For most people, survival skill is not high on their priority list during normal times. If you haven’t yet experienced a severe disaster or disruptive event, let me tell you it isn’t a pleasant experience at all. It gets even worse if you are unequipped and unaware of how to handle that specific situation.

Theoretically, most of us know that we should always be prepared for anything that might happen. But in reality, we often feel agonizingly unequipped to handle all the curveballs life throws at us. Let’s face it, you might be physically fit and armed with a GPS and all other gadgets, but what happens when you get injured and your phone dies? That’s when your survival skills come in handy. With the weird stuff going on globally, the difference between life and death in a potentially fatal situation are these survival skills.

What Should I Do?

If you feel queasy about your current survival abilities, you can do more to feel knowledgeable, confident, and prepared by learning and master some of the critical survival skills. Your home’s backyard is the perfect place to practice, perfect, and become proficient in real life.

This comprehensive guide will teach you the seven basic survival skills to keep you alive if you find yourself in unfamiliar environments. You will know how to find water and food, create a temporary home, keep warm, defend yourself, take care of your health, and effectively call for help. These are the most essential survival skills that can save your life in life-threaten situations.

Like any skills in life, surviving skills need practice. Set up a periodic schedule to practice them. Practice with all your family members so they are familiar with these survival skills as well. They may end up to be on their own if you get separated. These survival skills can keep them alive.

  1. Water, the Lifesaver

For obvious reason, Water is number one on our list of survival skills. While you can live an entire life in temporary shelters and survive for weeks without food, it is not the case with water. Lack of drinking water can kill you in a matter of hours or even minutes if there is a lot of heat. First, your body is about 60% water, and you need it because:

  • It lubricates and protects muscles, ligaments, and joints
  • It is the primary constituent of blood; aids in the transportation of nutrients and oxygen from the digestive tract and lungs to the body cells
  • Pumping of your blood relies on electrolytes that are dissolved in water
  • Synapses and neurons in the brain need water to function properly

You will know your body is in dire need of this life-giving liquid when you experience:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Nausea
  • Hallucination
  • Reduced urine output
  • Tingling of the skin
  • Inability to produce tears or perspire
  • High body temperatures

As soon as you are lost in the wild, you need to think about water before you get thoroughly dehydrated.

Questionable water

Ability to assess the cleanliness of water is a survival skill you have to possess. Water that has been on the ground for a while may contain bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can make you sick. You want to avoid water sources like streams and puddles. Boiling is very effective in killing harmful germs, but if you are unable to boil, you can look out for clean water.

Clean water

Dew, snow, and rain can offer clean water without the need for purification. And if there are maple trees around, consider cutting a hole in its bark and wait for the watery syrup to flow out. You can also squeeze water from thistles, vines, and certain cacti. Part of your survival skill is to make you aware of the environment and be creative, like discovering alternative ways to find clean water. Survival skill training will not be able to list all the possible clean water sources for you, but it can be hiding in plain sight. Carefully assessing your surrounding, be observant and think outside of the box.

Collecting Water

When you can’t find readily available water sources, a prepper will need the survival skill to collect it in creative ways. Mastering the survival skill of collecting water allows you to survive longer before you can find another water source.

Use of transpiration Bag

Plants sweat off excessive water from their leaves all day long. Survivalists can take advantage of the transpiration process to access clean water in the wild. You simply cover the leaves with a transparent plastic bag and collect the condensed water later in the day.

Draw Moisture from the Earth

A common, and best, survival skill to collect water from the ground is using a solar still. It involves digging a hole approximately one-foot-deep and two feet across. Consequently, you need to cover the hole with a plastic sheet or a tarp, and seal the edges using sand or dirt. Besides, place a tiny rock in the middle of the tap or plastic cover, and condensed moisture will drop into the container.

Listen/Follow Nature

Another alternative is to listen to the sound of water flowing downhill or around rocks, and follow the sound. If it can’t be heard or seen, consider looking for signs of life. Notably, insects and other animals frequent drinking water sources.

Water Purification

Even after boiling your drinking water, you may still find sediments and other particulate matter that can affect its taste. You can get rid of them by:

  • Filtering through your t-shirt
  • Create a filtration system using small river rocks, sand, and charcoal from fire – put in an upside-down PET bottle

Sometimes, you can have trouble lighting fire to boil the water, or you may not have a vessel for collecting the water. You can be better prepared if you go on adventures with an inexpensive LifeStraw personal water filter. It allows you to filter up to 1,000 liters and kills up to 99.9% of pathogens. In many cases, survival skills can be supplemented with good preparation. Make sure you are well equipped with helpful survival gears.

