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While many are intimidated by the idea of venturing into a jungle, you should bear in mind that if you have the basic jungle survival skills under your belt, like obtaining water, food, and shelter, it doesn’t have to be the horror show that most folks imagine.
If you are a woodsman or woodswoman from North America or Europe, you might even find that learning how to survive in the jungle feels more natural than you expected.
And sadly, with the over hunting that has gone on in recent years, some jungles might even strike you as “tame”!
But like anything else, every jungle falls on a spectrum—jungle survival is harder in some places than others.
In this article, we’ll talk about:
If you want to learn more about the survival tools you should bring to a jungle, check out our guide on the best jungle survival gear.
We’ll start out by discussing the absolute minimum jungle gear you would ideally have if you ventured into the jungle. Here is our list and an explanation of each item:
This one item is kind of the biggest deal. With just this giant knife, you are able to cut, dig, chop, and even whittle.
There’s a reason that people who live in jungles almost always have a machete nearby.
It doesn’t need to be something fancy, but obviously a better made machete is desirable.
Watch this demonstration of how to swing a machete safely and effectively.
Just any survival knife will do. There’s a million designs, but as long it is about 3-4 inches long and relatively tough, that’s all you’ll need.
No machete or survival knife?
Then it’s time to get medieval…maybe even prehistoric. You can improvise cutting edges from stone. Making a cutting edge by chipping or “flaking” a stone is an amazing skill that has been all but lost.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t find stones and split them to make a sharp edge or chip away at their edges to make a “blade”. If cavemen could learn to do it, so can you.
See how this skilled gentleman makes a bow and arrow with just some stone tools.
If possible, bring a few things to help you start a fire in the jungle. Lighters and matches are obvious, but don’t forget about tinder, the small stuff you light on fire to get your bigger fuel burning.
Here are some well-burning tinder options:
These obviously aren’t all the things you can use. Check out some even more unusual items for starting fires.
No gear to start a fire?
There are many techniques to start fires in the jungle. One of the best is the bamboo “saw” method.
If you don’t have bamboo, here are some other traditional methods that work too, but they may just not be as “easy”, although no traditional fire-starting techniques is exactly easy.
The video below shows the bamboo saw method for starting a fire in the jungle.
A US Army Ranger friend once said that he placed iodine tablets way at the top of his list for jungle survival items. Carrying these tablets with you is easy and they are pretty cheap.
You might not like the way your water tastes, but even some of the most disgusting water can be made drinkable when you add these tablets to it.
Be sure to follow the instructions on the bottle/packaging closely, as iodine is poisonous in the wrong quantities.
No iodine tablets?
Your best bet is to boil your water. Bamboo, which is plentiful in most jungles, can be cut into vessels that will hold up to a fire long enough for you to boil water.
Some of the leaves you find in the jungle can also be large enough to allow you to fold them and make a small “pot” in which you can boil water as well.
Below is a video of a person demonstrating how to boil water in a leaf in the jungle.
Trying to survive at night, in the jungle, with no light source whatsoever can be a pretty miserable experience.
Without a light source, much of your activity will essentially have to stop when the sun goes down.
The best kind of flashlight to keep around is something that can be worn on your head. Freeing up your hands so that you can work is super important.
Your best bet is to try and get a campfire going before nightfall and then do whatever you need to do close to this light source.
About 20-30 feet of any small-sized rope or “cordage” will work, but nothing really beats military-grade paracord.
You’ll find more uses than you ever imagined for this stuff if you really wind up having to survive.
You’ll need to make some natural small ropes or “cordage” out of natural resources around you.
Here is a video of someone using what is around them to make useful cordage.
There’s really no perfect shoe for the jungle. If you wear something waterproof, your boots become buckets when you hike through a swamp or if it rains.
If you wear something like crocs or sandals, your feet will dry out easier, but thorns, twigs, and anything that bites can hurt you.
It’s actually pretty hard to beat the old fashioned jungle boots produced by the US Army. They are usually pretty cheap, as they are essentially designed to be disposable.
The biggest downside to these quick-drying, vented, lightweight boots is that they usually have pretty poor quality insoles.
But if you pair these boots with your own insole inserts, the kind that you cut to custom fit your shoes, you will be in pretty good shape.
