Hawke's Special Forces Survival Handbook

The Portable Guide to Getting Out Alive


By Mykel Hawke

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 26, 2011. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

U.S. Special Forces Captain and outdoor survival expert Mykel Hawke provides the most practical and accessible survival skills and information necessary to survive in the outdoors.

These methods are based on Hawke’s 25-year career as a Captain in the U.S. Army, as founder of the survival training company Special Ops Inc, and as a popular survival expert on television-including his Discovery Channel series Man Woman Wild.

Geared to the untrained civilian, Hawke’s Special Forces Survival Handbook provides illustrated how-to info on shelter, water, fire, food, first aid, tools, navigation, signaling, and survival psychology. Now with a flexibind cover and small format perfect for the glove compartment and backpack, this edition gives readers the tools necessary to survive the worst circumstances and make it out alive.


It happens to thousands of people every year, and it could just as easily happen to you. Your airplane goes down in the wilderness; or the train you're riding derails miles from the nearest junction; or your car breaks down in the desert; or you get lost while hiking in the woods; or a snowstorm strands you in the mountains unprepared ... the possibilities are endless.
In any case, you may survive the initial trauma event only to quickly realize that you are now in a terrible, dangerous predicament. It's possible that everyone who was with you has died, including your spouse, child, or friend; or maybe some have also survived. It's likely that you or others have sustained bad injuries. You may find that you have little-to-no resources available—no food or water, no tools, no communication device, and no clue where you are or how to get to someplace safe. But the biggest question of all is whether or not you will be able to handle the reality of the situation in your head and heart: Do you have the will to survive?
This book is for anyone who would hope to be prepared should they find themselves in such dire straits. The general survival situation I talk about inside this book is the kind that no one chooses to place themselves into—in other words, this is not for hikers or mountaineers or skilled outdoorsmen. And the information and skills I provide are meant to be grasped and applied by anyone. By far the most important factor in anyone's survival in these cases is not only the topic of this first chapter, but it is something that anyone can develop and carry with them at all times. That is, a strong psychology for survival—the will to live.
You must say this right now—"I will do everything and anything it takes to stay alive and to keep going with every ounce of my physical and spiritual energy, until I get back home and into the hearts of the ones I love."
I am telling you right now that this is the single most important lesson in this book: Never quit!

