10 Wilderness Survival Lessons From Hatchet

by Brett on March 11, 2010 · 59 comments

in Manly Skills, Outdoors, Survival

The other day I was sorting through some old books and stumbled upon a childhood favorite, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. The last time I read it was nearly 15 years ago, so I decided to read it again for old times sake. For those of you who haven’t read Hatchet, the basic plot is this: A teenage city boy named Brian Robeson crashes in the middle of the Canadian wilderness while flying in a bush plane. The pilot dies, and the boy lives. All alone in the wilderness, Brian must learn how to survive in the wild for 54 days with nothing but a hatchet.

I discovered a few things while re-reading Hatchet. First, the story is just as good and entertaining as it was when I was 12 years old. It’s truly one of the best books for boys. Second, Hatchet is a super quick read. You can finish the book in one sitting if you want. I definitely recommend reading it this weekend. It beats surfing the web mindlessly. Finally, while Hatchet is a work of fiction and wasn’t written as a how-to survival guide, we can learn a lot from Brian Robeson on how to stay alive in the wilderness. Gary Paulsen tested everything he had Brian do himself, to make sure the story was authentic.

As a boy I made mental notes of what Brian did to survive; every boy secretly dreams and wonders about whether he’d be up for such a challenge. I couldn’t help taking away some lessons this time around, too. Here are 10 wilderness survival skills that a man of any age can glean from Hatchet.

Take Inventory of Your Supplies

It kept coming back to that. He had nothing. Well, almost nothing. As a matter of fact, he thought, I don’t know what I’ve got or haven’t got. Maybe I should try and figure out just how I stand.

Everything you have on your person is a potential survival tool. When Brian did his inventory, he had a torn parka, shoes, his trusty hatchet, a $20 bill, a pair of jeans, and a t-shirt. Not much. But with some creativity and ingenuity, he used a shoelace to fashion a bow and arrow and the $20 bill and hatchet to start a fire without matches. Follow Brian’s lead. Take advantage of everything you have.

Get Your Head Right

Brian had once had an English teacher, a guy named Perpich, who was always talking about being positive, thinking positive, staying on top of things… Brian thought of him now- wondered how to stay positive and stay on top of things.

Maintaining a positive attitude is perhaps the hardest and most important wilderness survival skill to develop. Studies have shown that when people adopt a positive attitude “their thinking is more creative, integrative, flexible, and open to information.”  Moreover, positive people tend to bounce back more quickly from physical sickness and injuries than people with negative attitudes. These two traits- creativity and physical resiliency- are essential to survival.

When you’re alone in the wild with little or no provisions it’s easy to slip into depression and feel sorry for yourself. But pity parties won’t get you anywhere as Brian learned after one particularly rough night:

He did not know how long it took, but later he looked back on this time crying in the corner of the dark cave and thought of it as when he learned the most important rule of survival, which was that feeling sorry for yourself didn’t work… When he sat alone in the darkness and cried and was done, all done with it, nothing had changed. His leg still hurt, it was still dark, he was still alone and the self-pity had accomplished nothing.

In a previous article, we discussed the fact that resilient men have an internal locus of control. They’re the masters of their own destiny and tend to handle stress well. Those with an external locus of control curl up into a ball and cry big crocodile tears about how bad they have it. Which man do you think is going to survive when their back’s to the wall?

While you should maintain a positive attitude while lost in the wild, you don’t want to delude yourself into thinking that things are better than they really are. First, you only set yourself up for disappointment when things don’t go your way, and second, maintaining a realistic outlook will keep you from getting complacent. You always need to be planning and working as though you’re in your situation for the long haul.

In short, hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

Learn to S.T.O.P.

With his mind opened and thoughts happening it all tried to come in with a rush, all of what had occurred and he could not take it. The whole thing turned into a confused jumble that made no sense. So he fought it down and tried to take one thing at a time.

A key to Brian’s survival was that he did something that wilderness survival experts recommend without even knowing he was doing it. He frequently S.T.O.P-ed: Stop, Think, Observe, Plan. Throughout the story we’ll find Brian frantically attempting to complete a task. For example, when he tried to make a fire for the first time, he rushed the whole process and kept coming up empty. Frustrated, he stopped and deliberately thought about what was needed to start a fire. After observing that he didn’t have adequate oxygen or air for combustion, he made a plan to blow on the sparks when they landed in the tinder. And just like that he had fire.

The key to surviving in the wilderness is keeping yourself from panicking. Sometimes the best thing you can do in a survival situation is to do nothing and just think. You’ll save yourself a lot of wasted effort.

