It’s understandable that by watching survival shows on television like Survivor, Alaska: The Last Frontier, Survivorman, or any of the other shows you might see, that surviving out in the wild is pretty easy.
That couldn’t be furthest from the truth. When you are preparing to go out into the wilderness, be it for a camping trip, hunting, or you just want to go hiking, you’re going to want to brush up on you wilderness survival. You’ll never know when something bad will happen and you get lost, or you get hurt.
We aren’t going to waste time and beat around the bush here because there is a lot of ground to cover. In this extensive article, you’ll find the basic, but essential wilderness survival skills that everyone should know.
The best part of it is you won’t need a wilderness survival merit badge to show that you can hold your own out there in the great unknown—you’ll be able to prove it!
Before you can start planning on how to survive in the wilderness, you first have to understand that your goal is to survive the situation. It’s understandable that when you’re in a survival situation, you’re going to experience a slew of emotions: anger, anxiety, depression, fear, frustration, guilt and loneliness. Wilderness Survival actually suggests that when you are able to experience these reactions and control them so you can increase the likelihood of surviving.
You might be wondering how that can be. Well, think about it. When you are aware of what you’re feeling, you can be aware of your surroundings. You’ll be more adept to take in the full scope of the situation and be able to react accordingly. You’ll be able to care for yourself and anyone else who may be with you. Here are a few tips that will help you attain that survival attitude that is necessary when you are tasked with surviving in the wilderness.
If you research wilderness survival, you’re going to get the impression that you should pack a wilderness survival kit. These kits can provide you with just enough tools and supplies that will help you endure the experience of being stranded out in the wilderness.
Now you might be wondering what you should pack in your survival kit. The Alderleaf Wilderness College points out that your kit may be different when you take into consideration your skill level, where you are traveling, and the time of year. However, these items are the basic components that every wilderness survival kit should include.
These items are some of the most, if not the most important items you should have in your survival kit. Various sites will have their own list, but we feel these four are the things you should definitely make sure you have on hand.
The items in this portion of the survival kit list are great (and even important) to have on hand when you’re fleshing out the items you’ll need to include with your wilderness survival gear.
We mentioned that a wilderness survival shelter should be the first thing you pack in your survival kit. They are important for your survival because they can help protect you from the sun, rain, wind, snow, insects, hot or cold weather, and even being seen by enemies. Not only are they important for elemental reasons, but they can play a big role in your sense of well-being and help to make you feel more safe and secure.
In some wilderness survival situations, the need to find shelter will become your top priority, even over finding water or food. One example of this is if you’re caught in a snow storm. If you’re exposed to the frigid temperatures for too long, you’ll become incredibly fatigued and weakened from exhaustion. When you’re exhausted, that positive attitude you’ve worked hard to maintain will be out the window, and that passive, woe-is-me attitude will take over.
Wilderness Survival points out one of the most common mistakes people make when making a wilderness survival shelter is making it too big. The shelter you choose or build should be small enough to hold your body heat, but large enough to keep you safe.
When you realize that you’re in a survival situation and you’re in need of shelter, you should take into consideration what you need at the campsite. Two of the most important things to consider are:
Not only should you consider those factors, but you also shouldn't forget tactical situation (if necessary) or put your safety in jeopardy. You should also keep these important things in mind, as well:
Other factors that you’ll want to think about when choosing your shelter location are more environmental than anything else. They include:
We also want to point out that when you are choosing your campsite, you take into consideration the season in which you are out and about. A site will be drastically different in the summer than in the winter.
During those cold months, you’ll want to find a spot that’ll keep you protected from the cold temperatures and the harsh wind, but still, have access to a fresh water source and fuel for your fire. Some spots you find in the summer, you’ll want to make sure you’re near water, but also that there aren’t any insect nests nearby, either.
Now that you know what to look for when choosing where to set up camp, we should probably discuss what kind of shelters you can choose from. Wilderness Survival has a great breakdown of the types of shelters there are and the materials you’ll need to build each one. For our purposes, we are going to mention the types of shelters from the site:
Generally, when you are in a survival situation, you will have a tarp and cord in your survival kit. Or you may even have a wilderness survival tent. These are the easiest and most efficient forms of wilderness survival shelters for people who are prepared. However, if you don’t have anything with you, we like Gray Wolf Survival’s recommendation that you at least know how to build a debris shelter.
Now that you have found a suitable place to set up camp and have constructed your shelter, now it’s time to find water. This is among the first things you have to do because you simply cannot survive unless you have water—especially if the weather is hot. You’re going to lose a lot of water while sweating.