Preparation at Fort Living Room

The general rules of life clearly state that if you're ready for something, it won't happen; and if you ain't ready, it sure will happen! This phenomenon is sometimes called "Murphy's Law" (or "Sod's Law" in the UK) and I have found that it also translates perfectly into "Hawke's Law of Survival." So when I travel, I always have a little chuckle to myself thinking, "If this plane goes down and anyone survives, it probably won't be me, but rather someone who wouldn't even know how to use half my travel survival kit, providing they even thought to look for it, haha!" I'll be the dead guy with all the handy stuff on his body, so search me well if you happen to be on my flight!
Okay, this gives you a feel for my sense of humor. You'll see that I apply it throughout the book, and heck, throughout my life for that matter. You'd be surprised at how a sense of humor can benefit you in the worst of situations. Look at it like this: it'd be pretty funny to survive a plane crash or boat sinking, and then die from lack of food or water! But look at the upside—either way, if you die fast, there's no suffering; if you die of starvation or exposure, well, at least you had time to make peace with your maker. You see, either way and in all things, I suggest you always look for the positive, and don't dwell on the negative any more than you need to in order to identify it and learn not to repeat whatever caused it. If something you're doing or thinking ain't fixing or improving your situation, it's wasting your time. And the clock is always ticking towards your death, so don't squander one moment in unproductive depression or self-pity or any of the other things that only serve to drain your energy without benefit.
Now, don't get me wrong: of course you should take some time—after you've done all you can to handle the immediate disaster and are having a well-deserved and well-timed break—to give things a think, even have a cry. This is healthy if controlled, and even necessary for your psyche. We must mourn if we experienced loss, and usually with a survival situation, there is loss. And accept the possibility that more anguish may be on the way—otherwise, you will fear it, and fear will beat you down faster than anything and spread like a virus. It will consume you in a heartbeat and even spread to others very quickly if you're in a group.
That is why combat commanders cannot tolerate fear in the ranks. Fear is that dangerous, and you should view fear as your worst enemy in any survival situation. The way we as commanders manage it, is to keep the troops busy and productive. All that apparent "busywork" that soldiers always seem to be doing has a purpose—commanders are making sure the men don't have time for fear to set in. You should do the same.
You see, most fear is a result of ignorance; it's a fear of the unknown. By sitting down in Fort Living Room, right now, learning techniques and gaining confidence in your knowledge of what to do, you are putting yourself in a better position to handle a survival situation when you're in a real hurt box.
Now, reading and thinking about it is better than nothing, but nothing is better than hands-on experience when it comes to the survival arts. So get prepared by reading this book, trying many of the skills and techniques within, getting good at the ones that feel most natural to you, and practicing them every once in a while. This will give you the hard skills and confidence that will keep you prepared for anything. And that is the number-one way to fight fear—to know what to do.
No matter whether you are a man, woman, child, old, young, fit, or even disabled—I don't give a rat's butt, frankly—you can make it as long as you work on your basics, know what you want to live for, and never quit. Heart, Mind, and Skills (in that order!) vanquish fear. This is the key to survival.
The most important skill you can have and develop is simply good old-fashioned common sense. And before we get into what it takes to be prepared, let's talk for a moment about not being prepared. As in Murphy's Law of combat, you'll likely find yourself in a survival situation right on the day you decide to go to the store to buy a bunch of survival stuff!
Ultimately you need to be mentally prepared for the harsh realties of surviving. Death is real and a real possibility always. The key is, if you find yourself in a bad situation and you have nothing: Then you are surviving!
When you have nothing, this commitment is all you have, and, more times than not, this can actually be enough. You don't stop to think and let the fear get a grip, you just keep driving on and never quit. Keeping a grip on one's courage has carried countless many through almost certain death in battle, and so it can serve you, too, in the battle for survival. I cannot repeat or stress enough the mantra: Never quit!
Of course the survival situation is quite a different reality than that of the combat soldier. However, the potential end result is the same. Dead is dead. And it is in this way that the psychology of survival is applicable both to soldiers and survivors.

Tools & Toys

Obviously, most survival scenarios happen instantly and without warning, so it's unlikely that you will have any tools at all on your person to help you through. Or is it?
I always carry at least a minimal "survival kit" most places I go. I'll discuss these in detail in Chapter 10. But for now, let's look at some of the most practical survival tools—or "toys" as we sometimes call 'em—you should consider carrying whenever you travel.


First and foremost is communications. Let's face it, the best way outta trouble is the most direct and easiest—pick up the bat phone and call for the rescue limo service.
Satellite phones, cell phones, radios, and other signaling devices like laser lights, strobes, beacons, transponders, flares, etc. are all available. Get them, keep them.
I always look for size and weight first. The reason is simple: if it's too big and bulky, it becomes cumbersome and eventually gets left behind. Murphy's Law of Combat states: "The day you leave it behind, even after years of carrying it without use, will be the very day you need it most." So, carry everything all the time and always test these devices.

Knives, Tools, and Other Gizmos

Everything you can get, and carry, is good. And anything is always better than nothing. But make it count. Check it out before you're down and out—remember: keep it light!
As for knives and tools, for every pro there is a con. A big knife is great for whacking down trees to make a shelter, a raft, a sled, etc. But, they not only make it really hard to do small stuff like make snares and traps, they can actually be dangerous.
The same goes for knives that are too small. These are great for most jobs around the camp for surviving, but they sure make it hard to build a shelter. Try for a middle ground.
The number-one tool in survival is the knife. Always carry one or have one available and/or accessible. And learn a few ways to make or improvise different knives.
One of Murphy's/Sod's Laws is that there are no Atheists in foxholes. That means, when you're in battle and bullets are flying, folks who do not believe in God or some spiritual entity by any name, tend to find themselves making prayers to someone or something when it looks like death is an imminent potentiality. And the same holds true for those surviving: all of a sudden, you figure out what matters to you most and what you believe in, if you hadn't before.