Another option, but less ideal, is a pair of regular old Chuck Taylor-style high-top sneakers. The canvas dries out quick and Chuck’s are pretty tough.
The biggest downside is how little tread these shoes have. If your jungle is more of a mushy rainforest vs. regular “woods” or you are dealing with heavy rains, the hills and mountainsides will remind you of melting cheese as you try to climb them.
In those conditions, Chucks might not cut it. But plenty of operators on recon missions made Chucks work for them in Vietnam, so don’t rule them out. At the very least, they pack flat and can be carried as spare footwear.
As far as clothing goes, you want things that dry out easily and quickly. Cotton is a “wonder material” in the jungle. Cotton is light, it dries quickly, and it breathes.
Something less permeable, like polyester for example, isn’t going to let heat off of your body and let air touch your skin.
It can also get sticky and trap moisture, which can range from just being uncomfortable to actually causing something more serious like a fungal infection.
You’ll also want to opt for long-sleeved clothing vs. short-sleeved. If the mosquitoes and insects aren’t too bad, you can always roll sleeves up or just cut them off.
But you’ll be very sorry if you want sleeves for protection from the elements and don’t have them.
Like the boots, it’s actually pretty hard to beat US Army fatigues for jungle clothing. If you asked a Vietnam-era Navy Seal, he might tell you that jeans are the way to go. And you can make jeans work too.
Jeans are tough and a good pair will serve you well in the jungle. Just remember that jeans take a long time to dry and are heavy when wet.
You might have to dry them out near a fire or in the sun periodically to make sure you avoid being a fungus magnet.
Any kind of hat is better than nothing. Just make sure you have some sort of covering for your head to save you from the sun.
Boonie hats are perfect for the jungle because they “crush” down for packing and when made from a cotton blend, they will dry out quickly too.
A pair of leather work gloves is also a good idea to have on you. If you find yourself clearing brush/bushwhacking to make your way, you will be glad to have a pair of gloves to help move things like thorns out of your way.
No boots or clothing?
Let’s be honest. Making your own boots and clothing is a pretty tall order. Obviously, unless you are used to the jungle or grew up there, being barefoot and/or naked is a bad idea.
Of the two problems, you’d probably, even surprisingly, struggle less with having no shoes than you would with not having clothing. While not ideal for most folks, your feet can put up with more than most people think.
Obviously you would really need to watch your step.
When it comes to clothing, you would simply need to improvise with whatever you could find. You might be able to make some sort of hat or covering from things like banana leaves.
Maybe the worst part of not having clothing is the lack of protection from insects. Depending on where you are, you might want to smear things like dirt from termite mounds or carry a little bunch of smoldering sticks to fend off mosquitoes.
If you were in a vehicle that crashed and stranded you in the jungle, don’t overlook all of the fabric and other useful materials that line cars and airplanes.
There are more cases than you might think where lost people were discovered, dead or alive, not that far from civilization.
Some jungles are even more insulated and walled off than you can imagine — causing you to easily lose your bearings.
Most importantly, the density of the jungle can feel very overwhelming.
A jungle with a canopy that barely lets in the sun can almost feel claustrophobic.
Psychologically and physically, you need to keep moving, you need an objective. The best objective is to get out of there!
There are two schools of thought about finding your way out:
The first approach is great if you know where you are going. Navigating to a point of safety or rescue is ideal, especially if you happen to know that it is not a long or dangerous journey to get there.
There are a number of methods for finding direction—enough to have a whole other article on the topic. Here is a useful guide for direction finding without a compass.
But even if you have a compass, if you don’t know where you are going, you may want to use the next approach.
The “down, down, down” method is as simple as it gets. Basically, you are just going to follow any natural elements “down”. The theory is that the further down you go, the closer you tend to get to other humans.
So, if you are on a mountain, go down the mountain. When you get to the bottom of the mountain, you might find a river, a road, or railroad tracks—all of which are features that attract people.
Keep following these “people magnets” downhill as well, until you bump into someone who can help.
It is really simple advice, just keep going downward, but it is solid. Most importantly, it gives you a clear mission plan to follow and requires no special tools to execute.
But remember, it is best saved for when you truly have no idea where to go.
