How to Survive in the Wild

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In modern times we rarely face danger in concrete jungles, but what if you went camping and got lost in the woods? Or your car broke down, and the only thing you could do to get to people is to cross a desert?… Not everything we can predict, but if there is anything we can do, educate ourselves on how to survive in the wild. Remember that although your survival depends on many factors, the most important ones are your skills and knowledge of the issue. Even under the most unfavorable conditions, it is possible to survive with absolutely nothing but the Boy Scout mnemonic tool, “STOP,” which stands for “Stop, Think, Observe, and Plan.”

So, beware, here come the main things you have to know about how to survive in the wild:

1. Find Water

Research shows that one reason people die out in the wild is dehydration, a severe deficit of Water in the body. In general, anyone can live only up to 3 days without Water. That’s why the first thing to do is to find water sources, such as a river, stream, pond, or lake. Your survival tactic for this purpose would be the following:

  • Walk parallel to a mountain: chances are, you will find a stream or even a river.
  • Search for rock outcropping or any indentations. Just before dawn, if you flip the rocks, you may find some dew left under them.
  • Look for ants: if you see ants going in a line, up or down the tree, follow them, and you may see a water source — it is usually a crack in the tree. Take a piece of cloth and collect the Water.

2. Collect Water

  • Tie a piece of cloth to your shin so that it will absorb the dew from plants you encounter on your way out of the woods.
  • Dig dry streams for Water. Before going to sleep, dig a small hole that should be filled overnight.
  • Collect dew by pressing your shirt onto the ground, then wring the dew into your mouth or water bottle.
  • If you are out in the desert, you should eat cactus fruit that is edible and full of Water.

Remember that all Water you get from any water source can be muddy and contain pathogens. To get drinking water, you have to boil it.

Option 1: If you have a metal container, you have to boil the Water for at least 20 minutes.

Option 2: If you do not have a metal container, then you can use a boiling pit:

  • Dig a small hole next to the campfire.
  • Line the hole with the clay from the soil (if it sticks, it is the thing we need) and make sure there are no cracks in the clay layer.
  • Then fill the boiling pit with Water from your water source.
  • Once the pit is full, heat the rocks on the campfire for about 20 minutes and then start throwing them into the pit.
  • Change cooled down rocks with hot ones until the Water boils for 20 minutes.

3. Find or Make a Shelter

According to research, another reason for a likely cause of death in wilderness survival is hypothermia. To stay warm, you should build a survival shelter, a place that has to keep you dry, warm, and safe. A survival shelter protects you from wild animals that can attack you in the open. You do not need to have any specific skills to build a shelter. It should not be big, so you will not lose a lot of your body heat. Keep in mind that no one can survive weeks without proper shelter.

Ground Rules

The site for your shelter in the wilderness should possess the following properties:

  • Dry.
  • Flat. If there is rain and your shelter is on the slope, it can get filled with Water and easily washed away.
  • At a distance from a body of Water and/or from rocks or something similar.
  • Depending on your survival situation, it has to be either readily visible or very well hidden.
  • A place to start a fire nearby

The easiest way to build a shelter is to find a simple fallen tree in the woods that you then pile up with some large branches as shelter walls and fill in the gaps with smaller branches. You can bed the ground in your shelter with pine needles and/or dry leaves. It will provide some insulation between you and the cold coming from the ground. Remember that you have to change the bedding every day. No tools are needed.

If you found a cave and want to use it as a shelter, first check if there are no animals inside and no living activity present. Wild animals pose a major threat, especially bears and snakes, that are likely to occupy caves. Bear in mind that your shelter has to save you from them and not put you in even more danger.

If you are in the wilderness in winter, then the fastest way to get a shelter is to find a tree, prop a branch against its trunk at a 45-degree angle, form a snow wall, prop another branch, and drape a tarp over the branches. Again you can and should bed the inside of the shelter to create insulation for you to stay warm.

In case you are stuck in the desert and there is no fallen tree at hand, the good idea is to dig a hole in the sand and cover it with a piece of cloth to keep you out of the sun.

Plan your shelter in the wilderness wisely according to the properties stated above.

4. Find Food

Ok, with Water and shelter, it seems to be possible to survive in the wild, but there’s one more thing you need to survive — food. Your survival highly depends on how long you can get a sufficient amount of food to keep your energy level high since, according to research, people can survive around three weeks without food.

In survival situations, you are likely to have these options on the menu:

  1. Insects
  2. Plants
  3. Wild animals


Research says that bugs have a high protein content and thus can be a food source in wilderness survival. You can look for them in the ground or the crocks of trees, especially in moist places. Bear in mind that some bugs can be poisonous or have pincers. Typical edible bugs are ants, grasshoppers, crickets, earthworms, maggots, and dragonflies. You better research it. Major rules: avoid insects of vivid and acidic colors and roast them before eating.


Plants are usually in abundance outdoors, but make sure the plant you are going to eat is edible. Here’s a tip to check whether the plant is edible or not: if its taste is extremely bitter or soapy, then better find something else.

