Here Are 6 of the Best Outdoor Survival Skills to Keep You Safe
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Nicole Avena

Do you enjoy exploring the great outdoors but worry about your safety?

Fear not!

We’ve got some of the best outdoor survival skills that can help ensure your safety while out in nature. From building a shelter to starting a fire and navigating using only natural tools, these essential skills can equip you with the knowledge and confidence you need to tackle any challenging situation Mother Nature throws at you.

So, grab your gear and get ready to improve your outdoor survival skills!

Outdoor Survival Skill Basics

The great outdoors can be both exhilarating and dangerous, especially when you’re venturing out into the wilderness where modern conveniences may not be readily available. In such situations, being equipped with essential outdoor survival skills can be vital for your safety.

Outdoor survival skills refer to a range of knowledge and set of techniques one must possess to survive in natural environments with limited resources. These skills cover a wide array of abilities, from basic first aid and navigation to shelter building and fire making.

Whether you enjoy hiking, camping, or any other outdoor activity, these skills can help preserve your life when unexpected situations arise.

From dealing with sudden changes in weather conditions to finding food and water sources, having a basic understanding of outdoor survival skills can be the difference between life and death in an emergency.

It’s highly recommended that you practice what you learn in controlled settings before testing them out in real-life scenarios. Additionally, it’s important to remember that prevention is key – always make sure to take necessary precautions when heading out into the wilderness.

By familiarizing yourself with these essential outdoor survival skills beforehand, you can feel more confident knowing that whatever challenges come your way during your outdoor adventures, you have the necessary skills to overcome them.

So, let’s venture into the world of outdoor survival skills!

Here Are 6 of the Top Outdoor Survival Skills

  1. Building a Shelter

One of the most important skills to have when venturing into the wilderness is the ability to build a shelter. A shelter can help protect you from harsh weather conditions. It also can provide a sense of safety and security in an unfamiliar environment.

Before setting out on your trip, research different types of shelters and practice building them using natural materials found in your surroundings.

Finding or making a shelter is crucial for protecting yourself from the elements and maintaining your body temperature. In an outdoor environment, exposure to rain, wind, snow, or extreme heat can quickly lead to hypothermia or hyperthermia, which can be life-threatening. Finding or building an adequate shelter should be your first task when the weather becomes inclement or when spending the night out in the wilderness.

In emergency situations, where natural resources are scarce, improvising with what’s available is key. Look for natural shelters such as caves, overhanging cliffs, or fallen trees to provide protection from harsh weather conditions. If no natural shelters are around, you can construct one using materials like rocks, branches, and foliage.

A sturdy and waterproof shelter will keep you dry and help you retain body heat. When constructing your shelter consider factors like:

  • location (avoid low-lying areas prone to flooding)
  • size (just large enough for you to fit comfortably)
  • insulation (leaves and grass make great insulators)
  • ventilation (to prevent condensation)
  • camouflage (to avoid detection by predators)

It’s also important to choose a location that’s elevated and away from potential dangers, like animal dens.

There are several types of shelters that can be constructed depending on the resources available and individual preferences. The most basic shelter is a lean-to structure consisting of two vertical posts with a slanted roof made up of tree branches or leaves. This type of shelter provides protection from rain and wind while still allowing some ventilation.

Another commonly used shelter is a debris hut, which consists of using nearby sticks, leaves, and branches to create an insulated dome-like structure. This type of shelter is effective in trapping body heat during cold nights. It may take longer to construct than other shelters, but it offers better protection against harsh weather conditions.

For those who have access to a tarp or plastic sheeting, making a tarp tent could be an efficient option for building a shelter quickly. All you need are trees or poles to tie the tarp between and secure its edges with rocks or stakes.

Whichever type of shelter you choose to build, there are some key principles to keep in mind for its construction:

Ensure Stability – Your structure should be sturdy enough to withstand strong winds or heavy rains without collapsing.

