21 Basic Wilderness survival skills

21 Basic Wilderness Survival Skills That Will Save Your Life

As you probably know, being able to survive in SHTF situations (economic breakdown, disasters, trapped in the wilderness, etc) is one of the main reasons why we constantly prepare ourselves physically and mentally. While gear will help you, the knowledge to actually survive will be much more important in these kinds of situations.

Therefore, it’s always best to equip yourself with relevant survival skills that can really make the difference between surviving and dying. The best way to start is to pick up basic wilderness survival skills as they are very helpful in all situations, even without fancy, expensive gear. Though this information is especially pertinent for those who are preparing to bug out, it can also be useful for outdoors enthusiasts.

Today, I would like to share with you 21 basic wilderness survival skills that might SAVE YOUR LIFE one day.

21 basic wilderness survival skills that might save your life#1 Pack Important Items

This is definitely the most important survival skill everyone should have. It’s no-brainer for those who are going for an adventurous outing to pack along every single thing that you might need in the wilderness. Yet, most of the beginners underestimate this crucial step.

Note: A good pair of waterproof boots can be a godsend.  And if you’re going to be in a cold climate you’ll also want to invest in warm hunting socks.

One of the biggest and most common mistakes is to underestimate the danger you are going to face during your trip, whether it is camping, fishing, hunting, hiking, etc. Don’t take for granted that you are going to be fine just because you think you are going to be fine.

However, this tip is only applicable if you are well prepared for a wilderness trip. There may come a time when you are stranded in the woods and you probably won’t be well equipped with all the necessary items you need. This is why it is important to master the other basic survival tips in this list.

#2 Rational Prioritization

One of the most important skills that will keep you alive in the woods is the ability to remain calm and think rationally. It’s extremely important to prioritize what are you going to do next, but if you are in panic mode, this is nearly impossible.

So try not to panic. Even the most experienced wilderness survival trainers in the world will briefly be panicked when they realize that they are stranded in the woods. The difference is that instead of acting while panicked, they calm themselves before making any big decisions.

To overcome this problem, one of the best ways is to take the S.T.O.P approach. This means that you should stop everything you are doing right now (unless you are running for your life) and come up with a plan before moving forward.

S.T.O.P means Sit, Think, Observe and Plan.

Sit– Sit down and breathe until you feel calmer.

Think– Think about what you should do.

Observe– Observe your surroundings. Take note of the time using a reliable survival watch.

Plan– Finalize a sound plan.

#3 Be Observant

As you probably realized, the situation that you are going to face if you are stranded in the woods is going to be unique. It’s impossible to know in advance exactly what will happen in an emergency situation, and where it will happen.

This is why the technique of observing the surroundings is so important for survival. You have to be sensitive towards any happenings around you and take whatever steps you feel most appropriate at that point of time.

For instance, if you feel that you are surrounded by harmful animals after hearing some howling sounds, one of the best ways is to quickly arm yourself with suitable weapons. Even a long stick lighted with fire will make a whole lot difference.

#4 Forecasting Weather

You will find this skill extremely handy in the wilderness. If you are staying at home, you probably don’t care too much about the weather, unless it’s something really devastating such as a flood or hurricane.

In the woods, even the slightest change in weather can be dangerous. Heavy rains, strong winds, snow, or even just fog can increase the level of difficulty of locating a suitable campsite as well as building a campfire – both of which are essential for your survival. Being able to predict weather can keep you prepared and calm.

So, how do you go about forecasting weather? It’s impossible to cover everything in detail in this post, but I will be showing you some of the basic forecasting skills. Most of these rely on natural phenomena such as:

  1. Clouds – It’s the easiest way to predict rain and strong wind. In general, shady and low hanging clouds indicate heavy rain with storms.
  2. Air Pressure – Normally, clouds will move from high pressure areas to low pressure areas. While you certainly can’t measure air pressure with bare hands, it’s wise to determine the direction in which the air is flowing.
  3. Animals. According to experts, animals have the ability to predict weather. One general rule is that insects will disappearwhen they sense that rain is coming.

#5 Locating a Suitable Campsite

Beginners often think that building a campfire or building shelter using natural resources is hard. No doubt, they are hard. However, locating a suitable campsite is even harder and it’s an extremely vital step as it sets the foundation to carry out other important activities for your survival.

The best campsite will be:

  • Free from harmful animals.
  • Better protected against natural disasters.
  • Located near important resources (such as food and water)

There are a few things that you will have to consider before choosing for a suitable campsite. As a general rule of thumb, look for campsites that are located near to a stream. This is important as it provides you with one of the most important resources – water. Furthermore, fish are a great source of food (which will be discussed in detail below).

