Extreme Travel | Adventure Sports

How to… survive in the jungle

Survival expert James Mandeville teaches you how

James Mandeville knows how to survive. He spent ten of his 23 years in the military teaching soldiers how to infiltrate, survive, fight in the jungle and exfiltrate. Familiar with the jungles of Belize, Brunei, Singapore and Indonesia, he has the knowledge and training that you need.

Now a successful author of survival manuals and owner of www.survival-expert.com, James has shared his detailed knowledge of jungle survival with WideWorld. Here are his tips on how to get along – and get out alive.

“Cloud and rainforest survival is a specialist topic and survival training and exposure to these biomes is necessary to understand the environment and survive confidently in it,” James explains. “I have given you the bare bones here, I hope you can distil from it what you need.”

1. Take stock

If one becomes lost it can be very frightening and most people make the situation worse by blindly stumbling on in panic to try and find their way back to their start point. It is vital to stop, calm down and take stock of the situation and then formulate a plan of what to do for the best. The best survival tool is one’s own psyche.

2. Leave a message

The first rule of survival has to be to let someone know exactly where you are going and when you expect to arrive back. It is very easy to get lost in the forest or be delayed by injury. Unless a search and rescue party has a good pinpoint on the expedition’s location it would be nigh impossible to find anyone lost in forest in this area.

3. Know navigation

Each team member should carry a compass and know how to use it. Navigation in cloud and rainforest is difficult because there are no obvious landmarks. A compass basically stops you walking round in circles. Even if using GPS a compass is a must. The golden rule of getting out of dense forest is to find a river and follow it downstream in the hope of finding civilisation.

4. Signals

Knowing the international distress signals is essential, especially knowing how to signal your intentions from the ground to a helicopter and how to light a fire giving light grey smoke at night and a dense, dark smoke in the day.

5. Fire

Temperature can drop rapidly in the early evening and if wet, this could lead to hypothermia if precautions are not taken. A night-time campfire is a must, not only for warmth but also to keep insects and animals away.

6. Water supply

Most open water sources are infected with Giardia or worse. If you don’t have purification systems, look to plants. Several species of ‘Water Vine’ are found in rainforest. Try immature yarina (Phytelephas macrocarpa) fruits; puca huasca vine (Doliocarpus dentatus) and cano huasca vine (Uncaria spp.), the stems of which are singularly porous and when cut stream with a limpid potable juice. One metre of vine gives about three mouthfuls of water. This vine has to be cut quickly to prevent the juice returning to the vine’s roots.

Essential Kit

A survival knife

Fitted with a lanyard attached to the body. For use in the cloud forest and rainforest areas a Kukri is the best form of machete. Good quality blades are essential, as is the knowledge of how to keep them sharp. Everyone should carry one.

First aid kit

Containing items detailed above (see also notes below on drugs for treating diarrhoea and parasites), in addition to the normal items. Insect repellent.

Survival blanket

Which can also be used to attract attention.

Fire starter

Such as a Swedish Steel or similar plus some disposable lighters. Try some chemical tinder blocks, as wood is often wet and hard to ignite unless you really know your stuff. Knowledge of how to make fire and keep it going is essential. Many of the woods in there have a resinous interior: knowing which ones have resin makes lighting a fire a lot easier.

Signalling mirror

Such as a StarFlash mirror to attract the attention of passing aircraft.

Survival whistle

Essential (best a Jet Scream) and it’s always good to have some hand-held flares.

A personal survival kit

Along the lines of those supplied to special forces which can be purchased commercially should be carried by each member of the expedition.

The jungle risks


A general precaution in the jungle would be to wear snake gaiters to protect the ankles, and a good tip is to wear a tough pair of gardening gloves when collecting firewood. Always to watch where one puts one’s hands and feet! All snakes can swim and it is possible to encounter snakes on any of the riverbanks at any altitude. Follow the general rule of always sleeping off the ground – it’s not a good idea to find a snake in your seeping bag!


Follow the general rule of always shaking out boots and containers in the morning because scorpions like to crawl into both.


All the normal precautions should be taken. Applying mud to exposed skin can reduce the number of bites, as can sleeping near a smoky fire. Be wary of other bugs too, if they have bright red or yellow marking they are most likely poisonous.