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Survival skills are simple, how to hacks that look good in videos and sound interesting when you show them at parties, but they could save your life when you are outdoors in the wilderness.
So what are survival skills? Put simply, they are survival techniques a person can use to increase their chances of living and surviving in any environment, whether it be in a tropical jungle or an arid desert.
Survival skills are also one of the oldest concepts in the survival world. Our ancestors used such skills before there were handy lighters, knives, axes and compact water filters to preserve their own existence. Since then those skills have been adapted to create innovations such as lighters, matches, industrial water purification, electricity, and medicine.
So let’s take a look at 10 of the top survival skills you can learn right now. So that should you need to, you can survive in the wild.
Building a shelter is a primary survival function as it is one of the essential things that we need to survive. Building a shelter is important to prevent prolonged exposure to the climatic environment around you, whether that be extreme cold or heat.
In cold weather environments, hypothermia is a ‘high risk’ in mountainous terrain or wet areas. According to the military procedures of the US Air Force, field treatment for hypothermia involves two aspects: preventing further body heat loss and increasing the existing level of heat. The way to do this is to:
In a previous post on Primitive Technology, I discussed the importance of knowing how to work in your environment and how a famous Youtuber (who has never spoken a single word) builds amazing survivalist constructions without the use of a single tool that was not handmade by himself using his natural surroundings.
In the following video he provides a simple how-to on creating a completely walled shelter with a bed and fireplace out of nothing. This is definitely something to learn as he also involves a number of other simple techniques such as:
Now this is obviously an impressive one, and it seems like every movie that has some sort of survival theme always involves a two-stick fire, whether it be from twisting the stick between your palms, or sliding the stick backward and forward against a larger piece of wood, we’ve all seen it before.
For the easy version of the two stick fire, I have included a demonstration video below. Remember that this will only work with dry wood, so if you are in a damp environment, your best bet is to find thick and strong sticks with bark (skin) on them, peel it off and leave it to dry for a short time.
While the video below uses the two-stick fire method, as one of the most important survival skills you can learn, there are a number of ways to start a fire without matches.
In the wild, there are two types of water: one that will kill you or make you horribly ill and one that won’t. The thing is, if you don’t drink water within three days, you are going to collapse from dehydration and that will be the end of your survival streak.
Water is a tricky one, as it is everywhere in the wild, unless of course you are caught in a desert. Finding the water is no problem, purifying it is different, especially if it is water that has been sitting still, it’s likely to contain bacteria, algae or toxins that are not going to work in your favor.
While there are a number of water purifying options (if you don’t already have a water filter) such as bleach, purification tablets or boiling water, one of the easiest and most available options is a moisture filter created by heat and damp moisture to fill a catchment device such as the small moisture hole made by survival expert Les Stroud in the following video.
Sure, if you are hungry in the wild you can try to catch an animal, but more likely than not you’re going to spend a lot of energy doing so. If you have mobile reception you could always get a pizza delivered, but I don’t think you are really in a survival situation if you are munching on a hot pizza.
Instead, why not go the leafy green survival skills route and find some of the edible plants, berries, and other growing goods in your area? They are easy to find, abundant in growth, and easy to store as a supply while you are making your way to higher ground or safety.
The one danger with plants is that they follow a similar rule to water, if it’s wrong you could die, if it’s right, you could find your next favorite food. So it is best to brush up in advance on the edible plants in your area.
For temperate areas, you might recognize plant names such as stinging nettle, dandelions, burdocks, cat tails and acorns. These are all plants that have great edible properties and some of which can have various uses, like the cat tails which makes an excellent fire accelerant when starting a fire. Below is a video from Survival Lily on the values of these plants. You are likely to have these in your area.
When I was in the military I had to take an entire course on navigation using a compass and a map, and to be honest, I am glad I did. I learnt a lot about navigation and the world. But now, I never carry a compass or a map and I don’t know many people who do carry one. So how on earth would you find your way anywhere?
In the case of being lost in a survival situation, navigation by day is one of those simple survival skills and there some good options available to you. For instance, if you are a fan of the Vikings you could be like them and make a stone watch with a mobile sundial on it. That sounds a bit too technical and unnecessary for me. In fact, those two sticks you used to make a fire in #2 can also be used to find where North is, once you know where that is, you will have fixed directions and may recognize a direction to a nearby town or road.
If you are in a thick tropical jungle and are surrounded by streams, an alternative method of navigation, one used by the 17-year-old sole survivor of a plane crash, was that she followed the way the streams of water flowed, as she knew that they would lead to a large water source where people would live along its river banks.