Always look for campsites that are located on a raised elevation. At a higher elevation, the chance of an encounter with wild animals will be lower. The flow of a stream will be much faster on a higher altitude, which is great because water creatures such as water snakes and crocodiles live in rivers where the flow of water is slow. Additionally, you want to make sure that your campsite is not located where water might pool during a storm.

#6 Building a Shelter

I guess there is no need for me to elaborate much on the importance of a shelter. Without it, it’s impossible to live for more than 1-2 days in the wild due to the extreme weather and animals around you.

If you carry a tent with you, then it’s pretty simple to set up a shelter. If you don’t, you have to go through the hard way of building a shelter from scratch using natural resources around you.

There are many ways to go around it. My personal favorite type of shelter is the leaf hut. First of all, think of this shelter like a bird’s nest.

To do this, you will need to find at least three hard, sturdy sticks. Poke two sticks deeply into the ground and make sure that they form an ‘X’ shape. One end of the last stick will be put onto the mouth of the ‘X’ while the other end will be penetrated deep into the soil.

Note: It is always recommended to bring along a machete, a knife, or hatchet with you all the time. Check out our best survival machetes recommendation here.

To improve the stability of the shelter, get more sticks and twigs to be laid around the sides of the foundation. To improve insulation, pile small debris such as leaves, grass, and moss over the frame and you are done.

While you definitely need great, sharp knives and other necessary tools to build a shelter, being physically fit is important too. Being able to physically perform well while out in wilderness is going to be key in your success. Check out our friend Jim Roose’s Garage Gym site for tons of tips on getting fit at home.

For further reference, check out this article on WikiHow.

Note: You might to check out our picks for the best hunting gloves

#7 Building a campfire

Whether you are stranded in the wild, or you are on a camping trip, you have to know how to build a campfire, as there aren’t any modern substitutes for it. Building a campfire is a crucial survival technique because it:

  • helps to regulate body temperature.
  • provides a source of heat for cooking.
  • discourages wild animals and insects from coming near.
  • can be used as a signalling tool.
  • acts as a source of light.

Building a campfire can be extremely easy or more difficult depending on the condition of the weather and what resources are nearby. Starting a fire in the middle of a snowstorm will be much more difficult than starting a fire in dry, calm conditions.

How to start a fire:

  1. Locate an ideal place to start building your campfire. It should be a flat land with no elements that catch fire easily nearby. Some examples would be grasses and roots.
  2. Dig a few inches deep into the ground to contain the fire.
  3. Form a ring of rocks in the hole that you dug. This step is crucial as it acts like a barrier preventing the fire from spreading.
  4. Before starting the fire, prepare some mud or water to put off the fire in case it gets out of control
  5. You will need to collect three types of items: tinder, kindling, and wood logs. Tinder consists of materials that catch fire easily such as dry grasses, mosses and shredded bark. Kindling consists of materials that will form a foundation to grow the fire such as twigs, dry leaves and branches. When the fire is stable, you will need wood logs which are essentially used as fuel to keep the fire burning.
  6. Put the tinder in the ring. Then try to start a fire. If you have matches with you then it’s pretty easy. If not, search for flints which are shown in the video below. Scrub the flints to create sparkles to set the tinders on fire.
  7. Once you see that the tinder have caught fire, quickly add kindling into the ring. Remember to leave some space for circulation of air or else the fire might die off due to the absence of oxygen.
  8. Put the wood logs around the fire and they will act as fuel to keep the fire burning. Refill the ring with wood logs once you notice that fuel is running out.

This is really just the basics. To survive in epic wilderness conditions, you need to know more than what is written above, which I will cover more in depth in another post.

#8 Collect clean water

You can live no more than 3 days without water, so you would really want to learn the basic skills of collecting clean water for consumption in the wilderness.  Ideally you would have a water filtration system, but if not you can still manage.

Searching for clean water is going to be your first step. Normally, water from streams, especially those located near the mountain (on a higher altitude) will be cleaner and free from dirt and suspended substances. As an alternative, you can collect rain water too.

Just in case you can’t locate clean water, you can actually use muddy water as an alternative. However, you will need to remove suspended water first by creating a filter. Search for large leaves and shape them like filter funnels. Fill the funnel with stones and sand. Let the muddy water flow through it. You should be able to collect the filtered water using this method.

However, this does not mean that the water is free from harmful microorganisms. The only way to ensure that the water is safe for consumption is to boil it. Now the question is, how can you boil water without a pot?

