The Desert Island


For this thought exercise, as usual, our answer is the staff of Nancy’s Squat and Gobble… and an ample supply of Morning-After pills. Let us know your answers in the comments below Mad Duo


You are stranded on a desert island. It’s lush and beautiful with many natural resources. There is no hope of rescue, you’ll spend the rest of your life on this island. But there is some small hope: you have been granted three wishes, for three items. What items would you choose, and why?

We posed this question to a group of Marines recently and had them write their answers. Listed below are the 10 surveyed answers. 

1) Large sturdy machete, spool of 550 cord, flint fire starter.

2) Survival guide book, Axe, magnesium fire starter.

3) Machete, flint fire starter, poncho

4) Entrenching tool, canteen, water purification tablets.

5) A house, water purification system, small fishing boat. 

6) Hatchet, large cooking pot, hand-crank flashlight

7) Drinking water, a large stockpile of food,  Shemagh/cotton scarf.

8) One male dog, one female dog (to be bred for hunting and/or a food source), “solar-powered e-book reader loaded with thousands of books”.

9) Magnesium fire starter, large tarp, reliable fixed blade knife.

10) Long fixed blade knife, roll of 550 cord, large stainless cooking pot.


This question poses a series of interesting followup questions. Seven Marines listed a tool of some sort, be it a knife, machete, E-tool or ax. Four listed a fire starter, and only two listed 550 parachute cord, a form of rope found on nearly every field packing list. Some chose knowledge which they did not currently possess, in the form of a book or magical e-reader. Some decided to dream big, choosing a house, a boat, a pack of wild hunting dogs or a fishing boat.

The Marines were told there were no wrong answers and given five minutes to think and write. Afterward their answers were read aloud so others could hear their peers’ choices. Several wished to change their answers after the discussion. 


We asked why no one chose another person. Since there were no “wrong” answers, one could speculate that another person to help hunt, fish, build shelter, gather firewood, etc. would be a great asset, particularly if you fell ill.  A hot female doctor that built houses during the summer for school money, and chose adventure destinations for her bush-craft themed vacations would have been one of our top picks! With such loose confines to the question, we were surprised no one had requested a GPS, satellite phone and bottle of scotch to enjoy after making a single phone call.

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The point of the exercise was to make the Marines think about what they would do in such a hopeless, austere environment. How would their answers have changed if headhunting cannibals inhabited the island? Would they have chosen a rifle over a hatchet? They all said yes, of course, they would want an M4 and pallet of ammo if that was the case. So mission drives the gear? We choose the items we feel will be most beneficial to us, given the expectation of a certain well-defined situation. But that’s not life.



We don’t know what is going to be thrown at us on a combat patrol, a walk down the street or even on that mythical desert island. So we plan ahead, gather knowledge and expertise, plan and rehearse for the worst-case scenario. We try to stack the odds in our favor, regardless of the daunting challenge or problem presented. It’s not just a smart thing to do, it’s human nature.

The difference is most people will never find themselves trapped on a desert island. Most will never be in a gunfight. Most will never need the tourniquet they keep handy. And knowing how to make a tourniquet is arguably more important than having one handy. Knowing how to build a house is better than having one waiting for you on the island. The skill to build a fire from natural materials is better than a fire starter you can lose. 


Books fall apart. Electronics fail. Human beings survived much tribulation for long periods of time with only their minds and handed-down information, long before the printing press, light bulb or internet. There are still many cultures out there that survive without the advancements of western technology. They make the things they need to survive, with tools they also made. We aren’t saying we all need to have SAS commando bushcraft skills or live a summer in a grass hut. We are saying that human beings need to think outside the box, never stop learning and recognize that our rugged adaptability is what’s allowed us to survive this long. 


So we pose the question to you, the reader. What three items would you choose? Why would you pick them? In a clear cut, Tom Hanks talking to a volleyball “castaway” type situation, what would you want to help you survive? Would you rather have a tarp or a teammate? Would you rather have the tools or the knowledge of how to make them?


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