How to survive on a deserted island in 6 Easy Steps

The idea of being on a deserted island might sound enticing – a place untouched by the modern world.

But the reality? It’s challenging and potentially dangerous without proper survival skills. Imagine being stranded without the basic knowledge to find water, food, or shelter.

This isn’t just about adventure—it’s about staying alive.

This article aims to give readers a comprehensive guide on how to survive on a deserted island. If you’ve ever questioned your own preparedness or simply want to be better equipped for the unexpected, we’ve got you covered.

Dive in to understand the crucial steps and techniques required for survival.

How to survive on a deserted island

Understanding the Environment

Before diving into the nitty-gritty of survival, it’s paramount to grasp the environment you might find yourself in. A deserted island isn’t just a homogenous expanse of sand and trees; it can be as diverse as any other place on Earth.

The climate, resources, potential dangers, and even the mental challenges posed by isolation—all these factors play a role in how one approaches survival.

Recognizing and adapting to these elements will not only enhance your chances of survival but also help you harness the island’s resources more effectively. Let’s begin by shedding light on these environmental intricacies.

Location and climate

Deserted islands can be found in various parts of the world, each with its distinct climate. While tropical islands near the equator typically experience a warm and humid climate year-round, those located farther from the equator might have a temperate or even cold climate.

Factors such as ocean currents, altitude, and proximity to large landmasses can also influence an island’s climate.

Understanding the specific climate of your location is crucial as it will dictate many survival decisions—from the type of shelter you build to the clothes you’ll need to protect against the elements.

Available resources

The resources available on an island can vary widely based on its geography and ecosystem. Tropical islands might offer coconut trees, bamboo, and abundant seafood. In contrast, a temperate island could provide berries, edible plants, and small game.

Freshwater sources, like streams or natural springs, can be a lifesaver, but not all islands will have these. It’s essential to familiarize yourself with the local flora and fauna, as this knowledge will guide your food and water procurement strategies.

Potential dangers

Every environment comes with its set of hazards. On a deserted island, these can range from venomous snakes, aggressive wildlife, and toxic plants to natural hazards like quicksand, rip currents, and sudden storms.

Furthermore, the risk of injury is always present, whether it’s from sharp coral reefs while fishing or from falling coconuts. Being aware of these potential dangers and having the knowledge to navigate or avoid them is a critical aspect of survival.

Psychological aspects of isolation

While the physical challenges of surviving on a deserted island are evident, the mental and emotional toll of isolation is often overlooked. Humans are inherently social beings, and prolonged solitude can lead to feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety.

The absence of regular stimuli and the constant pressure of survival can be mentally exhausting. Keeping one’s mind engaged, setting daily goals, and maintaining a routine can help mitigate some of these psychological challenges.

It’s also vital to remain hopeful and focused, as a positive mindset can greatly influence one’s ability to persevere in challenging circumstances.

Preparation Before You Go

Embarking on an adventure to a deserted island, whether intentional or not, requires thorough preparation. Venturing into the unknown without adequate planning can lead to dire consequences. It’s not just about packing the right tools or essentials; it’s about equipping yourself with knowledge and skills to face unforeseen challenges.

This isn’t a regular vacation where missing an item can be a minor inconvenience. On a deserted island, lack of preparation can be the difference between life and death. Let’s have a look at the crucial steps to ensure you’re as prepared as possible before setting foot on that untouched shore.

Inform someone about your plans

One of the simplest yet most crucial steps before venturing to a deserted island is informing someone trustworthy about your plans. This includes your intended destination, expected duration of stay, and any significant waypoints or stops along the route.

By doing so, you ensure that someone is aware of your whereabouts and can raise an alarm if you don’t return or check in as planned. This external point of contact can be pivotal for initiating rescue operations or providing crucial information to search teams, should the need arise.

Additionally, sharing your itinerary details with local maritime or forest agencies can be beneficial, as they may offer insights or precautions based on recent activity or observations in the area.

Research the island and its ecosystem

Understanding the specific environment of the island you’re heading to is paramount. Dive deep into research, gathering information on the local flora, fauna, and geographical features.

