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Survival Skills Everyone Should Master

man sitting on timber log outdoors making a fishing spear with his survival skills

If you call yourself a prepper, and all you do is buy stuff, you’re missing a lot of the vital parts of being prepared. You have to rely on survival skills when things actually go wrong, and no amount of knives, guns, and fancy straws will help you if you don’t have any skills. 

In this article, we’re not going to focus very heavily on products. Instead, we’re going to focus on the ten survival skills that you actually need to survive. Without these ten skills in your survival repertoire, you’ll end up dead the second a major catastrophe happens.

State Of Mind

A lot of preppers like to focus on gear and physical fitness when they’re thinking about survival. Those things are very important, but they’re worthless if you have a poor mentality. Your mental state is probably the most important factor when it comes to survival.

For example, an out of shape person with nothing more than a Victorinox knife can mentally push themselves through the hardships of survival, and they can use what few tools they have to complete the tasks that are necessary for survival. It’ll just be a lot harder for them. 

However, a buff guy with lots of equipment will likely give up and die if he has a quitter’s attitude. He’ll freak out at the slightest hint of danger, and difficult decisions will make him crumble. Don’t be that type of person. A positive attitude and the desire to succeed are vital to survival.

You should definitely focus on purchasing and using high-quality equipment, and you should definitely exercise to maintain a healthy body. However, you need to ensure that you’re mentally prepared for anything to ensure that you can use your body and gear to their greatest potential.

Here are the mental aspects of prepping that we consider to be the most important.

Mentally Prepare For Any Situation

It’s easy to plan out what you’ll do during ideal situations. It’s just not very useful. Anything can happen once a disaster strikes, and you’re likely to face a lot of different situations that you never considered while preparing yourself. Obviously, that puts you at a huge disadvantage.

To truly prepare yourself, you need to consider every possible situation. Think about the different places that you might be in when disaster strikes. Think about the types of situations that you’re most likely to be in. You should even consider things that seem impossible. Don’t romanticize survival by daydreaming about zombies, but try to think of all the weird scenarios that are possible.

Knowledge Is Key To Survival

Your knowledge is more important than any piece of gear. It’s the one thing that can’t be taken from you. Even your body is less important than the knowledge that your mind holds. Depending on the situation, you might end up with a broken arm or leg, and your muscles won’t get you out of that. Only your skills will save you when your physical tools are rendered useless.

Being more knowledgeable about survival will also allow you to utilize the resources that you have more effectively. A very knowledgeable prepper can handle nearly every task that is required of them with nothing more than a basic pocket knife. Very experienced preppers can survive without any gear. They can just make their own. The manufactured equipment just makes it easier for them.

Focus more on learning about survival and different skills that help you to survive. If you get caught up in all the marketing and consumerism, you’ll be no better off than someone who didn’t prep at all.

Planning For The Worst

Don’t plan for the easiest survival situation possible. Plan for the emergency that seems nearly impossible to survive.

There are two big reasons that you should plan for the worst scenario. First, it’ll make everything else that happens seem a lot easier. If you plan for full-blown societal collapses, something as simple as a long-term power outage will seem like child’s play.

Second, it’ll push you to fully prepare yourself. If you’re just planning for basic emergencies such as tornadoes or car wrecks, you’ll likely only stock up on minimal supplies. If you prepare for something massive, you’ll be a lot more likely to get everything that you need for any situation.


When it comes to resources, water will be one of the most important things that you’ll need. You’ll need it for everything from drinking to cleaning your knives after gutting a deer. If you don’t know how to collect and purify water, you’ll either die of thirst, or you’ll die of a waterborne illness.

man gathering water for survival from a stream in the woods

Importance Of Water

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to you, but water is important for a long list of reasons.

If you check out that link, you’ll be able to read a very long and detailed list of all the things that water can do for you, but we’ll highlight some of the benefits here.

First, your body needs it for all its basic functions. Without it, your body will eventually shutdown. We all know that. However, it’ll also help prevent injuries. It strengthens your joints and muscles. Since you’re likely to get beaten up quite a bit during a survival situation, that’s a huge benefit.

