Survive in wilderness

Edited by Ephraim, Charmed, Maria Quinney, Rebecca M. and 3 others


Every environment requires a different set of skills and a different approach in order to survive, but the one thing that you will need in ANY survival situation is a level head. You will first need to calmly assess your situation and develop a plan of attack rather panic and perhaps make your situation worse than it already is. This survival guide will give you information based on the things that you will have access to in different environments and seasons.

When it comes to survival, as with many other things in life, your chances for success are greatly improved if you are well prepared. One of the best ways to be prepared for this type of emergency is to carry a survival kit. Knowing the right items to put in your survival kit is just as important as having one. For helpful tips on preparing a wilderness survival kit you can refer to this article Create a survival kit

Many people think that if they are ever in a survival situation that they can rely on hunting and fishing to provide them with food. Unfortunately, as any hunter or fisherman can tell you, catching dinner isn't nearly as easy as you'd think. Even in the best circumstances when you are well armed and prepared, relying on the fish or game to cooperate with your plan is not a sure thing. If you truly feel that you will be stranded for an extended period of time, the first thing that you should do is find a source of water. A human can live for an extended period of time without food, but only 3 to 5 days in ideal conditions without water. In extreme conditions that length of time is considerably shorter. Animals are also drawn to water so your chances of finding game to hunt will increase as well.


If you are able to purify your water through boiling or other means such as water purification tablets, that would certainly be best. If you don't have the equipment to do this however, you still have to drink. Find a spot where the water is moving swiftly over the rocks (rapids) and collect your water there.

Finding Shelter


Aside from water, shelter is your most immediate need. If your vehicle is available you should stay with it and use it as your shelter. If you need to leave the vehicle, take whatever you can carry from your survival kit with you because a simple shelter can be made using just a tarp. If none of those things are available to you, there is often natural shelter to be found if you just know where to look.

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    Using things that occur naturally in nature (such as a fallen tree) can give you a place to get out of the weather without much effort on your part
    If the wind knocks a tree down, the root system leaves a sizable hole in the forest floor that can be adapted to keep you warm and dry. You should always approach these things with caution though, because may animals find that these areas make good homes.
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    Natural rock formations also offer a good opportunity to find shelter
    Caves, overhangs, and natural indentations caused by erosion often create the perfect place to spend the night. As with the fallen trees, you should explore carefully before taking over a cave. A bear may not be pleased to find you using his bedroom in his absence. Look for any animal signs, such as droppings and/or bones, at the entrance to your potential shelter. When using rocks as shelter you should also be on the lookout for snakes. They use rocks to sun themselves and stay warm on chilly days.
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    If you can't find any type of natural shelter, you may be resigned to building one
    A lean-to shelter is one of the easiest and most effective shelters that you can build, and the only materials that you need are those that you find laying around the woods. Dead branches and small logs can be propped against a brace and covered with living pine branches or other forest debris to create a small area that will shelter you from the worst of the elements. It may not be a 5 star hotel, but if it keeps you warm and at least semi-dry, it's worth a little effort.
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    If it is winter time, or you are in a climate where it is consistently cold, your need for shelter will be more urgent
    While the weather in this situation is a liability, you can also use it to your advantage in obtaining shelter. Snow drifts form where the wind blows snow up against some objects and they create natural wind breaks if you get behind them. In addition to that, you can pile snow to create your own drift. Snow is cold, but it will also insulate your shelter very well and keep the inside warmer. Never place your shelter under an overhanging bank in the winter. If the snow above melts enough to loosen, it could slide down and at best you'll be cold and wet, at worst you could be buried.
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Building a Fire


Once you have some type of shelter secured, you will need to think about fire. Even with your shelter it's going to get cold after dark unless you have some type of heat. A fire will also keep little (and not so little) woodland creatures from coming to visit. While most animals will avoid you, a curious raccoon can give you quite a shock if it decides to investigate your camp during the night. If you have matches or a lighter, starting a fire will be easier, but it still isn't quite as easy as you may think. In order to start a fire and make it burn properly you must have not only the necessary materials, but the patience to take it slowly. If you just start piling wood on before the fire catches properly, you will smother it and be left in the cold. Even though fire safety may not be your biggest concern right now, you still need to practice it. Being stranded is bad enough. Being stranded in a forest fire is infinitely worse. Make sure to clear all dry leaves and debris from your fire site. If possible you could ring it with stones as an extra precaution. Don't place your fire too near your shelter. Place it close enough that you can feel the heat, but far enough away that a spark can't ignite it.

