Basic Survival Skills You Should Know

Basic Survival Skills You Should Know

Even if you are not an avid fan, there is a good chance you’ve seen at least one episode of Survivor, which aired for the first time in May 2000. If reality shows aren’t your thing, perhaps you’ve watched survival-related documentaries or fictional movies. It’s only natural to question what you would do if faced with potential life and death scenarios such as being stranded in the wilderness. However, most of us do not follow up on those thoughts and prepare for the possibility. If you were a Boy Scout, chances are you remember the skills you learned in your youth. For the rest of us, learning a few basic survival skills is a worthwhile pursuit because the unexpected can and does happen, all too frequently.

To begin, you must prioritize, so if you are in a burning building, the obvious first move is to safely evacuate. Try to stay calm and positive in the face of peril—this not only works when people are facing serious illnesses but also when immediate survival is on the line.

Basic First Aid

Learning how to perform basic first aid can come in handy when you least expect it. It’s important to know how to administer first aid for cuts and scrapes, fractures and dislocations, and burns. While knowing these skills is helpful, don’t forget to pack a well-stocked first aid kit. If the injury is minor, wash it thoroughly and apply a clean bandage to the cut. If bleeding persists, use a tourniquet between the injury and the heart, but only in extreme situations because this can result in nerve damage and other long-term health issues.

Dislocated bones need to be put back in place. Keep in mind the following tactics should only be used when there is no access to medical care. For shoulders, roll on the ground or hit your shoulder against a hard surface to reset the bone. Pop kneecaps back into place by stretching your leg out and forcing it into the socket. Fractures need to be stabilized with a splint—if you are in the woods, materials are usually abundant. Stabilize the fractured bone with sticks and tie them together with shoelaces to secure and keep the splint in place.

For burns, remove any clothing and find lukewarm water to douse the burn or coat it in honey, if available. Wrap the burn loosely with a wet piece of clothing. If you don’t have water, clean out debris, dirt, and any loose skin and try to locate water as quickly as possible. Keep the wound elevated if possible and do not attempt to open any blisters.

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My

OK, Dorothy, life is not like The Wizard of Oz, but you could run into wildlife no matter where you are. While you’ll likely not meet tigers face to face in the U.S., you might encounter bears, mountain lions (cougars), coyotes, wolves, snakes, alligators, spiders, and other creatures. Never approach or feed wild animals and watch where you sit or walk—spiders, lizards, snakes, and other potentially dangerous things may be in the general vicinity. If you see a wolf, coyote, or cougar, face the animal and slowly back away from it. Don’t play dead, run, or approach the animal. If you are backed into a corner, make yourself as big as possible, spread out your arms, and make a lot of noise. If this strategy fails, throw anything you can find at the animal. Worst case scenario—if an animal attacks, block its mouth with your non-dominant arm and smash the heel of your hand into its snout or hit it in the eyes. If this works, run and hide behind a tree before attending to your wounds.

Shelter, Warmth, and Water

Everybody should learn how to set up a tent or a temporary shelter with available materials. The same goes for fire—you may not have the luxury of having all your camping gear and gadgets. Follow these steps to build a simple brush shelter.

  • Locate one long, sturdy branch a few feet longer than your height.
  • Prop one end of the branch up against a tree stump or log. You can also prop it up on two shorter branches to create an A shape.
  • Lean shorter branches against the branch to create a frame.
  • Cover the frame with leaves, branches, or other brush.

You can always try rubbing sticks together, however this can take a lot of patience and can be quite tiring. This method requires rapidly rubbing two sticks together or moving one stick rapidly and repeatedly against a log for an hour or so. If you are lucky enough to have a knife, it can be used not only to cut kindling but to start a fire. Strike the blade on the sharp edge of a rock such as flint, granite, obsidian, or quartz. This action will produce steel shavings, which sparks fire.


Human beings can survive much longer without food than without water. In some cases, you may be able to hear water from a nearby stream. If not, pay close attention to wildlife. Follow grazing animals at dusk or dawn because that’s when they head to water sources. Although you usually shoo them away, keep in mind that flies and mosquitoes tend to stay within about 400 feet of water. If you locate water, make sure at the very least you boil it to remove impurities. You can also create your own water filter by layering bark, stones, sand, or charcoal and running the water through these materials.

Remember that movies are more often fiction than fact and are meant to entertain, even if they happen to touch on some of the key survival strategies discussed above. Make sure you use trustworthy sources to learn how to survive in the wild or your story might end up sounding like a plot from a very bad B horror movie.

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