Master These Basic Survival Skills to Survive

by Ryan

If you want to become more prepared for a survival situation, the information available can be overwhelming. Some sites are trying to teach you how to start a fire with a block of ice, while celebrities on television are telling you to drink your own urine. What?

Thankfully there are a few simple skills that you can learn to make a huge impact on a survival situation. These skills all revolve around the four pillars of survival:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Fire
  • Shelter

If you have the skills to secure these items in the first 72 hours, you should have a good chance of finding help or getting rescued. Below are the most important basic skills you can learn for a survival situation.

Building a Fire

I put this skill at the top of our list because it can virtually help with any situation. A fire can help you purify water, cook food, keep away predators, kill bacteria, avoid insects, and help you see at night.

The first step to building a fire is having a way to ignite it. To keep your fire-building as simple as possible, I suggest you keep a fire steel, a high carbon steel knife, and a lighter with you at all times. The lighter is great until it runs out of fuel, but the fire steel and knife will always help you ignite your fire.

Next you want to gather your tinder, kindling, and fuel wood. Always start with tinder as it is the hardest material to find. Fluffy and dry is best for tinder, but anything thinner than the lead of a pencil can work. Fluff from cattails or bird’s nests are good natural tinder if you can find them. Birch bark and pine resin also have chemicals that will ignite even when wet.

As a general rule you want enough tinder to barely wrap both hands around the bundle. For kindling you want some sticks to be about the thickness of a pencil and some to be about the thickness of a finger. Gather enough to just wrap both arms around the bundle.

For fuel wood, you want pieces about the size of your wrist. Never step on wood or bend it over your knee to break it. Instead find two trees close together and place the wood in between to create the tension needed to snap the wood. Gather a pile about knee-high if you want to keep the fire going all night.

It is also a best practice to get all types of fuel from up off of the ground. Wood lying on the ground is more likely to absorb moisture or start to rot. This wood is more difficult to get lit or keep going, so finding wood off the ground is very helpful.

For a simple teepee fire, take some kindling and build a teepee by leaning the sticks against one another in a circle. Next try to form your tinder into the shape of a bird’s nest so it can catch a spark from your fire steel. Place your steel at a 45 degree angle over the nest with the tip pressing down on the center. If using a lighter, just light your tinder and move on to the teepee.

The next motion is very important. As you strike the back of your blade on the fire steel it will shoot sparks into the bundle. Once you see an ember you need to quickly raise the tinder bundle to your face and gently blow on the ember to feed it oxygen.

The toughest part is getting the tinder to flame up. Continue moving it around and blowing on the ember until you have a flame. Then set it inside your teepee and add small sticks just one or two at a time waiting until each one lights before adding more. Keep adding larger wood until you have your biggest logs caught on fire.

Purifying Water

Getting clean drinking water is one of your biggest priorities in any survival situation. The human body can only last about three days without it. If you have a fire going, all you need to do is boil the water for it to be safe to drink. However, there are times when you will need water and will not have a fire. The most important point is that you must consider all water unsafe unless it comes from a spring.

There are two simple methods to help make your water safer to drink. If you have a clear plastic bottle and the water is clear, you can kill most of the microbes by setting it in the sun. Just fill your bottle, remove any label, and set it out in direct sunlight for six hours. The sunlight will do the work for you.

The other simple option is to dig a proximity well. Find a spot a few feet from the edge of your water source. Get a sharp stick and then start digging in that location. Usually you will have to get at least one foot deep before you start to see moisture in the bottom. Keep digging and eventually the hole should start filling with water.

Wait 30 minutes for the dirt to settle to the bottom and then you can drink. In this case the earth is filtering the water as it passes through and fills up your hole. This will eliminate many of the larger microbes that could make you sick.

On a side note, using a water filter or boiling your water are always the safest ways to get clean drinking water. Combining these with the above methods is a good idea.

Building a Shelter

In cold conditions you can only survive three hours without fire or shelter on average. In addition, wind and rain can further complicate your survival. Survival shelters may seem complicated, but a lean-to shelter is as simple as they come. You can make one with a tarp, emergency blanket, or with natural materials.

To make a lean-to with sticks and leaves, start by finding two trees about seven feet apart. Next take a ridge pole and use your shoelaces or other cordage to tie it to the trees at waist height. Next find at least a dozen larger sticks. They need to be a few inches thick and probably five feet long. Lean them against your ridge pole at a 45 degree angle pushing them as close together as possible.

Once you have enough sticks to form a solid roof, start piling dry leaves on top. You can also use spruce boughs or dry snow if no leaves are available. You want this layer to be several feet thick. To fully protect from rain it needs to be about four feet thick, so go heavy. As a last step you can pile up leaves or spruce boughs underneath the roof to give you an insulated bed on which to sleep.

Ideally you will set this up with the roof facing the direction from which the wind is blowing. You can then build a fire on the other side and even build a small wall to deflect heat back towards the shelter. When paired with a fire, this design can get you through almost any conditions.