It can also help keep you from getting constipated, and it can help prevent other uncomfortable situations from happening. Surviving during an emergency is hard enough on its own. You don’t want to add wrenching gut pains and other problems to the list of things that you have to deal with.

Finally, it’ll keep your mind sharp. We’ve already talked about how important your mental state is when you’re in a survival situation. Anything that you can do to increase your mental fortitude is a good thing.

Symptoms Of Dehydration

If you want to stay hydrated, you’ll have to know the symptoms of dehydration. The most obvious symptom is that you feel a lot thirstier, but that’s just common sense. Here’s a list of the more obscure symptoms that let you know that it’s getting worse. 

  • You’ll get dizzy.
  • You might get a headache. Your brain relies on water quite a bit, and when you don’t give it enough water, it’ll let you know by banging on the inside of your head.
  • You won’t urinate a lot. All you do when you urinate is release a bunch of liquid waste from your body. If you’re dehydrated, there won’t be a lot of liquid for you to get rid of.
  • Your mouth will dry out as your body loses water without replacing it.
  • When you’re really dehydrated, you might start to feel chest pains, or you might just black out. Once you get to that point, you’ll need help dealing with it.

How To Find Water

Finding water when you can’t just flip the tap on can be a lot harder than you think. If you live next to a lot of viable water sources such as streams, ponds, and rivers, you won’t have a very difficult time finding water.

If you’re in the city, you’ll have to rely on a lot of weird water sources. Storm drains, toilet tanks, and other odd sources of water can be used in a pinch. Just don’t use anything that’s flowing from a dumpster or another obviously contaminated source. The purification methods available to you won’t get all that out. If none of those sources are available, canned foods contain a lot of water. You’ll ingest a lot of preservatives and salt by drinking the water in canned foods, but it’s better than nothing.

Wilderness survivors will have to look for natural bodies of water, but it’s also possible to collect condensation. If you’re really desperate, you can eat a lot of fruit. That’s not a long-term solution, but it will help you until you find something better.

Water Purification

Despite what you might think, your first instinct when you come across natural water will be to drink it immediately. You won’t care if there’s a bunch of dirt and algae in it. Don’t drink it. You have to purify it first.

There are a lot of water purification methods, and you can learn some of the more obscure ones at this article we wrote on water purification. We’ll focus on the three most reliable methods in this guide, and you should definitely try to use these methods first.

The first method is boiling the water. It’s what the CDC recommends, and it’s guaranteed to kill almost every germ in any water you collect. It’s also possible to do it without any fancy equipment. However, it won’t get rid of chemicals, and it might not kill germs that are stuck in particulates. Filter your water before you boil it. It’s not really necessary to give you an in-depth tutorial on boiling water. 

can filled with water boiling over open fire for water purification

The next most reliable method is a survival straw. Survival straws are portable, and they utilize porous discs to filter out nearly every germ and particulate in your drinking water. You don’t even have to carry the water around with you. Survival straws allow you to drink directly from a source without worrying. The only problem with these is that you’ll have to buy new filters for them. However, the filters last for years, and they can usually filter thousands of gallons of water.

Finally, purification tablets give you a lightweight option, and they’re very effective. They’re also pretty cheap. So, you can throw several packs into your bug-out bag, and you won’t go broke doing so. To use these, you simply drop the recommended amount of tablets into your container of water, and you wait for about half an hour. The water will taste weird, and you have to wait a bit for it to be cleaned, but purification tablets are great for survival purposes.

Learning how to purify water with a few of these water purification methods will ensure that you always have something to drink.

Survival Shelters

Some survival situations will require you to find or make shelter. Obviously, something that is short-term such as a car accident won’t require you to bust out a shelter kit, but anything that is likely to last overnight will require you to throw together some sort of shelter. 

Here are some of the things that you need to consider.

Environmental Factors

The type of shelter that you’ll need to survive is heavily dependent on the environment that you’re in. Obviously, you don’t want a shelter that’s built out of really insulated tarps in the middle of the desert. You also don’t want a flimsy sheet tied to a couple of sticks in a rainy forest.