Essentially, the best way I often recommend is to contain water in bamboo and then boiling them over a campfire. It’s a little hard to illustrate the whole process of boiling water with bamboo, I included a short video below to walk you through the whole process.

#9 Identifying Edible Plants

I have one great tip for you. Don’t just eat anything you see in the woods, even if you are extremely hungry. More often than not, things that you perceive as edible are poisonous. You can’t judge a book by it’s cover.

Having said, it’s an advantage to be able to identify some of the common edible plants that you can find in the wilderness. This is because it’s not easy to cook your own food and it’s pretty time consuming. You will have to hunt for food, start a fire, and cook.

Therefore, it’s wise to consume edible plants to provide you with the energy to continue your survival journey. It’s a great source of food when you are left with no other choice.

Some of most common edible plants that can be found in most wilderness include Burdock, Asparagus, Cattail and more.

If you are really interested to know more about edible plants, check out this article.

#10 Making Hunting & Defensive Equipment

While most of the other web sources wouldn’t include this as a requirement, to me, knowing how to craft some of the basic equipment like sharp spears are great for defensive and hunting purposes.

If you are stranded in a forest, there is a high chance you will encounter various harmful animals. Being armless, it’s almost impossible for you to defend yourselves in these circumstances. That’s why it’s recommended that you get a sharp stick (sharpen a bamboo shoot) or something equivalent with you all the time. Refine your equipment when you have the required resources.

Note: Check out how to wear a boot knife (video guide).

Besides, you probably won’t want to rely on vegetables for days on end. You will need solid food to keep you energized at all time to withstand various challenges in the wilderness. You will need a weapon to hunt for better foods.

What kind of equipment will you need. As beginners, I would say, learning to create spears and traps will do the trick. Of course, if you are keen to learn further, creating a better weapon such as a bow and arrow will be much better, as it will allow you to go for bigger prey.

#11 Hunting Skills

Unless you’re well stocked with emergency foods like these, you’ll need to hunt your own food.  Knowing the ins and outs of crafting hunting equipment will be useless if you are not equipped with some basic hunting skills. While the fundamental skills of hunting remain the same, you might need to acquire will depend on the type of prey you are going for.

As a beginner, ideally, you should be targeting weaker prey such as fish, rabbits, rats, etc. These are the easy ones to go for. You do not need much experience to hunt down these prey as opposed to deer, coyote, and other larger animals.

Fish is one of the best food to go for. It’s pretty easy to hunt for them in streams. It’s also fairly safe. However, don’t take things for granted. You should always be cautious if there are other harmful creatures living in the stream such as snakes and alligators.

So how do we go about catching fish? To really hunt for fish, you need training and you have to be used to it. Although they are small, it might be hard for beginners to take them down without prior experience.

An alternative to this will be setting traps near the river. Within an hour or two, you should be able to catch some fish for your meal. If you want to learn more about setting a fish trap, check out this page.

#12 Cooking food

In order to safely consume animals, you will need to cook them. Cooking in the wilderness isn’t that difficult as you may think. Just take the BBQ approach and you should be doing great.

In order to get any food cooked, you will have to prepare a campfire. Find a suitable stick and penetrate it through the food and leave it over the top of the fire until it’s fully cooked. Since you are a beginner, it’s best to overcook the food to ensure safe consumption.

As an additional tip, if you are cooking larger prey, remember to chop them into pieces before cooking. If you leave the animal whole, you will probably need to spend a day cooking it.

There are certainly other ways to cook in the wild (and can be really delicious). However, knowing this basic cooking technique will be sufficient for you to survive in the woods.

#13 Finding your way out

Since you are stranded in the woods, one of your main goals is to find your way out right? You probably won’t believe me when I tell you that most beginners do not know how to find their way out.

If you happen to have a map with you, this is great because you can move according to the direction based on the map and hopefully find your way out. You should know which direction is pointing to the north to be able to use the map efficiently.

In order to do so, you can use a compass or look at the sky for navigation signals. We will cover both of these skills below.

Now, what if you do not have a map with you? Your best bet is to move along the riverbank moving down the stream. This is because most streams originate in the mountains and will they will flow downhill, eventually toward an ocean or lake. Moving along the bank will lead you to open land and hopefully you can get some help there.

#14 Creating a compass

Although some may say, it’s easier to follow the direction as indicated by the sky, it’s always better to create a compass because it shows the direction of the north pole accurately. Now let’s dive into creating a compass naturally.

The compass that we will be creating is called the simple bush compass. First of all, you will need to find a needle (which in most cases, you wouldn’t have one). If that’s the case, you have to look for something that have metallic properties such as wire debris.

