The Ultimate Guide to Primitive Living

Staying alive and surviving against the odds are two of the most important goals in this world for all its creatures. In the face of a perceived threat, animals react with whatever defensive measures that they are equipped with.

Placed in a situation of catastrophe, human beings grapple to re-establish systems that will help them live to see another day, and ensure their families survive.

Permanent Primitive Living

Whether you’re looking to live the primitive life because of some SHTF event, or because you’re sick and tired of the constraints of modern society, the best people to learn from are those who’re actually living the primitive life.

Here’s a fellow living by himself in the wilderness with a hut he made from scratch:

First Primitive Year at the Hut

But to what extent do you want to live the primitive life – do you want to build a shelter from scratch, or re-use an abandoned place and fix it?

Do you want to live totally primitively or do you need some supplies from town? Will you attempt to make basic tools or are you open to taking some stuff with you like a hammer, a saw, a hatchet etc? Or will you use a digging stick and flint tools?

A good question to ask yourself is: do I want to live in the bush for longer periods of time, or just temporarily, until I find a place to stay?

Depending on your age, skills, family members, and many other variables, you may go for one or the other, but regardless, you should learn these skills because you never know when you may need them.

Even if you do end up living on a homestead, chances are you’ll still be hunting, trapping, collecting water, cooking and preserving food without electricity, and so on.

How “primitive” you become is a matter of how many skills you’re willing to learn, practice and then use on a daily basis when the time comes.

Primitive Survival Skills

You can probably guess what some of these skills are already, but the hard part is that you learn and practice them until you become good at them. Another factor to keep in mind is which ones you think you’ll need the most.

The ones that I believe are most important for survival situations are:

  • starting a fire
  • making shelter
  • finding water
  • staying safe in the bush
  • finding food
  • navigation
  • first aid
  • and camouflaging yourself

There are others that you can learn, but if you master these, you’ll be in a very good place to survive.

Now, if you’re interested in learning the primitive skills that our ancestors used to practice, in addition to some of the ones mentioned above, you could start with:

  • throwing a spear with and without an atl-atl
  • building a primitive vessel
  • making natural cordage
  • using the hand drill and bow drill methods to start a fire
  • making primitive tools and weapons
  • primitive shoes and clothing
  • primitive clay pots
  • and more…

Primitive Shelters

In all possible situations wherein lives are threatened, the survival skills that our ancestors used to fight for our place in the world becomes necessary. One of those skills is the ability to create shelter.

In its simplest form, the main function of a shelter is to provide warmth. It functions as such once the air has been warmed up by the temperature of a person’s body.

By trapping the pockets of warm air in a tight space, a body-heat shelter can be made from twigs, branches, and leaves built as something like a blanket over a person’s body.

Here’s a step-by-step process for a body-heat shelter:

  1. Collect organic debris like parts of a fallen tree. Alternatively, you can collect leaves, branches, and tree bark. The shelter is going to need as much as you can gather.
  2. Make a heap with what you have gathered. Make sure that the pile is high enough to cover your body. The length needs to be the same as your height.
  3. Dig through the middle of the heap and make sure that you can fit through the opening while at the same time making the space tight enough to prevent the cold from seeping in.
  4. Once you’ve crawled through the opening, block the entrance. Ensure that you have enough breathing room.

Another simple one is an open shelter or lean-to shelter. This type of shelter has been utilized since primitive time because of its multi-purpose nature.

Because it is inclined, it functions as overhead protection from the harsh sunlight. It is also a windbreaker in that it protects you from the debris that the wind can blow around.

Finally, it can be a fire reflector as it corners the heat in the direction of its inclination. Unfortunately, it will not do much during heavy rains, but despite said flaw, it could save your life.

Here’s how to build an open shelter:

  1. Collect the following materials:
    • Something that can serve as a ridgepole or the main support of your framework (the basic foundation of the structure you are about to build),
    • Branches or logs that can be supported by your ridgepole,
    • Think moss, leaves, and limber boughs and,
    • Rope
  2. Find two sprouting trees that are close enough to each other or at least the same distance as the length of your ridgepole. Alternatively, you can dig through the ground, wedge two poles, put back the soil and make the foundation strong enough by piling big rocks around it. Make sure that your poles have a v-shaped top where you can place the ridgepole.
  3. Put the ridgepole on top of the parallel poles you found/built.
  4. Begin making a framework by leaning the thick branches you collected against the ridgepole.
  5. With the rope, tie the thinner branches to the thicker ones horizontally and at even spaces.
  6. Fill in the framework with thick leaves and limber boughs.
  7. For further insulation, weave in slabs of bark and/or pine-needle branches.
  8. Fill in the spaces with sod, soil, or snow.
Building an A-Frame Snow Shelter - Daylight Version

If made to be sturdy enough, the open shelter can help you survive the dry weather in addition to howling winds.

