Winter Survival Exercise

This is an interesting quiz I did in my organisational behaviour course two years ago.


You have just crash landed somewhere in the woods of southern Manitoba or possibly northern Minnesota. It is 11:32 am in mid-January. The small plane in which you were travelling crashed onto a small lake. The pilot and co-pilot were killed. Shortly after the crash, the plane sank completely into the lake with the pilot and co-pilot’s bodies inside. Everyone else on the flight escaped to land dry and without serious injury.

The crash came suddenly before the pilot had time to radio for help or inform anyone of your position. Since your pilot was trying to avoid the storm, you know the plan was considerably off course. The pilot announced shortly before the crash that you were 70 kilometres northwest of a small town that is the nearest known habitation.

You are in a wilderness area made up of many lakes and rivers. The snow depth varies from above the ankles in windswept areas to more than knee deep where it has drifted. The last weather report indicated that the temperature would reach minus 10 degrees Celsius in the daytime and minus 25 degrees at night. There is plenty of dead wood and twigs in the area around the lake. You and the other surviving passengers are dressed in winter clothing appropriate for city wear — suits, pantsuits, street shoes and overcoats. Assume that the number of persons in the group is the same as the number of persons in your group, and that you have agreed to stay together.

While escaping from the plane, your group salvaged 12 items listed below:

  • Ball of steel wool
  • Newspapers
  • Compass
  • Hand axe
  • Cigarette lighter without fluid
  • Loaded .45-calibre pistol
  • Waterproof section aerial map
  • One 20-by-20-foot piece of heavy-duty canvas
  • Extra shirt and pants
  • One can of shortening
  • One quart of whiskey
  • One family-size chocolate bar


  1. Rank the above items according to their importance to your survival, starting with 1 for the most important one and proceeding to 12 for the least important one.

  2. Calculate your final score by adding the absolute difference between your rankings with that of survival experts. For example, if you ranked an item as 2 while the expert ranked it as 5, your score for the particular item is 3 and not minus 3. The lower your final score, the better chance of survival you have.

Click here for the answers.


This is how the survival experts rank the items, with accompanying explanations of their uses:

  1. Cigarette lighter without fluid: to produce sparks to start a fire

  2. Ball of steel wool: to catch the sparks made by the cigarette lighter

  3. Extra shirt and pants: used for added warmth, shelter, signaling, bedding, bandages, string when unraveled, and tinder to make fires

  4. One can of shortening: use the lid for a mirror-like signaling device, use the shortening to protect exposed areas of the body from cold or to eat, melted shorting can be helpful in starting fires

  5. One 20-by-20-foot piece of heavy-duty canvas: to provide shelter

  6. Hand axe

  7. One family-size chocolate bar

  8. Newspapers: stuff into clothing for added insulation, use to start fires

  9. Loaded .45-calibre pistol: use as a signaling device

  10. One quart of whiskey: use to aid in starting a fire

  11. Waterproof section aerial map: dangerous because it may encourage people to seek help

  12. Compass: also dangerous because it may encourage people to seek help, use as a signaling device


The best way to survive is to stay near the crash site. A gung ho attempt to walk 70 kilometres through knee-deep snow in sub-zero temperatures would be suicidal, especially since everyone is only wearing winter clothing appropriate only for city wear.

My final score was 58, the worst in my class.

I’ve always thought that my survival skills should be well-honed after spending countless nights out in the jungle as a Scout and during my military training. Apparently I’ve gained nothing but overconfidence.

How well did you do?

01 February 2005 · Fun

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