Research the island and its ecosystem

Familiarizing yourself with edible plants, potential freshwater sources, and the types of wildlife present can give you a head start in your survival journey. Moreover, knowing the types of creatures to avoid—whether they are venomous snakes, aggressive animals, or toxic plants—can prevent unnecessary risks.

Platforms like Google Earth can provide a bird’s eye view of the island’s layout, while forums, local publications, or even past adventurers’ experiences can offer detailed insights. This research not only enhances your survival chances but also enables a more enriching and respectful interaction with the island’s ecosystem.

Pack essential items

Setting out for a deserted island isn’t the same as packing for a weekend getaway. Every item you bring should have a clear purpose and value, given the weight and space constraints. Preparing a comprehensive checklist is essential to ensure that you don’t miss out on vital gear. Here’s a breakdown of some of the crucial categories to consider:

Survival kit checklist

A basic survival kit should be compact, lightweight, and equipped to address immediate needs:

  • Fire Starters: Waterproof matches, lighters, and a fire striker.
  • First Aid: Bandages, antiseptics, painkillers, tweezers, and personal medications.
  • Tools: A multipurpose knife or tool, signaling mirror, and a whistle.
  • Water Purification: Iodine tablets or portable water filters.
  • Protection: Mosquito netting, sunscreen, and insect repellent.

Clothing and personal gear

While it might be tempting to pack light, the right clothing can shield you from environmental hazards:

  • Layered Clothing: This allows adaptability to changing conditions. Moisture-wicking inner layers, insulating mid-layers, and waterproof outer layers are recommended.
  • Footwear: Sturdy, water-resistant boots with a good grip are essential for varied terrains. Don’t forget moisture-wicking socks!
  • Hats and Sunglasses: To protect against the sun’s intense rays.
  • Rain Gear: A lightweight, compact poncho or raincoat.

Navigation tools

Even on a small island, getting lost can be easier than one might think:

  • Compass: A reliable, old-school navigation tool that doesn’t rely on batteries.
  • Maps: Waterproofed or laminated topographical maps of the area.
  • GPS Device: A battery-operated GPS can be invaluable, but always have manual backups.
  • Star Navigation: Learn the basics of using constellations as guidance, especially in the absence of tools.

Food and water provisions

While you’ll aim to source food and water on the island, initial provisions can be a lifesaver:

  • Water: Carry at least 1 gallon (3.8 liters) per person per day for the initial days.
  • Non-perishable Foods: Energy bars, canned goods, dried fruits, and nuts. Remember a can opener if needed!
  • Fishing Gear: Compact fishing lines or hooks can be instrumental in sourcing fresh food.
  • Collapsible Containers: For collecting and storing water or food.

Learn basic survival skills

Survival isn’t just about what you have; it’s about what you know. Equipping yourself with foundational survival skills can significantly improve your chances of thriving on a deserted island. Some skills can be self-taught, while others might require attending workshops or training sessions.

Learn basic survival skills

Either way, having hands-on experience before you find yourself in a survival situation is crucial. Let’s break down some of the essential skills:


Mastering the art of fire-making can be the difference between warmth and cold, cooked food and raw, light and darkness:

  • Traditional Methods: Understand how to use flint and steel or a fire striker. Familiarize yourself with the bow drill method—a challenging but rewarding skill.
  • Tinder Selection: Learn to identify and use natural tinders like dry grass, leaves, or bark. Knowing how to prepare and use them effectively is key.
  • Safety: Always select a safe location away from dry vegetation. Ensure fires are fully extinguished before moving on or sleeping.

Shelter building

Shelter provides protection from elements and potential hazards:

  • Natural Shelters: Learn to identify natural formations that can serve as immediate shelters, like caves or overhangs.
  • Man-made Shelters: Master the art of building a lean-to or a debris hut using materials around you. Understand the principles of insulation and waterproofing.
  • Location: Ensure the chosen spot is away from potential dangers like falling rocks, rising tides, or insect nests.