Small Mistakes Are Magnified in the Wilderness

Small mistakes could turn into disasters, funny little mistakes could snowball so that while you were still smiling at the humor you could find yourself looking at death. In the city if he made a mistake usually there was a way to rectify it, make it all right. Now it was different…

In the wild, small mistakes can kill.  If you break your leg in suburbia, you’ll just have to prop your foot up on a pillow for a few days and hobble around on crutches. An inconvenience, but you’ll get by. Now, break that leg in the middle of nowhere and you have a world of problems. You won’t be able to walk, which means you won’t be able to hunt. If you can’t hunt, you can’t eat. If you don’t eat, you die. All because of a stupid broken leg.

There were a few moments in the book where Brian made some small mistakes that could have created huge setbacks. Eating and puking the “gut berries,” not adequately protecting his shelter which allowed a porcupine to inject a couple dozen quills into his leg, and getting sprayed in the face by a skunk. Many of these mistakes could have been avoided if he was simply more careful.

Granted, completely avoiding mistakes isn’t possible, but you should limit them as much as you can. Taking the time to S.T.O.P can definitely prevent most blunders. Staying constantly vigilant will help, too.  Be aware of your surroundings. You never know if you’ll end up face to face with an angry mother bear or a raging bull moose.

Carry a Good Tool

Brian took the sack and opened the top. Inside there was a hatchet, the kind with a steel handle and a rubber handgrip. The head was in a stout leather case that had a brass-riveted belt loop.

The hatchet. That tool literally saved young Brian Robeson’s life. With it, he made a fire that offered warmth and protection at night and created spears and arrows he used to hunt for food. If he didn’t have that hatchet, Brian would have been bug food in just a few days. Any cutting tool would come in handy out in the wild. Even a lowly pocket knife. But if I were out in the wild, I would want a quality multi-tool like a Leatherman. I own one and they’ve come in real handy during my outdoor excursions. However, a new multi-tool has recently caught my eye, and I’ve put it on my wish list. The Atax puts Brian’s hatchet to shame. This thing does it all. It’s an ax, a skinner, a hammer, a wrench, a compass, and get this, an arrow launcher. Put this in the hands of a crafty, able-bodied man, and he’ll not only survive the wild, he’ll conquer it.

Know How and Where to Get Clean Water

It was water. But he did not know if he could drink it. Nobody ever told him if you could or could not drink lakes.

People often underestimate the importance of water in a survival situation. Your body can still function with little or no food for weeks, but go without water for a few days and you die. Water isn’t hard to find. It’s everywhere (well, except for deserts). The problem is finding clean water. Lucky for Brian he crashed in the middle of the Canadian wilderness right next to a clear, pristine lake. He could dunk his head right into the water, drink it, and not get sick.

You’ll probably not be as fortunate. Most wilderness survival experts recommend boiling water before drinking it to kill any harmful pathogens. This technique, of course, assumes you have a pot on hand. If you don’t have a pot, several techniques exist to procure drinking water like collecting rain or creating a water still. It’s also possible to create filtering systems with things you have on hand, like a t-shirt.

Make a Safe Shelter

Protect food and have a good shelter. Not just a shelter to keep the wind and rain out, but a shelter to protect, a shelter to make him safe.

After finding water, finding shelter to protect you from the elements should be your next priority. Take advantage of your surroundings when creating a shelter. Rock overhangs make excellent shelters. That’s what Brian used. If you don’t have a rock overhang nearby, you’ll need to use materials like limbs, leaves, and pine boughs to make a shelter. A lean-to is an easy and popular wilderness survival shelter. Other shelter designs exist and each one has their pros and cons.

Find Food

He had learned the most important thing, the truly vital knowledge that drives all creatures in the forest- food is all. Food was simply everything. All things in the woods, from insects to fish to bears, were always, always looking for food- it was the great single driving influence in nature.

Most of the book describes Brian’s attempts to procure food. He spent the bulk of his time scavenging for something to eat. He starts off gorging on a strange berry that makes him puke. After that, he discovers raspberries growing in the wild and adds them to his menu.

But man can not survive on fruit alone. Brian’s body needed protein to give him strength. He found his first dose of protein in the form of raw turtle eggs. They were hard to keep down at first, but he forced himself to drink the nourishing substance. Soon he added fish and birds to his diet. You can prepare to feed yourself in the wild now by becoming familiar with edible plants, berries, and roots. Moreover, learn how to create rudimentary traps to capture small game.

Know How to Start a Fire Without Matches

He swung harder, held the hatchet so it would hit a longer, sliding blow, and the black rock exploded in fire… There could be fire here, he thought. I will have a fire here, he thought, and struck again- I will have fire from the hatchet.

