50 Wilderness Survival Tips and Tricks

The cool thing about survival is that you rarely have to come up with new ideas. If there is a way to accomplish something in a survival setting, somebody smarter than me has probably thought of a solution.

Because of that, it is important to familiarize yourself with these strategies.  Here are some tips and tricks that may help survive in the wilderness.

magnetized needle on leaf on puddle of water showing North
magnetized needle on leaf on puddle of water showing North

Finding Water

Use water vines in the jungle for drinking water. These thick vines run from the ground to the canopy. Cut a section and help yourself to clean drinking water.

Use a dry creek bed for water. If you find yourself in the desert, find a low spot in a dry creek bed.

Start digging and eventually you should see water starting to seep into the hole. Let the dirt settle and start drinking.

For water, melt ice, not snow. Snow is 90% air and 10% water, but ice is 90% water and 10% air. Stick with ice.

Carry a shemagh with you. This oversized bandanna can be used for bandaging wounds, filtering water, starting fires, collecting dew, and protecting your face and head from the elements.

Wrap your leg in a t-shirt and walk through the morning dew.

If you’re low on water then attaching a shirt to your leg (usually wrapping it does a good job) and walking through long grasses can help you get some water. The shirt will absorb all of the dew and you can then squeeze it out.

Following streams or rivers if you lose your bearing. Most waterways will usually end up dumping into a larger water source.

It just so happens that a lot of towns and cities in the world lie at the beginning of those larger sources. Following a river downstream can bring you closer to civilization and rescue.

If you can’t find a source of water, look for moss. Moss, Sphagnum moss in particular, is able to hold a lot of water. You can pick up this moss and squeeze the moisture into your mouth for a quick drink.

Don’t worry about it being contaminated since this moss contains a small amount of iodine, a chemical used in the purification of water.

Make your own solar still. Water is the most vital of resources to make sure you have a lot of.

Using the forest around you allows you to create a source of water that is both clean and refreshing. Simply dig a pit in an area that is sunny and fill it with leaves, branches and other live growth.

Place a container such as a cup or bucket inside the hole among the debris. Cover the hole with a sheet of plastic and make sure to weigh down the center with a rock.

As the foliage releases its moisture it will get trapped on the plastic sheet. Since the sheet is weighed down by a rock it will start to run into your container.

Leave it for a day or overnight and you’ll come back to a little bit of water to quench your thirst.

In a pinch you can use your own urine instead of the foliage. The evaporation process will provide distilled water for you to drink.

fire started successfully with ferro rod in fatwood shavings

Starting A Fire

For a quick torch, use birch bark. Take a three foot pole and split the end. Shove as much birch bark in the end as you can and light it up. It should burn bright for several minutes, even in wind or rain.

Use a gum wrapper to start a fire. Cut a metallic gum wrapper so that there is a thin strip in the center and two wider ends. Touch the ends to the two poles of a battery and the center filament will flare up so you can start a fire

Use steel wool for a fire. Touch steel wool to both poles of a battery and create an ember or flame to get your fire started.

Whatever amount of firewood you think you will need, double it. It is very common for people to underestimate how much wood they will need to keep their fire going through the night.

Use friction for fire. The bow drill, hand drill, and fire plough are all ways to walk into the woods with nothing but a knife and build a fire. The key is finding the right type of dry wood.

Use accelerants to flare up your tinder. If you have access to alcohol, gasoline, or lighter fluid then use it. Just a few drops on some tinder could help it flare up much faster.

Keep an eye out for fatwood. You will need to build a fire at some point out in the wilderness and having a steady form of tinder will make that job a lot easier.

Fatwood is resin-impregnated wood from coniferous trees such as pine and spruce.

When the tree is damaged the resin hardens and turns into a flammable, waterproof source of shavings to start your fire with. You can even use fatwood as a makeshift torch for those dark nights.

Build your fire off of the ground. If you build a fire on wet ground it’ll pull all of that moisture up and keep it smoldering. If you put a layer of branches on the ground then your fire will be able to get hot enough to keep burning.

If you can build your fire on top of a rock that might be an even better decision because the rock will slowly release the heat from the fire providing additional radiant heat.

lean-to shelter made of wood and camouflaged with leaves

Shelter

Sleep at least a few inches off the ground. Direct contact with the ground draws heat out of your body. Build a bed or hammock to keep your distance and stay warmer.

Build your bed on top of coals. For a warm bed in the winter, build a large fire and let it burn down to coals. Bury the coals in 12 inches of dirt and then build your shelter on top. It will keep you warm all night.

