Wilderness Survival Workshop


Course Syllabus



Desert Survival



Survival: Starting a FireWILDERNESS SURVIVAL WORKSHOP (PE 2272)

Department of Sport Science & Physical Education, Idaho State University



Course: Wilderness Survival Workshop (PE 2272)


Semesters: Fall


Time: Workshop Class: the class is held three evenings during the week and overnight on the weekend. Check schedule for exact dates.

Place: Course is held in the Southeast Idaho area.


Instructor: Justin Dayley


Email:  dayljust@isu.edu 




“Designed to equip candidates with knowledge necessary for a 72 hour survival situation. Content includes shelter building, recognizing and treating frostbite, signaling, fire building, survival psychology, nutrition needs, clothing and equipment.”





The Sports Science and Physical Education Department’s Outdoor Education curriculum at Idaho State is based on a foundation of five nationally recognized standards.  The following standard applies to this course:  


Standard #5  Outdoor Education Experiential Skills and Field Experience Outdoor educators understand the techniques, equipment and safety procedures associated with a variety of outdoor skills; have taken ample opportunity to learn, practice and refine outdoor skills; and have gained practical experience in leading outdoor activities and/or teaching outdoor skills.


Fire Essentials



Wilderness Survival Activity Definition: Survival skills are techniques a person may use in a dangerous situation to save themselves or others. Generally speaking, these techniques are meant to provide the basic necessities for human life: water, food, shelter, and the need to think straight, to signal for help, to navigate safely, to avoid unpleasant interactions with animals and plants and for first aid. Survival skills are often basic ideas and abilities that ancient humans had to use for thousands of years, so these skills are partially a reenactment of history. Many of these skills are the ways to enjoy extended periods of time in remote places, or a way to thrive in nature. Even hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, fishing, hunting, or some other activity, you need to make sure you have the basic wilderness survival skills to handle an emergency situation. Some people use these skills to better appreciate nature and for recreation, not just survival.

Survival History Summary:   About a half million years ago, man's first true breakthrough occurred. It came in the form of harnessing fire. This was the first time that man could control any aspect of nature. Fire allowed heat and light when nature provided none, and allowed people to inhabit the relative safety of caves and other rudimentary shelters. The era of the early "caveman" had arrived. About 100,000 years ago, the first stone tools were developed, and with these came a lot more control over nature. The first dwellings were built, and the first clothing was crafted from skins and pelts. Soon, basic grass and fiber weaves were added to the clothing lineup.


Over the next 80,000 years, these additions to mankind's communal knowledge caused a population explosion. During this time, mankind could travel far and wide, as he had clothes to protect against foul weather. Mankind no longer relied on nature to provide shelter, he could build it and even carry it with him as necessary. These factors caused a major expansion of the areas inhabited by mankind, which extended throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and eventually across the Bering Straits to the Americas.

 In much of the world, what was known as the "Stone Age" came to an end with the first extraction of copper from ore. Metal tools launched a new age in which much of the world enjoyed a prosperous and technologically explosive period of development. Those areas that were isolated from this knowledge and growth were left far behind, and were (quite literally) still in the "Stone Age". I do not use this term as a derogatory statement, I use it merely as an honest historical assessment.

The last 5000 years of human history has seen many significant breakthroughs in what was essentially a long-term technology explosion. The advancements include iron, steel, glass, sundials, timekeeping, modern cloth & clothing, paper, sailing ships, windmills, chariots, carts, carriages, horseshoes, stirrups, hammers, saws (and many other construction tools), stoves, lamps, gunpowder, cannon, firearms, etc etc etc. All of this happened throughout Europe, Asia and northern Africa as a wide variety of cultures and civilizations competed for dominance and learned from the advances of their neighbors. 

Wilderness Survival Philosophy Summary:   Survival training has many components, mental competence and physical fitness being two. Mental competence includes the skills listed in this article, as well as the ability to admit the existence of a crisis, overcome panic, and think clearly. Physical fitness includes, among other abilities, carrying loads over long distances on rough terrain. Theoretical knowledge of survival skills is useful only if it can be applied effectively in the wilderness. Almost all Survival Skills are environment specific and require training in a particular environment.

Survival training may be broken down into three types, or schools; Modern Wilderness Survival, Bush craft, and Primitive Survival Techniques.

Modern Wilderness Survival teaches the skills needed to survive Short-Term (1 to 4 Days) and Medium-Term (4 to 40 Days) survival situations.
"Bushcraft" is the combination of Modern Wilderness Survival and useful Primitive Survival Techniques. It normally splits its skill acquisition between Medium-Term Survival Techniques (4 to 40 Days) and Long-Term Survival Techniques (40 Days Plus).

Primitive Survival Techniques or "Primitive Living" teaches the skills needed to survive over the Long-Term (40 days plus). Many primitive technology skills require much more practice and may be more environment specific. Survival training may be broken down into three types, or schools; Modern Wilderness Survival, Bush craft, and Primitive Survival Techniques.

Different training is necessary to survive in different climates. Although one technique may work in a dry sub-Saharan area, the same methods may actually be a detriment to health in an arctic climate.