If you have a magnet with you, just touch the north pole of the magnet on one tip of the needle. If you don’t, use your cloth to rub the needle quickly for about 100 times and the needle should be magnetized.

Put the magnetized needle on a floating leaf and let it float on calm water. The line of the needle will show you a perfect north-south line. By determining the direction of the sun, you can deduce which tip of the needle points to the north.

Note: It’s recommended that you carry along a full-fledged GPS that will help out a lot if you are lost in the wilderness.

#15 Navigating based on sky signals

While compass are definitely more accurate in my opinion, most cases you wouldn’t be able to build one. As an alternative, I suggest you to equip yourself with the knowledge of astronomy. With this knowledge, you will be able to determine directions rather accurately.

Navigation based on the sun. The Sun will show us East and West which is rather useful if you are pursuing that direction. The only setback is that you couldn’t determine the North and South pole.

Navigation based on the moon. The moon when in crescent form, will be able to show you the position of the North and South pole. Draw an imaginary line combining the tips of the crescent moon and they will form a North-South line. If you are in the Northern hemisphere, the bottom tip of the moon represents the South pole. IF you are in the Southern hemisphere, the top tip of the moon represents the North pole.

Navigation based on stars. There are many forms of constellations which indicates certain direction. Personally, I don’t like relying on them because it’s hard to determine the position of the stars. Besides, they are only available on certain months of the year. As a rule of thumb, it’s better to rely on the Sun and Moon for directions.

#16 Signaling for help

More often than not, there will be people searching for you when you are lost in the woods (unless you are going on a solo trip). To help them locate you, you have to give them some signals or else it would be almost impossible for them to locate you.  If you’re carrying an emergency radio great, but there are other options.

First of all, you have to locate a wide, empty land located on high grounds. It should be high enough so that any signals that you are sending out will be easily seen by your rescuers.

If you brought along a torch light or flare guns with you, it’s pretty obvious that you want to point them to the sky or in a way that you believe your rescuers will be able to sense it.

If you do not have anything with you, it’s okay. Create a campfire but this time you want to make the fire really big so that it will produce enough smoke so that it would be obvious to your rescuers. Follow the guide as taught in this post. The only twist is that you have to add in more fuel and flammable elements to increase the smoke produced.

#17 Hiking skills

Hiking skills are crucial, really. When you are stranded in the woods, don’t expect it to be like a flat field. Most of the times, you will be either walking against or down hills. If you don’t have the basic hiking skills, it would be extremely difficult to move around.

Having low mobility in times of need can really pose a threat to your life. Therefore, it’s important to master some of the most basic hiking skills.

When you are hiking upwards, bend your body towards the front to maintain the gravitational force acting on you. Likewise, when hiking downwards, lean your body towards the back. Only by doing this, you will realize how much easier it will be hiking upwards and downwards.

Besides, always test if the path you are about to use is sturdy by stepping on it with a leg. If you are to hold on to something for assistance, make sure that the stem/trunk/whatever is strong and does not have thorn on the surface.

Most of the times, beginners overlooked these basic skills which are really important especially in the wild.

#18 Tie Essential Knots

When I first learned about tying knots, I can’t really imagine when I will actually this skill in my life. However, trust me, it’s extremely important to know how to tie some of the essential knots as it will help you with pretty much everything you do.

For example, you will need knots when you are building out your shelter, creating traps and equipments and hooking ropes to trees. Some essential knots you need to know:

Bowline – This knot is very much a versatile knot. Although not being extremely strong, it’s relatively easy to untie even after a heavy weight is put on it. In addition, this knot can be used in an emergency to hoist a person to safety, since the loop can slipped over a victim’s torso, under the armpits, and it will not tighten around the victim’s chest and prevent breathing.

Taut Line – Taut Line is a great way of tying a knot which is adjustable yet pretty strong that can withstand great tension. It’s typically used during hiking and camping for various purposes.

Boa – Now, you might not need flexibility in some cases. Therefore, it’s great to learn to tie this Boa knot which sacrifices mobility for strength. Also known as a binding knot, it’s extremely good at hinging to a specific location tightly.

#19 Basic first aid skills

I had once read a blog post (it’s been a while) explaining about the concept ‘magnification’ when you are in the wilderness. The theory behind this concept is pretty straight forward, it means that, for every little thing that is happening to you, the results are being magnified in the woods. One good example is, if you happen to hurt your leg at home, all you need to do is to treat it with antiseptic and you will be fine – no bacteria infection or other kinds of problem.

