After watching the fifth season of the History Channel Alone TV show, my wife and I decided to binge watch the show from the beginning. We both enjoy the show, but we find that we will pause a lot while watching it to armchair quarterback the participants.
If you are not familiar with the show, the premise is that ten individuals are dropped off in a remote area. With limited resources, they have to survive as long as they can. The individual (or two person team in season 4) that lasts the longest wins a large cash prize.
–Spoilers in this Post–
I’ve never lived alone in the woods by myself for long periods of time. I’ve only done long stays with other people. So I don’t think I would survive long enough to be the lone survivor on Alone. But after watching so many hours of the show, I think I know what has worked well in the past and what I would plan to do if I was selected to be a contestant on the show. Here are my thoughts.
Study in Detail the Indigenous People of the Area
Prior to going to an area it would be really important to study how the indigenous people lived in the area. Look at the shelters that they built. The food that they ate. The tactics that they used to gather food. Understand in detail the edible plant life in the area. Know what parts of the plant can be eaten and how to prepare them.
For example (pulled from Wikipedia)
In the Vancouver Island area there were two Indian tribes, the Kwakwaka’wakw and Nuu-chah-nulth that thrived in the area. Both tribes built dugout canoes to fish and whale in the ocean around there. Each canoe was made from a single log of cedar. Halibut, herring, rock fish, and salmon are the primary fish caught. Grey, humpback and orca are the whales that the Nuu-chah-nulth harvested. They foraged for kelp, camas root, rhizomes from ferns and many different variety of berries such as blueberry and huckleberry. There is a nice cookbook available that teaches some of the traditional methods of cooking different meals. Shelter was built with cedar planks and bark. The bark was also torn into strips and softened in water until malleable enough to be woven into baskets and clothing.
If possible, I would travel to the area and take classes from the locals. Obviously this isn’t easy for some of the locations (Mongolia and Patagonia). But if you could, this would be smart to do before the filming of the show.
My History Channel Alone Optional Equipment List
Each individual is allowed to take ten items with them from a predetermined list of items. Here is what I would take. For a list of the other items available, take a look at this History Channel page.
- 12×12 ground cloth/tarp (grommets approved)*
- Ferro rod
- Large pot (no more than 2 quarts; includes lid)
- 300-yard roll of a single filament fishing line / 25 assorted Hooks (no lures)
- Small gauge gill net (if in ocean location aka: Vancouver Island) or 1 primitive bow + 6x arrows (if in river or lake location aka: Mongolia, Patagonia, and Artic)
- 3.5 lb roll of trapping wire
- Sleeping bag
* The tarp didn’t seem to be an item that was counted against the ten optional items in the last few seasons. If that is the case I would add a nice hunting knife.
First day Activities
Prior to worrying about anything else, I would set up a temporary shelter. This is what you need to live in for just a few days. It doesn’t need to be pretty. Just a simple tarp A-Frame. Don’t bother exploring your surrounding area for the “perfect spot”. Just make sure you’re not in a creek bed or intertidal zone, and build something temporary, but solid.
Gather and process enough firewood for the night. Locations used in the show are often wet, so gathering and placing the wood under your shelter will give it a little bit of time to dry out while you do the rest of the days activities.
Next I would want to set up an automated food gathering system. Either a gill net, individual fishing lines attached to shore, or several snares set up on game trails. You don’t need food the first day. But it would be good to wake up the next morning and have something already there for you. Plus if you had something set up early that works for you regularly, there will be more food overall. I think it is odd when someone doesn’t set these things up till they have already spent a week alone.
Only after that would I start looking for a fresh water source for drinking. I should be hydrated sufficiently enough at drop off that this can wait several hours, but a fresh water source is the next highest priority.
Once you’re set up a solid temporary shelter, stacked some firewood under it, set up your passive food gathering system, and found fresh water, it’s time to get a fire started by your shelter for the night.
The most important need in any survival setting is drinkable water. This is a constant need, but shouldn’t become a constant concern. In other words, it should be a part of your daily routine so that it is easy and plentiful and you aren’t concerned about hydration at all.
If it is raining, set something out to collect rain water. This seems so obvious to me. The water falling out of the sky will almost always be cleaner than what you can find anywhere else. You can angle your tarp to catch and funnel water into a collection container while it does double duty keeping your shelter dry. No unitaskers here.
Find a flowing stream or collect water from a fresh water lake (depending on your location). Then boil it. DO NOT drink water without boiling it. You do not want to be that one person who poisons themselves by drinking contaminated water.
Over time, set up a DIY water filter. Make it big enough so that you can filter enough water to have extra. On the show, you are allowed to keep and use anything you scavenge from your surroundings. Look for a container you can fashion into a basin with a spout. A big plastic bottle that washes up on the beach would be a real treasure.