See how this shelter is built without any tools:

Primitive Survival Shelter Build with Bare Hands - No Tools Needed

What’s interesting in the comment section below this video is the account of a guy who was stranded for five days and survived on blueberries and fish, and made his own shelter. If people don’t have these skills they can die, so it is a very important skill to teach youngsters.

But if you want a shelter that can help you get through just about any weather, then a simple hut would be perfect for you.

Primitive Bushcraft Shelter: Raised Bed Addition

It is a more advanced version of the open shelter in that it can be warmed and illuminated by a small fire.

It is also an effective shelter against rain as it gives you the option to add a doorway that you can close during particularly bad weather.

Here’s a step-by-step guide for building a simple hut:

  1. Collect as many poles or long branches as you can. They have to be half a foot higher that you are. For an easier building process, make sure that they are all about the same height.
  2. Pinpoint three sturdy poles that you can use as the main framework.
  3. Tilt the poles so that the tips intersect each other. With a rope, secure their placing by tying them together right below the point of intersection.
  4. Fill in the spaces between the three by using the rest of the poles you collected. If you prefer to have a doorway, leave one part open. To enclose it, save a few poles so you can simply lean it on the original hut whenever you prefer.
  5. If you’d like to make sure that it you won’t be drenched during heavy rains, weave limber boughs, branches and leaves on top of the poles. If you have a tarpaulin on hand, you can place it on top of the hut.

We talk in-depth about even more survival shelters such as caves, rock overhangs, trees, and debris huts right here.

Acquiring and Purifying Water

The most important fact about nature is that if you understand the basics and look closely, it will provide you with everything you need.

Given that evolution might have changed a few things about the current make of the human species, primitive ways will still come in handy in the event that you are faced with a survival situation.

Water is one of the most vital elements of our everyday life. The rule of threes states that the human body can only go up to three days without water, , survive only three hours in very low temperatures before hypothermia sets in, and three weeks without food.

Fighting for your survival requires a lot of energy and the temperature may not permit you to conserve what little water you have left in your body. Thus, here are a few useful tips to help you locate, collect and purify water.

Finding Water Sources

If you find yourself lost in the wilderness, nature will offer you different sources of water. The most convenient way of locating water is places that are covered in snow.

While you may not be able to drink it right away, you will need to melt the snow until you have enough water to pull you through on a day-to-day basis.

Follow animal tracks – they will lead to water. At this point, it is important to note that you might not be the only one in the forest, so always be aware.

If there seem to be no animals around then check if there are mosquitoes – they will not be far from water.

Being stranded on the mountain will give you easy access to creeks and rivers. For a higher chance of survival, you might want to set up your shelter as near as you can to your chosen source of water, but above the flood line, so never in a narrow valley right next to the water as snow melt or heavy rains could have you trapped, or washed away.

If you find yourself at the foot of a mountain or in the middle of the forest, you will need to travel until you come to a stream, lake, or pond. Sometimes springs can emerge fairly high up a slope.

The easiest way to pinpoint the exact location of water is to look at the vegetation. The greener and denser it gets, the closer you are to a source of water.

As you probably know, flies can be incredibly frustrating. However, if survival is your priority, you’re going to thank them because flies do not travel very far from a water source.

If you’re going to use animals to help you locate water, look for groups of animals like a flock of birds or a bee hive.

In this study it shows how in North Florida ant hills are 20 cm to 1.2 m above the water table – so finding an anthill means if you dig down you may find water, but whether it will be sufficient for the needs of a human is questionable.

The trick is to dip a thin stick into an ant hole and if the tip is wet, you can proceed to use a big rock to dig through the ant holes.

Collecting Water

If you feel that the wild may be too dangerous for you to walk through, then you’re going to have to create your own source of water.

One of the most primitive ways to get water is digging a hole on the ground until it fills up with water. Make sure to start digging only if the vegetation looks greener than it usually does.