Using common sense is often good enough to build a survival shelter. Just use materials that work well with the environment that you’re in. Build your shelter in a way that protects you from the different threats that your environment poses.

Wilderness Shelters

Wilderness shelters are often made out of natural resources. If you bring a tarp along, you can use it to add a waterproof layer to your shelter, but you’ll mostly be using sticks and foliage. 

There are many different designs for survival shelters, but your main goal will be to stay warm, dry, and relatively out of sight from predators.

If you’re an advanced prepper, you probably already know a few of the more robust shelter designs. If you’re new to prepping, we recommending learning how to make a basic stick shelter. You tie a bunch of sticks into a cone-like shape, and you pile as much foliage on top of it as possible. Then, you put foliage on the interior flooring to keep from losing body heat through the ground.

Urban Shelters

Building shelter in an urban environment is often unnecessary, and it’s not very hard to do when you do have to build a shelter.

Think about it a little bit. Urban environments are pretty much built out of clusters of shelters. Shelter is everywhere in a city or a suburb. If you’re building a shelter in the middle of the city, you’re probably wasting your time.

Your own home or a store is way sturdier than any scrap shelter you can build, and those things will usually have other resources in them already.

If you do have to build a shelter in the city, we recommend looking to the homeless for advice. Those people that most people scoff at are masters of survival. They live on cold city streets every night, and they make use of items that most of us won’t even touch. Use scrap pieces of cardboard and plastic bags. Use the concrete jungle to your advantage.

urban survival shelter on sidewalk in city


Fire is something that you really can’t live without during most survival situations. You probably won’t be very focused on building a fire during situations that only last a matter of hours. Most other situations will require you to make a fire almost immediately. Fire is good for many reasons, and we’ll talk about those below.


You’ll have to stay warm during the night in just about any environment. Even the harshest deserts can drop to below freezing temperatures at night. In some snowy environments, you’ll rely on fire almost nonstop.

It’s important to build a fire to regulate your body temperature in cold conditions. You can simply build a fire and sit by it, or you can build an elaborate shelter that funnels your fire’s heat into it from a hole in the floor. Regardless of which warming method you want to use, you’ll have to do something to stay warm.


So, you’ve just managed to smack the head of a rather large snake, you’re starving, and you want to eat. Are you really just going to dig into it like a wild animal? You’ll have to cook it, or you’ll get all kinds of nasty illnesses. To do that, you’ll need a fire.

Cooking fires don’t have to be very large, and you don’t have to do anything special to them to make them worth using. Just build a basic fire, and start cooking whatever it is you have on hand.


It’s a lot easier for rescue teams and hikers to see giant clouds of smoke than it is for them to see you flailing around like a madman. If you’re looking to get out of a sticky situation, you’ll need a fire to get the attention of someone who can help.

Building a signal fire is fairly easy. Just try to start a big fire, and then throw a bunch of green foliage on it. The fresh foliage will cause thick clouds of black smoke to bellow up into the air. Don’t add so much foliage that you smother the fire, though. Add enough to create a lot of smoke, and add more as it starts to burn out.


You can’t expect to find your way out of any disaster if you don’t have any navigational skills. Some of the skills we’re about to discuss will help you use the environment to navigate, and some will require some basic navigation tools.

Tools For Navigation

You can use your environment to navigate a lot of the time, but it’s unreliable. You can’t always see the sun or stars, water isn’t always nearby, and some environments are just downright confusing. To handle that type of situation, you’ll need to learn how to use a few tools.

First, we suggest getting a compass, and you should learn how to use it. Learning to use a compass properly is one of the most basic survival skills you’ll ever learn, and it will save your life.

A set of ranger beads is cheap to purchase, and you can even make your own with random junk. Ranger beads can be a little confusing to use when you first start out, but they’ll allow you to keep a steady pace. They’ll tell you how much distance you’ve covered while you’re navigating.

Physical and digital maps are obviously great tools for navigation. They might be useless if you can’t figure out where you’re at in the first place. Keep some high-quality maps in your survival bag, and download some onto your phone. Try to have maps for any area that you’re likely to need them in.