First aid

Medical emergencies can arise without warning, and timely intervention can be lifesaving:

  • Basic First Aid: Understand how to treat cuts, burns, and fractures. Learn CPR and the Heimlich maneuver.
  • Natural Remedies: While not a replacement for modern medicine, knowing basic remedies using island resources can be helpful. For example, certain plant sap can be used on cuts or burns.
  • Prevention: Recognize signs of dehydration, heatstroke, or hypothermia and know the preventive measures.


Staying oriented is crucial to avoid getting lost and to locate resources:

  • Using the Sun: Recognize the general direction based on the sun’s position. In the Northern Hemisphere, the sun rises roughly in the east and sets in the west.
  • Star Navigation: Familiarize yourself with major constellations like the North Star (Polaris) in the Northern Hemisphere or the Southern Cross in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • Natural Landmarks: Use distinct landmarks like tall trees, mountain peaks, or unique rock formations as reference points.
  • Create Trails: If exploring, mark your path with stones or tied cloths to easily find your way back.

With these skills in your arsenal, you’re not just surviving—you’re thriving. Remember, practice makes perfect, so rehearse these skills regularly to ensure you’re ready when it counts.

How to Survive on a Deserted Island? (A Step By Step Guide)

You’re on a deserted island, the vast horizon ahead, the rhythm of crashing waves, and the immediate realization of being truly alone. It’s both a dream and a nightmare.

But with the right mindset, skills, and knowledge, this challenging scenario can be turned into an adventure of resilience and resourcefulness.

How to Survive on a Deserted Island (A Step By Step Guide)

This step-by-step guide is designed to arm you with essential strategies to not only survive but to embrace the experience with determination and optimism. Let’s dive in!

Immediate Priorities

The initial hours after realizing you’re stranded on a deserted island are crucial. The decisions you make and the actions you take can set the foundation for the days or weeks ahead. Let’s delve into the immediate priorities to address.

Establishing shelter

Protection from the elements is paramount. A suitable shelter can defend you against adverse weather, keep you warm, and offer a sense of security.

Natural resources for shelter
  • Trees: Look for sturdy trees that can serve as a backbone for your shelter. Palm fronds, if available, can be used as roof material due to their water-resistant properties.
  • Caves: While they can provide instant shelter, always inspect for animals or signs of flooding.
  • Large Leaves: These can be overlapped to create a makeshift roof, offering some protection from rain or dew.
  • Rocks and Boulders: They can act as natural walls, breaking wind and retaining some warmth.
Constructing a makeshift shelter
  • Lean-to: Position a strong branch between two trees and lean other branches against it at an angle. Cover with leaves or fronds.
  • Debris Hut: Create a frame using long branches and then cover it with leaves, grass, or any available debris. This design is excellent for insulation.
  • Insulation: Regardless of the type, ensure the ground is insulated with leaves or grass to preserve body heat.

Finding clean water sources

Water is life. Before food or even fire, securing a clean water source should be your top priority.

Identifying water sources
  • Freshwater Streams or Pools: These are ideal, but always test the water before consumption.
  • Morning Dew: Use a cloth to absorb dew from grass or leaves and then wring it out to drink.
  • Rainwater: Collect using leaves, coconut shells, or any container-like objects you have.
  • Avoid Sea Water: Drinking sea water can dehydrate you further due to its salt content.
Water purification methods
  • Boiling: Kills most pathogens. Ensure water boils for at least 5-10 minutes.
  • Solar Still: Dig a hole, place a container in the center, cover with clear plastic or leaf, and place a stone in the center. As moisture evaporates, it will condense on the covering and drip into the container.
  • Sand and Stone Filtration: In the absence of other tools, filtering water through alternating layers of sand and stones can remove some impurities.

Fire-making techniques

Fire provides warmth, a way to cook food, purify water, signal for help, and a psychological boost.

Fire-starting tools
  • Flint and Steel: This age-old method creates sparks to ignite tinder.
  • Fire Plough: A technique involving rubbing softwood against hardwood.
  • Glasses: In sunny conditions, the sun’s rays can be focused on tinder using the lens of glasses, magnifying glass, or even clear water in a transparent bag or bottle.
Building a fire pit
  • Selecting the Site: Opt for a location shielded from strong winds but with enough ventilation.
  • Construction: Dig a shallow pit and encircle it with stones or logs. This design concentrates the heat and makes the fire more efficient.
  • Safety First: Always have a means to extinguish the fire quickly and never leave it unattended.

