7 Basic Survival Skills Everyone Should Know

Today’s modern world provides many comforts and conveniences. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but most people have become complacent in their sense of safety. They rely more heavily on modern technology and appliances and are less equipped with the basic survival skills that our earlier ancestors all had. 

We never know when the unexpected can strike, a sudden disaster or mishap which would necessitate you knowing at least a few basic survival skills to get through it. Let’s have a look at the basics of survival, and outline some skills that everyone should know. 

Who Needs to Learn Survival Skills?

A common misconception is that survival skills are only necessary for you know (people who live outdoors). This isn’t quite so.

Of course, those with more of an inclination to run around in the outdoors, whether it’s hiking, hunting or backpacking are in even greater need of learning the right skills to survive precarious situations. However, there are some basic survival skills that are just plain neccessary.

We live in a time of age where convenience has taken over, the consequences of which we are seeing in many aspects of society today. We have become incredibly lazy and disconnected from the world around us. Many of us wouldn’t know how to plant a garden or light a fire, yet we would know how to download the latest app or piece of software.

Those at the top of society are no longer warriors and leaders, but doctors and lawyers, many of whom would likely not know how to build a shelter or find a freshwater source in the wild.

We have moved toward a highly specialized workforce where we are experts and as a result have lost the ability to survive outside of the highly conditioned urban enviroments which we live. We have become so dependent upon the rise of modern techno gadgets that the natural world is more alien than ever.

We believe we need much in life to survive, but if we strip away everything that is superfluous, we begin to see how basic survival really is.

Priorities and Approach

It is often quoted that a person can survive roughly 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water, and only 3 hours without shelter (a regulated body temperature) and 3 minutes without air. This means that if you are lost in a life-threatening situation in a cold-weather climate, your number one priority should be finding shelter. After that shelter comes finding fresh water and then food (we are going to assume you have enough air).

Although a big part of survival is rooted in the physical element, making sure you have the right things to get you through, however, a large part of the survival mentality is psychological. Fear and panic are often the most deadly foes out there, as it leads us to think irrationally and make irresponsible decisions. Remaining calm is the most important thing you can do in any type of emergency situation.

Once you are in a frame of mind that is not driven by panic your actions will be much more aligned. Panic and fear can often arise without warning, so it is always wise to regularly stop to re-evaluate your situation and determine the next best step to take. 

7 Basic Survival Skills Everyone Should Know

Now that we have the fundamental approach in place, let’s take a look at some of the basic survival skills that everyone should know. These skills can be learned by anyone in their backyard or in any other controlled environment and should be practiced so that if a survival situation did arise you would know what to do. 

1. Building a Shelter

Securing a proper shelter is one of the first things that you should concern yourself with if you are lost in the wild, whether that’s in the mountains, forest or even the desert. Without protection from the elements, you run the serious risk of dying of hypothermia or heat exposure very quickly. 

Very often, it is not possible to find a ready-made shelter, so you will need to know how to build a temporary one. The type of shelter to construct will depend on the terrain and environment you find yourself in. There are various options, but two of the most common and reliable are a simple lean-to structure and a round lodge (aka “tepee”). 

A lean-to shelter is quick and easy to setup and it involves making use of an already existing structure such as a fallen tree or rock face to lean your building materials up against. A tarp can be a great addition if you have one. Once you have mastered this structure you can build up your skills to make more complex designs such as the tepee and numerous other types of shelters. 

2. Finding and Making Potable Water

Once you have set up your shelter finding safe drinking water is next on your list of priorities. This is possibly the most important basic survival skill to know. There is no way one fixed way to find, and purify, drinking water in a survival situation, as it depends on the environment you are in and whether you have any scraps or gear with you.

When looking for water, do your best to avoid stagnant water that has been standing still or water that sits in a motionless pool. You should aim for running water, preferably with a strong current. Finding fresh water is a lot about knowing the topography of where you are at.

Sloping hills that form into valleys or gullies are likely to have some form of runoff from the mountains or nearby hills. Creeks and streams are a great source, though it still might be questionable whether if it is safe enough to drink. All it takes is one dead animal that died in the creek upstream, and that could be enough for the bacteria to travel into your stomach.

Unfortunately, natural sources of water that are pure are rare, unless you are high in the mountain regions, so in most cases, you will need to know how to purify the water before drinking.

There are a few simple ways to do this. The simplest and most effective way is to boil it. You should bring the water to a full rolling boil for 3 minutes to ensure that all the parasites and bacteria are fully neutralised. 

