Whether you enjoy hiking, camping, climbing, or any other outdoor activity, you can never know what unexpected surprises might happen. This does not mean you need to avoid it or cancel all your plans and stay home, but it’s extremely important and helpful to know how to survive in the wilderness even if you have nothing with you.
No matter the activity you’re engaging in, chances are you have various resources with you that can help your survival even in the most extreme of situations. But let’s think about the worst case scenario where you find yourself in the wilderness with nothing on you, and now it is up to you to stay alive.
In my blog, I have written an extensive article about how to survive in the desert, and surviving in the wilderness is pretty much the same. Here’s a quick list on how to survive in the wilderness:
- Stay calm
- Find or build a shelter
- Stay warm
- Find a water source
- Find or hunt something to eat
- Signal for help
These are the main things to know and do when it comes to your survival. I will elaborate about each of them, so that you will have a better understanding how to follow each of these steps.
The first thing to remember when it comes to wilderness survival is to stay calm. Sure, you’re in a dangerous, scary and extreme situation that you’re not used to. Your heart starts to race, blood level rising, the mind starts shooting all sorts of negative thoughts, and you’re starting to panic. This is normal, but you have to learn to stay calm if you wish you do things the right way and stay alive.
I know it’s easier said than done, but you can practice staying calm even during everyday situations. When you feel you’re about to burst, yell, getting angry and upset, stop yourself, take some deep breaths, count to ten. This will cool your emotions and vaporize the negative thoughts. You can also meditate and find some inner peace, and believe me, this is no joke.
When you’re not calm, you’re not thinking straight. You’re letting the adrenaline and panic take over, which may lead you take bad choices, avoid the right ones and basically risking injury and even death. There’s a way to keep calm during extreme situation which I’ve mentioned in my article about how to survive in the desert. I will share it with you now again.
This method is called ABC of survival and it includes five steps:
- A: Accept the situation and don’t look for anyone to blame for it. This is the situation at hand and now it’s up to you to deal with it in order to survive and stay alive.
- B: B stands for brewing coffee. You don’t have to actually brew coffee, but the act itself calms you down and takes your mind off the situation you’re in, focusing on the coffee and not on negative thoughts and feelings. This is also a way to keep warm, which I will talk about later in this article.
- C: Consider the options for survival. Look for whatever can help you survive, from water, to food, to tools that help you progress in the wild and anything that can assist you here and now. Again, I will elaborate on some of these during the article.
- D: Decide on a plan to survive. After you’ve accepted the situation you are in and assessed everything around that can help you, try thinking of a plan to use all these resources to stay alive.
- E: Execute the plan. You are now clam, you have a plan, maybe some resources you’ve found on the way, now it’s time to execute and survive.
Find or Build a Shelter
When you don’t know where you are and especially in the wild, it’s crucial to find or build a place to stay in, a shelter. Most likely, there are animals around, since it’s their natural surroundings. It’s best not to disturb them, or they may attack out of defence and fear. You don’t want to encounter a bear or some other big animal that can hurt or even kill you. Another reason to find a shelter is to keep warm and not suffer from hypothermia.
The easiest and best option is to find a natural shelter in the wild. This can be a spot up that is against rocky outcropping or even a down with dry ground below. You can always put some more branches and debris on the main shelter and structure. If you need to build a shelter, you can look for trees that fell and then pile a few large branches against that tree. This will be your wall. The small gaps should then be filled with smaller branches. Remember to cover the entire shelter with leaves as well as debris. Also, it is advised to place some dry leaves on the floor of the shelter in order not to sleep on the soil, which can be damp and cold. The leaves on the ground should be replaced each and every day.
Just make sure that no animal inhabits the place of your shelter and that your shelter protects you from the cold, rain, winds and the animals that may wander the place.
You can also find a cave, although I wouldn’t recommend it, only as a last resort. It can easily be inhabited with a bear or another animal, so always check the cave before entering and do it only if you have no other option for a shelter.
The following video from Survival Lilly teaches several types of shelter you can quickly build in the wild:
You cannot function when you’re cold and your body begins to shut down. Did you know that the main cause of death in the wild is not from dehydration or even starvation, it’s actually from hypothermia? Well, now you know.
