I know the feeling — after watching an episode of Man vs. Wild or Survivorman. You’re pumped and ready to survive anywhere.
But before you head out for an extreme, pee-drinking, slug-eating adventure, there are some survival skills you can’t do without.
No. 1. Navigation
With good navigation skills, you probably won’t find yourself lost in the middle of nowhere, to begin with. But in case your navigation skills can use some work, we will list some tips.
To find north, get a stick about waist height and dig it into the ground. Ensure the place is clear and flat so that you can see the shadow clearly. Put a marker (small stone) at the end of the shadow. Wait for 10 to 15 minutes, and then place a marker at the end of that second shadow. Stand with the first maker to your left and the second to your right. You are now facing north. The sun moves from east to west across the sky, so finding the east-west line will help you determine the north-south line.
Other navigation tips:
To avoid turning in a circle, pick an object in the distance and walk to it. Find another object in the same line and walk. Continue this until you are where you want to be.
Measure your pace. A pace is a step (left foot, right foot, then left again). Go outside and count how many paces you need to take to walk a mile. You can use this information to find how many miles you have walked in a survival situation. Knowing your pace is also a good way to estimate the length of time it will take you to walk to your desired location using a map.
Use the palm of your hand to measure how many daylight hours are left. Find a clear view of the sun and the horizon. Put your hand up in front of you (to see your palm) and aligning it with the horizon. Your pinky finger should be on the horizon line. Now place the other hand on top of your first hand. Remove the hand at the bottom and place it at the top of your second hand. Repeat this until your hand has arrived at the height of the sun. Each hand from horizon to the sun is estimated as an hour. Count how many palms you had up to know the number of daylight hours you have left.
No. 2. Lighting a fire
Without fire-lighting skills, a simple outing in the wild can turn into a survival situation real fast. Being able to start a fire not only provides warmth, but it’s also a way to cook food and purify water — and it is a psychological boost. In a survival situation, that boost in confidence can be what keeps you alive.
So there are the basics:
- Tinder – a bird’s nest (preferably one without a bird in it) is an effective way to make the most of your spark.
- Kindling – small sticks and twigs.
- Fuel – big logs and branches. In wet conditions, split your wood to get to the dry center.
Adding a layer of wood on the ground before lighting the fire is a good practice. In wet and cold conditions, the extra wood keeps the cold ground from sucking the heat and killing the fire.
A flint stick, bow drill set (friction fire), magnifying glass, lighter or anything producing concentrated heat/spark can help start the fire. Find one method that works best for your location and practice it.
Light the tinder, and then add the kindling and then the fuel. Be patient with your ember. Allow it to smolder and flame inside the bird’s nest before putting it down and adding the rest of your wood.
3. Finding food
When lost, especially in the jungle, one of the most abundant food is greens. Knowing edible plants in your area is essential.
There are some common characteristics of poisonous plants:
- Avoid plants with milky sap.
- Don’t eat white berries.
- Avoid all mushrooms, unless you’re an expert.
- Ignore plants with thorns, spurs and hairs.
- Stay away from plants with groups of three leaves.
If you think you found an edible plant but are unsure, then use the skin test. Crush the leaves and put it on a sensitive area (inside elbow or wrist) for about 15 minutes. If there is a reaction in the next eight hours, don’t eat; if not, proceed to the mouth test. Take a small piece of the leaf and place on your lips for three minutes. A burning or tingling sensation means you should discard the plant. If nothing happens, chew and keep in your mouth for 15 minutes. Swallow if there is no reaction. Don’t eat anything for the next eight hours.
When testing a plant’s edibility, use a plant that is in abundance. Search online for edible and poisonous plants in the area you are interested in exploring.
4. Finding and purifying water
You can survive about three days without water but 21 days without food. You’ve got to have water.
The water that runs off the mountains and hills flows down into the valleys. So if you are in a mountainous region, your chances of finding water increase as you head down to the valley or low-lying areas.
Boiling water for more than 15 minutes is a quick way to have drinkable water. But just in case you can’t get a fire started, filtering the water is also effective. Use a bottle or plastic bag and add a bottom layer of charcoal, and then a layer of sand. Repeat, and then add a layer of stone or grass to filter the bigger impurities. It also is useful to carry a portable filter, such as a Paratrooper Filter .
There are some other methods for finding water:
- Cutting a vine first from the top, and then to the bottom to collect drops of water.
- Collecting dew by soaking a cloth or shirt. Then, ring it into a container.
- Digging a hole in a dry spot near a swamp and allowing water to collect.
5. Security and self-defense
Although there may not be any dangerous predators in your area, you should always be ready to defend yourself.
Sharpening a long stick can be used as a spear and also as a walking stick. Bamboo or river cane, due to their hollow inside, make a great dart gun. Darts can be carved out of hardwood (black locust), splinters or thorns.
Setting traps is a great way to catch food and immobilize a predator. Tie the short grass around your location to trip an intruder. Dry leaves around the perimeter also can alert you of an intruder in the area.
Keeping a positive attitude and a willingness to survive has gotten many lost campers and hikers out alive.
6. First aid
Practice your first-aid skills at home on your partner or a family member.
Here are some basics:
- Cuts – Clean the wound. Stop the bleeding by applying pressure and bandage.
- Breaks – Immobilize limb to keep from further damage. If an arm is broken, for example, then use two straight sticks (split a big log/branch in two as straight as possible). Place them on each side of the arm and bandage them together. Use a cloth to make a sling and to keep the arm elevated.
- Sprains – Rest and ice. If near a river or lake (water is usually cold), then soak a cloth and place it on the sprain. Repeat until skin feels numb.
Keep in mind: The wilderness has everything you need to survive. Knowing what they can be used for is what differentiates the survivalist from the ordinary man. The more you know, the less you need.
What skills or advice would you add? Share it in the section below: