Essential Outdoor Survival Skills That Every Adventurer Should Know

You can’t call yourself an adventurer without these critical outdoor survival skills.

When heading into the great outdoors, or any potential survival situation, we all know to bring the necessary gear and supplies. You’ll need food, water, fire and all the other essentials on your backpacking gear list.

A true outdoorsman, however, is ready for survival no matter the situation. In other words, the most important tool you have isn’t in your pack, it’s in your head. Your wilderness survival skill knowledge could very well be the determining factor in the wild.

If you’re going to be running around off the grid, you need to have the most basic of survival skills.

For instance, you’ll need to be proficient in first-aid. You should also be familiar with the famous rule of three: a human can survive about three minutes without air, three hours without warmth, three days without water and three weeks without food.

The world can be very dangerous and Mother Nature doesn’t care if you aren’t prepared. Once you make sure you can breath and aren’t bleeding out, you have to contend with staying alive in the bush.

Here are the most useful outdoor survival skills you can have at your disposal. While some may seem a bit on the primitive side, that’s exactly why they work. These skills will help you if you’re really stuck in a pinch without any of the comforts of modern civilization.

How to Create Drinkable Survival Water in the Wild

survival water

Water isn’t a luxury in the wilderness – it’s a necessity. Learn how to collect drinking water in the wild and the backcountry will open its doors to you.

Water is the most important substance we have, but it is prohibitively heavy and can be hard to come by. There are several ways to avoid parasites and make sure you always have enough survival water to drink.

Here are the the emergency solutions you can turn to in a survival situation.

Melt Snow With Metal

The great mountaineer dilemma is that there is water everywhere, but it’s all frozen. This poses a problem to mountaineers who carry a minimum of stove fuel. If you are surrounded by snow, there are ways to melt it fast and without burning precious fuel.

If you have sun, place a few pieces of metal, like carabiners or other pieces of gear, in some snow on top of a rock. When the sun hits it, the metal will reflect the light and heat and help melt the snow. You can set up a bottle to catch the melt and your melt-water collection system can fill your bottle with survival water while you are out climbing.

Collect Rain

Unless you’re near a big, smoggy city, the rainwater is clean. It’s a terrific source of drinking water and, with the right techniques, can be simple to collect. Broad-leaved plants can hold numerous water drops after a rain.

These can add up to a good drink for you if you notice which plants have big leaves, or which are shaped so that they collect rainwater near the stalk or inside flowers. Even if it’s not raining, you might be able to collect dew on a damp morning. To do this, wrap your legs, and/or arms, depending on the vegetation, with an absorbent cloth.

Now take a stroll through grasses, or brush up against moist bushes, to collect all the rainwater they hold. Wring out the fabric and you will have clean fresh water to drink. Be careful, however, that the plants aren’t covered with anything that could make you sick.

Dig a Still

Building a solar still is effective if you have sunlight, the ground is moist and you will be in the area for a half-day or so. Start by digging a hole about a foot deep and a foot in diameter. Then, place a container inside and cover the hole with plastic to allow the sun to create condensation that will drip into your container.

It’s better to choose moist ground for this – if you see roots and plant shoots, you can bet it’s a good spot. If you’re short a plastic sheet, you can use a tent fly, jacket or other non-permeable or semi-permeable fabric. Place a stone or other small weight in the middle of the fabric.

This will create a point from which the condensation will gather and drip into your bottle. If you want to keep the solar still set up for an extended period, you can place a drinking tube in the bottle and run it up the side of the hole. That way, you can take a drink from the still without removing the plastic on top or undoing your hard work.

Dig a Hole

This may not be the most appealing method, but if you have no other choice, you’ll be thankful it’s an option. Find an area of moist ground, like a small mud puddle. There’s bound to be some groundwater there, and to get it, you’ll have to dig a hole.

Make it fairly large – a couple of feet deep and about a foot or so wide. After a while, if you’re lucky, the hole will start to fill with water. It will be muddy, but with some assiduous filtering through a cloth or a bag filled with sand and rocks, you can have drinkable water.

Boil It

If you are worried about the safety of your drinking water, you should do everything you can to purify it, including bringing it to a rolling boil for 10 minutes.

If you believe your survival water is free of dangerous pathogens, but want to take an extra step toward purification, you can always start a fire to boil the water.

Building a fire specifically for this is important, as fuel for your stove is not something to waste. In these cases, it’s only necessary to boil water until small bubbles form around the bottom and sides of the pot and rise to the surface.

You can even use heated rocks to boil the water. This method should suffice to kill what harmful bacteria or viruses might be hiding in otherwise clean water.