Turn it upside down and cut the bottom of it off. Cut a square of t-shirt like fabric over the spout to keep your material from flowing out. Add a layer of charcoal that you can make over time with your fire. Then add a layer of fine “clean” sand on top of the charcoal. Then add a layer of small pebbles over the sand. Brace the container so that you can add water from the opening on top. Once it’s all set up, put a container underneath it to collect the filtered water and start filling it. Filtering water should be an ongoing chore all day so that you have plenty to drink 24/7.
Should you boil the water before or after using your new filter? Theoretically, you shouldn’t need to. But if it was me, I would boil after filtering. Just to be sure.
Here is a basic concept DIY water filter YouTube video by Survival on the SKinny.
In my opinion, you need to be a confident shelter builder to survive long term on your own. I think you need to build something substantial for the History Channel Alone show. I don’t understand how you can plan on being at a place for a long period of time and only have a shelter that you threw together in a few hours.
If you’re in an area like Vancouver Island and Mongolia, I think you need to plan on building a log cabin. Don’t try to build it in one day. A cabin is something that you work on with all of your spare time, in between chores of water and food gathering.
If you are in a location like Patagonia, I think that a bamboo based structure like Fowler’s in season three is the way to go. He said it took him almost a month to make.
Either way you should build a structure that is large enough to be comfortable. Tall enough so that you are able to stand up in. It should be well insulated to keep you warm in the winter. With a raised bed to make sleep as comfortable as possible. It should be secure enough so that you don’t have to worry about bears or large cats disrupting your sleep.
You need to have a fire inside the shelter, with a chimney to exhaust the smoke out. Having some large stones partially around the fire will provide heat even after the fire has gone down. I think you should have a place to boil water inside (make teas too), but I don’t think you should cook your meals inside your sleeping shelter, because the smell of cooking meat or fish could attract predators. Build a separate shelter for cooking.
The cooking shelter doesn’t need to be as substantial. It should be close to the water where your primary food source is. But far enough from your sleeping shelter so that there is little to no food smell there. This will keep the animals away and attract fewer rodents.
A sturdy, permanent shelter set up with an indoor fire pit or fireplace is an investment you’re making in the long-term and will go a long way to keeping you safe, comfortable, and healthy as time goes on. Put thought into its design and construction. Take long enough to do it right. It could take weeks, but you’ll be glad you did it.
Here are some shelter building YouTube videos to gain some knowledge:
Food is always the biggest struggle on the History Channel Alone show. Everyone loses a huge amount of weight while waiting on the others to tap out. Some people have even been eliminated from the show because they have lost more weight than is physically safe.
Is there any way to stop this process? Can you really consume enough calories to not lose weight? Honestly I don’t know.
The hunter gatherers from the past were lean bodied nomads. They traveled to where the food is. They knew how to eat well enough to survive. But with the Alone show, the participants can not really travel far. They have boundaries put on them so that they don’t encounter each other.
They aren’t allowed to carry a firearm for hunting, or even self-defense from bear, wolves, mountain lions, or other large predatory animals. At first, this struck me as ridiculous. I wouldn’t volunteer to go out into the wilderness without a shotgun. But then I realized that being able to hunt would be a game changer for the show. This is TV, after all. They do want everyone to come out of the woods, eventually. If participants were allowed to hunt with firearms, the show might never end.
Some have tried archery, without much success (as of season 5). With the limitations imposed, I think you have to set up as many passive food collection methods as possible. Gill nets, trout lines, single hooks that you tie off to the shore (limb lines), snares, dead fall traps, and any other traps that you can think of. All of these can be working for you while you sleep.
Don’t just do one at a time. You have to have multiple avenues of automatic food collection working for you at all times. Set as many as you can the first week. That way they are working for you from the beginning. If a particular setup isn’t regularly productive then move it to a new location. Don’t let it sit there for more than three days with nothing to show for it.
You have to put time into acquisition of high calorie food. Don’t waste a lot of your time with a food source that doesn’t give you a good meal. I’m surprised how much time participants have spent on mice. Setting up some dead fall traps to control the rodents around your camp is one thing. But using the killed mice for food is a waste of time. Maybe use one as bait for a larger mammal would be a better use for them.
To this point, not a single participant has bagged a large animal. Many have tried, but no one has actively worked on that from the beginning. Now I am sure there are hunting laws that come into place for the History Channel Alone show that are not really talked about. That is why you never see someone hunting the bear and the Canadian geese that you see in the Vancouver Island location. But if you plan from the very first day to go for something substantial, you are much more likely to be successful at it.
Snares and traps are the key to larger animals in most of the locations. Knowing how to make a variety of them is important. Rodents, fish, birds and larger mammals can all be snared or trapped. The Arctic location of season six archery finally brings in larger game, and it helps that the animals have very little experience with humans.
