The Long Dark Beginner’s Guide To Early Survival

Can your survive The Long Dark?
Can your survive The Long Dark? Hinterland Games

Hinterland Studio’s The Long Dark offers a far more grounded and meditative take on the survival genre. Death can come easily and quickly in the frozen wastelands of The Long Dark and getting started can be very intimidating. I’ve been absolutely loving the gameplay experience and wanted to share some easy tips to help you get started and survive your first day.

Check Your Equipment

The first thing you’ll want to do is look through your starting equipment. The clothing you have on and gear you begin with is somewhat randomized. You should have some food, fire starting materials and maybe even a storm lantern if you’re lucky.

Temporary Shelter

I recommend first trying the Mystery Lake map – there are many shelters and it still offers a challenge to new players while not being brutal. In the 10 games I’ve started on the map, I’ve always started in sight of some kind of shelter. This will make learning the game a lot easier since you won’t be bleeding off heat while you play around in the menus. If you do not see any shelter, typical survival common sense usually applies to The Long Dark. Follow rivers, power lines and roads to lead you to some form of habitation.

Assuming you’ve reached some kind of shelter, check your warmth inside – many of the Mystery Lake shelters are warm enough that you won’t lose body heat inside, but a few are not depending on your clothing. Worst case, you can jump in a bed or your bedroll to quickly warm back up.

Once inside, loot everything. You’ll likely find some food and soda, but hopefully some clothing or key tools.

Food and Water

Once you're inside a shelter, take stock of the food and water you have. These will be your earliest killers. You should have enough junk food from your starting inventory and whatever is in the shelter for it not to be a crisis. Worry about your water first.

Unless you find a toilet to drink out of, fire is the key to water. Water in The Long Dark is always available by melting snow, you can do this from any fire. You can start a campfire from the radial menu as long as you have matches and something to burn and you are outside. If you are inside, then you’ll need to find a furnace or another pre-established fire pit. It’s perfectly okay to go outside for your firemaking since you will be gaining heat next to the fire anyway, you just run the risk of wolf problems, so be ready to run back inside.

Remember that once you melted the snow, it will still put you at risk of disease and dysentery. You’ll have to boil the water or put water purification tablets to make it potable.

With food, remember that calories in your body are functionally weightless, so if encumbrance is a problem, eat until you’re full. Likewise, look at the calorie to weight ratio of the food you have. Eat food that has a worse ratio and carry the food that provides a good amount of calories for its weight.

Key Items

So now you have a place to lay your head, some beef jerky to eat and a source of water, it is time to start thinking about the medium term. Unlike Minecraft, your character is unable to make most items you find in the game. It is more of a game of scavenging than of crafting. There are a few key items you want to be on the lookout for that will greatly aid your survival in the first few days.


Given fire’s power to keep you hydrated (as well as warm and eating cooked food), it is important to maintain fire starting materials. An axe will not only allow you to break up branches into firewood, but allow to you tear apart furniture for even more wood.

Hunting Knife

Like the Axe, the hunting knife will allow you to destroy some furniture for materials, it also lets you skin and harvest meat from animals much more quickly. This could be the difference between life and death since you’ll be doing that bloody work in the cold. Early on you may be more likely to find a dead deer than to kill one, since the meat is frozen you’ll need the hunting knife to get any of it.


Matches are one of the key factors in your long term survival. There are very few other items that can start fires so your matches are precious. Leave no stone unturned when looting a shelter since twenty matches could make the difference between life and death in the long term. In my current game, I’ve managed to secure most of everything I need, but the shortage of matches will likely be the thing to force me to venture out again into the unknown.

Sewing Kit

This might not make the difference between life and death on the first day, but it will certainly matter greatly soon. As you find more clothing, you will eventually have more than you can wear. The best way to make use of it is to tear it up and use it to repair your best set of clothes. To do this, you need a sewing kit. You can often boost the warmth of damaged clothes by a degree or two, which will start to make all the difference for how long you can be working and exploring outside without heat.

With a hunting knife, you can also tear up any curtains or pillows you find for even more cloth. It is much more useful to have one great set of clothes than a bunch of ratty stuff weighing you down.

Rifle and Bullets

This is not a necessity but it is very helpful. If you can find a rifle, you can bring down deers that have thousands of calories. A rifle is also your best defense against wolf and bear attacks. Even if you haven’t found a rifle, be on the lookout for bullets. They can be hiding everywhere inside and often there may be a stray bullet or two on the floor. The worst thing you can do is eventually find that rifle and have no bullets to use in it. Bullets seem to be extremely rare and I’ve never had over ten at one time.

Once you have the rifle, be very conscious of when you use it, if it is your primary tool to get food be preparing a backup for when those bullets run out.

Manage Sleep

My last bit of advice is to manage your sleep cycle. Exhaustion is a resource like, warmth, hunger, or thirst – though it goes down far more slowly. I found early on too much sleep was more of a burden than too little. The game won’t let you go to sleep if you are too well rested. This is somewhat unrealistic for me personally since I can always sleep, anytime anywhere...

Either way, during my first few games I’d be grabbing an hour here or there as I needed the heat, but when it came to my first night, I found myself unable to sleep. Since I didn’t want to waste wood or lantern fuel, I was basically stuck sitting in the dark all night. It is best to manage your exhaustion in both directions, know that when night comes you actually want your exhaustion to be pretty high as this will ensure you aren’t up all night wasting energy on doing nothing.

The Long Dark can be a very challenging game, but it can also be extremely peaceful and meditative. Use these tips to get help get you started as you build your way to a long term survival technique. The Long Dark will be out on August 1st on Steam and PS4, but you can also play the early access version now on PC and Mac.

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