Technology has spoiled us. People have become too accustomed to the comforts and conveniences of the modern world. For the majority of your life, you will not come across a situation where you will need to have your survival mode turned on. But never be too sure. Life can come at you fast.
Most survival situations will not come knocking at your door. A storm causing a massive power outage, you falling off your trail on a trek, or your car breaking down in the middle of nowhere – these are some examples of perilous situations that you can face. It would come in handy to know survival techniques and skills under such conditions.
With this post, we will try to impart as much survival knowledge as we can, for you to become a better survivor. And no, this piece does not include “how to kill a zombie/walker?” like the Walking Dead or “how to fend off aliens?” like World War Z. We will talk about essential skills, ranging from finding water, starting fires, providing medical aid etc. So without further ado, let’s get into it!
What Are Survival Skills You Need?
By definition, survival skills are techniques a person may use to sustain life in any given environment, be it man-made or in a wilderness setting. Whereas some survival instincts come naturally to humans, others need to be learnt.
Throughout this piece, we will teach you the basics of these survival skills and how and when you may need to use them.
Why Do We Need Wilderness Survival Techniques?
As mentioned above, a survival situation will not come knocking. You never know when you may come face to face with a situation where “survival of the fittest” applies perfectly. In order to avoid any dire consequences in such an event, survival skills will definitely come in handy.
The whole argument that the world today is modern enough for such a situation to arise is lop-sided. One should not forget that even after keeping human advancement and technology in mind, the majority of the globe is still ‘wild’.
What Are the Basic Survival Skills Everyone Should Know?
Let us cut down to the chase, what are these survival skills that we have been going on about?
Basic survival skills can be largely categorized into 8 categories. These include:
1. Looking For and Purifying Water
The first and foremost consideration for anyone in a survival situation should be to have drinking water. Water tops the priority list of the human body. One can survive without food for days but definitely not without water.
You will often hear that lost people die mostly because of dehydration than other things. If not that, it could be because of water born pathogens that cause harm due to consumption of untreated water. We all have learnt about water pollution in our early days.
Industrial waste often finds its way into water. Unaware consumption of chemicals, minerals or toxins due to questionable water intake can be another cause of your untimely demise.
With that in mind, what needs to be known is that not all water is safe for your drinking. To purify water should be your first priority. There are majorly 2 ways of purifying your water. First is to keep items handy at your home that act as water purifiers, such as chemicals (iodine), filtering pumps, filter cones and cotton balls. Having these items handy can be of much usefulness in a survival situation. Also try to keep a plastic water bottle handy with you.
The second method is a more realistic method, and that is to boil water. Boiling water has been a purification method being used for centuries. Once water reaches boiling temperature, any bacteria or pathogens it may carry, die. Now, for arranging boiled drinking water, you need to start a fire, which brings us to our next survival skill!
2. Lighting a Fire
Yes, the second element you need to master is fire! Having the knack for fire building is very necessary. We all know that water has one major use, i.e., drinking it, but fire has many uses that can all come in handy for wilderness survival! Building fire isn’t one of the basic survival needs of man like food, shelter and water, but it can play a key role in obtaining all of these basic needs. How?
Food – Goes without saying, you need fire to be able to cook food
Shelter – A fire will keep your body warm in cold temperature
Water – You will need fire to purify water in the wilderness
In an idealistic situation, you will either have a flint and steel, matchbox or a lighter with you, whenever you venture into the wild. In that case, all you need is some dry tinder and dry wood, and you’re good to go. But, you also need to train yourself for situations wherein you do not have any fire starters with.
For such instances, the most used techniques for making fire include a bow drill, fire plow, fire saw, and hand drill. All these techniques use a common physics phenomenon to start a fire, ‘friction.’
Some other tips that may come in handy are:
- Dry wood to light up fires. No point chopping green branches from living trees to start up a fire. Look for dead branches and dry wood to start fires.
- Begin by burning small pieces of wood as they have fewer fibers than big pieces. This makes it easier for them to catch fire. Once the fire starts you can keep adding dry logs to it.
- Use a magnifying glass to burn thin and small pieces of dead wood, if friction is not working for you.
We recommend trying to learn to start a fire under different weather conditions. It is exceedingly difficult to start fires in cold, wet or windy weather. One should not only learn to start a fire but also to keep it burning. Remember, practice makes perfect!
