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Essential Outdoor Survival Skills



You can’t call yourself an adventurer without these critical outdoor survival skills.

When heading into the great outdoors, or any potential survival situation, we all know to bring the necessary gear and supplies. You’ll need food, water, fire and all the other essentials on your backpacking gear list. A true outdoorsman, however, is ready for survival no matter the situation. In other words, the most important tool you have isn’t in your pack, it’s in your head. Your wilderness survival skill knowledge could very well be the determining factor in the wild.

If you’re going to be running around off the grid, you need to have the most basic of survival skills. For instance, you’ll need to be proficient in first-aid. You should also be familiar with the famous rule of three: a human can survive about three minutes without air, three hours without warmth, three days without water and three weeks without food.

The world can be very dangerous and Mother Nature doesn’t care if you aren’t prepared. Once you make sure you can breath and aren’t bleeding out, you have to contend with staying alive in the bush. Here are the most useful outdoor survival skills you can have at your disposal. While some may seem a bit on the primitive side, that’s exactly why they work. These skills will help you if you’re really stuck in a pinch without any of the comforts of modern civilization.

Essential Outdoor Survival Skills - FlintknappingPhoto Credit: Pete /


What do you do if you lose your survival knife? Would you still be able to make an arrow head or a tool to gut an animal? If you’re ever in this situation, in the wilderness without tools, you can make your tools out of rocks, through the art of flinknapping. For most of history, we didn’t have metal, so knives, arrowheads, axes and other tools were made of stone.

Flintknapping involves taking a piece of stone and honing it into a precision tool. The classic example of this is of course the arrowhead. Adept knappers, however, can create a whole workbench of tools, which can then be used to dress game or cut and carve wood. Carving wood is especially important because, once you can work wood, you can build all kinds of things including shelters or even a bow and arrow. It really is an impressive demonstration of true craft and shows you how a forbidding forest can become your hardware store or supermarket with the right outdoor survival skills.

The most important thing is picking the right kind of stone. Flint or obsidian are great choices because they break with a sharp edge. It’s a craft that takes a while to master, but you just need to take your bigger rock and carve it using a smaller, solid, piece of stone that you can use as a hammer. Then, once you get a shape you want, you refine it and get a sharp edge by using a pressure tool to break off the edges.

Essential Outdoor Survival Skills - FirePhoto Credit: Hans Splinter / 


Knowing how to make a fire is another very important wilderness survival skill you’ll need to develop to stay alive. With fire, you can cook and keep warm. If you’re going to be a true outdoorsman, starting a fire with just what you have in front of you is a necessary skill.

An excellent way to start a fire is to use the drill method or, a variation on the drill method, the bow method. The simpler drill method involves spinning a stick into a flat board, called a fire board, until you get it hot enough to create an ember. In the bow method, rather than spinning the stick between your hands you create a bow, not too tight, and wrap the drill stick in the bowstring. Then, you spin it much faster by moving the bow back and forth. You’ll also need a hand hold to use to press down on the drill, since it’ll be spinning too fast to hold with your hand.

The most important choice here is wood selection. The piece of wood you use for your fire board must be hard enough not to just grind away, but soft enough not to resist drilling. Try pressing your thumb into the wood, you should be able to create a slight indentation. Once you have drilled your stick in enough to make a mark, make a notch next to the drill indentation. This is to let the hot sawdust fall out and pile up in the bottom creating your ember.

When you’ve created an ember, place it in a tinder bundle, a little nest of dry, flammable grass, broken up bark, or pine needles. This will ignite from your ember. Blow into it and use this flame to start your fire.

Essential Outdoor Survival Skills - ShelterPhoto Credit: Mark /


If you’re already flintknapping and making campfires, chances are that you’re in it for the long haul. Eventually, you’re going to need to find shelter. Most people who perish in wilderness survival situations die from hypothermia, so creating a shelter isn’t just about having a place to kick back after a long day of adventuring.It’s about survival. That means your shelter needs to be able to keep you dry and, most importantly, warm.

A very simple shelter can be made from the materials around you. Just take a sturdy eight-foot-long or so stick and prop it against the crook of a tree or a log. Then, lay more stick against that one bracing it and creating the frame for the walls of your temporary home. What you get looks something like a ribcage with the big stick being the spine. From here, you’re going to use whatever you have at your disposal, including leaves, grass and branches, to fill in the walls of your shelter. Make sure to make them nice and thick to keep the warmth in and the rain out.

One thing you should not forget is to make sure the ground is also well insulated with a layer of leaves. You lose most of your heat to the ground. You can also make a nice stopper for the opening of your shelter by stuffing leaves into an article of clothing, or use your back pack.


Essential Outdoor Survival Skills - NaturePhoto Credit: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources /

Knowledge of Nature

Any stay in the wilderness, whether its a survival situation or just a hike, is enhanced by having a greater knowledge of the environment. Knowing about nature is incredibly important. You should be able to distinguish plants from each other and know their uses. This will give you a better appreciation of nature. In a wilderness survival situation, however, this becomes incredibly useful knowledge. Unfortunately it’s very specific to the location you’re in. Knowing how to tell which plants are edible, but also what parts of them are edible, is a valuable skill. Before you go out into a new forest, take 10 minutes to do some research. Identify what plants are safe to eat and, just as importantly, which are poisonous.


Essential Outdoor Survival Skills - SnaresPhoto Credit: William Andrus /

Snares and Cordage

If you are out in the wild long enough, you’re going to need some calories. One of the best sources is meat. Snares are a great way to catch small game. You can make a lot of them, set them throughout an area, then come back periodically to check them. All you need is for one to work.

Alternatively, this is one of those awesome skills that you can practice for more casual hunting trips.

Before you can even make a snare, you’ll generally need some cord or rope. This can be readily constructed from materials found in the woods.

Both these skills are more long term, but both are extremely useful in a pinch and fun to practice any time you’re out in the woods. Don’t look at these merely as a way to enhance your survival skills, but as a general way to see nature from a different perspective. You’ll be honing a set of crafts that are useful anytime you decide to go off the grid.

If you need even more advanced advice for your next expedition, check out our list of extreme survival skills.

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