The shelter you’ve found or built helps you keep warm, but you should also start a fire and for several reasons. Starting a fire not only keeps you warm, but also keeps away insects and other animals, helps you boil water, cook food, and even signal for help.
Because we’ve established that you have nothing with you, there are ways to start a fire even without a lighter or matches and they are not so difficult. I have written an article about the subject, so it’s best you check it out as I elaborate all the methods to start a fire without a lighter or matches.
So, your ways for staying warm in the wilderness include staying inside a shelter and starting a fire, but there is another way and you won’t believe it. A woman named Susan O’Brien was able to survive the night in the woods when she buried herself in the dirt in order to keep warm. Because dirt acts as a great insulator, you can burry yourself in it to keep warm. Also, use pine needles, dry leaves and other debris near you to cover yourself as much as possible to stay warm.
Find a Water Source
You cannot survive for long without water and even if you do, you will be weak, won’t think straight and chances of wilderness survival will be slim to non-existent. The next step to survive in the wild with nothing is to find a source of water.
Here are a few ways to find water in the wild:
- Collect rain water: If there’s rain where you’re at, find something to collect the rainwater in. It can be a container, some kind of a bottle and basically anything that can hold and store the rainwater in it.
- Look for a stream: If you can find a running stream, that’s your best option for a water source. A running stream of water has less bacteria and parasites in it, so although not 100% safe for drinking, it’s still a good source of water since your main priority now is to survive. Even if you get a little sick from the water, you’re still alive.
- Dragging cloth in the woods: Tie a piece a cloth to your leg and walk through the woods with the cloth on the ground. It will absorb the dew from the plants around and you’ll have something to drink.
- Use your shirt to collect dew: Another way to collect water is by using your shirt. Simply press the shirt on the ground and once it absorbed some water, squeeze the shirt and drink from or pour the water to a water bottle.
- Use the mountains: If you’re near a mountain, there is a chance there’s a stream of water nearby. All you need to do is walk in a parallel line to the mountain and you may come across a stream and a source of water.
- Ants can be helpful too: If you see ants go up a tree, there’s a chance there is water where they’re headed. Search for a crotch in the tree in the direction of the ants and place some clothing in that spot in order to absorb and collect some water. Another option is searching in holes of tree that are dead or decaying.
- Search beneath the rocks: Evaporation is slowed down by the rocks, so there is a chance to find some water or dew underneath them. The best time to look for dew or water under the rocks is just before dawn. Even if there is only some moisture, use a cloth to absorb it.
- Let the animals guide you: Look for animal tracks. If they lead downhill, there may be a water source there, just beware of the animals themselves and don’t interrupt or do anything to alarm them. Also, if you see birds circle in the sky or flying insects around something, maybe they are circling around a water source.
- Dig for water: It’s best to dig in dry stream or river beds, as the water should be below the surface. The outside edge is where you want to dig, as the best chances to find water are there.
- Look for plants and vegetation: If you see plants and vegetation around, maybe there is a water source that can be nearby, so it’s worth checking it out.
- Cactus fruit: If you’re in a place where cactus grows, you can safely consume the fruit. It is safe to eat and also contains plenty of water.
The following Discovery video shows more methods on finding water in the wilderness:
Tip: The safest way to drink the water is after you boil it. You can start a fire, boil the water and thus eliminate all bacteria, parasites and other contaminants in it, making it safe to drink. If you want the water to be the safest as possible to drink from, then you should boil it for 20 minutes. If there is no way to boil the water, drink it as is. As previously stated, your main priority at this point is to stay alive and survive, so it’s no big deal if you get a little sick, you’re still alive.
A great way to purify water next time you’re in the wild and outdoors, is using the best-selling LifeStraw water filter (on Amazon). It is extremely small, award winning, great for any outdoor activity when you need to purify water for safe drinking. It can filter up to 1,000 gallons of contaminated water, doesn’t require batteries and eliminates 99.99% of bacteria, parasites and other water contaminants. You can choose the LifeStraw only or have the LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottle.
