The weekend is coming up and the forecast says the weather is going to be amazing. Time to head out and enjoy some natural wonders. You’ve got your plan and you’ve got the gear, but have you got the knowledge? After reading this article, you’ll go from a beginner to a bushwhacker in no time. Whether you’re hunting, fishing, or even just doing a hike, everyone should be able to meet these four basic needs: Fire, Food, Water, and Shelter. Once you’re familiar with the essential outdoor survival skills, we’ll also introduce you to a handful of key survival tools that you should always bring along for all your outdoor adventures.
Essential Outdoor Survival Skills
Build a Fire
The first thing everyone should know is how to start a fire. Wait, if the weather forecast is nice and warm, why do I need to know how to start a fire? There’s actually a few reasons, aside from warmth, why you should be able to start a fire.
First, you’ll want it to boil water. We’ll discuss this later, but it’s a way to kill germs and also to cook food. Another use of boiling water is to wash yourself. A sink bath isn’t glamorous by any means, but it’s better than scrubbing down in a cold lake. Just because you’re camping doesn’t mean you can’t be clean.
Now, the second use of fire is to cook your food. If you’re capable of catching any animals, it’s much safer to cook your meat to eat it. While at some point our ancestors ate raw meat, we’ve had fire for thousands of years and have been cooking our food for just as long. There’s even scientific evidence suggesting that is why our teeth and jaws are weaker than our primate cousins.
Finally, the third reason you need fire is to improve your chances of being found. Maybe you’re Bear Grylls and you want to avoid civilization for a month, but most likely if you find yourself applying all these survival skills in the wild, you’ve gotten off the tracks. It’s important you meet your basic needs to survive until a rescue team can save you.
Alright, let’s make a fire. A fire has four components: spark, tinder, fuel and oxygen. The simplest mistake is using something that’s difficult to catch fire. Without material that burns easily, it’s going to be impossible to burn anything substantial. Another mistake is not keeping the flame covered; a gentle breeze can kill the flame you’ve worked hard for in seconds.
Common ways to start a spark are a flint, eyeglasses or matches. If you have a flint, just aim the spark on the tinder. With a pair of glasses, you can focus the sun to light up grass or straw easily. Matches are obviously the easiest way to get a spark as they usually have a strip on the box. When packing them, a great trick to make them waterproof is to dip them in nail polish or candle wax.
Once you’ve got a spark, you can use all kinds of things as kindling. If you’re packing for your trip, you can grab that excess lint from your clothes dryer or even some toilet paper and stuff it in a ziploc bag. If you aren’t so prepared, dry grass works too.
After you’ve made a small fire, you need to add more fuel to keep it burning. It’s important to find dry sticks and logs to catch more easily. If the fire seems to start dying, blowing on it or using something to fan the flames will increase the size by adding oxygen.
Make a Shelter
Making a shelter is another key skill if you’re in the wilderness. Whether it’s the sweltering heat or the pouring rain, no one enjoys that. Exposure can easily lead to many health problems such as sunburns, frostbite and even Trench Foot. We’ll give you two basic ways to set up a homebase while you’re bracing the natural elements.
The first solution is to look for a natural overhang or caves. If you can find space with natural walls, it will save you time and protect you better than sticks and leaves. If you do find a cave, be sure to stay near the entrance as animals may reside in it as well (you don’t wanna bump into any bears like the boys in Wild America). Use string or scatter some leaves behind you while exploring the cavern to be sure you can find your way back out.
Obviously, if you’re not lucky enough to find caves you will want to create a shelter. There are plenty of ways to make a shelter, but the most basic is a triangular tube shape (picture a giant Toblerone). You will need to find sizable sticks and rope to create the basic shape. If you haven’t packed rope, then long tall reeds or grass can also work. A handy tool for this step is a Gearbox. It’s a great way to store small essential items, and comes with a multitool to cut rope to the lengths needed.
After building the basic structure, you’ll just need to gather branches and leaves to cover it to provide shade and help contain your body heat at night. If you’re packing ahead, a small tarp is also a good way to protect yourself from the elements.
Purify your Water
Without water, the human body will die due to dehydration in only 3 – 4 days. It’s essential that you find a source of water to keep your body functioning or else you’ll be living the real life version of Oregon Trail. Signs that you’re extremely dehydrated include dizziness, dark urine, and fainting. All of which make it difficult to accomplish any other tasks to survive.
Finding water is not usually the difficult part. You can probably hear lakes and streams not far, but generally going downhill and following gravity is the best way to find water. If you’re really stuck, then digging up groundwater is also a good alternative.
