We don’t think much about survival skills in our on-demand society. Everything happens at the touch of a screen, and we usually have our basic needs met with some ease.
But what happens when you’re lost, stranded, or injured and you need to keep yourself safe from harm?
Do you know the basic skills necessary to stay alive long enough to get to safety?
Most people can’t say with any certainty that they would know how to survive in a wilderness situation.
Many people even believe survival myths that could hurt or kill them.
That’s why we’ve created this list of 50 of the most important wilderness survival tips that could mean the difference between life and death.
1. Stay Calm
Managing your attitude is key. Stay calm and take stock of your resources and immediate survival needs. It’s okay to be a little afraid, but don’t allow yourself to succumb to it. Determination is survival.
2. Make Shelter
Ideally, you’ve brought a tarp or other item that can be used as shelter. If not, you’ll need to build something from your available resources. A lean-to is insufficient on its own, so add sides and insulation by filling gaps between logs and sticks with smaller twigs, pine needles, and leaves.
3. Collect Water
Finding water is your second highest survival priority. Be wary of standing water such as lakes or puddles, as these can be full of pathogens and bacteria. A running stream or river is best, but even this water should be purified before drinking. Boil the water over a fire, or make a water filter (see below).
4. Start a Fire
Start your fire with a small tinder bundle made of leaves, grass, small twigs, or pine needles. With luck, you’ve brought along a flint and steel or a lighter. If not, improvise a magnifying glass with water and a clear plastic bag to amplify the sun’s rays and start a fire.
5. Keep The Fire Burning
Once your fire is started, make sure the oxygen can flow. To this end, stack your fuel in a cone shape around your burning tinder. Add smaller branches and logs first and get them burning well before you add thicker, longer-burning logs.
Learning to navigate is important. A compass is handy, but there are other tricks you can use to find your way. Remember that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Find the North Star using the Big Dipper constellation — the North Star is at the end of the Dipper’s handle.
7. Carry Two Signal Mirrors
If rescuers are flying to find you, use two mirrors to catch their attention. One signal mirror isn’t always reliable because of the varying angles of the sun. Use the second mirror to reflect light off the first to ensure you are seen from above.
8. Catch Small Game
It takes too much energy to hunt large animals, so focus on rabbits, squirrels, and fish for meat. Learn to make a snare to catch them, or make a spear out of sharpened sticks. Bonus tip: use the bones and skin of the animal to make tools and small pouches, and be sure to discard the entrails far from your location to avoid attracting predator animals.
9. Create A Smoke Signal
The smoke from your campfire is not enough to attract rescuers’ attention. Make a smoke signal with material such as pine and spruce leaves to create thick, heavy smoke. Camp on high ground to be more easily seen.
10. Make A Water Filter
Much of the water in the wild must be filtered to remove dirt, debris, and other contaminants. Use an empty bottle or container and poke small holes into it with your knife or a sharpened stick. Then fill the bottle up to two inches with a layer of coarse gravel, a layer of coarse sand, some ground charcoal from your fire, and a layer of fine sand. Pour the water in, and as it travels through each layer, impurities will be filtered out.
11. Make Char Cloth
Take any small piece of cloth and place it inside a metal container with a cover. Place the container in a fire for a couple minutes. When the cloth is dark from having been burned but is still intact, you have successfully made a char cloth. Char cloth is an ideal fire starter because it catches with a small spark, saving you time and energy gathering tinder.
12. Keep Aluminum Foil
The uses of aluminum foil are endless in a survival situation. Use it to fashion dishes and cooking utensils, or to shield your shelter from heat. You can use it as a dry surface to start a fire. To save space, don’t bring a whole roll. Simply fold up a few large sheets and tuck them into your pack.
13. Bring Extra Socks
In addition to keeping your feet warm and dry, socks can be used for a number of other purposes. A clean sock can make a water filter in a pinch, or you can use them on your hands for extra warmth.
14. Treat Blisters
Blisters can be painful and can slow you down as you travel. Prevent blisters by covering your toes in duct tape, reducing friction as you walk. If you already have a blister, puncture it with a sanitized pin or needle on either side to drain the fluid and then cover it.
15. How To Waterproof
Waterproofing spray is good to have, but if you don’t have any, make sure your sleeping area and fire are elevated. Use a hammock or logs to raise your body from the ground. Cover your shelter with pine branches to allow rain to run off the shelter.