Find or Hunt Something to Eat
You cannot live without air and water, but you must eat as well. In order to survive in the wild, you need to be strong and able to think. That is why your body needs energy, so you have to find something edible and safe to eat. The best food to consume in this situation is food that is easy to find but also contains high concentration of nutrition and energy.
Here are some options for food in the wild:
- Trees with edible inner bark: If you find yourself in the forest, then most likely you’ll find plenty of edible inner bark to consume. Sure, it does not taste good to say the least, but it’s a source of energy in order to survive at the moment.
- Nut trees: Look for nut trees in the area as their fruits are safe to eat from as well.
- Berries: Berries have high amounts of sugar to keep you pumped up and energized. Just be careful not to pick poisonous berries, as not all berries are safe and edible.
- Bugs: Bugs are actually extremely nutritious. They are rich in protein, iron, calcium and healthy fats, so it will be weird not to eat them if you think about it.
- Sharp stick: Equip yourself with a sharp stick you can throw. This will allow you to hunt and catch small animals like rabbits, squirrels and other small mammals.
Tip: It’s advised to eat your food during the evening. The body tends to create heat when it metabolizes food, so this way, you can get a little warmer during the evening when temperatures drop and it’s getting cold.
Tip 2: If you’re planning on gathering edible flowers and salad greens, you should know that they are low in energy. Therefore, don’t work too hard and waste a lot of energy searching and gathering them, as you will waste more than you actually gain when consuming them.
Signal for Help
It’s probably a good idea to signal your location if you find yourself stranded in the wild.
There are a few ways to signal for help:
- Start a fire: I’ve mentioned earlier that starting a fire may be a way to signal for help. During the day, the smoke can be visible and during the night the fire is surely visible, especially from above. If the fire is intended to signal for help, try and start it in on open space so the trees won’t block its view from above if a plane or helicopter passes by.
- Using a mirror: Similar to starting a fire, if you have a small mirror with you (or any other reflective item) or find it on the way, you can try and use it to signal for help if you spot a plane or helicopter. Of course, this can be done only during the daytime, as you need to use the sun’s rays to hit the mirror and reflect to the plane or helicopter.
- Using stones/sticks/branches: By using stones, sticks, branches, or anything else you can put on the ground, you can spell the word HELP. You must spell the word in an open space where nothing covers or hides it. This way, if a plane or helicopter flies by, it can spot the word from above.
- Spell HELP on the sand/ground: If there is sand nearby or there is a way to carve the word HELP on the ground and soil, try it. If the ground is not too hard, not rocky and you can carve or dig in it, spell the word HELP on it. Again, make sure it’s done in an open space that is visible from above.
Tip: If you spell the word HELP in a place that is not near your shelter, whereabouts or location, try to spell, draw or carve a pointer or arrow on the ground that signals your current location, so rescuers will know where to search and look for first.
Recommended Wilderness Survival Kit
Whether you’re going hiking, camping, climbing or planning to engage in any other outdoor activity, it is recommended to have a few tools with you that may assist you during emergencies and even save your life. You can either purchase a prepared survival kit or construct one yourself.
Here are the items I recommend you have in your wilderness survival kit. I linked some of them to the more detailed articles on each type of item:
- Water bottle
- Sharp knife
- Rain jacket
- First aid kit
- Blanket/Emergency blanket
- Fire starter/Lighter/Matches
- Food/Nuts (best to have them dehydrated)
This list of items is only a recommendation, so feel free to add to it more items or take whatever you feel is necessary for your survival. Like the saying goes, better safe than sorry, or in this case, injured or even dead. You can always store this kit in your car or backpack and know that no matter the scenario that nature hits you with, you are more than covered to handle it.
I sincerely hope that my article was helpful, and now you feel more prepared when venturing into the wild. Whatever situation you will be facing, you are now more ready for it. And knowledge is one of the most significant survival qualitites.
Always remember that wilderness survival is a skill that needs to be constantly honed and backed up with a lot of knowledge. For instance, it is always important to know how to predict weather and how to survive extreme cold. You should also learn how to survive in different environments, even the desert or a deserted island. Furthermore, when disasters and riots strike close to home, you need to know everything about urban survival.
Stay safe out there!