Insulation – Use materials like leaves, grass, or pine needles between layers when constructing your roof or walls for added insulation against cold temperatures.

Water Drainage – Make sure your shelter has proper drainage to prevent water from accumulating and causing your structure to collapse.

Fire Safety – Be cautious of the materials you use for your shelter, as some may be highly flammable. Allow enough space between your shelter and any fire pits or cook stoves.

Mastering the skill of shelter building is vital for wilderness survival. Along with finding food and water, a suitable shelter can significantly increase your chances of making it through unexpected situations in the great outdoors.

Pro Tip: Remember to always prioritize safety and take advantage of available natural resources when constructing your shelter.

  1. Finding Water

One of the biggest challenges of surviving in the wilderness is finding clean drinking water. The human body can only survive a few days without proper hydration, making it a top priority when journeying outdoors (especially if you become lost or use up all water stores). Without access to clean water, dehydration can set in quickly and lead to serious health issues.

If provisions allow, carry a portable water filtration system or tablets that can purify untreated water on-the-go. If no suitable water sources are found nearby, gather dew from plants early in the morning using cloth or absorbent clothing items like socks to squeeze out moisture into containers.

When searching for water in the wild, be aware of your surroundings. Look for signs such as lush vegetation or animal tracks that may indicate the presence of a nearby water source. If you’re near a body of water like a river or lake, approach it carefully as these areas also can harbor dangerous creatures and slippery rocks. Avoid stagnant or discolored water as it may be contaminated with bacteria or parasites.

If you can’t find any visible sources of water, don’t panic. Sometimes the best water sources can be found underground or within plants and trees. To extract water from plant life, cut off leaves from cacti or vines and squeeze them into a container to collect the liquid. You also can dig into damp soil near plants to create a small well that groundwater can seep into.

Another useful method is creating a solar still using everyday materials like plastic sheeting or clothing fabric stretched over an empty container placed on top of moist soil with vegetation inside. As the sun heats up the ground below, condensation forms on the sheeting which collects pure droplets into your container.

Once you’ve found water in its natural form, it’s important to purify it before consumption as there could still be harmful pathogens present. The simplest way to purify water is to boil it in a pot over an open flame until bubbles start forming, then continue boiling it for at least 3 minutes before allowing it to cool.

If starting a fire isn’t possible due to environmental factors or lack of equipment, like a pot or matches, use purification tablets before drinking the water. Available at many sporting goods stores, these tablets contain iodine, which can kill most bacteria in the water. For those without access to tablets, try using the sun’s UV rays and purify water by leaving it in a clear container exposed to direct sunlight for a minimum of 6 hours.

Staying hydrated is crucial to wilderness survival. By following these tips and techniques, you can safely locate and purify water to keep yourself hydrated and healthy.

Pro Tip: Always remember to prioritize finding clean sources of water over satisfying thirst immediately, as the consequences could be life-threatening.

Outdoor Survival Skills 2

  1. Starting a Fire

Knowing how to start a fire is an essential survival skill. Whether you need warmth, light, protection from animals, or a way to cook food, having the ability to create fire can be crucial for your safety in the wilderness.

Also, it’s important to know how to start a fire without matches or a lighter, since these items may get lost or damaged during your trip. You can create fire by using friction techniques, like rubbing two sticks together or using flint and steel.

Here are some important tips for starting a fire in the great outdoors.

Gather Materials

The first step in starting a fire is gathering materials. Look for dry twigs, leaves, and small sticks around your campsite. These materials will serve as your kindling and fuel for the fire.

Choose a Safe Location

It’s important to choose a safe location for your fire. Check for overhanging branches or low-hanging vegetation that could easily catch fire. Clear away any debris and make sure you have at least three feet of open space around the base of your chosen location.

Build a Fire Pit

Once you’ve found a safe location, it’s time to build a fire pit. You can create a circle of rocks or dig a shallow hole to contain the flames.

