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survival skills

Survival Skills

Mental Preparation

We all know we need to practice our survival skills and carry a survival kit when we go into the wilderness, right? When you set off into the wilderness you should at least carry a basic survival kit containing such items as a knife, fire starting supplies, basic first aid supplies, etc. But how many think about mental preparation as part of our survival skills? Do your survival skills include the mental fortitude to come through a survival emergency and live to tell about it? If not, here are a few mental skills you need to master to survive in the wild.

6 Mental Skills You Need For Survival

  • A Willingness To Learn- Even if you know absolutely nothing about survival in the wilderness you can still make it out alive. You just need to possess a willingness to learn. Basic survival skills are all around you in nature if you are observant. For instance, squirrels will burrow under a pile of leaves to stay warm. You can do the same thing. A pile of dry leaves can create a thermal barrier between you and the cold air, similar to a blanket you use on your bed. See those deer eating acorns? Did you know acorns are plentiful and high in calories? They are bitter when raw, but there are ways to eat them that make them palatable. Observe nature, and you can pick up some basic skills to help you survive until you can find your way out or are rescued.
  • Do Whatever Is Necessary- This is probably the most important of the mental survival skills. You have to be willing to do whatever you must do to survive. You have to get over your squeamishness if you expect to survive your ordeal. Don’t let the fact that grubs are icky make you starve to death. If bugs are all you can find to eat, they are high in protein and most don’t taste too bad once you get over the thought. Learn some basic edible plants. Steel your mind to the fact you are going to do whatever it takes to get back home alive. If you and a buddy have to spoon to stay warm and live through the night, just do it.
  • Keep A Positive Attitude- Survival is a challenge. Keeping a positive attitude, even in the face of daunting challenges can mean the difference between living through the experience or giving up and lying down to die. Knowing you can learn survival skills on the fly and keeping a positive attitude will help you through. In story after story of survival, the one thing that becomes clear is that those who kept their heads and expected to survive did so. Learning the survival skills you need now, before you need them, is the best way to be prepared should you ever find yourself in a survival scenario.
  • Stay Inspired- Inspirational thoughts are helpful in keeping a positive attitude. Read stories of wilderness survival from others who have gone through it. If someone has lived through far worse than anything you are experiencing, then you know you can get through your current situation. If you are in a group and others start to feel hopeless, you can share the stories with them. Hopeless thoughts from someone in your group can start to infect the whole group and lead to disaster. You may need to be a leader and inspire others if the group is to survive.
  • Remember Your Reasons To Survive- Everyone has reasons to live. It may be a loved one back home or simply a stubborn determination to beat the odds. Whatever inspires you to survive, hold on to those reasons and use them as motivation to do whatever it takes. Many survivors have attributed their survival to thoughts of loved ones they were determined to see again.
  • Wilderness Survival Skills- Your willingness to learn doesn’t have to wait until you are in a survival situation. You don’t have to go through Navy SEAL survival training to learn a few things that can mean the difference between survival and death. Some basic research on the internet will tell you that every mammal in North America is safe to eat. Every bird and their eggs are also safe. Learning to build a basic snare, or how to catch fish without modern tackle can be invaluable when you are in the wild. Learning the edible plants in your area will help you find food should you not be able to trap or catch animals. Or did you know you can stuff your jacket with cattail fluff or dry leaves to help with insulation when it’s cold? Such basic survival skills can be learned with a few searches on the internet. Then you have them when you need them.

One of your most basic survival skills is the ability to use your mind and not lose your head in a survival emergency. These mental survival skills are every bit as important as the other skills you will learn. They may be even more important. Without the will to survive, it’s a good bet you won’t survive. Next, let’s look at some basic survival must-have gear.

Survival Gear-Must Haves

survival gear

In this section, I want to cover the items I consider as “must-have” survival gear when I venture into the wilderness. Knowing how to use the “must-have” survival gear is another of the basic survival skills you need to master. Here in the Ozarks Region of northern Arkansas, there is an adundance of wilderness areas. We do a good amount of hiking into the back-country in search of waterfalls and other natural wonders. Many times these are bushwhacking into an area without well-defined trails to follow. Many places have spotty cell phone service at best, so calling for help might be impossible. And there are frequent stories about wilderness rescues on the evening news. It is always better to be prepared than to be caught lost in the wilderness and totally unprepared. It can literally be the difference between life and death.

