Today, we’ll break away from the traditions of firearms and find wisdom in some of the best survival stories out there. Maybe you are an avid reader and have had your fair share of fiction that is full of adventure, plot twists, and excitement that keep you on the edge of your seat for hours.

While these stories are fun to read and all, we all know that it’s all fictitious. You know deep down that it’s fake, so no matter how crazy the story went, you know that it is all influenced by the author. No matter how great the storyline is, you know that there isn’t much you can learn from the author other than how to write a good story.

I will not talk about those fantasies. Instead, I will tell you about some real-life survival stories, told by none other than the survivors themselves. These stories may not contain as many breathtaking moments, but there are valuable lessons you can get from these that could save your life in the future. 

1. Steven Callahan

The book titled “Adrift: Seventy-six Days Lost at Sea” was a story of how Steven Callahan managed to survive for 76 days at sea with very little food and water. It all began on the night of January 29, 1982. He took his small sailboat from the Canary Islands and sailed toward the Caribbean, alone.

Unfortunately for Callahan, on February 5, he was hit by a great storm, taking his sailboat down to the deep dark blow. The good news was that Callahan brought along a five-and-a-half foot inflatable rubber raft and managed to weather the storm. The bad news was that he didn’t have much left after the storm passed.

He only got his little rubber raft, some gear, 3 pounds of food, 8 pints of water, and a t-shirt, no pants. With no way of navigating the vast blue sea, he was pretty much stranded with scraps of food.

He was there for 76 days and drifted over 1,800 miles before he finally reached land and got rescued in the Bahamas. You could imagine how relieved he was when he saw land again. For all we know, he could’ve sworn not to step into another boat ever again.

Callahan’s autobiographical account gave us further insight into how he managed to survive for so long with so little. In his book, he wrote in detail about the extreme mental resilience needed to survive out at sea. Although Callahan was all alone, his mind played two characters: the captain and the crewman.

Those 76 days were a constant battle between the captain and the crewman over the water ration. However, the captain persevered and kept the rations going for long enough until Callahan made it to land.

What is the moral of the story here? Your body is more capable than you think. Most of the time, your survival is a matter of mind, not the body. He spent over 2 months out at sea living on only a pint of rainwater a day and eating the food he managed to catch at sea. When there’s a will, there’s a way.

2. Alive in the Andes

Going away from the tales from the ocean, let’s look at a survival story that occurred in the mountains. Alive in the Andes was a real-life survival story of how Nando Parrado and a few others survived the harsh peaks of the Andes Mountains. The plane was transporting an Uruguayan rugby team when it smacked into the Andes Mountains.

Only a few people managed to survive, including Nando who suffered a fractured skull and was unconscious for 3 days. He was presumed dead but he was able to revive. It took him several weeks to recover, but he eventually got better and planned and lead a group of survivors on a 10-day march to rescue that took them over the 17,000-foot peak. With the dwindling food supply, the survivors had no choice but to resort to cannibalism as well.

What is the lesson here? Desperate time calls for desperate measures. In such a survival situation, you need to make the most out of all the resources you have, no matter how unthinkable and repulsive it is in a normal circumstance.

3. SAS Desert Survival

Our next story takes us to the polar opposite once again. This time, it is a survival story of a 72-year-old Ann Rodgers of Tucson, Arizona. She was lost in the desert for 9 days. It all began when her family reported to the authority about her disappearance on March 31, 2016. It was all because she took a few wrong turns on a remote dirt road in eastern Arizona.

Eventually, her car ran out of fuel. There was no cellphone reception in that area. The first night, she decided to huddle in her car with some spare cloth, snack, and water. On the second day, she made a decision that could potentially get her killed. Instead of staying put, she left her car and set out to look for help.

She wouldn’t be lost in the desert for 9 days had she stayed with her car since the authority found her car 3 days after her disappearance had been reported. But other than that, she did everything right. She built a fire to keep her warm at night. She drank pond water and foraged for food.

She knew how to do all of that because she took a survival class and did some more research on desert survival. This gave her the knowledge she needed to survive long enough in the desert until she was saved. One day, she got a brilliant idea. She gathered a bunch of sticks and rocks and made a massive “help” sign on the ground.

Her survival story concluded on the ninth day when a helicopter flew over and the pilot noticed her sign. She was rescued, taken to the hospital, and soon released.

There are a lot of things we can learn from her story. For one, never leave your car. It’s the kind of mistake that can get you killed. Also, bring supplies to your vehicles such as food, water, and tools. You never know when you need them. Signal for help however you can. Get creative. It could save your life. Finally, get some survival training and pay attention while you’re at it.

4. Juliane Koepcke

The survival story of Juliane Diller is told in the book titled “When I Fell From the Sky”. As the name suggests, her story began in a plane crash. She was the only survivor out of the 93 passengers and crew when LANSA Flight 508 was struck by lightning as it was flying over the Peruvian rainforest. Well, it wasn’t a plane crash in the traditional sense since it exploded after it was struck by lightning. Koepcke, who was only 17 at the time, fell thousands of feet while still strapped to her seat. Her life was saved thanks to the deep jungle canopy that cushioned her fall and she made it out with a swollen eye, a gash to her right arm, and a broken collarbone.

What is remarkable about her story is the fact that she had no survival training or any gear to help her. She only had one bit of information. Her parents told her that one way to find people is to follow the waterway, and so she did, for 9 days. She eventually found a canoe and a shelter nearby and she hunkered down. She was eventually found by two loggers and rescued.

