Weight Loss During a Wilderness Survival Trial

A canoe is an excellent post-SHTF survival vehicle and tool.
A canoe is an excellent post-SHTF survival vehicle and tool.

I watched this video the other day. It’s the first one I’ve seen by Xander Budnick, and I found it to be both interesting and instructional, although perhaps not in the way he intended.

This post will make more sense if you watch the video, but if you don’t want to, let me summarize:

Xander drove into the wilderness in what I believe to be Canada and launched his canoe on a large unpopulated lake he had never visited before. The only food he took with him was a baggie of coffee, a small bottle of oil, a vial of salt, and a few ounces of a lemon pepper flavoring. His only knife was the blade on his multi-tool, although he had a large hatchet (or small axe) and a folding saw. He had a headlamp. His only cooking utensil was a pot they held two or three quarts, with a lid that also served as a frying pan. He had one set of clothes and a set of thermal underwear, which he changed into when his normal clothes were drying. I don’t think he wore socks, and his shoes were probably Keen’s or another water shoe, and he spent some time wading.

He was well equipped when it came to survival and sleeping gear, with a ground cushion, a lightweight sleeping bag or bivvy sack, a thin tarp, mosquito netting, and what appeared to be several hundred feet of paracord. He brought a good fire starter, had some fishing line and hooks, but no rod, reel or net.

Almost immediately, he found and ate some blueberries, and throughout the five-day, four-night trip, he gathered and ate what must have been several quarts of blueberries as well as some raspberries and other wild berries. He also caught and ate seven largemouth bass, with fish stew or filets being his primary food source. He ate some seed pods and once had cat tail roots, but these contributed little to his diet.

Weight Loss

Despite eating pretty well and having what he said was a full belly much of the time, Xander dropped from 194 to 186.3 pounds over the course of his trip, losing almost eight pounds. In the video, he appeared to be quite surprised. If you compare the shots of him standing on the scale before and after, you can see he lost some belly fat and actually looked fitter in the “after” photo.

To me, the weight loss is the most instructional part of the video. An experienced outdoorsman who did a good job living off the wilderness, he nevertheless lost about two pounds per night in the wild. While he did not experience weakness or confusion, which can come with hunger, he was tired and slept quite a bit, including taking long naps in the afternoon. I expect that was a symptom of his lack of food.

The lesson I took from this is that it is very difficult to survive in a wilderness situation without outside food sources. How much, for example, would he have lost over three weeks? Would he eventually starve or reach some sustainable equilibrium, perhaps at 150 pounds? Would he suffer from a performance standpoint over more time? Would he grow weak and debilitated?

This lesson isn’t a surprise, but it is reinforcement of something I have said before: If you plan to hike to your bugout location or to go head into the wilderness to survive TEITWAWKI, you better carry food and have prepositioned caches along the way. Remember, he is skilled, experienced, and was in an optimal survival location. What makes you think you can do better, especially if you are walking and setting up a new camp every night?

Carbs Versus Protein

I’m guessing Xander went into ketosis and started burning his own fat for energy. This is what people on the ketogenic diet do intentionally; I expect he did it unintentionally, despite consuming a large quantity of blueberries. (Blueberries are mostly water, and while they are a sweet snack, one cup has only 80 calories.)

The bass was mostly protein and is not a fatty fish like salmon. While the protein would help him retain his muscle mass, it wasn’t giving him a great deal of energy. His diet had little or no fat, and if he continued on this path for weeks, he would need to kill and eat a beaver to ensure adequate nutrition.

If he had brought a bag of cornmeal and a box of Bisquick into the field (which I grant you is not in keeping with the purpose of the video), he would have lost less weight. He could have provided a cornmeal breading for the fish and had blueberry biscuits or pancakes for breakfast. If you are bugging out, consider these suggestions, plus oatmeal (which is lightweight) and rice or powdered potatoes to provide much-needed starches and calories.

The Smoker Issue

After catching five fish, Xander tried to build a smoker but failed because of the windy conditions and his flimsy tarp. This leads to another lesson: practice with your equipment or ideas before conditions force you to use them in the real world. The smoker was an excellent idea, but he could not get it to work in the field. This made food preservation a problem, especially since he had already killed and fileted five fish.

Although he bounced back, using what I would consider some questionable food preservation methods, I expect he would have been better off keeping the fish alive using some paracord in their mouth and out their gills. While this is not an ideal method of keeping fish, with it he could catch fish in the morning and then leave camp, knowing he had dinner waiting for him.

As a prepper, you may face the choice of eating a surplus of food or trying to preserve it for later. Lacking suitable preservation equipment, I would go with eating it now. Generations before us gorged on food when it was plentiful and went hungry when it was not. This might not be a fun approach for someone used to our modern ways, but thanks to how we evolved, your body will adapt to it.

Using Found Materials

One thing Xander did well was to make good use of found materials, from a rusty sheet of metal to an old leaky pot. What appeared to be two discarded liquor bottles allowed him to store boiled water for later consumption, a definite plus. He could now carry water on a canoe trip, or example. My bugout gear includes canteens and water bottles, and so should yours.

On a journey to your bugout location, you may also find some items that could turn into useful tools. This could be things abandoned years before, like Xander found, or things abandoned by others who bugged out before you or who may have died in the disaster. Keep an eye out for found objects and use some creativity to consider how they might benefit you.