Sourcing Food

Sourcing Food

Once you’ve secured water and shelter, the next logical focus should be food. While the human body can survive for weeks without food, doing so will lead to weakness, making other survival tasks harder. Understanding where and how to find sustenance can make the difference between thriving and merely surviving.

Edible plant identification

Island vegetation can be a great source of nutrients, but it’s essential to know which ones to consume and which ones to avoid.

  • Taste Test: Before consuming large quantities, try a tiny bit first. Wait a few hours to see if there are any adverse reactions. This isn’t foolproof but can be helpful.
  • Familiar Plants: If you recognize a plant from prior knowledge, it’s more likely safe, but always cross-reference.
  • Avoid: Generally, steer clear of plants with milky sap, shiny leaves, or an almond smell when crushed. They can often be toxic.
  • Seek Out: Plants growing in clusters or those consumed by animals (though this isn’t always a sure sign of edibility).

Fishing and trapping techniques

The surrounding waters can be abundant with food sources.

  • Hand Fishing: In shallow waters, it’s possible to catch fish with bare hands, although it requires patience.
  • Makeshift Fishing Rod: Use a long stick, line (vines or thin plant fibers), and a crafted hook from bone or thorn.
  • Traps: Create a trap in tidal zones using rocks in a V-shape, with the open end facing the sea. Fish can swim in during high tide and get trapped during low tide.
  • Spearing: Sharpened sticks can serve as spears for larger fish in shallow areas.

Food preservation methods

In the absence of refrigeration, preserving food becomes vital.

  • Drying: Lay thinly sliced food on a flat surface in direct sunlight. This method works for fish, fruits, and some meats.
  • Salting: If you have access to saltwater, you can make salt by evaporating the water. Salt can then be used to cure fish or meat.
  • Smoking: Using wood smoke will not only cook but also preserve food, giving it a longer shelf-life and a unique flavor.

Risks of consuming unfamiliar plants and animals

Being adventurous with food sources can be dangerous.

  • Toxicity: Some plants and fish, especially in tropical regions, can be toxic. Familiarize yourself with local dangers.
  • Parasites: Consuming raw or undercooked food, especially meat, can expose you to parasites.
  • Allergic Reactions: Even if a plant or animal is edible, one might still be allergic. Always test in small amounts first.
  • Conservation: Some species might be endangered. Always prioritize sustainability and avoid depleting resources.

Navigation and Signaling

As days turn into weeks, the importance of making contact with the outside world or finding your way back home becomes paramount. The vastness of the ocean and the isolation of an island can make you feel hopelessly lost. However, with the right techniques, you can increase your chances of being rescued or navigate safely off the island.

Creating and using signals

Being visible and making your presence known is vital.

  • Fire: One of the most recognizable distress signals. By adding green vegetation to a fire, you can produce thick, black smoke that can be seen from miles away.
  • Ground Markings: Large symbols, such as SOS, made on the ground with rocks or logs, can be seen from the air.
  • Reflective Surfaces: Mirrors, polished metal, or even a shiny piece of glass can be used to reflect sunlight and catch the attention of passing planes or ships.
  • Sound: In case you hear a plane or nearby ship, making loud noises using tools, instruments, or even your voice can alert them to your presence.

Understanding basic navigation

If you decide to move around the island or try to leave it:

  • The Sun and Stars: The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, providing a general sense of direction. At night, the North Star (in the Northern Hemisphere) or the Southern Cross (in the Southern Hemisphere) can guide you.
  • Landmarks: Noting unique formations or features can help you avoid going in circles.
  • Stick and Shadow: Plant a stick upright and observe the shadow it casts. Marking the tip of the shadow every few hours can give you an east-west line.
  • Flowing Water: Streams and rivers usually lead to larger bodies of water, which might be the coastline.