Here is a list of the season winners and what they have subsisted off of:
1 – Alan Kay – fish and forage. Lots of seaweed
2 – David McIntyre – fishing, crabs from tide pools
3 – Zachary Fowler – fish
4 – Jim & Ted Baird – foraging limpets and gunnel fish
5 – Sam Larson – birds, mice, leeches, and emergency rations (2 of his 10 optional items)
Something all of the past winners have in common is that they each have activities that they engage in to pass time. Some of the early projects were items like spoons and fishing poles. Not only do they take a relatively short amount of time to complete, but they are objects that make life better for them while they are Alone.
A few people have constructed boats of differing designs. Some were more successful than others. The problem with a boat is that it is a time consuming process. That time could be spent on more productive tasks. To this point boats haven’t really been game changers for any of the participants.
If you had the time and the tools, a nice dugout canoe would be better than a tarp reliant canoe/kayak. But this would really require the knowledge to make one and the patience to finish one. Literally chipping away at it every day would be the key to finishing such a project.
I think a smoker would be a good long term project. This would be the easiest way to preserve meat for long term storage.
There has only been one participant in all of the seasons who has choose not to have a ferro rod as one of their ten optional items. Wouldn’t it be nice to know several ways of making fire without the dependence on the ferro rod. Here are some videos to show you other ways to accomplish it and how to keep a fire going long term.
Primitive fire starting YouTube videos:
- Hand drill by BlackScoutSurvival
- Four friction techniques by David West
- Cord Drill by Primitive Technology
- Pump drill by Tom McElroy-Wild Survival
- Long term fire from one light by Fowler’s Makery and Mischief
Some serious bushcraft knowledge with real world experience is a must to be a participant in the History Channel Alone show.
Bushcraft is about thriving in the natural environment, and the acquisition of the skills and knowledge to do so. Bushcraft skills include firecraft, tracking, hunting, fishing, shelter-building, navigation by natural means, the use of tools such as knives and axes, foraging, water sourcing, hand-carving wood, container construction from natural materials, and rope and twine-making, among others.
With just a knife, saw, and an axe you can build just about anything that you would need to thrive in the woods. But knowing how to use these tools only comes to you from experience. Watching YouTube videos is only good for teaching you. You must get out there and actually do it. Safety is important too. Several participants have left the show with self inflicted injuries that could have easily been avoided. Know how to use your tools efficiently and safely.
Here are some good bushcraft YouTube videos:
- Ten Bushcraft Camp projects by TA Outdoors
- Ten Knife Projects by David Canterbury
- Pine pitch by Bushcraft Tools
- Wooden mallet by The Gray Bearded Green Beret
- Log splitting by Far North Bushcraft And Survival
- Tent stakes by The Gray Bearded Green Beret
- Fire reflector by TA Outdoors
- Tree bark cordage by Zed Outdoors
Knowing how to clean fish — really all types of seafood in the area — is important. Basic gutting and filleting hasn’t seemed to be a problem.
- Filet a fish by Filleting Fish
- Crab by Everyday Food
- Lobster by Bart’s Fish Tales
- Periwinkles and Limpets by undercurrentspaulo
How to process all of the mammals in your History Channel Alone location would be important. Not just knowledge of gutting, skinning, and preparing for cooking. But also what parts of the body to avoid (like scent glands).
Here are some Mammal Processing YouTube Videos:
Cooking is vital. Knowing how to cook directly over a fire or in a pot over a fire is pretty basic. Knowing how to cook the same thing in different ways will help keep you from growing bored of it.
Snares and Traps
Snares and traps work for you while you are sleeping. They can be much more effective than actual fishing or hunting. It is a good idea to set up as many as you can. Also setting up different types to maximize the different size of animals. Here is a list of different YouTube videos to teach you a variety.
Foraging allows you to find greens to mix into pots while cooking for flavor and additional nutrients is helpful. Having the knowledge of local plants that can be used medicinally can be a game changer.
Here are some foraging YouTube videos to help learn what you can eat:
- 25 Edible Plants, Fruits and Trees by AlfieAesthetics
- Wild Food Foraging- Season 1 by The Outsider
- Wild Food Foraging- Season 2 by The Outsider
- Wild Food Foraging- Season 3 by The Outsider
- 9 Wild Edible Mushrooms by Learn Your Land
- Mark “Merriwether” Vorderbruggen foraging expert
Scavenging is another skill that is important. Participants are able to use anything that they find. Rope, fishing line, nets, plastic containers, and floats have all been found and used. Scavenging is about knowing where to look and how items can be made into useful things afterwards.
History Channel Alone Conclusion
I would love to go on the History Channel Alone show. I would need to do some serious training before going though. I hope this post is useful to someone. Please leave me comments on other things to add to the post.