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Five C's of Survival

The top five tools to carry with you in the wilderness

Dave Canterbury of Dual Survival

The "Five C's of Survivability", often cited by survival expert Dave Canterbury of the awesome survival show 'Dual Survival', is an easy way to remember 5 of the most important resources you want to have with you in the bush.

The five C's are...

Cutting device
Combustion device

Disclaimer: While I first heard this list from Dave Canterbury, I personally have written the following explanations and am not copying nor attributing the following text to him, so don't sue me!


First of all, it's common knowledge that having a cutting device like a knife or machete is absolutely KEY to bushcraft living. Only a complete greenhorn would question the usefulness of a knife in the bush. It is arguably the most important "C" on the list.

There are many different types of knives with different purposes. Finding the one that's right for you and your situation will depend on what you want to use it for. Personally, I carry several cutting devices in the bush, usually a multi-tool, a good pocket knife, and a machete. Visit the "Knives" page for more about knives.

I would also suggest you have some means of sharpening the knife as well, be it a lightweight sharpening stone, a sharpening rod, or an easy to use "V" shaped sharpener. Smith's makes a good V sharpener called a Pocket Pal which is inexpensive, and contains crossed carbides, crossed ceramic stones for fine tuning, and a sharpening rod all in one lightweight small device.


The second, and arguably just as important as the first, "C" on the list is a combustion device.

Once again, it is common knowledge that fire is a super essential resource in the bush. It can be used to keep warm, dry clothes, cook food, sterilize water, ward off predators and insects, and a lot more. There are quite a few ways to make fire, and personally I like to have more than one with me when I'm in the bush.

The easiest and possibly most reliable fire starting method is a simple lighter. However sometimes even this won't work, for example if it gets wet, runs out of fluid, or is in a high elevation.

I like to also carry a "ferro rod" which is made of ferrocerium and creates a spark around 3,000 degrees F (1,650 C). It is basically like a flint & steel on steroids. It works very well but requires good tinder. Not all ferro rods are created equal, some produce hotter sparks than others. I personally like the "Light My Fire" brand ferro rod.

There are many other ways to make fire including matches, magnifying glass, parabolic lens, battery, fire piston, and of course basic friction fire like hand drills and bow drills. Point is, always have at least one! This will be discussed in more detail on the "Fire" page.


Cordage is a great resource in the bush, mainly for making good shelter. If you doubt the worthiness of cordage, try building a solid bushcraft shelter without tying anything.

Cordage can also be used for hanging stuff like clothes or meat to dry, fishing line, tying and carrying your equipment over your shoulder like a satchel, and even climbing rope, plus more. If you spend much time in the bush you will see its usefulness.

There are three main qualities to good cordage. They are length, tensile strength, and flexibility. A lot of vines found in the bush can make for great cordage, and you should look for those three properties in any potential cordage.

There are a lot of vines that make for lousy cordage as well. For example, if a vine is extremely strong, but cannot be bent, then what good is it? Similarly, if it's really long but lacks strength, it will be a hassle to make anything happen with it.


It may not seem like it at first, but containers are extremely useful equipment to have in the bush. Without it you basically cannot sterilize contaminated water, or even carry water with you. They are also great for carrying supplies. Indigenous cultures often revolved around container use.

It's a good idea to have at least one metal container that you can use to carry water and sterilize it over a fire. I always carry a 100% stainless steel canteen in the bush. Even plastic and wood containers can be used to sterilize water by pasteurizing it around 160 degrees F (70 C) for 30 minutes.

Even something like a backpack or sack can qualify as a "container" and makes a big difference in the ease of traversing through the bush.


The final "C" on the list is cover. This can include your clothes. It becomes especially important in very hot or cold environments, where you want to block the beating sun or hold in warmth.

When traversing through thick bush with thorns and sharp edges, having your body covered with good clothes can make the difference between coming out unscathed or shredded with paper cuts, which can be uncomfortable and lead to infection.

In a desert environment you will want to cover your body to prevent sunburn. Of course, in a very cold environment cover becomes extremely important. It basically is your first line of defense against hypothermia.

You should always dress in layers in cold, winter environments, with the thinnest layer close to you and getting thicker each layer out. As soon as you start to feel hot, remove layers until you feel comfortable again, and as soon as you start to feel cold, add layers. The last thing you want to do in a cold situation is lower your core body temperature, or start sweating. As sweat cools the salt will cover your skin and give you deadly chills.

Cover can also include something like a tarp that can make a highly effective, easy shelter roof. Once again, "cover" is one of those things that easily gets overlooked, but once you are without it and need it, the value of such a simple resource becomes greatly appreciated.

Remember these 5 C's before heading into the bush, and 90% of your supply list will be complete.

Read about the "Five W's Shelter Checklist"

Please Leave A Comment!