Building a makeshift raft or boat

In extreme situations, if staying on the island is not sustainable:

  • Material Selection: Bamboo, logs, or large pieces of driftwood float well. For binding, use vines, strips of clothing, or other pliable materials.
  • Stability: A wider base will make your raft more stable. Consider attaching outriggers (long poles) to either side.
  • Sail: While not mandatory, a makeshift sail can be made from clothing, leaves, or other large, flat materials.
  • Paddle: If you don’t have a proper oar, flat pieces of wood, or even your hands, will do in a pinch. Remember, the goal is movement, not speed.

Long-Term Survival

If rescue isn’t immediately on the horizon, preparing for an extended stay becomes critical. You’re not just surviving the elements; you’re also fighting against time, limited resources, and the potential decline of your mental state. Mastering the art of long-term island survival requires more than just basic skills—it demands adaptability, foresight, and a sustainable approach.

Long-Term Survival

Maintaining mental and emotional well-being

An often underestimated aspect of survival, your mental state can be your greatest ally or foe.

  • Routine: Establishing daily tasks and routines can provide a sense of purpose and normality.
  • Stay Active: Physical activities, like swimming or walking, can boost mood and reduce feelings of anxiety or depression.
  • Positive Outlook: Focus on the positive aspects, celebrate small victories, and remind yourself of your reasons to stay alive and hopeful.

Resource management

Your resources are finite, so using them wisely ensures your survival efforts are sustainable.

  • Water Conservation: Collect rainwater, and avoid wasting it. Use broad leaves as catchment areas.
  • Food Rationing: Don’t eat all your food at once, no matter how tempted. Establish a ration system.
  • Reuse and Recycle: Before discarding anything, think of how it might be repurposed.
Sustainable practices

Minimizing your impact on the island’s ecosystem ensures it continues to support you.

  • Take Only What You Need: Overfishing or overharvesting can deplete resources quickly.
  • Composting: Use organic waste to enrich the soil and support plant growth.
  • Natural Deterrents: Use plants or natural remedies to repel pests instead of killing them.
Building and using tools

With limited modern tools, you’ll need to craft your own from available materials.

  • Stone Tools: Sharp-edged stones can be used for cutting or as the head of a makeshift axe.
  • Bone and Shell: These can be fashioned into hooks, needles, or other tools.

Crafting essentials from island materials

Going beyond tools, the island can provide materials for essential items.

Creating fishing gear
  • Hooks: Small bone fragments or shells can be carved into hooks.
  • Nets: Vines or long grasses can be woven together. This can also double as a trap for small terrestrial animals.
Weaving clothing and footwear

Clothes will wear out, and you’ll need protection from the elements.

  • Leaves and Grass: Large leaves, especially from palm trees, can be woven to make basic sandals or hats.
  • Animal Skins: If you’ve hunted, repurpose the animal hides. They can be dried and used as clothing or shelter material.

Potential Dangers and Hazards

Deserted islands aren’t always the paradise they’re made out to be in movies. From unpredictable wildlife to relentless natural elements, potential dangers lurk at every turn. Familiarizing yourself with these threats is the first step in avoiding or overcoming them.

Potential Dangers and Hazards

Dealing with wildlife

Nature thrives in places untouched by humans. While many creatures are harmless, others can pose significant threats.

Avoiding dangerous animals
  • Marine Life: Be cautious when navigating coral reefs. Watch out for venomous creatures like stonefish or lionfish.
  • Land Creatures: Snakes can be a concern, especially in tropical climates. Always watch your step and avoid reaching into places you can’t see.
  • Birds and Insects: While birds are generally not a threat, certain insects, like wasps or larger spiders, can be. Wear protective clothing and be cautious when disturbing their habitats.
First aid for bites and stings
  • Immediate Response: For venomous bites, keep calm and limit movement. Don’t cut the wound or try to suck out the venom.
  • Natural Remedies: Some plants have anti-inflammatory properties that can help with insect stings.
  • Always Seek Rescue: If bitten by a dangerous animal, prioritize signaling for rescue or finding a way off the island.

Weather challenges

The whims of the weather can vary vastly, and being prepared is crucial.

