9 Survival Skills Everyone Should Know

9 Survival Skills Everyone Should Know

The quality of living around the globe has, generally, continued to improve throughout history with technological advancements and furthered collaboration globally. This has come with many benefits like a higher standard of living and more amenities available.

But these advancements have also led to some disappointing consequences: namely, that many individuals now lack the necessary survival skills to live away from the indoors and the amenities we have become used to.

Wilderness survival skills are critically important to help you deal with emergencies. If you have any interest in the outdoors, your basic survival skills will be even more useful.

Here are the nine survival skills that everyone should know:

1. Build a Fire

Perhaps the most important survival skill to master first, especially if you are a camper, is knowing how to build a campfire. Fires are necessary for warmth and for providing a place to cook food should you need it. Fire can also provide some safety from wild animals afraid of flames. 

If you don’t have a fire-starting kit, you’ll need to make a fire in other ways. Building a campfire starts with having tinder, kindling, and firewood. Your tinder should be easy to light small pieces of paper, small twigs and sticks, leaves, and even cardboard can make good tinder. Kindling is your small stick which should be between firewood and tinder. Finally, you have your actual firelogs.

There are two basic ways to set up your campfire: the cone and the log cabin style. Whatever you prefer is fine, and here is a guide to teach you both methods if you desire.

2. Find Shelter

Once you know how to build a campfire, your next action item will be finding or building a shelter. When camping, you will typically have a tent with you, which is a great option. Just make sure you know how to set up your tent before heading out in nature. You can practice in your backyard a few times if you’re using a tent you’ve never used before.

If you find yourself searching for shelter without a tent, you still have options. There are dozens of ways to build yourself shelter easily outdoors, but the simplest will likely be a tripod shelter. 

To build this type of shelter, locate three branches (one significantly longer than the others, about 1.5x your height) and create a tripod with one leg much larger than the others. You can then cover the structure with leaves, tarps, plastic, or whatever else you have. You will then be able to lay down under the long tripod leg as your shelter.

3. Rely on Navigation Skills

For many people today, getting lost without a cellphone means having no idea how to get around or find your way anywhere. Navigation skills are critical in a survival situation or while backpacking or camping where cell service is bound to be limited and spotty at best.

The sun is a very useful tool for navigation during the day. The sun will rise in the east, peak in the south, and then set in the west, but this is only so useful if the sun is down. 

Looking at the trees can be useful here, as they will grow to maximize their sunlight. This means there are typically more branches and leaves on the south side of trees, and the branches may grow in that direction. 

On the tree's north side, you can expect to see branches more upright as they try to grow taller to get the sunlight. During the nighttime, the stars will be a good resource for you. The stars rotate around the North star, so you can determine which direction you are facing by aiming a stick at a star and observing its movement.

  • Star Rotates Left - Facing North
  • Star Rotates Up - Facing East
  • Star Rotates Right - Facing South
  • Star Rotates Down - Facing West

Typically, it’s safest to avoid navigation at night and to set up camp to sleep, as you have significantly more clues available during the daytime hours.

4. Get Clean Drinking Water

Unless you come prepared with an insulated water bottle, you’re going to need to find clean water in nature. While finding freshwater running streams can give you access to clean water, it is always best to use a filtering method to ensure what you are consuming is safe.

If you are boiling water, you want to ensure all pathogens are eradicated. Hot water is not enough; it must reach boiling. 

One of the easiest and longest used methods of filtering water was even used by the United States cavalry as they pushed west during the Westward Expansion.

You’ll need three containers or bottles and some sort of strainer or filter like a coffee filter, fabric or even tight weave netting, and charcoal, sand, and gravel. You might need a pocket knife or other cutting tool to make your own water filter kit.

How To Purify Water:

  1. Fill one container with the unfiltered, dirty warty. The unfiltered water should only be placed in this one container to avoid contamination with the other bottles, which can limit the effectiveness of the filtering. 
  2. Cut off the bottom of one of your remaining contains so that it has openings at both ends. Wrap the top in your filter and fill from the bottom. Start with your charcoal, then the sand, and end with the gravel. 
  3. Pour the unfiltered water through the charcoal, sand, and gravel mixture and catch it as it pours through the filter in your final container.

It’s really that simple to filter your water in nature safely. You can also bring along your own filters, like iodine filters or camping filters made to safely filter water. But at least now, if you are stuck in a bind, you have a solution for clean water.

5. Handle Waste Correctly

While usually not the first survival skill people think of, how you handle your waste has a major impact on the safety of your chances of survival. Your waste can contaminate the water and food supply near your campsite and attract unwanted animals and predators.