How to Build a Fire in Any Situation

making-a-fire

Before you head out on your next adventure, make sure building a fire is added to your repertoire of skills. It could very well save your life.

Knowing how to make a fire is another very important wilderness survival skill you’ll need to develop to stay alive. With fire, you can cook and keep warm.

If you’re going to be a true outdoorsman, starting a fire with just what you have in front of you is a necessary skill.

Whether you’re out to keep warm in a survival situation, roast marshmallows after a day on the river, or just sit around a flame and wonder about the universe in the outdoors, we’ve got you covered.

Here is our definitive guide on how to build a campfire.

Ingredients of a Fire:

1. Air

All fires require air to burn. Make sure any fire you build is well ventilated, and gently blow on the flame to encourage it to spread.

2. Tinder

Tinder is the small stuff that lights easily: leaves, dry grass, birch bark, newspaper, moss, pocket lint, potato chips. Make sure it’s dry enough to light with a match or a spark, and you’ve got enough to burn long enough to catch the twigs stacked on top of it.

3. Kindling

Everything between tinder and fuel. You’ll want a range, from twigs and fractures of split wood to pieces slightly thicker than your finger. Remember to add gradually; too big to quickly and the fire won’t be hot enough to catch what you’ve added.

4. Fuel

The stuff that burns long and slow. Pieces of wood about as thick as your wrist will keep you warm and can be enough to boil water, and thicker logs will burn well into the night.

5. A Ring

Clear the ground around the fire of leaves and grass to prevent it from spreading. A ring of rocks can help contain it, and a wall on one or two sides can help direct heat. Don’t use wet rocks: the water can heat to steam and make them explode.

Bow/Drill Method

An excellent way to start a fire is to use the drill method or, a variation on the drill method, the bow method. The simpler drill method involves spinning a stick into a flat board, called a fire board, until you get it hot enough to create an ember.

In the bow method, rather than spinning the stick between your hands you create a bow, not too tight, and wrap the drill stick in the bowstring. Then, you spin it much faster by moving the bow back and forth. You’ll also need a hand hold to use to press down on the drill, since it’ll be spinning too fast to hold with your hand.

The most important choice here is wood selection. The piece of wood you use for your fire board must be hard enough not to just grind away, but soft enough not to resist drilling. Try pressing your thumb into the wood, you should be able to create a slight indentation.

Once you have drilled your stick in enough to make a mark, make a notch next to the drill indentation. This is to let the hot sawdust fall out and pile up in the bottom creating your ember.

When you’ve created an ember, place it in a tinder bundle, a little nest of dry, flammable grass, broken up bark, or pine needles. This will ignite from your ember. Blow into it and use this flame to start your fire.

TeePee Method

The teepee is a fast, simple fire building method that directs heat straight up. It’s also a good starter formation for other types of fires. Stack kindling in a teepee formation around your tinder.

To create structure for the kindling, you can lash a few sticks together at the tops to form sort of a skeleton, push the bottoms of those sticks into the mud, or use a pile of dry leaves that you can lay the kindling against.

Make sure there’s enough space between the pieces of wood for air to get in and feed the flame, and keep a small opening on the upwind side when building it so you can reach in and light the tinder.

For Cooking: Log Cabin

The log cabin is an easy way to get large logs involved and provides a sturdy base for cook pots. Once burning, it also creates a well-distributed bed of coals that can heat a grill plate evenly. Lay two pieces of fuel wood parallel and build a relatively small teepee between them, then stack parallel pairs of smaller pieces on the bottom logs at right angles.

For a Long Burn: Top Down

If built big enough, this fire will burn continuously for a while without you having to add wood. It’s great for bonfires and for keeping warm through the night. Throw down a layer of your biggest pieces of wood on the ground, parallel to one another, as a platform for the rest of the structure.

Then add a perpendicular, slightly smaller layer on top of that. Repeat and keep going, until you’ve got a platform of your smallest kindling on top. Build a teepee up there and light it.

As it burns, the fire will move down and burn the larger pieces below. It also creates a solid self-containing structure on which to lean massive logs, in the event you’re forced to partake in an all-night beach rager.

To Feel Like a Cowboy: Star Fire

Legend is this method was popular with cowboys in the American West. It creates an even bed of coals for cooking, and can be fed and regulated without much effort. Dig a small pit and build a teepee or log cabin within.

Place five or six logs so that one end of each is hanging over the edge of the pit (think like they’re the spokes of a wheel). As the interior fire burns, the ends of the logs will catch and they can be pushed in towards the center from the outside as needed.