LifeStraw Personal Water Filter

2. Building a Shelter

Building a shelter is a essential survival skill because humans are not designed to endure prolonged exposure to:

  • Heavy rains
  • Deep snow
  • High winds
  • Sweltering heat
  • Freezing temperatures

If you get a chance to prepare for a trip in the wild, a TACT Bivvy should be one of the essentials to carry. It won’t wear out your energy because it is lightweight, and will trap your own body’s heat at night. If it gets unpleasant to your body, make sure that you possess the skill to make a natural shelter instead.

Tact Bivvy 2.0 Emergency Sleeping Bag

Locating a Suitable Campsite

It is advisable to avoid water paths and valleys where water can flow towards you. Notably, flash floods can cascade low-lying areas in minutes. Look for a campsite free from natural dangers like:

  • Dead branches that can fall in the middle of the night
  • Falling rocks
  • Insect nests

The ideal campsite should be:

  • High and dry
  • Have an overhang, rocky walls, or formations that can shield you from dangerous elements
  • Close to dry wood
  • Close to running water sources

Building a Shelter

Possessing this survival skill can save survivalists from the number one outdoor killer in cold weather – hypothermia. Here is one of the easiest way to make a shelter:

  • Set a large branch securely against a tree, or look around for a tree that is resting at an angle
  • On one side, stack smaller branches close together
  • Layer the angled wall with debris like moss and leaves
  • Layer the ground with some debris of between four and six inches

Building a Duff Bed

A good forest debris or ‘duff’ bed should be about 18 inches deep, and 18 inches taller and wider than you. You can frame it with logs or rocks, and fill up the cracks using bark, leaves, or moss. After that, gather dry leaves and pile them up on the duff bed until it bulges. Finally, cover it all up with a poncho or a tarp, and you’ll have a primitive place for the night.

Acquiring this survival skill of shelter building can keep you warm in cold weather and stay away from deadly predators. You should also practice this survival skill periodically to make sure when the time comes, you are ready for it.

3. Starting and Tending to a Fire

Third to finding water and keeping one safe from environmental hazards, the ability to start a fire and tend to it is another critical survival skill. Survivalists can use it to cauterize wounds, ward off predators, cook food, purify water, and get life-saving warmth at night.

Depending on the situation you are in, this survival skill may not be critical but you must be prepared for other situations where it is life-threatening without this skill. 

Starting a fire is easier if you have lighters and matches, or happened to be wearing FireLaces. But if you find yourself in unexpected situations, you need the survival skill on how to do it from scratch.

Shoe Laces with Fire Starters - 2 Pairs

Finding Fuel

This is a critical survival skill as part of starting a fire. You need ‘fuel’ to start a fire and you need ‘fuel’ to keep it burning. Dry grass and sticks are excellent for starting a fire in the wild. But what happens when all the wood you can find looks wet? Consider stripping away the wet bark and use a blade to carve long, thin, and curly strips to expose the inner dry wood.

Jumpstarting Fire with a battery

Once you have collected all the fuel you need to sustain a fire, you need tricks to jumpstart the flame. No form of survival skill training can equip you with this skill without practice, but with a little patience and practice, you can hack it. Here is how you can use batteries:

  • Fold a paper-lined foil gum wrapper
  • Tear a small piece in the middle of the crease, and leave about 1/16-inch on either side
  • Unite the negative and positive terminals of the battery with the wrapper, and squeeze it for good contact
  • Hold a tinder near the bridge of contact
  • Expect an orange glow, a spark, or a flame

Wet Weather Fire Starter Tricks

It can be challenging to start a fire in wet weather, yet emergencies can still occur at these times. Here are tricks to make it easier:

Sticky Sap. Look out for needle-bearing trees because they usually contain sticky sap, which is generally highly flammable.

Strip the Bark. Barks usually protect trees from wildfires, and thus, they are not flammable on their own. The wood beneath the bark can catch fire more easily. Consider pealing, carving, or tearing the bark and work with what is beneath it.

Split the Wood. Wood split in the middle burns better than wood that isn’t split in half lengthwise.

Shape it Up. Low-lying flame configurations often fail to start. Consider building your small twigs into a cone that is 1-foot-tall to allow heat to rise more efficiently.