I have never been truly and totally lost in the woods. I can navigate using the sun by day and the moon and stars by night. However, what happens when the sky is overcast? Or maybe the batteries run out on your handheld GPS and the spare batteries aren’t charged? It can happen, and suddenly you are lost and facing a survival situation. These pieces of survival gear will help you make it through any type of survival situation. Even though I have never been completely lost I still carry these items in my backpack when we head out on a hike or explore an unfamiliar area.

When you think of survival gear you must have you need to think about items that will help you with fire, shelter, food, water, and navigation. You also need to think about the area you will be in and the prevailing conditions at the time you are there. A trip into the Ozarks wilderness in the dead of winter may require a different set of items than a trip into the desert. Consider these things before you head out on your adventure.

Shelter

When thinking of shelter try and come up with different scenarios. You are sure to need rope or twine to put together a shelter. You may want to include a lightweight tarp that you can tie between trees to keep rain or snow off of you. Obviously, you will need a knife to cut the twine or rope, so you should have one of those as well. A lightweight space blanket can help to keep you warm during a long, cold night. You can think of extra cold-weather clothing as a shelter too. An extra jacket to layer in cold weather can help you get some sleep in cold weather. It’s really tough to sleep when you are freezing cold.

Knowing how to build a shelter during a survival situation can be critical. A survival shelter can mean the difference between life and death if you find yourself lost in the wilderness. A survival shelter can protect you from the elements and help you conserve energy. Let’s look at one such survival shelter, the debris hut.

How to Make a Debris Hut Shelter for Survival in the Wilderness

Building a simple debris hut is another of the basic survival skills, and should only take an hour or two to assemble. A debris hut will protect you by allowing you to sleep in relative comfort while blocking the chilling wind and protecting you from falling rain or snow.

Shelter is high on the list of needs when you are facing a survival emergency. The human body is not designed to face the elements as animals are. Humans survive by building shelters from the elements. Back home you have a nice cozy house or apartment. In the wild, you need shelter too if you want to survive an emergency in the wilderness. Exposure to extremes of heat or cold is hard on the body. This makes the skill of being able to build a debris hut valuable in an outdoor survival emergency.

To make a debris hut for shelter, start out with a fallen tree or pole that is about 1.5 to 2 times your height. This will become the center support beam for your shelter. Hold this main beam of the hut off the ground with a stump, forked tree, or rock. The main beam chosen for your hut must be somewhat sturdy. It should be supported about as high as you when you are seated.

Do your best to plan to place the door opening of your shelter opposite of the prevailing wind. This will shelter you from the cold wind and keep it from blowing directly into your shelter. The hut will also shelter your fire from the wind if you build the fire directly in front of the door. The fire can warm the hut by radiant warming. An extra benefit in extremely cold weather.

After you set the main beam gather large limbs to place against the main beam as a framework. Place the large limbs at a 45-degree angle on each side of the main beam. Your debris hut should look similar to a low tent or triangle.

Progressively place smaller sticks and limbs over the larger framework limbs to create another layer to further weatherproof the shelter. Next gather and use dead grass, small sticks, fern, or leaves to make insulation for your shelter. Keep piling these on the sides of your survival shelter until you have a thick mat of debris that will help keep out wind, rain, or snow.

The next step is to cover the insulation of the hut with small light branches. This will keep the insulation in place. You do not want the wind blowing your shelter and protection away. In winter climates, piling snow on the insulation layer can help to further insulate your shelter from the wind and cold. Creating a shelter that can keep you warm and reasonably comfortable will allow you to sleep and rest and conserve precious energy.

Body heat can be lost very quickly by laying directly on the bare ground. Place debris on the floor of the shelter. Select items that would be comfortable for you to sleep on such as leaves or dead grass. If all you can find are wet items you can dry them somewhat by placing them next to your fire and turning them occasionally to dry the leaves or grass out. You want to avoid a cold wet bedding layer if possible. Comfort may seem a luxury if you are in a battle for survival, but inadequate rest can leave you tired. Exhaustion leads to a poor attitude and outlook. This can directly influence your chances of survival.

