According to a google search sulfur is widely available in nature. Volcanic regions and hot springs are common sources of it in elemental state. Less obvious sources are iron pyrites (iron sulfide), galena (lead sulfide), gypsum (calcium sulfate), Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) and many other minerals. It has a low boiling point so can be distilled without much difficulty. Source

It creates poisonous fumes when burnt and is one of the three main components of black powder, making it an important element for the survivalist.

If I am in an unfamiliar area, how can I identify natural sources of sulfur?


3 Answers 3


If you are very lucky, there are rich natural sulfur deposits readily available nearby.

An example of such a place is Indonesia and Eastern Java, where blocks of Sulfur can basically be picked up like rocks from the ground.

--> Note that such locations are very rare and will generally be colocated with zones of strong geologic activity/volcanoes/hot springs.

Outside of such very lucky circumstances sulfur is generally mined using various techniques.

There exist also various chemical extractions and processes used to gain sulfur:

... but let's be honest, none of these ways are particularly suited for someone in 'survivalist' circumstances. At best you will still need a lot of digging equipment, tools and knowledge for chemical extraction an detailed geological/geographical knowledge to know where to search for raw materials.

See for example this group, which travelled to Iceland to try and purify sulfur from natural raw materials.

Frame Challenge

With respect to how hard sulfur is to acquire in the largest parts of the world I'd go as far as to say it is of negligible significance in a survivalist setting.

  • Short term sulfur/blackpowder needs are covered by what the survivalist brought with them or can salvage from surrounding areas
  • On the long run the survivalist might be better of using tools that can be created from easily gathered natural resources (e.g. bow & arrow).
  • 1
    Kirk needed it to survive in the short term...
    – user8348
    Feb 9, 2017 at 18:12
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    @JamesJenkins, turning gypsum into pure calcium sulfate is easy: heat it to 250 C, something even an ordinary camp fire can manage. Turning that into elemental sulfur is hard: it look like any process is going to have sulfur dioxide as an intermediate, and that's not something you want to handle outside a properly-equipped lab.
    – Mark
    Feb 9, 2017 at 20:02
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    @JamesJenkins: I think we might have differing views/definitions of what survivalist means. Is sulfur minable/refinable with basic technology that was available 500 oder 1000 years ago? Yes, of course. But so is iron/copper working or building a stone temple - and neither of those would I consider 'survivalist'... After all, are you trying to survive or rebuild an ancient civilization? ;)
    – fgysin
    Feb 11, 2017 at 11:07
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    @JamesJenkins, you seem to be piecing together facts from a couple of different sources and reaching incorrect conclusions. There are sulfur ores that are rich in elemental sulfur. These are the ores referred to in de re Mettalica, where sulfur can be recovered by distillation. The elemental sulfur is already there, and just needs to be physically separated from the rest of the ore. The sulfur in gypsum and galena is locked in chemical compounds of sulfur and you have to drive a chemical reaction to free the sulfur. Simple distillation won't do it. Feb 11, 2017 at 18:14
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    @JamesJenkins (cont) as your link from "Chemicool" points out, sulfur is extracted from gypsum in a chemical reaction with superheated steam. I don't think you are going have a handy source of pressurized superheated steam in a survival situation. To complicate matters there are some gypsum deposits in volcanic regions that are rich in elemental sulfur. The volcanic activity having provided the pressure and superheated steam at some point in the past. Feb 11, 2017 at 18:21

You can spot sulfur very easily. The rocks will have a yellow or white coating in the river or streams near deposits. These can be scraped off. Or it can be found in some caves. A volcanic mountain area helps. It's used often by natives in medical cures. I would suggest first you learn how to wet pan & dry pan for minerals, and how to follow those up to deposits. This is called creekology. It saves lots of time walking around looking. You can look at the layers of rock & soil. This is how you find minerals. The richer deposits but do not expect to find much. Metals become very valuable when you do not have them.


Frame challenge: Is sulfur necessary?

You can still make a respectable gunpowder without sulfur.

The purpose of sulfur is twofold (iirc)

  1. Lowering the ignition temperature of the powder
  2. A power "boost" in that sulfur burns as well.


  1. You can just leave out the sulfur. it will be anemic so probably more powder is needed per shot. This is because more energy per chemical reaction is eaten to fully ignite the powder. (mental aid: diesel itself is hard to light, but mix in gasoline and it goes off like crazy)
  2. You can substitute sulfur for something else that burns hot and is easy to light. I heard mention of sugar, alcohols(dubious), iron rust(depends on the type of rust), aluminum powder(careful), oils(easy to light stuff like wd-40,gas,etc), etc. you'll need to experiment on your own which will work for you.

Frame challenge 2. Is black powder weaponry necessary?

There are other methods to get to a "gun"

  1. PCP guns (air guns) can be hand pumped. guns like the Airforce Texan are plenty lethal. It still has the problem of finding bullets to shoot but that's a shared problem with the BP gun variety.
  2. A spring piston air rifle may not be as deadly but if you have oil or some other easily flammable substance you can use a method called dieseling. this is where you deliberately put in fuel behind the bullet where the piston of the air gun will detonate it like a diesel engine does. Air guns are not designed for this so this will shorten your gun's useful life.
  3. Bows, crossbows, etc. you can still learn and practice to make traditional weaponry. They are still plenty lethal and resources are availiable. (skill requirement)

Finally, answering your question (somewhat) volcanoes, hotsprings, geysers, etc. to find the ore types you'll need a good eye for geology and refining know-how.

Hail mary (aka unrealistic af) is that you load up on onions, eggs, etc. eat it, and try to capture your farts alongside your sewer gas from collecting waste. you can then try to implement your own version of a claus reactor. (stinky farts have h2s, and so does sewer gas, claus reactor converts that to elemental suflur)

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    Mar 20, 2023 at 23:21
  • -1 for the suggestion to "experiment on your own" in mixing blackpowder alternatives with various creative additions. Don't do that, it is a horrible idea with high risk to your health and your life.
    – fgysin
    Mar 22, 2023 at 9:33

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