In High Winds: Dakota Fire Pit

If you’re serious about concealing your fire, need to conserve fuel, or are facing seriously high winds, turn to the Dakota Fire Pit. Always make sure your fire is fully out before leaving camp.

Use water, sand, or dirt to extinguish it, and stir repeatedly as you put it out to expose buried coals that may still be burning. If you put a green leaf on the remains of the fire and it curls up, it’s still too hot to leave.

Know any other tips on how to build a fire in any situation? Let us know in the comments below.

FlintKnapping

flintknapping

What do you do if you lose your survival knife? Would you still be able to make an arrow head or a tool to gut an animal? If you’re ever in this situation, in the wilderness without tools, you can make your tools out of rocks, through the art of flintknapping. For most of history, we didn’t have metal, so knives, arrowheads, axes and other tools were made of stone.

Flintknapping involves taking a piece of stone and honing it into a precision tool. The classic example of this is of course the arrowhead. Adept knappers, however, can create a whole workbench of tools, which can then be used to dress game or cut and carve wood.

Carving wood is especially important because, once you can work wood, you can build all kinds of things including shelters or even a bow and arrow. It really is an impressive demonstration of true craft and shows you how a forbidding forest can become your hardware store or supermarket with the right outdoor survival skills.

The most important thing is picking the right kind of stone. Flint or obsidian are great choices because they break with a sharp edge. It’s a craft that takes a while to master, but you just need to take your bigger rock and carve it using a smaller, solid, piece of stone that you can use as a hammer. Then, once you get a shape you want, you refine it and get a sharp edge by using a pressure tool to break off the edges.

Shelter

Step 1: Shelter

If you’re already flintknapping and making campfires, chances are that you’re in it for the long haul. Eventually, you’re going to need to find shelter. Most people who perish in wilderness survival situations die from hypothermia, so creating a shelter isn’t just about having a place to kick back after a long day of adventuring.It’s about survival. That means your shelter needs to be able to keep you dry and, most importantly, warm.

A very simple shelter can be made from the materials around you. Just take a sturdy eight-foot-long or so stick and prop it against the crook of a tree or a log. Then, lay more stick against that one bracing it and creating the frame for the walls of your temporary home.

What you get looks something like a ribcage with the big stick being the spine. From here, you’re going to use whatever you have at your disposal, including leaves, grass and branches, to fill in the walls of your shelter. Make sure to make them nice and thick to keep the warmth in and the rain out.

One thing you should not forget is to make sure the ground is also well insulated with a layer of leaves. You lose most of your heat to the ground. You can also make a nice stopper for the opening of your shelter by stuffing leaves into an article of clothing, or use your back pack.

Knowledge of Nature

nightshade

Any stay in the wilderness, whether its a survival situation or just a hike, is enhanced by having a greater knowledge of the environment. Knowing about nature is incredibly important. You should be able to distinguish plants from each other and know their uses.

This will give you a better appreciation of nature. In a wilderness survival situation, however, this becomes incredibly useful knowledge. Unfortunately it’s very specific to the location you’re in.

Knowing how to tell which plants are edible, but also what parts of them are edible, is a valuable skill. Before you go out into a new forest, take 10 minutes to do some research. Identify what plants are safe to eat and, just as importantly, which are poisonous.

Snares and Cordage

wild rabbit

If you are out in the wild long enough, you’re going to need some calories. One of the best sources is meat. Snares are a great way to catch small game. You can make a lot of them, set them throughout an area, then come back periodically to check them. All you need is for one to work.

Alternatively, this is one of those awesome skills that you can practice for more casual hunting trips.

Before you can even make a snare, you’ll generally need some cord or rope. This can be readily constructed from materials found in the woods.

Both these skills are more long term, but both are extremely useful in a pinch and fun to practice any time you’re out in the woods. Don’t look at these merely as a way to enhance your survival skills, but as a general way to see nature from a different perspective. You’ll be honing a set of crafts that are useful anytime you decide to go off the grid.

Now that you have the skills you need to survive in the wilderness, your next step is to get rescued so be sure to check out our guide to Sending a Distress Signal.

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About the Author

CM Burns
CM Burns
CM Burns has been a music video director, a cameraman for Nat Geo, has recorded ancient Tibetan chants in India and swum with whales in Baja, California. Currently living in the Philippines you will find him anywhere Adventure happens.
CM Burns
CM Burns
CM Burns has been a music video director, a cameraman for Nat Geo, has recorded ancient Tibetan chants in India and swum with whales in Baja, California. Currently living in the Philippines you will find him anywhere Adventure happens.
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