Fire provides warmth, light, protection from animals and insects, and a rescue signal. Fire is also a big morale booster; almost like a companion. That’s what Brian noticed when he created his first fire. “I have a friend, he thought – I have a friend now. A hungry friend, but a good one. I have a friend named fire.”

When you’re in a wilderness survival situation, don’t count on matches. Even if you have them, windy and wet situations will render them virtually useless. Thus, it’s essential that a man know how to start a fire without matches. Brian got his fire going by striking his metal hatchet blade against the quartzite in his shelter. You should try learning several methods so you’re prepared for any situation. In addition to knowing how to start a fire, you should also know how to build a campfire appropriate for your different needs.

Prepare a Signal

While he was working he decided to have the fire ready and if he heard an engine, or even thought he heard a plane, he would run up with a burning limb and set off the signal fire.

In the wild, surviving is your top priority. Your second priority should be to get the hell out of there and back to safety and QuickTrips. Fire works as a great signal. Brian prepared a fire lay that he could light quickly as soon as he heard a plane. A reflection mirror is another great option. While you can purchase a special signal mirror, any shiny, metallic object could work in a pinch. You can also create search signals by using rocks which contrast with the ground’s color to spell out “SOS” or “HELP.” The letters you create should be at least 3 meters tall in order for pilots to see them from the air.

{ 59 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nate @ Practical Manliness March 11, 2010 at 11:33 pm

Great post!

I did some research on this topic about a year ago, and this post sums up the most important parts of what I learned.

Based on my research, I would say that your priorities should be:
1. Heat & Shelter (Within hours)
2. Water (3 days)
3. Food (a little longer)

Your post explains all of these… and more! Thank you for the good review!

2 Philip March 11, 2010 at 11:34 pm

I remember reading that in fifth grade, as well as the two sequels. Gary Paulson is a great childrens’ book author and gives a good story.

There was a really good article in the New York Times in 2006 about Paulson. He’s a loner, but his many adventures read like a man’s to do list for life: “Training horses in New Mexico, running dogs in Alaska, riding his Harley across the American West, gunkholing around the South Pacific in his beat-up sailboat.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/26/books/26paul.html

3 Ross March 12, 2010 at 12:46 am

The Hatchet. Now thats taking me back. Great article and such a great flashback! I remember when I went canoeing for the first time on the great lakes. I had absolutely no idea what I could and couldn’t drink in regards to water. I mean, as a kid – If its water; its water! If its running…Its definitely drinkable – and heck, what did running even mean? Either way, I learned my lesson the hard way.

4 Carl Muthman March 12, 2010 at 2:19 am

The book sounds like a great read. Man vs Nature and what could be more primal?
I posted this in a group and it is from a survival class I took.
Survival is
80% Mental
10% Skills
10% Tools
and the worst 2 enemies are Fear and Panic. It is amazing how you can increase your survival preparedness with what you can fit in a quart Zip Loc bag.
Being prepared, gaining knowledge and problem solving aren’t just good for survival but also for dealing with what life brings us. A good story will be entertaining and thought provoking and this book sounds like it does both.
Thanks for the post.

5 Steve Brooks March 12, 2010 at 7:31 am

My wife and I were talking about which book was the first that we each felt made an impact and made us realize we would always love books. Mine was Hatchet. It’s such great story – indeed the kind of story that “every boy secretly dreams” about. Most men too, I’d say.

6 Charlie March 12, 2010 at 7:58 am

In the military, we learn the acronym “SURVIVAL”:

Size up the situation
Undue haste makes waste
Remember where you are
Vanquish fear and panic
Improvise
Value living
Act like the natives
Learn basic skills

which is nice, but that STOP one is way easier to memorize. That ATAX thing, though…sorry, but that thing is just plain ridiculous. It’s big and ugly and it does stuff that is already covered by gear most guys probably already have. I generally steer clear of those “all in one survival tool” things because (1) I wouldn’t want to have to train on yet another piece of equipment when I already know how to use what I’ve got and (2) I’d rather have several items that each does one or two things superbly every time than one item that does several things “good enough”.

Recon!
Scouts Out!

7 Adventure-Some Matthew March 12, 2010 at 9:46 am

I loved this book! In fact, I might still have it, stashed away in storage. I remember re-reading it in my late teens and being surprised how quickly I finished it. However, it was still quite enjoyable.

A lot of great lessons to take from this book, and definitely worth another perusing.

8 Jerrick March 12, 2010 at 9:53 am

What a great book! I can remember reading it as a youth. It’s true; every boy does secretly dream about this very scenario and the adventure he would have. I bet most men, espcially during the mundane activities of one’s day, secretly desires this type of adventure.

While this book is over 20 years old, it is already on the list of required reading for my soon-to-be-born son!

