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Perfecting the Core Four: Survival Instructor Creek Stewart Chats With Knife Depot

This is the first of a two-part series with survival expert Creek Stewart.  Tomorrow, Creek will be sharing his tips on picking out the perfect survival knife.  We’ll also be giving away a BlackBird SK5 — Creek’s primary survival knife — to one lucky reader along with two copies of his book.  Scroll to the bottom of the article to learn how to enter.

“I like to live what I preach,” said 36-year-old survival instructor Creek Stewart across a cafeteria table at the Cobb Galleria during the 2013 Blade Show. “I don’t just put survival instructor on my resume.”

A few minutes of conversation with Stewart, who founded and operates Willow Haven Outdoor survival school in Indiana, quells any doubts about his survival chops.

The former Boy Scout turned survival guru and bestselling author rarely goes anywhere without his “Get Home Bag,” a pack full of items ranging from energy bars to a Leatherman that ensures he’ll get home safely if disaster strikes.

At the Blade Show, he was wearing a BlackBird SK5 in a leather sheath on his hip and also had a Leatherman and a Spyderco knife in tow.

But what makes Stewart stand out from the pack isn’t his gear, but his survival philosophy. It’s a blended approach, which he calls “prima-modern,” that utilizes both modern tools and primal survival skills to meet the four core basic needs: shelter, water, fire and food.

A Passion for the Outdoors

An Eagle Scout at 14, Stewart grew up on a farm and developed a strong appreciation for both nature and self-reliance skills at an early age.  When he was in college, he wrote and self-published a guide on survival that he sold to the Boy Scouts.  He began teaching survival courses at 21, but without a full time facility was limited to mostly one day courses in his area.

Then about 4 years ago, he purchased Willow Haven Outdoor, a 21-acre survival school replete with a 10,000 square foot lodge.  Stewart now hosts 1-day and 3-day courses every year from May until November and said he serves a huge range of attendees, from 10-year-olds to 80-year-olds.  The approach at Willow Haven is somewhere in the middle in terms of intensity and Stewart said he’s developing a niche for instructing families.

“There’s one extreme where people come to a survival course and expect to strip down to a leather thong and only take their knife into the woods with them for seven days and starve, then there’s the classroom survival stuff — we’re perfectly in the middle,” he said.

In a typical class, students will receive hands on instruction to learn between three to five survival skills from each of the core four survival areas.

In addition to teaching, Stewart has also taken his survival skills to the literary world.  He recently published the Unofficial Hunger Games Wilderness Survival Guide, which provides step-by-step instructions on how to perform many of the survival skills utilized by characters in the “Hunger Games.”

Not If, But When

Why are survival skills important?  It’s a question Stewart tackles on a regular basis.  He said that there are a large number of  “unexpected survival situations,” where people will need to rely on self-reliance skills.

“You could be lost on a day hike, disoriented on a hunting trip, be chased from your home by a natural disaster or even broken down on a cruise line in the middle of the ocean,” Stewart said, adding, “I don’t talk about zombie apocalypse or alien invasion. I talk about the real stuff that happens to real people on a regular basis in this country.”

He said that he’s witnessed firsthand the power of survival skills to transform people’s lives.  Often, attendees at Willow Haven will arrive with little to no survival experience and can undergo profound changes.

“When somebody carves a bow drill set from their knife from sticks they gather in the woods and uses it to create a red burning ember and blows that into a flame into a tinder bundle, something changes in that person.  Suddenly, they’re ready to conquer the world.”

Want to Own the Knife Creek Has?

Well, you’re in luck.  Knife Depot is going to hook up one lucky community member with a BlackBird SK5, the same blade Creek carries when he’s in the outdoors.  To win, leave a comment below before Thursday at 12 p.m. Central explaining what your #1 survival tool is and why.  One random winner will get the knife and two others will receive a copy of Creek’s book.  Good luck and check back tomorrow for Creek’s advice on picking out a survival knife.


  1. #1 survival tool = map

  2. #1 Survival tool is my Knife!
    it is the most useful!
    You can protect yourself, get food, make a shelter, gather roots, and even help with first aid!

  3. Chad Schumacher

    July 2, 2013 at 11:15 am

    The knife looks awesome and I would love to have one for my knife collection! I think its a split for me between a hatchet and a knife for the #1 survival tool, both can do so many things.

  4. My number one survival tool is a compass with firestarter attachment. I can find my way around plus I can start fires at night.

  5. Matt Hoagland

    July 2, 2013 at 11:16 am

    Number one survival tool my pocket knife.

  6. #1 survival tool is knowledge of the area you are in.

  7. Cool knife hope I win !!

  8. Donovan Simmons

    July 2, 2013 at 11:18 am

    My knife. It is capable of so many things.