Naturally, you’ll want to find a river, creek, or another source of moving water. There you can collect as much water as you can and boil it on fire. Or you can also use your filtration system or even your water bottle with a filtration straw to collect and clean the water. However, if you aren’t able to find one of these bodies of water, the readers of the Wilderness Survival Skills blog talk about how you can find water from plants.
Typically when you are planning on going on a hiking trip, you’ll have some kind of nourishment in your pack. However, that bit of food probably isn’t going to last you very long if you’re in a survival situation. When we think about any survival situation, we have to consider how we are going to restore our energy, which is done with food.
When you are out in the wilderness, you need to know what things you can and cannot eat. In an ideal survival situation, you would be able to take down the large game so that you’ll have an ample supply of food. However, unless you’re a skilled hunter and you have the tools necessary to do that, you should focus on capturing smaller animals, simply because there are far more of them. Not only are there more of them, but they are easier to prepare.
Wilderness Survival reminds us that there are going to be poisonous things out there, so you should be familiar with what they are; but, generally speaking, you can eat anything that swims, walks, crawls, or flies.
There are a couple of ways that you can catch your food. You can use traps and snares for catching small game. It’s important that when you do decide to use these tools, you must:
Unfortunately, there isn’t one trap that can be used to capture all animals. You have to look at the environment and take stock of the surroundings to see what animals are present. You’ll want to look for:
When you understand what kind of animals are in the area, you can then prepare a trap that is most effective to catch that animal. Wilderness Survival Skills has a comprehensible guide on how to trap animals.
When you’ve secured a stable campsite, found a source of water, and maybe even set up a few traps to catch some food, you still want to go out and forage the area around for edible plants. You can’t always count on catching something in your traps, no matter how well they are constructed.
Nature can be an excellent provider of food, especially when that’s all you have in a wilderness survival situation. When you go out looking for plants to eat, you need to know what is poisonous and what isn’t. It is important that before you go out into the wild, you know the different types of flora in the region where you are going to be exploring.
You’ll want to know what plants you can eat, what can supply you with materials to use for weapons, building shelters, and build fuels. You can also learn what plants have chemicals in them that can poison fish, preserve animal hide, and also provide excellent cover for your gear and yourself.
When we find ourselves in a survival situation, we want to do our best to find our way to civilization (or at least where other people are), or we want to signal for help. Just like with other wilderness survival tactics, you will want to practice what you learn enough before you actually need it. By practicing the skills, you learn, you’ll be more confident in putting your knowledge to use.
If you are using visual signals when signaling for help, you should choose a signaling spot that is close to where you set up camp with a good vantage point. This can be a clearing, a hilltop, or even a lakeshore. Consider things like if there is going to be a search for you, and if there is, will it be air or land. When you take these into consideration, you can better choose the spot where you set up your signaling equipment.
The SOS, or Save Our Souls, the signal is the international signal that you are in distress. Not only should adventurers or hikers be familiar with this signal, but everyone should. This signal can be transmitted both by visual signals as well as audio. The code for it is three short signals, 3 long signals, and three short signals. You’ll want to pause for a few moments and then start again.
The SOS signal can be created on the ground for air search by using materials like rocks or logs and actually spell out SOS. If you are trying to create a visual signal at night, use your flashlight or strobe light and point it at the sky.
If you cannot produce the SOS signal with a light, typically it is understood that any signal repeated three times can be a distress signal as well.
When you’re trying to signal for help, a fire is your best bet, especially at night. The flames can be seen at night, and the smoke can be seen during the day from afar. If this is the method you plan on using, you’ll want to build three fires either in a row or in a triangle. You’ll want to have about 100 feet in between the fires. Three fires are recognized as a distress signal, no matter where you are.
Signal mirrors are great devices when you’re stranded out in on a sunny day. However, if you don’t have a mirror, you can also use a polished canteen, your glasses, belt buckle, or anything else that is reflective.
The flash can be seen at great distances, so you’ll want to sweep the horizon during the day. If a plane is approaching, you don’t want to shoot the beam of sunlight into the cockpit for more than a few seconds at a time, as you could blind the pilot!
As easy as some of those wilderness survival shows make surviving in the wild, it can actually be quite scary if you aren’t prepared. We hope that the information you’ve learned in this wilderness survival guide will give you enough basic information to help you prepare.
We recommend that even if you aren’t a weekend warrior or someone who enjoys hiking as a past time, you have a survival kit in the back of your car at all times. You’ll never know if and when you’ll have an emergency and you’ll be stranded in a remote area with no cell reception. It’s always a good idea to play it safe than to be sorry, right?