9 prufock March 12, 2010 at 10:14 am

Never read Hatchet, but I think I might pick it up from the library now that you’ve praised it so well!
Many of these lessons remind me of Robinson Crusoe, as well.

10 Chris March 12, 2010 at 10:43 am

Great article. Gary Paulsen is a hero of mine, and I’ve recently restocked my shelf with a number of his books.

Philip — thanks for the NY Times link!

11 xkungpowx March 12, 2010 at 11:55 am

wow… I remember reading that book in Mrs. Binkley’s 5th grade class. It totally kicked ass.

12 John March 12, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Yea, Hatchet was a good book. The second one where he wasn’t rescued after 54 days, Brian’s Winter was even better. I can’t say that the third book, River, was all that great. Its like Huckleberry Finn only Jim is comotose and in need of medical attention.

13 Molly March 12, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Finally leaving a comment after lurking for a while…I may be a girl but I have three brothers and remember reading ‘Hatchet’ when I was younger. After reading it I started carrying a pocketknife…and while I’ve never been in a situation quite that extreme a pocketknife is incredibly useful. :D

14 Playstead March 12, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Good post — I need to check that book out. Also sounds like a good one for my son. Neil Strauss has a book called “Emergency” that is also a must-read for all men. It goes into survival skills quite a bit, but also reminds us that when it hits the fan – we’re on our own. Check it out.

15 Brucifer March 12, 2010 at 3:07 pm

Yeah, i remember that book fondly.

Kinda reminds me of the stories you see once in awhile these days about Scouts, no less, getting lost and having big rescue parties launched to find them. Sadly, hatchet woodcraft is not being taught much any longer. Partly due to environmental impact concerns, but still. These days, it is all GPS and fancy camp stoves and high-tech hiking gear. That’s OK mind you, but the old ways still need to be taught.

Sheesh, had any of my old Boy Scout patrol become lost back-when, (highly unlikely because of our training), any rescue party would have found them, trusty sharp hatchet on their belt, with a well-laid campfire, a nicely-appointed shelter (with a porch and a retracting sunroof in development stages), and a forager’s gourmet fare roasting on the fire spit. The “rescue” team would have probably had to drag us kicking and screaming, back to civilization.

*heavy sigh* those days are pretty much gone….

16 Off Grid Survival March 12, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Great Post,

Loved this book when I was a kid, can’t tell you how many times I read it and wanted to go out and live in the wild.

This book had a huge impact on me and was probably my first introduction into the survival lifestyle.

17 Greg March 12, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Great post. I loved “Hatchet”.

I also strongly suggest the novel “My Side of the Mountain” by Jean Craighead George. It’s about a boy who runs off to live in the woods to test his survival skills, befriends a falcon and a weasal along the way, and has assorted adventures. I remember an astute librarian handing this book to me when I was about 11, knowing it was just what I needed. It was made into an excellent film in the late 60s that was shown regurlarly on TV when I was growing up. In fact, I need to check to see if it’s on DVD. Anyway, check it out!

18 Devan Bennett March 12, 2010 at 4:28 pm

Regarding Water—

A recent survey of water quality in the US found that more than 99% of the surface water (lakes, streams, etc.) was drinkable without any pathogens or serious contaminants.

Boiling’s still a good idea, but if the choice is between unboiled water and thirst, drink the water! Even at its worst, giardia won’t hit for weeks; dehydration can kill in hours.

19 James G March 12, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Looks like a good read, I always loved books about the outdoors (like Jack London) when I was a kid. Its too bad these days most kids dot get to spend entire summers camping, fishing, canoeing, horse riding and hiking like my pops did with me when I was a kid.

~James G

20 Anthony S March 12, 2010 at 8:09 pm

I remember this book from 6th grade. I also remember that Gary Paulsen came to our school to talk about the book. That was so long ago, I think I may have to pick up the book again and re-read it.

21 Rob Conner March 12, 2010 at 8:26 pm

I remember that story, maybe by another title. Another I really enjoyed was My Side Of The Mountain. I think they made it into a movie. Thank you for the story.

Rob Conner

22 Colby Baker March 12, 2010 at 10:30 pm

I, too, enjoyed “My Side of the Mountain.” It also had a lesser known sequel titled “On the Far Side of the Mountain.”

Here is an easy way to remember priorities when in the wilderness–it’s called the rule of three’s: You can live 3 seconds without thinking, 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food, 3 months without companionship.

23 Core March 13, 2010 at 10:23 pm

Great article! I’d highly recommend reading Deep Survival, if anyone here is curious what kind of people survive and what kind of people die..in situations where its life or death.

24 Joe March 14, 2010 at 9:02 pm

@ Charlie, so, you think that “All in One” tool developed by one of the premier minds on survival is a joke?