  9. A good knife. I can make it into a spear and hunt with it. Do many chores around camp. Prepare emergency fire when cold or wet. Make a waterproof roof. Slice fruit and game.

  10. Number one is a good knife .

  11. #1 Survival Tool = brain….a calm won with some survival knowledge.

    Nice knife hope I can win it.

  12. My #1 survival tool is my SOG fielder folding knife because I have used it for starting a fire with a striker, for skinning smaller animals that I have caught while camping (rabbits mainly) and in a few cases I’ve had to pull it out to defend myself from an aggressor that wanted my wallet (I don’t understand why.. damn things empty)

  13. Knife of course!

  14. I always have some type of knife on me, that’s my number one survival tool! Would love to win this one!!!

  15. Since scouts, my knife has been my #1 tool in any situation. A tool that can make tools is what every man needs

  16. My survival tool is water all that stuff like knives and maps are good but they wont help if im passed out somewhere

  17. Eddie Burgess

    July 2, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Cool knife!

  18. I always carry a pocket knife and usually carry a belt knife if I am going to be in a wilderness area.

  19. the only survival tool i have right now is my brain. this knife would be a great addition

  20. Kyle Pokrzywinski

    July 2, 2013 at 11:34 am

    #1 survival tool… Sog powerlock, best set of tools in one unit, best multitool on the market

  21. My #1 survival tool is my brain. Knowledge is power, and with it, you can stay a few steps ahead of the curve and increase your survival chances by relying on what you’ve drilled, practiced, read, or watched. Without this tool, your chance of survival diminishes quickly.

  22. Nice looking knife. Send it to me! Thanks for the giveaway.

  23. Jim McAllister

    July 2, 2013 at 11:39 am

    My #1 survival tool is my brain , used in combination with my previous training , keeping calm and quickly coming up with an action plan . It’s a system that hasn’t failed me yet !

  24. #1 survival tool is knowledge!!! if you have the knowledge you can improvise, adapt, and overcome. But if you mean what materialistic tool, my obvious choice is a cutting tool. (too many reasons to say why/what it could be used for)

    • vauhxx booker

      July 2, 2013 at 12:18 pm

      my number one survival tool would be a means of water purification because water is the most essential element to survival.

  25. I’ve never found a knife that I truly love and feel comfortable with. Perhaps this one is it? My best survival tool is my brain… but it will need assistance so I’d prefer a good knife to go with it! 🙂

  26. My #1 survival tool is my head. All the gear in the world won’t make up for ignorance and inexperience.

  27. My mind. All other tools are just extensions.

  28. Number one survival tool would be either my knife/firearm or my lighter/fire making device

  29. #1 survival tool for me is my Gerber multi.

  30. #1 Survival tool is my knife,

  31. Any survival tool is better than none, but my #1 is my Leatherman…It allows me the opportunity to turn into MacGyver if needed…

  32. Knowledge of the area that I’m in is my survival tool, what I carry in my edc is a bonus!

  33. My number one survival took is my knife (hopefully I can upgrade)!

  34. Randy Belcher

    July 2, 2013 at 11:58 am

    My mind, no matter what kind of tool you may have, you have to keep a strong mind and clear head. Never panic. There is always a way.

  35. Norman Nicholas

    July 2, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    #1 survival tool is my EDC knife. Never leave home without it!!

  36. Case sheath knife…and the kiss method…keep it simple…survive!

  37. My favorite is my Swiss Victorinox SOS kit my wife gave me for a wedding present. Comes with a variety of tools ranging from pliers to signal mirror, knife sharpening stone, compass, among others.

  38. The most important survival tool is your brain. All the survival gadgets in the world won’t help if you don’t know how to use them. Second most important is a solid knife, such as the BlackBird SK5 – which I would love to win!!! (hint hint 😉

  39. Number 1 is my knife…useful tool for hunting, gathering and shaping supplies for camp

  40. My #1 survival tool is my WILL to learn, equip myself and execute. This, with God’s blessings, equals survival.

  41. Nick Starling

    July 2, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    My number one survival tool is my fire starter

  42. No. 1 item is two items – in one. I have a
    Mora knife with a fire steel in the handle.

  43. My #1 Survival tool is a good knife.
    But it does you no good if you don’t take you’re time to learn how to use it proberly

  44. Number one survival tool? Other than the obvious knowledge you have gathered, I would lean toward my custom made stainless canteen with an attached magnesium fire starter and snare for a lid holder. Contained inside is my mylar reflective blanket, knife (sheath wrapped in duct tape), paracord, wetfire tablets, bandanna and multitool (most in a ziploc freezer bag). It looks like a regular stainless water bottle. Beat up, scratched, etc. Urban camouflage! I can carry it in my briefcase, on my bike, leave it on my desk. No one is the wiser!

