Alone gained popularity over the pandemic as people started to ‘run out’ of the shows they normally watch and went in search of something else. Alone is on the 8th season currently, and I started watching around season 3 (and then quickly watched the first two seasons) — and it’s always been one of those shows I quietly watched and enjoyed. It’s fantastic television.
The premise (for all but two seasons) is: a person is dropped off in mid-fall somewhere in the middle of nowhere with some amount of other contestants. They all have a set amount of gear, but are dropped off with no food or water. At that point they are alone, filming themselves, and they simply have to survive longer than any other contestant to win.
Sounds morbid, and really the show often devolves to watching someone slowly starve to death and making bad decisions because of that starvation. But, it is also quite something to see. (The two seasons caveat above: there was a season where it was teams of two, and another where it was ‘who/how many can survive 100 days’ instead of an undefined amount of time.)
I love this show, allow me to explain…
With reality TV you always know there is more to it, and with Alone we have the benefit of these contestants talking about the show on their YouTube channels and on Reddit to explain what was happening and what not. Here’s more or less where I believe the reality line to lay (tl;dr the show is as real as it could be for TV):
- They are alone in the woods, but help is nearby.
- There is no script, but I do think they are trained on what to say, and most of these people are instructors or YouTubers to begin with, so talking to an audience is natural for them.
- The editing on the show, like all reality TV, is really out of sorts and completely fabricated. Meaning the editing team often makes things look more dire than they are. Perhaps taking someone with plenty of food, and splice in out of context comments that they are worried about food, when in fact they are talking about what to do when they run out of a massive stock pile of food they have. This is clearly to not give away who will win, but it’s bullshit and the editing can be quite disjointed. The editing is where the realism is killed.
- While they are alone in the woods, they are still on earth and sometimes that means they might not actually be that far from civilization, but the contestants are geofenced to an area. And they have a device that alerts them if they get too close to the boundary, this keeps them in bounds without a map, and also away from other contestants.
- There’s a medical team and the show often talks about the ’Med checks’ which are times when they send in a medic to make sure the person isn’t about to die, or file a lawsuit against the production team, something like that. My understanding is that communication is kept to an absolute minimum during this time.
- However, the contestants also engage with the safety teams via texting (T9 texting style) to update them on things. Things like: I am about to go do this stupid thing, or I need safety equipment for this ill advised thing, I am heading out of camp to do XYZ. This is essentially so the teams know something might happen and to set a check in time, and if they miss that window to send help. This communications is more or less hidden from viewers on all the seasons, but for those curious — there you are, a few contestants have confirmed this on Reddit.
I feel that this show is as realistic as things can get. It’s not true survival, as laws and rules are still followed — many contestants even speaking to the fact that they did something dangerous as a high risk/high reward scenario because it is a game show. This all distorts things, but is rather unavoidable.
As I mentioned above, the show is decently realistic, but the one thing that is for sure real is that you are alone and in the wilderness (or as wild as they can get, but often pretty far out there). And more than that, you are among other predators. So while parts of the show are about who can procure food and who gets enough calories. A good chunk of the candidates decide to leave the show from fear or loneliness. And it’s always something hard to predict who will give in for what reason.
People always say that survival is mostly a mental game, and Alone does a fantastic job showcasing just that. There’s been many people who have lasted fewer than 36 hours — not because they were hungry or cold, but because they heard/smelled/thought of a bear, or simply missed their family. (Keep in mind they have likely been away from family for two weeks before they started getting filmed as the show appears to give them some local training and prep time near the final location. I guess watching jet lagged people fresh of a plane would make for worse viewing.)
And if contestants make it past that marker, it’s about whether they can starve while continuing to make good decisions for themselves. Really quite something to watch how people react.
Lessons for Preppers
I am including myself in this grouping — that grouping being anyone who has taken steps to prepare for stores to be closed for an extended period of time. Here’s some of my takeaways from this show:
- You’ve got way more gear than you need. These contestants go out into the wild with basically no gear and last for an extraordinary amount of time. They take a Leatherman and an axe most of the time and are fine. So my 1000 knives, is a little overkill.
- You need a headlamp. They technically don’t get to bring one on the show, but one is included in their med kits and apparently they use them any way they want. And they do use them all the time on the show.
- It always has been, always will be, about: Oxygen, Shelter, Water, and Food. And food really being a distant last place finisher on that list. I am constantly blown away how long people on the show go with very low amounts of calories coming in.
It seems to me, that if you were to use Alone as a model for what you might actually need in a “going to the woods” survival kit the list would be short:
- Clothes to keep you warm
- Clothes to keep you dry
- A blanket or something
- A method to boil water
- Dehydrated backpacking meals, as many as possible.
