why are outdoor survival skills important?

Spending time outdoors comes with inherent risks. You never know when an emergency situation might arise while hiking, camping, or partaking in other outdoor activities. Having the right survival skills could end up saving your life or someone else’s.

That’s why every outdoor enthusiast should invest time in learning and practicing key survival tactics. You’ll gain the ability to handle any crisis confidently and protect yourself until help arrives.

This comprehensive guide will provide you with essential information, tips, and techniques to survive and thrive in the wilderness. Let’s dive in to learn why outdoor survival skills truly matter.

Introduction to Outdoor Survival Skills

Outdoor survival skills refer to techniques that allow you to meet your basic needs in a wilderness setting. This includes knowing how to:

  • Build shelters
  • Start fires
  • Find/purify water
  • Identify edible plants
  • Navigate without modern technology
  • Send signals for help
  • Administer first aid

Mastering these abilities takes dedicated practice. But it’s worth the effort to avoid feeling helpless if you get lost or injured far from civilization.

Survival experts break down the knowledge into prioritized categories:

1. Attitude & Psychology

  • Staying calm, positive, and focused is key to good decision making. Don’t panic.
  • Be confident in your skills and don’t give up hope.
  • Keep your wits about you by managing fatigue, hunger, thirst, and pain.

2. First Aid

  • Know how to treat injuries, bites, stings, and ailments with limited supplies.
  • Prevent infection and further complications.

3. Firecraft

  • Ability to start and maintain fires for warmth, cooking, light, and signaling.

4. Shelter

  • Protect yourself from the elements by building secure shelters.

5. Signaling

  • Use signals to alert rescuers to your location.

6. Foraging & Hunting

  • Identify edible plants and hunt/trap game for sustenance.
  • Also know how to safely collect and disinfect water.

7. Navigation

  • Travel safely through unfamiliar terrain back to civilization.
  • Use the stars, sun, landscape, and improvised compasses.

Let’s explore each of these crucial areas of wilderness survival expertise.

Developing the Right Survival Mindset

Your mentality plays a huge role in whether you live or perish in an emergency scenario. Staying positive and proactive rather than succumbing to fear and panic dramatically improves your odds.

Work on cultivating these attributes ahead of time through mental training:

  • Calm: Avoid feeling rushed or anxious. Take slow, measured breaths and actions.
  • Alert: Continuously observe and analyze your surroundings for hazards and resources.
  • Methodical: Have a logical step-by-step plan and focus only on the present.
  • Determined: Believe in your ability to handle challenges and find solutions. Don’t give up!
  • Adaptable: Remain flexible to change. Don’t insist on one approach if it’s not working.
  • Hopeful: Keep sight of being rescued and returning home safely. Maintain morale.

Also utilize tricks like meditation, positive self-talk, and breathing exercises to control fear and despair. You’d be surprised how powerful your mindset is.

Learning Wilderness First Aid Skills

Injuries and illnesses are almost inevitable during prolonged survival situations. The ability to effectively treat medical issues using limited resources could save a life.

Aim to get formal first aid certification ahead of time. But also study up on the following:

Stopping Bleeding

  • Apply direct pressure and elevate wounds.
  • Use bandages or cloth combined with bulky padding to control bleeding.
  • For major bleeds of limbs, make an improvised tourniquet above the wound using a stick and bandage/cloth.

Immobilizing Fractures

  • Stabilize broken bones by securing joints above and below the fracture site.
  • Use sturdy sticks or poles as splints bound with bandages or clothing.

Wound Care

  • Clean wounds with purified water and apply antibiotic ointment if available.
  • Cover with sterile bandages, cloth, or moss to prevent infection.
  • Change dressings daily. Watch for redness, heat, swelling, discharge or fever as signs of infection.

Blister Treatment

  • Don’t pop blisters! Clean the area and cover with moleskin or gauze pads with adhesive tape.