Heading For Higher Ground

Heading for higher ground might not give you information such as your traveling direction and coordinates, but it will give you a better view of natural features that can give you that information.

In fact, heading for higher ground is the first thing you should do in any survival situation that involves you getting lost. It’ll give you a great vantage point, and you’ll be able to get a good idea of what is around you before you make a move.

Following A Water Source

Contrary to popular belief, not all rivers flow south. They simply flow in whichever direction gravity pulls them. So, don’t count on a river to tell you what direction you’re moving in.

You can use bodies of water to find help, though. Communities are usually built near a water source due to how important water is for transporting goods and maintaining local water systems. If you find a body of running water, you can bet that you’ll eventually run into a town or something if you follow it.

Just don’t travel against it. It most likely originates at a higher altitude, and you’re unlikely to find anyone halfway up a mountain. If it’s a particularly flat river, you’ll probably bump into somebody either way, but it’s best to play it safe.

Read The Sun And Stars

People have been using the sun and stars to navigate since long before they started creating civilizations. It’s one of the most basic ways to navigate.

First, you can use the sun to tell which direction you’re moving in. It rises in the east, and it sets in the west. However, this has two major drawbacks. If you don’t spot the sun when it rises or sets, you won’t get accurate information. It moves too much. Also, clouds and other weather conditions can prevent you from seeing the sun, and that obviously makes this method null and void.

The stars are a little more reliable. You can use the North Star to figure out which direction north is, and some of the constellations can be used, too. The only issues that comes from using the stars is that you obviously have to travel at night, and the clouds can cover them up.

Medical Needs In An Emergency 

When you get hurt during a normal day, you probably go to the hospital. Well, you won’t want to do that in most survival situations. If a major disaster happens, hospitals will be filled with people suffering from various illnesses and diseases and those can easily spread to you if you go to the hospital.

In some situations, it just won’t be possible to get professional help. So, you’ll want to have a few medical skills under your belt before anything bad happens.

First Aid

A basic first aid kit and the knowledge necessary to treat basic injuries will prove to be very useful in an emergency. You should at least have a kit that can handle lacerations, sprains, and common illnesses. None of those things are worth going to a hospital over during an emergency. A simple sprain can result in you catching some messed up disease or something.

You can upgrade your first aid kit as you gain more knowledge about emergency response techniques. We don’t recommend buying a bunch of stuff that you don’t know how to use. You can take a course that covers more advanced aspects of first aid, and then you’ll be able to safely use things such as Halo seals and tourniquets.

Dressing A Wound

You and the people around you are likely to get hurt during a major disaster. That’s just how life is, and there isn’t much that you can do to change that. In some emergencies, people might become extremely violent. In others, debris might be flying around and someone will get hurt.

So, you need to know how to dress a wound. If someone gets cut, stabbed, or shot, you’ll want to know how to properly patch them up until it’s safe to get professional help.

We’ll cover the basics here. First, never treat someone else without protecting yourself from bodily fluids and blood. You don’t know what that person has floating around inside of them. Your good deed might lead to you destroying your entire life. A face mask, gloves, and other pieces of personal protective equipment are necessities when treating others.

Second, you want to be very clean throughout the entire process. Never do anything that will expose the wound to dirt or other contaminates. Flush the wound before you dress it if it’s dirty. 

You should also ensure that your own hands are clean before and after you dress the wound. Any bandages you use should also be sterile.

Finally, just apply pressure, pack larger wounds with gauze, and wrap it tightly.

When To Seek Professional Help

We know that we told you going to hospitals during a large-scale emergency can be problematic, but sometimes you have to.

Let’s face some sad facts really quickly. If you or someone around you is shot in the face, you can’t just throw some gauze on it, and then call it a day. If your survival buddy falls onto a sharp branch and punctures a lung, you can’t just rub some ointment on it. You need help.

In general, you’ll want to seek professional help immediately when anything with deadly consequences happens. Even if someone just has a really deep cut on their arm, you’ll eventually want to get professional help. First aid and other things that you can do yourself are only meant to give you a bit of time before a professional is needed. Once it’s safe, you’ll still want to go to the hospital.

