Survival instructor

Survival instructors and students


Survival instructors guide groups into vast, natural areas, and assist them in a self-directed instruction of basic survival needs without any comfort facilities or modern gear to fall back on. They coach the participants into mastering survival skills such as fire making, producing primitive equipment, shelter construction and procurement of water and nourishment. They ensure the participants are aware of certain safety measures without diminishing the level of adventure, of environment protection and of risk management. They encourage efforts of leadership from the group and mentor the participants individually so as to push their limits responsibly and help overcome potential fears.

Survival instructors typically perform the following duties:

  • Teach survival skills: The primary duty of a survival instructor is to teach individuals how to survive in wilderness or emergency situations. They may teach skills such as building shelter, starting a fire, purifying water, and finding food.
  • Create lesson plans: Survival instructors are responsible for creating lesson plans that cover various aspects of survival, including navigation, first aid, and self-defense.
  • Demonstrate survival techniques: In addition to teaching, survival instructors may demonstrate various techniques to their students. This can include building a shelter, starting a fire without matches, and making a trap to catch food.
  • Ensure safety: Safety is a critical aspect of survival instruction, and survival instructors must ensure that their students are safe at all times. This includes teaching safe techniques and procedures, and ensuring that students have the necessary equipment and supplies.
  • Assess student progress: Survival instructors must assess their students’ progress and adjust their lesson plans accordingly. They may give quizzes or tests to evaluate knowledge retention, and provide feedback to students on their performance.

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to survival instructor:

instructor in survival techniques
educator in survival techniques
survival techniques instructor
wilderness survival trainer
survival trainer
wilderness survival instructor
wilderness instructor
survival education instructor

Working conditions

Survival instructors typically work outdoors in various weather conditions, including extreme heat, cold, rain, or snow. They may work in remote areas, such as forests or mountains, and may have to hike long distances or carry heavy equipment. Work hours can be irregular and may include weekends or holidays.

Minimum qualifications

To become a survival instructor, one needs to have a significant amount of outdoor experience and knowledge of survival techniques. Many survival instructors come from a military or wilderness background, and have undergone extensive training in survival skills. However, there are also courses and certifications that can be obtained through organizations such as the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). A high school diploma or equivalent is typically required, and some employers may require additional certifications or degrees in related fields such as wilderness medicine or outdoor education.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Survival instructor is a Skill level 3 occupation.

Survival instructor career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to survival instructor.

outdoor activities instructor
tennis coach
vessel steering instructor
sports coach
snowboard instructor

Long term prospects

These occupations require some skills and knowledge of survival instructor. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of survival instructor with a significant experience and/or extensive training.

adult literacy teacher
early years teacher
further education teacher
digital literacy teacher
photography teacher

Essential knowledge and skills

Essential knowledge

This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of survival instructor.

  • Protection from natural elements: Forces of nature, such as weather patterns and seasonal conditions, their characteristics and any means of protection against them.
  • Risk management: The process of identifying, assessing, and prioritising of all types of risks and where they could come from, such as natural causes, legal changes, or uncertainty in any given context, and the methods on dealing with risks effectively.
  • Primitive technology: Technology created for or fashioned from natural elements that assists in wilderness survival, such as handicrafts, survival tools, and weapons.
  • Natural food resources: The location, qualities, and preparations of safe, edible, and potable natural products, such as fruit, plants, meat, and fresh or recycled water.
  • Compass navigation: The monitoring of movement from a starting to a finishing point using a compass, rotated until the compass’ orienting arrow aligns with the cardinal direction north represented by an ‘N’.
  • Tracking principles: The various components to specifying an animal or person’s whereabouts by reading and interpreting the trails and signs left behind by them such as foot or paw prints, faeces, or the disturbance of the direct environment. Another important element is the age and the size of the tracks.
  • Rope lashing: The process of attaching several objects, such as poles, together by use of rope, wire, or webbing often to secure or create a rigid structure, such as a self-fashioned table, tree house, or latrine. Types of lashing include square lashing, round lashing, and diagonal lashing.

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of survival instructor.

