The 16 expert-approved survival skills for the wild

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Survival skills
Besides your bug out bag, you need certain survival skills to stay alive in the wild and get back to safety.

What are survival skills?

Having the right items in your bug out bag is only one part of the survival preparedness. If you want to stay alive in the wild, you should have certain survival skills.
 
Some of these survival skills are basic, but some might need some time to learn and master. You should learn as many of them as you can. This way, you increase your survival chance.
 
You can learn most of the survival skills below on your own, but some of them need an instructor. If you want to learn how to shoot and maintain a gun, you should enroll in a course. This will need a few trips to the shooting range, but it is definitely worth it.
 
Check out our list of survival skills below. Also, don’t forget to have fun while you practice and learn.

Why should I trust this list?

If you want to be prepared for any survival situation, you have to expect the unexpected. We put together this list after researching various survival scenarios. Our research included both urban survival and survival in the wild.

These wilderness survival skills are not mandatory, but they will help you stay alive. Expert preppers and ex-military survival trainers recommend the skills below. Each of these skills will add to your training and will be especially useful in the long run.

Table of Contents

Survival skills - wood cutting

Survival skills

Configuring a bug out bag

As a rule of thumb, you should prepare for various survival situations. This way, you won’t get caught off-guard. The first survival skill you should have is research. 

This comes in very handy during prepping. When you’re configuring your bug out bag, don’t choose a pre-made one. Research the best tools, equipment, and items. Only then, assemble your bug out bag. We have prepared a bug out bag checklist to help you out.

Building a shelter

The first thing you have to do in the wild is to build a shelter and start a fire. According to the rule of three, you can only survive three hours in hard conditions without a shelter. This is why one of the most important survival skills is shelter building.

The most obvious choice would be to use the tent from your bug out bag. In case you choose a lower tier bag, a tent might not be on your bug out bag checklist. This is where the shelter building skill comes in.

You can build a shelter from natural resources in a matter of hours. There are many tested shelter types. You have to find the one that fits your situation and start building. 

If you want to get better at building with natural resources, you can practice in a safe environment. Start building a small shelter in your backyard or a forest close to you. Make sure you don’t venture too far and stay safe while practicing.

Finding and filtering water

The second most important task that you should focus on is finding water. It would be best if you built your shelter close to a river or a stream. This way, you have an endless supply of freshwater. 

If you cannot find a stream, you should focus on finding other water sources. Rainwater, underground sources, plant leaves, ponds, or lakes are good alternatives. Whatever source of water you choose, you should always filter and boil the water.

Starting and maintaining a fire

Starting a fire might seem easy with the proper tools. This is why you should always carry a lighter in your bug out bag. But what happens if you don’t have one?

You should learn at least one alternative method of starting a fire in the wild. There are various ways like the hand drill, fire plow, bow drill, or stone and steel.

Hunting and making snares

Hunting small animals or using traps is a survival skill you should master. Killing an animal to ensure your survival requires psychological strength. You can use a spear or a knife for hunting small animals.

Another way to get food is to use snares. Depending on the animal you want to capture, there are various types of snares you can craft. You should learn how to craft snares and practice making some before venturing into the wild.

Fishing

Like hunting, fishing is a great way to get food in the wild. You shouldn’t rely on only one method of obtaining food. The key to survival is having many options and redundancy plans. 

You should add a fishing kit to your bug out bag. This allows you to start fishing in no time. If you don’t have one, you can always make one. Keep in mind that fishing requires patience, so it helps to practice in a safe environment first.

Taking care of wounds and using first aid kits

Whenever you venture into the wild, injuries may occur. It might not happen, but you should prepare for the worst and hope for the best. 

If you get injured, you have to be able to perform certain first aid operations on yourself. This is why you should study first aid kits and learn what each item does. 

You should also focus on learning to sew a cut, use a splint and a tourniquet, and disinfect and clean a wound. These will come in handy if the worst happens.

Navigating, reading a compass and a map

You should always carry a map of your area in your bug out bag. Depending on your situation, you can find the perfect shelter spot with ease. It also helps you find your way to safety if you get lost in the wild.

A compass allows you to find the cardinal points fast and easy. This way, you can plan your route using the map and the compass. 

A sense of direction is essential when trying to navigate an unfamiliar area.

Identifying edible and medicinal plants

Nature can provide everything you need to survive. You just have to know what to look for. It provides fish and other animals to stay well fed. Rivers and streams to keep you hydrated. 

Nature also provides various types of plants and fruits. If you know what to look for, you can find edible plants too. Even for medicinal purposes, nature is the go-to place. There are lots of plants that can cure illnesses, treat wounds, and disinfect cuts or lacerations.

Cooking

Cooking is a crucial skill in the wild. Various recipes are easy to cook and give you an energy boost. Cooked meals also increase your comfort and are good for your mental health. For longer survival scenarios, cooked meals can save you from depression.

There are a lot of meals that you should learn to cook for survival situations. This is a simple skill to learn, and you can do it in the comfort of your backyard.

