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Basic Survival Skills (Outdoor Skills That Can Save Lives)

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The scariest aspect of survival situations is that you never know when they will arise. While some situations like volcanic eruptions and tornados can be predicted to some degree, there are plenty of disaster scenarios that can arrive without warning.

It’s essential that you’re prepared with the proper survival skills needed to weather any scenario. We’ve created an extensive guide filled with survival basics and must-know tips that could mean the difference between life and death.

The Rule of 3’s

Every survival instructor will tell you that you should have the “Rule of 3’s” memorized. These rules are as follows:

rule of threes

Understanding these fundamental truths will drastically increase your ability to survive in any situation, and we describe these four basic necessities for survival below.

Survival Skills: Air

Without clean breathable air, you have a matter of minutes to find or create some before you’re completely out of luck.

If your oxygen supply has been cut off, you better hope that your basic survival skills and knowledge will save you in the 3 minutes you have to solve the problem.

Sometimes not having clean air can have longstanding effects. More than 5,400 people have been diagnosed with cancers linked to effects of the horrific terrorist attacks carried out on September 11th, 200—likely as a result of exposure to known and suspected carcinogens and pollutants circulating the air after the towers fell.

more than 5400 peopl

That’s why it’s so important to be aware of air conditions that could threaten your life over a longer period of time as well. In every survival situation, there are two survival techniques that you need to be well versed in to protect your oxygen supply.

  • Heimlich Maneuver: Whether you’re stranded in the wilderness following a plane crash or helping out during an emergency medical situation at your child’s soccer game, knowing the Heimlich maneuver can help you save lives.
  • Using Air Filtration Masks Properly: If you want to stay alive in any situation, you need to learn basic survival skills that apply to multiple emergencies and scenarios. One of those basic skills? Understanding how to properly use an air filtration mask. Secure your mask over your mouth and nose, and do your best to cover up your eyes and ears as well.

Know the warning signs of unbreathable air; when you’re out in the wilderness, keep your eyes peeled for groups of dead organisms and animals with no visible wounds. In particular, pay attention to any dead birds or smaller creatures like rodents.

These oxygen-centric survival skills are especially crucial in the event of a fire. Learn more about preparing for and surviving a wildfire here.

Survival Skills: Shelter

Depending on your environment, shelter is easily the second most important thing you need to survive. If you’re caught in a blizzard, your outdoor basic survival skills will be put to the test. Freezing to death is a very real possibility if you can’t find a way to protect yourself from the elements.

Building or finding shelter is one of the most important outdoor survival skills to know in an emergency situation. Mother Nature can be harsh; make sure your outdoor survival skills are up to par before disaster strikes.

1. Building Shelter

  • Survival Tent: The best way to survive a disaster or emergency situation is to be prepared. Creating or purchasing an emergency preparedness bag with a survival tent is the smartest way to survive a harsh environment.
  • Using Tarp: If you’re without a proper tent, tarps can be used to create a makeshift shelter in a pinch. With some rope and a little creativity, you can tie your tarp between trees to create shelter.
  • Using Nature: If you’re without the proper tools you need to survive, you’ll have to use your surroundings. Fallen tree branches, leaves, river mud, clay, and moss can all be used to build and insulate a structure. However, these materials aren’t readily available in every environment. When caught in a blizzard, digging a small tunnel in the snow may be your only option.

insulate a structure

2. Insulating Your Shelter

Your shelter might be able to protect you from winds and animals, but without proper insulation, you could still develop hypothermia. Knowing how to properly insulate your shelter is one of the most vital outdoor survival skills to know. Leaves, moss, and mud combined make for the best insulation on the walls of your structure.

Don’t forget to insulate the bottom of your makeshift shelter. The ground will absorb a huge amount of your body heat if you don’t lay down natural insulation.

Survival Skills: Water

Water is often one of the most difficult aspects of survival because it can be so hard to find; in some cases when you do find it, it might not be a clean drinkable source.