Luck can get you out of a tough situation, but the right bits of knowledge can save your life. Koepcke knew which way to go and she took action rather than wait for rescue, which is why she survived. The reason why she was the only survivor was not that she was the only one who survived the explosion. Many other people also made it to the ground alive thanks to the jungle canopy.  But they decided to wait for rescue instead, which didn’t arrive until weeks later. Their inaction led to their demise as they all died of starvation and injuries.

5. Hiroo Onoda

We all know that the second world war ended in 1945. To Hiroo Onoda, it didn’t really end until 1974. He and a few other Japanese soldiers in the jungles of the Philippines, believing that the war was still going on despite the notes and letters that informed him otherwise. The number of his party slowly dwindled until he finally emerged from the jungle 29 years after the war had ended, accepted his commanding officer’s order, and surrendered. By that time, he was wearing a uniform made from coconut fiber as his old uniform had long rotten away.

The guy wasted 30 years of his life in the jungle, fighting a war that had long ended. While his tenacity is admirable, he crossed a point where it became stubbornness. It’s good that he eventually accepted the truth and came out of the forest. If he was still stubborn, he could’ve died in there, still believing that the war was still being fought. The moral here is that one should know the difference between stubbornness and tenacity.

6. The Donner Party

The book titled “Desperate Passage: The Donner Party’s Perilous Journey West” was a story that put a group of American pioneers in a dire survival situation that could’ve been avoided had they just waited out the winter. Their decisions and other mishaps forced them to spend the winter in Sierra Nevada in 1846-47, which ultimately led to starvation, sickness, and cannibalism. They were eventually rescued, but only 48 out of 87 made it out alive.

This whole thing could’ve been easily avoided had the group waited until spring to cross the mountains. In a letter from a survivor, she wrote “Never take no cutoffs and hurry along as fast as you can”. This tells us that one should never take shortcuts, or be in such a hurry that caution is thrown to the wind.

7. Hugh Glass

Seeing Leonardo DiCaprio getting attacked by a bear may be entertaining to some, but the real survival story that The Revenant is based on is just as astounding. That real story was that of Hugh Glass. He was on a fur trapping trip in late 1823, led by Andrew Henry. They were attacked by a grizzly bear and Glass managed to kill it, although he was badly mauled in the process.

Glass eventually fell unconscious and Henry thought that Glass would die from his injuries. Two members of the expedition volunteered to stay behind with Glass to bury him and they began digging his grave. They thought Glass had died when they left him there under the bear hide as a shroud.

By the time Glass came to again, he realized what predicament he found himself in. He was more than 200 miles from the nearest settlement. He was all alone with no weapons or survival gear. His leg was broken and his ribs were booking through from the cuts on his back. With nothing but a bear hide over his back, Glass began to crawl for 6 weeks, surviving on berries and roots, where he reached the Cheyenne River.

Glass put together a crude raft and floated down the river, found a friendly native who could do little but sew the bear hide to his back to cover his wounds, and eventually made it to Fort Kiowa where he finally got help.

The story didn’t end there, of course, so you should give it a read if you want to find out what happened next. The reason why Glass mustered up all this strength to survive this long in his condition was because of his anger toward the two people who had wrongly buried him. This ties back to the first story of how a man survived 76 days out at sea with little food but a lot of willpower. The same applies here. Having a very strong reason to live, be it revenge or the desire to see a loved one again, can give you the willpower you need to get yourself out of a dire situation.

8. Aron Ralston

This was a painful story of Aron Ralston, an outdoor enthusiast who became popular in early 2003. It was a painful one not because of the injury he sustained, but rather what he had to do to save himself. He was out scrambling through a canyon in Utah when a boulder suddenly shifted and pinned his arm to the canyon wall. He was all alone and with no help in sight, he decided to cut his arm with a dull knife to free himself, a painful process I’m certain. He made it out of the canyon, with one arm missing and one foot in the grave.

This highlights the importance of having at least one person with you when you go out in the wilderness. The buddy system is taught anywhere, from the boy scout to the army. I understand that you want to have your personal space, but having someone with you can save your life. At the very least, before you go anywhere, tell your friends and family where you’re going and when you’ll return. That way, if you go missing, they know when to start looking and where.

9. Shackleton’s Arctic Expedition

Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew set out on an expedition to cross Antarctica on foot, which is a risky move even by today’s standards. This happened before the first world war. But it all went wrong even before they made it to the content as their ship struck an ice flow in the Weddell Sea. The crew of 27 had no way of getting outside help and remained stranded for 22 months.

They lived in the ship for almost a year before the ship was destroyed by the ice and the team was forced onto the frozen sea. They built sleds and relocated to Elephant Island beyond the Antarctic Peninsula.

By now, many people assumed that they all died. Shackleton knew that a rescue wasn’t coming and decided to take a lifeboat and cross the 800 miles sea to South Georgia Island. This proved to be the choice that saved everyone. Had they waited for help, they would’ve all died.

His journey didn’t end there, though. He landed on the wrong side of the island and had to trek over the frozen mountains to reach the whaling station where he found help. What can we learn from this? Leadership is an important survival skill as well. All that time, the crew could’ve gone crazy and started killing each other, but Sir Ernest Shackleton kept everyone in line and eventually found help.

And there you have it. 9 survival stories that we can all learn from. I have to gloss over a lot of details in the story, and I highly recommend you read the books yourself so you know what kind of hell those survivors went through.

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