How to Survive the Wilderness

Nature is beautiful, but if you don’t know how to survive the wilderness, it can be terrifying!

The following techniques and strategies aren’t just for survivalists and preppers to know. They’re for everyone.

No one plans on getting lost in the woods while hiking, but it happens. No one plans on having to hide in the forest for several days until your enemies in the city give up and leave town, but that happens too. 

Practical considerations aside, it feels good to be in nature; the less technology the better. It feels good to build your own shelter and find your own food, just as we evolved to do. 

In this article, I’ll teach you how to survive the wilderness!

How to Survive the Wilderness: 3 Core Skills

Anyone can survive the wilderness if they can do these three things: 

1: Find Shelter

2. Find water and food.

3. Don’t get lost.

Most survival skills fall roughly into these three categories.

There is a fourth category I call “escapology,” which is basically how not to get killed by bears, alligators, or piranha. Becoming a nutritious meal for predators is definitely NOT how to survive the wilderness, but I think that deserves its own article.

Also, it isn’t 100% necessary to make a fire, but being able to make one will improve your chances of survival 10 FOLD!

A good fire will keep you warm, cook your food, boil your water, and create enough smoke for the search party to find you.

Click here for a separate article on how to make a fire!

How to Survive the Wilderness: Find Shelter

Natural Shelters

If you have nothing else, natural shelters can provide just enough protection from the elements to keep you alive.

Look around for caves first.

If you find a cave, try to inspect it from a distance to see if it’s occupied. Wild animals (including bears and mountain lions) like caves too, so if it’s occupied and you’re unarmed, leave it alone. 

I suppose you could challenge the current occupant to open combat, but getting mauled by a bear is definitely NOT how to survive the wilderness.

Then again, if your situation is grim and you’re going to die anyway, you may as well take a shot at glory.

If you can’t find a cave, a rock overhang can keep the rain off your head and block the wind from at least 1 direction.

Fallen trees often have space underneath which you can crawl under if you’re desperate enough. It’ll at least stop the rain from hitting you, or provide a small patch of ground free from snow.

Standing trees sometimes have a hollow at the bottom that you can fit inside. It’ll be full of spider webs, and you’re going to feel like a hobbit, but at least you’ll be out of the wind and rain.

Staying out of the wind and rain is how to survive the wilderness.

Make Your Own Shelter

The easiest man-made shelters require just a plastic tarp and a roll of para-chord. For this reason, a tarp and a roll of para-chord should be in your bugout bag at all times. 

The A-Frame Method 

(It’s insanely easy!) 

Step 1: Find at least two trees that are close together. Flat ground is ideal, but make sure its not in an area likely to flood when it rains. More trees would be better, but it isn’t entirely necessary. 

Step 2: Tie a line of para-chord from one tree to the other. Make sure it’s a few feet off the ground, or whatever height you’d like the peak of your tent to be. This line will be the main support for your new shelter.

Step 3: Throw your tarp over the line. It’s starting to look like a tent already, right?!

Step 4: Tie the four corners of your tarp to the other trees. Tie each corner low enough so that your tarp becomes sloped on each side. 

The slope will block the wind and stop rain from accumulating on top. 

"But there's not enough trees!"

Are there no surrounding trees to secure the four corners of your tent to? No problem!

Instead of using trees, tie each corner to a large stick. Bury that stick, then put a heavy rock over it. 

If you do it right, it should hold your tent even better than trees, because you can position your sticks wherever you need them to be.

Eyelets Kind of Suck!

When your tying a tarp, you normally run chord through its eyelets. If any are broken, or your tarp doesn’t have eyelets, don't worry! 

Just grab a handful of tarp, wrap it around a rock, then tie a loop around it.

Tie the other end of the rope to a tree, or whatever else you want to use as an anchor. 

The wrap-a-rock method is actually much stronger than using eyelets, so if it’s windy outside, don’t even use those eyelets. Wrap-a-rock instead!

Did you know?

Tibetan monks use meditation to increase their body temperature in freezing cold environments.

