Keep it Simple, Stupid: Applying the KISS Principle to Your Survival Planning

Survival can be an extremely complex business, especially for the unprepared. But even for those of us who take the time to prepare, surviving is filled with challenges. Enough challenges that it could take all our time to fulfill our basic needs.

The last thing any of us need to do, is make survival more complicated. If anything, we need to be making things easier for ourselves to survive. As I look around me at the survival community today, I see some people who are making things simpler for themselves, while I see others who are making things much more complex. Unfortunately, at times it is those who are making things more complex who are garnering all the attention, rather than those who are making things easier.

Back when I got my start in survival, things were pretty simple. There really wasn’t a “survival niche market” like there is today. We got most of our survival gear from the camping and backpacking market. That meant that the gear much simpler. Much of what is available today just plain didn’t exist.

But while much of the new gear has improved the potential quality of life in a post-disaster world, I can see places where it has made survival more complicated. That’s a natural result of raising the standard of living. However, in other cases, people have hyped equipment and techniques for survival that might not be the best choice, simply because of their complexity.

I’m a former engineer, so I understand that the more complex something is, the more likely it is to break. I spent a lot of years pushing the KISS principle in the workplace. If you’re not familiar with what that means, it stands for “Keep it Simple Stupid.”

Now, before you get upset at me, I’m not calling you stupid. But I think we can agree that we can all do stupid things at times. One of those is to make things more complicated than they actually need to be. In a survival situation, that bit of stupidity can cost us our lives. Let me give you some examples.

Fire Starting

starting a fire

The ability to start a fire is widely recognized as a critical survival skill. We use fire to keep us warm, cook our food, purify water and keep wild animals away. Yet, when you look at what people are touting as fire starting methods, I have to wonder if they truly realize how serious that need is. Too much time is spent on difficult to use fire starting methods, rather than focusing on the simplest and most effective ones.

Take the Ferro Rod for example. These are popular because they are cheap and compact. But have you ever really tried to start a fire with one? Even worse, have you ever tried to start a fire with one in wet weather? Good luck. The Ferro Rod produces just a few sparks, which are supposed to be used to start tinder smoldering. But if the tinder is damp at all, you can forget that.

I also see a lot of people talking about friction methods of fire starting, such as the bow drill. Now, I agree that it is worthwhile learning how to make and use a bow drill, because it can be made out of materials you find in the wild. But I sure wouldn’t want to use one as my primary fire starter.

My favorite fire starter is a piezoelectric butane lighter. The piezoelectric igniter on these lighters keeps reigniting the fuel over and over again, as long as the gas switch is depressed. This eliminates the problem of the lighter being blown out by the wind, making it simple and effective to use.

Building a Temporary Shelter

temporary shelter

Shelter is one of our top survival priorities, because it is needed for helping us maintain our body temperature. This is especially critical in wet weather, as wet clothing will make us lose our body heat faster than being naked. Yet few people carry any sort of shelter in their bug out bag.

The most commonly touted temporary survival shelter today is the debris hut. This can be made out of readily-available, natural materials, assuming you are in a forest. They’ll keep you warm and dry, even they aren’t all that big.

But it takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a quarter to make a debris hut; and that’s assuming you are in a forest, with lots of sticks and leaves on the forest floor. But what if you’re in an area where there is no forest; what do you do then?

I prefer carrying an ultra-light tarp in my pack and using this to make a shelter. I’ve made many an emergency shelter out of nothing more than this tarp, some paracord and sticks; and I’ve done it I ten minutes or less. Simple, right?

Purifying Water

purified water

After the ability to keep warm, the next most important survival need is clean water. How difficult it will be to find water will depend a lot on where you are. There are parts of the country where you will be surrounded by water and there will be others where you have to walk days to find it. In either case, purifying that water, before using it, is critical.

There are a number of different kinds of water purifiers out there, including filters, chemicals and heat purification. While the chemical and heat purifying methods work, the simplest is using a filter. The only problem with that is that any filter has a limited life, measured in how many gallons it will purify. So you may want to carry more than one.

What makes a filter so good, is that it is simple to use. Regardless of whether you are using a straw-type filter or a bag-type filter, you can filter water quickly and easily. That’s important when you’re thirsty.

As a backup to that, you can always boil water. For some reason, most people carry plastic water bottles today. I don’t. I carry a stainless-steel one. That way, I can put it in the fire to boil my water, if I have to use heat purification to ensure that my water is safe to drink.



We all know that firearms are the weapon of choice for simplicity of use and effectiveness. But many writers (myself included) are suggesting having silent weapons as well. Some are going so far as to say that your guns won’t work, claiming that you won’t have ammunition for them. Of course, that will depend a lot on how much ammunition you have stockpiled.

A wide variety of alternative weapons have been suggested at one time or another. Some are logical and some fanciful. In some cases, it looks like the writer’s main purpose in picking a particular weapon was to come up with something different, and nothing more.

If you need an alternate weapon or a silent weapon, let history show you the way. The bow has been one of the most effective weapons throughout history. It can be used for hunting, self-defense and even outright war. Being silent, it won’t attract attention. And while you probably can’t make a compound bow out of materials you can find in the woods, you can make a respectable recurve bow, if you take the time to do it right.

While the bow may not be as powerful as a gun, it is roughly as difficult to learn how to use. It has also been proven by history that it can be highly deadly. So that makes it a much more practical weapon to chose, than other silent weapons.

A Final Thought

I could keep going on and on here, talking about tools, methods and supplies. But I hope you see my point. That is, make sure that you are selecting the simplest thing that will do what you need and do it well. You need something that’s going to be easy to use and reliable, or you’re not going to survive.

Let me leave you with this final thought. If you fall in a river just before nightfall, you are at high risk of getting hypothermia when the sun goes down. If hypothermia starts setting in, you’re going to need to get a fire going fast. Even a few minutes of extra time can allow your body temperature to drop to the point where you can think logically. If that happens, you may stop trying to start your fire and just wander off, ending up dead.

So having a fire starting method that is reliable, can work quickly and can handle getting wet is critical. Those who don’t might die trying to get their fire started. The same applies to just about everything else. Go for simplicity, as it could be the difference between living and “he died trying.



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