EJ and Kellie carrying the backpacks and baskets they made. Creative Commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lwpkommunikacio/14811729496/in/photostream/

How to Survive Naked and Afraid

When Discovery launched Naked and Afraid in 2013, I didn’t plan to watch it. Survival shows are not new, and the provocative title didn’t appeal to me. Survivor, for one, has been around for more than fifteen years and was responsible for the concept of being “voted off the island.” Reality shows have been with us for decades. Naked and Afraid just sounded like more of the same.

For whatever reason, I ended-up recording the first episode, which was broadcast on June 23, 2013. The routine hasn’t varied much:

  • Two people were taken out separately into the middle of nowhere
  • Once there, they each stripped and hiked out to meet their partner
  • Together, they checked-out the two survival items waiting for them in a bag along with their diary-cams
  • Their job was to survive for 21 days, and trek on that last day to the extraction point shown on a rustic map.

Though I have no interest in subjecting myself to this type of wilderness challenge, I’ve noticed several overarching principles displayed by those who complete the 21 day challenge. I have recognized how research, preparation and execution are as important for life in general as out in the wild.

Do Your Research

Know Those who have Gone Before

Some episodes have included one or two survivalists from prior episodes. Inevitably, they are recognized, suggesting that participants watch prior episodes as part of their own preparation.

Two of those survivalists who came back for seconds built an epic raft for their epic trip down the river to their extraction point.

Get to know your Destination

The beginning of some episodes shows the survivalists at home before they leave for their destination. It becomes clear that they know which country they are headed for, and therefore have an opportunity to learn at least a bit about where they’re headed.

Be Prepared

Prepare for the Rain and make it your Friend

Many teams have arrived at their site without a cloud in the sky, and then been caught unprepared by a torrential downpour that goes on for days. Some of those same teams have nearly died from thirst, or from drinking contaminated water.

You know the rain can come. Build a shelter, but also be prepared to catch the abundant, clean drinking water as it falls from the sky.

Toughen Your Feet – and then make Sandals

One of the first episodes showed a survivalist nearly sent home when one of the innumerable thorns his team faced managed to inflict a major infection that required medical attention. Another episode found one of the survivalists with very tender feet, while the other didn’t care at all about the rough rocks they had to walk on.

Do yourself a favor: Spend some time walking around outside in your bare feet to get ready for Naked and Afraid. Once you get there, you’ll do well to make coverings for your feet.

Bring a Knife. A Big One.

One of the team members nearly always brings a big knife, like a machete. It’s especially useful for hunting, and cutting down materials for shelter. I expect that even those who are injured by one are still glad they chose it.

Don’t Bring a Magnifying Glass

There’s no “right” set of tools on Naked and Afraid. However, one notorious “wrong” choice was a magnifying glass. Though the survivalist who decided to bring it as her survival item had both practical and sentimental reasons for bringing it, it didn’t work out, and she ended-up tapping-out after 14 days.

If you Can’t Take the Heat…

…get acclimated before you head out to some tropical island. Of course if you live on a tropical island, you would do well to expose yourself to a cooler climate. At least some of the survivalists were seen getting acclimated before heading to their destination.

No Clothes? The Shock Wears Off

Many of the women do create clothing of some sort. Sometimes it’s due to modesty, and sometimes it’s for protection from the elements. Maybe a mix of both.


A behind-the-scenes episode shared that it also makes life easier for the technicians that spend weeks pixelating (computerized blurring) three weeks of footage.

Regardless of what the survivalists are or aren’t wearing by the end of the 21 days, most report that they stopped noticing the nudity shortly after they leave the starting point.

Make it Happen

Don’t Make a Fish Trap

Several teams built a fish trap. Few actually caught anything. Considering the amount of time it takes to build one, and the low success rate for the survivalists, this isn’t a good bet for future teams.

Go For The Snakes

High protein, and easier to catch than most of the animals the survivalists have encountered. In fact, none of the survivalists have been poisoned by one as of this writing, though a producer was badly injured by a fer-de-lance on a scouting trip.

A Vegetarian? Seriously?

Vegetarians can do well on this show if they are able to locate protein from non-animal sources, but they handicap themselves in this survival scenario. They are also handicapped by the PSR (Primitive Survival Rating) used to gauge the survival skills and capabilities of the survivalists before and after their 21 day challenge.

Cook Your Food Enough – but not Too Much

One episode included the survivalists catching a snake when they were essentially starving. They cooked it in an improvised smoker – until it was inedible. Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

In another case, snails were under-cooked, resulting in one of the survivalists being afflicted with parasitic worms.

Think Outside the Box

A mosquito net can of course protect from the bugs, but it also does double-duty as a fishing net.