  • Guarantee students’ safety: Ensure all students falling under an instructor or other person’s supervision are safe and accounted for. Follow safety precautions in the learning situation.
  • Provide first aid: Administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation or first aid in order to provide help to a sick or injured person until they receive more complete medical treatment.
  • Maintain camping facilities: Keep campsites or areas for recreation, including maintenance and supply selection.
  • Read maps: Read maps effectively.
  • Observe student’s progress: Follow up on students’ learning progress and assess their achievements and needs.
  • Manage student relationships: Manage the relations between students and between student and teacher. Act as a just authority and create an environment of trust and stability.
  • Lead hiking trips: Guide participants on a nature walk on foot.
  • Adapt teaching to student’s capabilities: Identify the learning struggles and successes of students. Select teaching and learning strategies that support students’ individual learning needs and goals.
  • Apply teaching strategies: Employ various approaches, learning styles, and channels to instruct students, such as communicating content in terms they can understand, organising talking points for clarity, and repeating arguments when necessary. Use a wide range of teaching devices and methodologies appropriate to the class content, the learners’ level, goals, and priorities.
  • Inspire enthusiasm for nature: Spark a passion for the natural character of fauna and flora and human interaction with it.
  • Assist students with equipment: Provide assistance to students when working with (technical) equipment used in practice-based lessons and solve operational problems when necessary.
  • Educate people about nature: Speak to a variety of audiences about e.g. information, concepts, theories and/or activities related to nature and its conservation. Produce written information. This information may be presented in a range of formats e.g. display signs, information sheets, posters, website text etc.
  • Build a fire: Select a safe location, away from trees and bushes, to build fire using tinder, a fire starter such as matches, a lighter or specific rocks, kindling wood, and logs. Ensure water is nearby to put it out.
  • Handle conflicts: Mediate in conflicts and tense situations by acting between parties, such as service users, important others like families, and institutions, striving to effect an agreement, reconciliate, and resolve problems.
  • Use rope access techniques: Apply ropework to work in elevated position. Safely ascend and descend ropes, wearing a harness.
  • Demonstrate when teaching: Present to others examples of your experience, skills, and competences that are appropriate to specific learning content to help students in their learning.
  • Assess nature of injury in emergency: Assess the nature and extent of injury or illness to establish and prioritise a plan for medical treatment.
  • Give constructive feedback: Provide founded feedback through both criticism and praise in a respectful, clear, and consistent manner. Highlight achievements as well as mistakes and set up methods of formative assessment to evaluate work.
  • Use geographic memory: Use your memory of geographic surroundings and detail in navigation.
  • Teach survival skills: Instruct participants in the theory and practice of wilderness survival, often, but not exclusively, for recreational purposes, more specifically in subjects such as food scavenging, setting up camp, building a fire, and animal behaviour.
  • Encourage students to acknowledge their achievements: Stimulate students to appreciate their own achievements and actions to nurture confidence and educational growth.

Optional knowledge and skills

Optional knowledge

This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of survival instructor. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Lip reading: The methods used to understand speech by interpreting the movements of the lips, face and tongue for people affected by hearing impairment or to understand people from a distance.
  • Animal evolution: The evolutionary history of animals and the development of species and their behaviour through domestication.
  • Teamwork principles: The cooperation between people characterised by a unified commitment to achieving a given goal, participating equally, maintaining open communication, facilitating effective usage of ideas etc.
  • Celestial navigation: Understand the science of celestial navigation and position fixing by using specialised measuring equipment.
  • Animal behaviour: The natural behavioural patterns of animals, i.e. how normal and abnormal behaviour might be expressed according to species, environment, human-animal interaction and occupation.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of survival instructor. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Use modern electronic navigational aids: Use modern navigational aids such as GPS and radar systems.
  • Represent the organisation: Act as representative of the institution, company or organisation to the outside world.
  • Consult students on learning content: Take students’ opinions and preferences into consideration when determining learning content.
  • Prepare lesson content: Prepare content to be taught in class in accordance with curriculum objectives by drafting exercises, researching up-to-date examples etc.
  • Facilitate teamwork between students: Encourage students to cooperate with others in their learning by working in teams, for example through group activities.
  • Manage groups outdoors: Conduct outdoor sessions in a dynamic and active way
  • Use rigging tools: Employ rigging tools such as cables, ropes, pulleys and winches to safely secure high structures.
  • Provide first aid to animals: Administer emergency treatment to prevent deterioration of the condition, suffering and pain until veterinary assistance can be sought. Basic emergency treatment needs to be done by non-veterinarians prior to first-aid provided by a veterinarian. Non-veterinarians providing emergency treatment are expected to seek treatment by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
  • Work with different target groups: Work with a variety of target groups based on age, gender and disability.
  • Assess students: Evaluate the students’ (academic) progress, achievements, course knowledge and skills through assignments, tests, and examinations. Diagnose their needs and track their progress, strengths, and weaknesses. Formulate a summative statement of the goals the student achieved.
  • Manage inventory of camping supplies: Oversee the inventory of camping equipment and supplies and take care of maintenance and the repair or replacement of equipment if required.
  • Operate fishing equipment: Operate and maintain equipment used recreationally for fishing or in fisheries such as various kinds of nets and fishing gear.
  • Provide lesson materials: Ensure that the necessary materials for teaching a class, such as visual aids, are prepared, up-to-date, and present in the instruction space.
  • Climb trees: Ascend and descend from trees in a safely manner.

ISCO group and title

3423 – Fitness and recreation instructors and program leaders

  1. Survival instructor – ESCO
  2. How do I become a Professional Survival Instructor by Bruce Zawalsky –
  3. How to Become a Survival Instructor – SURVIVAL CEO
  4. Featured image: By Robert Markowitz –, Public Domain
Last updated on April 27, 2023

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