Hi everyone. I am a professional survival instructor and former fire/rescue helicopter crew member. My services have been sought by some of the most elite military teams in the world. I have consulted for tv and film, and my courses range from Alaska field training, to desert survival near Mexico, to Urban Disaster Readiness in Orange County, Ca. Ask me anything you want about wilderness survival- what gear is best, how to splint a leg, unorthodox resource procurement in urban areas, all that, I'm up for anything. EDIT: We have a patreon with training videos for those asking about courses:




EDIT: From my about us: *6 Years of Fire/Rescue Experience   *Former Firefighting Helicopter Crew Member (HELITACK)  *EMT    *Helicopter Rescue Team Member   *Helicopter Rappeller   *Search & Rescue Technician   *Fire Crew Squad Leader   *Confined Space Rescue   *Techinical Ropes Rescue   *Swift Water Rescue Technician   *HAZMAT Operations   *Dunker trained (emergency aircraft underwater egress)   *Member of the helicopter rescue team for the first civilian space shuttle launches (X Prize Launches, 2003)   *Trained in the ICS & NIMS Disaster Management Systems  

*Since beginning as a survival instructor in 2009, Thomas has provided training to; US Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Center Instructors, US Navy Helicopter Search & Rescue & Special Warfare, US Air Force Special Operations, The US Dept of Defense, The California Department of Justice, and many more

Comments: 3681 • Responses: 75  • Date: 

OkArmordillo2138 karma

What is the most common mistake made by someone lost in the wilderness?

survivalofthesickest3688 karma

Not carrying any type of kit at all, even a pocket kit. The most common victim of an outdoor survival situations are day hikers. They carry nothing and have nothing if anything goes wrong. This is why the #1 killer is exposure.

EDIT: Also, nobody ever forms a signal. Helicopters flying over looking, ground teams, all that, and people hope rescuers trip over them. Always form/initiate a rescue signal as soon as possible.

dasatain1220 karma

To expand on this, what would you keep in a pocket kit for a day hiker?

survivalofthesickest3810 karma

2 Fire cubes (esbit, wet fire, fast fire, etc) uco storm matches, aqua tabs chlorine tabs, strip of bright ribbon & pocket signal mirror, streamlight clip on all weather light, BZK wipes, gauze roll, HEATSHEET.

fro-doh45 karma

What do you mean by a "kit" or "pocket kit." What's in such a kit?

survivalofthesickest101 karma

See comment above. if I make it easy for you to carry you are more likely to on a short hike. It should fit in the common pockets of hiking pants, and be enough to fight of exposure for a night or two.

mistertilly2056 karma

What's the biggest piece of survival misinformation you'd like to set the record straight on?

survivalofthesickest3088 karma

Firesteels suck ass. Always carry storm matches and an accelerant. Don't use fire steels for emergency situations.

RonSwansonsChair2015 karma

People play the “what-I-would-do-in-a-zombie-apocalypse?” game all the time, but it sounds like you’re the expert. What would you do, assuming you’re starting in a mid level urban one bedroom apartment when things go south?

survivalofthesickest2733 karma

Store some water, cheap power banks for your phone, a walmart super cold rated sleeping bag if heat is off, small usb powered fan for heat, med kit, canned food from the dollar store, something for home defense. Ok start I'd say. EDIT: this is a brief example of a very inexpensive set up to get you stare and keep you alive in the short term

aondneaa1512 karma

What is a common "seen on TV" survival tip (ie- skin a bear and sleep in it to avoid the cold) that is not accurate? Or, what is something that people often assume about survival in extreme conditions that is incorrect?

survivalofthesickest2650 karma

You can't just "tough it out". In extreme conditions you need some type of gear and training. You can't expect to build a snow cave by clawing with ungloved hands, etc.

ELpork1037 karma

What's the one thing people should just have on them every day?

survivalofthesickest2062 karma

Other than the pocket taco, a multi tool.

Aboot_149 karma

Any particular multi tool you would recommend?

survivalofthesickest602 karma

I only go the Victornox Swiss Tool and Leatherman models. In my teaching and training experience they hold up the best. Leathrman has a wide price range... the Swiss Tools- my favorite- are $100+ and worth every penny. You can hand them down to your children.