Yeah, some random dude who knows an acronym over Ron freaking Wood, who has possibly the most though-provoking survival series of all time…Hmmmmmmm….

25 Tyler Logan March 15, 2010 at 5:15 am

Nice post. Knowing how to get clean water and carrying a good tool has proven valuable to me in the past. I’d really love to get a few books on survival and attempt to live with nothing for a month.

26 Charlie March 15, 2010 at 10:23 am

@Joe – Yes, I think it’s a joke. I’m an Army scout and NCO and I’ve trained in survival. My dad was a ranger and my brother is a paratrooper and they’ve both been had training in survival. That thing is a joke, as is most of the garbage spewed forth by many of the so-called “experts”. They have a huge following because the people who read their nonsense typically don’t know any better and, therefore, can’t make a truly educated analysis.

I don’t know anything about Ron Wood specifically (I don’t consider myself a “survivalist”, whatever that is, survival is just something I know how to do, like cleaning my weapon or jumping out of an airplane – it’s just another skill I don’t really think that much about) and I’m not saying he’s a phony. All I’m saying is that the ATAX is trash. Ron Wood may have lots of good tips and techniques, but that ATAX is ludicrous – not because of who developed it or anything like that but mainly because it’s one of those “all in one” tools and “all in one” tools are, as a general rule, to be avoided at all costs.

Just because someone you admire and respect designed something does NOT make it a good design. Giving up your ability to think for yourself and critically analyze things is a marker of someone with low survivability.

One, if you’re packing several items – an e-tool, compass, and knife at minimum – and you loose one, say, in a river crossing or something like that, you still have the other two items. If you lose the ATAX, you’ve just lost all of your items at once. Rather dumb.

Two, the thing may do everything under the sun, but I’d be willing to wager it doesn’t do them all as well as a corresponding purpose-made tool. Usually, that’s the case with these super duper, high-speed survival all-in-one tools. Yeah, it *can* be made into an axe but I’d be willing to bet I can chop wood better, more efficiently (expending energy is a huge consideration in survival scenarios) and faster with an actual axe than you can with that little thing that’s *also* and axe. This isn’t as important with the axe but how about the “compass” functionality? You wouldn’t want to use that thing to navigate, believe me. If you’re traveling any decent distance, a small deviation can make you end up way off target. I won’t be navigating with any ATAX – I just carry 2 compasses. They’re small, cheap, and light and I’ve got my primary and backup. Simple and way more accurate.

Three, I’m generally against buying expensive or overly specialized gear because – as anyone in the military will tell you – gear is only a very small part of the equation. If you don’t have the skills, you’re still going to die. It doesn’t matter how awesome your gear is or how many different things it can do. Plus, unless all you do is occasionally go out in the woods and “play Rambo”, you’re going to wear that gear down, break it, lose it, etc. So it’s best not to waste money by buying expensive, gimmicky products like this. Aside from my military gear, I don’t think everything in my pack combined even comes to $200 – the price of a single ATAX!

My survival kit consists of cheap, easily replaceable (via scavenging) items that can be used for a variety of purposes. Heavy trash bags (shelter, poncho, food storage, laundry bag, waterproof storage, etc.), cords and ropes, tape, a tire iron (many uses particularly in urban survival), a package of steel wool, some electrical wire, etc. Stuff that (a) is extremely cheap, (b) is easily replaced, and (c) works for lots of short-term applications. Anything intended for long-term use is pretty much a single-purpose item, because things designed to do one job really well are better in the long term. The only exception is my multi-tool, which is really only for small stuff, anyway. Yes, everything I have *can* be used for more than one purpose. BUT, everything I have was designed with JUST ONE PURPOSE in mind – and that’s crucial.

Ultimately, the most important multi-function equipment you can have is your own brain and no fancy $200 gimmick toy is going to make up for an inability to improvise and adapt. Train your brain and PLEASE, don’t waste your money.

If you have $200 to spare, try your hand at philanthropy: http://www.leadthewayfund.org

27 John March 15, 2010 at 10:10 pm

Call me a party pooper. I didn’t like Hatchet and didn’t find it credible. I’m glad you drew out some common sense lessons for your post.

28 Arthur March 16, 2010 at 2:13 am

If survival in the wilderness is something you may actually have reason to worry about, you’ll do much better with Bradford Angier’s “Survival With Style” than with a boy’s novel. It wouldn’t hurt to also find a book about wild edible plants in your region and to practice finding and preparing meals with those plants.

