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?

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    Is 'element' a suitable tag for the great outdoors? sounds more like earth science of chemistry. Adding to that, I'm not sure how relevant to outdoors survival this is. Then again (a history question:) I'm not sure when humans started using sulfur to aid in their survival - was it before we had a well established 'indoors'? – cr0 Feb 9 '17 at 17:14
  • Oh - outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/15169/… - now I see how this relates to survival. Still, the element tag seems out of place here - what else would it be used for? Iron? Wood? ...Earth (Clay)...Wind...Water...Fire? – cr0 Feb 9 '17 at 17:19
  • Uh, for what reason? – whatsisname Feb 10 '17 at 2:34
  • I was confused by the comments mentioning an 'element' tag. Now I see that there was one but it was deleted. I'm just writing this in case others come along who don't know what happened! – Sue Feb 12 '17 at 20:30
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    @cr0: That's pretty much the origin of my frame challenge below. I would say that to mine/refine sulfur (let along to create blackpowder) you need a rather "well established indoors"... :) – fgysin Feb 13 '17 at 8:34

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).
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    Kirk needed it to survive in the short term... – user8348 Feb 9 '17 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 '17 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 '17 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. – Charles E. Grant Feb 11 '17 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. – Charles E. Grant Feb 11 '17 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.

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