Improvisation – An Important Survival Skill

As an advanced species, we can make and use tools, plan and prepare for eventualities, but we often don’t think of our most important survival tool! Our brains! Can you survive by your wits alone and your ability to improvise? The skill of improvisation can be an important survival skill in your survival toolbox!

Improvisation is most definitely an important survival skill because when you find yourself in a survival situation it will more than likely be in less than ideal circumstances. It is also a skill worth acquiring as it can be an asset in many other aspects of your life!

When people think of survival, and prepping, they plan for as many survival scenarios as possible. This generally involves accumulating gear and tools to help in such a situation. But do they consider the art of improvisation as a survival skill? What if your gear is damaged, lost, stolen, wears out or breaks? What if you are stranded unexpectedly without your bug out bag or favourite survival knife?

These are the situations where the skills of ingenuity and imagination with improvisation at their core can come to your rescue and make the difference for your survival!

What Is Improvisation

Improvisation has many cliché phrases to describe it. “Thinking outside the box”, and “lateral thinking” are two such phrases.

Having this skill allows you to think on your feet and be adaptable in situations where things don’t go according to plan. Much of prepping and survival involves predicting certain scenarios and then planning for those possibilities. Don’t get me wrong, planning and being prepared are good things, but what do you do when a situation throws you a curve ball that you haven’t planned for?

This is where improvisation comes becomes an important skill to have. It allows you to approach a problem from a different angle and find a solution that is not always immediately obvious.

Last update was on: June 4, 2020 3:59 am

How Is Improvisation Useful In A Survival Situation?

Improvisation in the context of a survival situation is the ability to use things for purposes other than the original purpose of what they were intended for. It is the ability to look at an object and see its potential usefulness to complete a task that is important for your survival or situation.

This is an important skill because gear gets lost, wears out, or breaks, and when that happens, all you will have is your resourcefulness and your imagination.

Here are few examples to explain what I mean.

You are in a survival situation and you come across a clear glass bottle. The bottle can be used to carry water, which can be considered its original purpose. Using improvisation, it can be used to light a fire, or broken and sharp shards used as an improvised knife!

A bandana can be used for its original use, which is to keep the sun off your head. In a pinch, and using improvisation and some ingenuity, it can be used to squeeze drinking water from damp river sand, as a bandage for a wound, or as a sling for a broken arm.

I am on a roll now, so let me give you one more example!

You are stranded in the wilderness and you empty you pockets to see what you have that you can use. You happen to discover a rubber band in your pocket! How can this seemingly insignificant item be re-purposed to be useful to you? You can use it as a trigger mechanism for a trap to catch small game to eat. The rubber band can be used as a fire starter. Use the clear glass bottle with water in it to solar ignite the rubber band and make fire!

Last update was on: June 4, 2020 3:59 am

Can The Skill Of Improvisation Be Learned

Improvisation is most definitely a skill that can be learned, and learned quite quickly. A warning flag needs to be raised here at this point. Using items for purposes for which they were not intended can be dangerous. Caution and common sense should be used. The last thing you want to get in a survival situation is a self-inflicted injury!

The reason we lack improvisation skills is because we live a life of convenience, with a host of gadgets easily available to us to perform every conceivable task!

Learning how to improvise involves teaching your brain to think again, think laterally and creatively to find multiple ways to solve a problem of get a task done!

Another problem that reduces our creativity for inspiration is that we live in a throw-away society! We have a whole host of single use items or disposable items that we use daily and just throw in the trash.

The next time you are about to throw something away, pause and give thought as to how that item could be re-used or repurposed to perform a task it was not intended for. I am not saying that we need to become a community of hoarders that never throw anything away, but we do throw too much away!

Initially it may take a conscious effort to think about each task and figure out alternative ways of doing things. After a short time however, you will find yourself looking at something and thinking to yourself “Hey I know what I could use that for” or thinking how to do tasks differently.

Can I Get Better At Improvisation

As with most skills in life, it all gets better with practice! Practicing a task creates new pathways in the brain that repetition reinforces. In your day to day living practice thinking of alternative solutions, don’t just rush out to the store and buy a purpose built item.

Let me give you another example. I love to grow my own vegetables, and I usually plant them from seed. For this you would normally use plastic seed trays that you would buy from the local nursery. I found that these seed trays don’t last long, and become brittle and break. It also meant that I was contributing to the world’s plastic pollution problem. I thought about the problem and what I could use as an alternative, something I could repurpose. The cardboard tube inner of a toilet roll was an ideal choice. It is a natural material, is biodegradable, and is am item that is normally thrown away anyway.

I tried this method and filled the tube with my growing medium and planted the seed at the top. I got great germination results, and when the seedlings were the correct size, I planted them out in the ground, cardboard tube and all! I no longer need to spend money on a single use plastic items and I could re-purpose an item that is normally thrown away. I now use this method to start all my seeds!

From a survival point of view, it is also important not to just know that there are 5 different ways to start a fire, for example, but you need to have practiced all 5 methods to make sure you can perform them.

Understanding the physics involved in the method, or the principles behind the task you are doing will often stimulate different ideas on how to achieve the result. So it pays to think about the tasks you are doing, and not just do them by rote. 

Think about modern tools for a task and thenthink how you can replicate that equipment from natural materials that you can find around you.

Other Skills That Go Hand-In-Hand With Improvisation

There are a few other traits that you can work on which will help develop your improvisation skills.

  • Be observant, practice situational awareness, you won’t be able to improvise if you don’t notice what’s around you.
  • Pay attention to detail, small things can make a big difference
  • Learn how to use nature, find out what local plants and trees in your area are useful for survival purposes.
  • Learn primitive skills such as fire making, hunting, fishing and shelter making and figure out as many ways to improvise with these skills as you can. They will be the most important ones to master for a survival situation
  • Be adaptable. If one thing doesn’t work, don’t give up, try something else.

I hope this article encourage you to home your improvisation skills and get you thinking outside the box and start exercising your ingenuity as one of the survival tools at your disposal.

Last update was on: June 4, 2020 3:59 am

Frank is an allround outdoorsman who has experience in homesteading, bushcraft and African wildlife, particularly snakes which he has a passion for. Frank has worked as a safari guide in well-known big 5 game reserves in South Africa and enjoys photography and knifemaking as hobbies.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

Survival Prepping Gear