Seriously, these guys sit in the snow wearing nothing but robes and sandals. Then they cover themselves with wet sheets (which would give you and me instant hypothermia).

Why? Just to see how long it takes to dry the sheets. (About an hour.)

How to Survive the Wilderness: Find Water

After three days without water you'll be on the verge of death, so finding it should be your first priority. 

You don’t need a lot of water to survive.

Just 2 liters per day is enough to prevent you from collapsing into a flavorless pile of poor-quality human jerky, unsuitable to be sold in even the cheapest gas station convenience stores.

Here's how to find water:

1. The first thing you want to do is listen for running water.

If you hear a stream or a river in the distance, great! Go there!

Lakes and ponds are okay too, but because they’re stagnant, they tend to harbor a lot more bacteria.

2. If you don’t hear anything, look for animal tracks and follow them. 

Animals constantly move to and from water, so if you follow them, you’re likely to find it. Swarms of insects are a sign that water is nearby. If you see birds, that’s a good sign too.

Water flows downhill, so keep an eye out for valleys and gullies.

Even if you can only find a moist riverbed with no water on the surface, you can still dig a hole! If there’s any water near the surface, your mini-well will start filling with water.

How to Survive the Wilderness: Collect Rain

You can collect rain water easily if you have a tarp and some rope.

Just tie the four corners to trees or bushes and put a rock in the center to form a depression. When it rains, your tarp will collect water which you can then pour into a container or drink directly. 

How to Survive the Wilderness: Collect Condensation

If it doesn’t look like it’s going to rain anytime soon, don’t worry! You can collect water straight from the air like this:

1. Dig a hole about 3 feet wide and 2 feet deep. 


2. Place a jar, canteen, or any container in the middle.


3. Line your hole with green leaves and plants (to humidify the air). 


4. Place a tarp over the hole. Use rocks to hold it down.


5. Put a small rock in the center of your tarp. This will make a depression directly over your jar.


6. Leave it over night! In the morning, condensation will cover the underside of your tarp and drip right into your container!!!!

Dummy-Proof Alternative Method:

Tie a plastic bag over a section of tree or bush covered with leaves. 

Leave it over night.

In the morning, the bag will fill with condensation. Precious, refreshing, life-giving condensation!

How to Survive the Wilderness: Don’t Get the Runs!

Anytime you drink water sourced directly from nature, you run the risk of ingesting harmful bacteria.

At best, it will give you the worst case of “the runs” you’ve ever had. At worst, it will kill you until your dead! 

DDD (dying of diarrhea induced dehydration) is NOT how to survive the wilderness, so try to boil your water over a fire before drinking it. That’s one of the many reasons it’s so important to know how to start a fire!

(Click here to learn a super simple method).

If you can’t start a fire, then you’d better have a life straw in your backpack. A life straw is an inexpensive little device that filters water as you sip it directly from nature! 

Every survivalist should have one.

If you don’t have a life straw, and you can’t boil your water (because you don’t have a container, or your only container is made of plastic, or you just don’t have the materials or knowledge to make a fire), then sooner or later you’ll have to trust yourself to fate. 

Such is life in the wild. 

Did you know?

In 2003, Aron Ralston was hiking through a canyon in Utah when an evil boulder fell on his arm, pinning him to the wall. After being trapped for 5 days, he decided to amputate his own arm with a cheap multi-tool. 

Then he repelled down a 65 foot wall one-handed, and walked 6 miles out of the canyon like a boss.

Today he lives happily as a high paid public speaker. Legend established. Place in Valhalla secured.

How to Survive the Wilderness: Find Food

There are no 7-11’s or Trader Joe’s in the wild. To survive, you’re going to have to fish, hunt, and forage for yourself. Here’s how to do it…

Fishing: Make Your Own Gear

You don’t need a rod to catch fish. All you need is a hook and a line, and you can make both yourself! 

For your line, use shoe string, para-chord, or long blades of grass knotted together. 