Watch for widow-makers. These are large branches or whole trees that are dead and waiting to fall on your head. Always look up before you start building a shelter for the night.

Look for rock overhangs for shelter. Overhangs will provide you protection from the elements and, aside from a few spiders, a great way to spend the night out in the wilderness.

In survival situations they make great shelters in storms and are a lot easier to use than building a shelter.

Caves protect you even further by allowing you to get inside and away from the elements. Be mindful of caves as they can be plagued by cave ins and other adverse events.

You can have a fire inside of your cave shelter but be mindful that you will wake up a lot of insects and other creatures with warmth.

If resources are slim, build a debris shelter. Debris shelters consist of a bipod created by lashing two wood poles together.

Take a third pole and create the ridge that extends down the back. Now you can line the “walls” with more wood and any debris or forest duff that may be on the ground.

Since these shelters are very small they contain heat a lot better than something like a lean to or a-frame. The forest debris acts as insulation to keep the draft and cold out.

Ensure that you have proper ventilation in your shelter. This tip is more geared towards those that are building a fire inside the shelter or have something like a candle or portable gas stove going.

Dangerous toxins such as carbon monoxide can build up and cause harm to yourself. Try to sleep a little elevated as well since carbon monoxide likes to stay closer to the ground.

Create your own alarm system. Predators, while not common, can still come prowling around your camp. In a survival situation it can make for a terrifying experience if something large and in charge comes strolling through your camp.

A simple can with rocks or wiring up some vines to a large pile of rocks that can be knocked over and heard are all you need to set up a simple alarm system for your shelter.

Always use double the insulation you think you’ll need. Insulation is one of the most important factors in building a shelter. On hot days it keeps the heat out and in the winter it keeps the heat in.

Anything that can give you an air gap can be used for insulation. This includes pine and spruce boughs, wood, bark, and even the duff right off the ground. The idea is to get some separation between the interior and exterior materials.

For example, to keep yourself insulated from the ground you need at least 4 feet of coniferous boughs to make 1 foot of usable insulation. Your body compresses it so much that any less, and you’ll be touching the ground after a few hours of sleeping.

man hunting with bow and arrow

Hunting And Foraging Food

Hunt barefoot. When stalking prey with primitive hunting weapons, you have to be silent. To do this, you must feel twigs and dry leaves under your feet before you put your weight down.

Grow bean sprouts for food. If you have dried beans, you can triple the amount of food you have by growing sprouts. Bundle them in cloth and soak overnight. Then dunk them in water twice a day.

Eat plants in the winter. I know it sounds strange, but there are winter annuals that will grow even under the snow. These include dandelions, henbit, chickweed, ground ivy, and thistle. They are all edible.

Within five days you should have two inch sprouts growing out of each bean and have about three times as much food by weight. Make sure you boil them to kill bacteria before eating.

Never eat a large meal if you are dehydrated and have no water. Processing food expends hydration, so eat in small amounts until you can find some drinking water.

Eat prickly pear cactus for hydration. This cactus is packed with hydration as well as vitamin C. Just cut away the spines and skin and eat the interior fruit. However, do not eat too much. It can give you diarrhea.

Keep your freshly caught fish in a running stream. This applies to warm weather fishing. You’ll find that your catch can spoil quickly if not prepared right away or stored properly.

A running stream or creek is perfect to just lay your fish down in the rocks. The water will keep your fish longer in a survival situation.

Boil any meat in liquid before consumption. Grilling meat over a fire is the goto way to cook meat in the backcountry.

However, if you boil the proteins in water then you’ll have a delicious and nutritious broth that hydrates you and makes digestion easier since the muscle and tendons have been broken down by the boiling water.

Try to have a varied diet, get some fat in you. Having a diet of lean meat can lead to a condition called rabbit starvation or “protein poisoning”.

This is caused by having a diet that is low in fats. In a pinch you can eat the eyes, brain and ground up bone to get the necessary fat you need.

Survival Tools

To avoid post-holing through deep snow, build snowshoes. Fold green branches into loops and weave the interior with cordage. Add a few evergreen fronds and tie to your boots. They should help keep you above the snow.

Try stropping to keep your knife razor sharp. Drag your blade across a strip of leather before and after each use and it will be razor sharp.

If you have to cross a frozen stream, build ice spikes first. Cut two small handles and drive a nail half way into the end of each. Cut off the head and attach a wrist loop.

Keep these on your wrists and be ready to fall in. Drive the spikes into the ice so you can pull yourself out and get to the shore.

Build snow goggles to protect your eyes. Snow-blindness is no joke. Find a strip of material and cut two horizontal eye slits. Tie it on and restrict the amount of light that reaches your eyes.

