What are the basic needs of survival?

by Feb 12, 2021Survival

Whether you are surviving in the wilderness or day to day in the city you have the same basic survival needs as laid out in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  In order to thrive in any situation, the basic needs have to be met first which includes Physiological needs and Security needs.  The other needs as set down by Maslow (Love and Belonging, Esteem needs and Self actualization) will not be successful if the bottom two levels are not met.


Emergency Kit
Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs explains human growth and survival.


What are physiological needs?

The things our body needs to physically survive in everyday life and they include air, water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing, warmth, reproduction and homeostasis.


You need fresh clean air with an oxygen saturation range of 19.5 to 23.5%.  Not enough oxygen you can feel faint, pass out and possibly die.  Entering enclosed spaces such as cellars, storage tanks and the like could have low oxygen levels and raised levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) or other gases which can kill you in a matter of minutes.  The same applies if you are locked in a sealed compartment which starts out with breathable air but your breath slowly raises the CO2 level making you sleepy and then unconscious.

Ensure you keep your work area well ventilated.  Store and work with chemicals outdoors and wear required protective equipment.  Don’t run petrol powered equipment such as generators indoors or near the opening to the room as the fumes are toxic.


We need at least 2 to 3 litres of clean drinking water per day, but this will change depending on the environment.  In the hot dry out back you could drink 6 or more litres per day.  In these conditions you will need to increase your uptake of electrolytes as they will be lost through sweat.

How long you can survive without water depends on the climate, your activity level, and how dehydrated you were before running out of water.  Some say 3 days but in hot climates you could have heat stroke and be unconscious in one day.

Don’t assume all water is clean.  Town water can be contaminated by a burst water main or power outage at the treatment plant.  Bore water is a picture of all the rocks, minerals, and contaminants it has been through getting to your well or bore.  Rivers and creeks can be contaminated with chemicals, dead animals, algae, salt, bacteria and more. 

Rain water can be fresh but it can pick up contaminants from your roof and guttering.  This can be minimised by keeping your roof clean and debris out of your guttering.  Rainwater tanks can develop bacteria over time so should be treated regularly as set out in the Australian Drinking water Guidelines.   There are various ways to purify water for drinking from do it yourself to off the shelve products.


Unlike water which is vital you can survive longer without food.  The factors that determine how long you survive without food depend on our health (diabetes), activity level, our weight, and hydration level.  If you are of ill health or slim you have less energy in the battery than someone who could loose 10kg and not notice it.  But over time the body starts to break down muscle and body organs for energy and this can be fatal.

The amount of energy you need to carry out basic daily living depends on your height, weight and activity level.  In a survival situation where you don’t have enough food you will loose weight, feel tired and exhausted.  If you don’t have enough food, limit physical activity which is difficult if you are trying to save yourself.  Knowing which foods to eat and having a supply with you greatly improves your odds of survival.


Shelter from the elements will help with survival and improve your mental attitude.  You need protection from rain, snow, hail, cold wind, the sun, heat, animal attack, humans and more.  Shelters can be temporary or long-term depending on your situation.  This shelter can be as simple as going inside a building, sitting in your car or getting under a bridge.  Outdoors you may need to build an improvised shelter or find a cave for protection.




Sleep is vital for our physical and mental wellbeing.  After 3 to 4 nights without sleep humans start to hallucinate which is a big problem when you are looking after yourself.  We need 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night.  Which may be difficult in a survival situation when you are worried about everything killing you.  But missing just one night’s sleep starts to affect your mind and body.  You are not thinking straight, fatigue causes you to not pay attention and stumble around.  By setting up a safe shelter area you can get the required sleep with less worry.


Clothing provides many functions from

  • Keeping us warm
  • Protection from sun and weather
  • Protection from the environment (thorns, insects)
  • Personal privacy
  • Improvised uses for survival (water purifying, flag waving)

Being properly dressed for the environment you are going into and having a jacket and rain coat in your back pack will assist in the prevent of injury.


