Man Uses Primitive Skills to Survive 96 Hours on Subtropical Island With No Fresh Water

Man Uses Primitive Skills to Survive 96 Hours on Subtropical Island With No Fresh Water
(Courtesy of Chad Zuber)

A nature and primitive skills expert, who visited a subtropical island for a days-long “survival challenge” in 2013, has revisited the same island 10 years later and noticed that his skills have improved. This time, he made it through 96 hours with no fresh water and very little food, drawing on the wisdom of simpler times to stay alive.

Chad Zuber, 50, is a father of three from Los Angeles, California. He gave up his pursuit of a “normal career” to focus on his love of nature and survival skills and shares his adventures on his popular YouTube channel. In 2013, he traveled to the tiny island of Isla Culebra off the east coast of Puerto Ricowhich he believes to be the least developed of all the Caribbean islands, to test whether his skills were enough to keep him alive.

2013: ‘Severe Suffering, Dehydration’

“Ever since I was a child, I always loved being outside,” Mr. Zuber told The Epoch Times. “I loved exploring and discovering, as most children do, and that never really went away.

“2013. ... was very difficult, I had several situations where I could have died ...  and it was severe suffering, dehydration.”

(Courtesy of <a href="">Chad Zuber</a>)
(Courtesy of Chad Zuber)

Mr. Zuber believes the number one factor in his island struggle was a lack of experience at the time.

“I didn’t know how much water I needed,” he said. “I didn’t know all the sources of water that were there. There were coconuts and I would drink those when I'd find them.”

And, when there were no coconuts to be found, he began to rely on the rain.

In a desperate moment, Mr. Zuber once even skinned a cactus and ate the flesh.

“It tasted similar to a cucumber and it had a lot of water in it,” he said. “I felt so reinvigorated immediately. ... I took a chance because I was desperate, and it worked!”

Despite all the challenges, Mr. Zuber believes he learned a lot from that experience.

Ten years after his risky experience on the island, Mr. Zuber returned this April, with an extra decade’s worth of knowledge and experience under his belt. Craving to be “a few days disconnected,” he headed to Isla Culebra and survived 96 hours, or four days, on the island’s rugged coastline by himself.

(Courtesy of <a href="">Chad Zuber</a>)
(Courtesy of Chad Zuber)

2023: ‘Survival Mode’

Mr. Zuber chose an area of the island once inhabited by the Taino people, who lived by fishing and agriculture. Having dodged hurricane season, he spent four days in temperatures between 70 and 80 Fahrenheit (21-26 degrees Celsius), with steady sunshine and a little rain.

“I knew the number one priority was going to be water,” he said. “That’s why I went to that beach. I had a continuous supply of coconuts, but I had to climb the trees to get them and that takes a lot of energy.”

Since it was really hot, Mr. Zuber needed a lot of water, and he would drink ten coconuts a day.

“My second priority was food,” he said. “You can eat the coconuts, which is good, there’s not much fruit that grows there. ... I did bring a fishing pole, and I thought the fishing would be a lot easier.”

However, he was disappointed that he caught only one fish during his adventure.

“But there are other sources of food there such as sea urchins, also lichens; they can be prised off the rocks with a knife,” he said.

(Courtesy of <a href="">Chad Zuber</a>)
(Courtesy of Chad Zuber)

Additionally, Mr. Zuber brought a supplementary food supply to the island in the form of pemmican—homemade bars of dry, ground meat mixed with rendered fat and wrapped in seaweed. He brought eight bars, providing 1,000 calories per day.

Mr. Zuber explained he carried that extra food because he knew he was going to be spending a lot of time with his camera and wouldn’t have enough time to look for food.

Now a self-taught survival expert, Mr. Zuber gathered materials to make a day shelter, wove a hammock to string between trees, bathed daily in the ocean, and found an elevated perch on a rock above the sea on which to sleep, with a “constant wind” to deter biting insects.

“I had to climb a cliff to get up to where I was camping, and the cliff had a slope and a lot of loose rock,” he said. “There were a lot of opportunities for injury or for disaster, I could have easily slipped and fallen down that cliff and been injured, but I was aware of that, and I just did it very carefully.”

Since Mr. Zuber didn’t sleep much at night, he would watch the movement of the moon and other constellations. In the four days there, he used the stars as a clock.

“Then every morning was a different sunrise, the colors of the sky in the clouds. It’s like, wow: so, so beautiful!” he said.

(Courtesy of <a href="">Chad Zuber</a>)
(Courtesy of Chad Zuber)
(Courtesy of <a href="">Chad Zuber</a>)
(Courtesy of Chad Zuber)

After four days of drinking coconut water, sleeping little, and eating roughly 1,400 calories per day, Mr. Zuber felt “wonderful.” While he attributes healing qualities to nature, he also believes that the human body compensates in times of deprivation.

“It’s something that I call ’survival mode,' kind of like what happens when you have adrenaline in an emergency situation,” he said. “I think when you’re in a situation of deprivation ... your body adjusts. It’s like, we need to function at the highest level right now, and it’s something that just happens automatically. It’s incredible to experience.”

Mr. Zuber ended his 96-hour experiment, having far surpassed his first experience on the island, and feeling “so good, so grateful” for the lasting peace that his temporary home had given him.

(Courtesy of <a href="">Chad Zuber</a>)
(Courtesy of Chad Zuber)

Appreciate the Simple Things

The survival expert spent a lot of time fishing with his dad and brother as a child and at his grandparents’ home near the southern Sierra Nevada mountains in California, where he first learned that acorns could be eaten. On a summer fishing and camping trip to Baja, he observed the children in fishing villages running and playing soccer barefoot and was struck by the simplicity of their lives.

As an adult, he began running barefoot himself. While trail running, he grew an interest in wild edible plants and began learning more about how our ancestors lived, depending on nature for sustenance.

“I learned mostly from books, a little bit from videos, and a lot from just experimenting,” he told The Epoch Times. “It’s amazing how vulnerable we are, and we don’t really think about it, because we live in this society where we go to the refrigerator for food, you can go a supermarket and there’s all this food, you turn on a faucet and you have water. We just have everything just right there at your fingertips.”

However, when you eliminate all that, he said, you begin to “appreciate these simple things.”

Comparing water to gold for a “thirsty person,” he said: “You can take a hungry and thirsty person, give them gold, and they’re going to die. So, you just learn these priorities and the value of these simple things.”

Disconnecting from the world and immersing himself in nature did “wonderful things to rejuvenate both the body and the mind” for Mr. Zuber, who hopes his adventures will encourage others to “add a little nature to their lives.”

He continues to make and share videos of his adventures, both as a source of income and as a way to connect with like-minded folk worldwide. Primitive skills are for everyone, he says.

“When you use primitive skills ... it makes you more ingenious or more creative,” he said. “That can be used in certain situations in modern life, like perhaps your vehicle breaks down ... it helps to open your mind to other possibilities, how to fix a problem, deal with a situation.”

For anyone else thinking of testing their skills in the wild, Mr. Zuber’s advice is short, but essential: choose a suitable climate zone, know your water sources, bring a water filter if you can, bring supplementary food, and most importantly of all, do your research.

Share your stories with us at [email protected], and continue to get your daily dose of inspiration by signing up for the Inspired newsletter at
Related Topics