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25 Essential Wilderness Survival Skills

Surviving in the wilderness is about more than just strength; it’s about being smart, prepared, and adaptable. Whether you’re a seasoned outdoor enthusiast or new to the world of survival, mastering certain skills can make all the difference. Here’s a collection of invaluable survival tips from experts in the field, designed to boost your confidence and competence in challenging situations.

1. Always Carry Fire Starters

Fire Starters
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In damp or windy conditions, having a reliable fire starter is the difference between being warm and dry and … not. In more extreme scenarios, it’s the difference between life and death. Get yourself a reliable fire starter. You want something that’s lightweight, long-lasting, and burns even when wet. Keep some in your vehicle, your daypack, your fishing or hunting kit, and your car. You never know when you’ll need extra heat.

2. Use a Large Garbage Bag

Garbage Bag
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Don’t underestimate the utility of a contractor-grade garbage bag. Whether it’s creating a makeshift mattress, staying dry, or collecting water, this simple item has multiple survival uses. Lightweight and compact, it’s a must-have in any survival kit.

3. Inform Someone of Your Plans

Man on phone in countryside

Before heading out on an adventure, share your itinerary with someone reliable. Include your destination, expected return time, and contact details of those with you. This information is vital for search-and-rescue should you not return as planned.

One tip I came across and thought was super smart – leave your approximate location, brief itinerary, and planned return time as the greeting on your voicemail. Then, even if your battery dies, people can find your approximate location.

4. Optimize Your Phone’s Battery

airplane mode
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When relying on your phone for navigation, conserve battery by switching to airplane mode. Consider bringing a portable charger to ensure your device stays powered. In a group, rotate who uses their phone to preserve battery life across the board.

5. Familiarize Yourself with Your Gear

first aid kit
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Before you need them, practice using your survival tools and gear. From water purification methods to fire-starting techniques, knowing what works best for you is crucial. Customize your survival and first-aid kits to suit your needs and preferences, ensuring you’re comfortable and proficient with each item.

6. Prevent Hypothermia

lighters to start fire
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Keeping warm is a no-brainer. A disposable lighter is your best friend for starting a fire quickly. Hypothermia is a silent threat in the wilderness, often leading to dangerous situations. Always carry at least two fire-making tools. A lighter is perfect due to its simplicity and effectiveness. As a backup, consider another lighter or a ferro rod. Staying warm could mean the difference between life and death.

7. Pack Extra Layers

layers of clothing
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Unexpected nights outdoors call for extra clothing. Ask yourself: Will my clothes keep me dry and warm? If not, pack accordingly. Wool keeps you warm even when wet, retaining about 60% of its heat. For wind protection, consider Primaloft or down, though remember down’s weakness to water. Proper clothing is your defense against the cold.

8. Leave Arrogance Behind

confident man in woods
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Confidence is key, but overconfidence is dangerous. Survival requires humility and a realistic assessment of your skills. Overestimating your abilities or underestimating nature’s challenges can lead to critical mistakes. Stay grounded and make decisions based on knowledge, not ego.

9. Learn to Navigate

reading a map
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Good navigation is essential, whether you’re in the city or deep in the forest. Regularly mark your location and destination on a map or GPS. This practice keeps you aware of your progress and helps ensure you don’t get lost. Don’t rely only on GPS. If you’re without access to your tech, you should still be able to navigate. Practice your map skills.

10. Know Your Firewood

firewood
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Different trees offer different kinds of tinder, crucial for fire-starting in winter. Birch bark, cedar bark, pine resin, and certain fungi are excellent fire starters. Beech trees, which retain dry leaves through winter, provide readily available tinder. Learning to identify these resources can make starting a fire much easier in cold conditions.

11. Create a Makeshift Knife

rock as knife blade
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If you lose your knife, don’t panic. Look for a suitable rock along a stream. Churt or similar stones work well. Use a larger rock to split it into smaller, sharp flakes. This requires practice, so try it before you need it. These natural blades can be incredibly sharp, sometimes even more than metal knives. Hopefully, this is one of the basic survival skills that you’ll never need. But it’s better to be proficient at this than be clueless should the situation arise.

12. Carry a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)

Personal Locator Beacon
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In emergencies, a PLB can save your life by alerting rescue teams to your exact location. Devices like InReach by Garmin or SPOT are invaluable in the wilderness, especially when time is critical for survival. While some hesitate to bring technology outdoors, a PLB could be the difference between life and death.

13. Signal with a Road Flare

Road Flare
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A road flare can be a lifesaver, especially if you need to start a fire quickly or signal for help. With a burning temperature of around 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit and the ability to burn for over 15 minutes, it can ignite a fire even in wet conditions. Keep one in your vehicle for emergencies.