A hammock can also be deconstructed into cordage.

Some contestants have brought a cooking pot to make sure they have something they can use to collect and purify water in. Of course they can cook in it too. Another survivalist suggested this option after-the-fact:

Great Tools Aren’t Enough

One survivalist approached the challenge with the greatest confidence. A self-described “ball of awesomeness” who planned to attack the challenge “bare and ballsy,” her team was also the first to receive three survival tools instead of the usual two. (One tool that each of them selected, plus they were provided a fire starter. Previously, if a team had a fire starter it was because that is the item one team member selected ) She was also the first person allowed to bring glasses. Still, she tapped-out after seven days. Maybe the availability of extra tools lead her to attempt a quest she wasn’t really prepared for?

All Publicity is Good Publicity

It’s been said that There’s No Such Thing as Bad Publicity. Is that really true? Most participants share social media contact information with their biographies. Without a great deal of effort, I’ve compiled a Twitter list of over 70 Naked and Afraid survivalists.

Most that I’ve reached-out to via Twitter have responded – even those who weren’t able to finish the 21-day challenge. Even most of those who weren’t portrayed positively on the show don’t shy away from the fact that they participated. After all, most people understand that the vast majority of the survivalists’ time in the wild was never seen by the viewers. Editing 21 days down to 40-some minutes leaves a lot to the imagination, and those who are willing to share their stories get to fill in the blanks.

An Even Bigger Challenge

If the hardest challenge isn’t hard enough, go even bigger.

Discovery topped itself by sending 12 survivalists out for 40 days. Naked And Afraid XL is on season 3, alongside the regular Naked And Afraid.

Hopefully each survivalist has watched prior episodes and picked-up some of these tips.

Back to Reality

Most of us will never find ourselves in the wilderness without even clothes to protect ourselves. However, we regularly face challenges that may stretch us beyond what we think we can handle. Sometimes it feels like we won’t even survive until the weekend.

How would you approach one of those extreme challenges?


49 thoughts on “How to Survive Naked and Afraid”

    1. My name is Jeff Spencer of apply for the show for the past two years and the new guys on this season or a bunch of pansies I just don’t get how they get to get on the show and people like me that one to do it and we’ll try too hard to do it don’t get on the show Jeff Spencer to 227 at gmail.com naked afraid don’t forget about me

  1. Actually, the magnifying glass could have been used to start a fire. Pity she didn’t seem to know that! I often wonder why participants don’t slather themselves with mud to prevent sunburn and to keep off the mosquitoes. They are supposed to know this stuff, after all. I am surprised practically no one brings a mosquito net (which can double as a fishing net) or a space blanket, which can be used to retain heat, as a shelter cover or as a ground sheet, depending on the need. And why don’t they use the carry bags they are given to make things like clothes or sandals? Why don’t more of them go fishing? One guy ate grubs that he could have used as bait to catch fish. I think many of them leave their brains behind and forget the basics when they are out there.

    1. You make a great point. It’s not just the choice of tools, but knowing how to use them to best advantage. The mosquito net is a great example of a took that can serve multiple functions. Someone brought a hammock, which could also be taken apart for cordage. So far as their brains… I don’t expect I’d be on top of my game either after going without food for several days. I’m impressed that the majority of the folks complete the Naked and Afraid challenge!

    2. I have discovered that contestants are not allowed to dismantle their carry bags because they contain equipment for the microphones that are contained in their necklaces.

      1. I guess some concessions need to be made for the technology required to produce the show. Maybe in a few years they’ll figure-out a way so they don’t need to drag the bags with them the whole time. Then again, I understand that the team responsible for all of post-production pixelation (blurring) appreciates the bags. (More coverage by the bags means less pixelation required.)

  2. I love this show! But I would NEVER do something like this myself. Apart from not being able to survive more than a day without chocolate, I’m way to self conscious about my body. I’m so impressed by the people on the show!

  3. Do you ever notice that some form you ffood just “magical appears just before extraction” do they put it out there for them?
    If you noticed, they was a a turtle just sitting near camp or the snake they need and even fishing basket will have fish, the rocks they set up seem to catch something, etc…… it is too much for a coincidence.

    1. A bigger mystery is how most of them starve even when surrounded by food, despite being trained in wilderness survival. I keep expecting them to do much better.

    2. I’ve noticed that very thing Patty. Most of the survivalists do manage to find protein, often without looking very hard for it, right when they need it most. It hadn’t occurred to me that there was something nefarious going on. Maybe someone should dust that turtle, snake or giant snail for prints before they get cooked.