Add Kindling

Add your dry twigs and small sticks as kindling on top of some crumpled newspaper at the base of your pit. The key is making sure these materials are dry so they’ll catch fire quickly.

Add Fuel Wood

Once your kindling has caught fire, slowly add larger pieces of wood on top of it one by one until you’ve built up enough flames and heat to sustain itself.

Use Fire Starters

If you’re having trouble getting a spark from just rubbing two sticks together or using a flintstone, consider bringing along some additional help like waterproof matches, dryer lint, or lighter fluid infused cotton balls which can act as reliable fire starters.

Have a Water Source Nearby

Always be prepared with extra water. You also may want to have a small fire extinguisher handy just in case things get out of control.


Once you’re finished with the fire, make sure to thoroughly extinguish it by pouring water over the coals and stirring them until they’re cool to the touch. This will ensure that your fire doesn’t reignite or spread after you leave your campsite.

Knowing how to start a fire is an essential outdoor survival skill that can ultimately save your life in a wilderness emergency.

Pro Tip: Always follow Leave No Trace principles and properly dispose of any remnants or embers from your fire before leaving the area.

  1. Navigating Without GPS

Getting lost in the wilderness is every adventurer’s nightmare. Learning basic compass navigation skills is crucial for wilderness survival. A compass helps you determine directions and navigate your way back to camp if you lose your way during a nature walk.

While GPS devices and compasses have made navigation easier, it’s also important to know how to navigate without them, as technology can fail or become lost.

Here are some essential tips for navigating without GPS in the wilderness.

Familiarize Yourself with the Terrain

Before venturing out into the wilderness, it’s important to study and familiarize yourself with the terrain. Look at maps and topographical features such as mountains, rivers, valleys, and other landmarks. This will give you a general idea of where you’re going and help you recognize these features while on your journey.

Use Natural Navigation Methods

Nature provides us with clues that can help us navigate without GPS. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, so if you have a general idea of what time it is, you can use this information to determine direction. Also, moss tends to grow on north-facing sides of trees due to less exposure to sunlight – a useful indicator if you’re lost during daylight hours.

Trail Marking Skills

When trekking through dense forests or unmarked trails, leave markers such as plastic ribbons tied around tree branches or small piles of rocks along your path so that your trail can be easily retraced in case you get lost.

Practice Dead Reckoning

If you happen to have a map and a compass, you can use the dead reckoning method. This involves measuring your direction and distance travelled from a specific starting point using landmarks or topographical features as reference points.

Pay Attention to Inclines

When crossing valleys or mountain ranges, it’s important to pay attention to inclines and descents. In general, valleys tend to slope towards water sources, such as rivers or streams, while ridgelines usually run parallel with them. By paying attention to these natural patterns, you can determine the correct direction.

Remember, navigation without GPS may take some practice and experience, so make sure to brush up on these skills before heading into the wilderness.

Pro Tip: It’s also essential to stay calm and focused when lost – panicking will only make things worse.

  1. Food Gathering

Outdoor Survival Skills 3 Finding and foraging for food is one of the most important skills to have when it comes to surviving in the great outdoors.

The first step in finding food is knowing what types of plants are safe to eat. It’s important to educate yourself on common edible plants found in your area before heading out into the wild. Some valuable resources include field guides or taking a local class on plant identification.

One general rule of thumb when it comes to edible plants is “If you don’t know what it is, don’t eat it.” It’s always better to err on the side of caution and avoid eating any unknown plants that could be toxic.

When searching for edible plants, keep an eye out for familiar favorites such as berries, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. These can be a reliable source of nutrients and energy while out in the wilderness. Edible roots and tubers such as dandelions, cattail roots, or burdock also can provide sustenance. Insects like crickets, ants, and grasshoppers also offer valuable sources of protein.