Keep extra insulation items and debris close to the opening to the shelter. This will allow you to drag it over to create a door for your hut when you get ready to sleep. A debris hut shelter is a simple way to use the items you can find in the wilderness to protect yourself from the elements. Knowing how to properly make a shelter can help you to survive in a serious survival situation. This is just one of the many ways to build shelter in a survival situation. The internet is a vast wealth of knowledge on other ways to build a shelter in many different scenarios. Learning this is just one of the survival skills you should learn if you frequently spend time in the wilderness. Next, let’s look at some of the ways to build a fire for survival.

How To Start A Fire For Survival

survival skills

Surviving in the wilderness can test your survival skills to the limit. Knowing how to start a fire under any conditions can mean the difference between life and death. Fire is useful for warmth when it’s cold, cooking food to help you with your intake of calories, and it can ward off predators. Fire is also helpful for boiling drinking water to render it safe if you have to drink from natural sources. Fire is also useful as a signal if you are lost in the wilderness. The uses of a fire in a survival situation are so many that you would be well advised to learn and practice how to start a fire as a most important skill to master for survival.

There is a thing called the fire triangle used to assess the risk for fire. It also tells you what you need to successfully build a fire and keep it burning in the wilderness. For fire to exist you need fuel, heat, and an oxidizer. For our purposes, the oxygen in the air will be the oxidizer. Now we need to add fuel and a heat source to ignite the fuel.

  • Fuel- Fuel for the fire is any combustible material- material that will burn. Dry grass, leaves, and wood are all usually abundant in the wilderness. These materials can be supplemented with dry material you carry with you in your pack.
  • Heat- You need a heat source to ignite the fire. This can be a lighter from your pack, a magnesium fire starter, or you can even build a bow with some extra string and literally use two sticks and a rock to start a fire.
  • Oxygen- The oxygen in the air will be our oxidizer. You want to build the fire, so that air can circulate freely around the burning fuel you use. If you pack the fuel too tightly air will not be able to assist in the burning of the fuel, and your fire will go out.

Building Your Fire

Now that you know what you need for a fire, let’s cover another of the basic survival skills you need. How to successfully build a fire in the wild. Knowing what you need to consider and how to start a fire is essential to being successful and surviving. The first thing you want to do is select the location for your fire. Building your fire close to your shelter is important for both warmth and convenience. You want to be able to take advantage of the warmth of the fire by having it close enough to your shelter to radiate warmth to you during the cold night. You want to build your shelter in a place that also takes into account the fact you will be using your fire for signaling if you are lost and hoping for rescue.

To begin with, you want some dry tinder. The finer and drier the tinder the easier it will catch fire. Fluff your tinder to help it start burning. You can carry some paper or other material in a waterproof container in your pack in case of emergency. Otherwise, find some dry grass or leaves, or use a knife to whittle off some thin slivers of wood from a branch. You want the tinder to be dry, so it will catch fire easily. Smaller pieces of tinder are easier to start burning. Have some small dry sticks and twigs already broken up to begin adding to the tinder once you get it burning. Don’t add too many and smother your newly started fire. Place the kindling lightly on top of the burning tinder. The kindling should catch fire quickly and your fire will slowly get larger.

Once your kindling has begun burning well you can start adding larger sticks and branches to the fire. Place them in alternating directions to maintain spaces for air to circulate and keep the fire burning. Remember, your fire needs to draw in air to keep burning. Your fire now should be able to be maintained simply by adding more fuel as needed. Once you have your initial fire it is easy to restart the fire when you wake up. There should still be hot coals remaining from the fire. Simply add tinder and blow the hot coals. Then you can start to rebuild your fire as you were able to do previously.