Once you’ve built a shelter for protection from the elements, it’s time to find a source of water. Depending on your environment, finding water can be difficult. That’s why discovering water is high on the list of basic survival skills for any expert.

1. Finding Water in the Wilderness

  • Natural Water Sources: Rivers, creeks, and underground springs tend to exist in more mountainous and forested areas. They are excellent sources of clean drinking water.
  • Tapping Trees: Tapping trees for water is a possibility if you have the proper tools and trees in your vicinity. Birch, Sycamore, and hickory trees can all be tapped for clean drinking water.

tapping trees

  • Underground Water: Digging for water should be a last resort. If you dig for water, you’re going to need a steel shovel as the chances of finding water close to the surface are slim to none.
  • Rainwater: Precipitation collection is a great way to get by until you can find a better source of water. Use your clothing to collect and wring out dew or bend leaves covered in moisture to collect water droplets at dawn.
  • Follow Animals: Crepuscular animals like deer will typically head to streams and lakes to drink at twilight. If you’re lucky, you can find one of these animals and follow them to a source of water.

2. Ways to Purify Water Once Found

  • Boiling: If you’re prepared with a metal pot or cup, boiling water is the best way to purify when you lack a filter or purification tablets.
  • Distillation: If you’re caught in a maritime forest, it’s unlikely that you’ll find a reliable source of fresh water. With a large container, smaller container, plastic bag, bungee cord, and a rock, you can make a solar water distiller.
  • Iodine Tablets: Purification tablets are handy in a pinch, but they aren’t sustainable. Once you run out, you’ll no longer to be able to purify water.
  • Water Filtration: The most valuable tool for creating fresh water in your outdoor survival gear is a filtration kit. Once you have a reliable source of fresh water, you can create a never-ending supply of clean drinking water.

Survival Skills: Food

According to the Rule of 3’s, you can survive without food for three weeks. Depending on your existing body fat percentage and constitution, that timeline may vary. Sooner or later, regardless of your body type, you will expire without the much-needed nutrition your body needs to power daily functions.

Essential wilderness survival skills include understanding which plants you can and can’t eat in the wild. In North America, it’s essential to know the big/fantastic four edible plants:

  • Grass
  • Oak (acorn seeds)
  • Pine (seeds/nuts)
  • Cattails

the big 4

These can all be eaten raw and uncooked, although it’s suggested that you boil your acorn seeds. For everything else, use the universal edible test.

  1. Separate plants into its different parts—roots, stems, leaves, buds, and flowers. Test only one piece of the plant at a time.
  2. Smell the plant—a strong, unpleasant odor is a red flag.
  3. Place piece of the plant on your inner elbow or wrist for several minutes. If the area burns, feels tingly, itches, or breaks out in hives or a rash, it’s inedible.
  4. If plant passes skin test, prepare a small portion.
  5. Before biting, place the plant on your lips and watch for burning or itching. If there’s no reaction after 15 minutes of waiting, chew and hold in your mouth for 15 minutes. If you notice an extremely bitter or soapy taste, spit out immediately.
  6. If there’s no reaction, swallow that initial bite and wait several hours. If there’s no reaction, repeat the test for all parts of the plant.

For extended periods of time in the wild, hunting and fishing may become a necessity. Vitamins such as B12 are almost exclusively found in animal proteins. Here are some wilderness survival skills that will make you a successful hunter.

  1. Create Tools and Traps: Sharpen long, sturdy, dry branches and pieces of wood into spears that can be used to hunt deer and boars. If you have a quality knife, consider constructing a bow out of vine and a flexible wooden branch. Traps for rodents are the best place to start, a simple slip knot on a stick leading up to a tree can easily catch and kill squirrels.
  2. Mask your Smell: Animals have much keener senses of smell than we do. A deer or elk can easily avoid you if they catch your scent downwind. Use mud and plants to mask your smell as you hunt.
  3. Fishing: Create wood traps to place in streams to catch fish. Alternatively, build rock formations at the edge of the river or stream to slow down or even stagnate water. The still water will attract bugs that will entice fish to enter and stay, making it easy for you to spear them from the bank.