3. Building a Shelter
One would hope to find their way back into a settlement, when lost in the wild, at the earliest possible. But if such is not the case, you should know the basics of how to construct shelter. Without shelter, you will not be able to fend off extreme climate. Not just the weather, you need to vary about the wild animals that might be lurking around you.
In extremely cold weather, it is very important to retain body heat, failing which you can be subject to hypothermia, i.e., extremely low body temperature. A snowy or wet weather can also cause all your gear to get wet. So to keep your gear dry also you will need a shelter. A snow shelter, or an igloo is the best shelter possible for snowy terrains.
In a hot climate or desert situation, body heat is your worst enemy. You need to be able to create a shelter to find some shade for yourself to fend off the heat. A lean to shelter is the easiest one to construct in such a situation. A ‘lean to’ shelter simply refers to one where you lean any building material on a pre-existing structure such as a rock surface or tree. You can easily find shade under this shelter but it does not provide you with full protection. Check out our desert survival guide to learn more about surviving in the desert!
A better form of shelter, albeit more difficult to construct, is a round lodge type, also called a debris hut. These are tepee shaped shelters and are better than other types of shelters as these provide a 360 degree protection from the weather as well as wild animals.
There are some important consideration you must keep in mind:
- Location is key – Preferably build shelter near a food or water source. Try to keep away from dangerous areas such as cliffs or areas where you find animal markings.
- Size of the Shelter – You must keep in mind if its a personal or group shelter when building one.
- Insulation – A well insulated shelter will keep you save from the elements.
- Heat Source – It is recommended to keep your campfire slightly farther from your shelter. We don’t want a blown ash to burn down your shelter.
4. Hunting and Gathering Food Resources
Although it is said that a human being can survive out in the wild for 3 weeks without food, we don’t really want to be without food for 3 weeks. Food is what gives us the necessary nutrients and energy that keep us going. You might be able to survive without it but you will not be in a good physical shape to do anything else. This will squeeze your chance of making it out alive from a survival situation.
Let us take a look at how can finding food be managed in survival situations:
i. Hunting Wild Game: No, we don’t mean hunting wild animals that could kill you in a moment. Hunting small game such as rabbits, squirrels or other critters for eating could be a real treat. You may use pocket knives to hunt such animals. If not that, you could use a pocket knife to fashion a spear with a sharp edge or a forked stick from wooden logs for hunting.
You can also hunt small critters by using small hunting traps. These traps are also called snares. Building a snare takes time and effort, but at the same time preserves more energy than hunting using a knife or spear. Some of the most common snares you should learn to set up are:
- Spring Pole Snare
- Peg Snare
- Penny Snare
- Twitch Up Snare
- Paiute Dead-fall
- Mojave Scissor Trap
- Drowning Snare
ii. Fishing: Another great food source is fish. If you know there’s a water-body nearby, you can fashion a fishing line using a tree branch or use a spear for harpoon-style fishing. Meat isn’t your only option for protein. Fish are a great source of protein and are easier to hunt for than small game. Although, you should be vary about the fact that areas with a high concentration of fish might be a spot for other wild animals to hunt as well.
iii. Foraging Berries, Mushrooms and Plants: The easiest way to find some food for yourself in the wild is by foraging edible plants. They might not give you as much nutrition as fish or meat would, but they wouldn’t need you to put in that much work either. As easy as foraging plants is, it is as risky as well. We do not recommend this option unless you are well versed about the plant and tree species around you. It is best advised that if you ever head out for a trek, carry local survival books with yourself that tell you more about the terrain.
5. Cooking In a Wilderness Survival Situation
Knowing how to hunt and not knowing how to cook is a crime when it comes to survival situations. Some basic knowledge of cooking should be a must. You need to keep in mind that home cooking is not the same thing as cooking in the wild. Also remember, that eating your hunted animals raw could lead to a whole lot of issues. There is no way to know if the animal you have hunted was free of diseases, parasites or other harmful elements. It is the safest option to cook the meat before consuming it.
Some tips that might come in handy while cooking food out in the wild:
- Do not consume the insides of the animals unless you’re a wilderness expert like Bear Grylls. Removing the guts and organs will give you a better chance at not being sick after eating.
- Dispose off any and all remains after you’re done eating. You do not want to attract attention from any other wild animals.
- Cook your food a little extra rather than cooking it a little less. This eliminates the possibility of consuming raw meat.
6. Gaining Medical and First Aid Knowledge
Having basic medical knowledge should be more of a general life skill than a basic survival skill. It can prove to be more important than other skills that you may possess. A first aid kid is something that everyone has in their house. Also, any person venturing into the wilderness will also surely be carrying a medical kit.