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    Your first step should be to gather the materials that you will need.
    1. Kindling is any material that will burn when exposed to the open flame of matches or a lighter.  
      1. Paper works very well. It can be anything from and old newspaper to some old store receipts that you may have in your pockets or purse.
      2. Dry leaves can also be used to start a fire. They burn very quickly so you will also want to have a good supply.
      3. Cloth such as cotton or other natural fibers can be used to start a fire if it is torn into small pieces.
      4. If you are in an area where you can find cattails, when you break the ends apart you will find fluff that can also be used to start your fire.
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      You will need twigs and branches in every size, from the tiniest twig, right up to branches as big around as your wrist. These will be to feed the fire in stages until it becomes large enough to add big pieces of wood that will burn longer. It is very important to find the driest wood that you can find. Wet wood will smolder and smoke, but produce no real heat. If you find a pile of wet twigs you can often find drier wood underneath them.
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    If you are using paper for kindling, crumple it into balls about the size of your fist and place them in the center of your fire area
    If using leaves or cloth, make a pile in the center.
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    Place some of the very small twigs (smaller than a pencil) over the top of the paper in the shape of a tee-pee and the light the paper.
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    As the paper burns, some of the smaller twigs will catch fire and begin to burn
    When you notice the twigs beginning to burn, add some slightly larger twigs (finger sized) to your pile. It is very important to add these things gradually and only as they begin to burn, otherwise you will put t the fire out.
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    After you fire is burning well, add some of the larger sticks (the size of your wrist), and allow them to catch
    Now you can begin to look around for some dry wood in larger sizes that will keep your fire burning.  
    1. There are alternative ways to start a fire, but they take much more time and practice.  
      1. One of the easiest ways is by using a magnifying glass. On a sunny day the magnifying glass can be turned until the sun reflecting through it produces a small point of light that will ignite paper or even small pieces of wood. In some cases you can even use your eyeglasses to accomplish this.
      2. In many movies you will see survivalists spinning a stick between their hands to create fire by friction. In reality it isn't going to happen that way. It takes a VERY long time. If by some chance you actually do create fire, your hands will be so covered with blisters that you won't want them anywhere near heat.
      3. If you happen to have a flint and striker (found in many survival kits), it is still difficult to start a fire, but it can be done. In this case you will need tinder. Tinder is anything that will ignite from a spark. If you have any lint from a coat pocket or even from your socks, this will work. If not, your most feasible option is to look for some tree fungus. If you pull the fungus off of the tree, in the center you will find a yellow, dry, spongy center, that can be used to start a fire. Once you pull the fungus off, use a knife or your fingernails to loosen some of the inner material. Hold the fungus stationary and strike your flint directly above it. As the sparks hit the inner material they will begin to smolder and create coals. Blow gently on them until more coals are created and when you have enough glowing coals you can dump them out and begin to add SMALL twigs. Continue blowing on the coals until the twigs begin to ignite.
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Finding Food


Now that you have water, shelter and heat, you have everything that you need to survive for a few days. Now you should concentrate on finding something to eat. While your body can survive for longer without food than it can without water, you still need to eat if you want to keep up your strength. Aside from the practical reasons that you need to eat, being hungry is never pleasant. Even if you are only stranded for a short amount of time, there is a huge difference between merely surviving and making yourself as comfortable as possible.

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    Hunting- Unless you have a gun with you, hunting is going to be your least reliable source of food
    You may succeed in catching a bird if you are very patient, but chances are good that you won't be able to rely on animals for your main source of nourishment.
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    Fishing- If you have the right equipment, fishing should be a fairly reliable food source, but often in survival situations you don't
    Catching fish by hand can be done, but it takes more skill than most of us have. If you can locate fish in a shallow area, it is possible to trap them in and spear them, but again that is not something that you can count on.
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    Plant Life- This is going to be your most viable option when it comes to eating in the wild
    There are many plants that are edible and can be found even in the winter time. The main issue is knowing the difference between what is safe and what is not. Different plants are available throughout the year and depending on the season you can actually find plenty of edible plants. If you have any doubts about whether a plant is safe, it is always best to pass it by.  
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      Cattails- Most parts of the cattail plant are edible throughout the year. In the early spring, stalks can be carefully pulled up and the tender, center portions can be eaten raw or boiled. As the flower spike begins to form it can be boiled and eaten like an ear of corn. This should be done while the spike is still green. Even in the winter the roots may be dug up and cooked. They have a protein content that is comparable to rice. The roots can also be pounded into a type of flour.
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      Raspberries- Raspberries are one of the most easily identifiable of all the berries, and they can be found growing nearly everywhere in North America. Red raspberries tend to ripen a bit earlier in the summer than black raspberries do, but both can be harvested from early summer until fall. Raspberries are not only delicious, but they have medicinal purposes as well. Blackberry tea (made from boiled roots or leaves) has long been used to treat stomach and intestinal problems, including diarrhea.
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      Dandelions- Dandelions have been harvested for food since prehistoric times and continue to be a popular food in many cultures today. The leaves make a nice addition to salads, and the root can be ground to make a beverage somewhat like decaffeinated coffee. Dandelions can be found on every continent and are readily identified by their bright yellow blossoms. This is a source of food that can be found in open areas and meadows almost anywhere in the world.
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  • There are many other edible plants in the wilderness and you can purchase a field identification guide for edible plants in your area. Even if you never need it, you will be amazed at some of the plants that we consider to be weeds that can actually save your life in an emergency. Never eat a plant that you are unsure of. There are ways to test plants determine if they are safe to eat. For more advice on testing the safety of a plant for consumption you might want to check out this article Identify Safe and Edible Plants in a Survival Situation

    If you have problems with any of the steps in this article, please ask a question for more help, or post in the comments section below.


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    Recent edits by: sheryl hernandez, Robbi, Rebecca M.

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