When there’s so much to learn for a beginner, the biggest challenge can be where to actually start. In our training, we break down the different wilderness survival skills into certain fundamentals. So, there’s no information overload, and our students can start making progress quickly.
Because where to focus your time remains a challenge.
There’s hundreds of different scenarios, and if you start really running through all of the “what-if” scenarios, it’s rather troubling the amount of training and skills you need to survive a disaster.
We recently did a brainstorming session in one of our classes, and the list our students came up with had almost 100 wilderness survival skills on there. Basics like building a shelter were included, as well as some rather specific survival knowledge. Like edible plants in your area, and even ways to safeguard your camp.
I believe that when it comes to survival, your best asset is you. The skills, experience and knowledge you have to survive is what matters most. And in my experience, there are a few skills that are more important than others. Build a working knowledge of these six wilderness survival skills, and your chances of making it through a disaster will skyrocket.
Though there is one caveat.
This post is based on my experience, and my opinions. You may need to add or adjust this list of basic trainings, depending on the threats you believe you’re going to face. Perhaps you’re more interested in defensive shooting classes because you’re in an urban area. Or increasing your endurance because you’ve got a hundred-mile hike to your bug-out location.
Use these wilderness survival skills as an outline, to build your survival plan. But adapt it as you need for your own situation, to create a survival plan that’s specific for you.
Here’s what you need to know:
Wilderness Survival Skills #1: How to build a shelter
Shelter is one of the most important survival skills to understand. When you’re out in the wild, exposure is a killer, especially if you’re in an area with unfavorable conditions. Like rain, wind, snow.
If you’re exposed to the elements, you’re placing yourself at a massive risk. Get cold or wet, and hypothermia will set in, and you can die within hours. It’s crazy.
Of course, most of the time when you’re heading out into the wild you’ll have a tent, or maybe just a tarp, so you can keep yourself warm and dry. This is a good start, but I’d recommend getting comfortable building a debris shelter just in case.
ACTION: Learn how to build a shelter in the wild.
- Practice setting up and using your tent in all weather conditions
- Practice setting up and using a tarp in wet weather conditions
- Practice building a makeshift debris shelter from “found” items at your camp
I’d also practice building your debris shelter two ways. Using some cordage and a heavy knife from your bug-out-kit, and also without any tools or man-made materials at all. It’s a heck of a lot harder, but it’ll give you an idea of what it’s going to take if you’re forced to survive in the wilderness with nothing but the clothes on your back.
And a little knowledge goes a long way.
Wilderness Survival Skills #2: How to start a fire
Ever since I was a kid I’ve been a firebug. Using a magnifying glass in my backyard to get tinder bundles started, and taking over the family duty of getting the campfire started on each trip we made. But it wasn’t till recently I discovered how useful this skill actually was.
I was invited to a barbeque, and turning up late I wondered why the grill wasn’t even going. None of the people there were able to get the fire started. Using the cardboard remains of an empty beer box, and a healthy swig of vodka, the barbeque was roaring within a couple of minutes.
To me, this isn’t rocket science. A fire needs tinder and fuel, and once it hits a critical mass will start burning on its own. But there was like 15 people there with no clue. It hit home hard. With a lighter, and plenty of access to burnable material, these guys weren’t able to get a barbeque started.
In the outdoors, being able to start a fire is one of the most fundamental wilderness survival skills.
Not only does it keep the big and scary critters at bay, it allows you to boil (and purify) and water you collect, gives you the means to cook and prepare any meat you’ve caught, acts as a source of light once night falls, and will keep you warm throughout the night.
In short, knowing how to start a fire, and keep it going is bloody useful.
ACTION: Learn three different methods to start a fire.
- Practice starting a fire with a flint steel and striker
- Practice starting a fire manually with a hand drill or bamboo saw
- Practice starting a fire in the rain, with wet materials
Of course, you need to ensure the fire also keeps going throughout the night. So, get used to collecting firewood, splitting kindling, and creating a fire that not only burns well, but is safe too.
Wilderness Survival Skills #3: How to get drinkable water
Ever wake up with a hangover? That horrible pounding in your head is one of the effects of dehydration, and it’s not fun. I’ve spent far too long in far too many dry, arid countries, and I know that one of the biggest killers in the wild is a lack of drinkable water.
Without water, you’ve got three days to live.
