5 C's of Survival:

Surviving in the wilderness can be daunting, especially if you need to catch up and prepare. That’s where the 5 C’s of Survivability come in. This essential survival concept, devised by survival expert Dave Canterbury, can mean the difference between life and death in an outdoor survival situation.

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5 C’s of Survivability: The Key to Outdoor Survival


What Are the 5 Cs of Survivability?

The 5 C’s stand for Cutting Tools, Cover Elements, Combustion Devices, Containers, and Cordage. Each of these items is essential for survival and should be considered in any wilderness survival situation.

Cutting Tools

A reliable cutting tool is the cornerstone of any survival kit.

Importance of Cutting Tools

Whether it’s for building a shelter, preparing food, or making other essential survival tools, a good blade can save your life in the wilderness.

Selecting the Right Cutting Tool

While there are many types of cutting tools, a sturdy, sharp knife is the most versatile and valuable in most situations.

Cover Elements

The second “C” stands for cover elements, which can protect you from harsh weather conditions.

Why Cover Elements Matter

Exposure to the elements can lead to hypothermia, dehydration, or sunstroke, all of which can be life-threatening.

Tips for Finding or Creating a Suitable Cover

Knowledge of creating an effective shelter using natural materials can be a lifesaver when stranded without a tent or tarp.

In Northwestern Ontario’s boreal forests, you can find a variety of natural materials that can be used to cover a survival shelter. Here are a few examples:

  1. Spruce Boughs: The branches of spruce trees are dense and can provide a good layer of protection against the elements. Lay them in a shingled pattern to help shed water.
  2. Pine Boughs: Like spruce, pine boughs are also dense and can provide a decent amount of coverage and insulation.
  3. Birch Bark: Birch bark is waterproof and can be used as a covering for a shelter. Be careful when harvesting birch bark from living trees, as it can damage them. It’s best to look for fallen or dead trees to source your bark.
  4. Leaf Litter: Leaves can be gathered and used as a covering for a shelter. They provide a good amount of insulation and are plentiful in the forest.
  5. Grass and Reeds: If you’re near a meadow or wetland, long grass and reeds can be used to create a thatched roof for your shelter.
  6. Moss: Moss can be used as a covering for a shelter. It provides good insulation and can help to waterproof your shelter.

Remember, the goal of a survival shelter is to provide protection from the elements and retain heat. Insulation is key, and it’s important to layer your materials to prevent heat loss and to shed water effectively. Always be mindful of the sustainability of your resource use, and avoid causing unnecessary harm to the environment.

Combustion Devices

In any survival situation, the ability to start a fire is crucial.

The Role of Fire in Survival

Fire serves multiple purposes: it provides warmth, purifies water, cooks food, and can even signal for help.

Choosing a Reliable Combustion Device

A good combustion device—whether a lighter, matches or a fire striker—is a must-have in your survival kit.


Containers are another essential part of survival.

Why Containers are Essential in Survival Situations

They can be used to collect and purify water, cook food, and store items.

What to Look for in a Survival Container

A metal container is often the best choice for its durability and versatility, but any waterproof container can be useful in a pinch.


The last “C” is for cordage, a vital tool with countless uses in a survival situation.

The Multipurpose Nature of Cordage

Rope, twine, or any sturdy string can serve as cordage. This can be used for building shelters, setting traps, or even as a makeshift medical tool for binding wounds.

Making Your Own Cordage in the Wild

While it’s important to carry cordage with you in a pinch, it’s also possible to make your own from natural materials like plant fibres or animal tendons.

Cordage refers to ropes, strings, or strands made from various natural materials. In a survival situation, cordage can be vital for tasks like building shelters, creating traps, or even just tying things together. In the boreal forests of Northwestern Ontario, there are several plants and materials you can use to make natural cordage:

  1. Spruce Roots: Spruce roots are strong and flexible and can be used to make cordage. They are best harvested in the spring when the sap is running. To use them, you would need to dig them up, remove the outer bark, and then split them into thinner strands if necessary.
  2. Willow Bark: Willow trees are common in many parts of Canada, including Ontario. The inner bark of the willow tree can be peeled off in strips and twisted into cordage. Like spruce roots, it’s usually easier to harvest in the spring.
  3. Cattails: Cattails are often found in wet areas, and their leaves can be used to create cordage. The leaves are best harvested in the spring or early summer when they are green and flexible. They can be twisted or braided together to create cordage.
  4. Cedar Bark: The bark of the cedar tree can be stripped and used as cordage. It’s best to use dead trees rather than live ones to avoid damaging the tree.
  5. Nettles: Nettles, while known for their sting, have strong fibres in their stems that can be used for cordage. They should be harvested while wearing gloves to avoid getting stung. Once harvested, the stems can be split and the fibres extracted.

Remember, when gathering materials from the wild, it’s essential to do so responsibly to minimize the environmental impact. Take only what you need, and try to spread out your harvesting to avoid damaging any one area too much.


How to Apply the 5 C’s in Real-Life Survival Scenarios

Applying the 5 C’s in a real-life survival scenario means using them to satisfy your basic survival needs: shelter, water, food, and a way to signal for help or navigate your way out. For example, your cutting tool and cordage can help you build a shelter. Combustion devices and containers allow you to purify water and cook food. And cover elements can protect you from the elements until help arrives or you find your way back to civilization.


The 5 C’s of Survivability are a simple, easy-to-remember guide to the essentials of wilderness survival. By ensuring you have access to Cutting Tools, Cover Elements, Combustion Devices, Containers, and Cordage, you can significantly increase your odds of survival in an emergency situation. Remember, the key to survival is not just having these items but also knowing how to use them effectively.


Why are the 5 C’s important in survival situations?