14. Pack an Emergency Blanket

Emergency Blanket
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An emergency blanket, lightweight and compact, is essential for retaining body heat. Wrap it around yourself to reflect heat back towards your body, or use it as an additional layer over your sleeping bag for extra warmth. Remember, it’s also a great signaling tool due to its reflective surface.

15. Insulate from the Ground

dry leaves on ground
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The ground can steal your body heat, making insulation vital. Place dry leaves, pine needles, or tree boughs between you and the ground to retain warmth. Even in survival situations, creating a barrier with natural or man-made materials can help maintain your core temperature.

16. Use Toothpaste on Bug Bites

toothpaste on bug bites
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Toothpaste, especially peppermint, can soothe bug bites thanks to its cooling effect. It’s also useful for hand cleaning and sanitizing. In a pinch, mix with water for a cleansing paste. No, it’s not the best solution, but in a survival situation where your options are limited, this is a useful skill.

17. Transform a Water Bottle for Wound Cleaning

water bottle
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An empty plastic water bottle can be repurposed as a wound-cleaning tool. Drill a hole in the cap, fill with sterile water, and use the pressure created by squeezing to clean wounds or wash hands. This simple hack is invaluable for hygiene and first aid in the wilderness.

18. Reuse Shotgun Shells for Survival

Shotgun Shells
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Keep your spent shotgun shells; they’re perfect for storing small, essential survival items like an emergency fishing kit or fire-starting tools. Lightweight and waterproof, these shells can also serve as makeshift candle holders in a pinch. Use yellow shells and seal them with reflective tape for easy visibility.

19. Don’t Forget the Duct Tape

duct tape
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Duct tape isn’t just for repairs; it’s an excellent fire starter, too. Useful for a myriad of survival tasks, including wound care and gear fixing, duct tape is a must-have. Combine it with paracord for a versatile survival duo that tackles everything from marking trails to bandaging wounds.

20. Cotton Balls: Multipurpose Survival Tool

Cotton Balls
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Though cotton clothing is ill-advised in cold weather, cotton balls are invaluable. They’re perfect for first aid and starting fires, especially when soaked in petroleum jelly. Remember, the right materials and the knowledge of how to use them can turn a simple item into a lifesaver.

21. Turn Junk Food into Fire Starters

greasy chips
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Your favorite greasy chips can double as an effective fire starter. The oils in chips catch fire easily, making them a useful resource when you need to warm up or cook food. In survival situations, fire is a priority, and unconventional resources can make all the difference.

22. Make Your Location Known

burning black plastic
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If you’re lost, signaling for help is crucial. Use your fire wisely by adding damp materials or green branches to produce white smoke, visible from afar. In snowy environments, burning plastic creates black smoke, contrasting against the snow to alert rescuers to your position. But avoid breathing it in, and burning plastic releases all kinds of nasties.

23. Change Your Socks Regularly

changing socks
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Foot care is paramount in the wilderness. Moisture and blisters can immobilize you, so swap socks often to keep feet dry. Merino wool is ideal for its comfort and durability. For any emerging hot spots, duct tape or moleskin can provide relief and protection.

24. Cordage for Traps and Repairs

cordage
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Choose robust, versatile cordage for your survival kit. Use it for constructing snares, repairing gear, or anything else that requires strong, reliable cordage. Learn how to use it, too. Practice tying knots, setting snares, and making cordage traps before you’re in a wilderness survival scenario.

25. Use a Bivy Shelter

Bivy Shelter
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Bivy sacks are an excellent, lightweight shelter option that’s easy to carry and set up. With options ranging from SOL’s heat-reflective bivies to military-grade Gore-tex, you’re sure to stay dry and warm. Compact and efficient, they’re also handy for keeping in your vehicle for emergency situations.

20 Crucial Supplies for Surviving a Societal Collapse

glass of water
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In the face of uncertainty, being well-prepared gives you at least some degree of control and security. The thought of a societal collapse, while extreme, prompts us to consider how we might endure without the conveniences of our current lifestyle. Here’s a list of 20 essential items that could prove indispensable in such a scenario. This guide isn’t about succumbing to fear but embracing preparedness and resilience.

14 Essential Canned Goods for Your Emergency Pantry

selection of canned goods
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I firmly believe in keeping a well-stocked emergency pantry. While fresh food is ideal, in a survival situation, we may not be that lucky. So, for my family, even though we grow a lot of our own food, canned goods play a crucial role in emergency preparedness. They offer a reliable source of nutrition when access to fresh produce may be limited. The goods you stockpile should be affordable, easy to store, and full of nutrition.

Best Regions in the U.S. to Escape to When Society Collapses

Alaska skyline
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Choosing a refuge in the event of societal collapse involves weighing the pros and cons of each location against your personal preparedness goals and abilities. Whether you’re drawn to the solitude of the desert or the protective heights of the mountains, the key is finding a place that offers safety and the opportunity for growth and renewal.

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