If you can’t stitch your own wounds and splint your own breaks, you shouldn’t be out knocking around in the wilderness. Things can and do go wrong, and often the difference between a grand adventure and a life threatening catastrophe is the knowledge you take with you. I’ve participated in about a dozen back-country rescues (all but one of of them before Hatched, which I’ve never read, was published) and in only one case was it because a well prepared individual met with overwhelming circumstances. Most of the time it’s relatively simple situations made worse by ignorance and panic.

The only technology that will never fail you is your own brain. Feed it well and it will do right by you. Neglect it at your own peril.

29 Nate @ Practical Manliness March 16, 2010 at 1:25 pm

@ Charlie

As an inexperienced but eager learner of survival, I enjoyed reading your comment. I particularly was encouraged to hear that a good survival kit can be assembled for less than $200!

Would you be interested in writing about this topic for the readers on my blog?

If you are, I would love to get in touch! – http://www.practicalmanliness.com/contact/

For manliness,
Nate Desmond

30 sean March 16, 2010 at 3:25 pm

I loved that book when I was young. While it’s true that the book may stretch credibility a bit, its core lesson (that state of mind is the most important element of any situation) still holds true. Of course, I’d rather have a good fixed-blade knife than a hatchet. Or both would be good…

31 Matt Mitchell March 18, 2010 at 10:24 am

@ Charlie: I was SAR in the Nav and I agree with a lot of what you said. Although I think I could chop enough wood to take care of myself without an ax at all. Just give me my old KaBar and a sturdy stick of wood and I can move some wood. Those gadgets are cute, but like you said, you lose it and you’ve lost everything. I’ll stick with what I know.

As for the book covered in this post: It was a good book. Not a survival manual, but a good book nonetheless.

32 Chris March 21, 2010 at 10:21 pm

Nice. Here are some additional tips, for battling any animals you might run into in the wilderness:

http://www.martialdevelopment.com/blog/defend-yourself-against-animal-attacks/

33 Nico March 26, 2010 at 1:46 pm

I like the post!

One thing I would add is that in the USAF, instead of S.T.O.P. they teach us “The OODA Loop”. OODA stands for “Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act”.

First you OBSERVE your situation. This means you stop and gather as much information as possible about your situation. After you do this, you must ORIENT yourself. How do I fit into this situation? What do I wish to accomplish? Now is the time to DECIDE. You decide what strategy you will pursue in order to achieve your objectives as quickly and effectively as possible. The final step is to ACT. You take your course of action, and see what happens. As the situation has changed, you must start the loop over again.

I suggest the OODA Loop strategy because it is more all-encompassing, and because it has to work if it’s employed by the greatest fighting force in the world!

34 NadiaInconnue April 7, 2010 at 2:11 am

It wasn’t just boys who loved that book; I remember enthusiastically re-reading it numerous times when I was a kid and imagining/planning what I would do in that situation. Both Hatchet and My Side of the Mountain fed my interest in all things wilderness-survival related. (I *still* have a couple of survival how-to books on my bookshelf so the fascination never did completely abate). :)

35 Captain Groovy April 18, 2010 at 10:41 am

Rule number one carry a pocket knife with you. I know that in today age you cannot carry a knife on a airplane or a courthouse or federal building but everywhere else carry one. It should be Number on Item that every man carries at all time just like a wrist watch. OK I have beaten on the knife now lets talk about a lighter. You say you don’t smoke so what, you might need to start a fire light a candle or even the cigarette of a pretty lady. This next one is going to sound strange Business cards. Don’t have a job that supplies business cards go have some made. Nothing fancy just classy your name and maybe a phone number, mine just have my name any other info I might want to give I can write on the card with My pen. You ask why Business cards, in the woods, Paper to start fire (with your lighter), you also have something to leave a trail or a message. It also shows a certain amount of style if you give a lady your number if you can do so on your card not a coaster. Lastly a pen, you never can tell when you need to write something, take it apart and it can be used for a ad-hoc straw, it also has uses in first-aid, and self defense. So like the American Express card don’t leave home without; a pocket knife (make sure it is sharp), a wrist watch, a lighter (full of fluid), 10 to 15 business cards, and a pen. I carry these with me everywhere if I know I am going to a wilderness area I carry my survival pouch but that for another post

36 JT April 21, 2010 at 3:19 am

Interesting read, good points. My job consists of wetlands research in very remote areas, and I definitely have to shift gears mentally out in the field. What you said about small mistakes being magnified is very true, every step is calculated to avoid breaking an ankle.

Another thing a lot of people don’t seem to do: Leave an itinerary with someone, and stick to the itinerary. I leave mine with my wife, so if I don’t turn up when I’m supposed to they’ll have a much better idea of where I am.