One of the most important recipes you should learn is for bread. Baking bread is essential and can bring a plus to your well being. Bread gives you a feeling of satiety and helps you feel full for a long time.

Dehydrating foods

Just like drying herbs, you should learn how to dehydrate foods. Dehydrated food doesn’t spoil as fast as the fresh one does. It also takes up less space in your backpack. 

Preparing meals with dehydrated foods is no different than using fresh ones. To rehydrate them, you have to add a little water, and you’re all set.

Smoking foods

In the absence of refrigerators, food can go bad pretty fast in warm environments. One of the best ways to preserve food in warm weather is to smoke it. 

This ancient technique helped people keep their food edible for weeks, if not months. For meat, it is the best way to extend its expiration date.

Growing and drying herbs

Growing various types of herbs can be beneficial. Some herbs are edible and can make your meals taste a lot better. Others have healing properties and can save your life. 

Besides growing herbs, you should also learn to dry them. It requires a special technique, but it will come in handy in the long term. You can practice growing and drying herbs in your own garden and in your spare time.

Gardening

Many people already have a garden in their backyard. If you are one of them, then you’re on the right track. If you’re not, then you should learn the basics of gardening.

This can come in very handy in longer survival situations. If you want to last for a long time in the wild, you have to become autonomous. Besides hunting and fishing, you should grow your own vegetables and herbs. You need variety and balance in your diet.

Harvesting seeds

If you plan to grow your own vegetables or fruits, you need gardening skills. Besides that, you should learn how to harvest seeds the right way.

Every fruit and vegetable is different. This means that the harvesting and multiplying methods are different. You should learn and practice how to harvest seeds for the vegetables and fruits you want to grow.

It would help if you focused on the common ones that you plan to grow and eat. Also, make sure you know what vegetables and fruits can grow in your area and climate.

Tying different knots

Cords, ropes, and knots are essential in survival situations. For example, you can use paracord to tie and craft various items with a few sticks and knots. You can check out our 45 paracord uses for survival.

If you want to use cords and ropes to their full potential, you should learn the essential survival knots. There are about 20 handy knots that will make your life easier in the wild. 

This skill is a little difficult to master, but you can practice it in the comfort of your own home. If you are new at this, it might not be very clear at first, but it gets easier with practice.

Signaling for help

Getting out of harm’s way is the first thing you have to do. But what do you do after? Besides taking care of the tasks on the rule of three, you should also think about being rescued.

There are many signaling methods that you can learn. Some are simple, while others are more complex. You should study and practice a few signaling methods. This way, help can get to you faster.

Self-defense

Taking care of yourself is a skill everyone should have. Self-defense is an important part of your survival skill set.

If you want to be safe, you should learn a few self-defense techniques. This is a skill that will take longer to learn and master, but it is crucial.

You should learn how to fight and protect yourself. Martial arts are great for self-defense. You might even want to learn how to use sticks and staffs to protect yourself. These types of items allow you to maintain a safer distance from your attacker.

Shooting a gun

Martial arts are great, but what happens if your attacker has a gun? You should be able to defend yourself against armed attackers as well. 

Guns are dangerous, and you should handle them with care. Learning to shoot a gun will help you stay safe in the wild. 

We advise you to enroll in a gun shooting course. This way, you can avoid accidents that may occur if you try to learn on your own.  An instructor can teach you the right techniques to handle a gun.

Cleaning a gun

If you already own a gun or are passionate about guns, you know that keeping your gun clean is essential. To ensure that your gun functions the way it was intended, you should clean it regularly.

Zeroing a gun

If you hunt or plan to hunt in a survival scenario, you should learn how to zero a gun. Zeroing a gun means adjusting the gun’s sight or scope so that it matches the bullet’s impact position. This way, your accuracy increases, and you are more likely to bring back some meat to your shelter.

Making basic weapons

Staying safe in the wild is very important. Predators can attack you at any moment. This is why you should learn how to craft basic weapons.

Survival spears and knives are easy to craft and can save your life. Besides defense, you can use spears for hunting small animals or even fish. Knives are great for skinning or removing scales from fishes.

You can craft a monkey fist from paracord. Although it might not look dangerous, it can cause a lot of damage if you know how to use it.

Crossing rivers and streams

If you plan on staying alive in the wild, you should learn how to cross streams and rivers. An important thing to remember is that water has a lot of force.

Even if a river seems shallow, its force might knock you off your feet. Most accidents and injuries occur after people get swept off their feet. Once you are down, the water can push you against rocks or other debris. This can cause serious injuries or even death.

This is why it is crucial to learn how to cross a river and the best place to do it.

Reading tracks

Hunting and tracking go hand in hand. Like fishing, hunting takes time and patience. This is why you should rely on hunting as your main source of food.

There are two ways to hunt. You can find an animal trail and wait for the animals to pass by. The other method is to look for tracks and follow the animal.