HavenElric925 karma

Have you ever been in a situation you were 100% confident wasnt going to end in your survival? How did you survive?

survivalofthesickest3285 karma

I've been close enough a few times. I was doing a little bouldering in the Sierras, and climbed onto a table top rock that met a trail. As I stepped over a 8" crack I began to hear a lot of rattlesnakes begin to buzz. I began to scan the rock and saw a lot of fissures, everyone I stepped over began to buzz. I was in a nest. I slowed everything down. I knew if I began to run or step blindly I could be bitten, but I felt like there was no way I wouldn't be bitten anyway. I was ready to dodge. I kind of ninja walked of the boulder, luckily none struck at me. My adrenaline was so high however, that as soon as I hit the trail, and was safe... I just had to sprint for a 100 meters or so to let the adrenaline out. I knew I was safe, but it was so dam hard not to freak out, now that it was safe to I had to freak out and sprint lol.


CrystalMethEnema2475 karma

Guess you must've been pretty rattled

survivalofthesickest1614 karma

Oh no you didn't!

spyke42188 karma

Holy fuck, I've never actually seen a rattlesnake, but I had a dream of basically this a few months ago. Except it was the shrub-steppe outside town that definitely does have rattlesnakes. Now I want to go hiking even less this summer...

survivalofthesickest259 karma

Luckily north american pit viper bites are rarely fatal!

Frisbee17156 karma

I was hiking with my headphones in not paying attention in AZ, switching a song and just as I put my phone down I saw a big rattlesnake on the trail, it's head was in striking position and I stumbled back into a full sprint I came very close to getting bit and as a native Arizonan should have known better. I always hike with one earphone out now, it was a super close call, but I love seeing rattlesnakes super cool animal.

survivalofthesickest137 karma

agreed, gorgeous to look at and rarely aggressive.

APG05921878 karma

What is the most obscure/craziest experience you had or trained people for?

survivalofthesickest1183 karma

AR-15 orientation in extreme cold weather with snowshoe and arctic shelter training.

survivalofthesickest583 karma

Training teams that hunt cartel members who do illicit deeds on federal wildlands.

birdietraininvain805 karma

What are the most important items a family with small children should have on hand for emergencies/natural disasters?

survivalofthesickest1171 karma

A way to purify urban water- high chemical and virus removal capability, a specialized med kit (for long term care - medical honey dressing or other calcium alginate for long term non stick application, benzoklonium chloride, ace bandages, and extra medication that is taken daily, etc), a way to form a micro climate if the grid is down- catalytic room heater, fans, etc), communications capability-shortwave is best because it works "over the horizon", but most of all a good plan and training. You don't want to form an emergency plan on the fly- there's enough hard decisions to make in any disaster already, and you don't want your first time using your gear to be in an emergency... train with your gear. Hygiene kits are also essential, germs are everywhere. Also grub is good lol

PicaRuler114 karma

Can you recommend a purification system?

survivalofthesickest344 karma

Sawyer S3 Water bottle, first need filter, ability to distill, aquatabs.

PicaRuler115 karma

Thanks. It’s hard to sift through the bs sometimes when I’m looking at stuff like that.

survivalofthesickest87 karma


biggw0rm68 karma

I have several life straws in my emergency kit, Are they any good? Could I drink water from my pool with them?

survivalofthesickest156 karma

They are awesome in streams but you wan't a filter with carbon to trap the chlorine for pool water. Some filters are meant to remove chlorine from pre treatment tabs. Maybe not those. Urban water systems for urban water, wilderness for wild.

bloodyboppa768 karma

What are your must have survival items when venturing into the wilderness?

survivalofthesickest1461 karma

All weather fire capability, water treatment capability, signaling capability, broad spectrum medical kit, shelter capability (even a heatsheet is ok for most places), light, knife. Scale, quantity, and models vary based on climate, terrain, activity, and group size. Here's some recs

Randomdcguy758 karma

Have you ever actually been lost somewhere and used your skills?

survivalofthesickest1872 karma

At 15 I had SAR dispatched on me in the mountains after becoming lost. I used an escape azimuth- natural route finding- to hike into town over 6 hours, and drank from springs as I knew protozoa infections (the most common in the outdoors) take days to kick in but the heat would kill me quickly. I was the typical day hiker with no mountain experience with nothing. I began to hitchhike when I hit the first major road, got home, and called search and rescue and told them I was ok.

space_intestine664 karma

Did you end up getting a Protozoa infection?

survivalofthesickest1171 karma

luckily no, but oddly enough not everyone gets symptomatic. Maybe now I'm just a carrier! lol

Randomdcguy206 karma

Is that what got you into survival training? 😂

survivalofthesickest225 karma

sort of ;)

chamrick741 karma

What advice would you give someone considering a first responder type of job as a career?

survivalofthesickest1616 karma

Train hard. People's lives depend on you showing up as the best version of you. High and fucking tight. Take all the advice on growing and becoming better, and explore mental/emotional coping mechanisms right away. You're going to see some shit. Be sure you have ways to deal with it effectively.