The 5 C’s are crucial because they represent the basic tools necessary to meet a human’s survival needs: shelter, water, fire, and food.

Can I substitute any of the 5 C’s with other items?

While many tools and items can aid in survival, the 5 C’s are chosen for their versatility and wide range of uses. It’s best to prioritize these items when preparing for a potential survival situation.

How can I remember the 5 C’s?

One way to remember the 5 C’s is by associating each one with a vital survival need: Cutting Tools for building and hunting, Cover for shelter, Combustion for fire, Containers for water and food, and Cordage for building and emergency medical aid.

What should I look for in a survival cutting tool?

The best survival-cutting tool is durable, sharp, and versatile. A good quality fixed-blade knife often fits these criteria.

What can I use for cordage if I don’t have any on hand?

In a survival situation, you can make cordage from various natural materials like plant fibres, tree bark, or even animal tendons.

The Bushcraft Boxed Set is an essential collection for anyone passionate about the art of surviving in the great outdoors. This comprehensive set includes four of the most popular and informative books by renowned survival expert Dave Canterbury: “Bushcraft 101,” “Advanced Bushcraft,” “The Bushcraft Field Guide to Trapping, Gathering, & Cooking in the Wild,” and “Bushcraft First Aid.” These guides cover a wide range of topics, from basic survival skills and advanced bushcraft techniques to practical advice on trapping, gathering, cooking in the wild, and administering first aid in emergency situations. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced outdoorsman, the Bushcraft Boxed Set offers invaluable knowledge and skills to enhance your self-sufficiency and confidence in the wilderness.

The Morakniv Companion Spark is a versatile fixed-blade knife designed for the modern adventurer. Crafted from high-quality Sandvik stainless steel, the 3.9-inch blade offers exceptional sharpness and durability, making it ideal for a wide range of outdoor tasks. Unique to this model is an integrated fire starter in the handle, capable of generating sparks even in damp conditions, thereby enhancing its utility in survival situations. The knife comes with a color-matching plastic sheath for safe storage and transport. Whether you’re preparing food, performing camp chores, or starting a fire, the Morakniv Companion Spark delivers functionality, reliability, and performance in one compact tool.

The BIC Classic Maxi Lighter is a staple tool known for its reliability and long-lasting performance. Featuring a patented Child Guard mechanism, it ensures safe usage, making it a trusted choice for households and outdoor enthusiasts alike. This lighter is designed with a comfortable shape for an easy grip and a long, adjustable metal wand for maintaining a safe distance from the flame. Despite its compact size, the BIC Classic Maxi Lighter offers an impressive lifespan, capable of providing up to 3,000 steady lights. Whether for lighting candles, starting a campfire, or sparking a grill, the BIC Classic Maxi Lighter offers a blend of safety, convenience, and durability.

The Waterproof Tough Tesla Lighter is an essential survival tool designed for the modern adventurer. This innovative lighter leverages Tesla coil technology to provide a windproof and flameless ignition, ensuring reliable use in any weather condition. Encased in a rugged, waterproof exterior, the Tough Tesla Lighter is resilient against the elements, making it ideal for outdoor activities like camping, hiking, or survival scenarios. Its rechargeable feature, powered by a USB connection, offers convenience and sustainability, eliminating the need for disposable lighters or fuel. Dependable, durable, and eco-friendly, the Waterproof Tough Tesla Lighter is a key piece of gear for anyone braving the outdo

The TOUGH-GRID 750lb Paracord is a robust, versatile survival gear known for its superior strength and durability. Crafted from high-quality nylon, it offers a breaking strength of 750 pounds, providing reliable support for a multitude of outdoor and survival activities. Its versatile design includes seven inner strands that can be separated for various uses, such as fishing lines or sewing threads, making it an indispensable tool for hikers, campers, and survivalists. Whether you’re setting up a tent, crafting survival tools, or need emergency rope, the TOUGH-GRID 750lb Paracord delivers performance and resilience you can trust.

The KA-BAR Becker BK2 Campanion is a rugged, high-quality fixed blade knife that’s an indispensable tool for any outdoor, hunting, or survival scenario. Known for its durability and versatility, the BK2 features a 5.25-inch drop point blade made from 1095 Cro-Van steel, ensuring excellent edge retention and sharpness. Its full tang design extends into a Grivory handle, providing a comfortable grip and superior balance. The knife also comes with a hard shell black nylon sheath for safe storage and easy carry. Whether you’re splitting kindling, preparing game, or performing camp chores, the KA-BAR Becker BK2 Campanion is a reliable companion designed to withstand the toughest of tasks.

The Wolf and Grizzly Fire Set is a robust and innovative solution for your fire-starting needs, ideal for camping, backpacking, or emergency preparedness. This set includes a stainless steel fire rod and a minimalist striker that are lightweight and compact, yet designed for thousands of strikes, providing a reliable fire source in any weather condition. Its simplicity and functionality make it easy for anyone to start a fire, while the included adjustable rope and protective case enhance its portability and longevity. Whether you’re a seasoned outdoors person or a novice adventurer, the Wolf and Grizzly Fire Set delivers the perfect balance of durability and practicality for your outdoor pursuits.

The Silky 446-24 Ultra Accel Curved Blade Folding Saw is a high-performance tool designed for efficient and precise cutting tasks in the outdoors. This saw features a 240mm curved blade with Silky’s proprietary cutting edge technology, promising smooth and rapid cuts with minimal effort. The unique folding design allows for safe storage and easy portability, making it an ideal tool for camping, hiking, or backyard work. Its rubber-coated aluminum handle ensures a comfortable and secure grip, while the simple locking mechanism allows for quick blade changes. Whether you’re pruning branches or cutting firewood, the Silky 446-24 Ultra Accel delivers speed, safety, and convenience in one compact tool.

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