For sun navigation, here are some pretty good quick tips:
Finding your way at night is just as important as finding your way during the day. In fact, some survivalists would say that traveling by night is more beneficial in a survival situation as it has a less effect toward exhaustion that what walking in the day would.
This is a common practice by the nomadic Bedouin people who navigate the Arabic and North African deserts in the same method as the days are hot and exhausting in comparison to the cool nights. Basically, when it comes to navigation survival skills, these guys do it for a living.
To navigate by the stars, finding your position is the most important start, so as to have a directional reference for where you are traveling. For most, this is recognized as the North Star, and can be located in a few easy ways, as explained in the visual below.
When you are in a survival situation, the primary thing that should be on your mind is getting out of that situation. Unless you are on a TV show where the last person that survives gets a lot of money, I would recommend of all of the survival skills you need, getting out of that area should be on the forefront of your mind and your primary strategy the entire time you are there.
Signalling for help should be done in a number of ways to maximise your benefits. First, you should always be in the highest and most visible position. This would be the highest ground you can locate near you such as a mountain or some other steep rise. The other thing is an empty space, there’s no point trying to use a signal fire if you are stuck in a jungle with a thick canopy.
With those two ideas in mind, the best and easiest methods of signaling are to lay out a sign (SOS) in an empty area using visible formations of your surrounding items, for instance, rocks or branches. Signalling can also be done by using sunlight against a reflective material and pointing that in the direction of a search party or vehicle as well as lighting a very smokey fire to gain the attention of search parties or people nearby.
There are many survival skills on signaling for help when you are lost in the wilderness, be sure to know some of these as they will definitely help you.
Here is a good visual demonstration of some of those points:
For a long time, I have lived off survival skills recommendation of Bear Grylls when it comes to quicksand, that’s also because I thought this stuff only existed in deserts or Hollywood jungles. Unfortunately, quicksand deaths are more common than you believe, especially in places that have seaside mud flats.
On a hike through a remote French castle, I had a tour guide explain to me that mud flats have the most dangerous quicksand spots and the guide ran through a demonstration on how to get out of one. Unlike Bear Grylls, who managed to get himself completely muddy and messy in the process, my tour guide was able to get herself out quite gracefully. I didn’t have my camera with me at the time to record this great survival skill, but another group recorded the same performance.
This is definitely one to remember if you live in an place with beach areas like this.
If you are stranded on an island you are surrounded by sources containing water, food and great fuel for a fire in coconuts, but how on earth do you get them open?
Thankfully, I have never been overly thirsty when cracking open a coconut, I have only cracked open tropical coconuts for their white nutritious meat on the inside, but cracking them open like this results in all of the water falling out. If I was in a survival situation and had no source of water, I would have to be a lot more careful when handling the contents of coconuts.
Just as a warning to any of you that might look to tuck into some coconuts, having too much of a coconut’s water or meat can have a strong laxative effect which is going to exhaust you. This is especially the case if you are in that survival situation where you are already short on energy, so rationing coconut intake is quite important.
For opening one, the green outside, otherwise known as the husk, is quite simple as it is soft and can be easily ‘peeled’ against a sharp rock by slamming the coconut against it. However, once you have removed the husk, if you do this with the actual nut it is going to break open and lose its water. Instead, once you have removed the husk, you can expose the ‘eyes’ of the coconut which are able to be bored through with a sharp stone, blade or stick, then all you need is a straw to enjoy the tropical coconut water.
One of the worst things that could happen to you, on top of the already unlucky situation of being lost or having to survive in the wilderness, is injuring yourself and breaking a bone while you are looking for help, especially if it is your leg, rendering you from being able to walk.
The first issue that comes with breaking a leg bone is the panic and stress it can cause as the shock of the pain sets in, this is over a long period too as it is excruciating pain without having medication to manage it.
One of the best skills you can learn for survival is emergency first-aid. Now, of course, that might sound like a lot but in most cases, you are dealing medical treatments in the ’emergency’ way, which is life-threatening emergencies such as stopping bleeding, infection and limiting pain. For a broken leg, splinting the breakpoint is a primary way to address the issue so you are still able to be mobile without causing much more damage.
The survival skill of splinting a leg involves a pad, splint, and secure process. First you apply the pad, second, you splint the leg with a solid and stiff object, and third, you secure the splint to your leg. Usually, in a bone break, you would apply ice to the wound to keep swelling down, in a survival situation you are probably not going to have that, so crawling to a stream to sit in is another effective way to keep the leg cool and bring the swelling down.
This video from Les Stroud is a must-watch for a broken leg in a survival scenario.
I hope you enjoyed this list of useful survival skills. If you know someone who you think might need to take a mental note of some of these, share it with them. After all, you could be saving a life.