Fire Starting Kit

Your pack should include fire-starting items when you trek into the wilderness. The kit should include items such as a lighter, a candle, waterproof matches, and some tinder. You can also purchase a fire starter that is a block of magnesium and a flint striker inexpensively. You can have this as a backup should your lighter not work for some reason. You can shave off the magnesium from the block then use your knife to strike the flint to create sparks. The sparks will ignite the magnesium, and it burns at 4,000 degrees F. This is hot enough to ignite even wet kindling. You can also purchase magnesium that you can place in a fire and ignite with a lighter. It comes in bags and these are also inexpensive.

Knowing how to start a fire for survival is the number one thing to know if you are lost and have to survive while in the wilderness. Practice these survival skills at home, so you feel confident if you ever need to use them. Being placed unexpectedly in an outdoor survival situation can be stressful. Being confident in your survival skills can relieve some of the stress of realizing you are in a survival situation. Being confident in the basic survival skill that you know how to build a fire to make yourself comfortable and cook warm food can help you keep a clear head in that situation.

Now let’s look at the next important survival skill, how to find water.

Survival Skills – Finding Water

finding water

If you ever find yourself in an outdoor survival emergency finding drinkable water should be a high priority. We will assume for the sake of this section that you have found yourself in an outdoor survival situation. You need to plan to survive until you can reach help, or help can reach you. Realistically, you need water to survive. Of everything that makes up your body, approximately 75% of that stuff is water. You can approximate your water loss as about a half-gallon to 1 gallon per day through urination and sweat. This obviously increases when you sweat due to excessive heat or activity. That means you need to replace those lost fluids through hydration. The easiest way to do that is by finding a source of drinkable water.

It is easy to understand why water is so crucial to survival. You can go for an extended period of time without food. However, you won’t last more than about three days without water. For this reason alone it is a good idea to keep extra water on hand in case of an emergency.

However, even if you have some water with you in your survival kit you most likely aren’t carrying around gallons of water. Water weighs about 8 lbs per gallon. How many gallons could you comfortably carry into the wilderness on top of all the other items you are carrying? That’s why it is important to locate water quickly if you are stranded for a period of time out in the wilderness. Depending on the length of the situation you may need more water to drink. It is never too early to plan ahead and search for water in case you are stranded for longer than you think you will be.

When fluids that are lost from the body are not replaced, dehydration occurs. Symptoms of dehydration include weakness and loss of mental capacity. Dehydration can not only be serious but can be fatal if not addressed quickly. Finding water is crucial for outdoor survival. This is a skill that must be learned in order to survive. Once you begin to become dehydrated, and you begin losing your mental faculties you may be unable to think straight enough to search for water.

Although the search for food is a part of your survival plan, you shouldn’t make that your first priority. Many people have been lost in survival situations because they made the search for food the first priority and waited until it was too late to search for water. Never wait until you are out of water to decide it is time to look for something to drink. Finding water can be tricky and takes time. Also, remember that the water you find must be safe to drink. If it isn’t safe to drink it must be made that way through some means such as filtration or boiling and condensation. This task uses up your valuable time. Keep in mind, that your body is continuously losing water that must be replaced. You even lose water by the simple act of breathing. You can see that demonstrated when you are outdoors on a cold day and you can see your breath. That is the water vapor that you breathe out with every breath condensing in the cold air.

While you look for water, it is important to avoid dehydration. To prevent water loss, stay cool. Rest whenever possible. Overexertion will only add to the amount of water your body is losing. Find shade and avoid direct sunlight. Avoid alcohol and fatty foods. This simply wastes the water your body has on hand.

Be advised that all water is not the same. Even though your body needs water to survive, unhealthy drinking water can cause serious health issues. An intestinal infection from unhealthy water can give you diarrhea, which leads to even more water loss. Learn about what types of water are considered safe and which may be dangerous. Learning how to properly treat water is a life-saving skill for outdoor survival. Carrying a bottle of water treatment tablets or a small amount of chlorine can help to treat water. There are other methods such as filtration that can work in combination with water treatment to remove dangerous solids from water. Technology also now makes it possible to filter water with lightweight straws or even slightly larger pump filtration devices that can easily be carried in a backpack.