For your hook, you can make one of out of a paperclip, a safety pin, a bobby pin, or even a small, pointy twig. A little creativity goes a long way when it comes to surviving in the wild.

Don’t forget to bait your hook with a leftover piece of food. Meat works best, but you could also use a dead insect or anything a fish might mistake as an insect, like a colorful piece of plastic, a shiny piece of tinfoil, or jewelry.

Now lay your fishing line in a shallow, rocky part of the water with shade. That’s where fish like to hide! Sit still and have patience.

Your makeshift fishing rig might look like junk to you, but if the fish are hungry enough, they’ll bite anything.

When your fish finally does bite, don’t yank it out like you normally would! Breaking your MacGuyvered fishing line is not how to survive the wilderness!

Instead, gently guide the fish close enough for you to scoop it out of the water with your bare hands.

Alternative Fishing Method (It’s brutal!)

If you don’t have anything you can make into a fishing line and hook, don’t fret! You can still use the most primitive method of fishing there is.

It goes like this…

Step 1. Stand near the edge of the water, or better yet, in the water if you can endure the cold, and wait for some fish to come close. 

Step 2. When they’re close enough, spear the ever-loving hell out of it with a sharpened stick! 

You could also club the fish with a heavy pipe if you happen to have one. While it’s stunned it, pick it up and take it back to land.

This method might make you feel like a barbarian, but that’s a good thing. Starving because you’re too psychologically soft to murder a fish is definitely NOT how to survive the wilderness.

Hunting

Hunting takes a lot of knowledge and experience to get good at, but there are a few tips and tricks that can help even beginners score a descent meal.

First of all, you can’t just wander aimlessly though the woods and expect to stumble on some meat. You have to go where the animals are. Animals love water, so go there!

Once you’re in an area with water nearby, sooner or later, delicious meat creatures will come looking for a drink. You can shoot one if you have a gun or a crossbow.

Otherwise, I suggest an easier, lazier method: set some traps!

Method 1: The Easiest Trap in the World

The simplest trap would be a snare rope you hold in your hand. 

1. Just tie a loose loop on one end of your rope, lay it on the ground, and place some food in the middle. Disguise your rope with leaves and dirt from the surrounding environment.

2. Hold the other end of the rope while hiding behind a tree or a bush. Wait patiently for an animal to wander over your loop. 

3. When it does, yank your string hard and fast! If you’re lucky, you’ll have a nutritious chunk of meat struggling at the other end of it!

Method 2: Tree Spring Trap!!! 

This is a little more complicated, but THIS is the awesome trap that comes to mind when you think of traps set in the woods! 

You know, like in Robin Hood movies when someone steps on a twig and is suddenly dangling upside down? Let’s make one of those!

Again, all you need is a rope. Nature supplies the rest.

You know what? I could write out a detailed description, but I think in this case, the easiest way for you to learn would be to watch a short video by NighthawkinLight

This guy is the Mike Tyson of trapping small animals.

How to Survive the Wilderness: Forage for Food

Foraging for food in the wild is a topic beyond the scope of a single article.

There are just too many factors to consider before you put that green and blue spotted mushroom in your mouth and start chewing.

The number of plants, fruit, and fungi to familiarize yourself with is vast, and it changes according to geographic location and time of year.

A plant with edible leaves might have stems that are poisonous. A flower that’s fine to eat in the spring might be toxic in the fall.

So think twice before you pop those mysterious wild-berries into your mouth! They might give you the delicious burst of calories you’re looking for, or they might send you on a 6 hour psychedelic journey to commune with the forest spirits. 

If you happen to be going through a rough patch in life, then a brief communion with the spirits might be exactly what you need.

But there’s a third possibility you still need to worry about: agonizing death by random poison. A noble death, to be sure (Socrates died of poison), but poisoning yourself is NOT how to survive the wilderness!

For all of these reasons, I suggest you buy a foraging guide with color photographs (no drawings). Use it to familiarize yourself with both the edible and poisonous vegetation growing in your area.