UniqueSteve667 karma

What survival scenario scares you the most and why is it bears?

survivalofthesickest913 karma

Because they are ambush style hyper-predators who pounce from the tall tall trees and can smell a drop of blood 3 clicks away.

Quoxium611 karma

Is Bear Grylls actually any good?

survivalofthesickest1765 karma

As a a source for survival info? eh, who knows, tv is tv and host say who the tv guys want. But he is a legit stud. Former SAS, summited everest, does intense expeditions, rock climbs well, successful as shit, seems like a good dude. Also his school hired me once so I like him lol.

Bdag123 karma

Yeah but he drinks his own pee.

survivalofthesickest365 karma

That's food coloring lol

mdegroat466 karma

What TV survival "technique" bugs you the most for being misleading or unrealistic?

survivalofthesickest1179 karma

I saw a guy claim to make a fire with a ziplock bag of piss as a magnifying glass on cable tv and I wanted to punch him in his solar plexus.

loki03xlh453 karma

Would you do Naked and Afraid?

survivalofthesickest831 karma

No but I've trained some contestants.

shadowstrooper430 karma

Which temperature do you hate the most: Extreme cold or extreme heat?

survivalofthesickest731 karma

Cold. Fuck cold. Yet... I teach in Alaska, summer and winter.

lam_chop1357 karma

In your opinion what separates the good trainees from the best trainees?

survivalofthesickest564 karma

Enthusiasm in tough times.

furtive331 karma

Should I be carrying radios with me out in the bush or just an InReach beacon? Any radios you’d recommend over others?

survivalofthesickest428 karma

Motorola rules. I prefer ACR over any other type of beacon but that's just me... and the US Coast Guard. There is also the bivy stick now, and tech options are constantly appearing. Just be sure what you get is reliable and rugged.

Edit: Bivy not ivy

min2themax300 karma

Should everyone have a "go bag?", If so, what should be in it?

survivalofthesickest437 karma

A readiness kit yes, and no reason not to make it portable. I always recommend and expedition style backpack- 65 liters plus- for a comfortable carry. Deuter brand and osprey are my go to's. Medical needs, water treatment, signals/comms, self defense measure, money/barter, id documents, tools, light, sleeping bag and tent or tarp, a bit of grub.

readit353540 karma


survivalofthesickest8 karma

And yes, don't forget the candy for the zombie party.

Cactus_Jack216274 karma

What got you into the line of work that you're in?

survivalofthesickest389 karma

My love of the outdoors and coming to people's aid combined in one awesome profession where I am my own boss. Not to mention the constant challenges to learn, grow, and perform. It keeps me young and happy!

jenlikesgin256 karma

What are easy mistakes to make that threaten ones survival? I’m sure it depends by situation, but are there general things you see people do that could be surprisingly dangerous?

survivalofthesickest483 karma

I've seen so many people on trails with no gear whatsoever and dressed poorly. Lobsters hiking by in flip flops and no shirts on desert trails, that kind of thing. Exposure is the #1 killer in outdoor emergencies, at least dress for the outdoors.

ScarsTheVampire224 karma

What do you look for in a general use knife?

survivalofthesickest382 karma

Full tang, drop point, scan grind, micarta or g10 handle. Thanks for the question!

nav17211 karma

What types of non-American groups and military units have trained under you? Do you have to sign NDAs when training specific units? What was the most intense and/or frustrating moment in your training history? Thanks!

survivalofthesickest400 karma

Some groups, government and private, require non disclosures. Especially movies/tv. It would cost me millions to even imply the unit, country, movie house, whatever.

The scariest thing I've done in training is make a friction fire kit in the rain at the US Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Center while their survival instructors watched. I was training them on a 10 day course and it was our first event. Rain can suck lol, but it worked. Until it did I was terrified however. Went forage to fire in sub 30min.

deafprune79 karma

US Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Center


survivalofthesickest63 karma

squid50s202 karma

What’s the single most important tip you can give someone?

survivalofthesickest401 karma

Always carry what you need to spend the night in an emergency when headed to outdoor or remote areas, even in your vehicle.