37 Marty April 29, 2010 at 9:02 am

When I saw the post, I asked my son (9th gade) and 2 daughters (7th & 4th grade) if they had heard of Hatchet. Turns out they have all read it and other Paulsen books in school and know Brian Robeson well. My youngest daughter snagged an available copy from school for me to read. I spent the last few days reading and discussing the story with my children. It is a great book and we had a great time discussing it.

38 Justin May 3, 2010 at 3:21 am

@Charlie
I know exacty what you mean about ATAX. Learned my bush skills from the generation before me and I have a hatchet, good Leatherman Wave, spare knife (my small skinning knife, very sharp), High Altitude lighter, heavy duty garbage bags, flagging tape, snare wire, paracord, and 2 compasses that never leave my hunting pack. It’s amazing how well you can do with just those tools. Everything except the knives and hatchet were under $25.

That with a magnisium striker, strike anywhere matches, military strength duct tape, small tarp, solar blanket, and my trusty belt knife, the rescuers would find me in the “old boy scout position”. Quite comfortable. My gear list is a little more extensive than many before this but I am from the canadien north so it’s better to be prepared. Especially when it’s a 5 1/2 hour boat ride back to the nearest boat ramp, and another hour and a half to town, you better be prepared. That spot happens to be my favorite elk ground and can get to highs of -20 later in the season. Minus 20 celcius, I don’t know what that is in farenhiet (and I probably spelt that wrong.)

For anyone interested in this subject I highly recommend Survive by Les Stroud. Kinda disproves the bowstring with a shoelace thing though. Trust me you can’t just bend a stick and take down game. The stick will snap or have no power. I have tried this before. Just have a balanced throwing stick, whack whatever you may happen across, (too energy depleating and inaccurate to justify hunting, an oppertunist weapon) throw the stick, hopefully whack it on the head and kill it. If it isn’t dead, make it dead by breaking it’s neck. It sounds cruel and it isn’t fun but if it’s me dying because I can’t walk out, or a rabbit hopping no more:
Kill the damn rabbit.

39 Justin May 3, 2010 at 3:24 am

BTW, Canadian is spelt with an A. Missed that on the spell check sorry. My bad.

40 Psi May 13, 2010 at 7:13 pm

First of all, great article. I loved that book when I was a boy as well.
I would have to agree with a previous poster, shelter should be a top consideration over water.
While you could die in three days without water, you could certainly die one night (or a few hours) without adequate shelter, depending on your location.
I’ve heard of the rule of 3′s

Assuming the worst conditions: you cannot survive 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, or 3 weeks without food.

41 Jason June 4, 2010 at 6:05 pm

My teacher read that to us in fifth grade. I will swear to you that I month doesn’t go by that I don’t think about some of the stories out of it. Like him building the fish trap and using bird guts as bait, when he swims down to the plane and sees that the fish had been eating the pilot, His plan to let the plane run out of gas then land it on the lake, the moose attack. All of it so fresh in my mind.

42 B-Doc June 19, 2010 at 10:55 am

My sixth-grade teacher read that to our class. Now, I need to get it and plan to read it to all my children, my sons especially.

43 Mike October 12, 2012 at 9:32 am

Even though I’m in my twenties, I still read hatchet and the sequels at least once a year. At least. I love them. They really started me thinking of the ‘what if’, and skills I’ve learned because of the curiosity they inspired have saved my hide more than once. Hatchet is based on the core truth of Agent Gibbs’ rule #9 – Never go anywhere without a knife. A good knife is probably one of the most useful and versatile tools you can carry at a minimum of weight and bulk. I generally keep a couple handy. A small Gerber on my keyring, and a larger SOG or Cold Steel folder in my pocket. Both of them shaving sharp.

44 Anonymous November 8, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Great post!
I just finished the book!
I was awesome ( kind of like your post)
Thx…

45 Anonymous November 8, 2012 at 10:01 pm

sorry, meant it was awesome
although i must say,
I am pretty awesome! XD
lolol

46 jamaljj November 16, 2012 at 9:34 pm

I read this book when I was in 5th grade!

47 Jon November 29, 2012 at 11:24 am

If Brian so hungry, why doesn’t he eat the pilot?

48 Mike December 7, 2012 at 2:58 pm

What was the UNC study that you referenced under Get Your Head Right? I was interested in reading it, but they’ve reorganized their site since you published this post. Thanks for any help you can offer.

49 Margret March 4, 2013 at 10:20 am

i read this book in 6th grade

it tought me so much how to survive in the wilderness.if i dont i might get killed.

1] have a plan on what to do before just doing it.

50 kimberly March 4, 2013 at 10:23 am

i read this book in 6th grade

it tought me so much how to survive in the wilderness.if i dont i might get killed.

1] have a plan on what to do before just doing it.

