Surviving in the wilderness isn’t easy. Every year, many people recklessly travel into the wilderness, get lost or hurt, and find themselves in a very dangerous situation. The difference between those who live and those who die is survival skills.

Those who know how to live off the land, stay warm/cool, and take care of their bodies are much more likely to survive than those who don’t have a clue when it comes to survival.

If you plan on doing much venturing into the wilderness, you need to have at least some basic knowledge of survival skills.

Here are seven essential skills you need to have.

Contents [hide]

1 Essential Skill #1: The Ability To Avoid Stupid Mistakes

2 Essential Skill #2: Finding/Creating Shelter

2.1 Location

2.2 Insulation

2.3 Heat source

3 Essential Skill #3: Locating Water

4 Essential Skill #4: Building Fire

5 Essential Skill #5: Signaling For Help

5.1 SOS Signal

5.2 Signal Fires

5.3 Signal Mirror

6 Essential Skill #6: Finding Food

6.1 Proteins

6.2 Edible Plants

6.3 Insects

7 Essential Skill #7: A Positive Attitude

8 Final Tips


Most causes of wilderness death are simply due to people making stupid mistakes. For example, many people go tramping into the wilds with almost no knowledge of basic survival skills, which is like walking into a death trap.

Not having sufficient clothing is another simple, easily avoidable mistake. You should have enough to keep you warm without making you sweaty or uncomfortable. If you’ll be in an area where the temperature changes significantly, dress in layers that can be added or removed.

Many people also miscalculate risks, trying to climb difficult places or traverse unsafe terrain. Knowing your own limits as well as having knowledge of the land can help you avoid these mistakes.


The first, and perhaps most important survival skill you need is how to find or create shelter. Many people perish simply because they don’t know how to find or build the proper shelter, resulting in hypothermia, dehydration, heat loss, or even heat stroke.

In order to ensure your survival, it’s essential to begin seeking out or creating a shelter as quickly as possible. The longer you delay the more likely it is that you will encounter various health issues due to inclement weather.

When locating your shelter, consider the following things:


Ideally, you want to be away from any hazards, such as the dwelling places of animals or ice that could unexpectedly break. Your shelter should be in a relatively safe location.


Your shelter will need to be insulated from the ground, air, wind, rain, snow, etc. Natural shelters that fit this bill could include caves, a hollow log, or even a stump. You also have the option of building a shelter, like a debris hut or a lean-to.

Heat source

You’ll need to stay warm, and so need to consider your heat source. Will you be building a fire or relying on your body heat? If you will be using a fire, you need to consider both how you’ll keep the heat in your shelter as well as how you’ll protect the shelter from fire.


Another essential skill when in a survival situation is the ability to locate or create drinkable water. Because the human body can only go 2 to 3 days without water, it’s absolutely essential to find water quickly, even before building a fire or finding food.

Many people die simply because they can’t find water or they contract a waterborne disease.

In a wilderness setting, the best sources of clean drinking water tend to be headwater streams, morning dew, or springs.

Some simple ways to find water include:

Listening for the sound of running water

Looking for converging animal tracks, which indicate animals are gathering in a particular location

Move downhill toward crevasses or ravines since water always drains in a downward direction

Pay attention to the number of insects, especially mosquitoes since they tend to gather around water

Dig into muddy, wet ground

Once you locate a water source, it is necessary to treat the water to ensure that it is properly purified. There are several different ways to purify water, including water pumps, chemical treatments, and iodine. If you do not have access to any of these resources, a simple yet effective solution is to boil the water for 2 to 3 minutes.


Though having a fire might not be absolutely essential, it is one of the most important survival skills to possess. It allows you to stay warm, cook food, boil water, dry your clothes, and have a light source during the night. Additionally, having a fire can be a great morale booster.

When traveling in the wilderness, always carry several fire starting tools, such as flint and steel, matches, and a lighter. However, there will be times when you need to be able to make a fire without these implements. Learn the art of building a fire in various weather conditions, such as rain, snow, and the morning fog. Also, learn the different methods of building a fire, such as fire by friction or fire by magnification.


If you are lost or hurt while in the wilderness, you will need to know how to signal for help. If possible, find a signal site that is both close to your shelter and in a location with clear visibility. Consider how the searchers will be looking for you. Will they be flying over? Will they be hiking through the woods? Knowing how they will be looking can help you determine the best way to signal.

There are a number of ways to signal for help.

SOS Signal

Known as the international distress signal, most people are familiar with the three short, three long, and then three short signals. These signals can be made using a variety of things, such as a mirror, smoke, sound, or light. You can also make the symbol out of logs on the ground or a trench so that planes flying overhead can see it.

Signal Fires

Signal fires are a highly visible method of signaling for help. It can be easily seen at night, and during the day the smoke can be spotted from a long distance away. When building these fires, either place them in a triangle or in a long, straight line, both of which are signals of distress.

Signal Mirror

If the weather is right, a signal mirror can catch someone’s eye from a long way away. If you have a shiny object of any sort, you can use it to reflect the rays of the sun. At night, you can use a flashlight and reflect the beam off the mirror.

Make sure to move your signal across the horizon so that it may be seen from all directions, including the sky.


Although it is possible to go for long periods without food, it is critical for providing energy, warmth, and hope. Thankfully, most wilderness areas have many natural food sources, from plants to insects to fish. Food sources will vary based on location and ideally, you will vary your diet to get as many different nutrients as possible.


Meat, fish, and some insects can be outstanding sources of protein. Additionally, eggs can be a source of protein. Many protein sources require fire to properly prepare so adjust accordingly.

Edible Plants

Unless you are in the middle of the desert, you should be able to find at least a few edible plants. In order to prepare for survival situations, learn at least two edible plants before going to a particular location.


Though they may taste unpleasant, insects can be an outstanding source of nutrition. Study up on edible insects before venturing into any possible survival situation


Without a positive attitude, you simply can’t survive a difficult situation. Wilderness survival will test every facet of you, from your physical abilities to your emotional stamina. It is easy to become discouraged and frustrated when things don’t go your way.

Sustaining hope in a survival situation requires the ability to maintain a positive outlook. Instead of focusing on all the things that could go wrong, focus on the things that are under your control. Give all your attention to finding shelter, getting food and water, staying warm, and maintaining constant signals for help.

Whatever you do, don’t allow yourself to give up.


One of the most critical things you should do before heading out into the wilderness is to make sure you have the right tools. This post covers some incredibly useful survival skills you need to have, but without useful tools it makes it that much harder to build a shelter, boil water, build a fire, and signal for help, and find food.

We cover some popular survival tools that you should consider bringing with you throughout this blog. What to bring of course depends on where you are going and how long you plan on staying. But some of the most popular tools to consider packing are a good kukri knife or a survival machete (or you could go with a survival or bushcraft knife if you want something a little smaller). Of course if you plan on starting a fire a lighter (or at the very least flint and steel) is essential, along with something like a splitting maul or hatchet to cut wood if needed.

Being lost in the wilderness may be frightening, but if you know the right skills and tools, you can survive. There are countless stories of men and women getting lost and surviving for days, relying only on themselves.

If you sufficiently prepare, study the area before you go, and carry the right equipment, you can survive almost any situation.

Horace Kephart said, “The man who goes afoot, prepared to camp anywhere and in any weather, is the most independent fellow on earth.”

So the question is: are you prepared?