Both of these methods have one thing in common. You have to know how to read tracks. Another benefit of knowing how to read tracks is that you can hide your own if you need to.

Finding your way

The sense of direction is vital in the wild. It helps you find your way to your destination. You can improve this skill daily. 

When navigating an unknown area, you rely on visual landmarks or checkpoints. Then, you figure out the location of other areas according to those landmarks. This way, your brain creates a virtual map of the area.

This is a skill that is more developed in some people and underdeveloped in others. The great part is that you can improve it with ease. It just takes a little practice.

Sewing

Sewing can be important in a couple of situations. Since you don’t know how long you’ll be away from home, you have to expect the unexpected. 

Clothes and fabric might tear or rip. Sewing allows you to fix your clothes or other pieces of material. If you use tarps for your shelter, you can fix those too in case they break. 

Sewing can also save your life. In case you get injured and have an open wound, you should know how to suture yourself. This can stop the bleeding and save your life.

Being mentally strong

In the wild, mental health is as important as physical health. Surviving on your own is hard enough, but loneliness can add extra pressure on your mental health.

Most humans are not used to being alone for a long period of time. One drawback of solo survival is that you have to complete every task on your own. 

To stay mentally strong, you have to take care of your body and mind simultaneously. You can improve your mood by focusing a bit more on comfort too. 

Cooked meals, a softer bed, staying warm, feeling safe, and resting more can contribute to your mood. This is why most tier 2 and tier 3 bug out bags contain comfort items.

Manage loneliness

The most important thing to do is to stay positive. You have to understand that even though things might seem bad at the moment, they will get better. 

Instead of treating loneliness as an issue, you can use it to motivate yourself to get back home to your loved ones. This can push you to do extraordinary things in critical situations.

Although talking to yourself might seem strange, it can help you stay sane if you are alone for an extended period of time. 

The movie Cast Away, with Tom Hanks, outlined this method more visually. Tom Hanks paints a face on a volleyball and names it Wilson. Although the ball is just an object, it acts as a substitute for another human being.

Cutting a tree

Wood is an essential material in survival situations. Almost everything you do relies on logs or sticks. Crafting basic weapons and tools, building your shelter, and starting a fire, need wood.

You should learn to cut down a tree using an ax and smaller branches using a saw. You should learn how to use all the cutting tools in your bug out bag. Don’t leave anything to chance.

Splitting firewood

Once you cut down a tree, you can split it to make firewood. This way, it will be a lot easier to start and maintain a fire. You can use an ax to split firewood or a hatchet for the smaller pieces of wood required to start a fire.

If you live close to a forest, you can practice splitting wood. If not, you can go camping and practice all your survival and fire-starting skills.

Climbing

Climbing can be dangerous and can lead to serious injuries. You should only practice in a safe environment and with an instructor. This is not an easy skill to learn and master. 

Besides knowing the theoretical aspects, you also need to be in shape. Climbing requires certain muscle groups that you don’t normally work out. For example, it requires strong hand and finger muscles.

This is why you should stay in shape and aim for full-body workouts when you go to the gym.

Sharpening cutting tools

Blades and tools can wear out over extended use. If you are on the go for a longer period of time, you will have to perform maintenance operations on your tools. 

Most survival tools are made from high-quality materials so they are less likely to break or blunt. But depending on the way you use them, chips can appear on the blades.

This is why you should learn how to sharpen your blades and your cutting tools. You don’t want to have to cut down trees using a blunt ax or hatchet.

Telling time without a watch

If you don’t have a watch, telling time can be a difficult thing to do. This applies especially in mountains and forests. There are a few ways to tell the time in the wild.

You can tell the approximate time by checking the sun’s position. Another method is to use your fingers and calculate the number of remaining daylight. Some people also use the stick and shadow method.

You should learn a few of these techniques to be on the safe side. Make sure you plan your day well. You don’t want to get caught in the woods or far away from your shelter when the sun goes down. Navigating through the woods is hard during the day, but at night, it can be almost impossible to find your way out.

Skinning, gutting and butchering an animal

As brutal as it may sound, this is something that you should prepare for. Skinning and butchering an animal is something that you need to do to stay alive in the wild. This skill requires both physical and mental training.
 
A good way to start preparing for this is to gut and clean fish. It is easier and requires less psychological preparedness.

So, where should I start?

After reading the list above, do you think you are ready? Are you missing any skills?

You likely lack some of the skills above. But don’t worry. You can improve and get better. Everyone can. Like in any survival situation, attitude and positivity is the key.

It might take some time to learn the essential survival skills. Once you get the hang of things, you are all set and prepared for anything the wild throws at you. If you think this is too much for you, you should team up with other preppers and share the skills. It’s a lot easier to survive in a group than on your own.

You should start with the essential skills below:

  1. First aid
  2. Shelter
  3. Fire
  4. Water
  5. Food
  6. Navigation
  7. Mind preparedness

No one can predict what might happen in the future. This is why preppers are always one step ahead.

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