It is wise to make sure that your outdoor survival kit contains the tools you will need to treat water and make it suitable for consumption. You should know how to use the products in the event of an emergency. Simply having the tools to purify water is not enough. It is imperative that you learn how to properly use these items to make the water safe to drink. Water is crucial to life and survival. People who know where to locate water in survival situations are much more likely to succeed in such emergencies. Learning about healthy water sources will provide you with the tools you need to survive the situation until help arrives. Now that we have looked at shelter, heat, and water let’s look at ways to find food in the wilderness.

Survival Skills-Wilderness Survival Foods

survival foods

In a wilderness survival situation, the most important thing to consider is not food. You can survive for days or weeks without food. It is more important to find drinking water since you can only survive a few days without water. It’s also more important to find shelter from the elements and avoid injury than to find food immediately. However, you will need to replace the calories you burn if you are facing a long trek back to civilization, or you are facing the extreme cold. On the other hand, having something in your stomach can help your state of mind. So being able to find food in an emergency can help increase your chances of survival.

What do you need to know about wilderness survival foods?

How much knowledge do you need to pack into your brain about wilderness survival foods in order to survive in a crisis? It turns out that the task is not as daunting as you might suspect. If you’ve never considered how you would survive if lost in the wilderness without food, it might seem impossible to remember all this stuff. Actually, with a little knowledge that anyone can attain, you can find food in the wilderness that will sustain you until help arrives, or you can find your way back to civilization. If you learn simple facts about the animals in the area you will be in and a few of the wild edible plants that are abundant, you will be safe in knowing you can survive if it comes to that.

Animals and Birds

It might surprise you to know that every mammal in North America can be eaten if need be. You want to avoid the livers in some arctic animals, but other than those few, if it is warm-blooded it can be eaten. The birds of North America fall into the same category. All of them are edible if you need to find calories in a survival situation. You should build a fire and cook the meat well since many of these potential food sources can carry parasites. You should also be sure and wash your hands after skinning or handling any of these too. For example, rabbits can carry tularemia, which can be transmitted to you if you don’t wash your hands well after skinning an infected animal.

Fish and Other Animals

All freshwater fish in North America are edible. They are easily cooked over a campfire. If you are lucky enough to be able to catch them, fish will make a tasty and warm dinner to fill your stomach. Amphibians and reptiles are also usually safe to eat if you remove the skin. Bullfrog legs are especially tasty treats if you can catch them. Snake meat is also tasty cooked over a fire. Just be careful and don’t get bitten by a pit viper looking for a meal. If this is your only option for meat, you may want to go vegetarian as described below.

Plants

You will want to learn to identify a few edible plants in the area you will be going to. It’s a lot easier to know the edible plants in your home area. But if you plan a trip to the wilderness in an unfamiliar area, it would serve you well to learn a few of the edible plants in the area, or better still print out the photos of some plants off the internet and place the pages in a waterproof container. You may not want to depend totally on your memory when you are lost and hungry. You may also find reference materials you can purchase to carry with you. I live in the Southern US, so I bought a deck of playing cards that show the edible plants of the Southern US. There is a photo of the plant on the front, as well as information about the edible portions on the back, with instructions on how to prepare them.

For instance, if you are in lowland or wetland areas cattails are abundant. They are rich in calories and the white part on the bottom of the stalks, as well as the new shoots, can be eaten raw or cooked. The tops can be boiled or roasted when green. If they are ripe they make an excellent fire starting material. The roots can also be boiled or mashed and added to a soup. The pollen can also be added to a soup to thicken it.

Pine trees can provide abundant sustenance. Open pine cones that have dropped to the ground contain pine nuts which are rich in nutrition. They also taste good. Pine pollen can be gathered in the spring from the male flowers and used in soups and stews. Green pine needles can actually be boiled to make a fine-tasting tea. Take green pine needles and cut them into small pieces. Boil some water and place the needles into the water and let them steep for several minutes while the water cools. The water will turn a greenish-yellow color. Strain out the pine needles and enjoy a warm cup of pine needle tea. The white spongy part of pine bark is edible too.

Edible berries can be found in the right season. Most wild edible berries resemble their domesticated counterparts. Wild strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, etc. look similar to the ones you would buy in a store. They are usually smaller, but they smell and taste like their domesticated cousins. Mulberries can be plentiful in spring and early summer and are safe to eat as well.