If you’re staying at a specific site for a few days, then digging yourself a latrine is a bright idea. Dig your latrine at least 200 feet away from your water source to avoid contamination and at least six or eight inches deep. After every use, you should toss in some of the soil to dampen the odor. 

When you are done lodging at that particular location, fill your latrine again completely to help the decomposition process. When on the move, you should still be burying your fecal matter at least four to six inches deep and covering it completely when finished. You may bury your unscented toilet paper too. If you used wet wipes or scented paper, take it with you and dispose of it elsewhere.

6. Practice Basic First Aid Skills

In a survival situation, you might run into a medical crisis at some point. While most of these situations will likely be minor, having the right first aid skills can help your group heal quickly and avoid complications from improperly handled injuries.

The most critical medical issues that you should know how to administer aid for are:

  1. Binding wounds
  2. Stopping bleeding
  3. Setting/splinting bones
  4. Wrapping sprains
  5. Treating burns
  6. Concussion care
  7. Hyper and Hypothermia care

These are not an all-encompassing list of the potential medical issues you may deal with in a survival situation, but just the most common types of injuries that are simple and easy to treat without access to a first aid kit. 

You can read up on basic first aid skills — but be aware that when closing and suturing wounds in the wilderness, you have to have an antiseptic. Otherwise, you risk closing the wound with harmful bacteria that can cause infections and worse complications. If you don’t have access to an antiseptic, do not suture or stitch wounds in the woods. 

7. Forage for Safe Food

If you are in a survival situation for longer than a few hours, then you will need to know how to find safe food. Foraging is a very difficult and potentially dangerous pursuit but is also one of the only ways to get fresh, safe food in the wild. 

The best way to learn about foraging is with the help of a mentor who can show you how to identify safe edible plant species versus poisonous ones in person. If you don’t have access to a foraging mentor, you should get a book as a guide, which can be an incredibly useful resource on all manners of wild plants. 

Be sure you do your research in advance. Learning basic foraging skills for the areas where you are most likely to be stuck in a survival situation gives you a slight safety advantage when looking for food.

8. Hunt or Fish for Survival

Beyond foraged food, it is wise to have some sources of protein, which will require hunting or fishing for food. There are a few different ways to hunt and fish in the wild, but we will just give you a quick look at options.

The simplest and easiest survival hunting skill to learn is how to set up snares. With snares, you can catch wild game like rabbits, squirrels, and other small mammals, which can be easy to prepare and cook over a fire.

As far as fishing goes, you can try your luck with net fishing if you have the netting to build one. You can build a makeshift fishing pole with a sturdy stick or branch, some fishing line or rope, and a hook, either makeshift or regular. You should make several of these in case one breaks.

Keep in mind that to fish or hunt legally, you usually need a permit or license, so these techniques should only be used in a real survival situation. Otherwise, you could run afoul of the law.

9. Cook Over a Campfire

Last but not least, once you have caught your fish or animals, you need to cook them to render them safe to eat. Despite what some might think, cooking directly over a roaring flame is not the best method to cook food unless the camping BBQ guests prefer their meals burnt to a crisp.

It is best to wait until your campfire has died down to charcoal. Alternatively, you can build a separate camping fire from your main fire so you can keep your main campfire roaring. For a cooking surface, look for a large flat rock. Be careful not to use limestone, as limestone can shatter in the heat. 

Once the fire is down to coals, you can lay your rocks on top and let them preheat for a bit. Then wrap your cleaned and gutted meat or fish in banana leaves or another non-poisonous leaf, and allow it to cook until ready. 

The leaves are not necessary, but they will help your meat or fish stay juicy and tender by providing a slight buffer from the direct heat of the coals and rocks. You will find that using the rock method results in a much tastier dish than just roasting your meal on a stick over an open flame.

Outdoor Survival Skills: Be Truly Self-Sufficient 

While technology has helped improve the quality of living over time, it has also led to a softening of our important survival skills, which can leave you in a dangerous position should you be stuck in the outdoors.

Whether you are someone who camps regularly or a homebody who has never spent a full night outdoors, these nine skills are critical for your safety and wellbeing in nature. If you can master these skills, you can survive in the wild in any situation.

If you are a regular camper, you should do your best to prepare yourself with all the equipment and supplies you will need so you won’t have to rely on your survival skills. Patriot Coolers offers great camping coolers that can keep ice frozen for up to five days, giving you storage for food and drinks all trip long. 

No matter how you like to camp or explore the outdoors, knowing these nine survival skills is an absolute must.



Build a Campfire | Smokey Bear

How to forage for food | David Suzuki Foundation

How to Read Nature Like a Compass | Raleigh

Making Water Safe in an Emergency | CDC

10 Basic First Aid Procedures | Verywell Health

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