You should ideally never have to rough it in nature, and it’s a bad idea to choose bushcraft over civilization.
Try to have a few critical items that’ll dramatically help your chances of survival.
Your ability to improvise is your most important skill in the wild.
Learn to navigate safely and efficiently.
While untreated running water is generally safe to drink, boil or chlorinate beforehand if you can.
Learn to trap game, hunt, and fish, and smell any possible food before you eat it.
Build an effective shelter that’ll give you heat for nighttime and protection from the sun.
Prepare effective fires:
- Get the fuel together, and consider the flash point.
- Prepare kindling as a “nest” in the middle.
- Create an ignition source from a spark, reflected light, or focused heat.
Why learn bushcraft?
Ideally, you should never have to brave it in the wild, and it’s a bad idea to make it your first choice if you can live in civilization.
However, sometimes the situation becomes dire, and you must venture into completely untamed land.
If you can, bring a few critical lightweight multipurpose items:
- Maps of where you’re going
- Headlamp or flashlight
- Extra set of clothes
- Some type of fire starter, like matches or a lighter
- Extra food, preferably high-protein, high-fat foods
- A simple first aid kit with bandages, triple-antibiotic ointment, decongestant, and painkillers
- Sleeping bag/tent (especially with cold weather)
- Fishing pole or fishing net
- Cookware to boil water and cook
Your ability to creatively improvise, more than any other skill, will determine your survival in the wild.
Rocks are sturdy, simple tools:
- Use a rope, a rock, and a strong piece of wood to make a hammer.
- Make a mortar and pestle from two relatively conforming rocks.
- Make a frying pan with a smooth stone over a fire.
Grind anything made of metal or glass against rocks to make a blade.
Sunscreen and sunglasses can help you maintain your energy and focus:
- It’s extra important with snow, since it reflects the sun’s rays and can cause snow blindness.
If you have maps and a compass, you have a tremendous advantage getting around.
Learn to accurately predict the weather without technology.
Make a compass with a watch:
- Point the hour hand of a watch at the sun.
- Place a line through the center of the watch between the hour hand and 12.
- The side of the line farthest from the 12 and hour hand is north in the northern hemisphere and south in the southern hemisphere.
At twilight, find the North Star by looking directly under the Big Dipper constellation.
Slowly and carefully approach uneasy terrain.
If you’re walking a long distance in shoes unfit for the task, stuff fern leaves inside your shoes as insoles.
Air is an excellent insulator, so wrap up in layers to prevent any immediate heat loss.
Avoid getting wet to cut down on the risks of hypothermia:
- Try not to rush when you can to avoid sweating.
- When you have layers, shed them when you start feeling warm.
Generally, untreated running water in temperate climates is usually fine to drink, but boil or chlorinate the water if you can to avoid risking the many diseases in the wild.
You can harvest fresh water by tying a plastic bag around leaves, then putting something heavy in it like a rock.
If you have any containers with you, collect rainwater (though it’s not always safe to drink, so purify it first).
There are several ways to purify water:
- Add a drop of bleach in for every ten ounces of water and then let it sit for half an hour
- Boil water for at least 1 minute, or up to 5 minutes if it’s highly contaminated.
If you don’t have much water and are thirsty, rinse your mouth for thirty seconds before swallowing to feel hydrated.
You can find water in the desert:
- Dig up plant roots.
- Cut them into thick shavings.
- Squeeze or press a little water out.
- Some desert plants are hallucinogenic, so only use in a life-or-death situation.
The Universal Edibility Test: smell it first (though it won’t work for mushrooms).
Only eat familiar plants.
Use a sharpened stick to spear-fish.
Insects are convenient sources of protein:
- You can find bugs under rocks and in the soil, on and in trees, and around bushes.
- Avoid three types of insects:
- Brightly colored
- Smells bad
- Strolling along as if they aren’t afraid of anyone
Improvise tools to get meat:
- Convert a broken-off soda can top, paperclip or small piece of bent metal into a fish hook.
- Make a bow with a tightly curved piece of solid wood with a string.
- Fletch arrows by carving long shafts out of branches, and adding a sharpened stone at the tip for aerodynamic weight.
Catch wild game:
- Small traps can catch small game like rabbits, squirrels, and rodents.
- Make traps with branches and stones.
- Bait the traps with leftovers of your food or other animals’ trash food.
- Often, if you’re desperate, traps can be a painful cost-benefit risk analysis.
- Use what you have to experiment with various traps.
