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The Best Survival Shows to Help you Learn Survival Skills

Avatar for James Walton James Walton  |  Updated: July 10, 2019
The Best Survival Shows to Help you Learn Survival Skills

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We spend too much time on television and devices.

Let’s start with that.

Sure, this is an article about the best survival shows to learn survival skills but its not a license to turn into a couch potato. The only way to improve is to get out and do things.

Disclaimer aside, if you get in front of some high quality survival television you can learn a lot. You will be able to find new skills and tricks to put into practice on your next personal survival adventure.

The thing about the best survival shows is that they turn us into more than just viewers. We spend years watching these shows and we become students. We get clear representations of certain survival scenarios and some show give us a glimpse into what a SHTF situation might actually look like.

What to Avoid in a Survival Television Series

Not all survival television shows are created equal. You should understand this before you start seeking out this kind of entertainment. This is particularly important if you are looking to learn real survival skills from these shows.

There are some shows about survival and prepping that can act as a survival guide to the person watching the show. Of course, that is assuming they pay attention to the content and try it on their own afterward.

Its probably a good time to explain that watching survival shows and becoming a survivalist or prepper are two different universes. Sure, you can see some survival gear in action or even learn how to surviving certain scenarios or environments but practice is everything.

The best survival shows do not create artificial drama. They put people in positions that require skills to survive. Some of the worst survival television series will create that artificial drama or take things out of context, avoid these at all costs!

The Best Survival Shows


Les Stroud was the man who started the reality survival television. In fact, you could argue that the Survivorman series was where true, unscripted, reality television started and ended.

For those who aren’t familiar Survivorman was one of the rare shows that was filmed by Les and he was out on location alone. Really alone. It wasn’t between him and some filming staff or him and a production staff that was telling him to “add some drama” to his situation.

Les starved, played harmonica and explored these locations, doing his best to survive, all the while filming his situations in real time. One of the best parts of the show was the visible irritability from things like starvation.

Les wasn’t always smiling but he was always teaching.

Man Vs Wild

I know. I know. Gerber and Bear Grylls and hotels and whatever else. Look, at the coming of age of survival shows on television it was about getting people to talk and watch.

No matter how you feel about Bear Grylls he is an SAS serviceman and decorated member of the British military. He has also influenced more people to get into survival, or at least give it some thought, than most other reality television stars.

Its easy to criticize the guy because of his commercialization, success and the fact that he is not Les Stroud. Still, I find myself asking, through the haze of it all, could I do what he does or what he has done?

Man Vs Wild is undoubtedly a caricature of a survival. It is executed and narrated by this adrenaline junky and former serviceman but its entertaining. There is no getting around that. There is also good information throughout the show.

Despite the fact that the host is willing to put anything in his mouth, its one of the best survival shows just on the sheer information you can absorb and watch it in action.


On the fiction side of things Jericho was about the most exciting survival drama of all time. It was story driven and not reality tv. Each week, as a prepper, I saw things on Jericho that rang true to exactly what I was reading about and worrying about.

From the moment the world starts to fall apart you will feel like you are watching something that you and your MAG would have put together on paper.

The series only gets better as it goes on and while it is only fiction Jericho is about as thought provoking a tv series for preppers as there can be.

Even with some great Netflix content hitting the airwaves Jericho is still one of the best survival shows of all time.

Dual Survival

For many, this was the introduction to Dave Canterbury and Cody Lundin. I remember not knowing who either of these guys were and doubting both of them on face value. To me, Cody looked like a hippy who was going to get himself killed walking around barefoot.

The portrayal of Dave Canterbury wasn’t much better. His persona reflected off Cody’s as a guy who was just looking to put bullets into something and keep it moving. He seemed intent on returning to his military training under all circumstances.

Dual Survival was entertaining but it made the hosts very one dimensional. I never would have guessed that Dave would be one of the premiere minds in bushcraft on the world stage. Cody was not so bad himself! His books are great and offer a number of solutions for the average person.

Set in a variety of locations Dual Survival tested these men in many ways but it was their obvious dichotomy that made the show entertaining.

CQB Close Quarters Battle

This show was less a survival show and more a docu television series. It followed a collection of a number of different groups from military to police and explored how they prepared for urban combat scenarios.

To the average person its interesting television. To the prepper CQB is something of an urban survival guide. You get to hear real life stories about urban combat scenarios and it paints you a detailed pictures.

Then you watch as some of these techniques are further explored throughout the show. I don’t know if I would call it one of the best survival shows but it has some great info if you are into this sort of thing. Its rare you see the pros in action, like this, on television.


While America’s most infamous post-apocalyptic drama, The Walking Dead, has been the king of survival television, Survivors shouldn’t be missed. This is the UK’s take on TEOTWAWKI.

This show has not seen the type of fame as the comic turned television series featuring Rick Grimes, it explores a much more likely situation. While zombies are a lot of fun to watch and add a level of suspense, pandemic is much more likely.

Basically because, as of this moment, zombies are as mythological as unicorns.

The Death, however, is something we could see in our world. That is the name for the deadly virus that is spread by its creator, unintentionally, in the early episodes of Survivors.

After 99.98 percent of the world succumbs to the virus the show is an exploration of the dire straights the survivors find themselves in. This thought provoking exploration of survival makes you wonder whether or not you’d wanna be in the .02 percent or not.

The Colony Reality Television Series

We have to be clear about the show we are representing because The Colony is both a reality series and a movie. Colony is another survival series that involves aliens.