Other ways to purify water include using water purification tablets or coming equipped with a LifeStraw or other type of water filtration device. If you find yourself without any gear and happen to have plastic lying around you can create a solar still.

There are several variations of a solar water sill that you can make. The basics behind this are that you are using the condensation that forms in an environment that is created around organic living material. When sunlight hits the plastic it creates a lot of moisture that can be collected for safe drinking.

Other ways to gather freshwater is from digging up root vegetables, as well as some varities of trees and stalky gree collecting rainwater, the dew from the morning mist

3. Building a Fire

This brings us to another essential survival skill: knowing how to build a fire. In some situations, building a fire can be a life or death situation. If you are able to get a fire going you significantly increase your chances of making it as it can help to keep you warm, can purifying water, cook your food, keeping animals away, and also provide a much-needed psychological boost.

Ideally, you should carry some form of fire starter whether it is a lighter, matches, flint and steel, ferro rod etc… Building a fire can be incredibly challenging, even more so if the wood is wet or you dont have anything to burn. Some things to look out for:

  • Dry is Best: Starting a fire with wet or damp wood is extremely difficult, even those of us who really know what they are doing. You should be looking for dead branches and dry grass and stay away from anything that is living or green.
  • Begin with Small Kindling: To get your fire going it helps to have the smallest, driest pieces of sticls you can find. This will save you loads of time and effort. You can use whatever small materials you have on hand that will catch easily. 
  • Think Outside the Box: Like all survival skills, quick and inventive thining will allow you to respond to the circumstances at hand. There are many ways to start a fire, and different materials that you can easily burn. Don’t restrict yourself to the obvious, be creative. 

4. Finding Food: Foraging and Hunting

If you find yourself in a situation where you need to survive for days or even weeks until help arrives it’s likely you are going to need to search for some food. You might be able to go without food for a few days, but pretty soon you will notice that your energy levels will drop and you will find the simplest of actions to be physically exhausting.

There are many different ways you can search for food. Depending on where you are stranded will likely depend on what type of foraging or hunting and what type of edible plants there will be. The difficulty will be identifying which are safe to eat and which are toxic. The most obvious choice here is to only eat something if that easily identifiable, you don’t want to end up as another Into the Wild statistic and eat a poisonous plant. There are many varieties of berries, roots, bulbs and leaves growing in the wild which you can eat if you know where to look.

In addition to foraging for wild plants, you can try out your hunting, trapping or fishing skills. Without any tools, it may be a little difficult. Although you can make a fishing spear, without needing to much skill. You can also make some rope from the bark and even roots of cedar or willow bark. And if you are stranded in a tropical area coconut husk can be also be twisted and massaged into twine.

Traps are also another way to hunt while saving your precious energy, though with a a bit of know-how you may be able to catch some wild game. However your best chances of getting food would be fishing, so if you find yourself near a stream, you have hit the jackpot.

5. First Aid Skills

In an emergency situation, knowing some first aid basics, like how to stop the flow of blood, how to use a tourniquet, how to dress a wound, how to set a break may come in handy.

If you are caught out all by yourself you are going to have to rely on your own wits to patch things up. There is a lot of survival first aid knowledge out there where you can learn how to use natural remedies for bites and cuts and how different plants can be used to soothe different illnesses. Medicinal skills however do not come to you simply by reading about it online or in some weekend crash course but require some serious dedication to the craft. The outcome though is, that you can come out as a certifiable witch!

6. Tying a Knot

Knowing how to tie a good knot can actually be a lifesaver. Lets say you stuck out in the boonies and your fishing and hey you caught a fish…and then it got away. Why? Because you dont know how to tie a knot.

There are a few basic knots that just might save your day:

  • Figure Eight Knot
  • Bowline Knot
  • Clove Hitch
  • Sheet Bend
  • Taut-Line Hitch

These can be used for everything like setting up a tent, making a bear bag, for a safety climbing rope, for fishing, making a trap, and the list goes on.

7. Navigation

Knowing how to navigate and read a compass and compass will ensure you can find begin to locate and “find yourself” if ever you go off-trail or get lost somewhere. Not only can it be the difference between being able to find your way back to safety or not, but it can help you map out your location so that you are able to take advantage of the terrain around you.

Being able to map out the surrounding area, will allow you to go farther afield to find food and water, and without getting lost…again!


Whether you are a casual weekend warrior or a hardcore adventurer, knowing these basic survival skills can be a lifesaver. Don’t wait until you actually find yourself in a serious situation to put these skills to the test, cause by then it may be too late!


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