In many situations, this puts finding drinkable water at a higher priority on your survival list than starting a fire, so I’d use your own discretion when it comes to what to do first. It’ll highly depend on the crisis you find yourself in, and the natural resources you have available.
ACTION: Learn four different ways of finding and purifying water
- Practice using plastic bags over foliage to extract water from the leaves
- Practice distilling purified water from seawater
- Practice digging a well to find underground water tables
- Buy (and be confident using) a water filter or water purification tablets
Wilderness Survival Skills #4: How to find a source of food
To me, finding food is only a priority once you’ve secured the first three wilderness survival fundamentals. Because a day or two without food isn’t fun, but it won’t kill you either. You can probably survive a week or more without eating much at all, so long as you’ve got water.
But you’ll not be having any fun. Without putting calories into your body you’re going to be hungry, and start rapidly losing strength as you’re essentially starving to death. Moving around is going to get more and more difficult, and you’ll soon lack the energy to keep yourself alive.
Once you’ve got shelter, fire and water, it’s time to fill your belly.
I’m assuming that any time you go anywhere near the wild you’ve got some emergency rations with you, and you can stretch these out by learning any of the following skills. Of course, the effectiveness of these will be highly dependent on the area you’re living in, so spend your time learning wilderness survival skills that apply to you and your plans.
ACTION: Learn four different ways of sourcing food
- Practice fishing. Using traps, lines and nets to secure a source of food.
- Practice passive hunting. Using snares and traps, for small game.
- Practice active hunting. Using your rifle or bow to hunt game.
- Practice and develop a working knowledge of local edible plants
In my experience, I can tell you there’s a particular knack to hunting and fishing effectively, and the worst possible time to start learning is when you’re stuck in the wild with an empty stomach. Put the time in now to learn the fundamental wilderness survival skills so you’re far more comfortable if the worst ever happens.
Wilderness Survival Skills #5: How to perform basic first aid
Accidents happen, and knowing what to do to when you’re trying to patch up a friend in the wild is a good idea. In the wilderness, things aren’t as clean as they would be in a hospital, so I’d also recommend learning how to deal with infection, and basic evacuation techniques like the fireman’s carry, or how to construct a makeshift stretcher.
The best way to learn is with hands-on practice, so I’d look to your local community center to see if there’s a first aid courses you could take. Knowing these skills could help you save a life.
ACTION: Learn the basics of first aid for survival
- Take a course with your local fire station / community center.
- Purchase a book covering do-it-yourself first aid techniques and study.
- Learn about any medicinal herbs or plants in your local area that can supplement your kit.
Wilderness Survival Skills #6: How to signal for help
Now if watching 127 hours didn’t drive this point home enough, I’m going to reiterate it here for you. Any time that you’re going anywhere near the wilderness, it makes sense to tell someone where you’re going.
That way, if you get lost, get injured, or simply fail to check in at the pre-arranged time, they can alert the local authorities and send help. All you need to do is hunker down, sit tight in your shelter and wait for help to arrive.
Of course, in a SHTF scenario you may not want to be signaling to the other survivors where your camp is, but in most cases, being able to alert any rescuers to your location is a good skill to know.
The trick to signaling for help is getting noticed. You just need to know how.
The easiest way is to construct something unnatural that draws attention. If you’ve got a car, you could park it in a clearing so it can be seen from above. If not, the standard “help” sign in the United States is a cluster of three. Three crosses in a field or three fires on a hillside all indicate that you need help. Here’s what I’d recommend practicing:
ACTION: Practice sending signals for rescue
- Construct three signal fires, and send a smoke signal distress signal
- Construct three crosses that stand out from the ground and can be seen from above
Ultimately, when it comes to staying alive, knowing a few wilderness survival skills will do wonders for keeping you warm, dry, and fed. But the final thing I want to recommend focusing on is your attitude. You need to develop a survival mindset if you want to stay alive.
And trust me. It’s very difficult to keep a level head when the world around you is turning to chaos.
So take a breath. Knowing you’ve got a good understanding of these wilderness survival skills means you will stay warm. You will stay dry. You will find food. Just knowing this can help you get through the tough days, and ensure you’re celebrating every small win.
Every step you take towards your own survival is a win, and even if it takes days or weeks that you need to spend in the wild, knowing these skills will help you to stay positive, and stay alive.
And that’s what’s survival is all about.