Where to Find Fat in a Survival Situation

Categories: Survival Food


You need fat to live. That may seem like a weird statement in these modern times but it’s true. For thousands of years humans had to find ways to get as much fat as possible, in as many ways as they could find. Nowadays, we are trying to find ways of getting fat out of our food, not in. I’m sure if our ancestors could see us, they’d be mortified at the amount of fat we waste after each meal.

By Logan Misseldine, contributing writer

It takes more than just protein and some plants for our bodies to function, but fat is hard to find in the wild and we aren’t the only creatures who need it. This has led to many man-made sources of fat that we can take advantage of when we can’t find it in the wild.

If you’ve never thought about fat in a survival situation, I’ll give you some ideas to get started.

Why do We Need Fat for Survival?

While we do get calories and nutrients from all food, our bodies wouldn’t be able to utilize them without the help of fats. Fats also have multiple properties that enable our bodies to function the way they do. There is only a limited amount of time that we can go without fat before our bodies shut down. 

Fats are known for: 

  • Being a source of energy
  • Storing energy
  • Being essential for growth development and cell functions
  • Maintaining healthy skin and tissues 
  • Transporting fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K
  • Forming steroid hormones 

(More information can be found here)

It’s important to know the function of fat because many preppers assume that if they eat enough wild game that they could survive indefinitely. Wild game happens to be very lean in fat content, and while you might not be hungry, your body will still consume itself if it lacks the fat needed to survive.

Beware of Rabbit Starvation (Protein Poisoning)

Ever hear of rabbit starvation? I’m not talking about starving rabbits; I’m talking about starving from rabbits.

Rabbit starvation is also known as protein poisoning. It’s a dangerous health condition caused by eating too much protein coupled with too little fat. The thinking here is that getting almost all of your calories from lean protein alone may disrupt the liver’s ability to process protein.

The classic example of this is attempting to survive on lean meat alone, i.e. rabbits (hence the name). According to Wise Geek:

The discovery of protein poisoning is linked to early health studies and observations of various Native American groups. Tribes in Alaska and the polar region subsisted largely on game with a high amount of fat and carbohydrates, such as seals and whales, and rarely suffered from this form of malnutrition.

By contrast, Native Americans stricken with so-called rabbit starvation tended to come from forested areas where harsh winters resulted in a diet of primarily lean game. Rabbit starvation was first described by Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefanssonn in the late 19th century, but it was also remarked upon by Charles Darwin in his journals.

The author Jon Krakaeur, in his book Into the Wild (also made into a movie), suggests that Chris McCandless, the real-life individual who died in Alaska, died from rabbit starvation.

Don’t let this be you!

Are There Advantages to Body Fat in Survival?

Yes and no. Yes, a person with higher levels of body fat is more likely to last longer than a lean person. They have more fat for the body to consume, they will stay warmer longer, etc. No, because if you have too much fat (you are overweight), you will not be able to move as long or as quickly as someone who is leaner and generally in better shape.

If it is simply a matter of starvation, however, body fat wins the day over someone who is lean. Need proof, look at the extreme example of the morbidly obese man who survived without any food for 382 days!

A survival situation like this is rare, however. You will be in a much better situation if you skip the extra serving of dessert and focus instead on exercising like a Navy Seal. Stay fit, eat lean foods, and if you are in a survival situation, know…

Where to Find Fat in a Survival Situation

Most of earth’s creatures are hunting for the same resources we are and have a better sense of where to find them. It can be difficult to get ahead of the competition, especially if you aren’t familiar with what resources are in your area. Even though many of the practices that allowed our ancestors to find the ways to survive lasted for thousands of years, many of them have already been forgotten in a fraction of that time. There are still people that know and teach some of them, it is just a matter of learning them again. 

In order to find enough fat to survive, you will need to rely on any knowledge and creativity you have. There are many ways to fulfill your body’s needs that you wouldn’t normally think of, both from natural and man-made sources.

Man-made Fat Sources

fat rich butter
Cup of fat-rich butter.

There has never been a single moment in my entire life that I have ever even thought about the fat in my food. Apart from reading the little chart on the back of the box out of boredom, there was no one to teach me that there was even fat in my food, and how much I should eat.
One of the reasons society has become what it is today is the infinite access to food and nutrients. 

Some of these can help you obtain large amounts of fat, even if it’s not their intended purpose.

These caught my attention in my research:

Olive Oil

It’s more expensive than lard or shortening but it makes up for it in its fat content and health benefits. At 14 grams of fat per tablespoon, olive oil is a great choice to stockpile. Normally we use olive oil solely for cooking, you can also cut right to the chase and chug it straight from the container.

When looking at health benefits, this oil has anti-inflammatory properties, high amount of antioxidants, and monounsaturated fats. You can also store this oil longer than most natural fat sources, even up to a few years as long as it’s packaged and stored correctly.

Infant Formula

As weird as it may sound, infant formula can be a good food source in a survival situation. If you think about it, it contains everything needed for a newborn’s rapid growth. We never outgrow the need for those nutrients. When food is hard to find it can pay off big time to have something that has everything you need in one small package.

A single scoop of powder can get you 2.5 grams of fat, which you can incorporate into any drink or food. This is a perfect example of how thinking outside the box can help you find resources from uncommon sources.

Peanut Butter

16 grams of fat for every 2 tablespoons makes peanut butter an ideal choice for your dietary fat needs. It’s also shelf stable, and in powdered forms, can be kept upwards of 5 to 10 years. Peanut butter is also delicious, and it won’t take much more than a spoon to get those precious nutrients into your body. Even though there can be a lot of sugar and preservatives, peanut butter does have its health benefits.

