By LAPG Staff
Oct 2nd 2020

The Ultimate Guide to Wilderness Survival

Today, we all live in a world driven by innovative technology that automates our households, makes jobs easier and provides endless streams of entertainment. While these things make life easier in general, when disaster strikes, most of us just aren’t prepared. As a whole, we’ve grown complacent and aren’t prepared to survive during natural disasters.

Many people like to unplug from all the electronics and escape to the wilderness for a solo hike or family camping adventure. But many of us rely on technology even out in the woods and forget that there are critical survival skills and supplies necessary in case of an emergency. Wilderness survival is about more than just a couple of handy camping tools and first aid supplies, although those are important, too. Let’s dive into this comprehensive list of tools and important wilderness survival skills.

How to Always Be Prepared to Survive During Emergencies or in Hostile Environments

The most prepared people are the ones who can survive catastrophes–no matter where they are. It’s even more important to have the right tools and knowledge when disconnected from society. You’ll miss having resources like a local rescue and fire department, clean drinking water or heat during the winter.

Always pack a bag with all the survival tools you need for the wilderness and keep it somewhere in your house where everyone knows where it is. Or you can keep those items in a go bag in your car. The most prepared survivalists stockpile supplies in multiple places because you never know when you’ll need them.

Learn How to Start a Fire (without Matches) and Tend It

Learning how to start a fire is one of the top wilderness survival skills you can learn, and you probably think that you can just use matches. But what happens if your pack of matches gets wet, falls out of your pack into the river or you forget to bring them?

Learn how to start a fire

A durable fire starter is an incredibly important survival tool. Temperatures don’t have to be below zero for you to succumb to hypothermia. If you are in a cold rain, wind or air–even in 50°F or higher temperatures and 60°F to 70°F water–hypothermia is a threat. If you can’t start a fire in inclement weather outside, you risk dying from hypothermia.

Having a fire also allows you to cook food, purify water, signal for help, cauterize wounds and even ward off wild animals.

It’s alright to carry matches. Just make sure you have a backup method for starting a fire, whether it be using a bow drill, magnifying glass or fire starter. It pays to make sure you’re comfortable and good at the method you choose. And remember: Your fire-starting skills don’t end with starting one. You also need to keep it going.

How to Treat Injuries and Illnesses Out in the Woods

If you’re camping or hiking out in the wilderness, you’re likely far away from emergency services. So, if you or a fellow hiker fall or get sick, you need to be able to treat certain medical issues on the trail. Camping and outdoors experts like NOLS teach wilderness classes you can take that teach you how to treat medical problems when EMS services are far away.

medical aid - first aid kit

You also need the right first aid supplies to treat injuries in the wilderness. Tourniquets are handy to keep in your supplies in case of injuries that pierce the skin, such as gunshot or stab wounds. They can significantly reduce blood flow. For compression injuries where the bleeding is difficult to control with tourniquets, like gunshot or stab wounds in the chest, a product like QuikClot is good to have with you.

Always keep a first aid kit in your survival bag or with your camping gear that at least includes the following:

  • First aid cards or manual
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Safety pins
  • Antibacterial ointment
  • Tweezer (fine point)
  • Antihistamine for allergic reactions
  • Assorted sizes of adhesive bandages
  • Butterfly bandages
  • Anti-itch treatment
  • Gauze pads
  • Pain relief medication, such as ibuprofen
  • Non-stick sterile pads
  • Blister treatment
  • Medical tape
  • Elastic wrap
  • Triangle bandages
  • Sunburn relief
  • Glucose
  • Anti-diarrheal
  • Oral rehydration salts
  • Medical shears
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Biodegradable soap
  • CPR mask
  • Razorblade
  • Emergency heat blanket
  • Oral thermometer (standard)
  • Nitrile gloves
  • Cotton swabs
  • Irrigation syringe with an 18-gauge catheter
  • Medical waste bag
  • Waterproof case for your supplies

Learn How to Navigate and Read a Compass

While your smartphone is a handy navigation tool or you may prefer a high-tech compass, you should always have a backup navigation tool. That can be a map of the area you’re camping in or an old-school reliable compass. As long as you understand the basics of a compass, it will help you in most survival incidents.

There are some key things to learn, and they may sound familiar to you. When you’re lost, always find higher ground. Finding higher ground allows you to get a better lay of the land, and it can help orient you.

There are other navigation tools you can use, such as water. Follow the river in the direction it flows and, eventually, you should find other people.

Also, you can always use the sun as a navigation tool. It’s not a perfect navigation tool, but in general, the sun moves from the east to the west.

One navigation hack is to push a long stick into the ground far enough that it stands on its own. Make a mark in the dirt where the shadow of the stick’s tip is. Now, wait for several minutes and see which direction the shadow of the stick is. The shadow moves in the direction of the east.