Some medical emergencies you may face in a survival situation are:
i. Open wounds and gashes – Make sure to bandage your wound properly to stop the bleeding and prevent any bacteria from getting inside the wounds. In case you do not have bandages, you could burn off your cuts to stop bleeding in a desperate situation.
ii. Broken Bones – It is extremely important to take care of broken limbs. There are two things you should do. Firstly you should make a brace for the broken bone to avoid further damage. Secondly you should fashion a crutch for being able to keep moving. You could use tree branches to make crutches.
iii. Burns – You need to tend to burns with soothing agents. Fun fact – toothpaste is a great pain soother as it helps cool the burn. Try to keep your burns cooled down, stay hydrated and keep it covered. Petroleum jelly can come in handy for such an instance.
If you were lucky or smart enough to have a compass and map on you, congratulations. If not, we will tell you what to do.
i. Find High Ground – Goes without saying that the smartest thing to do when you don’t know where to go is to find elevated areas that may make looking around easier. This will let you see which direction you should head towards.
ii. Follow the Sun – The sun will always move from the east to the west (except if you’re at the poles). It gives you a sense of direction if you know the geographical area well. If you are unable to follow the sun, try to follow the direction of the shadows of trees or even yourself.
iii. Follow the Water – There is a good chance that you will find civilization or at least people if you follow the flow of a river or stream. While at it, get your fill of water too!
The only time when you want to use green vegetation for burning is when you need a smoky fire. It is advised to create a signal fire, even if there is a 1% chance of someone seeing it and coming to your rescue. To create a signal fire, all you need to do is start up a fire and then place green leaves or vegetation over it. This will create a lot of smoke, enough to be able to reach the sky. If you can get a good fire going, chances are you’ll have more than visible smoke signals for people to spot you.
What Are the Top 10 Survival Items You Should Have in Your Survival Kit?
Besides knowing basic survival skills, you should know the list of survival items that someday may save your lives. Let us take a look at survival items that you should carry while enjoying outdoor activities. They can make all the difference there needs to be between life and death.
1. Fire Starter – Yes, you can make fire without fire starters but why go through all the trouble? It is advised to carry multiple fire starting options such as matchboxes, candles, lighters, tinder etc. It is also best if you carry them in something waterproof.
2. Water Purification Tools – We have already learnt the importance of potable water. It is advised to carry a water purification system or tablets to obtain drinking water with ease.
3. Pocket Knife or Blade – A cutting tool should be a no-brainer. Be it for carving weapons, hunting for food or for defending yourself, a knife will be your best friend in a survival situation.
4. Map and Compass – Feeling lost? Nothing feels better than having a map and a compass in such a situation. For sure you can use the map and compass on your phone, but what will you do when the better runs out? Time to ponder!
5. Medical First Aid Kit – You never know when you might have a wound to tend to or a broken bone to take care of. Bandages, antibacterial ointments, over-the-counter painkillers are a must for every first aid kit. As per Red Cross, you should keep a first aid in your car and home, both. It should always be kept somewhere you know you can find it!
6. Cords or Ropes – Cords can be used for a number of purposes. You could use ropes for climbing, hunting (setting traps or for fishing), setting up shelters etc. It also helps if you are good at tying knots.
7. Flashlight – Nothing is scarier than being out lost, not knowing where to go in the dark of the night, Having a flashlight helps with night navigation. It can also be used for signaling or scaring away animals. Solar flashlights are a better option.
8. Whistle – Whistles can be very handy for signaling people as well as for scaring away any animals lurking around you.
9. Blanket – Be it at home or in the wilderness, a blanket will always keep you cozy. It is a great carry item especially when venturing outdoors in cold weather. A blanket a day keeps hypothermia away!
10. Non-Perishable Food Items – Why go through the hassle of hunting and foraging from the get go when you can carry non-perishable food items. They will keep you going for a while before you need to get into the more primitive side of things.
With this, we come to the end of our guide for basic survival skills! It is very important to learn all the skills mentioned above to be the perfect survivor – as we say, survival of the fittest! If you have gone through the complete piece, we promise you that you are now much better prepared for a survival situation than before, even with just this knowledge.
Survival situations die out eventually, but you need to be resilient enough to survive till that point! We truly hope you never have to face such a situation but it never hurts to be prepared! Feel free to let us know if you have any queries or suggestions in the comments below!