It’s a good source of protein, minerals and vitamins, and can help keep your heart healthy.

There are many ways to get the nutrients we need all it takes is some research and experimenting. Some other products you can consider for their fat content are:

  • Ensure/meal replacements
  • Canned foods
  • Chocolate

Natural Fat Sources 

While it can be a more difficult place to obtain fats naturally, nature can provide you everything you need if you are smart (and lucky). All you need to do is to figure out how to take advantage of what is around you. The biggest challenge to obtaining fats from nature is not knowing where you can get them. I consider fatty products from domesticated animals natural sources as well, since the plants and animals would still produce them without human intervention. 

Just be vigilant on the quality as time goes on, unprocessed fat is not known for its longevity. It will eventually go bad, even if you freeze it, you will eventually have to look for fresh sources.

Here is a list of natural resources that you can get the necessary fats from:

  • Fish
  • Nuts
  • Fruits
  • Whole milk
  • Eggs

Wild Animals Fats for Survival

What happens when you can’t bug out to a homestead or farm? Without access to domesticated animals you will have to rely solely on wild game to obtain fat and protein. One issue with this is that most wild animals, as mentioned, are very lean, as they lead much more active lives than domesticated animals. No matter how many animals you harvest, you’ll likely have to supplement extra fat into your diet.

But where it gets interesting is that the time of year where we need fats the most, wild animals happen to have the highest amounts, making it easier for us by potentially decreasing the amount of animals that we would need to harvest. 

Yet there are a few animals and animal parts that few people even know they can utilize as a source of fat. Some include:

Squirrel Fat

red squirrel fat
Look at that little fatty!

Squirrels?! For fat?! 

Yeah, I thought it was weird too until I found this article on how to render squirrel fat. While squirrels are small, there are a lot of them. Even if you only get a little fat from each it can quickly add up, especially if you can preserve that fat. 

According to Cornell University’s Wild Harvest Table, squirrels contain an average of 2.7 grams of fat for 3 ounces. This means in a 1-pound squirrel you would have 13.5 grams of fat.

 This is an average though, because if you think about the amount of fat they would have stored during winter, you could probably score even more than that from one squirrel. Squirrels are also very protein rich, 18.1 grams in 3 oz of squirrel meat to be exact. This puts squirrels and squirrel hunting in a new light and underscores the importance of having a good squirrel gun.

Beaver Fat

This is an old mountain man favorite. There are stories of rendezvous of old where beaver trappers would take the tails of trapped beavers and roast them over the fire. Then would eat away at the layers of fat under the thick skin. 

It’s hard to say just how much fat a beaver contains, especially because people don’t typically eat the tails. But what I can say is that because of the beaver’s size and fat content they can be potent food sources to trap for in a survival scenario.

In survival situations you need to conserve as much energy as possible, trapping for beavers can potentially cut down on the amount of energy spent as well as increase the amount of fat you bring in.

Caul Fat

For those of you who haven’t sprinted to google yet, caul fat is a thin membrane that surrounds the stomach and other organs of hooved animals, including:

  • Deer
  • Pigs
  • Cows
  • Sheep

It’s also known as lace fat because of its web-like appearance. 

I can’t begin to explain to you how much I enjoy cooking with caul fat. Think about any meal that you wrap with bacon; you can use caul fat. There are a lot of traditional dishes you can look up, but my favorite way is to just wrap hamburgers and let the fat melt and crisp up, trapping all sorts of moisture into the meat.

Now the reason I bring up caul fat is that it’s not well known, and especially for any of you who would harvest deer or other hooved game, the caul fat may be all the fat you get from an animal. 

Eating caul fat can give you 122 calories, 6 grams of fat, and 17 grams of protein. It also freezes incredibly well and can be kept a decent amount of time in the freezer, I even had good results thawing it and refreezing it several times. It can be hard to find even with all our access to food, your best bet is to cruise around your local butcher shops and ask questions, it can take a while but it’s worth the effort.

caul fat
I have become obsessed with caul fat. Being an adult onset hunter, and having no experience butchering livestock, I had never even heard of the delicious substance until I heard it mentioned in a podcast and stumbled onto some recipes. That next November I was lucky enough to take a small doe and get my hands on the stuff.

How to Store Fats

It’s always a good idea to stockpile resources, and since fat is so critical to your health, it should be a priority to have the ability to extend the shelf-life of any fats that you come across. 

Regardless if you plan to stockpile resources you bought from a store, or process naturally sourced fats, there are a few simple rules you should follow:

  • Keep away from light, heat, and oxygen
  • Solid fats keep longer
  • Don’t stockpile more than you can use

Even well-packaged fat can go rancid quickly in certain conditions. Often without any evidence that it has gone bad. 

Naturally sourced fat, such as from squirrels or bears, will go bad much quicker before being rendered down. Rendering fat is merely a process of separating the fat from the extra bits, such as connective tissues or leftover meat. 

Rendering fat will dramatically increase the amount of time you can keep it on the shelf, as well as making it easier to use while preparing food. If you’re interested here is a good article on how to render animal fat.

My Final Fatty Thoughts

Like I said earlier, I have never had to worry about whether I was getting enough fat into my body. Few of us do in these modern times.

I hope that I won’t have to think about fat in a survival situation, but as current events have begun to rise to the surface, I’m glad that I have a few tricks up my sleeve. The biggest lesson that I learned from researching this topic is just how important it is to keep our minds open and use our imaginations. It just might keep you alive.

Let us know any creative ways you know of finding or processing fat in the comments below.

(Especially if you have any experience with squirrel fat, inquiring minds want to know).

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