- A knife
- A flashlight/headlamp/lantern
- Mountains of paracord
I think with that list you would be good to go, assuming you know what to do with it all. Because I watch Alone, my bug out bag and preps have been less outdoor survival focused and more general comfort focused. The reason for that is that it seems like in a true wilderness survival situation, gear is likely the smallest part of the need pyramid. And I think you could make a really sound argument that a bug out bag with a poncho, some cash, a woobie, something to filter/boil water and all the food you can carry with you is enough to allow you to survive for a tremendous amount of time (climate being the largest variable).
About That Gear (The Part You Came to Read)
One thing I always wonder is why they have such a restrictive gear list. I get not letting people bring a mountain of food, but what’s the difference between a lighter and a ferro rod? If someone wants to bring something like that, who cares. I get not wanting compound bows, but why is a bow ok and not a fishing rod?
I’d love to see a variant where there is only a small list of restricted items, instead of a list that you must meet. Better yet, give them all the same backpack and let them take only what fits inside the backpack. I don’t really think even giving people a hunting rifle will move the needle that much.
But, perhaps the person who takes 20lbs of coffee will get a nice advantage — I mean that’s got to be the hardest part of the first week or so. Anyways, I would watch a season where they really could go all out on bringing stuff. I would much rather not watch people starve, and see who instead can thrive. Maybe the benchmark for that season is not outlasting, but something more like: last one not to lose more than 20% of their body weight wins? I don’t know, I haven’t thought about this much.
What I’d Take
Whatever, forget all the above, I have been trying to sort out: if I were a contestant (no interest) then what would my gear list be? The rules vary slightly season to season, so I am going off of what seem to be the latest season 8 rules, and with the assumption that the show continues to put people in the coldest environments possible. (My caveat here is that some of the gear breakdowns I have seen on YouTube have much lower clothing counts than what seems to be allowed. I don’t know why, or care to figure it out, so I just went off the list I could find that seemed official enough. I mean me listing more gear is certainly more fun for us than me listing fewer gear items.)
I based my list off of the best possible, no budget in mind, gear I can think of. There’s got to be more than I know out there, but this is what I put together. It works out to about $9,000. But screw it, let me speak to it all — because that’s what you readers really want to know. There’s two parts to this, the base gear that contestants get, and then the hyped ‘10 items’ list that the show focuses on. I think the base kit is just as important, so let’s start there:
- Belt: you get one, mine would be the Filson Togiak. I would not bother with a leather belt that is going to stretch and require new holes. I would go with this simple and effective belt. I have one, it’s good stuff. Comfortable, durable, and one-size fits all.
- Boots: You get two pairs. So I would do a Hanwag Alaska GTX because I want my feet to be warm (many have left over feet issues). And maybe a Schnee’s Extreme 10, as the season 8 winner remarked on how well these worked and the removable liner made them easy to dry out.
- Buffs: you get two of these, and I would do a First Lite Aerowool Neck Gaiter and a Buff Merino Wool Fleece Neckwarmer. Two different ones just to have some versatility in weights.
- Gaiters: you get a single pair, I would do the First Lite Brambler Gaiter — they come in camo.
- Glasses: since I wear prescription lenses, I would get some: Gatorz in prescription. If they work for war, then should be good here.
- Gloves: you get an excessive four pairs, so I would do all four in Hestra gloves. The models would be: 2x Falt Guide Glove, Njord Five Finger, and Army Leather Expedition Mitt. I think that would give me a couple pair of gloves to use as work gloves, and two others for staying warm. One caveat: I might need something fully rubber/waterproof for fishing stuff, so maybe swap something insulated like that in here for one of the work glove pairs.
- Hat: you get two: the First Lite Beanie and the Filson Insulated Packer Hat. The beanie would be good for when in the shelter or sleeping. The Packer for any other activities, it even has nice ear flaps.
- Insulated jacket: you only get one, and I am going with the Beyond Clothing A7 Cold Jacket Durable. It uses Cordura to reinforce high wear areas, and Beyond specifically focuses on keeping people warm. So yeah.
- Pants: you get two pairs and I struggled on what would be ideal here. I would likely go with: Filson Mackinaw Wool Field Pants, and First Lite Obsidian Merino Pants. The wool would be really nice for staying warm on the Mackinaw, and the Obsidian pants should be durable and comfortable for the warmer early days.
- Rain Jacket: you get one, and I would go to Beyond Clothing again, and grab the A6 Rain Jacket durable. Basically the insulated jacket, but without the insulation it seems like.