Extend Fuel Life

You cannot afford to waste fuel because you don’t want to waste precious energy looking for more firewood, and you don’t want it to run out before morning comes. You can make it last longer by making a “star fire” where the firewood logs do not meet outside the fire. Also, remember to only push them inward when more fuel is needed.

Another trick to utilizing the fire better is to make a reflector that can reflect the heat from your survival fire to the back of your shelter. Again, practice this survive skill from time to time to keep it fresh in your mind.

4. Food Foraging

While a lack of food cannot kill you fast, you will need it to replenish your energy levels as you seek help. Especially when you are trekking a long distance, you will need this survive skill to keep your staying power so that you can perform life saving survival tasks. An average female needs about 2,000 calories a day, while a typical man requires 2,500 calories to carry their weight under minimal activity.

However, in emergency situations, you may be moving over rough terrain for long distances with extra weight on your shoulders – to probably look for water, food, or assistance. Thus, you need more calories. Here is what wilderness food can supply you with:

  • 100 calories per pound in green plants
  • 600-800 calories per pound in seafood and fish
  • 500 calories per pound in wild game

Beating Starvation

Survival skill training can keep you from hunger. If you are really starving, the innermost bark of a birch or pine tree can be a source of food. It can be boiled for broth, dried and ground for stews or baking, dried and eaten like potato chips, toasted over a fire, or chewed right off the tree. While most tree barks can be consumed, be aware of poisonous varieties like yew.

Identifying Edible Plants

Plants like weed plantain grow in fields and lawns worldwide, and you can easily identify them. It has simple leaves, smooth edges, and is low-growing. If you tear it, you will find stringy fiber beneath the heavy parallel veins. You will also notice an astringent, cabbage-like smell.

You can boil the leaves for 10-15 minutes, and the younger leaves can be used in salads. The greenish seeds found in its white flowers can also be cooked or eaten raw. Other edible plants include dandelions, lambsquarter, and cattail.

Fishing without a Hook

If you find fish in a creek but have no hook, you can improvise by whittling a piece of wood. The wood should be approximately 1/8-inch-thick and 1-inch-long, with sharp ends. You could carve a shallow groove in the middle and find something to tie around it. In place of a fishing line, you can use a suture material, a dental floss. You will be glad to know this survival skill if you are hungry, without resources, and the only food source is in the body of water in front of you.

Preserving Meat

Some days, you can get lucky and find meat to last longer than a day, and you will need to preserve it well. You can dry thin slices of meat by hanging them out in direct sun, or laying them out on hot rocks (remember to turn them). You can also use smoke to prevent your game meat from going bad. If you are able to collect fat from your meat, another option if you have a suitable vessel is to cover excess meat with the warmed liquid fat and let it solidify into a sealed fat cap to keep out any air.

5. Making Survival Weapons

Without a weapon, you may have very little defense against various predators. What’s more, a good weapon is what you need to forage for food in the wilderness.

Making a Quick Bow

A prepper can make a stick bow to help him/her hunt small animals for food. This is how it’s made:

  • Look for a green stick, about 6 feet long with ends as thick as your thumb
  • Peel it off and cut a notch about an inch from each end
  • Find several straight sticks (willow branches, poplar branches, dogwood, and wild rose shoots) about 32 inches long, with the thickness of your small finger
  • Peel and cut a notch on one end, and sharpen the other end
  • String the bow with the inner strands of sinew or paracord

Sharpining a Knife

A dull blade can hinder you from doing several essential things. But with a sharp blade, you can easily defend yourself and cut up meat in the wild. A fine, fine-grained stone at a local waterway can get the job done. Make sure that you wet the stone first, and sharpen the blade in small, circular strokes.

Consider applying equal strokes to each side of the blade, for instance, 30 circles on each side of a 4-inch blade. Remember to rinse the stone as often as possible to keep it porous and hone the steel. Once you feel you have sharpened enough, strop the knife and test it with a small slicing or carving task. You can repeat the process until you are satisfied.

Making a Survival Slingshot

Unlike a gun that can run out of bullets, a slingshot is limitless – as long as you can find little rocks. Also, frequent practice makes it easier to hit your target. As we have been stressing all along, practice makes your survival skill perfect. Here is how to make a simple slingshot:

  • Look for a sturdy forked stick
  • Find a small patch of leather and pierce a hole on both ends
  • Cut two short sections of rubber surgical tubing, attach to the fork and the patch
  • Put a stone in the leather pocket, pull, and aim

Tying Knots

Knowing how to tie knots properly is a survival skill you can use while securing a shelter, tying snares, lowering something down a cliff, or lowering yourself down a cliff. A prepper can learn about loops, bends, and hitches.

