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How to Survive Underground (Caves, Tunnels and Sewers)

At first, caves may actually seem like a pretty good idea if you’re looking for shelter.

If they happen to be dry and vented they can make an excellent survival shelter.

However, they are usually cold, damp and dark. If you light a fire in one, the smoke can linger, annoyingly.

Sometimes they can also be infested with swarms of bats, vampire bats. If these creatures bite you, your wound will bleed and bleed (not pretty).

Also, remember that what may look like a good survival shelter to you, may very well look the same for another dangerous animal.

Caves are quite frequently home to animals such as snakes, scorpions, spiders or larger beasts like mountain lions.

I am not telling you all this to scare you off, but rather to prepare you in advance.

The mayans used to believe that caves led to the underworld.

They called them Xibalba – the place of fear.

And trust me, if you’ve ever struggled through water-filled caves, you’ll know that this name is quite fitting.

The majority of problems you’ll experience in caves, you’re likely to face in tunnels and sewers.

But fear not, I am going to prepare you and teach you how to survive underground in all situations.


Our eyes are pretty good at adapting to the dark.

Outdoors, even in the darkest conditions in the thickest black forest, we’ll gain some night vision in about 10 minutes, even more after about forty.

However, underground this is often not the case.

If there’s absolutely no ambient light for our eyes to use, we are completely blind.

If you plan on surviving in this sort of environment, you’ll have to be careful and prepared.

If the ground is dry, consider crawling, this way you’ll be able to feel the terrain for any holes or cliffs, before you step in them.

(Be aware though that body contact with the cold ground can quickly sap your warmth.)

Protect Your Hands While Crawling Underground

If you are feeling your way underground with your hands, make sure that you have the backs of your hands facing forward instead of your palms.

Rocks walls are often razor sharp and there can be all sorts of hidden dangers.

You don’t want to injure any part of your hands, but if you have to rather try and protect your palms.

Light is life

how to survive underground

When you are underground, light can literally mean the difference between life or death.

I recommend to always keep a light source in your bug out or bushcraft backpack.

Remember that a batteries life is finite, so make sure to use it sparingly.

If your torch has different power outputs, switch it to the dimmest setting.

Lighting a flame to see may also be an option, but be aware that underground there is the risk of naturally occurring flammable gases.

Read also: How to tell if there is flammable gases underground.

Two head torches i swear by are:

Both are long lasting, the second one being of the highest quality, and the first, much more affordable. But of course, you get what you pay for.

Being Prepared For The Cold

If you plan to escape and survive underground, alway be prepared for the cold.

Remember, underground environments can sap you of your body warmth faster than you imagine.

Bring warm clothes with you, ideally insulating materials like wool and polyester fleece.

Try to keep your movement consistent and steady, but do not exert yourself to the point you start sweating.

This will bring your body temperature down further.

If you are traveling in groups, use each others body warmth. Particularly when you get some sleep for the day.

If you have to get into water, and there is a good chance that you will, it’s better to strip off all your clothes and store them in a waterproof backpack, if possible.

If you don’t have waterproof backpack with you, take your clothes off once you’ve emerged on the other side.

Wring them out as much as possible before putting them back on. This way your clothes won’t sap as much of your warmth away.

Finding Your Way

If you plan to take refuge in a tunnel, cave or sewage system, remember one thing, underground systems are maze-like.

In order to avoid getting completely disorientated, you’ll need to be able to retrace your steps, so:

  1. Leave markers along your path, such as a small pile of stones. Make interesting shapes with these piles so that they look unnatural, this way you won’t confuse them with natural formations.
  2. Caves can actually look completely different when you retrace your steps. Therefore you should look back often to get used to the caves layout from different aspects. Be sure to make a mental note of any features that stick out along the way. For example a singled out plant that’s next to a certain rock.

In caves or tunnels, air will try to get in wherever possible, if you feel a draught there’s a good chance it will lead you to an exit.

While this not always the case, it may be worth keeping in mind.

When it comes to following water underground, be INCREDIBLY careful, if there’s no exit theres a good chance your underground compartment may flood.

In this case you will need an exit fast!

Cave and tunnel systems can be massive, they may serve as the perfect bug out location, but only to those who are prepared.

I will be updating this page incrementally, with new information. Stay tuned.

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