- Rain Pants: you get one pair, and that would be the Beyond Clothing A6 Rain Pant Durable. Again, cordura reinforced, so that’s awesome. But I could also wear these over the Mackinaw pants and really get a nice layer system to keep my legs warm.
- Shemagh: you get one, so I would do a GORUCK one. I know, but I like them the best.
- Socks: you get six pairs! I would do the Darn Tough Hunter Over-The-Calf Heavyweight Hunting Sock. Normally I don’t like socks that tall, but that show looks cold to be on and I don’t see a downside — they are merino wool so even during the warmer months you should be ok with them, maybe not loving it all the time.
- Sweater: you get two sweaters, which is legit, I would do the Filson Sherpa Fleece, and the First Lite Klamath Quarter Zip.
- T-Shirt: you only get one, I would do the 210G Merino Wool Short Sleeve Crew from Filson. Merino and heavy, good combo.
- Thermal Tops: you get two, one Filson 280G Merino Long Sleeve Crew. Same reasons as the t-shirt. And one First Lite Furnace Henley.
- Thermal Underwear: you get two, one Filson 280G Merino Bottoms. And First Lite Furnace Long Johns.
- Underwear: you get two pairs and I would go with the Beyond Clothing A1 Power Wool Boxer Brief for both. These seem like a good trade off and the power wool is a nice fabric that wicks moisture well, doesn’t stink much, but holds up a little better than a standard 90+% merino does.
- Wool Shirt: you get just one, I would do the Fjallraven Granit Shirt. It looks like a good versatile shirt and layer for this use.
Ok that’s the base kit, and I feel warm just thinking about that gear. I tried to structure it for a lot of layering abilities as layering really is key to staying warm and safe in cold weather.
Before I move on to the 10 items, it should be noted that everyone gets a tarp as well to use without counting towards these two lists. Adding to that tarp and base gear, here’s the ‘10 item list’ I would go with (there’s a huge selection of what you can pick):
- Fishing line and hooks: it’s pretty clear that fishing is a primary means of food procurement on this show. Line and hooks is a pretty passive tool and you can set it right away. Bringing it.
- Paracord: gill nets and shelter building. Alone is a secondary advertisement for paracord a lot of the time.
- Axe: Gransfor Bruk American Felling Axe: rough chopping of trees and notching, as well as a hammer and wood splitting. Good stuff. I know others take smaller axes, but smaller requires more force, while larger requires more effort lifting. Same calorie spend no matter what from where I look at it.
- Saw: I’d get a big ass Silky Saw, I see no reason to go small here. Katanaboy 650mm seems to be the largest the show would allow, so I would do that. Then I would Lincoln log my cabin using it and the axe. Warm cabin seems key.
- Sleeping bag: best I can seem to find would be the Western Mountaineering Bison GWS. I would prefer synthetic, but this looks really nice.
- Pot: I would do the GSI Hard Anodized 2qt Dutch oven. Good handle for hanging over the fire, sides for boiling water, and a lid to fry stuff on, or eat off of.
- Ferro Rod Set: I would get the biggest I could.
- Trapping Wire: even if I don’t trap, useful for binding and building things.
- Recurve bow and Arrows: not a big hunter, but I would want to be able to kill food if I had a chance. This gives me that chance.
- Knife or Multitool: toss up, let’s talk more.
Most contestants put a multitool over a knife in this last spot, but I loathe multitools. That said, its clear from watching the show that most contestants use the axe/saw, pot, and multitool the most. Certainly to use the knife on the multitool, but also many of the other tools. For me the only add the multitool gives is the wire cutters, which are easily improvised with the axe, so I would lean towards a solid knife. Something like a Bradford Guardian 3.5 in 3V. You don’t need that much knife, and this would offer a much better knife platform than a multitool for carving, while really not taking away much from where I stand.
But, if I could source a highly modified multitool then you could make a good case for that. If you had a better blade than most come with, a small saw, a wood chisel, and maybe even a curved carving blade and small wood awl — now you are talking about something that could really be helpful on the show. The problem is: nothing like that exists so you are looking to a lot of DIY and aftermarket modifications — modifications which make the entire setup more likely to fail. Whereas a small fixed blade knife is not going to fail.
I really struggle on this one. Toss up. Right now, based on what I’ve seen I would be the person who brings the knife and if nothing else I would be very happy having the knife. Even though multi-tools are using a ton on the show, it’s mostly to carve with the knife, and then the pliers for picking up hot things. I could manage fine with a fixed blade I think.
That’s my list. It’s been fun.
Enjoy the show.