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Survival isn’t just a skill – it’s a conglomeration of many skills, all of which you need to learn, master, and perfect to stay safe, secure, and comfortable in survival situations. Many of these skills are overlooked by preppers who focus purely on stockpiling materials without the know-how needed to use them – or replace them when stores are compromised.
In this article, we’ll give you a run-down of the 5 most important survival skills to master – including why they matter, different techniques you can use, and resources to learn. No matter how well you stock, build, and lock your stores and shelters, you never know when life will throw you a curveball and put your real knowledge to the test. These skills can be used in every situation – from the mundane, to the extreme – so study up, and get ready.
Any wilderness survivalist will tell you that the in almost all climates, exposure is the biggest threat. Shelter is essential in every situation, whether it’s cold, hot, polluted, exposed to animals, or even seemingly safe. Shelter provides security for your body and your material goods – but sometimes, our pre-prepared shelters become unavailable. Learning how to create your own shelter with the materials around you is absolutely vital to staying safe.
There are several ways to build shelter, and the type you build depends on your surroundings. In cold weather, lean-tos, A-frames, and other enclosed brush shelters can protect you from insects, hypothermia, and rainfall – and all of these can be created using a tarp. In the absence of a tarp, learn to handle a knife – like one of these best combat knives – so you can effectively chop saplings and other vegetation to create your structure. In snow, learn how to dig snow caves – a long-time favorite shelter of mountaineers and explorers that provides a surprising amount of warmth, even in sub-zero temps.
Although it seems counterintuitive, shelter in hot weather is also extremely necessary. Shelter from the sun prevents life-threatening conditions like heat stroke, dehydration, and severe sunburns, and can be used to store perishable goods like freshly hunted meat and fish. Shelter is the first priority of nearly all wilderness survival experts in a tough situation – make sure you’re prepared to make your own in a pinch.
The next most important skill to learn is water gathering. Although humans can go several weeks without food, we can only last a few days at most without water – and we deteriorate fast. Water is available in all environments, even seemingly dry ones, and learning how to collect it effectively and safely is incredibly important. Here are some tips for different types of climates:
Water is vital to survival – make sure you know how to find it with primitive tools.
The last of the “big three” basics for survival is fire starting. Fire provides not only heat, but a way to cook and preserve food, signal for help, and sanitize water and medical supplies. Most survivalists won’t be caught without some kind of firestarting tool – whether it be waterproof matches, lighters, or flints – but in the absence of these tools, make sure you can start a fire without them
Bow drilling is an ancient practice of starting fires that uses the friction between materials to create heat. You’ll need several tools to start a fire with this method, but they can all be found in almost any environment. For an in-depth guide to the bow drill method, check out this resource.
The next skill we’ll discuss is first aid. A lot of first aid is pretty intuitive, and chances are you can handle scrapes and bruises without too much trouble. However, other injuries like animal bites, dislocations, breaks and sprains, burns, and allergic reactions often require a little more know-how to manage in the best way.
Make sure that you’re well equipped with a basic first aid kit everywhere you go that includes materials for infection control, splinting, bleeding control, and allergic reaction control. There are tons of guides for how to put together a good kit, so we won’t go into it here, but there’s one more thing we will mention: you don’t need a first aid kit to provide first aid. In situations where medical supplies aren’t available, you can use everything from ski poles to ripped up clothing to manage wounds, breaks, sprains, and insect bites. Consider taking a first responder or wilderness first responder course to learn how to utilize the things around you to take care of injury and illness.
Our final skill of note is plant identification. Most people don’t realize just how many plants around them are edible and medicinal, and many beginners make the mistake of consuming incorrectly-identified plants that make them sick. Plant identification, while not generally considered a “rugged” skill, is unbelievably useful for providing extra nourishment, treatments for common conditions, and learning to harvest and grow your own garden.
Start learning plant identification with easy-to-recognize vegetation. This category includes berries (like huckleberries, blackberries, and raspberries, which grow across the U.S.), edible flowers (like pansies, nasturtium, dandelions, and violets), and seeds (like pine nuts and sunflower seeds). Then, work your way up to more difficult-to-recognize plants with possible imposters, like wild garlic and onions. Always make sure you’re absolutely sure what you are eating before you eat it – and practice before you actually need to use the skill.
These skills are only a few of the amazing things you can learn to survive when modern comforts aren’t available. Make sure to master them before you need them, and you’ll be safe in the most difficult of situations.