51 Mountainman Sam March 11, 2013 at 11:51 am

This is one of my all-time favorite books along with its sequels (which by the way, is up to book 5). My favorites are Brian’s winter and Brian’s Return (I spent hours going over his “packing list” and making my own) but the Hatchet is what got me hooked on these books in the first place. It’s also one of the things that got me into the outdoors and helped me build the skills I needed to become a back-country guide and pay my way through college.
As far as blade choice, I tend to lean toward a good smallish ax/hatchet or a large knife (like a Kukri) over smaller blades that attach to sticks and the like to make them an effective tool (such as the A-TAX). I found that if you’re hurt (or doing a scenario like you are), the time and energy to get the tool a decent handle that doesn’t slip and/or throw the blade a 100’ when you swing it can be absolutely demoralizing. A good solid tool that already has everything it needs is the way to go. Also, an ax or big bladed knife can be just as effective at small/delicate tasks as a smaller blade; it just takes skill (which is the trick to any survival situation). Spend time on honing skills rather than money on do-dads. That’s just my $0.02.
Great break down of some of the key elements within the book to help the average person really survive in an extreme situation. Yet another exceptional article by AoM.

52 leon March 15, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Do you remember when the pilot f@rted the poisonous gas and killed himself with it? Is that suicide? He flarted and Bryan smelled it and it was so LOL! member?

53 Judith May 29, 2013 at 10:07 am

Thanks for the great and accurate info, I teach Nature/Adventure at an outdoor day camp for the Y.M.C.A. This is my 12th year and those are some of the skills children respond to as being the most important. It is so nice to see a child with out an electronic game control in their hands. Thanks again

54 C-J July 15, 2013 at 2:39 pm

I read the book as a kid and used those skills as a teenager :) A good read. This article is great, thank you.

55 Colin McDonald September 11, 2013 at 9:11 am

Wow. So I teach 12th grade English and the research paper assignment is to choose a book you’ve read that impacted you or that you just love. Next figure out a question you have about the novel and research it. Finally apply your research back to the text. I always have kids who hate books so much they’ve never read one. Except Hatchet. So run with it, I say. Do research into whether Hatchet is factually accurate. Tell me if Brian would have made it or not. Essentially, if these kids read your website they’d have all they need: quote from the novel and explanation in terms of reality. But they cant find this site. They quit after typing in the word “survival” and say they can’t find anything about it. At any rate, thanks for putting this up. Maybe I can steer my super reluctant readers to this and explain what I want them to do. Now plagiarism is going to be the problem….

56 Josh September 17, 2013 at 12:44 am

I learned in survival class that you can filter water using a sock and charcoal. You just stuff charcoal in your sock and pour water through it.

57 Kevin in Texas February 9, 2014 at 8:22 pm

Nice article!

Books that entertain, as well as teach important life lessons, invite the reader to identify with the protagonist and retain what they’ve learned by personalizing the information. For young readers especially this approach is more effective than a bland manual stocked with instructions. Sharing in the thought processes of the character and learning from his mistakes, helps the reader comprehend WHY certain decisions and actions are important, and lets him visualize himself using similar skills.

The confidence and “can do” attitude gained can benefit readers for a lifetime.

On broken legs: When I broke my tibia (at home), it involved far more than a “few days” of pillow-propping and crutch-hobbling. I was disabled from working for the better part of a year. Surgery was required. (a 15″ titanium bar remains screwed inside my shin-bone) My life-savings were exhausted.

Could have proved fatal in the wild, but was certainly no picnic in suburbia…

58 Wild Skill Dude April 4, 2014 at 2:45 am

What a good article.
Makes a change to see someone mentioning the mental aspects of survival, definitely are THE MOST IMPORTANT part of survival.
If you have your head screwed on right you’ll survive.!
Far too many people think its about the equipment and who has the best survival knife – thats crap.
The right mental attitude combined with bushcraft knowledge will always get you through.
Also being prepared to get lost and knowing what to do is essential.
This is another great article for wilderness survival explaining just that from http://www.wildernesssurvivalskills.org/top-five-tips-for-venturing-out-into-the-wild-and-enjoying-it
Agree with your thoughts on carrying a hatchet – probably the least glamorous survival tool, but a good one is far better than some fancy survival knife or machete.
again, nice article man, thanks…

59 Dean April 16, 2014 at 6:46 am

This is a good article and you sure drew great lessons out of the book. Though, never had the opportunity of reading it, the storyline and comments aforemade gives me a good mental picture of its influence. Dont mind if you can send me one or more of the same author.
Having good interest in nature and survival skills as an environmental manager and geographer, i think learning survival should be everyones business especially urban dwellers in developed countries. Thanks.

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