Know How to Purify Water

Know How to Filter or Purify Water

When you’re in the woods for an extended time, it’s almost impossible to bring enough water to last the whole trip. You can’t assume that water out in the wilderness is pure. While contamination from chemicals isn’t an issue, plenty of bacteria and other things live in water everywhere. So, purifying or filtering your water is the safest way to hydrate.

There are several ways to make sure your water is safe to drink, and one of the simplest ways is to boil it. You can also use purification tablets or drops, and they don’t take up much space. Purification and filtration pumps also work well.

Pack Food, But Learn How to Hunt and Forage

Next to water, food might be the second most important thing on this list. Bringing plenty of food such as protein bars, dried fruits and nuts, freeze-dried food or jerky is a good idea. However, you should also learn how to hunt and forage for food. If, for some reason, you get stranded in the wilderness for an extended period of time while waiting for a rescue, you’ll likely run out of food.

You might not bring a gun on a day hike, but you can use a long sharp stick to spear fish and small game. You can also pack some fishing line and hooks too since they don’t take up much space. Plus, in an emergency, you can use a fishing line for all kinds of things.

cooking over an open fire

Foraging is another handy skill to have because the wilderness offers a steady food supply in most places. It would be a good idea to study the wildlife and plants in the area you’re hiking or camping so you can identify the right plants to eat and avoid anything poisonous.

In general, you want to stay away from possible poisonous plants and other foods such as mushrooms unless you are absolutely sure they are edible. Consider buying a field guide to edible food or researching food you can eat in the forest online.

Shelter-Building Skills

Learning how to build a temporary shelter is critical to your survival in the wilderness. Along with fire, shelter from the weather is critical if you need to stay out in the woods overnight–and you didn’t bring a tent or tarp.

A lean-to is one of the easiest shelters to build. It consists of leaning materials like sticks and branches against a pre-existing natural formation or structure, such as a tree, rock face or another edifice. Though it does not protect you on all sides, it’s a sufficient shelter to throw up in a hurry.

You can also build a round lodge, otherwise known as a wigwam, wickiup or teepee. This structure is built similarly to a lean-to with a large number of sticks and branches leaning together, but this design creates a bigger shelter with more protection. Round shelters take longer to create, but they can protect food, your gear and you from the elements or other predators.

Checklist of Items to Bring When Camping or Hiking in the Wilderness

Now that we’ve discussed some of the skills you need to survive in the wilderness and the tools you need for them, here are some additional items you should bring. Some of these things will be contingent upon how long you plan on being out in the wilderness.

A Tent or Tarp

Tents come in all shapes and sizes today, and a reliable, lightweight shelter is easy to carry with you on a hike. You can even make do with a tarp in a pinch.

A Durable Tactical Knife

Tactical knives come in a variety of styles. There are tactical fixed blade knives and folded blades that each tackle different tasks.

Fixed blade knives are extremely durable and good for rugged field work, but they aren’t as convenient to carry as folded blades. Folded blades aren’t as strong, and they are best for safety purposes and self-defense.

Waterproof Sleeping Bag

Staying warm even in moderate weather is important, so pack a lightweight, warm sleeping bag. It needs to be comfortable and warm yet easy to carry. You should also consider the material a sleeping bag is made from.

Survival Camping Axe

A survival axe can help you chop wood for a fire, or you can use it as a claw grip for hikes. It’s also perfect for protection and hacking limbs for your shelter.

Paracord

Strong paracord is an essential survival tool for emergency scenarios in the wilderness. You can use it to attach, hang, tie, bind, cinch–its uses are endless. A paracord bracelet is handy since it’s attached to you and you’re less likely to lose it.

Grab a tactical compass

Tactical Compass

While technology today can help you find your way wherever you are, if you’re out in the wilderness, it may not work. A reliable compass can help you navigate when you’re lost. Pair that with a paper map and you have the safest way back to civilization.

Tactical Flashlight

A dependable tactical flashlight is a must even if you’re only planning a day hike. If you take shelter during a storm in the rain in a dark cave, you’ll wish you had one–and you certainly need one at night. In fact, it’s a good idea to carry more than one in case you lose one or a battery goes dead. A good flashlight helps you set up camp in the dark and navigate the terrain around you.

If you plan to be in the wilderness often, you should definitely learn these skills and carry these tools and resources. Even if you don’t plan to camp or hike, often you can still stockpile supplies and make sure you have the right tools at home. You never know when a storm or natural disaster will cut you off from community resources.

Most people think of cold war bunkers or extremists when they hear survivalists, but really, surviving is being prepared for anything that disrupts society, whether it be war or nature.

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