In my area of the Appalachians, there are cabins, barns, and sheds that were abandoned decades ago and have largely decayed over time. They are of no interest now, but in a survival situation, you can bet I would explore them looking for resources. Perhaps they would contain old hand tools, jars or bottles, a kerosene lantern, some wire, or other useful materials. Even the old barn wood itself could be salvaged to build more raised beds in our garden.

Decision Making

One questionable decision I noted was that Xander experienced a great deal of success using a frog as bait to catch fish. On his subsequent fishing, however, he had bad luck using fish meat as bait. Why didn’t he catch another frog for bait? For that matter, why didn’t he gig several frogs to eat for lunch? We’ll never know, but perhaps the frogs weren’t large enough to make a meal for a human.

I also wonder what he would have done and how he would have fared if it rained three days in a row. Of course, that wouldn’t have made a very good video. My point is, we can’t count on good weather when we bug out and need to be prepared for adverse conditions. I am a big fan of military ponchos in rainy conditions.

I also assume he knew the blueberries were ripe when he planned his trip, because I can’t believe that was a coincidence. It would be interesting to see him come back in the winter or spring and see what different equipment he needed to bring and what different food sources he would find.

Lakeside Survival

Whether bugging out for five days or trying to survive for five years, an isolated lakeside location in a wilderness area is an excellent choice because fish are a renewable food source. We saw him harvest bass, and there are likely northern pike and other fish in the waters, some of which can be taken in the winter via ice fishing. We also saw moose and beavers, both of which are potential food sources. Depending on the time of year, there would be ducks and other waterfowl. Having traps, snares, guns, and ammo would improve long-term survivability, as would better fishing tackle and a net. Of course, these are things a survivalist who planned to bug out to the lake would likely have with them but are unnecessary for a few days and are not in keeping with the theme of his video.

The canoe is an amazing resource because it would let a survivalist cover a much broader territory than they can on foot. (I am reminded of Glenn Villeneuve from the reality show Life Below Zero, who survived on a lakeshore and used a canoe extensively.) It can be used to fish, hunt, gather firewood, and reach a wider selection of ground on which to forage. I don’t think there is a manually powered land vehicle that offers an equivalent advantage to a prepper.

I have always been a fan of bugging out to a location on a bay or a barrier island, but a lake is right up there. Both face the challenge of too many people having the same idea or already living in the area. (Lakeside and beachfront property is at a premium in most of the lower 48 states.) Alaska or Northern Canada are good options, if you can survive the winter.

A Different Scenario

I don’t intend the following (or any of the above) as criticism, because Xander’s objective was to survive five days in the wilderness with no food and minimal tools, and he successfully accomplished this objective. He was well equipped and chose his tools wisely. He is clearly skilled in bush crafting and has also produced many successful videos that attract a wide audience, so I have no argument with his approach.

But just because he did not approach this as an exercise in long-term survival or bugging out in the wilderness, doesn’t mean we can’t learn from it. We can ask “what if” questions and extrapolate from what we saw. For example:

Xander drove to the location in a pickup truck and he had a canoe, but he did not take advantage of their carrying capacity. If he had been bugging out permanently, he could have ferried hundreds of pounds of gear and supplies to his camp and gotten set up for long-term survival. That would help him be better prepared for surviving the winter and maybe a couple of years.

I do not believe you can fill a pickup truck with enough food and supplies to live on for a year, but you can certainly fill it with enough to make a living-off-the-land approach more comfortable and successful. That would be the aim of a survivalist bugging out from the city to a wilderness campsite.

Also, Xander did not explore the lake, but picked his camp location in a rush because the daylight was fading and rain was moving in. That’s not a problem on a five-day excursion, but in a long-term, post-apocalyptic scenario, you would be better served by finding the best location in on the lake, taking into account the weather and security. Being on an island, for example, would offer some security from other people, should they stumble upon the lake and have no boat. Sheltering against an angled rock would offer better protection from rain and wind than a tarp alone.


Along these same lines, a survivalist planning to stay for the long-term would need a better shelter. At minimum, having a full tent would be a good start, while a square canvas tent capable of accepting a wood stove would be even better, especially in a cold climate. At some point, however, you would want to build a log cabin because even a heavy duty military or expedition tent will eventually rot or tear. A one-room cabin would last longer and better resist the weather or bears.

Upon arrival in the area, you could build a lean-to or other shelter on one island and then use it as a base camp while you search for a better location. After finding the best spot, the lean-to can become an alternate or emergency location should you need to abandon camp or if get caught out on the lake when a storm rolls in.

The Final Lesson

My final takeaway is the video is a good reminder it is possible to survive in the wilderness without chainsaws, power boats, butane stoves, water filters, camp lanterns, solar-powered electronic devices and other modern conveniences. We know this, of course, because our ancestors did it not so many generations back, but it takes the right mindset and preparation. Xander had it. Do you and yours?

While the preppersphere is excited about solar generators, I have to question whether Xander’s experience would have been improved if he had a solar generator and 400 wats of panels. I think not. I can see having a small solar panel to recharge batteries for his headlamp, but unless you are hauling along a refrigerator, a computer and other advanced electronics, I don’t see how a solar generator would add much value in this scenario. Back to basics seems a better approach, with rechargeable lithium batteries for a headlamp, lantern, flashlight, and firearm optics being my sole exception.

Good tools are important and you need experience using them, so get some practice now, while you can still paddle back to your truck and drive to civilization for a burger, fries, and a beer. Otherwise, your “final lesson” in a survival scenario may be far more dire.