  45. My #1 survival tool is Creek himself. After taking his one day Unofficial Hunger Games Survival Course, he made me see things I never would’ve noticed while being out in nature. He sparked my mind to be creative, and to have a “no-limit” thought process on what you can do or use while trying to survive an extreme situation.

  46. Michael Rundle

    July 2, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    My brain, it rules all the rest of my tools…

  47. Aside from general knowledge, my #1 survival tool would be my leatherman multi tool. Can’t count how many times it has been used in emergency situations.

  48. Holly Brennan

    July 2, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    I had a great time at Willow Haven!

  49. #1 Tool is attitude. “I will live.”

  50. My most useful survival tool is my bushman axe. It can fell a tree, do fine carving and whittling. and it can be used almost anywhere a knife can be used. If I had to pick one thing to be lost with, it would be that axe.

  51. I have to go with my knife on this one.

  52. The most powerful tool is the mind. All other tools are just that: tools. They are only as good or useful as the mind that is wielding/using them.

  53. Sturdy quality blade! The uses are endless from building to hunting to self defense. Nothing beats a sharp blade!

  54. My #1 survival tool is my brain. Sometimes you have to improvise and adapt to overcome and that requires thinking. If your not using your brain in a survival situation, I don’t care what tool you have your headed for failure.

  55. Looks like a great knife to take along with my hunting gear. Would love to win it.

  56. Would love to add this to my survival kit

  57. I guess I would have to say my firestarter. cause besides warmth you could use it fire as a signaling device and in a pinch as a defense against dangerous animals assuming you already have a fire going

  58. My #1 survival tool is drive; drive to survive, drive to succeed against nature and the drive to get home!

  59. Earl Guernsey

    July 2, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    My #1 survival tool is my fire piston, because without fire you die. Fire can keep you warm, help clean your water, etc.

  60. #1 tool is knowledge but a knife would come in as a close tie. Would love to win the knife or the book. Thanks for the opportunity!

  61. My brain. The rest is useless without it.

  62. #1 tool is my Brain. Needed to assess the situation, and store, maintain or obtain all the tools listed above

  63. Number one survival tool is calmness and skill.

  64. My number one survival tool is my BK7wth mods pckt fishingkit and firesteel all together

  65. Lenore Sagaskie

    July 2, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    My fave survival tool is a waterproof can and I keep matches, pocketknife, flexible saw, rope and tape, first aid supplies and even fishhooks! Of course, a really good knife would make this even better!

  66. Jesse Badinghaus

    July 2, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    My #1 survival tool is my brain! Without the knowledge of how to survive, no physical tool can save you! Two great benefits of it are that it can’t be taken away and it weighs nearly nothing.

  67. Probably my multitool. Knife, scissors, tweezers, etc. Could use a really good knife though.

  68. A small or medium hatchet I guess
    . A knife is a bit more versatile but I don’t “think” it can hold up to chopping like an hatchet in the long run.

  69. Knife do anything

  70. My number one survival tool is an old green River knife of mine. I have used it to do everything from cutting rope and vines to splitting firewood, filet fish, cut up root vegetables, digging, skinning game, pretty much everything I have ever needed done when out survival camping.

  71. I would have to say your #1 survival tool is knowledge. All the other stuff is worthless if you don’t know how to use it.

  72. my brain, i never leave home without it.

  73. My go to survival tool is the Ontario Knife Company RTAK-II , super strong blade that can hack through brush and still be used for finer cuts. Heavy handle and full tang make this my survival choice.

  74. The only survival tool I need is me I can get and do what ever I need with my own two hands I do not need anything second thing I need is a knife with those two things I can be alone and service till my body gives out

  75. Number one tool would be a knife. If I had one. You can do a lot with a good knife.

  76. #1 Survival Tool? Gotta be the training and knowledge that I always have with me.

  77. Michael Lopez

    July 2, 2013 at 7:00 pm

    My #1 tool is my gerber multitool. It can help me make the parts tools for hunting, fire, and shelter!

  78. dennis norman

    July 2, 2013 at 7:12 pm

    gotta be my survival knife

  79. My number one tool is my knife. A good knife will pay you back over and over again.

  80. number 1 is a water purifier or filter. hope i win the’ll be number 2

  81. Landon Leschper

    July 2, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    My knife definitely. It can be used to make shelter, dig for water, create a sunlight flash signal (with a high gloss blade), create weapons and tools, first aide, hunting, and defensive purposes.

  82. My knife. But the most important thing I leave behind is the knowledge of where I am planning to go and for how long with two people.