The Sheet Bend Knot

Study this survival skill. It may come in handy in many situations. Ropes of different sizes can be difficult to tie together, but with the right skill, you can give you a tie that is strong, reliable, and easy to untie. You don’t need formal training; you just need to practice. Here is the procedure:

  • Double the thicker rope back to itself to form a bend
  • Run the end of the second rope through the bend
  • Run the second rope around both strands of the first rope and tuck it under itself
  • The end of each rope needs to be on opposite sides of the knot
  • Pull the ropes in opposite directions, and the ropes will snug into a knot – pull until it’s firm

6. Basic First Aid

A survival situation can graduate from bad to worse if you get an injury and cannot do basic first aid. There are both primitive and medical ways to take care of yourself and your loved ones in unfamiliar environments. You can equip yourself with this survival skill better by reading the Survival Medical Kit Building Guide and learn the skill that a layperson needs. And if it is convenience you are looking for, here are some of the best pre-assembled Survival Medical kits.

Treating Gunshot Wounds

If you are shot, it is critical to control blood loss. It is necessary to apply pressure between the heart and the wound if your limb is shot. You could use a tourniquet or improvise one with your belt or a rope. Remember to tie at the farthest end of the limb, insert a stick, and twist it hard enough to stop blood flow.

Suturing a Wound

Using a needle and a cotton thread to suture a wound is a bad idea because cotton is absorbent and can allow dirt and bacteria into the wound. Non-absorbent materials are ideal, and if you do not have sutures, fishhooks, or a safety pin can help. Just make sure that it is sterilized through boiling.

Notably, the edges of a wound begin to dry after 24 hours. So, try not to take too long to start suturing. Stitching should begin at the center of the wound, and each stitch should be separate – a continuous thread isn’t ideal.

This survival skill definitely takes a little practice. There are practice suture kits with life-like pops that you can practice this skill with.

Amputing Your Own Limb

You can find yourself in situations that can force you to take extreme measures. For example, your arm could be trapped, and water levels are rising high enough to drown you. You may have to give up a limb to save your life.

The first step is to apply a tourniquet to cut off blood supply to the trapped limb. And before cutting the limb, make sure that you inhale deeply to oxygenate the body and reduce the shock effects. Also, avoid cutting midway along a bone, and opt for a joint instead.

Survival skill like this one can be unnerving but with mental preparedness and the right training, it may save the life of a loved one.

Pine Trees for Wounds

Pine gum salve draws nasties like splinters and infections from your skin. So, if you have a wound that you want to protect, look out for the nearest pine tree and collect a finger-full of the sticky pitch.

Weed Plantain for Stings and Bites

If you get venomous bites or want to relieve pain from stings, weed plantain can help. Simply crush the leaves and use them as a remedy.

When you or your family has a severe injury, this survival skill goes beyond basic first aid. You will have to know how to suture a wound, even amputating limbs. The thought is frightening, but sometimes reality demands more advanced skills. 

7. Sending Survival Signals for Rescue

Being lost in unfamiliar environments is not a great experience, but it is never a hopeless situation because you can find help. Remember that humans look so tiny from the sky, and if you don’t signal correctly, rescuers may not see it as an anomaly of nature. Yelling and waving are never enough – there has to be a contrast with the environment.


During the day, aerial searchers can see heat waves created by fire. Brightly burning fires are more visible at night and should be maintained for searchers to see you. Consider burning dump grass and green leaves to produce smoke that can send out a signal.

Shrill Tones

Shrill tones like whistles travel farther than ordinary voices. If you make three long blasts every minute, the wind will carry the sound, and you will probably get help.

Ground-to-air Signals

Sticks and logs can make large, high-contrast crosses that can draw attention. Consider making them 6 feet wide and 30 feet long.

Don’t let potential rescue effort slip by just because you have not acquired this survival skill.

In a Nutshell

Some of the survival skills consist of a number of sub-level survival skills, like the survival skill of ‘Water’, you should know how to find water, assess if the water is clean, collecting water, purify water if needed… All the sub-level surviving skills make up the larger skill category and they are all important.

We believe that this guide has elevated you to a reassuring level of mental preparedness. Hence, it will be easier for you to adapt to any unsettling situation and overcome it in hours, days, or weeks. And if you keep practicing these survival skills with every chance you get, you can become a master in prepping.

Don’t let the modernity around your home give you a false sense of security because no one is immune to crisis;

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