EeezyMac198 karma

How legit is the SERE school in Spokane?

survivalofthesickest377 karma

If it is military- legit as fuck. Civilian, I have no idea. But I think you are referencing where the Air Force trains it's own instructors. Air Fore SERE guys are legit as fuck, they do high volume, as do I.

Pope_Industries43 karma

I did SERE in the army and in the classroom portion they were going over what plants you can eat and ones you cant. After the end of that lesson the instructor told us that when dealing with plants dont eat any of them unless it is last resort. That a lot of plants can be lookalikes and instead of being the good ones, can make you rather sick. They told us to stick with grubs, larvae, grasshoppers and things like that for the protien they carry. Do you agree with their sentiments?

survivalofthesickest37 karma

Yes, food is your last concerns. It takes weeks to starve to death. Don't forage unless you are 100% sure.

behemuthm177 karma

You wake up in the middle of the desert in the middle of the day wearing a T-shirt, jeans, and street shoes. You have no other articles or equipment. What are the first 5 things you’d do?

survivalofthesickest746 karma

Stop. Put your feet a few inches apart. Go up on your toes. Then click your heels and repeat "there's no place like home" until you wake up back in your bed.

evenios174 karma

what do you do when nighttime is coming and you havent killed three sheep to make a bed yet to sleep before the monsters come out?

survivalofthesickest260 karma

Fall asleep cold wake up dead, it's the freddy kruger rule of outdoor survival. If you can't make a fire or creat insulation you have to exercise in some way until daylight. Survival burpees rule.

Amariesw161 karma

Thank you for doing an AMA!! How can I tell the difference between a sprain and a fracture, and how should I take care of both?

Also, what are some of the things you believe everyone should have with them pretty much at all times?

survivalofthesickest243 karma

Generally the amount of pain, if it is weight bering, if there is tenting or deformation, range of motion, things like that. Here is the thing however, when it doubt splint the area. It won't hurt and will protect either injury. And stop using it asap!

CowboyMortyC316160 karma

Do you believe in having a rifle, pistol in your go bag? Do you carry and conceal?

survivalofthesickest235 karma

Yes, and I am in Cali so no. A take down 22 will go a long way for food and defense.

hawksfn1126 karma

I commute to work an hour each way. My biggest fear is being stranded in the winter. Any items you prefer to stock in your car as must haves for survival kits?

survivalofthesickest202 karma

Catalytic propane heater (small one) and a sleeping bag. Throw in a few handwarmes and some snacks and you're good to go.

heliox123 karma

1) What is the best book for beginner/intermediate survival skills?

2) How do I best learn to start a fire without matches/ferrorod/etc.?

survivalofthesickest162 karma

Not that many good manuals out there. You have to read a few, watch some vids, and take what's useful and discard what's not. I take my advice very seriously, lives may depend on it, so I don't recommend information likely. I have a bow drill vid that will make you successful on youtube here:

plane_snake117 karma

I know there’s a lot of interest in terms of outdoor/wilderness survival, but I’m curious what your thoughts are on surviving urban situations such as an earthquake, a fire, or even as a hostage or during a terrorist incident (shooting, bomb, etc.). Is it better to stay put or to make a run for it, etc.?

survivalofthesickest170 karma

In a dense population center standard evacuation may be impossible. I teach people to identify water ways and aqueducts-which often have frontage areas- as options. Also, you are trying to place the grid, on a small, scale, for a short period of time. It's gear intensive so be ready. Have water, medical gear, hygiene needs, self defense, comms, your id documents, tools, etc ready to go. In my urban disaster course we teach assembly of portable solar generators for cheap as well. Shelter in place vs evacuated is highly dependent on location and event.

juicedsquishi107 karma

Is it all worth it? The stress and all that.

survivalofthesickest178 karma

Hell to the yes. Being my own boss relieve a lot of that. And nature heals.

Mockingjay3291 karma

Can you train me? I don't have money but I have lots of hugs and cookies.

survivalofthesickest243 karma

I'll do it for the cookies... don't touch me. ;)

EeezyMac74 karma

What are the most important survival knots to know?