Alternatively, you can also look at the ground in which the browner it gets, the more likely you’ll get water.

Once you’ve found the place where you’d like to try, start digging a hole on the ground. It should be wide enough to collect a substantial amount of water. Keep digging until you see water slowly filling up the hole.

Before it can get even halfway through your hole, collect small rocks, and drop them to the bottom to create a kind of filtering system that will allow you to drink the water as soon as it fills the hole, instead of being muddy.

There are other ways to collect water although it might not be as primitive as the first methods.

In the morning, there will be a significant amount of dew in places such as thick grass. Just tie a bandana around your ankle, and walk around until you feel that it is soaked enough.

Untie the bandana and squeeze the water out directly to your mouth or to a container. While the dew is considered to be distilled water, if you have the means to filter or boil it, then please do so.

Remember not to collect dew from anywherenear or on poisonous plants, near roadsides, plants or objects that may have been chemically treated, and areas with animal defecation.

Another non-primitive way to collect water is to tie a plastic bag around a branch with plenty of leaves. The water from the leaves will evaporate because of the accumulated heat and it will condense onto the bag.

It’s important to remember that you may not have the immune system and the resistance required to fight off the bacteria and organisms that water is naturally abundant in so you will need to purify the water.

Purifying Water

The best possible way of purifying water is to boil it. It kills bacteria and microbes.

The water needs to be maintained at boiling point for a minute at sea level but over an altitude of 6562 feet (2000 metres) it needs to be boiled for at least 3 minutes to ensure safe drinking water.

Normally, to boil water, you’re going to need some kind of hole filled with water that can withstand fire. But amidst the wilderness, a container like that may not be readily available.

A more primitive way of boiling water to purify it is to heat up rocks. Once you think the rock is hot enough, remove it from the fire and drop it in your container of water. To ensure that the water will get constant heat, you need to keep adding more hot rocks for about 20 minutes.

Another primitive way of filtering water is by building a cone made out of birch bark which will function as a natural water filter. Here’s a step-by-step process of how to make it:

  1. Collect the following materials:
    • Knife or anything that has a sharp edge,
    • Charcoal,
    • Sand,
    • Grass,
    • Pebbles and,
    • Vine length
  1. Using the sharp tool of your choice, cut into the bark of a tree horizontally for about 14 inches.
  2. Cut a second horizontal line just below the first one. Make sure that the length you choose will hold charcoal, sand, and grass. The starting point of where you cut and the end point should be parallel to the first one.
  3. Gently pry off the bark to make sure that you get it in one piece.
  4. Roll the bark inward and make sure that the end of the cone will have a coin-sized hole.
  5. If you have access to a rope, secure the cone in place by tying it around the cone. If not, a vine length will do.
  6. Fill the bottom of the filter with the small stones or pebbles to make up the first layer of your primitive water filter.
  7. After ensuring that the small stones will not slip out of your cone, fill it in with a considerable amount of grass, sand, and charcoal in that order. Fill it as much as you can. Make sure to follow the pattern until you reach the end of the cone.
  8. Put your water container under the cone.
  9. Pour in the water you have collected and wait for it to fill the cup. Pour the water in slowly so it won’t overflow in the container.

You can find even more water purification methods here.

Clothing and Footwear

If you are surviving in a relatively warm place clothes are not so important as when you have to withstand icy temperatures. A pair of sandals and short and shirt will do in warm climates.

But when it is cold you’ll need to learn to use the leather and fur from animals you may have killed, either for food or to defend yourself, to provide the basic materials. See how to make leather shirt here:

Making a Deer Skin/ Buckskin Shirt: Neolithic Clothing Making

You can also use cast offs from society to make sandals – old tyres are easily available. Watch this video to see how to make them v=InmduUuq-tU

Admittedly these use technology – so perhaps you want to do it the way the first Americans did and learn how to make moccasins here:

Moccasin Making Workshop

Hunting and Gathering Food

Disclosure: This post has links to 3rd party websites, so I may get a commission if you buy through those links. Survival Sullivan is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. See my full disclosure for more.

Perhaps one of the most difficult things to do when trying to survive in the wilderness is trying to determine what is edible and what is poisonous.

Being knowledgeable about what plants, animals, and insects are dangerous is a must for survival. There are many books that can help you on this matter, books such as:

Make sure you know exactly what you are doing, and try to eat a variety of foods. This article on Chris McCandless poses some food for thought – he’s the youngster who died in the abandoned bus after living off the land for some time.