      1. My wife and I always refer to the last minute food source as the “stunt turtle, stunt snake, stunt fish” like “time to send in the stunt turtle”, lol. That being said, in some of the situations, I think they spend too much time searching for unobtainable sources of food. The most successful ones seem to have the most luck with fruit, heart of palm, grubs, snails, fish and snakes. I would have loved to try the challenge when I was in my 20’s-30’s.

        1. I share your observation that the big protein catch often seems to show-up right when needed most. Then again, sometimes the survivalists just can’t come up with adequate food and end-up tapping out. Maybe that means the “stunt turtle” missed its cue?

  4. The new season of naked and afraid the guys are pansies I have subscribed to this show and nobody will pick me I am a six foot seven white male 49 years old and I’ve never seen a bunch of new males that are a bunch of pussies on this show then this year so far

    1. It does seem that the women out-did the men in the first couple episodes this season. Then again, all of them out-did whatever I would have been able to muster, so I’m reluctant to throw stones.

    2. 😅I love when I watch the show and the “6ft 4” men talk a bunch of shit that they can do it with no problem and then end up pusing out and often times overshadowed by the women!

    3. Why not do your own video diary. Go out in the forest but wear shorts so you don’t have to bother pixelating it. take two tools and your camera. Upload it to youtube and show us what you do to survive. Personally, I think shorts and shoes would still make the show good. It gets tiring to watch people starve and do very little but wait out the days.

      1. I agree, I think a pair of shorts and tennis shoes for everyone and a bra for the females would take nothing from the show and do away with the annoying graying out of the body parts. Call it “almost naked and afraid”.

  5. Once again my name is Jeff Spencer 227 at gmail.com I apply for the show in the past two years I would love to do it I would be really good at it and we get good ratings I am a six foot seven white male 49 years old team player everybody loves me all the men on here I think they know it all they go prepared I can go now prepared and make this show and with my partner I just wish you guys would accept me and get ahold of me and let me do this show I’ve tried and tried and tried and tried trust me you love me

    1. Jesus man! Relax! They are probably not picking you because you keep trying to convince them that you are the man for this job. How tall you are doesn’t make you a survivalist. Has nothing to do with your stature. Has everything to do with the will to survive And you can be 8 foot tall 400 pounds and Puss out on the first day. I would not pick you either Based on just you strength to convince everyone that you can do it because you are 6 foot 7 inches tall and everyone else are pussies ! Pffffft…..dude get over yourself already.

  6. I thought about this show….how many people are honestly stranded without any clothing? If you’re lost in the woods, you still have your clothes. If your boat stops floating and sinks, you still have your clothes on, though one might kick off shoes to swim better. Not that many survive a plane crash, but for those who do…..still have clothes on. If your car stops running, I doubt very highly that you’de take off your clothes to go hunting down help! In just about every scenerio, that one can possibly think of, I really can’t seen the validity of the no clothes and no shoes , however in some scenerios, I can see no shoes. Maybe people like the idea of nudity, but the reality of stranded without one shred of clothing just doesnt compute in my brain. You got a camera crew following you around and a medic nearby, along with dr’s available, so your really not alone considering camera crews are following you around, even if partner taps out. One should read up on how long to cook various foods, in order to gain knowledge related to the place they are going. I havent really noticed any over-weight people on the show is anothér issue. Does being stranded naked and afraid in actual real life only discriminate to the pretty girls, in pretty decent shape,the jock style guys, and maybe a few with soft bodies? I mean I’m just curious here. If they are screening people they choose to be mentally tough, how in the world are they getting so many whiners, wimps, temper tantrum ppl, for ex. honora…how’d she ever get on there? who in the world would throw survival items into the water, and stomp off? Most people in a survival situation understand the first 3 basic needs…fire, watér and shelter. 3 days at most you can go without water and one can survive 40 days with no food. Its hard for me so concur people taking duct tape only to these places, magnifying glass, that’s not much help in finding food. I wish they could do a survival show that has more “reality” to it. Put your clothes back on, because that would be the actual first thing you’de be stranded with! And Jeff, I like your posts and agree with yoj.

    1. It seems you really have been giving this a lot of thought Zoey. I agree that people wouldn’t normally be stranded in the wilderness without any clothing. Then again, I don’t think Naked And Afraid is trying to represent typical survival scenarios. (There are already lots of shows doing that.) On the contrary, they are taking survival down to the most basic level: Where we don’t even have clothes to protect us.

      Regarding the survivalists who are selected to be on the show, I don’t know how the selections are made. Someone observed that everyone on the show seemed to be inked (tattooed), though a recent pair of survivalists weren’t. I suspect that general physical fitness figures into their initial PSR (Primitive Survival Rating). The producers try to gauge their mental toughness, but of course that may not really play-out until you’re in an actual survival situation.