16. Protection From Animals
If you run across a wolf or coyote, don’t run or play dead. Look the animal in the eye and slowly back away.
17. Find Edible Plants
Know what plants are edible and which can make you sick or kill you. This requires study and practice to familiarize yourself with edible plants. Even when you learn about these plants, never eat a plant if you’re in doubt. Common edible plants include cattail, wild grass, dandelion, and acorns.
18. Treat Small Cuts
Any time your skin is broken, you are at risk for infection. An infection can worsen and become a serious problem, so it’s important to treat cuts as soon as possible. Never wash a wound with dirty water. Use only filtered and purified water to wash the wound thoroughly, and bind it with a bandage from your first aid kit.
19. Take Care Of Hygiene
There are some hygiene practices that can be largely ignored in a long term survival situation, but others should not be shirked. Keeping your teeth clean will prevent painful tooth infections. Fashion a toothbrush from birch bark, or simply scrub your teeth clean with a cloth. Try to also keep areas where skin touches skin (such as armpits, groin, and between toes) clean and dry to prevent bacteria and fungus buildup.
20. Learn Knots
If you never learn another knot, learn the bowline knot. The bowline is the kind of knot that gets tighter the harder you pull — a true multi-purpose knot. After you make a loop, remember this: the rabbit comes out of the hole, in front of the tree, goes behind the tree, and back down its original hole.
21. Prep Food Far From Your Shelter
When you catch a small animal for food, be sure to skin and gut the animal quite far from your fire and shelter and discard the remains even further still. This will prevent any predatory animals from catching the scent of the kill and paying your campsite a visit for some dinner of their own.
22. Other Ways To Find Water
Rain is the most obvious way to collect water, but what if it doesn’t rain? You can also collect water from trees, which “sweat” water throughout the day. Tie a plastic bag around tree branches and leave it there. When you return to it, you will have collected water that has condensed inside the bag.
23. Don’t Travel At Night
Traveling through the wilderness in the dark is dangerous. Most predatory animals are nocturnal, which means they will see you long before you see them. There are dangers in the terrain that you may not see at night, too. You can fall off a cliff or into a pit if you can’t see where you are going.
24. Sleep Elevated
Sleeping above the ground will keep you warmer and drier than sleeping on the ground itself. Make a hammock out of a tarp or sturdy poncho, or raise your sleeping area off the ground using logs. Construct this bed similarly to the way you build your shelter — thick logs first, then fill in the gaps with smaller sticks and leaves.
25. Carry Extras
You never know when a supply item might fail, so always carry several options for emergency use. Have two or three options for fire starting and waterproofing, a backup knife or saw, several ponchos or garbage bags, and extra water pouches on hand at all times.
26. Carry Hand Sanitizer
Hand sanitizer has a variety of uses in a survival situation. It can be used to treat small wounds, and because it’s so high in alcohol content, it’s very flammable. Put a few drops on your tinder bundle or a small cloth and light it, and your fire will be burning in no time.
27. Carry Duct Tape
You’ve heard that “duct tape fixes everything,” and it’s never more true than in an emergency. You can use duct tape to reinforce your waterproofing efforts, strengthen your supply pack, prevent blisters, treat injuries, repair items, and to help you make tools.
28. Use Charcoal To Purify water
As you learned in the tip about how to make a water filter, charcoal is useful to purify water. It has absorptive properties that can remove contaminants from lake or river water. Simply save a few chunks from your fire and you’ll always have some charcoal on hand.
29. Keep Rope On Hand
Rope is useful for making shelter, hunting, and a number of other things. If you don’t have rope in your pack, you can make rope by braiding together the soft ribbonlike material found under willow bark.
30. Learn Survival Fishing
If you’re near a water source, fishing is the most convenient way to find food. Because fish swim toward the wind, you will catch more fish if you cast your bait into the wind while fishing. This will ensure the bait lands in front of the fish rather than behind.
31. Invest In A Good Backpack
Tactical packs are made of durable, weather-resistant material that will protect your supplies and keep them well organized. Organizing your bag is important so that you’ll be able to find what you need quickly. Good tactical backpacks are lightweight, which will save energy.