Pro Tip: Don’t eat if you don’t have water; food can actually dehydrate you faster—while eating is important, dehydration can kill you much quicker than starvation.

While the above survival skills tackle immediate physical needs, it’s important to hone as many survival skills as possible in case of an emergency. In the following section, we provide detailed lists of survival skills centered on the following essentials:

Warmth

First Aid

Self-Defense

Navigation

Survival Skills: Warmth

Staying warm is one of the most vital and difficult aspects of survival. The elements can be relentless; rain, snow, and temperature fluctuation present unique challenges. Especially in cold or snowy environments, it’s crucial that you find or create warmth as soon as possible.

1. Get Dry

If you’re damp, you’ll never get warm. Getting dry is a crucial element of ensuring your survival. Survival techniques like sun-drying your clothes, building fires, and finding shelter from rain and moisture will mean the difference between life and death in certain situations.

2. Starting a Fire

  • Using Eyeglasses: If you wear glasses, you can use the lenses to focus and magnify sunlight. Gather dry shrubbery and kindling into a pile and focus the sunlight until white smoke appears. Gently blow into your bundle until it fully catches fire.
  • Using Sticks: Rubbing two sticks together isn’t as simple as it sounds. You have to generate a great deal of friction to generate the heat needed to make fire. Create a small wooden bow with a stick and some string, then loop another stick in so that you can spin the looped stick repeatedly.

Put the point of your spinning stick into a flat piece of wood on the ground and support the top with a stone or block you can hold in your hand. Keep in mind, you will still need a pile of dry shrubbery to catch the small embers you produce.

Creating fire is vital to your ability to survive in the wild. While creating a fire out of available resources is one of the most valuable wilderness survival skills, having the tools to easily build a fire in your survival kit is far more superior. Make sure your emergency bag is outfitted with a high-quality fire starter and matches to ensure your ability to stay warm in the wilderness.

Survival Skills: First Aid

There aren’t any hospitals in the wild, and if you become injured, you may be the only one around to treat yourself. After mastering basic survival skills, you need to master the advanced ones as well. Here some strategies for handling potential injuries and ailments that may arise.

  1. Crafting/Using a Tourniquet: If you or someone you’re with suffers from a serious gash that causes excessive bleeding, a tourniquet will save their life. Bleeding out is easy to prevent with even the simplest of supplies. A piece of cloth torn from a shirt or even a vine from a tropical tree tightly tied around a wounded arm or leg is the easiest way to craft a tourniquet. Use a stick or sheathed knife to twist and tighten the cloth.

  2. Treating Injuries: Unless you’re a practicing doctor, nurse, or medical assistant, you should include basic first aid instructions in your survival kit. While you should try to memorize the basics of treating minor and major wounds, having them written out and stored with your medical supplies is far superior.
  3. Performing CPR: CPR is a survival technique that’s easy enough for a child to learn. If someone you’re with suffers a near drowning experience, CPR could save their life. Simply lift their chin to open the airways, pinch their nostrils, and administer two rescue breathes between compressions.
  4. Splinting an Injury: A broken bone must be reset and held in place before it can heal properly. Some rope, vine, or cloth can be used with a stick or straight, supportive device in order to hold a broken bone in place while it heals straight.
  5. Treating Burns: Burn wounds can become infected as they blister and heal. Unless you’re prepared with antiseptics and burn gel, healing a burn wound may be incredibly challenging. The best thing to do is cover the wound with a clean cloth, and rinse it with sanitary water every two days. DO NOT pop any blisters that form because the wound may become infected much easier as a result.
  6. Mending Fractures: As long as there aren’t any bones protruding from the skin, a fracture can be handled with the instruction given previously in the splinting section. Once bone pierces the skin, the situation becomes far more dire and complicated. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do other than clean the wound and attempt to put the bone back in place. Without surgery, there is little hope that an open fracture will properly heal or resist infection.

