Survival Foods For Hikers
Survival foods are not the most important thing in most emergency situations in the wilderness. You survive weeks without eating if you have to, so it is usually more important to find shelter, water, and stay dry and uninjured. On the other hand, just knowing you can find food out there, and having something in your stomach, can do wonders for your state of mind, which CAN be crucial to your survival.
What then, do you need to know about survival foods? First forget the idea that you need to learn every last edible wild plant. I love learning about new edible plants, but very few of them provide enough calories to be worth the effort in a survival situation. What you need s to know a few basic categories of animals you can eat, and some of the most abundant and calorie-rich plants.
Survival Foods - The Animals
Mammals in North America can all be eaten (except for the livers of some arctic mammals). Since many carry parasites, wash your hands after handling them, and cook the meat if possible.
North American birds are all edible, and there eggs are too. I've even eaten seagull eggs cooked on a hot rock, and they tasted fine.
Fresh water fish in North America are all edible. Catching the fish is the difficult part, but they can be quickly and easily cooked over a fire.
Amphibians and reptiles are usually safe to eat - if you remove the skin. I have cooked snake in a stew and over a fire, and I recommend the latter.
Survival Foods - The Plants
Cattail is one of the most abundant and calorie-rich foods in the wilderness. The white part of the stalk at the bottom, and the new shoots, can be eaten raw or cooked. Flower spikes can be cooked like corn-on-the-cob when green. Roots can be mashed in water to release the starch, which can be added to soups. Pollen from the flower spike can be shaken into a bag and used in soups. Cattails grow in swamps or wet soil, and you really should get to know this plant.
The inner bark of pine trees is edible. It's a good survival food to remember, because it is available year-round. That white spongy layer between the outer bark and the wood is what you want. Although it is mostly fiber, it contains enough carbohydrates to be worth boiling into a soup if nothing else is available.
Edible berries can be a delicious and filling survival food in the right season. Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, and blackberries all have their wild forms. If it looks like the domestic one (usually smaller) and smells and tastes like it, it's safe to eat.
Of course it's fun to know which mushrooms you can eat, and even which flowers are edible, but both of these have almost no calories. To quickly learn what you need to survive, concentrate first on the common animals and the most abundant and calorie-rich edible plants. Those are the survival foods that will most likely save your life.
About the Author: Steve Gillman is a long-time advocate of lightweight backpacking. For more on survival foods, including photos, see the Wilderness Survival Guide at