How to Survive in the Wild: Could You Outsmart the Namibian Bush?

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I pride myself on being outdoorsy, but the Namibian bush is a whole new level. While I was there, I got a crash-course on how to survive in the wild.

I’m more at home in the mountains than I am in a large city. But in a matter of minutes, I learned from our San (bushman) guide Elvis, that I was not very smart when it came to surviving the dangers lurking in the Namibian bush. So he gave me a few tips and tricks on how to survive in the wild.

How To Survive in The Wild

The first rule on how to survive in the wild Namibian bush is to know what can kill you. And I’m not talking about lions, cheetahs, or hyenas – although those are certainly out there. Perhaps even more dangerous are…. trees. Yep, trees!

How to survive in the wild

If you burn the wood of the Tamboti tree to make a fire, it becomes toxic and you may find yourself blind. Your fate will be sealed even more quickly should you come into contact with some sap from the Lily Impala, which causes deadly blood clots in a matter of minutes. No wonder the San use the sap on the tip of their arrows! Eating just a little bit of the Arub tree will also cause death. Fortunately, you can survive if you receive medical care in time.

Next assuming that a lion or poisonous tree hasn’t finished you off, you need to know what to eat – you don’t want to die of starvation.

Sour plums can be eaten or more commonly are used to make juice. If you eat them raw you will find they are called sour for a reason – but hey it’s food and it’s not toxic.

Namibia bush termite mound
A termite mound provides two food sources.

Next, you can look for a termite mound. There are two sources of food here, the termites themselves – although catching them is quite the art and the mushrooms that grow on the termite mounds.

Perhaps being in the bush for a while you are craving meat, which Namibians love to eat. Fortunately, there is a lot of it in the bush. Unfortunately, it is not so easy to catch. You have a couple of options. Learning how to trap small game will help you survive in the wild.

You can build a trap to catch a guinea fowl, which I’ve provided a step by step guide. Your second option is to build a trap that can be used to catch kudu or a zebra. In order to do this, you need to build a big enough hole to hold a kudu or zebra. You will also want to cover a few sharp branches with the sap from the Lily Impala to finish the animal off. Next, you will want to cover it with leaves. And you wait…. 

Namibia bush animal trap
Simulated animal trap – not actual size for safety and legal reasons.

The only problem with this option is that it’s illegal in Namibia since, in addition to being dangerous for animals, it’s also dangerous for people so you will be breaking the law. Hey, no one said that surviving in the Namibian bush would be easy.

You will also need to learn a new language to survive in the bush. I’m not talking about one of the tribal languages, but that of learning to read animal tracks. Pop quiz: Which animals to the prints in the top left and top right photo belong to? This is important when learning how to survive in the wild, whether its to look for food or avoiding being the food.

Namibia bush animal tracks
Animal tracks in the Namibian bush. Can you identify them?

If you answered warthog and giraffe you are correct. If not, well, your Namibian bush survival skills need some work – otherwise, you might find that you have inadvertently lead yourself straight into the clutches of a predator.

You also need to be able to tell how old the prints are. There’s no point in tracking impala prints that are a couple of days old – they will be long gone. You will also want to avoid following the tracks of another hunter who is obviously tracking an animal, since should you end up killing his animal, he has the right to kill you on the spot for stealing his kill. When learning how to survive in the wild, you should consider more than just predators and poison trees, humans can be just ass dangerous in the wrong situation.

Like I said, life in the Namibian bush can be brutal.

Namibia bush leedwood tree firewood
The wood from a Leedwood tree is a great source of firewood.

You will also want to keep your eyes open for the Leadwood tree since it’s wood is perfect for barbecuing your recent catches – assuming that you have been successful that is and that your fire-making skills are up to par. Mine sadly is not. The how to survive in the wild guide needs to include this, especially since a fire in the right situation can be your best friend.

Should you find yourself feeling unwell in the bush, a cure is never far away. Cure a fever by boiling the leaves of the Leadwood tree. A remedy the San still use today.

Namibia bush aloe vera plant
An aloe vera plant can be used to treat cuts and cure stomach woes.

For stomach woes, the Aloe Vera plant can help clean out your stomach when mixed with water. Warning: it acts as a diuretic so be prepared for its consequences. Elvis highly recommends not using it more than once a day!

You can make your own rope in the bush.

Finally, you may find yourself in need of some rope. No worries if you forgot it at home. You can make your own in the bush. Find some wild onion, pound it, rub it, whack it a few times, then roll it on your legs, which also has the added benefit of shaving your legs at the same time. The results of your labour should look like the ones pictured above.

A love of hiking, mountains, and cheetahs, does not a bushgirl make!

Learn From a Real San (Bushman) How to Survive in the Wild:

  • Learn more about how to be a Namibian San on a bushwalk at Treesleeper Camp, located near the village of Tsintsabis.
  • A ~2-hour walk costs 110 Namibian $ (~€8 or $10 USD)
  • It’s a sustainable, community tourism initiative.
  • Village tours and cultural performance are also available.
  • Advance reservations are required.  Book at least two days (or earlier) in advance. This can be done through their website.
  • Definitely get Travel Insurance for peace of mind. Emergency evacuation from the Namibian bush isn’t cheap.
  • Bring the with you to make sure you don’t get lost!
  • Update:  As of August 2014, Treesleeper’s website was no longer working.  To find a similar tour contact the Namibian Tourism Board.

So what do you think? Could you survive in the wild with this how-to guide?