As technology has developed our lives have become farther removed from nature. Technology has become a crutch in our everyday lives for finding our way, staying warm, finding shelter, and getting the food and water our bodies need.
Relearning these skills is essential for anyone interested in spending time outdoors as any situation can become a survival situation and having these skills can save your life. The specific skills needed to survive in every climate and situation vary greatly, the skills you need in the Pacific Northwest are different than those needed for the Arizona desert, but they can be broken down into a few basic categories: navigation, temperature regulation (how to stay warm in this article), shelter, and food and water.
Navigation is one of the most important survival skills. Being able to find your way and keep a bearing you can significantly increase your chances of survival. The most basic element of navigation is paying attention to your surroundings where there are all sorts of natural clues to tell direction from. The most basic one is the path of the sun. It rises in the East, reaches its zenith in the South (if you’re in the Northern hemisphere), and sets in the West. This is great unless you can’t see the sun.
If you can’t see the sun, look to tree limbs. Tree limbs grow to catch as much direct sunlight as possible; since the sun spends most of the day in the southern part of the sky tree limbs will point that direction usually. Trees will have a fuller leaf cover on their southern half, there will usually be more limbs on the southern half and they will grow horizontally, facing north you will find less limbs and they will grow more vertically in their attempt to catch more sun light.
Navigating at night, although it should generally be avoided, can also be done by observing nature. Instead of relying on the sun, we’ll be relying on the stars. Stars do not share the same path as the sun, they appear to rotate around the north star and we can use that to navigate. Lay down with a stick and line it up with a star as if you’re aiming a rifle. Over time the stars will move. If the star moves in these directions it means you’re facing the respective cardinal direction:
|Star’s Rotation||Your direction|
An acronym to help you remember this technique is L.U.R.D.
Being able to stay warm is an essential survival skill. Hypothermia can set in unnoticed and quickly take a situation from bad to critical. So, what are you actually trying to do when you’re trying to keep warm? You’re trying to keep the air around your body warm, so your body doesn’t lose as much heat. This can be done by using a fire to give off heat or using shelter and clothing to preserve heat.
Making a fire is a combination of art and science. Everyone has a preferred way to start a fire and keep one going. No matter the method you prefer, building a heat reflector will increase the heat you get off your fire. It’s a basic idea: build a wall around the fire to redirect heat instead of letting it dissipate in all directions.
Making a reflector wall:
- Drive stakes into the ground, make sure to drive them so they’re leaning back.
- Stack branches against these to a desired height.
- Repeat for as many walls as needed to capture and reflect the heat.
What type of shelter you can and should build depends on where you are, how long you will be there, and what resources you have. Despite this there is one basic design that you can pretty much adapt to any region.
How to make a tripod shelter:
- Make a tripod using three sturdy branches. One should be significantly longer than the others, long enough for you to lay down under the tripod.
- Lean branches along the length of the long support.
- Cover using whatever you have. Grasses, leaves, a tarp or plastic will all work.
This basic design can help keep your warm and fairly dry in many regions and seasons. A trick to help stay dry in case of rain is to dig trenches around your shelter. Dig on the uphill side around your shelter on both sides. This will help divert some rain or ground water around your shelter.
4) Water and Food
Finding reliable food and water is a skill that people relied on daily for survival that has since been forgotten. Iodine and water filters are great as long as you have access to them. Thankfully there’s an easy way to filter water that has been used for centuries, even by the U.S Calvary as it moved west across the plains. I recommend having three containers (three buckets will work) and something to strain through (fabric, coffee filter, netting, etc.).
- Fill one container with unfiltered water (this will be the only container that unfiltered water comes in contact with to prevent contamination).
- Cut the bottom off on of the bottles. Wrap the strainer around the top, then pour in charcoal, then sand, then gravel into the bottom. This is the most common order. Depending on the size of the bottle and what you have on hand you can alternate levels of gravel and sand.
- Pour water through the straining bottle into the clean bottle.
All of these things can be readily found or made in most survival settings.
With just water, flour and salt you can make hardtack. Thanks to its long shelf life hardtack has been a staple for soldiers, sailors, pioneers and anyone else who’s undertaken a long voyage for generations. Here’s the recipe:
- 3 cups of flour
- 1 cup of water
- A little bit of salt
Mix and bake at 375* for 30 minutes. It’s that simple. You can add sugar, milk, peanut butter powder or other ingredients for flavor but they will shorten the shelf life.
Knowing these skills is a great way to increase your chances of survival when things go wrong, but to effectively apply them you need to practice them. Survival is a process of continual learning, practice and refinement. Practicing survival skills can save your life, and also bring you closer to nature, those you practice with and how all of our ancestors lived. So take these techniques, head out to the woods and learn the new ones and keep practicing the ones you already knew!