      1. I read on the selection site that you have to pass two psychological screening tests as well as other tests that screen for basic fitness. They are also looking for people who may be opposites just to create some drama, hence the girl who threw stuff into the water who got picked twice to try this event.

        1. Some “reality show” producers are very open about selecting cast members who they expect will clash. Then they add alcohol to make conflicts even more likely. Of course that second element isn’t an option for the Naked and Afraid survivalists. Your reference to Alana certainly does suggest that the producers were looking for some strong responses.

    2. I think the naked part is to mimic stone-age people who wear (or used to wear) little or no clothes. And regarding all the animals seen moving around, I expect that is the equivalent of stock footage that shows what kind of creatures live there, and they were not necessarily photographed during that one challenge. I agree with others that a lot of these people on the show who regard themselves as survivalists are not very familiar with actually living off the land in a hostile environment for an extended period of time, especially in tropical and sub-tropical locations.

      1. I agree about the “stock footage” aspect. However, I believe it is really shot at a given site. I.E.: I expect the photographers are shooting “B-reel” material the whole time they’re there. Then it gets dropped-in to the program when convenient.

  7. I’m also curious why, one of the two, doesnt take their bags apart? It could be used to make foot covers, stuff’m up with grass, leaves and make shoes. Or cut’m and make clothing for the private areas? i’m sure one would be willing to sacrifice a bag to help both. Why not move leaves around to find bugs? they can eat’m. Check out tree bark usually can find grubs at least. Also, why is it the camera crew can see all the wonderful edible things, such as snakes and the survivalists can’t even find one to eat? They even show fish in the water, but again, the survivalists can rarely get even one? If your lost….in a strange place, do you really have a map on you? And do you only have access to one item? Just wondering……😝😜😎😈

    1. The idea about taking the bags apart is a great one. It turns-out that they aren’t allowed to take them apart – or even take them off – because the electronics for their microphones are in the canvas bags. One way around that: On at least one occasion, a survivalist tapped-out and left their bag behind with their partner. Then their fellow survivalist was able to take it apart and use the cloth as you suggest.

      Regarding the inability to catch critters, check-out the previous comments. Others have pondered that same question. BTW, if you saw the finale of Naked And Afraid XL 3, you watched them score some big-time protein right before their extraction journey began.

  8. I love the idea of a survivalist show, whére people survive elements, terraines and weather. I would just love the reality show to be more realistic because surviving isn’t discriminatory! I understand having a camera crew, even medics and dr’s, plus tapping out when necessary for whatever reason but tell the truth about injuries, etc. They should start one for 40 years and older, that should prove interesting, and clothing optional.😁😁😁😁😉😜

    1. Foot ware would make a huge difference in reducing the unnecessary pain of the ordeal, and not ruin the test.
      A 20 gauge shot gun would be good tool for all to have, and make it a test of hunting, and not just starving. Give the 10 shots to use.

  9. I just don’t u understand how SO MANY of the contestants on the show can overlook such simple solutions to some of their problems.. Like the girls who tap out because they’re being bitten by bugs.. Cover yourself in mud.. There’s tons of it everywhere, that’s what animals without fur do. It also helps keep you from overheating. Also I don’t understand why more people don’t make Pitfall traps for rabbits, turtles, etc.

    1. In addition to the mud (a pretty basic idea), at night, why don’t they pile leafy branches on top of themselves to hold in the heat so they aren’t freezing? Why don’t they build more than one fire, so they can be warmer? Why has no one brought a wool blanket that can be used for warmth even when wet, then cut up and used to make shoes during extraction?

      1. Exactly my point! There are so many things they could do to solve a lot of their basic issues but no one seems to think to do any of this period. I have literally zero Wilderness survival skills but I feel like I have tons of great ideas.. but also I’m fat so they probably would never let me on the show anyways LMAO

      2. …like bringing duct tape: 5-layers of leaves laid out in 5×5 square–cover in duct tape. Roll over, cover side two in duct
        tape equals a heated blanket as the leaves heat up to biodegrade. Why not burn off your camp first? Make clay pots
        day one. Stay up all night night one and burn everything around you. Redirect stream into area to trap fish there.
        They’re all idiots once they get there.

