5 things I learnt from SAS survival legend Lofty Wiseman

“If you ever get lost you need to stand out like a turd on a snooker table.” Those were the words that came out of the mouth of the enthusiastic and wickedly witty septuagenarian who held the audience in rapture. He sat in a camp chair, a wooden walking stick at his side and a leather cap on his head. On the ground beside him, a paper cup of tea steamed. He reached down frequently to take a sip of the brew.

John Lofty Wiseman can only be described as a legend. The 77-year-old was with the SAS (Special Air Service) for 27 years as a professional soldier and wrote, what is arguably, the world’s most extensive survival training manual, The SAS Survival Handbook, providing tips on how to survive in the wild and in any climate. Wiseman’s reputation and fan base is equally extensive.


Photo courtesy of Andy Wood, Trueways Survival

When the boyfriend – an avid fan – said Wiseman was giving a day’s talk, it seemed like a no brainer to attend. So we sat in a clearing at Cranham Scout Centre, outside of Gloucester, as late August Saturday sunshine warmed us. Alongside us were about 40 others, mainly middle-aged men wearing varying shades of khaki and with varying lengths of designer facial hair.


It was hard to not get sucked in by Wiseman’s stories of dangerous missions and secret herbal concoctions. He was like an encyclopaedia; his knowledge on survival vast.

These were my take homes:

  1. “If you ever get lost you need to stand out like a turd on a snooker table.”

While Wiseman noted that camouflage gear was all great for operations where you couldn’t be seen, it soon defeated the purpose if you got lost or stranded and needed rescue. In this case, the brightest most clashing of colours was required. Another tip to give out your location was smoke by day and fire by night.

2. Two pints of water will last you seven days

In extreme circumstances, you can survive on half a pint of water a day, Wiseman said. Two pints will therefore last you four days and then you can survive a further three days without water. Drink half of the half pint at midday and the other quarter in the evening. Minimise talking, exercise, sweating and eating. And don’t drink your pee.

3. Always get your mate to test it first

A plant you’re not sure is edible? Get your mate to try it first. Navigating in the jungle? Get your mate to go first. Having to abseil using dodgy kit? Get your mate to go first. Ultimately though, your mate will be trying to do the same to you, Wiseman said.

4. Test your foraged food

Lost in the wilderness and seriously hungry? Before eating that nice-looking leaf, crush it up and smell it. If it doesn’t smell appealing or has a strong, bitter/acid, soapy or almond smell don’t eat it. If it passes the smell test, rub a bit on the outside of your bottom lip and wait to see if you have a reaction like burning, itching or numbing. If there is no reaction after several minutes, briefly place a little bit on the inside of your bottom lip. Once removed, wait an hour or so to see if you have a reaction. If there is no reaction, chew a tiny bit and hold it in your mouth for 15 minutes, assessing whether there is any reaction. If there is no reaction, swallow and wait for eight hours to see if there is any adverse reaction. Again, ideally get your mate to be the foraging guinea pig.

5. Never give up!

The mental mindset and will to survive is the most important aspect in any survival situation, Wiseman said. It was crucial to never give up. Even in the worst of situations, where conditions are bad and morale is low, never give up.


The day with Lofty Wiseman was organised through Trueways Survival. I attended independently and all opinions are my own.


Photo Courtesy of Andy Wood, Trueways Survival

You might also be interested in how I learnt to navigate: Me, a compass and three burly blokes 

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