Although learning about which mushrooms and flowers are edible may be fun, these have few calories. You usually burn more calories hunting them than you will get in return by eating them. Instead, you want to research the most abundant plants in the area you will be in that are also rich in calories. These are the wilderness survival foods that will save your life.

It is always a good idea to carry some water and a metal canteen cup at a minimum. A canteen cup can be used to cook soups or stews over an open flame. It won’t do you any good to know your edible plants if all you can do is eat the portions which are able to be eaten raw. When you are cold a warm meal can lift your spirits and warm your cold body. A good way to learn is to purchase a book like “The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America”.

A survival situation doesn’t always occur in the wilderness. Sometimes it can happen even when you are in your car. That’s the reason you should carry an emergency kit in your vehicle.

Car Emergency Kit

vehicle emergency kit

We’ve all read the stories where someone ran into a situation on a back road and had to survive for a few days with nothing more than what they had with them in the car. If you have an emergency kit with you then your chances of survival in this situation are increased substantially. As with all your other preparedness items, you never want to have to use them, but if you need them they will save your life. Even for a short drive, you may be involved in an accident or another emergency. Survival skills aren’t just for the wilderness.

Where to Start

If you have never put together a kit before you may want to purchase a commercial kit and then add items you think you will need. If you are the do-it-yourself type, you can buy a nylon storage bag and pack it with accessories. Whichever way you go, be sure and know how to use all the items in your car emergency kit. For instance, it’s great to have a set of jumper cables in your car. But would you know how to hook them up safely should you need to use them? If not, learn how before the need arises. Items in your kit won’t help you survive an emergency if you don’t know how to use them.

What should be in a car emergency kit?

Whether you decide to purchase a car emergency kit or put together your own, there are items that you should have in your kit should the need arise. Here are some things to have in your kit:

  • A flashlight and spare batteries are definitely on the list. Make sure to check the flashlight and batteries at regular intervals to make sure they are still in good working order. You don’t want to break down in the dark and not be able to see what you are doing.
  • A first aid kit is great to have should you be in an accident in a place where emergency response may take some time to get to you. This will help you deal with minor injuries until help arrives.
  • Road flares can help signal trouble and make other drivers aware of a disabled vehicle. This is especially important at night should you not be able to get the car completely off the roadway.
  • As mentioned before you should have jumper cables and know how to use them.
  • A pocket knife or multi tool can be handy if you need them. The multi tool can replace some tools in a toolkit. However, it is suggested to carry a small tool kit as well for doing basic repairs. At a minimum a hammer, assorted screwdrivers and an adjustable wrench are advised.
  • A small shovel and a small container of sand or kitty litter are good things to have should you become stuck. The shovel can be used to dig out a tire. Sand and kitty litter can be used to gain traction in icy conditions.
  • Speaking of icy conditions, in winter you need additional items such as a heavy jacket, a blanket, hand warmers, gloves, a warm hat, etc. Believe it or not, candles can be used to warm the inside of a vehicle compared to the outside air. Candles can also be used with a metal canteen cup or can to melt snow for drinking water. Waterproof matches can be a lifesaver if it is raining or snowing.
  • Think about a crank style or maybe a solar-powered cell phone charger. Murphy’s law states that your emergency will happen just as your cell phone charge goes to zero. Being able to charge your phone to call for help will be important should the need arise.
  • Keep a small supply of dried foods such as nuts or trail mix in your kit. Also look at energy bars for calories. Keep some bottled water to prevent dehydration in a prolonged emergency.

I have my car emergency kit. What Now?

Once you have your kit assembled don’t just toss it in the trunk and forget about it. You should practice a mock emergency at home where you are safe and able to take the items out and get familiar with them. Set an alarm on your phone to check your kit at some interval. Whether it is monthly, quarterly, etc. Just make sure to replace any items that you use as soon as possible. Make sure all the items are in place. Making a checklist and keeping it in the kit is a great way to check that all items are there. Having a car emergency kit can provide you with peace of mind that you can survive should you experience a major emergency. It will also give you added peace of mind that you won’t have to track someone down with basics like jumper cables should you come out to find a dead battery.

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