Murphy's Laws of Combat and Hawke's Laws of Survival

Let me share with you a few of Murphy's Laws of Combat, as they're extremely relevant to Hawke's Laws of Survival. For you vets, these will remind you of the tickle you got the first time you learned them in practice. For those of you not familiar with them, they will give you a great insight into the realities of survival, since survival really is combat between you and nature, a fight to live. And nature is always stronger, you never defeat her, you only overcome her challenges. Respecting the laws of combat is tantamount to respecting the laws of nature. You will be better off for it in both instances.
Murphy's Laws of Combat (just a few, as there are many)
If it's stupid but it works, it ain't stupid
No plan ever survives first contact with the enemy
The enemy attacks on two occasions—when he's ready, and, when you're not
No inspection-ready unit ever passed in combat, and no combat-ready unit ever passed inspection
When you are short everything but enemy, you're in combat
When the battle is going your way, you're in an ambush or trap
Hawke's Laws of Survival (for starters....)
Never quit
Everything you plan and pack, will be lost in the event that causes the survival scenario
Survival situations happen to those who haven't studied, or have but aren't ready
The best-trained, most-equipped survivalist will be the first one killed in the crash
The person least likely to survive will be the one left to face surviving
When you lack everything but misery, you are surviving
When you think you got it all handled, you're in the biggest trouble

Ecological Footprint

When I encounter people who don't want to chop a small tree for their shelter in the cold, or they don't want to kill a small mammal for their meal, then I hand them a pencil and paper. I ask them, "Who is the most important person alive on this planet that you love and care for?" Then I tell them to write this letter:
"Dear Jonnie/Janie,
I love you very much, but I love this tree or this critter more than you, so, I refuse to kill it. Therefore, I will lay down here and die. But know that I love you, very much, just not as much as this rabbit or bush."
They always chop or kill after that....

Should I Stay or Should I Go

The second key decision you will have to make after a tragic event leaves you in a survival situation is: Should I stay or should I go? (The first, of course, is: "Do I want to live, or am I gonna give up right now because it's all just too much." By now, you know the answer to that question. Hint: Never Quit!)
Before you can start considering food, water, fire, shelter, and other necessities, you must first assess your immediate circumstances. If your life is in peril, you must remedy that condition. If someone else is in peril, too, and you assess that you can get them and yourself out at the same time, then do not hesitate to snatch them up and scoot. However, if you got a snapped arm, and they've got double broken legs, then it's not heroism but rather foolishness to try and pull them and you out, if the plane is about to go over a cliff, for example. In the first moments, it's all about heartbeat assessments and split-second decisions. Many folks can and will second-guess themselves later, but that is for then, not now. If you're a fitness stud and conditions are right, go for the heroism. If you're hungover, or sick, or otherwise weak, and you just know you can't get them too, then get yourself out—otherwise, there is just one more dead person and that would be a tragic waste as you might have saved ten people later if you had lived. Now if your child or lover is in danger, and you'd rather not live without them, no rules, go for it—do all you can to save them regardless of your position or the situation. Either way, your problems will be solved.
But once you have yourself and others out of immediate harm's way, and you've treated yourself and others—as first aid is the real first priority of survival—then you make the decision to stay where you are and wait for help, or go, evacuating the immediate area and looking for ways out. Stay Or Go = (the SOG-y plan)
This decision will determine everything that follows. What to bring, what to leave, what to use now, what to ration; these are all answered based on this one key decision—to stay or to go.
Now sometimes you won't even have an option. If your ship sinks, you're pretty much stranded right where it sunk unless you have a lifeboat. But without it, you're stuck at the mercy of the seas, currents, winds, and other elements at play. In these cases, you just start working on improving your situation, seeking refuse, debris, other survivors, etc.
But when it is an option to stay or go, the general thinking is most of the time it is better to stay put. Especially nowadays when most aircraft, sea vessels, and other forms of transport are tied into radio, satellite, and navigation systems that tell others back in civilization where that transport is and where it isn't, when it should have reported in, and when it didn't make its last required communications.
For these reasons, most of the time, the right answer is to stay put. Even when you are alone in a broken down vehicle or at a campsite, these things have a larger footprint than a lone individual walking around by themselves. This means it will be easier for someone to find you if you are lost or stranded. Staying put near a crash site will highly increase the chances of being found and ultimately surviving.
In these cases, figure out what the priorities are. In most cases, water will be the very first priority, but, if you're in a harsh environment, shelter might be the top priority. And if very cold or wet, fire might be more immediately important than water. But in all cases, make water a priority and when not number one, keep in mind that it is always a close number two unless you happen to have plenty of it on hand.
Of course, there will be situations in which you will come to realize that your best chances of survival will be to pack up and start walking. In some cases, the place you're at will be so inhospitable that extended survival there doesn't seem likely. In other cases, you may do all you can to survive for several days or even weeks at the scene of the disaster while hoping that rescuers are on the way, and then finally decide that no one is coming to save you, in which case you would have to seriously consider making a plan and heading out to find your own rescue.
Whether you stay or go, the priorities of survival remain the same. The constants are: shelter, water, food, and fire. Their order is variable, but these factors are not. Remember the acronym: S.W.F.F. In other words, you need to think and act "SWiFFly" in all things survival.
We'll discuss these things in detail in each specific chapter. For now, it is enough to know that you must make a decision early on to stay or to go. The rest of your dramatic story will unfold and be told as you go from that fork in the road.

