Forget about food to stay alive

Posted on: March 30, 2017 | Bob Frye | Comments

Dan Wowak lasted 50 days in the wilds eating little more than nine fish.
Photo from History Channel

Even as crash diets go, this was extreme.

Dan Wowak of Coalcracker Bushcraft in Mahony City, Schuylkill County, was a contestant on season three of “Alone,” the History Channel program that dropped 10 contestants off, solo, in a survival situation to see who could last the longest. The winner – it wasn’t Wowak – lasted 87 days and got $500,000.

Each of the seven men and three women was allowed to take 10 items with them to Patagonia. Food was not one of them.
Instead, they were provided with three pounds of trail mix and tasked with supplementing that with what they could find.

In Wowak’s case, that wasn’t much.

He’s a trapper, but found no sign of small mammals in his area. He did see some birds, but was unable to catch any.

Instead, he survived by eating a few rose hips and nine fish – and nothing else — over 50 days. He devoured the fish completely, even eating fish head soup.

Still, he lost 54 pounds before deciding to call it quits and return to his family.

He won’t say that was fun. Anyone who has to go even a few days without food will find it’s unpleasant.

“It’s going to suck. You’re going to have a headache. You’re going to feel a little dizzy,” Wowak said.

But, he added, it’s survivable.

That’s something he teaches in his survival schools. Few people will ever have to spend 50 days with that little food, he said. Most rescue scenarios end up with people being found within 72 hours, he said, and usually less.

But those who get lost in the woods for a day or two or three need to understand that food isn’t that important compared to other basic needs, like shelter and fire.

“You’re not going to die if you don’t eat for a day. You’re not going to die if you don’t eat for two days,” Wowak said.

“Your body will adapt. And you will get through it.”

Water is another matter.

Dehydration is a real concern if you’re lost in the woods, whether it’s in the heat of summer or cold of winter. It’s important to drink, Wowak said.

He carries a stainless steel water bottle while afield so that he can boil water if needed.

“That’s going to kill any problems that are in the water and it’s going to be drinkable,” he said.

But if worse comes to worse, drinking any water is better than none at all, he added. There will be consequences down the road, he added, but staying alive is the priority.

“If you need to drink out of a puddle to stay hydrated, drink out of a puddle. You would rather have diarrhea and throw up in 72 hours than be dead. So just do what you need to do to get through a scenario,” Wowak said.

Bob Frye is the editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at

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