We are discussing the show that was filmed in downtown LA. This show took 10 survivors and placed them in a TEOTWAWKI simulation.

These 10 players were tasked with entering this old dusty warehouse and starting to build plans for dealing with things like food, water and communications.

At the start of the show, the group has nothing and before long they begin engineering things solar showers and comms systems. It is very cool to see what these people can scavenge and create.

Another very interesting thing about The Colony is watching the group debate about what is a survival priority. Should they build the defenses or should they get the radio working?

The group hardly has to concern itself with threats from the outside world. A true SHTF situation in downtown LA would look very different. However, they are aware of these potential threats and plan accordingly.

Overall, The Colony is a lot of fun for a reality series from 2010.

Life Below Zero

Life Below Zero presents an angle of survival that we rarely get to see. Its not the harrowing tale of misfortune that shows like I Shouldn’t Be Alive present us with. No, LBZ is the rare example of a show that highlights people who survive on the brink everyday.

Sure, some days tens of miles above the Arctic Circle are easier than others but for the most part, the people highlighted in Life Below Zero are facing a struggle to survive on a daily basis. While this show television series was framed as reality TV, it is more authentic than your average reality show. You didn’t get a sense that the entire thing was scripted or massaged in some way.

The strangely charismatic Sue Aikens struck me as the standout star in this show. Her story and her struggle were all too unbelievable. I would often turn the show off and think to myself, “There are all kinds of people in this world. Even women who want to live alone in a frosty hell where they aren’t allowed to build a permanent structure because of their race.”

The Walking Dead

I was on the fence about including the walking dead on this list. The highlight of this show is so rarely on survival skills. However, there is one aspect of survival that The Walking Dead teaches better than any other telelvision series.


The loss and pain in this show, largely the driving force in its popularity, are so deep and disturbing that it literally imprints on your mind. While its easy to scoff at the show, in a serious SHTF, TEOTWAWKI situation, there will be tremendous loss.

The crossbow that never runs out of bolts and the gratoutous violence aside, The Walking Dead teaches us about the despair of survival and just how close we can be pushed to losing our humanity.

I Shouldn’t Be Alive

The quintessential true life survival series, it’d be hard to do a list of the best survival shows without mentioning I Shouldn’t Be Alive. While most survival television is predicated on either fiction or dangerous scenarios in reality television, that present themselves naturally or are scripted, this series was about true life stories of survival.

I Shouldn’t Be Alive is a reflection of a survival scenario where ordinary people are tried beyond their limits to survive. This is not a competition but a retelling and stories may come from a young woman or an old man but they all almost wound up dead!

These harrowing tales of frozen mountain top survival to attack by wild animals to even nightmares abroad are all incredibly hard to believe and some even hard to watch.

Actors are used to play the story back but each is narrated by the person or people who did the surviving. This is a radically enjoyable television series and a “learn from others mistakes” kind of survival tool.

I Shouldn’t Be Alive is easily one of the best survival shows on television.


The heavy hitters of survival television are out there. There is no denying the popularity of some of these shows. Survival entertainment is vital because it engages the minds of the average person.

Without a show like The Walking Dead, how many people would consider something like off grid, post collapse, pregnancy?

While we cannot expect a few television shows to inspire the vast majority to start prepping, every bit helps. Influence by pop culture and primetime television is real.

Even with the advent of alternative media, there is something about the vice like grip of cable television that holds us captive and gives us all something to chat about around the coffee pot on Monday.

The best survival shows not only offer up a level of entertainment to the audience but push them to consider preparing in their own way. They also offer up real survival skills to be practiced away from the idiot box.

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3 Responses to “The Best Survival Shows to Help you Learn Survival Skills”

  1. Both of Creek Stewart’s shows were very good. Fat guys in the Woods consistently taught the guys how to make fire, how to find water and to purify it, how to find food and how to make a shelter. Really hated to see that one end.

  2. I suggest that one series that should be on this list is “Alone” on History Channel (currently, on Thursday nights). The series is now in its fifth season, I believe. Ten contestants draw lots for ten locations in a wilderness area. Each of them, like Les Stroud of “Survivorman,” is “alone” except for the weekly welfare checks (checking vitals, etc.) Each is given camera equipment to record his/her experience. At anytime, each contestant can press a button on a radio and be picked up and returned to civilization. The “last man standing” wins $500,000. None of them knows how many other contestants are left. The contest always begins in the fall, and the contestants bear greater hardship as winter approaches.

    We see character flaws that often surface as the days pass. Those who seem to be the braggers early on never make it. Those with a serious sense of humor seem to fare best. Whenever a contestant begins to talk about missing his/her family, or how much their family is depending on them and they are not back home to help, it is a clear sign that they are doomed.

    Almost all of the contestants are level-headed individuals with serious outdoor/survival backgrounds. The worst example of idiocy among contestants was in the second season. The first season made it clear how the northern end of Vancouver Island had the largest bear population in the world. One contestant in the second season bragged to his family before leaving for Vancouver Island that “If a bear comes for me, he’d better be bringing some help.” This individual arrived on the first day, saw bear scat in the forest, heard what he “thought might be a bear,” and punched out before the end of the day.

  3. No mention of Creek Steward , he had a show on that took 3 guys from not knowing anything to being able to survive on their own . Very much a learning experience, and Creek did it in various locations so one could see mountain/Forest , desert and coast situations.

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