Discover What Basic Survival Skills Everyone Should Learn

Man Trying to Start a Fire

Are you a thrill seeker who enjoys the great outdoors and want to spend more time getting in touch with nature?

Even if you aren’t, it would be in your best interest to learn survival skills, as they could save your life in any emergency. Of course, with all the websites out there on survival skills, you might wonder where you should even start.

Man Making Rock Boiled Water

In this guide, you’ll learn the basic survival skills that everyone should know for their own safety. Think of it as a Survival Skill 101 course, or a survival skill refresher.

Either way, you want to look at it, we are positive that the information contained here will provide you with enough basic knowledge that will help you out of a tough situation in the wild.

Essential Survival Skill #1: All About The Attitude

Before you venture out into the great wilderness, you should be confident that you know what you’re doing. It doesn’t matter if you are out by yourself or if you are with a group, now you have to rely only on your ability to survive in your current situation. The Bug Out Bag Guide points out that one of the common traits that the people have when you hear about survival stories is their will to live.

You know those stories of people who wound up in a situation where they had no way of reaching out for help and only had themselves to depend on for help until someone miraculously found them.

Determined Survivor Starting Fire in Snowy Forest

Those people were all ordinary folk like yourself, and they just refused to give up! When you keep a positive outlook on your situation, no matter how dire it may feel like, that will provide you with enough strength to keep you going.

If you’re curious how you can maintain this type of mindset when it feels like all odds are stacked against you, we have a few ideas on how you can find some positivity:

  • Set small goals for yourself. This could be something small like crossing a river or finding a place to set up camp. You want these goals to be small and achievable, but also help you toward your objective of surviving.
  • Focus on the things that you can change. Let’s say you are in your current situation because of a disaster, don’t focus on how bad your luck is or the loss that you may have suffered as a result of it. Instead, focus on how you can change your situation by building shelter, looking for food, or even just take a moment to be thankful that you are alive.
  • Do your best to stay hydrated and fed. You’re going to need any and all energy you can get during this time, so it is in your best interest to find food and fresh water. Keep in mind that you aren’t going to be dining on the finest cuisine.
  • Put on a positive front. You know the saying, ‘Fake it til you make it’ right? This is one situation where you want to do your best to act as positive as you can. If you’re with others, your positivity can be contagious and help boost overall morale of the entire group.

Essential Survival Skill #2: Assess The Situation You Are in

Before you dive into survival mode and begin foraging for food or building a shelter (more about those later), you want to stop for a second and take into consideration the situation you’re in.

Filip Tkaczyk from Wilderness College talks about the need to follow the acronym, SPEAR, which means:

  • Stop
  • Plan
  • Execute
  • Assess
  • Re-evaluate
Man kneeling by fire in snow in wilderness

When you go take the time to go over your current situation and follow SPEAR, you have a better chance to put those survival skills that you’re going to be learning to use in an effective manner. Not only that but by taking a few minutes to get your bearings together, you can avoid panic and a potential melt-down. Let’s face it, that’s never good in a survival situation because you could make some serious mistakes.

When you are planning on how to proceed, you want to remember the Rule of Threes. This rule outlines the order in which you should prioritize the things that a human needs to survive. It goes:

  • 3 minutes without air
  • 3 hours without a stable body temperature
  • ​3 days without water
  • 3 weeks without food

So with that said, you should look for a shelter first, fresh water source second, and food third.

Essential Survival Skill #3: Building a Shelter

Skilled Survival impresses how important it is that humans have shelter when stranded outdoors. Our bodies were not made to withstand the elements like animals, so we need something to regulate our body temperatures, but also to protect us from wildlife.

In an ideal situation where you go out for a hike and wind up in a survival situation, you’re going to have a survival kit that is equipped with all the essentials that a person needs to survive. You know things like a tent or a tarp that can be erected for a quick shelter. However, if you don’t have these things or something happened to your gear, and it is no longer usable, it’s a good idea to know how to build a survival shelter from materials that you can find near you.

Man Constructing a Shelter in a Forest

Before you set up your shelter, you want to search for a spot that is level and clear of any debris like rocks or fallen branches. Also, you want to make sure there are no insect nests or hives nearby. They will definitely make your night very uncomfortable!

Once you find your ideal camping spot, you can erect your tent or tarp. However, if you don’t have either of those, but you have a sturdy survival knife in your kit, you can use that to cut down branches from trees and use those to form a sort of hut. You also have the option of looking for a natural shelter, like a cave or some kind of outcrop of rocks or tree roots that can serve as some sort of protection.