All of these things can serve as food:

  • Berries are usually full of sugar, so there will not be any problems keeping your energy at a certain level. Beware: not all berries are edible.
  • Nuts are high-energy products. Do some research on the area you are about to find whether there are some nut trees, such as acorns.
  • Bark. All evergreen trees with needles have edible inner bark.
  • Cactuses have edible leaves. Beware of the spines! Protect your hands and scrape the spines before eating the pad.

You can also find nests hidden in the branches of the trees or on the ground in the woods. You can collect eggs and, if you are lucky, even kill the bird. In case you want to cook an egg, you have two options:

Option 1: you can boil it on a campfire.

Option 2: you can fry it with no pan: make a hole in the ground, put some coals in it, place an egg and cook it till it’s ready (approximately 5-10 minutes).

Wild Animals

Animals serve as a good source of food, though they are not as easy to catch as it might seem, even if you have some tools on you like a knife. If you are less lucky and do not have a knife or lost it, use anything that might serve as a weapon or a tool, such as sticks or stones. Use sticks to catch small animals, like squirrels or rabbits, that roam freely in the woods. You might need some skills for that, like setting up traps or simply throwing a self-made spear (sort of a sharp stick). If your shelter is close to a water body, it may be wise to install some stationary fish traps or go fishing with moving fish traps or sharp sticks. To ensure your survival, you should not solely rely on hunting animals as a single way of obtaining food. Possibly the best way to catch an animal is to set a trap for it rather than trying to hunt it down. Chances are, you will not win this battle and will only lose the energy that you require.

5. Start a Fire

Prioritizing your warmth is essential in case of survival situations since it indicates how much food you will need. Keep in mind that the colder it is outdoors, the more food you will need to keep yourself alive. And fire comes in handy by:

  • providing extra protection from animals that now will stay away from your shelter;
  • allowing you to cook food and boil water;
  • allowing you to stay warm.

It is hard to start a fire in the wilderness with no matches and a lighter, so one of the skills you should work on is building a fire by friction or a bow-drill method:

  1. Build a fire pit, a hole in the ground enclosed with rocks, at least 1.5 m away from your shelter.
  2. Create a tinder bundle: collect dry leaves and pine needles, compile them together, and cover the fire pit’s bed with it.
  3. Make a bow drill. The items you will need are a rock with a divot, a piece of softwood with a hole, a pliable branch, something that can be used as a cord (shoelaces, hair), and a hardwood stick drill. Form a bow with a green, pliable branch by tying one of your shoestrings or bits of your hair to either end of it.
  4. Use the bow drill to start a fire: compile the items in 3. By drawing the bow back and forth, make the drill spin and create friction on the softwood and make a spark. When you see smoke, the first sign of a fire, usually after a few minutes, you can start blowing to make the spark spread. Then add bark and twigs to help a fire form.
  5. Keep the fire burning by continuously adding new pieces of wood that you can find in the woods.

6. Prepare Survival Gear

To survive in the wild, you will need to have a few skills developed and get some things prepared for the journey. Even small things can help to increase your survival chances in the wild. It is not in our power to predict everything, but here is a good tip – always have a few things up your sleeve or, in this case, in your backpack.

The items or survival gear that should always be in your backpack when you are setting off on an adventure are:

  • a lighter and matches
  • a sharp knife
  • a water bottle
  • a rain jacket
  • car emergency kit
  • contact whistle
  • wool mittens and scarf
  • parachute cord for making a fire-kit
  • phone

It is hard to name all things you may need in times of trouble. Do some research on first aid and techniques to start a fire (for example, a bow-drill method). If you need to survive in the wild, any skills might come in handy.

7. Know Your Bearings

Another good thing to do is read about the area you are about to go to and get a map of the area, especially if it is a planned hike. Try to find answers to the following questions:

  1. What is the landscape? Are there any rivers, mountains, or hollows?
  2. What animals are in abundance there?
  3. Are there any camping sites or tourist routes you can stick to?

Wild Survival Checklist

Before leaving your home in times of irresistible desire to wander in the woods, all you have to do is to check all of the above-mentioned items on the survival kit list. But here are also a few general survival tips in the wild:

  • Stay calm and collected.
  • Try to retrace your steps.
  • If you told someone that you are going into the woods, then stay at the place. It will be easier for a search party to find you.
  • You can draw attention to your location by calling out loud or sending a distress signal via phone.
  • If you travel far from your shelter, always leave marks to find your way back. They are also a good way to let the search party know where you have been.
  • If you decide to move, then the best idea is to stay close to the rivers and walk along the streams. Humans usually build their towns and cities near water sources. Chances are you might reach civilization easier and faster.
  • Do not forget to give yourself a rest once in a while.
  • Eat as late as possible since eating raises your body temperature, and this way, you will have a higher chance to stay warm through the night.
  • Avoid all predators at any cost. You might not survive this encounter.
  • Do not forget to drink water. Staying hydrated keeps to from maintaining your vitals.

A former USA Army sergeant and a highly educated survivalist and prepper with a degree and interest in Engineering and Electronics, Mike Millerson applies his extensive expertise in survivalism, homesteading, backpacking, hiking and hunting, spreading his deep knowledge about handling emergencies and prepping for them reasonably and effectively.




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