Finding Wild Edibles

When you think of finding food in the wild, many people picture sharpening a spear and going hunting. This is rarely the most efficient way to get food in a survival situation. Typically finding edible plants is the safest and easiest way to feed yourself.

Eating wild plants can be a dangerous venture. However, there are a few plants that are easy to identify anywhere in the world. Surprisingly these are plants that you probably have in your back yard. This makes it easy to practice identification.

The most recognizable of these plants is the dandelion. With its bright yellow flower and saw-toothed leaves, you should be able to point it out year round. It will even grow under snow, and all parts of the plant are edible.

The next plant on our list is clover. Clover has three round leaves and grows in patches. You can grab a handful at a time and chow down.

Chickweed is a winter annual that also grows in dense patches. It can be found year round but is an especially nice find during the winter and early spring. It is light yellow and has tiny leaves that are either round or pointed at one end.

Wood sorrel comes in several colors, but is easy to identify. The leaf structure is three small leaves like clover, but they are heart shaped. Try one and it should taste like lemon. These are my favorite.

Henbit is a plant found only in the springtime. It grows to four or five inches tall and has a small purple flower on top. If you ever see fields with a purple tint in the springtime, there is a large amount of henbit.

Signaling and Communication

The fastest and easiest way to get out of a survival situation is not to tough it out. It is to signal for help and get home quickly. To effectively signal you must focus on both visible and audible signals.

Your vehicle is the most simple and effective signal you can use. Most cars are easily visible from the air. It is metallic and often brightly colored. The car also has headlights and tail lights for signaling at night. You can remove the rear-view mirror for ground to air signals and set the tires on fire for black smoke signals. You can pour the motor oil over fresh snow to write out a giant ‘SOS’.

For sound you can honk the horn until the battery dies. You can also bang on the hood of the car with a stick after the horn stops working. This metallic sound is one that rescue personnel are trained for which to listen.

Defending Yourself

In many survival situations, other people are a greater threat than Mother Nature. Most people are not professionally trained in self-defense, but there are a few basic moves you can remember to help you out of a confrontation.

Always try to go after the most sensitive and vulnerable parts of the human body. This includes the feet, knees, groin, neck, and head. A swift kick to the knees, a knee to the groin, or a solid foot stomp will bring almost anybody to the ground allowing you to run away. Any impact to the neck, nose, or eyes will stun your assailant or disable them.

Try to use something as a weapon when you attack. Anything that is heavy or sharp will work well. Keys and tactical pens are my favorite since you can keep them on you at all times. If you do not have a weapon, try to use your knees, elbows, or the heels of your hands to avoid injury.

Treating a Wound

Disclaimer: This is NOT medical advice and is for information purposes only. Neither the author nor shall be considered liable in any way if you misuse this information.

One of the most common medical issues in a survival situation is an open cut or wound. Whether you have been shot, fell down a ravine, or cut yourself cleaning your dinner, you could be in for some trouble. The immediate issue is blood loss, but the more common cause of death with wounds is infection.

To prevent blood loss, apply pressure to the wound and hold it above the heart if possible. Once the bleeding has slowed you can look at using bandages, applying makeshift splints, or stitching the wound shut. If the bleeding is out of control, a tourniquet may be needed. Wrap some cloth or cordage around the limb above the wound and tie it tight. Then put a stick inside the tourniquet and twist until the bleeding stops. Be aware that you could lose the limb, so this is for life-saving action only.

For infection you must clean the wound and keep it clean. Purify water if possible and keep a clean bandage on the wound at all times. Pockets and interior liners in clothing make for good clean fabric if the outside is dirty.

Being Prepared

The key to surviving any SHTF situation is being prepared. Mainly this means knowledge and practice. Too many people read about what to do and never take the time to practice those skills. Also, it is common for people to buy items like fire steels or water filters and never practice how to use them. Do not wait until SHTF to figure these things out.

Also, your gear does you no good if you cannot get to it when SHTF. You should have an EDC kit (every day carry) with you at all times including basic supplies such as a water filter, fire steel, and a small knife. In addition you should always have a GHB (get home back) with you in your office or in your vehicle. This includes everything you would need to make it home on foot from work or wherever you are located during the day.

Just because your supplies are in your home, do not assume that you can access them in a disaster. Your BOBs (bug out bags) should be packed, organized, and in a common location. Your food, water, and ammo should also be in a common location and organized.

Finally, you should have a plan in advance for common SHTF situations. This includes house fires, flooding, break-ins, rioting, and other natural disasters. Practice these in advance with your family and things will go smoothly if you ever have to implement your plan.

So now we have covered our food, water, fire, and shelter along with signaling, self-defense, treating wounds, and general preparedness. With a little practice you can become a master at these skills. Knowing how to secure the pillars of survival will put you ahead of almost everybody else you know. When SHTF, you will have a solid plan while everybody else panics. Do not be surprised if they rely upon you as their survival expert.

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2 thoughts on “Master These Basic Survival Skills to Survive”

  1. Thank you for this fire starting demonstration. It is the first time I have seen this technique. It makes perfect sense.


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