          1. Clay pots are not always an option. Clay is not always available. I think a better use for insects is for catching fish! You don’t need a hook, just a small piece of wood or a strong but small twig. I don’t know why more people don’t deliberately gain extra weight before the challenge so they don’t end up skin and bones by the end. A wool blanket will keep you warm even when it is wet, and can be used for sandals and clothing for the trek out. Toughening the feet is great. Of course, a wet environment will quickly wreck that! What surprises me is that the people taking the challenge are supposed to be experts, yet fail to bring the right things and fail to use the available resources effectively. I do think they should receive both a firestarter and a pot along with their bags. That leaves them to bring other survival items such as a machete, wool blanket, mosquito net (doubles as fishing net), etc. etc.

  10. Have been wondering how to game this thing. You’re are right about toughing the feet. The other thing would be to get off the caffeine, nicotine, and whatever else you like like sugar. The choice between a pot to boil water or fire-stick is a tough one. The machete is absolutely a must.

    If I were going to go through it, I would have to get use to eating insects and getting a better botany background. Learning to weave stuff from grass would be useful, too, like for making sandals.

    What is your suggestion for the insects?

  11. I’m watching N&A now – it’s my favorite show on Sundays- either new or old episodes. I saw yet another person making a woven fish trap and I couldn’t help thinking: Have they EVER worked?
    So I Googled that and found this site LOL
    Very happy that you mentioned that right off!
    I watch in NYC, and I just love to see nature and even though I know it’s heavily edited and has too much stock footage, it really is fun to watch.
    Hope it goes on for years and years!!
    PS – as a city person, knowing nothing except what I see when I watch, if a fire starter plus another item each, I’d bring a machete and mosquito/fish netting if tropical wet area; machete and duct tape for other drier areas.
    Regards, if you’re still around!!

    1. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your observations. I have been pleasantly surprised to see Naked and Afraid renewed season after season. It really is a great series of examples about human endurance and ingenuity. The fish trap? Not a great bet. Then again, one of the survivalists tells me that they do work sometimes. It’s just that only a limited amount of material makes it into a 40-some minute episode. I’m glad to see Naked and Afraid XL back for another go-around, especially because we get to see multiple episodes and more of the back-story. Who knows – maybe even a successful fish-trap?


      P.S.: Yes, I’m “still around” – I’ve just been better at starting posts than finishing them. Folks should see several more here soon.

  12. The best cutting tool is the est wing axe, it works for chopping and is sharp enough for cutting. Cutting breaches with a large knife or machete is a waste of time.
    One fire is a joke, old timers know you bank two fires 4 to 6 feet apart, surrounded by rocks or other material, to reflect the heat onto you , to keep warm all night, and take turns keeping the fire going, while the other one sleeps.
    Always collect all the wood you can, and build the shelter to keep off the worst of storm.
    Sleep on 6 inches of grass to stay warm.

  13. Are you allowed to bring Skin So Soft as a tool? I see bug bites take out too many people, and the SSS is a great bug inhibitor. And, why don’t more people use mud on their bodies for burn and bug protection? Don’t get me started on why foot protection isn’t a first thought? Many contestants aren’t very imaginative? Also…get off the ground! I’m not saying that it would be easier for me, but I’m a female former Marine, and I have a beauty set of survival skills…but it’s all common sense to me?!

    1. Cheryl – Thank you for service. But I have to question the efficacy of a product such as Skin So Soft. It has absolutely no ability to protect oneself from fleas, biting flies, gnats, chiggers, mites or mosquitoes. Things that May carry Zika Virus, West Nile, Denuge Fever, and Lyme Disease.
      I have had the pleasure to work with In the past with top notch scientists to provide our U. S. military an Insect Repellent to take with them to Desert Storm. A lotion that would slowly release DEET over 12 hours. Rather than having to reapply over and over again. We also tested Permethrin Which is good only on clothing. As a company, our plant dropped everything to make this product for the military. They are our first concern. Anything leftover we get to sell to the consumer. It’s called 3M ULTRATHON Insect Repellent. I would only purchase the lotion now if I were going in areas of concern, like Lyme Disease, Denague Fever or malaria. The spray is more affordable but lasts 8 hours rather then 12 hours.

  14. Steve. Just found your site. All good insights of N/A. I have thought also, why don’t they make shoes? Has anyone bought shoes from home? Why do they ALL make fish baskets, they never catch any big size fish, if they do, with nets, its minnows.

    1. Thanks for the response William. Yes, the survivalists sometimes do fabricate shoes of some sort. Nobody has brought shoes (that I know of), but now you’ve got me thinking of whether someone could request shoes as their survival item. I suspect that would be declined, but maybe they could bring a pre-made fish trap. Fishing line and hooks have been allowed.

  15. Steve, im like you, I have watched many yrs of N/A, I do feel the veggies would do alot better, than any hunting, fishing folks. I saw 1 ep last week on a 15 day, that 1 girl only lost 8lbs…..?

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