However, in the wilderness, hurting your leg might mean a big issue and will threaten your chance of survival. Bacterial infection might occur and it has the chance to kill you. Furthermore, you need your legs for a tons of things – building shelter, campfire, hunting for food, etc.

As you can imagine, basic first aid skills is an extremely important survival skill to master because it plays a big role in the wilderness. Imagining that you don’t have a first aid kit with you, what are you going to do?

Important note: 1) This post is meant to share tips that you can apply without the need of modern technologies. Having that said, it’s important for you to realize that it’s vital to carry a complete set of first aid kit with you before venturing into the wilds. 2) The methods shared below are by no means the best method, it’s just an alternative to help you in extreme (epic) cases.

Breathing. It’s important to make sure that you (or your member) are breathing. If you find breathing hard, rub your chest and take deep breath to open up your lungs. This skill comes in handy for those with breathing difficulties. Don’t take it for granted because once your lungs fail to expand, and there isn’t anyone around, you are deep trouble.

Treating Wounds. When you have nothing with you, you have to rely on natural resources. Try to get salty water or something acidic. Use them to clean the wound, they should be good enough to destroy the bacteria. Tear a portion of your clothes and wrap it. Normally, you can remove the dressing after a day and you will see the wound drying up. If you didn’t manage to gather salts, urine will be an alternative as they are concentrated with mineral salts by nature.

#20 Swimming

Wilderness are never completely land. Ever wonder if you are stranded in the sea instead? While this example might be exaggerated, you really need to master basic swimming technique, at least learn to float.

If you can’t swim, you are being handicapped. You can only move around on land terrains. Imagine being chase by a tiger and your only hope is jump into the river, if you can at least float, you still have chances for survival.

Putting aside the need of swimming skills for survival, swimming is an extremely nice sport that is both fun and great for health. If you haven’t swim before in your life, consider giving it a try. I assure you will find it fun.

#21 Learning basic sign language

We came to the last tip of this post. Do you know that there might be natives living in the woods/forest/lakes. If there is, it greatly increase your chance of survival because there will be people offering to help you (unless they are cannibals :D).

The problem is, 99% of the time they wouldn’t understand English. Therefore, learning the basic sign language can help you communicate better with them. If you want people to help you, at least make sure they know what to help you.

Tip: If you plan to learn sign languages, don’t learn those that are meant for communication with people with hearing or talking problems. Those are professional sign languages that natives wouldn’t understand. Instead, learn from a wilderness survival. Being experienced, they can guide you better.


Although this guide is by no means the most comprehensive one out there, I hope you will be able to pick up some of the basic survival skills. If you are keen to learn more about a certain tip, be sure to check out the extra reference I cited in this post.

Alternatively, you can browse around Epic Wilderness and I believe you will be able to find information you are looking for. If you couldn’t find, feel free to contact our team and tell us what is missing on our webpage.

In reality, most of the times, you wouldn’t be facing such an epic situation whereby you are left with nothing and are forced to do everything the natural way. Also, if you are planning for any outdoor trips, try to make it a group activity. Having more people together will be an advantage if any undesirable conditions occur.

Now, I have a question for you. Which of the 21 survival tips above you find most important? Also, is there other survival tips I am missing out?

Other Survival Resources

Our Wilderness Survival Gear Checklist

10 thoughts on “21 Basic Wilderness Survival Skills That Will Save Your Life”

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  2. Very informative and usefull. I live in the UK and the dangers of being ill equiped ESPECIALLY in the depths of winter can be catastrophic and sadly fatal. I have been adventuring in our beautiful nation for a decade and the advise given here is synonymous with the reason i can enjoy the outstanding beauty of today and tomorrow. Thanks for sharing… spread it far and wide to stay alive.

    1. Hey, I am really glad that you enjoyed the infographic. We put in quite a bit of effort compiling the facts and survival skills from various blogs. It would be cool if you could share it with your friends 😀

  3. Pingback: 21 Basic Wilderness Survival Skills - Use Your Instincts To Survive

  4. Wow! Great work in summarizing all these points into an infographic. I really agree with you that tying knots are really useful for survival reasons.

  5. You did a good job I have a few survival apps on my phone this would make an excellent app also thanks I hope and pray it save lives even if it saves one life it would be worth it

    1. Yeah, that’s exactly what we thought. Even one life counts. It’s really important that those just getting started to realize that survival skills are pretty important.

  6. Pingback: INFOGRAPHIC – 21 Basic Wilderness Survival Skills That Might Save Your LifeCarrie Zylka – Podcast Hostess & Author | Carrie Zylka - Podcast Hostess & Author

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