Once you have the water, it’s important to purify it. Lots of parasites and bacteria can make you sick if you’re not careful. As previously mentioned, you can boil water with your fire. To be extra safe, let the water boil rapidly for one minute. You can also treat the water chemically with iodine or chlorine tablets – just be sure to follow the instructions carefully on the pill bottle. If you’re looking for an even easier way to drink water, there are also purifying straws and water bottles that make most natural water safe. If you have an empty plastic bag, condensation is also a great way to capture water to drink out of thin air. To do this, you simply wrap the bag around a tree branch in the sun and tie a knot on one end. Also be sure it’s not a poisonous plant you’re using. After some time, it will fog up with safe drinking water.
Find some food
The human body is amazingly adaptable, to the point that it can actually survive for about three weeks without food. Knowing this, eating is a low priority when all you need to do is survive. Although, it’s nice not to starve, it is not as crucial a need as water and a shelter.
While it might be tempting to try and catch fish or animals like rabbits, hunting can expend a lot of energy that is better used building your shelter or foraging for food. Of course, if you have the right tools like a net or rifle to hunt, then that’s a more justifiable option.
If you aren’t equipped to hunt, then you will want to learn about the local flora that is safe to eat. Plenty of bookstores sell guides about wildlife in your area or you can even do a quick google search before going on your trip. Another easy trick is to save pictures from the book on your phone and study the plants before you go. Many common berries grow in the wild across North America, like Blueberries, Blackberries and Cranberries. Red Clovers are also a tasty flower that are fairly common, provided you watch out for bees pollinating them. Even those ever so hated Dandelions are edible.
Outdoor Survival Gear: Now it’s Time to Pack
Now that you’ve brushed up on your essential skills, it’s important to pack some key tools to bring on any outdoor trips. While lots of articles online suggest dozens of items to bring on a trip, a proper bushwhacker knows there’s really only a few crucial ones.
Cell Phone and a Solar Charger
Every time you leave the house you probably make sure you have your phone. It’s important to also bring a solar charger to keep your electronics working. While you may not always have a phone connection, you’re eventually bound to find that single bar of reception so you can look up your location on a map app or make an emergency call. Many phones can even dial 911 without a SIN card in them, so bringing an old phone is still a good idea.
Everyone needs a bag to carry their supplies. While a classic knapsack will do fine, there are plenty of great backpacks out there that offer greater comfort and features to enhance your outdoor adventures. Luckily, for you fine folks, we’ve already touched on this topic! Check out our top 10 tactical and hiking backpacks here.
First Aid Kit
No one wants to get injured, but you have to plan ahead and bring a first aid kit just in case. A simple cut can easily get infected when you’re not in the sterile comforts of home, so knowing how to clean a wound and wrap it correctly is important. It’s also worth looking up ways to use it or even do a beginner first aid course should anything life threatening happen. We recommend packing your first aid kit with the following: neosporin or antiseptic cream to clean dirty cuts; quick-clot sponges to control severe bleeding; elastic bandage to treat sprains; Ibuprofen for anti-inflammation, pain relief, and fever; allergy tabs to relieve cold/flu symptoms and ease allergic reactions from poison ivy or bee stings; tweezers (to remove splinters and ticks) and scissors (to cut bandages); and a SAM splint for immobilizing skeletal or soft tissue injuries.
Compass and Whistle
While staying put is the best advice when you’re stranded in the wilderness, sometimes that’s not always possible if you are running out of water or food. Bringing a multi-function compass / whistle / magnifier / thermometer like this one here will help you navigate the land better. If you forget to pack a compass, then you can use the North Star to keep your direction. Another trick to finding north is to look at the moss on trees. In most cases, moss prefers to grow on the north side of a tree because that’s where the most shade is.
When camping, space is always important. Instead of bringing an entire toolbox, a handy multitool will cover most of your needs and be far more efficient when packing. Check out our post here, where we cover the best gadgets you can use for any adventures. Technology has come a lot farther than a standard Swiss Army Knife, so if you’re still using the pocket knife your dad gave you… then it may be time to upgrade.
Last but not least, a flashlight is an important item to bring. Until we evolve night vision, light is important. Especially if you don’t have a lot of fuel for your fire to burn all night. These days, there are plenty of options from solar powered lanterns to hand cranked flashlights. Of course, if you want to buy a model with batteries that’s always a cost efficient option too. There’s no need to sit in the dark to dump a stump if you know what we mean.
These six items will make your life much easier, especially in a life or death situation. We’ve also covered some other helpful tools every bushwhacker can use. Read our article here about some other essential items you should be bringing before wandering into wilderness.
Hit the Road!
That’s it, now you’ve got the knowledge and the gear, you’re ready to go. Once you’ve got these basic skills mastered, you can grab your friends and get that sunshine. Humans are adventurous creatures, and nature awaits. Hopefully this guide gave you the confidence to go explore nature, and if you’re a seasoned explorer, then we hope you picked up a few new tips you can take advantage of. If you’re looking to add a few more handy items to your backpack, check out all the goodies in our MGear Shop.