32. Use Your Watch To Navigate
If you don’t have a compass, you can use a watch to navigate. Point the hour hand at the sun and draw two imaginary lines between it and the 12 o’clock point. This will create an angle, and then draw an imaginary straight line bisecting the angle. Because the sun moves from east to west, the line pointing away from the sun is the north.
33. Keep Your Cell Phone
Even if you don’t have a signal, your cell phone can be useful for survival. In a pinch, you can start a fire with your cell phone battery. Look for survival apps you can use offline.
34. Use A Poncho
Carry several extra ponchos in your pack. Use them not only to cover yourself in the rain, but to collect rain water, to protect your shelter from rain, or as a barrier between the ground and your bed. Stuff them with leaves for added insulation, like a makeshift mattress.
35. The Universal Wave
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In addition to light or smoke signals, you should learn the universal wave to communicate with rescuers. Stand upright and hold your arms in the shape of a “Y” to get their attention as they fly overhead.
36. Collect Fat Wood
“Fat wood” is actually resin from pine trees. It is effective both as a fire starter and as an insect repellent, so it’s a good thing to collect and have on hand.
37. Keep Good Tools
You can waste a lot of energy trying to make tools out of sticks and animal bones. It’s best to always have tools on hand. A good knife, a multi-tool, a saw, and a shovel can go a long way toward your survival.
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38. Surround Your Fire With Rocks
Rocks around a fire will retain the fire’s heat long after the fire is out. You can even use small hot stones from a fire to boil water. Simply drop the hot stone into a metal container of water, and the stone will bring the water to a boil.
39. Don’t Eat Snow
It might sound like a good way to stay hydrated, but snow is made of more air than water. It costs your body more energy to eat the snow than to drink water. Always melt snow and drink it as water instead of eating it.
40. Pack a Mylar Blanket
These space-age blankets don’t look like much, but they are made of reflective material that retains your body’s heat. In the cold, they can be life savers. In the heat, they can be used to reflect the sun’s rays away from your shelter.
41. Invest In Waterproof Matches
When regular matches get wet, their chemical composition changes and they won’t light again. If you’re packing matches, make sure they are waterproof.
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42. Learn To Predict The Weather
By looking at the sun or moon, you can tell whether there will be rain. A halo around the sun or moon indicates oncoming rain within 36 hours. The halo is created by light reflecting off ice crystals in the atmosphere.
43. Wear A Survival Bracelet
Survival bracelets made of paracord have become popular among outdoor enthusiasts. These can be used as rope to help make shelter or bind injuries.
44. Make Your Tools Visible
Paint the handles of your tools with bright orange paint to make them visible. You don’t want to spend precious time and energy searching for your tools if you drop them on the ground.
45. Don’t Cross River Rapids
Even if you’re a strong swimmer, don’t risk crossing a rapid river. You could get sucked into a strong current and drown. Even if you survive the crossing, you will spend far too much energy in the effort.
46. Carry Glow Sticks
Glow sticks can help rescuers find you at night. The unnatural light from a glow stick easily catches attention. Tie them to your backpack or your shelter to help others find your position.
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47. Chop Wood Without An Axe
Be careful with this tip so that you don’t break your leg. Just place the wood pieces diagonally between the ground and a tree. Kick the wood using good balance between force and strength.
48. Organize Your Pack
As mentioned above, keep your pack and supplies well organized so that you can find what you need easily. You don’t want to waste time searching through your supplies. Take special care with your firestarters so that they are always close at hand.
49. Know About Medicinal Plants
Pain and irritation from insect bites, diarrhea, and muscle and joint pain are common ailments in the wild. Knowing what plants will help treat these problems will help. Willow bark tea, charcoal, dock leaves, and pine are readily available and can help treat these problems.
50. Stay Cool In The Heat
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When you make a shade shelter, it’s helpful to dig a few inches into the ground to reveal a cooler surface. Cover your shelter with aluminum foil, shiny side out, to deflect heat away from your shelter. In extreme heat situations, soak a cloth in urine and tie it around your head to stay cool.
51. Stay Warm In The Cold
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Build a heat reflector around your fire to keep the wind from blowing most of the warmth away. Learn about layering clothing to keep warm, and made sure your base layer is a wicking fabric to keep moisture away from your body.
52.Practice, Practice, Practice
Simply studying survival skills won’t help you in the wild. Practice these tips as often as possible to prepare yourself for any emergency situation. The more prepared you are, the better your chances for survival.