Comments (12)

Robert Matthew
Isn’t the most important thing knowledge? I would think that it isn’t the list of things you bring but the knowledge about how to use them and how to deal with a situation/emergency. The thread is about what to bring with you not what to de when an unexpected situation arise. If you are going to put yourself in the great outdoors you had better start with the knowledge it takes to address any situation with any type of gear. After that, your gear list should reflect your knowledge base.
Just a thought! I think Jim was saying the same thing.
8th November 2017 9:28am
You can't be sued...and lose that is. Instructions aren't protected under copyright. His book is copyrighted meaning: you can't take his book, put a new cover on it and call it yours. The instructions within his book are NOT covered under copyright law. Instructions are not considered art, nor literary. His worded creativity is copyrighted, so don't plagarize, and you're fine.

Copyright covers: 1. Art and 2. Originals. It must be BOTH! Instructions, DIYs, patterns, (Simplicity Patterns has been fighting a losing battle for decades), craft how tos, home instruction manuals, etc are not copyright protected. (BUT...all diagrams/photos in instruction books ARE copyrighted!)

Now, as I said...the entirety of the book is copyright protected, but the instructions within the book aren't. Even if he came up with the name "five C" system, he would have a tough time claiming rights to renaming something people have been doing for years. Those things arent covered, because it's not literary, nor original, nor would it be considered a novel proprietary, because, again...boyscouts have been doing it for years by another name. Renaming a thing doesn't give you literary license over that thing.

BUT...just to be safe, I would give him credit if he came up with the name "C system," bc he could sue you. Though he would likely lose, you'd be out a lot of money. (Best to give credit for NEW WORDS people come up with as a CYA) But you NEVER have to give credit to other DIY videos etc, or tell where you learn your knowledge.

What you learn from a book, video, training camp, etc, is now YOUR knowledge to do with as you please: keep it to yourself, or pass it on to others. You are NOT required, nor should you really, tell others how you came by your expertise. You could have gotten it from your parents, it's no one's business, and by telling your viewers where you get your knowledge is telling your customers where ELSE to go for business, and that is not required by ANY law.

19th June 2017 4:02pm
Eddie b
You could also bring a GPS. Lol keep it basic it's called survival. Smoke is the trick or fire light at night... keep it real. Or bring you're GPS , whistle, compass, bloodhound etc. lol
20th April 2017 5:36pm
A gps isn't a bad tool, but it is unreliable, because it needs a battery, that can run out, it's electronic, so it can fail if it gets wet, dropped, or damaged. If you rely on one, you are courting disaster.
30th April 2017 7:06am
I always bring more than enough cordage while out in the bush.Smile
29th April 2016 1:50pm
Chase Savant
SOL Origin. Easy to carry and a great addition to any survival bag
27th November 2015 11:32am
In my opinion the 5C's, like the Rule of 3 need to be seen as a very good guideline but not the only thing to carry. Michael, you are absolutely right about the extra C W S, but it wouldn't help the mnemonic :)
Cheers for the site!
25th October 2015 2:28pm
Jim Daniel
On Cordage;

I built a lean-to in my backyard and was amazed at the amount of cordage required to lash it together. I learned two things while building this lean-to.

Number one: It's not as easy as it looks and it's a lot of work.

Number two: Carry as much cordage as you comfortably can. You absolutely can not carry more than you can use.

Anyone interested in bushcraft, or learning survival skills should build a shelter in their backyard. Learn these skills before you head into the woods. If you are trimming trees or clearing brush, use these materials to build a natural shelter. If not, go to Walmart and purchase a lightweight tarp. Try setting it up different ways. The experience you gain will be invaluable. One note on tarps: Don't buy the cheapest ones. The grommets tore out with incredible ease. Step up to at least the mid-priced ones. It will save you a trip back to WM. Also, I recommend the nail type tent stakes. They work great. Finally, let me say that there is much to gain and nothing to lose by building a temporary shelter in your backyard, and you will feel a great sense of satisfaction, sitting under your shelter after building it.

21st October 2015 7:28pm
I would add another C, plus a W and an S.
Signal mirror.
All 3 are small and easy to carry in a pocket, or on a string around your neck.
25th August 2015 4:33pm
You don't need a whistle or a signal mirror if you have smokef
3rd November 2015 7:33pm
Short sighted inside the box thinking on your part. If you are moving, and suddenly spot a potential rescue, you think that you have time to stop and build a fire to send smoke signals? In the rain? ROFLMFAO! Go back and rethink before you leap in.
5th April 2016 7:27pm
While you are thinking inside your little sand box, let me know how that whistle and mirror work at night in a forest area where helicopter resuce is at work. Insatead of just dissmissing fire/smoke (which works great for a longer term situation) you might want to think about also carrying a few flares (unless you're hung up on items that may add a few ounces of weight to save your life).
8th November 2016 2:26pm

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