For a whole list of examples of possible shelters you can build, you’ll definitely want to check out this page.

Essential Survival Skill #4: Finding Suitable Drinking Water

Depending on who you ask for their opinion of what is the most important survival skill, some may say that water is more important while others say building a fire is. We feel that water is most important because it’s the very thing that keeps us alive.

In an ideal situation, it is recommended that drink 64 ounces of water every day. Most people don’t drink that on a daily basis, let alone a survival situation. However, more people are lost due to dehydration because they do not take the time to find a clean water source. It’s sad that many people suffer debilitating effects from consuming untreated water.

Sawyer Products Mini Water Filtration System Used with a Water Backpack

Not only can you find water that has water-borne pathogens in it, but also metals and minerals in it if the water source is near an industrial or even an agricultural site. In a wilderness setting, your best bet for clean drinking water is a spring, headwater stream, or even collecting dew.

Of course, if you have a well-prepared survival kit with you, you should have either a mini filtration system, a water bottle with a filtration straw, or even tablets that can be used to purify water. These options can be perfect things to use when you’re in a pinch.

If you are in a group and haven’t found an ample supply of water, you’ll want to ration the water so it will last until you can find a more reliable source. Just keep an eye out if anyone in your group displays the most common signs of dehydration such as thirst or a headache. Skilled Survival also suggests we look for other, more serious symptoms of dehydration:

  • reduced urinary output
  • lethargy
  • ​the inability to perspire or produce tears
  • ​nausea
  • ​rapid heart rate
  • ​tingling of the skin
  • ​high body temperatures
  • ​hallucinations
  • heat exhaustion

Essential Survival Skill #5: Building A Fire

When you are looking for articles on how to learn survival skills, you’ve probably seen this one on varying spots of importance. Some place it at the top of the list while others place it at the bottom.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter where on the list of wilderness survival skills this is, all that matters is that you learn how to start a fire if you don’t have the typical lighter or matches in your survival kit (even though these two items are essential for any well-stocked kit!). Or, maybe if they are in your kit, but they got ruined for one reason or another.

Starting a Fire for Survival

Survival Sullivan gives us a brief run-down of methods you can use to start a fire if you don't have a functioning lighter or matches that will ignite.

  • Bow Drill Method uses a board, a spindle, tinder, and plenty of patience.
  • Hand Drill Method is the one where you rub a stick between your hands to start a fire.
  • Flint and Steel Method uses a flint rock, char cloth, and the use of the back of your knife. Strike the steel against the flint until you get sparks which will set the cloth on fire.
  • The Lens Method requires a pair of reading glasses or a clear back that’s been filled with water. With this method, you want to focus the sunlight into a single point so that it’ll catch on fire. You’ll want to use a piece of tinder or some paper that’s been colored with black ink.
  • Use a 9v battery and steel wool. Make sure both terminals of the battery are touching the steel wool. Within seconds, sparks will start popping, and you can start your fire that way.

Remember that as soon as you have that initial spark going, you’re going to want to keep it going want to feed it with tinder like straw, dry grass, twigs, or small branches. When the fire gets stronger, you’ll want to put larger branches and even logs on top.

Essential Survival Skill #6: Finding Food

The next thing you’ll need to worry about when you’re in a survival situation is trying to find food. While you may have some snacks in your survival kit, that will only last you so long.

Hopefully, you’ll be found before all of your food is gone but in the likelihood that you won’t be found, you’re going to need to set out and find yourself some grub. It should go without saying that you aren’t going to be dining on anything good—mostly plants and insects (yes, insects).

Cooked Edible Bugs on a Stick

Maybe you’ve decided that you don’t want to eat bugs and that you’ll go without food, after all, people can survive without food for three weeks, right? Surely someone will find you within that time, right? Wrong. If survival stories throughout history have shown us anything, you should always expect the unexpected and prepare for the worst. So, hunker down and get ready to chow down on whatever you can find.

Skilled Survival reminds us that an average man requires 2,500 calories per day and an average woman requires 2,000 calories per day to maintain their weight. However, since you’ll be in a survival situation, you’re going to be more active, you’re going to need more calories.

Where do you get those calories, though? Wild animals aren’t going to drop to your feet for you to kill and eat. You’re going to have to learn how to set traps, fish, and forage which is essential survival skills.