Keep one in your camping bag as well as your bugout bag, and you’re chances of surviving the wilderness will rise exponentially.

Did you know?

The Amanita muscaria is a psychedelic mushroom that looks EXACTLY like the one from Super Mario Bros! 

Reindeer love eating it. The reindeer’s kidneys then produce concentrated psychedelic urine, which shamans drink to induce altered states of consciousness. 

No bullsh*t.

How to Survive the Wilderness: Don’t Get Lost!

1. First of all, tell someone before you go gallivanting through the forest looking for smurfs. 

Being secretive about your whereabouts is NOT how to survive the wilderness!

As long as one other person knows where you are (preferably someone who cares about you), they can report you missing and organize a search party if you aren’t back by sundown.

The sooner people start looking for you, the sooner they can find you. 

Hopefully that happens before you have to take a sip of that bacteria infested, unfiltered, un-boiled pond water.

2. If you do get lost, and you see or hear any signs of a search party, make noise so they can hear you!

Scream! Yell! If ever there was a time to shed the last remaining traces of shyness lingering from your awkward teenage years, now is the time!

Being silent and inconspicuous is NOT how to survive the wilderness. Not unless there's tigers around...

3. Signal for Help

Once the park rangers get involved, they’ll send a helicopter to survey the area.

Unfortunately, to anyone that high up you'll look like a tiny little speck of an ant, indistinguishable from the surrounding terrain.

You can get the rescue crew's attention easily by setting off an emergency smoke signal. Set one of these bad boys off, and your position will be visible from up to 5 miles away!

I always keep a few in my bag.

(By the way, do you want to learn how to make your own colored smoke signals inexpensively, in any color you want? Checkout this article here!)

You could also keep a flare gun handy for signaling at night. This flare gun comes with 4 flares and has a perfect 5 out of 5 stars rating on Amazon.

4. Have a compass on you, and learn to use it!

You don’t need to be a navigational expert to benefit from having a compass. Just checking it at the start of your adventure (then frequently as you go) will keep you aware of your general direction. 

If you know the general direction of your 3 hour nature walk was South, for example, then you know that walking North should take you, sooner or later, back to civilization.

Here's an affordable compass with excellent reviews. It's waterproof, made of metal instead of cheap plastic, and even comes with a clinometer (so you can measure the incline of your hike). 

Get one, because keeping track of your general direction is how to survive the wilderness.

5. Take a mental note of landmarks.

Peculiar rock formations, lakes and ponds, structures in the distance - anything can be used to help you orient yourself and help you back-track when its time to go home.

Learning to be more observant is a key part of learning how to survive the wilderness!

6. Look backwards frequently!

Those landmarks are going to look very different when you turn around and start walking back to camp. Your perspective changes. Things that were on your right are now on your left. 

By looking back from time to time, you familiarize yourself with how the return journey will look and decrease your odds of getting disoriented.

Also, ninjas could be following you, and getting hit by a shuriken in the back of the dome is NOT how to survive the wilderness!

7. Mark your trail.

A few large sticks placed conspicuously on trees and bushes as you go might be all you need to find your way home. You can also drop rocks on the ground, or anything else you have.

Just don’t use bread crumbs or peanuts.

Marking your trail with something little animals find delicious is NOT how to survive the wilderness.

8. Have a GPS device!

Garmin makes GPS (global positioning system) devices small enough to fit in your pocket!

With the push of a button, you can record the exact location of your camp (or point of entrance into the wilderness), as well as the coordinates of any interesting site you come across.

Go on your nature walk. Whenever you’re ready, your GPS will tell you exactly how to get home!

They even make one small enough to be worn as a wrist watch, but I prefer the less expensive handheld model with the larger screen.

Having a GPS is no excuse for not developing your navigational skills in the wild, and there’s always a chance it could run out of batteries when you need it most.

But these little devices are DAMN GOOD. Anyone can use them, and in my opinion, there is no better tool for not getting lost.

Now you know how to survive the wilderness.

Stay alive.


-Tommy

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