The course is taught in the Rendezvous building for three evening sessions to prepare students for the required overnight filed session. The weekend trip allows students to apply the skills they’ve learned in the classroom to a simulated survival scenario.  The course is designed to help students develop skills, form an appreciation for safety, and gain an understanding of survival techniques and equipment.  The following value statements help guide course strategy:


Objective 1 (Academic Objective): To gain an understanding of winter survival theory. 

Objective 1 Learning Outcomes - By the end of the course, students will:

1a. Be able to assess various cold injures and demonstrate how to treat them.
1b. Be able to explain the difference between active and passive signals and how to construct or use each.
1c. Be able to explain the importance of proper nutrition and hydration while recreating in the winter.
1d. Be able to explain how the psychology of survival can affect a persons ability to survive.

Objective 2 (Academic Objective):  To develop an appreciation and understanding of the safety procedures involved with survival and an overview of the function and use of survival equipment.

Objective 2 Learning Outcomes – By the end of the course, students will:


2a. Be able to demonstrate the proper use of layering clothes for survival.
2b. Be able to construct a survival/first aid kit suitable for cold weather and explain why the items contained in their kit were chosen.
2c. Demonstrate the proper use of a saw to build several types of debris shelters.
2d. Demonstrate how to properly layer a sleeping system to survive a night out in a shelter.


Objective 3 (Motor Skill Objective):  To develop basic motor skills in wilderness survival

Objective 3 Learning Outcomes – By the end of the course, students will:

3a. Demonstrate how to properly build a passive signal.
3b. Demonstrate how to signal using reflective surfaces such as a survival mirror.
3c. Demonstrate how to build several types of survival shelters.
3d. Demonstrate how to cook outside.
3e. Demonstrate how to stay the night in a shelter.
3f. Demonstrate how to build fires using 3 different techniques.



Grades for this course are determined by using a point system.  The final grade is reached by adding points from three components:

Total Number of Points Possible:  100 pts


Weekend Field Session:  A required overnight field session will be held. You must attend the entire field session to receive a passing grade for the course. 


Grading Example: As an example of how grades are determine, let’s say that a student in the course attends 2 out of the possible 3 total evening class sessions for 16.6 pts. and attend the field session 50 pts; and they receive and 25 pts. on the written final.  Here’s how the grade would be calculated:

  • Attendance and Participation  2 x 8.3 =  16.6 pts.
  • Field session 50 pts.
  • Written Final 25 pts.

Total Points:  16.6 + 50 + 25 = 91.6
Percentage Grade: 91.6 / 100 = 91.6%
Letter Grade - Using the ISU grading scale (below):  A-


A         93-100             C+       78-80               D-        63-65
A-        90-92.9            C         75-77               F          62-below
B+       87-89               C-        72-74
B         84-86               D+       69-71
B-        81-83               D         66-68




Course Segment

Topic and/or Skills


Tuesday Evening 6 – 9 pm

Hypothermia, hyperthermia, signaling, group dynamics

Objective 1, 3 and Learning Outcomes 1a, 3a

Wednesday Evening 6 – 9 pm

Nutrition, hydration, shelter, clothing

Objective 1, 2, 3 and Learning Outcomes 1c, 2a, 2c, 2d, 3c,

Tuesday Evening 6 – 9 pm

Psychology, Fire, Survival kits

Objective 1, 2, 3 and Learning Outcomes 1d, 2b, 3f

Saturday Morning 8 am - Noon

Travel to field location and construct active and passive signals, build three fires per student, construct shelters


Objective 1, 2, 3 and Learning Outcomes 1b, 2c, 3a, 3c

Saturday Afternoon 1– 2 pm

Construct debris shelters

Objective 1, 2, 3 and Learning Outcomes 1a, 1c, 1d, 2a, 2c, 3c,

Saturday Afternoon 2 – 3:30 pm

Give peer feedback on the construction of debris shelters

Objective 1, 2, 3 and Learning Outcomes 1a, 1c, 1d, 2a, 2c, 3c,

Saturday Afternoon 3:30 -4:30 pm

Construct a survival camp

Objective 1, 2, 3 and Learning Outcomes 1a, 1c, 1d, 2a, 2c, 3c,

Saturday Afternoon 4:30 – 5:30 pm

Stay the night in shelters, prepare dinner

Objective 1, 2, 3 and Learning Outcomes 1a, 1c, 1d, 2a, 2c, 2d, 3d, 3e,

Sunday Morning 8 – 9:30 am

Fire making practice, cook breakfast

Objective 1, 2, 3 and Learning Outcomes 1a, 1c, 1d, 2a, 2c, 2d, 3d, 3e,

Sunday Morning 9:30 - Noon

Discuss group dynamics, survival kits and first aid kits

Objective 1, 2,  and Learning Outcomes 1d, 2b, 2c,

Sunday Afternoon 1-2:30 pm

Tear down of shelters and travel to ISU campus

Objective 1, 2, 3 and Learning Outcomes 1c, 2a, 3c, 3e,




If you have a diagnosed disability or believe that you have a disability that might require “reasonable accommodation” on the part of the instructor, please call the Director, ADA & Disabilities Resource Center, 282-3599.  As a part of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is the responsibility of the student to disclose a disability prior to requesting reasonable accommodation.




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