That doesn’t mean that you should get every bump and bruise checked out the second the coast is clear. If you were more than capable of handling falling off of a bicycle as a kid, you can handle minor things such as sprains, broken fingers, cuts, and bruises without seeking help when an emergency happens.

Signalling For Help

Not every survival situation is going to make you want to run and hide from society. Sometimes, you’ll want to get the attention of other people as soon as possible. In fact, most realistic survival situations are like that.

To get someone’s attention, you’ll have to learn another one of the most basic wilderness survival skills. You’ll have to learn how to signal for help.

Tools For Signalling

There are three main tools that you can use for signalling. Don’t forget about signal fires, though. We aren’t discussing them here because we already talked about them.

A signal mirror is the most obvious tool that you can use. To use it, you just reflect sunlight or another light source off of it, and you point it at someone that can help. Hopefully, you’ll catch their attention.

A flashlight can also be used. Steadily turning your flashlight on and off towards someone can help get their attention. The flickering will let them know that you’re not just a camper walking around with a flashlight. The downside to this method is that it’s practically useless during the daytime.

Finally, a whistle can help you out quite a bit. Instead of getting someone’s attention through visual cues, you can just blow your whistle as hard as possible. You can use it during the day or night, and it doesn’t need anything other than the air in your lungs.

HEIMDALL Emergency Whistle with Lanyard for Safety Boating Camping Hiking Hunting Survival Rescue Signaling (Red, Yellow)

Make Sure You’re Visible

Your signalling efforts won’t achieve much if you’re huddled in a bush and waving a mirror around. What are people supposed to be looking for? A bunch of scraggly leaves?

You want to get into a very open area, and if you can, you want to be on higher ground. That’ll increase your visibility, and it’ll make it easier for people to see your flashes over long distances.

Hunting For Food

Food isn’t too important during short-term survival situations. You’re unlikely to starve because you’re stuck in a flooded city for two days. You’ll just get a little cranky.

However, you will need it anytime that a survival situation is going to take a while to resolve itself. Here are some things that you should definitely consider when it comes to food.

Food Types For Survival

Is it really a survival situation if you have the luxury of choosing between different types of food? You’ll usually just eat whatever is available. It’s not like you’re grocery shopping. You’re starving, and anything looks good when you’re starving.

Anyways, we will break down a few different types of foods that are preferable.

First, you’ll want a lot of protein and carbs. Most prepackaged survival foods are loaded with protein and carbs. That’s because they repair your muscles and keep you full. 

You’ll also want something that is easy to prepare. You’re not going to have the luxury of making a complex noodle dish in the middle of a disaster. Canned foods, vacuum sealed foods, and other things that are ready to eat are the most preferable if natural options aren’t available.

Finally, there are natural food sources. You’ll have to hunt for them, or you’ll have to forage for them. They’re healthier than any prepackaged junk you can buy, and they taste better. However, you’re unlikely to have a bunch of berries and raw meat in your survival bag, and if you do, they probably aren’t worth eating. You can’t rely on natural food sources as much as you can foods that you purchased for your survival bag.

Wilderness And Urban Food Sources

The foods that you’ll want to look for are very different in urban situations than in wilderness situations. 

In a wilderness situation, you’ll want to rely on any food that you have on you, and you’ll want to look for food in nature. You may need to kill animals, and you may need to find plants that you can safely eat.

In an urban situation, you won’t be able to hunt very much, and we’re willing to bet that your suburban residence doesn’t have a ton of wild fruit growing everywhere. In that case, you’ll want to resort to eating what’s available. That pretty much means that you’ll want to eat canned foods and other preserved food items that have been abandoned. We don’t suggest stealing anything if your survival situation only affects you, but there are a lot of people who dig through dumpsters for unexpired food from stores and restaurants. It’s nasty, but it’s legal. You can do what you want with that information.


Fishing is easy, and most ponds and rivers have an abundance of fish for you to catch. If you want to fish, you can use a normal rod and reel, but you can also use a primitive method that we are fairly fond of.

If you’re stuck without a rod and reel, you can tie just about any cordage to a strong stick, and you can sharpen both ends of a small twig. The twig will act as your hook. From there, you can dig up a worm, and you can catch plenty of bluegill and other small fish.