Keep some tampons in your emergency kit. Tampons are essentially cotton and other fabric which have a variety of uses in a survival situation. It can be used to start a fire, bandage a wound or even filter debris out of water.

Tie brightly colored paracord or another item to your tools. The forest floor can be ruddy colored which can make it difficult to spot your tools.

Primitive tools such as utensils or a makeshift knife can disappear visually if you’re not careful. A bright splash of color ensures that you minimize the risk of losing your gear.

Wilderness Rescue

Contrast is key when signaling. If you build a ground to air signal, use dark material on snow or light material on dirt. This will ensure visibility.

Avoid hypothermia with exercise. If you are worried about your body temperature, do squats or walk in a circle. This will help increase your body temperature.

Use the sunrise to predict the weather. A bright red sunrise indicates that a storm front will likely be moving in from the West. Make sure your shelter is ready.

Have any electronics? They have a lot of use in the wild. Electronics such as cell phones can be broken and used for signaling purposes, there is a mirror underneath the touchscreen that can be used to catch the light of the sun.

smartphone improvised mirror attached to wooden pole
smartphone improvised mirror attached to wooden pole

Alternatively, you can also use the glass from the screen as a cutting tool or the motherboard can be shaped into a makeshift arrowhead.

Use your watch as a compass. Not just for telling time, your watch can be used to determine where true north is. Keep in mind that this only works with an analog watch so all of you digital watch owners might need to downgrade to do this.

Point the hour hand at the sun and then divide the angle between the hour hand and 12:00. This will be your true north bearing.

If you have a digital watch you can use the four finger method to determine the sunlight left and then make a watch figure in the dirt using the same angles talked about above.

If you can, stay with your vehicle in an emergency situation. Emergency responders will be looking out for your vehicle specifically and since it is such an easy thing to spot, staying with your vehicle makes the most sense.

It is a durable shelter and protection from predators and can provide many uses with the components included in the vehicle.

You can melt paracord to create a glue-like product. Since paracord is made of nylon, a type of plastic, melting it with a lighter or a fire will turn it into a liquid. When that liquid hardens it becomes a hard plastic again.

Innovative minds can take advantage of the short window of time as the paracord melts to use it as a glue for making tools or other items. Work fast though, it doesn’t stay soft for long.

Making char cloth is a good idea for future fire-making needs. Char cloth is an excellent tool to have in the wilderness and it’s extremely simple to make.

Simply take some natural fabric, such as cotton or jute. Cut it up into squares and put in a small metal tin (Altoids tins work great). Poke a hole in the top of the tin for smoke to escape and toss it on a fire you have going.

char cloth in tin can
char cloth in tin can

When the smoke stops coming out of the hole in the tin then you have yourself some nice char cloth to use with flint and steel to create an ember for your fire.

Clothing

Dress in several loose fitting layers. These clothes need to be loose to trap warm air next to your body, but be ready to start stripping. Drop layers as you get warm to avoid sweating. Sweat has a chemical that draws heat out of your skin.

Try to avoid wearing cotton in the backcountry. Wearing cotton in the survival situation could be a bad time depending on the weather.

Cotton is not breathable so if you are in cold climates and are hiking at a high pace, you will sweat. Sweating in cold temperatures is a recipe for hypothermia.

Since cotton doesn’t dry quickly, you’ll stay cold and wet for longer as well. It’s best to use clothing items made of moisture wicking materials in the summer, and stick to wool or merino wool base layers for the colder temperature.

Use your pockets for clean cloth. The best way to sterilize a wound is to boil a clean cloth in water and use it to clean the area. The issue is that after a few days your clothing can become dirty.

The pockets on your pants or jacket are usually cleaner on the inside than the rest of your clothes. Utilizing these inner pockets could give you some clean fabric to dress up a wound.

Add extra insulation to your clothing. Sometimes, the clothing you’re wearing just doesn’t cut it for the current environment.

If you have resources such as dried grasses, dead leaves off a tree, or even something like cattail, you can easily stuff them into your clothing to give you an extra layer or warmth. Just be sure to check it for insects before filling your sleeves with grass.

Blaze your trail. If you are trying to travel to safety, mark your path as you go.  Chop into the bark on trees as you pass them so rescuers can follow if needed.

These are the types of valuable facts that could possibly save your life in a survival situation. To best remember them, try to practice them on your own. Test out a few on your next camping trip and you will be more prepared if you ever need to use them for real.

Looking for more survival tips? Check out this list of 117 survival tips and tricks!

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