Hunt large game:
- To hunt reliably, you should learn it beforehand and have plenty of experience.
- Practice sneaking as quietly as possible through your terrain.
- Since you usually only get one shot, practice with targets beforehand.
If you do score large game, you must preserve the leftovers:
- Trim the good meat off the carcass.
- Salt the meat.
- Additionally, you can cure it in a waterproof pouch by turning it over once a day for at least a week.
- Rinse the meat and dry it overnight.
- Smoke the meat over a fire and tripod.
- Cut it into strips and lay on a rack over coals.
- Drape an animal skin over the tripod and add damp wood chips to create smoke.
60-80% of the body’s energy works to create heat.
The largest loss of heat comes through our skin’s contact with the air around us:
- Heat loss can cause hypothermia and, at lower temperatures, frostbite.
- We can measure how much heat we lose relative to the outside temperature combined with windchill.
Your shelter will be critical to protecting yourself from losing heat at night.
Eat food to increase your metabolism to stay warm.
The most effective foods are hot drinks, whole grains, ginger, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, paprika, and pepper.
Stay hydrated to store more heat.
Even with everything, weather and moisture in the air can still sap your heat.
When wandering, only settle where you have convenient access to water:
- You may want to stay somewhere safer and farther from water, but water satisfies far too many needs.
The quickest shelter is a tarp, waterproof cover or tree bark tightly woven together:
- Cover it directly over you.
- Make an A-frame for a small tent by propping up two flat surfaces.
- Create a lean-to (a one-sided tent) by tying it to two live tree branches, angled to protect against the wind.
The easiest sturdy shelter simply involves leaning branches up against a large tree:
- Make sure you don’t have old, rotting wood with swarms of bugs inside it (though that wood may be a good source of food).
Fire provides heat for shelter, cooking for food, a signal, and helps to sterilize things.
A. Prepare the fuel, minding the flash point:
- Every flammable object has a unique temperature the material lights on fire (flash point).
- Low flash point objects burn rapidly while high flash point objects burn for a long time.
- Generally, you want enough low flash point kindling to start a higher flash point object, then enough to keep the fire going overnight.
- Gathering firewood can be time-consuming, and is the most dangerous part of making a fire.
B. Prepare the kindling as a “nest”, where the fire will start in the middle:
- You can improvise a variety of kindling:
- Doritos or potato chips
- Dryer/clothing lint
- WD-40 fluid
- Most aerosol products
- Twisted bits of paper
- If you have the materials, you can create more advanced firestarters:
- Stuff empty toilet paper rolls with dryer lint.
- Place pieces of charcoal in a cardboard egg carton.
- Dip cotton swabs in wax.
- Place dryer lint, place beneath a paper cup, and pour wax on it, then you can light it when you need it.
C. Create an ignition source from a spark, reflected light, or focused heat:
- Your ignition can come from a spark, reflected light or focused heat.
- Focus light on a point with a magnifying glass, aluminum foil, a bubblegum wrapper, or mirror.
- Chip a large, clear piece of ice into a rough sphere, smooth it with gloved hands, then use it as a lens.
- Rub chocolate into the bottom of a soda can with a cloth until it shines.
- Focus sunlight by placing a drop of water on the inside of a glasses lens.
- Connect battery terminals with aluminum foil to create a spark.
- Smash flint rocks together to make a spark.
- A cell phone is both a reflective surface, and has a battery.
If you have matches, your life gets immeasurably easier:
- To light a match in the wind, cut thin shavings toward the match head before lighting.
- Make candles waterproof by dipping them in hot candle wax.
- Keep matches dry:
- Slip them inside a flashlight.
- Wrap them in aluminum foil.
- Attach sandpaper on top of a small plastic container and put matches inside it.
- Carefully slice a match in half to make two of them.
Improvise candles, lanterns, and torches to keep the fire going when you don’t need it:
- Use the inside of a lemon.
- You can burn crayons with the paper still on them for up to half an hour.
- Soak an orange in olive oil for three minutes, then use its stem as a wick.
- Make an oil candle:
- Fill a travel container with any oil.
- Stick a rope or cloth in the center of the container.
- Seal it with wax, an upside down wrench socket or another non-flammable item.
- Stab a thin rope through a can of shortening.
To prevent it from catching fire, don’t make your fire any closer than a meter to your shelter.
If you have a large enough shelter to make a fire inside it, make a hole large enough to let smoke escape without igniting the edge of the hole.