Make a Plan and Plan on Changes!

Always make a plan, no matter what. It gives you (and others, if present) a starting point. It helps you to keep focused and on-track when things happen to confuse or interrupt your efforts.
But remember Murphy's Law: No plan survives first contact with the enemy. The same is true for you in a survival situation. Rarely will anything you plan work out just the way you think or envision. In fact, it is best to plan on having numerous changes in the plan!
And when it comes to initial decisions and moves, remember the acronym "D.A.P.R. S.O.G." In other words, "DAPpeR before SOGgy." This relates to four elements:
Danger: Get out of harm's way, and get others out of harm's way if you safely can.
Assistance: Provide first aid to yourself and others.
Prioritize: Assess the situation and prioritize the SWFF constants (shelter, water, fire, food).
Reality: Decide to stay or go.
Ration and plan for the long haul, no matter what your circumstances and decisions, as it is the case more times than not that folks are stranded far longer than they ever anticipate. Whether you opt to stay at the site or make a move, rationing is the smart move.

Ancient Chinese Wisdom: Expectation Is the Source of All Unhappiness

One of the fundamental keys to your survival is to not expect anything.
Do not expect to be rescued; you will only be let down, disheartened, and disillusioned if it doesn't come to pass. Do not expect to have any creature comforts; you will only become angry, frustrated, and fatigued when you don't have them. Do not expect that anything will go right or go your way or be easy; you will only lose interest, drive, and motivation at every corner when they don't.
Expect nothing. Expect no one to do anything for you. Expect no one to find you. Expect not to live. This is your reality. You must accept this and live in this very moment this way. To expect to get out and walk away is to fear the opposite if it happens. To fear is to freeze, and to freeze can be the very thing that causes what you fear to happen.
The point of this Asian concept is to live right here, right now, in this present moment.
Expectation is different than hope. Hope for everything. Believe in yourself. Dream of your return to better times, see it and envision a happy ending. Do this in the slow moments, or the quiet, cold, wet, or hot moments when you can do nothing else but think. But then, when that time has passed and it's time to work or move, put those thoughts away and hold no expectations of their fruition. Keep all of these alive and within you, and nurture them every day and re-kindle them when doused, so as to never let them fade and pass. But do not expect.
As the ancient Chinese wisdom says, expectation is the source of all unhappiness. It is true. It is a false seed that will not bear fruit. Do not plant it; do not let it take root. Rip it out if it does begin to grow in you, and do this with a vengeance.
Expect nothing. Hope for everything.
Remember: Choose Life; Kill to Live; be DAPpeR before SOGgy; think SWiFFly; and above all, Never quit!
This is all I have to say on Survival Psychology.