  83. Using my GPS and my brain and of course a survival knife

  84. Jonathan Stephenson

    July 2, 2013 at 10:05 pm

    My #1 tool would have to be my wife! Having moral support and an extra set of hands is very valuable.

  85. My #1 survival tool is my brain. I try to fill it with as much knowledge as I can. I’ll never have every tool I need. If I have knowledge, I can calmly figure out how to improvise or source the thing I need.

  86. zack morrison

    July 3, 2013 at 12:10 am

    My number one survival tool is my Ontario kukri, I have used it a lot and I know it can be lifesaving! I also always have on a 550 Para cord bracelet.

  87. Looks like a great knife.

  88. looks great!

  89. tool = camelback. Having fresh drinking water gives me time to do anything else that I might need. Otherwise everything else is delayed as I have to find a water source before anything,.

  90. survival tool : my pocket knife

  91. Attitude is the number one survival tool. Without keeping a good attitude, no knife or other item will matter.

  92. Cheasy, but my number one survival tool is my son. My number one priority is to keep him safe, so that boosted moral spurs me on to provide food, shelter, water, etc… I could make something that would kind of work as a knife, I could find food and water, but there’s nothing I could find that would push me as hard as that boy!

  93. Physical tool : A good large sized knife as you can do many things with it. [ with attached firestarter of course ]
    Non-physical tool : A good sense of humor. You need something to snap you out of things when it gets real rough

  94. #1 tool for me is brain plus common sense, but a well stocked survival kit doesn’t hurt either…

  95. knowledge as much as possible

  96. My number one survival tool is my mind….Without the right mindset all the tools in the world wont save you….Plus its always with you and you cant lose it…..

  97. My Numer One Survival Tool is my Boyfriend because he knows everything about Nature and I’m still his student outdoors .. I think I wouldn’t survive on m own right now xD

  98. My #1 survival tool is my knife. Because as mentioned before a knife has multiple uses.

  99. brain power = survival power

  100. Sounds corny, but my wife. No sense in surviving w/o her.

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  110. Stumbled across this and I’ve got to say I’m a little bit envious, I’ve never been hunting /camping don’t own a survival tool, after reading this article and watching the shows I think it’s time to get one and start learning.

  111. Jack M Baskin

    July 5, 2015 at 9:51 pm

    My #1 survival tool is my brain. Without it in good working order all other tools are practically useless.

  112. G. Steenbarger

    July 21, 2015 at 12:20 pm

    I would agree initially with any of those that said your brain but that’s not as useful by itself; unless you have the survival knowledge it needs to contain to make survival successful….You cannot predict when/why you will need it for survival or where you will be, or what you will have with you at the time; so the basic survival knowledge has the most value to allow you to use the survival tools you may have or may have to fabricate yourself when the event occurs. Shelter, Water, Fire & Food can all be acquired with the right knowledge and understanding of how to survive with whatever you have or can obtain about you first and foremost…..

  113. Your number 1 survival tool depends on your environment. Normally the elements fire and water would make up your number 1 tool in any situation; however, your ultimate number 1 tool is your desire to survive and your ability to remain calm and think; with this you can take a small amount of survival skill and still maintain.

    Ray Putnam
    SGM, US Army (Retired)
    30 Year Veteran

  114. yahoo

  115. my number one survival tool is my common sense having been raised in the outdoors you learn what works and what doesn’t all the knowledge in the world wont help if you cant use it because you cant think and fear kills keeping your wits about you will keep you alive

  116. Lessen to Creek Stewart and remember as much as possible, that is my best idea of survival. My wife and I love Fat Guys in the woods.

  117. With that knife and a fire starter kit your chances of survival greatly improve, however along with training and common sense. your chances improve greatly. You can have the best bug out equipment available and not have a chance of survival.

    72 and still learning

  118. Linda Whittington

    September 28, 2015 at 9:00 pm

    My husband Tim and I have been watching your show since the beginning. We watch your episodes 2 and 3 times each. We have learned a lot and so has my family. I think the most important thing to have is a very good knife. You will need it to use for food,water,shelter, and protection. My husband has fallen in love with the knife you give away. We have been saving for awhile but as you know thing’s come up .I would be very grateful for my husband to be considered for the knife rig. This is all he talks about. Thank you so much for your time. God Bless. Linda Whittington

  119. Number one survival item = Creek’s brain! and I would like to have what is in it along with a knife and whatever else he carries with him.
    Keep up the great things you are doing! I hope to take one of your courses someday!

  120. Excellent article I loved my scouting days.

  121. Excellent article loved my scouting days

  122. Iive louisiana. In 2008 I lose my home, and to live in a tent in the woods on my property. The thing that got me thru it was my will power, and a good cutting tool mine was a knife, however; any cutting tool is better than none.

  123. My cellphone with Creeks number

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