Adventure Bike Survival Tips

How to be prepared: 13 tips on how to survive in the wilderness when things go wrong

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Here you are, standing next to your bike, listening to the tick-tick-tick of the cooling engine, stuck in the middle of nowhere and with sunset an hour off. Latest little adventure-touring expedition provide you with a little more adventure than you bargained for? Not to worry—as long as you have a plan and a few resources.

Close to home, your best off-road survival kit may be nothing more than a cell phone and a thermos of margaritas to enjoy while your brother-in-law arrives with the pickup truck. But if the situation is a little more challenging, you need to set some priorities, and do it fast. First-aid needs aside (your best prep for that one is training), The Rule Of Threes tells you how long you can expect to survive:

Three minutes without air.

Three hours without shelter.

Three days without water.

Three weeks without food.

Unless you’ve crashed at the bottom of a lake, air should be no problem, so on to shelter. The worse the weather, the more important shelter becomes, so your immediate survival needs are going to center around that. Shelter and fire also provide very real psychological benefits. And a few key items can turn your crash site into a Hobo Hilton.

Three Ways to Make Fire - ADV Survival Tips

Three Ways to Make Fire - ADV Survival Tips

Three Ways to Make Fire

Matches are a no-brainer, and the best are the sealed, weatherproof lifeboat matches available at a good backpacking shop. I prefer the NATO 9920-99-996-9432 Wind/Water Matches. These suckers burn so long and hot you could probably use them to weld up a cracked crankcase. Second, a disposable butane lighter. Third, a ferrocium or flint/magnesium sparker tool like the well-known Doan or Light My Fire. Don’t be shy about using the gasoline from your bike as an accelerant. Or set fire to a piece of inner-tube rubber to coax wet wood into flame; ditto for the glue from your tire-patch kit. Alternative: Be warmed by the righteous indignation smoldering deep in your gut that comes from spending $22,000 on a state-of-the-art machine stopped cold because a fifty-cent part failed.

Knife - ADV Survival Tips

Knife - ADV Survival Tips


“Where there’s a knife, there’s a life.” And you don’t need some big Rambo pig sticker here—you’re not going to be disarticulating a moose. At minimum, the blade in a good multitool will do. A Swiss Army Knife with a locking blade is a great choice (personal fave, the Victorinox Outrider model); you probably have a pair of pliers in your bike’s toolkit. With the addition of a sturdy fixed-blade knife (four- or five-inch blade), I’d be farting through silk. A wood-saw blade in the Swiss Army Knife or the Multitool is a nice bonus, as is a metal file.

Trash Bags

Your wilderness get-out-of-jail-free cards. They’re a poncho or ground cloth. Stuffed with leaves or pine needles, they’re a quilt/mattress. Slit them open to make a poor-man’s tarp. Crawl into a big one and it’s a short-term sleeping bag. The best are the

4- or 6-mil contractor-grade heavy-duty 55-gallon drum liners. The tough, red bags marked “Biohazard” are the best and thickest of all, but the authorities really freak out when they see you crawl out of one.

Rope - ADV Survival Tips

Rope - ADV Survival Tips


You should already have some tow rope with you (25 feet of one-inch flat nylon strap from the backpacking shop works the best). But 50 or 100 feet of nylon parachute cord (aka 550-cord) takes up little space and gives you a ton of shelter-construction options. Also good for lashing that $1000 aluminum pannier back on after you’ve scraped it off, or for securing that live goat you bought at the local souk so you can bring it back for dinner.


A tarp gets you out of the sun and protects you from the rain. You can wrap yourself up in it or spread it out. The best are ripstop or silcoat nylon, again available at a camping shop. Eight-by-10 feet is a decent size; 10-by-12 real luxury. If you’re trying to do this on the cheap, a sheet of Tyvek or a painter’s plastic drop cloth from the local hardware store is a fine alternate. Two mil is about the thinnest you can go.


Hook it to the zipper on your riding jacket. Get a nice loud one like Coach Herman’s in gym class. And remember that a fire and your bike’s horn and headlight are good audio/visual signaling tools.

Water Purification

You should always have water with you, but you can only carry so much. Regardless, you need to be able to purify whatever you find. Rather than carry an elaborate filter, just get some iodine-based water-purification tablets and follow the directions on the label.

Compass - ADV Survival Tips

Compass - ADV Survival Tips


Survival is about using caveman technology when modern technology (like your GPS) fails. Keep the compass on a cord around your neck and tucked into your riding jacket—the more accessible it is, the more inclined you'll be to use it.  And know how to use it, too—Björn Kjellström's Be Expert with Map and Compass is a classic reference on the subject. And take a paper map!

One-Pound Coffee Can

Don’t get me started on how a one-pound coffee can only holds 12 or 13 ounces now. You can use it as an improvised digging tool, to transfer gas from one bike to another, or to slosh parts in that gas to clean them. But most of all, it’s a great impromptu cooking pot for boiling water or making soup over a campfire. Pre-punch a couple of holes near the top and bend a piece of coat-hanger wire to make a bail to lift it when hot.


You’re not going to starve to death unless you’re stuck out there for three weeks, but getting a little chow in your belly does wonders to improve your outlook and help you think straight. You don’t need much—3000 calories will seem like a feast and will see you through a couple of days or give you enough energy to walk out. Get a double handful of Clif bars and something to make a warm drink, like some bouillon cubes or instant cocoa. A small bottle ofTabascocan make that snake you just caught taste just like chicken. Or at least like spicy snake.

Flashlight - ADV Survival Tips

Flashlight - ADV Survival Tips


Personal choice: A Petzl Zipka headlight. About the size of a golf ball, it lets you work hands-free for bike repairs or shelter building, since you’ll inevitably crash right as the sun is setting. Your bike’s battery and a taillight or turnsignal bulb (they draw less than the headlamp) work in a pinch.

Walking Shoes

It’s almost always better to stay near your bike, but when all else fails, or if you know you’re close to a well-traveled road or a town, then maybe the best plan is to suck it up and hoof it out. Walking six miles in MX boots might cripple you, but in decent footwear, I can run that same distance before breakfast. Man is a peripatetic beast. Throw in a pair of clean hiking socks, too.


PMA stands for Positive Mental Attitude, and it’s probably the most important tool you can have in your survival kit. I can’t tell you how many buff linebackers I’ve seen collapse in survival classes while a 115-pound secretary has walked away from three or four days in the bush with a smile on her face. You can do it, too. With enough toilet paper, it’s all in how you look at it. Get your mind right. Man up. They call it ADVENTURE touring for a reason.

Mark Lindemann was an Associate Editor at the late, great Cycle magazine between 1982 and 1987, and has been in the motorcycle industry ever since. He also worked with noted Wilderness Survival expert Ron Hood as an instructor, ran guided survival trips in the Sierra Nevada, has climbed on three continents and has worked with various Search and Rescue teams, including the Nordic Ski Patrol. He holds a Wilderness First Responder certification and rides about as fast as an advancing tectonic plate.