Easiest first is the rule for shelters.
Look around you and make what you have work for you. If you have a broken down vehicle, aircraft, sea vessel, or any wreckage or building debris, use it.
Be aware that building a shelter takes time, and a good one takes work and therefore energy—especially to make it windproof and waterproof. If you are lucky enough to have all that sorted out for you, or if you're in such a pleasant climate that you can do without, then maybe consider not even making a shelter. Forget that! In the best of conditions, I still recommend using something for cover. Weather can change quickly, night temperatures may be very different than daytime temperatures, and most of all, you never know what critters and creepy crawlers are about. Just don't risk it.
So, first use what you have. If you don't have a ready-made shelter, use what is readily available in your surroundings to make the easiest thing first. Of course, the situation dictates. If you need protection from the rain or heat or snow, cold, and wind, then do what you need, but just past the minimum is what I recommend the first night. You will have plenty of other things to do.
The Time Factor: Give yourself at least one hour to make a minimal shelter if you have good stuff around you. If there's not much around, give yourself two hours. Shelters take time to build. If it's early morning, great, you have time; if it's afternoon or evening, move shelter higher on the priority list. Even if you have something for shelter already, get in it and test it before dark.
I have also taken all day to make a very good shelter, but only after I had food and water sorted out. With every shelter, be sure to gather lots of cushion for sleeping and lots of leaves and foliage to cover yourself for warmth.
On Day One, you need only to create a shelter that's just good enough. Otherwise, hydrate, eat, keep dry, tend wounds, make fire, make tools, make signals, or do anything productive if there is plenty of daylight once you've made the shelter.
Otherwise, Sleep! Sleep as much and as long as you can the first night. Start by getting rest, or "recovery." It is necessary for your machine, your body, to have down time to recover its strength and maintain its health. Do not underestimate the power of sleep to do this, and do not neglect it as a mandatory part of your planning in all phases.
Stay or Go? After you've rested you can make a more informed decision to stay or go. If you decide to go, then having spent too much time on a shelter would have been a waste of time and energy.
If you do decide to stay at your location, you might find your actual shelter site might not be the best one available in your immediate vicinity. So, scout! If you're staying put, scout around and see what you have available. If you decide you need to go, as you walk, always be on the lookout for a good shelter.
Bottom line, the function of a shelter is to protect you from the elements when necessary, and to protect you while vulnerable during sleep. Its quality level will affect your sleep, which in turn will affect all your decisions, judgment, and reaction time.

Considerations for Shelters

The Basics. First of all, let me say that there is no exact "right way" to build a survival shelter. You will be making your shelter out of the materials available to you, and so each shelter you build will look different. However, there are basic principles that you should know and practice that will enable you to make fine protective shelters in practically any environment, regardless of what tools or resources you may or may not have. Some terms describing the most basic shelters include A-frame (a stick frame shaped like the letter "A"), tepee (shaped like a common Native American tepee and made from sticks and foliage), and lean-to (basically, a wall of sticks built on a leaning angle to protect from elements). You can also burrow out a shelter, make a shelter from rocks or logs, dig into snow, and so on. Let's get into the details....
Get Off the Ground. The first rule in all cases, really, is to get off the ground. I always look to the trees for shelter first when I need shelter fast. It gets me off the ground and keeps me safe from most things—flash floods, mean beasties, and bad bugs.
In a worst-case scenario where you have no tools or little time, simply find two good branches—one to sit on, straddle, or otherwise hold you up, with another one close enough to wedge yourself in so you won't fall out. And then let the rest of your body lean against the base of the tree. I call this "airplane sleeping." You're high up, and you can almost sleep, but not quite, like in the economy seats on airplanes.
But it will get you off the ground, provide you some shelter (if it's bushy enough, and not too windy or rainy), and it is safer than nothing unless you're so high that a fall would be harmful or fatal. In any case, it's wise to use a belt or shoe strings or an extra item of clothing to "tie in" so you don't fall completely.
Tree shelter
Building a Tree Shelter.


On Sale
Apr 26, 2011
Page Count
224 pages
Running Press

Mykel Hawke

About the Author

Mykel Hawke is a Green Beret combat veteran and Captain (Ret.) in the U.S. Army Special Forces; Director of Spec Ops Inc (an international outdoor-survival training company); and popular television survival expert from the Discovery Channel's hit shows Man, Woman, Wild and One Man Army. He is the author of Hawke's Green Beret Survival Manual.

Learn more about this author