When you know how to set traps, you can catch small animals with nothing but a rock and a stick. By eating wild game (rabbits, squirrels, and the like), you can get up to 500 calories per pound, which will go a long way to giving you energy that you are definitely going to need.

If you’re fortunate to be near a body of water where you can fish or gather mollusks, you can expect to get at least 600 calories per pound. Remember that although they may offer more calories per pound, they are a lot smaller and you’ll have to catch a lot more to get the same effects.

Fish Trapped in a Primitive Funnel Fish Trap

In the worst case scenario, you could live off of plant life, but you’ll need to eat a lot to get the daily calorie intake. Not only that, but you’ll also want to know what kind of plants are edible. It’s not a good idea to pick any old thing and eat it because it could poison you!

The Wilderness College points out that if you’re in North America, you can eat:

  • Cattails - the roots, shoots, and pollen heads can be eaten
  • Conifers - the cambium, or inner back, is going to be full of sugar, starch, and calories. You can eat most evergreen trees that have cones, except Yews because they are poisonous.
  • Grass - the juice from the grasses can give you nutritious, and the roots can be roasted and eaten.
  • Oak - acorns, which have lots of calories, fats, and proteins in them, can have the bitter tannic acids leached out before you eat them.

Essential Survival Skill #7: Navigating Your Way to Safety

Most of the time, if you’re in a survival situation, you’re probably just lost. In most cases, your survival kit should have a compass and map, or maybe you even have a GPS device which you can use to help you get back to safety. However, if you don’t, you can always use the sky to get a sense of which direction you are going.

AlfieAesthetics on YouTube has a great video that shows you how to use the sky and sticks to figure out which direction you are going in case you don’t have a compass.

Essential Survival Skill #8: Signaling For Help

Although this is the last of the essential survival skills, it isn’t the least important. After all, you don’t intend on being lost forever, do you? Of course not! The only way that you can get un-lost is by being proactive and doing whatever you can to be found.

How do you do that? By signaling to rescuers or anyone nearby that there is someone (you) who is in need of help. Essentially, all you are doing is drawing attention to yourself by using two fundamental principles for signaling effectively: contrast and intelligence.

Man Showing How You Can Use a Coke Can as a Signaling Mirror

First of all, you will want to stand out from your environment. You can do that by shining a flashlight or something reflective like a signaling mirror across the horizon. With a signaling mirror, you’re going to want to do it in the sun and catch the sunlight. Then you’ll be able to direct the light in the desired direction. People who may be nearby will notice the flash of light and they’ll follow it. It’s the same principle for a flashlight, too.

Of course, we should mention that you don’t want to shine the light with no purpose. Use the SOS signal (three short flashes, three long flashes, three short flashes), as it is the international signal for distress. If you don’t know how to do that with a mirror, simply move it three times in succession, pause for a few moments, and then do it again. Any repetitive movement that is done three times in a row tends to be a common sign that someone needs help.

If you don’t have a flashlight, strobe light, or a signaling mirror, you can build three fires (either in a triangular shape, 100 feet from each fire) or a straight line. The fire can be seen from far away at night, and the smoke can be seen during the day.

Advice For Mastering Your Survival Skills

It isn’t enough to just learn survival skills — you have to master them. You can only do that by practice. When you practice the skills that you learn, not only will you be more efficient with the things you need to do, you’ll be more confident in the process and your ability.

Now, it’s understandable that you may not have the time to actually go out and get lost in the woods and try to survive. We aren’t suggesting that. We are, however, suggesting that you take time out to pack a survival kit.

We’re suggesting that you read up on different plants and animals in your region and study them. Then, every now and then when you get a bit of time, go into the woods or wherever you commonly hike and see if you can spot signs of the animals. For example, you’ll want to look for animal tracks, signs of chewing or rubbing on vegetation, and even excrements. You might even want to look for dens, nests, and roosts along the way too.

Survivor Starting a Fire with a String and Tree Branches

We are suggesting that you practice starting a fire without matches or a lighter, but instead with a ferrocerium rod and striker, or try using any of the other methods mentioned above. You’ll also want to know how to keep that fire burning as well (just make sure when you’re done, you put the fire out properly!).

We suggest that you do everything that you can to reinforce the things you’ve learned here and any other places that you’ve learned wilderness survival skills. Why you might even want to go through survival skill training courses. Do whatever you could to make sure that you are 100% confident in your abilities to survive any craziness that life may throw at you in a survival situation.

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