What I Really Learned from the Wilderness Survival Merit Badge


Over the weekend I joined Troop 29 for their "survival weekend," an opportunity for the Scouts to earn most of the Wilderness Survival merit badge.

I earned the Wilderness Survival merit badge at my first year of summer camp, at Camp Workcoeman in 1988. I had a great counselor who really emphasized the survival aspect (attitude and water) and only briefly covered the less important stuff (food and fire).

With survival and attitude in mind, we learned the acronym STOP:

  • Stop
  • Think
  • Observe
  • Plan

I didn't realize it at the time, but thinkng this way is useful in many situations--not just survival.


As soon as you notice something wrong, stop. If you've lost your way and become disoriented or come into bad weather or any other situation, you and your party should stop moving immediately. You don't want to worsen the situation.

Think about your predicament. Where were you last sure you were on the trail? Do you have alternate exits available? That sort of thing.

Observe your surroundings, assets, yourself, and the rest of your party. Are there obvious landmarks (maybe to help re-orient yourself)? Do you have more clothing or cover available if caught in a snowstorm? Perhaps most importantly, how are you and the rest of your group doing--physically and mentally?

Come up with a plan. Between the think and observe steps you can collect a lot of information to help make informed decisions about how to best proceed. Certainly, this could be the toughest step--survival priorities like water might have to take a back seat to fire, just for a moral booster. (And hopefully hypothermia hasn't set in--impaired judgment!)

Happily, I've never been in a survival situation where I've used this process. I do use the process in problem-solving situations, though. At work, for example, when I realize a project isn't going right it's an easy way to access the project's state and come up with a way to meet a deadline.

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Dan & Sherree & Patrick currently uses Facebook for comments. Older comments are still here for readers, though. Read old comments »

Great insight!

Personal mgt = life resouirce management
Wilderness Sur. = crisis management.

But fire is VERY important: purifies water; signal, day or night; 98.6; dries clothing, boosts morale.

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