These first aid survival skills are valuable in the aftermath of a variety of disaster scenarios, including tsunamis. Learn more about surviving a tsunami here.

Survival Skills: Self-Defense

When you’re in the wild, the elements aren’t the only thing that threatens your life. Wild animals such as bears, wolves, and moose can seriously injure or kill you. In addition to animals, people who have lost their humanity may also become a threat. These skills will cover self-defense from both humans and animals.

1. Types of Strikes

  • Finger Jab: Blinding an animal (or person) is a viable attack or counterattack method. If a wolf tackles you to the ground, block their mouth with your non-dominant arm, and attempt to gouge their eye with your fingers.
  • Edge of Hand: If you’ve ever studied martial arts, you know how deadly a palm strike or chop to the collarbone can be. If a person attacks you, palm strike vertically up into their nose for a potentially lethal strike.
  • Knee: Any self-defense instructor will tell you that a blow from a knee can break ribs and bones. Use your hips to generate momentum and thrust your weight forward into a knee strike.
  • Elbow Spike: 12 to 6 vertical elbow strikes are banned in professional fighting for a reason—they are potentially life-threatening if executed correctly. If an animal has taken control of one of your arms, you may be able to break its neck with a well-executed elbow strike.

2. Using Technology to Defend Yourself

  • Pepper spray: If you have pepper spray available, it can be an indispensable asset to your survival. Consider including pepper spray in your survival bag for an added level of defense against people and animals.

3. Animals

  • NEVER RUN: Running incites a prey instinct and animals will often chase. It’s best to slowly walk away while keeping your eyes on the animal.
  • Make Yourself as Big as Possible: Your best chance of frightening off a predator is to make yourself as big as possible; spread your arms out wide, stand tall, and give your loudest yell.
  1. Using Technology: A navigation device is considered a bug out bag essential because of the high risk of getting lost in a survival situation. It’s best to keep high-quality Garmin navigation products on-hand, like those included in the SEVENTY2 Survival Backpack.
  2. Using Trees and Moss: Because moss requires a shady and damp environment to grow and flourish, it almost exclusively shows up on the north side of trees. However, this rule only applies in the northern hemisphere; the opposite will be true if you’re south of the equator.
  3. Using the Stars: In order to find the North Star, you must first find the big dipper. Next, you will need to find the pointer stars; these are the two stars that make up the part of the big dipper that the liquid would pour out of. The North Star will be five stars directly above these two stars.
  4. Using a Paracord: Pieces of paracord can be used as “breadcrumbs” to find your way back to camp; attach the pieces to bits of bark to trace your steps.

Final Survival Skill: The Right Attitude

Your mentality will play a major role in your success as a survivalist. It’s important to remain actively engaged in your survival the entire time you’re in a difficult situation, and these tips should help:

  1. Don’t Panic: Avoid panic at all costs; stressing yourself out will only burn up precious energy that you don’t have to spare.
  2. Do Your Research: Learn survival skills that will keep you alive both mentally and physically.
  3. Rest When You Can: Get plenty of rest when needed, as fatigue will only cause you to make riskier decisions—decisions that could potentially threaten your life.
  4. Time Your Activity: Stay active at the best times of the day to conserve energy. If it’s a hot environment, rest in the shade when the sun’s at its brightest and move around when it’s cooler—this will conserve energy and water.

Those who prepare are the most likely to survive in the wilderness. However, knowledge won’t always be enough—at any moment, your world could be flipped upside down.

Whether you’re camping at Yellowstone national park or flying over the Blue Ridge Mountains, you should always be prepared with a wilderness survival bag. Uncharted Supply Co. offers high-end survival bags outfitted with everything you could possibly need to survive any environment for the first 72 hours of your survival scenario.