Your body is always trying to loose heat to maintain the ideal temperature as your body core continually generates heat.  But your core can only generator heat at a certain rate and for as long as you provide it with food.  Being in cold environments, or being caught out in wind and rain can quickly draw heat from your body resulting in hypothermia.

Just think how miserable you felt when you were cold and shivering and couldn’t get any warmth.  This affects your ability to survive when something goes wrong.  You can gain warmth from

  • Fire – fire place, camp fire
  • Heater – house, car
  • Hot water bottles
  • Shared bodily warmth
  • Insulation (sleeping bag, vegetation)
  • Taking shelter out of cooling environment

But don’t over do it.  Too much heat in the middle of winter can still see you get dehydrated and overheated.


I don’t have to say most of us like this part but what does it have to do with survival?  More survival of the species.  If something catastrophic was to happen where the death rate was high, we would need to be having children to maintain the species.  Back in our grand parents and great grand parents’ days they had lots of kids for several reasons.  One they did not have birth control, but also the death rate for disease, injury, famine, war, child birth and more was high.

The planet is fairly over populated now so there isn’t a push to have more kids.  But with a pandemic, world war, severe volcanic event or space related event we could see a big change in the population.


Having things stay the same is comforting.  We have worked out how to live happily in our current way of life.  Then things change and we are thrown into a world of stress trying to work out the current problems and how to fix them to get back to our happy place.  We fear the unknown which can be paralysing preventing us from moving forward in our lives.  In a survival situation everything is new and if we don’t want to face it, we won’t get far.




What are Security needs?

The things that keep us safe ensuring a healthy mind and body.

Personal Safety

Personal safety is a big part of our survival lives.  Either in the city worried about being attacked, stabbed, robbed or shot or in the bush worried about being bitten by a snake or attacked by wild animals’, fear does run through our heads.  We need to set up our environment to be safer.  This can be with security systems, personal weapons, choosing when and where to travel and not going out alone.

 Health and wellbeing

Managing your health and safety will prevent injury and illnesses.  Carry out some risk management to determine what around you can cause injury or illness.  Living in a dangerous environment can hinder your chances of survival in the long term.  When it comes to survival being injured is a big problem, it could end up being fatal.   Develop your first aid skills will minimise the complications of injury.

Managing your food and water situation will greatly affect your health and mental well being too.  Have a wide range of foods regularly, I see on survival tv shows people wither away with food on the shelf because they don’t want to eat it all.

Financial security

Being financially secure relieves stress and enables you to develop further.  This can be having employment, an income stream from shares or personal business, having ample savings or other financial system.  Living within your means is the best form of financial security, you can live on a low income if you are in the right situation and have fewer bills.  Having financial security help provide the things needed to survive in the modern world.


This was not in Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs but it is essential for survival.  One of the best communication options that you should be doing daily is telling someone where you are going.  From telling a work mate you are going to the toilet or to the café for lunch to ringing up your relatives telling them when you are leaving to see them, which route you are taking and when you expect to get there.  If something goes wrong, someone has a fair idea where you should be.  It gives the searchers a starting point.

When I was in the State Emergency Service, we had a missing woman who went out shopping and didn’t tell anyone where she went and didn’t come home.  She was last seen at a bank earlier that day.   No one knew where she went, did she leave the city, have an accident or similar.  After a lot of searching, she was found by a member of the public about 10 days later in a creek with a broken leg after a vehicle accident on a mountain road.  And then she was only seen because her windscreen reflected the sun through the trees.

This can be as simple as having your mobile phone with you.  But if you don’t have mobile phone reception or the phone has stopped working you need alternative means for communicating.  Some examples of alternative communication can be having flares, Epirb and HF radio in a boat.  Taking a personal Epirb locator and signaling mirror when hiking.  Other options include signal fires, tapping on steel in a collapsed building, writing a big SOS sign on a beach or open area.  


In your everyday life you need to address these basic needs for survival.  It doesn’t have to be a disaster but just your day to day living.  If you don’t address these basic needs you will struggle to move forward in your life regarding love, self-esteem, and self-actualisation.  You can go at it alone but it is easier when you find the right people to share your experiences with.



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