We live in a techno-centric age. Everything is at our fingertips. We have cell phones that can navigate our roads from point A-to-point B. Our phones also have GPS grid coordinates at the quick typing of an app, that can pinpoint your exact location. But what happens in the event of an emergency and you don’t have your cell phone, or it breaks or it just doesn’t get a signal out wherever you’re at.

And don’t say it can’t happen. It can, it does and all too frequently. So, unless you want to be a statistic, you should know at a minimum some basic survival skills if you are ever stuck out in the wilderness somewhere.

You don’t have to be a Green Beret or Navy SEAL and be a SERE School graduate but it certainly helps if you are comfortable out in the wilderness, far from home and have good outdoor survival skills.

So, if the unthinkable happens and you are just your average Joe, not all is lost here. You can survive, thrive even as long as you perfect a few basic outdoor skills and we’ll get to them in just a second, but first, if you ever find yourself in a survival situation, just remember the word Survival and that will help you plan your way to safety

S – Size up the situation

U – Undue Haste makes waste

R – Remember where you are

V – Vanquish fear and panic

I – Improvise

V – Value living

A – Act like the natives

L – Learn basic skills … simple no? Let’s move on.

We’re going to use the KISS Principle here, Keep it simple, stupid. And we’ll start with the first of the basic skills you should know how to do.

Remember “The Rule of Threes.” A person can survive for:

  • 3 minutes without air
  • 3 hours without a regulated body temperature – hypothermia (shelter)
  • 3 days without water
  • 3 weeks without food
  • With that in mind, it brings us to our very first and most important skill.

#1 Build a Survival Shelter: Are you alone or with another person or group? What kind of materials are at your disposal? Hypothermia can and will kill people quickly, long before they feel the effects of lack of food or water. So the first thing a person or group must do is to build a shelter, that will allow your body heat to keep you warm and dry during the night. Some basic consideration for building a shelter are:

  • Location – (just like real estate, location, location, location is very important) Don’t build a shelter in a low-lying area next to a river or stream. A flash flood can happen quickly, pick higher ground and preferably a spot that is protected from the wind.
  • Insulation – the ground can sap the warmth right from your body, ensure that bed that you lie on has four to six inches minimum of pine straw, leaves etc, that will insulate from the ground. Double or triple that for the sides of the shelter.
  • Heating – is the shelter just body heated or is there a fire?
  • Personal or Group Shelter – if you’re in a small group, a group shelter although harder to construct, will keep everyone warmer, and don’t be shy, the closer you are to each other, the warmer you’ll stay.

The simplest design is a simple lean-to, building one isn’t particularly difficult. Just find a downed tree resting at an angle, or set a large branch securely against a standing tree. If you have cordage, you can secure it that way or use any vines in the area to lash it all together. Then stack smaller branches close together, weaving them together if possible. Then layer debris, like leaves, pine straw etc. until the walls are thick as well as wind and waterproof as you can make them.

#2 Starting a Fire: Having a fire is not only a tremendous tool for warming your body as well as your shelter but it can cook food, and boil water. Having a fire is also a big psychological boost for all involved. It provides a sense of security and safety.

A fire can also be used as a signaling device if an individual or group is being actively searched for in a rescue type of situation. A large smoky fire is easily visible from the air and can be seen from far away.

One should always carry field expedient fire starting devices but it is always a plus knowing the skills of starting a fire without matches, a lighter or flint. Use small tinder to start with and then add tiny sticks and twigs until you get a bed of coals going well enough to add some larger logs.

#3 Finding a Fresh Water Supply: If at possible, water should always be boiled before drinking. Depending upon your situation, that may not be possible. But finding a clean potable water supply is a must. If you’re in a winter survival situation, rain, snow or dew can be captured using a bandana or t-shirt and drank as it is more often than not in a purified state. Many vines will have water that can be wrung out as well as certain cacti.

#4 Finding Food: When it comes to a survival type of situation and food, the best rule of thumb is to think small. Unless you have a weapon of some kind, trying to trap or snare a large animal will waste more energy than it is worth. Become familiar with what edible plants are in your area. There are plenty of edible plant guides out there that will help you become more familiar with what it edible and what isn’t.

A couple of common plants that can help sustain you in most areas include:

  • Cattails – The “super Wal-Mart” of the swamp, almost every piece of the cattail can be eaten, the roots, shoots and the pollen heads are all edible.
  • Conifers – Most evergreen, cone-bearing trees, with the exception of the Yew have a soft, pulpy inner bark that is called the cambium. It is full of calories and starches and will sustain you
  • Oak trees – Acorns from oak trees can be eaten once the bitter tannic acids are removed. Native Americans used to put a basket full of acorns in a fast moving stream where the water would leach the tannic acid out in a day or two. The other method is to boil them. Place the acorns in a pot and cover them with water, once the water boils and turns the color of tea, dump the water out and repeat the process until the water no longer turns brown.

Now as a word to the wise, these are survival foods and the taste isn’t going to make one want to give up prime rib for a diet of cattail, cambium, and acorns. But it will get you thru a tough situation if the need arises.

These are just a few of the skills that one should master if you ever find yourself in a survival type of situation. But the weapon you have at your disposal is your brain. To quote Tom Hanks, “that’s the lump three feet above your ass.” Keeping a positive mental outlook on things, keeping your wits about you at all times is imperative.

And by all means, take a course on outdoor survival. There are a plethora of them in all parts of the country. And there is no shortage of very good ones in every area. Do your homework and check them out.

One (unsolicited by the way) course you should check out is run by former Special Forces officer Mykel Hawke. Many of you may remember Hawke from his television show that he and his wife had called “Man, Woman, Wild” on the Travel Channel. He runs a couple of different survival courses including a Couples Survival Course. So bring your significant other and take an outdoor survival course and learn some new skills while bonding with your spouse. Then they’ll have a greater appreciation of what you do… Stay safe, be prepared and don’t quit.

Photo: Wikipedia


Originally published on Special Operations.com and written by