Surviving storms
  • Find Shelter: If a storm is approaching, find a sheltered location away from trees that might fall.
  • Stay Dry: Wet conditions can lead to hypothermia, even in warmer climates. Use large leaves or crafted shelters to stay dry.
  • Avoid Open Areas: These are prime locations for lightning strikes.
Protecting against sunburn and heatstroke
  • Shade: Create or find shade during the peak hours of the sun. Large leaves or cloths can be used.
  • Clothing: Wear light, breathable clothing that covers your skin.
  • Stay Hydrated: Always keep a water source close by and drink regularly.

Medical emergencies

On a deserted island, there’s no 911 to call. Knowing how to handle medical emergencies becomes essential.

Common injuries and illnesses
  • Cuts and Scrapes: Keep wounds clean and covered to prevent infection. Use boiled saltwater if necessary.
  • Dehydration: Recognizable by extreme thirst, dark urine, and dizziness. Prioritize finding water.
  • Digestive Issues: Eating unfamiliar plants or uncooked food can lead to stomach issues. Be cautious with your food sources.
First aid and improvisation
  • Splints: Use sticks and clothing pieces for broken bones.
  • Natural Antibiotics: Some plants have antibacterial properties. However, always be sure of a plant’s properties before using.
  • Tourniquets: If there’s severe bleeding, use a piece of cloth or vine to tie above the wound tightly, but not for extended periods.

Rescue and Escape

While mastering the art of survival is essential, the ultimate goal on a deserted island is to be rescued or find a way to safety. To optimize your chances of being spotted and saved, a strategic approach to signaling and observation is necessary.

Rescue and Escape

Building and using distress signals

Making yourself visible and your distress known is paramount.

  • Fire: A smoke signal during the day can be seen from miles away. Green or wet leaves added to a fire produce thick smoke.
  • Mirrors or Shiny Objects: Reflecting the sun’s rays can catch the attention of passing ships or planes.
  • SOS Sign: Large signs on the beach with rocks, logs, or any available materials can be spotted from the air.
  • Sound: Loud noises, like banging on objects or shouting at regular intervals, can alert nearby rescuers.

Navigating towards potential rescue points

If you’ve determined that staying put isn’t an option:

  • High Points: Climbing to the highest point of the island can give you a vantage point to spot ships, other islands, or potential rescue points.
  • Map and Compass: If you have them, they can be invaluable. Even without a map, a compass can help you maintain a consistent direction.
  • Natural Indicators: Birds often fly towards land in the evenings, and following streams can lead to larger bodies of water or settlements.

Monitoring for passing ships or aircraft

Your rescue might hinge on being seen or heard.

  • Regular Vigilance: Dedicate time each day, especially at dawn and dusk, to scan the horizon for ships.
  • Night Signals: Fires or torches can be visible at night and might catch the attention of passing vessels.
  • Listening: Aircraft engines can be heard even if the plane isn’t directly overhead. Being prepared to signal in any direction is vital.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do I find drinkable water on a deserted island?

Look for freshwater streams, collect rainwater, or dig a hole in low ground areas. Morning dew on plants can also be a source.

What should I do if I encounter dangerous wildlife?

Stay calm, avoid direct eye contact, back away slowly, and never corner or provoke the animal.

Can I survive on a deserted island without any equipment?

Yes, but it’s challenging. Prioritize shelter, water, and food. Use natural resources and adaptability to your advantage.

What should I include in my survival kit?

Knife, fire starter, water purification tablets, first aid kit, signaling mirror, compass, and durable rope.

How long can I realistically survive on a deserted island?

Varies based on resources. Without water, a few days. Without food, up to 8 weeks. Skills and environment play a role.

What are the legal and environmental considerations of being on a deserted island?

Some islands are protected territories or private. Damaging ecosystems or wildlife habitats can have legal consequences. Respect and preserve your environment.


In our journey through island survival, we’ve covered crucial principles: understanding the environment, preparing in advance, harnessing available resources, and signaling for rescue. Your mindset, characterized by positivity and resilience, can make the difference between survival and despair.

To all adventure seekers: embrace challenges, but always be prepared. We hope that this guide has been helpful. You can read about similar topics here on our website. Check back again soon for more.

About The Author

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top