3. Greg Morris November 22, 2011 at 4:20 am #

    It’s a “deserted island,” not a desert island.

  4. Anon November 23, 2011 at 4:35 pm #

    No Greg: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desert_island

  5. Meiliken September 13, 2012 at 3:17 am #

    Too bad this doesn’t work if you’re washed out to see with nothing but yourself, and you land on the island with nothing. A better guide would be one where you have nothing but what you can forage among the plant and indigenous life for. I’m a survivalist and I could do it, but this guide is almost useless. Note I said almost.

    • The Strongest Karate December 26, 2012 at 6:04 pm #

      Look everyone! It’s Bear Grills!

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