Another useful tip is paying attention to animals around you – they often rely on certain plants as a food source which can indicate that those plants are safe for human consumption too. However, never eat any plant that’s been partially eaten by animals as it may still contain toxins even if animals seem unharmed.

In addition to plant-based foods, learning how to hunt or fish can be incredibly beneficial when trying to survive in the wild. This requires some basic knowledge of tracking techniques and understanding of animal behavior. If possible, bring along a small fishing kit with hooks, line, sinkers, and bait so you’ll be prepared if needed.

It’s also important not to over-harvest any food sources, as this can negatively impact the environment and deplete resources for other animals and future survival situations.

Before consuming any plant or animal-based food, it’s crucial to properly clean and cook them. This not only kills potential harmful bacteria but also makes certain foods more palatable and digestible.

Finding and foraging for food is an essential skill that can increase your chances of survival in the wilderness.

Pro Tip: By educating yourself on edible plants, being aware of animal behaviors, knowing how to fish or hunt, and how to properly prepare your meals, you’ll be better equipped to sustain yourself in the wild.

  1. First Aid Skills

Accidents happen even when you’re well-prepared. Carry a first aid kit and learn how to treat common injuries like cuts, burns, sprains, or bites.

In any outdoor venture, having some basic first aid skills is crucial in ensuring your safety and the safety of those around you. Being equipped with basic first aid knowledge can make all the difference in a potentially life-threatening situation.

Here are some essential first aid skills that every outdoor enthusiast should know.

Outdoor Survival Skills 4

Basic Wound Care

Whether it’s a cut, scrape, or puncture wound, knowing how to properly clean and dress a wound is an important skill to have in the wild. Remember to wash your hands before touching any open wounds and clean the affected area with soap and water. Apply a sterile dressing or bandage to protect the wound from infection.

CPR and Choking

Knowing how to perform CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) can save someone’s life if they’ve stopped breathing due to drowning or other incidents. Similarly, understanding how to assist someone who’s choking can be critical in preventing asphyxiation.


A broken bone or sprained joint can occur during outdoor activities like hiking or rock climbing. In such situations, knowing how to create a makeshift splint using available materials (such as sticks or trekking poles) can help stabilize the injury until you, or another member of your party, can receive proper medical attention.

Dealing with Allergic Reactions

It isn’t uncommon for individuals to experience allergic reactions while spending time outdoors, especially when exposed to insect bites or plant allergens like poison ivy. Knowing what symptoms to look out for and carrying antihistamines or epinephrine injectors (for severe allergic reactions) can help prevent serious complications.

Heat- and Cold-related Emergencies

Extreme temperatures are common in wilderness environments. It’s important for individuals to know what measures should be taken when faced with heat exhaustion, heatstroke, hypothermia, or frostbite. Always check the weather forecast before departing and prepare accordingly.

Identifying and Treating Common Illnesses

Being able to recognize the symptoms of common ailments, such as dehydration, diarrhea, and altitude sickness, can help prevent them from becoming serious issues.

It’s also important to remember that one of the keys to outdoor safety is prevention. Ensuring you have a well-stocked first aid kit, staying hydrated and protected from the sun, and being aware of potential dangers in your surroundings, can go a long way in keeping you safe while enjoying the great outdoors.

Pro Tip: Taking a first aid course before embarking on any outdoor excursion can provide you with valuable knowledge and hands-on experience to handle emergencies effectively.

Be Safe, Have Fun

These outdoor survival skills are essential for anyone planning to spend time in the wilderness. However, it’s equally important to remember that prevention is paramount when it comes to outdoor activities. Be prepared with proper gear, research the area you plan to visit beforehand, and always tell someone your itinerary before heading out into the wild.

With the right skills and mindset, you can enjoy a safe and fun outdoor adventure.


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These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This content is for informational purposes only. It is not meant to substitute for medical or healthcare advice from a physician, nor is it intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Consult your healthcare provider before beginning a new health regimen.

Keith Rowe