Let’s go into some of the basic jungle survival skills. We can’t go over EVERYTHING you could and should know, but this is a great place to get started.
Other than dealing with an injury, this is the most important issue to overcome in the jungle.
You will be sweating and using up a ton of water as you survive and navigate your way out of the jungle. The good news is that there is plenty of water if you know where to look.
Many jungles are full of bamboo and banana trees, which is great news for you!
Bamboo and banana trees can contain some of the cleanest water you could ask for in the wild. It’s easy to get this water too, here’s how:
Take a look at this guy’s tutorial on how to get water from bamboo and you’ll see it’s an easy process.
Banana trees are also easy to use for water. Just cut them off about 8 inches above the soil. Scoop out a 5-inch deep “bowl” in the top of the stump you’ve created.
Wait a few minutes and harvest the water that collects in the bowl! You can come back multiple times, for this water as it will continue to refill naturally.
This video shows how easy it is to get water out of a banana tree.
If you are going to settle down for the night, you should try to put together a shelter that will at least keep the rain off of you while you sleep.
If you are used to hiking and camping in North America, you may already be familiar with the lean-to style of survival shelter that is taught in many survival manuals.
This kind of shelter is great, but it doesn’t get you up and off of the ground.
In addition to getting too moist, being on the ground puts you more directly in the way of things like spiders, centipedes, and snakes.
Also, scorpions really like to sting you when you are asleep.
Be as creative as you want. All that matters is that you are elevated and stay dry.
Take a look below at how to make a shelter in the jungle that will meet those needs.
If you want to learn more about different types of survival shelters, check out our guide on how to build a shelter in the wilderness.
Now that you have your skeleton shelter built, you can work on making it rainproof.
If you happen to have a tarp, a large rain poncho, or space blanket, these things work great as a quick rainproof covering.
If not, you’ll need to be creative and cover your roof with whatever you can find. Most jungles have an abundance of broad leaves. If you can find a banana tree, those leaves are like instant shingles.
“Thatching” or making a natural roof is a craft in and of itself. But basically, just make sure you overlap your leaves like shingles. It helps to start tying your thatching on from the bottom and working your way to the top.
Once all your shingles are in place on the sides, take some large leaves, bend them in half, and overlap them down the length of your overhead beam.
Again, like the walls, it is easier to begin adding these leaves at the lower end and working your way to the higher end.
Just keep in mind, you don’t want to spend too much energy perfecting your shelter. It doesn’t have to be a “jungle survival house”.
It just has to keep you dry and safe overnight.
There’s usually plenty to eat in the jungle and most of it doesn’t take a ton of work to find. While everyone thinks about trapping, hunting, and fishing…that stuff takes a ton of energy.
The fatigue of sweating and moving all day is very taxing. You need to conserve energy.
Here’s what will keep you fueled up without wearing you down:
Here are some plants and bugs that are easy to find and good to eat in many jungles:
There are literally hundreds of species of insects and plants that are edible, but it differs based on where you are.
Here are some general tips to help you determine edibility:
Obviously if you are stranded in a jungle because your plane crashed or your boat has run aground, you won’t know what jungle to prepare for.
But let’s say you know you’ll be doing some hiking in Costa Rica or rural Thailand on a vacation. Or maybe your company has sent you to a remote location in Mexico to do some sort of survey work.
None of these scenarios are dangerous, but things can go sideways.
What if your Costa Rica or Thai jungle guide gets hurt? What if your jeep crashes on the way to the job site in Mexico…in the middle of nowhere?
It won’t hurt to come with some knowledge, published information, like a rainforest survival guide or jungle guidebook, or even some internet print outs about exactly where you are going.
At the very least, with that extra info, you’ll get more out of your time in whatever place you wind up. In the most extreme cases, some of this forward thinking could save your life.
The topic of jungle survival is very broad and varies by the type of jungle you will be traveling to.
Hopefully this guide has given you some basic jungle skills to prepare you for the most common survival scenarios you might be faced with in a jungle.
However, to get the most of these tips and suggestions you need to practice and become comfortable with these situations before your life depends on them.
On top of this jungle survival skills guide, we also recommend you have a look over our other skills guides, starting with the basic survival skills.