It is well known among animals that they vary their browsing habits so that if certain plants become toxic in retaliation for over-grazing during droughts, the animals browse on plants further apart and various varieties.

To hunt for food but also to defend yourself, you’re going to need primitive tools and weapons: clubs, atl-atls, spears, bows, arrows, wooden spoons, wooden mortar and pestle and on and on.

Preserving Food

After you have secured shelter and water, your next concern will be food. While you may have emergency rations in handy, those will not last forever.

One of the simplest ways to preserving food is to smoke it. Aside from enhancing the taste of the meat by giving it a smoky flavor, the meat will dry out which makes it less vulnerable to bacteria and decay.

There are a few things to remember about making a smoker. You need an enclosed space to place in the meat, and circulate the smoke. It could be a cave, a barrel, or a drum.

Wherever you choose to start your smoker, make sure that it’s sturdy enough to withstand heat. You’ll need to make sure that you have a constant supply of smoke either from a wood fire or charcoal.

Here’s a way to build a primitive smoker:

Primitive Cooking - Building Smoker, Cooking Meat, Smoked Fish, Jerky, Ribs & Roast

Hang the meat at a considerable distance away from the fire to avoid cooking it by accident.

This video shows how to hot-smoke your fish catch the primitive way:

How to Hot Smoke Fish- Primitive Style

When thinking about your emergency storage, remember that salt is a very important item to have. In ancient times, people would cover their food with salt or salt brine.

Food covered in salt can last for years. This effect extended to more than just meat. It can be applied on fruits and vegetables too. As long as the salt-covered food is stored in sealed containers then it will last a lot longer than normal.

The most basic form of preserving food is to let it dry out under the sun. The logic behind this is the same as smoking your food. By letting the sun dry your food out, it takes away the moisture that can attract bacteria and cause sickness.

Tomatoes can be sun dried, as can various berries and fruit:

How to Create a Foraging Bowl & Dried Fruit Leather | Surviving in the Wild

Signaling for Help

Now that you’re all set in terms of shelter, food, and water, the next step is to learn ways to signal for help if you need it. Remember that you are in the wilderness and it’s likely there will come a time when you will need some help.

One of the most visible and primitive ways to call for help is through fire. Aside from its capability to keep you warm during cold nights and to ward away predators, fire can be used to communicate across a considerable distance.

But first, there are a few things that you will have to remember:

  1. Keep in mind that fire is as dangerous as it can be helpful. Make sure that you pick an area that won’t make the fire bigger than what you can handle. Consider wind and earth as the most important factors. A windy day or an area with dried grass is a dangerous place to start a fire.
  2. Make sure that the fire and more importantly, the smoke, are visible. Take into consideration the trees that may block it.
  3. Take a look at the skies to determine what you should burn. If the skies are clear, there is no point starting a fire that produces white smoke. Plastic and petroleum-based substances can make the smoke darker.

SOS (save our souls) is an internationally recognized distress signal. You can send the SOS signal through this sequence: 3 short signals, 3 long signals, and 3 short signals.

Pause and then repeat for a continuous SOS until somebody takes notice. If you’re going to send the signal using the smoke of your fire, use a blanket or your shirt over the fire to control how the smoke will go up to the sky.

Another way to use fire to signal for help is to build three fires in a triangle or a straight line. Like SOS, three fires are internationally recognized as a distress signal.

If you’re in an area that you have deemed to be too dangerous to start a fire, then you’ll have to use a mirror or any shiny object. Choose a target place where you think someone will take notice.

Make sure that it can reflect the sun and slowly move it from left to right. The best thing about using a mirror to signal for help is that it can be seen from a great distance.

Aside from starting a fire or using a mirror, creating a flag to wave around is another way of calling for help. This method has been used for thousands of years.

Use any brightly colored cloth and make sure that it is big enough to be seen. You may tie your cloth to a long branch so that you can wave it. Flags are also used for ground to air signaling.

AMR T-19 Semaphore Training Reference Video


All of these primitive skills should be learned before you find yourself in a situation where you must rely on them to survive.

Primitive living skills can be learned rapidly or you can choose a couple to focus on at a time and practice using them until you are confident you have mastered them.

primitive living Pinterest image

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *