There are many scenarios in which survival skills might be necessary. Different scenarios will necessarily require different skills, but there are some skills that are likely to be needed in nearly every situation. These skills are important because they take care of the things that are needed to live, not necessarily be comfortable or thrive, though that would be nice, but to actually survive. So what do humans require to survive?
These are barring any illness or injury, which would require first aid or medication. The skills needed to survive will be related these needs.
- Finding Water (and Purifying)
A person can live several weeks without food, but no more than 11 days without water. This means that it is very important to know how to obtain water and make sure it is safe for ingestion.
Because people need at least half a gallon daily, it can be difficult to store enough to last for very long, especially if whatever situation one is in results in the need to travel. Finding water to drink can be challenging, but if the location is mountainous or forest, there is usually some fresh water to be found somewhere.
Start by listening for the sound of water. Following the sound of running water will usually lead to a stream or river. This water is usually ingestible as it is. If the water you find is in a still pool, its safety is much less ensured. For water of this type, some sort of purification should be used. The most common ways to purify water include:
This method uses special equipment, most of the time, but can also be a second step with boiling; having a lid or similar to catch the vapor and redirect it into a new container when it returns to liquid form.
Bringing water to a rolling boil and maintaining that for at least one minute is sufficient to remove germs and parasites. Other impurities can then be removed by running it through a coffee filter or waiting for everything to settle and carefully pouring off the majority of the liquid, leaving impurities in the bottom of the container to be washed out later.
- Bleach/purifying tablets
Make sure water is clear, filtering, if necessary, with a coffee filter or camping filter to remove large particles or cloudiness. Check the bleach to make sure it is straight bleach and does not contain additives. Note the percentage; it should be sodium hypochlorite 8.25% (if it is a different percentage, drops should be adjusted accordingly). Add 6 drops per gallon, or double that if the water is cloudy. Let the water sit for at least half an hour. It should have a slight chlorine smell; if not, re-treat and let sit for fifteen more minutes. If your water is in a bottle, remember to make sure the water around the neck and cap are also treated.
Most purifying tablets work similarly; adding the tablet to the water and then allowing it to work. The wait time can vary from 15 minutes to 48 hours, depending on the contaminants and quantity of water.
Basic camping filters and coffee filters may remove large impurities, but they are not sufficient for germs and microorganisms. However, there are filters available that do take care of this sort of contamination. One such is the LifeStraw, which removes 99.9999% of contaminants from up to 1,000 gallons of water.
- Providing Food
While people can live without food for a while, eventually it is necessary. If traveling is a part of the equation, then food will definitely be necessary to keep up strength. The good thing is that, unless one is in a desert, food can be found fairly close by in most situations. The body needs more than just one type of food; all nutrients are important. This includes protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Many plants are edible and are full of nutrients to keep people healthy. What makes it difficult is that there are also plants that can cause severe illness and occasionally death. Because of this, it is very important to know exactly what is being picked and eaten! Investing in a field guide and becoming familiar with edible plants is an essential skill!
Meat provides protein and provides more food than a similarly sized quantity of plant matter because of its density. It may be more difficult for someone who tends to be squeamish, but one who can get past that will find hunting a good way to get food.
This can be done with a gun, a bow, or a trap. Knowing how to set up a snare to catch small game can be very helpful.
If one brings down big game or finds a large quantity of plants but is moving on to an area where food may not be as plentiful, preserving food will reduce waste. Cooking it will help it to last a bit longer, in the case of meat. It may not be possible to can (although if one is weathering a situation at home, canning may be possible). Dehydrating is one way that nearly anything can be preserved.
Because meat, especially, can be very dangerous if uncooked or undercooked, learning to cook things – even over a campfire – is a very important skill for survival.
- Creating Shelter
Building a simple lean-to with sticks and simple thatching to keep out rain can be learned in a weekend. It may not work long-term, but it will definitely offer shelter in a pinch. Remember that a shelter made of branches and other flammable materials must be built far enough from a campfire to keep it from catching.
Location is important. It is best to keep far enough from a water source or depression so that flooding does not happen. It is also good to keep an eye out for wildlife pathways, because it can be dangerous to build shelter too close to a predator’s stomping grounds.
- Providing Warmth
A campfire is the most often used way to add warmth in a cold situation outdoors. Learning to start a fire in any situation is a skill that will serve well. It works best to start with small, dry bits that will catch easily, gradually adding larger fuel until it can hold its own. This is definitely more complicated than it sounds, so practicing before it is needed is wise.
If dry fuel is not available or the heat is needed indoors, warming up can be done by using clothing layers, blankets, or huddling up with other people.
- Repairing Clothing
In a situation where purchasing replacements for clothing becomes impossible or unreliable, knowing how to repair a tear or replace a button is good. Being handy with a needle and thread is good for anyone, and is not a difficult skill to learn, though it does take practice.
- Maintaining Hygiene
It is easy to take the bathroom for granted, but in an emergency or disaster situation, a bathroom may not be available. Things like brushing teeth, washing hair, showering, and flushing waste become much more difficult if running water is limited or unavailable. In a pinch, teeth can be brushed with baking soda, which is not harmful to swallow. In a wilderness situation, defecation should be buried about three feet and should be done well away from water sources. Sponge baths become necessary and some sort of dry shampoo may be good to have set aside for such situations.
- Defending Self and Family
Defense can be tricky. Firearms can be the most certain way to defend one’s self and family, but they can also pose a danger if turned against the owner. Knives can also be a good defensive weapon. However, the best option is to know basic self-defense methods that do not require a weapon.
Knowing how to recognize directions by the sun or being able to read a compass can be crucial to getting from one place to another if one is forced to travel in the wilderness. Neither of these is difficult but testing the knowledge before it is needed is a good plan.
- Providing First Aid
Minor injuries and general sickness may require first aid or simple medications. Having a first aid kit and knowing how to treat things like cuts, splinters, and similar things can help prevent infections and prevent the need for medical attention from professionals.
- Tying Knots
Knots are used for a variety of things, including setting up a shelter, setting a trap, tying up food to keep wild animals from getting to it, and more. Some knots are meant to come apart easily, while others are meant to hold forever. Being able to tie them as needed is an essential skill.
Life Straws require no power and contain no BPA or chemicals. These are great for emergencies, camping, and more.
Convenient water purification tablets provide 50 tablets per bottle.
This stove makes it so you can make a fire and be able to cook over it easily.
This field guide lists and illustrates 200 plants that can be gathered and eaten from the wild.
Two 14-ounce containers of dry shampoo will quickly refresh oily hair and eliminate odors.
This little book offers instructions for tying 200 different knots for all types of uses.