Hunting Game

Hunting game animals is a bit more difficult. You’ll need a gun or another projectile weapon to hunt in the traditional way. You can also set traps to capture small game animals like rabbits and squirrels. We recommend going after smaller animals. You don’t need an entire deer to yourself, and smaller animals can be caught with nothing more than a little string, a stick, and some human ingenuity.

Foraging The Land

Foraging for berries and other edible plants is a good idea. It’s a lot easier than hunting or fishing, and you can usually find a lot of edible plants without exerting a lot of energy. However, there’s a major drawback that we’ll talk about next.

foraging for food in the woods closeup of edible mushrooms and knife in mans hand

Know Your Plants

This is the drawback that we were talking about. If you don’t know about the plants in your area, you can easily kill yourself by eating random stuff off of the ground. It’s not possible for us to write about every edible plant across the country in this guide, but you can find a lot of online resources that will cover the plants in your area. Whatever you do, don’t start eating random things when you’re already in a lot of trouble.


Cordage is one of those things that you simply have to have during a survival situation. You’ll use it for nearly everything, and it’s extremely dumb not to have it on hand.

Types Of Cordage

There are only two types of cordage that you really need to know about. You need to know about manufactured cordage, and you need to know about natural cordage. 

Manufactured cordage is any length of cordage that you didn’t make yourself. You can get 550 paracord, or you can get a bundle of nylon rope. Both are forms of manufactured cordage, and while we prefer 550 cord, you can easily get by with nylon rope or any other strong piece of cordage.

Natural cordage is cordage that you braid by hand from plant fibers. It’s not overtly strong, and it’s not as good as manufactured cordage. However, you can make a lot of it in less than an hour, and it’s almost always possible to make.


Cordage can be used for so many things that we can’t possibly list them all here. However, we will create a list of the most common uses.

  • Shelter building
  • Spear building
  • Towing gear
  • Towing large game
  • Climbing
  • Creating traps

Tying That Survival Knot

There are a lot of different knots that are useful for survival. Pretty much anything that stays tight when pulled will work in a pinch. However, the figure eight knot is the one that most preppers talk about.

The knot is so complex so take a look at this video to learn how to tie it.

Physical Health

While we firmly believe that your mental fortitude is far more important than looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger, your physical health is important. Without a physically healthy body, every task you try to accomplish will be more difficult, and your chances of surviving are lowered.

Fitness And Strength

Maintaining a strong and fit body is vital to surviving. How are you supposed to drag large logs and carry deer when you have very little muscle mass? 

We see a lot of people who are into prepping. Most of them don’t bother to work out. In all honesty, they are unlikely to make it. If their mind is strong enough, they might push through the countless obstacles that will block their path. Most people who aren’t physically fit won’t do that.

You can’t just collect a bunch of nonsense and expect to survive. You need to lift weights. You need to eat healthy. You need to quit smoking and drinking. If you can’t do those things, you probably won’t get very far.


You can’t just pack on muscle mass. You have to be able to use that muscle mass for extended periods of time. If you only have five hours of daylight left, can you afford to stop building your shelter to sit around like a bum on a log? You have to keep going.

Cardio training will help you the most here. Your mental state will help you a lot, too. Try to run as much as you can each day. Push yourself harder every time you go out to run. Just make sure that you can continuously perform strenuous tasks. You can technically survive without a lot of stamina or muscle mass, but it’s highly unlikely. Your mind can only take you so far.

Final Thoughts 

These outdoor survival skills and survival techniques are the basic skills that every prepper must learn. None of them are optional if you plan on actually surviving during a catastrophe.

When you first start prepping, it is easy to get caught up in all of the advanced concepts that prepping YouTubers and websites push on you. Don’t fall for all of that. Focus on these skills before you do anything else. They’ll be the foundation of your survival repertoire.

Jared Russo
Hey, my name is Jared, a self-reliant expert and action taker. I hope you've enjoyed this article and found it informative. If you have please feel free to leave a comment below and share it with your friends and family, it would make my day!

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