Outside of trying to make some sort of slip trap out of 550 cord to catch squirrels or other small animals, what’s the best way to get meat without weapons?

survivalofthesickest179 karma

Sure know and the double overhand slider/fisherman's know. But here's the thing, if you can't tie knots tie lots ;)

dog_in_the_vent63 karma

Is there any conceivable survival situation in which the wisest course of action would be to drink your own piss?

survivalofthesickest114 karma

If you carry a bit of plastic in your kit, like a plastic painters tarp- small and light, you can distill your pee into drinking water. Crystal clear, with just a bit of plastic, a hole, and the sunlight. Can do it in posts and pans to. Water is a big deal, when without it too long people will drink anything. Prisoners in cells where water supply was interrupted even drank toilets dry.

UniqueSteve63 karma

What survival mistakes do you typically see in otherwise realistic movies?

survivalofthesickest152 karma

Good luck rubbing sticks together for a fire!

GoneInSixtyFrames63 karma

Who trains the trainer? Where do you get your skills training? And have you checked out Survival Russia's channel?

survivalofthesickest155 karma

I train the trainer. My greatest teachers have been pain and humiliation.

iceeice343 karma

What’s your best advice for dealing with sickness, particularly diarrhea, in survival situations?

survivalofthesickest58 karma

Stay hydrated and consume electrolytes the best you can. Try to keep some fluids inside.

Perfectenschlag_38 karma

What "psh that'll never happen to me" scenario do you most often see people fall victim to?

survivalofthesickest86 karma

Being forced to spend the night outdoors when setting out for a sample day hike after becoming lost or injured for sure. Also, heat exhaustion is right up there too.

KidneyPuncher6929 karma

If you were lost in a tundra or frigid area, what would be the best course of action for survival?

survivalofthesickest65 karma

Use the birch trees to make fire. Their bark burns hot in the wettest of conditions and will keep you warm.

tacolikesweed28 karma

If you could have one specific breed of dog to survive with in the wilderness with you, which would it be? It could be practical, just because you really like a certain dog or whatever reason.

survivalofthesickest66 karma

Irish Wolfhound. You can basically ride the things and their cuddles will definitely keep you warm lol.

AndrewIsOnline28 karma

What are you go-to primary snares and traps? What edible plants would you go for first?

survivalofthesickest56 karma

Pauite Deadfall by far. It gets the job done. Also stinging nettles are the most energizing nutrias plants I've ever lived off of. Outstanding food.

thermoscap24 karma

Can you explain how to make a fire after it's just rained all day/all night? Your only tool is a little Bic lighter.

If you can put it in terms that a 5-year old would understand, that'd be even better. Thanks.

survivalofthesickest32 karma

Forage under the densest growths of tree/bush branches and debris piles for the driest tinder and branches. Use wood from needle bearing trees and dead needles when possible, as their resins block some water absorption and light more easily.

Defilance21 karma

What's your first real survival experience?

survivalofthesickest19 karma

On one of the first question I recount being lost at 15 when search and rescue was dispatched lol.

SKCTID2314 karma

What is the one skill everyone should know about? Also, was The Rock's character in San Andreas loosely based on you? :)

survivalofthesickest12 karma

How to make a fire. It is liberating as a human.

survivalofthesickest4 karma

Extremely loosely. Thanks you made my night.

dukerot14 karma

What is you best survival tip for someone trying to raise a family and make ends meet in California with no tech-based qualifications?

survivalofthesickest39 karma

Move to Texas.

quixologist12 karma

Les Stroud vs. Bear Grylls: who wins in a survive-off?

Surprise twist: Big foot is real and surprised to find them crashing his home turf.

Second surprise twist: no harmonicas or piss drinking allowed.

survivalofthesickest14 karma

Bear Grylls. Survivor man would get too hungry and leave early lmao.

TwoRocker5 karma

How is the pay for providing training to police and soldiers? I’m thinking I may want to get in on the action. I’m somewhat of a survival expert myself. If I don’t die before July 4th, I will have 55 years of continuous survival under my belt. My Granddad was the real expert though. 98 years! Dude knew his shit.

survivalofthesickest4 karma

Not very good. I'm generally part of a wishlist on discretionary funds. I have to give them good deals to get it approved. Corporate training however, mush better.

daisypaisy4 karma

What is the most important piece of survival advice you think everyone should know?

survivalofthesickest3 karma

Never give up and stop trying to problem solve no matter how seemingly hopeless. We are stronger and smarter than we think.

YoungBuckBoss2 karma

Any type of kits you'd recommend?

survivalofthesickest3 karma

Adventure Medical Kits have a lot of what I recommend, as do some of the better SOL brand kits. Always customize a kit for needs, climate, terrain, activity, but as far as off the shelf goes these are great.