Sprains & Strains

  • Rest the affected joint, ice if possible, and wrap with an elastic bandage. Elevate sprained extremities.


  • Cool minor burns immediately with cold water if available.
  • Cover with a clean non-stick dressing, or plastic wrap in a pinch. Watch for infection.
  • For major burns, cover with a sterile sheet and seek emergency medical assistance. Don’t apply ice.

Snake Bites

  • Limit movement and keep the affected area below heart level to slow venom spread.
  • Wash the bite. Remove any restrictive clothing or jewelry.
  • Mark the borders of redness/swelling and time progress. Get medical help ASAP.

Having the knowledge and supplies to treat injuries could prevent them from becoming life-threatening before you can find rescue.

Fire Starting & Safety

The ability to start and contain fires is one of the most vital outdoor survival skills. Fire provides:

  • Warmth
  • Light
  • Heat for cooking
  • Boiled water for drinking
  • Signals for rescuers

Selecting a Fire Site

Choose an existing ring of rocks or earth or make your own fire pit:

  • Locate away from overhanging branches, slopes, or dry grasses.
  • Clear a 5-10 foot diameter area down to dirt and ring with rocks.
  • Dig another small pit for cooking nearby.

Tinder, Kindling & Fuel

You need three elements to start a fire:

Tinder – Very fine, dry, fluffy fuel that ignites immediately with a spark. Examples:

  • Dry grass, bark, leaves, feathers
  • Cotton balls or lint
  • Scraps of paper or cloth

Kindling – Sticks ranging from toothpick to wrist thickness. Start with smallest and progress to larger as fire builds.

Fuel – Larger dry branches, logs, and wood to sustain the fire.

Fire Starting Methods

Having multiple techniques in your arsenal is key in case one fails:

Matches – Waterproof or store in a sealed bag as a backup.

Magnifying Glass – Point concentrated sunlight at tinder.

Flint & Steel – Strike piece of flint at an angle with the steel over tinder to create sparks.

Bow & Drill – Rub a wooden drill in a notch of a fireboard bow quickly until ember forms in a pile of tinder.

Hand Drill – Roll wooden stick vigorously between palms backward over a fireboard until it smokes.

Batteries & Steel Wool – Touch steel wool to positive and negative battery terminals to generate sparks.

Friction – Rub two sticks together extremely fast to generate heat that ignites tinder.

Once you have a small flame, slowly add kindling while gently blowing on the fire. Gradually build up with larger sticks until you have a decent blaze for cooking and warmth.

Fire Safety

Always practice fire safety:

  • Control rate of burn and ventilate enclosed spaces.
  • Maintain a clear area around the fire.
  • Don’t leave fires unattended or sleep too close.
  • Extinguish completely with water before leaving.

Mastering fire gives you power over one of nature’s most powerful elements.

Building Emergency Shelters

Exposure to the elements is one of the quickest ways to perish in survival scenarios. Creating an effective shelter should be your first priority after meeting your basic medical needs and starting a fire if possible.

Shelter Site Selection

Look for areas that provide:

  • Natural wind/rain protection
  • Close proximity to wood and water sources
  • Flat, dry ground elevated above wetlands
  • Plenty of natural building materials like fallen trees or rocky outcroppings


  • River valleys or dry creek beds that can flood
  • Cliffs or dead trees that could collapse
  • Thick brush/poisonous plants

Types of Shelters

Simple Lean-To

  • Quick and easy go-to option.
  • Prop a sturdy ridge pole at an angle against a rock or tree trunk.
  • Lean smaller poles or branches against it at an angle.
  • Cover with fir branches, leaves, or tarps for waterproofing.

Debris Hut

  • Make a small dome-shaped skeleton from flexible green saplings.
  • Pile on lots of leaves, grasses, bark, pine needles etc. for insulation.

Natural Shelter

  • Caves or rock overhangs offer built-in protection.
  • Line with pine boughs for comfort and warmth.

Snow Shelter

  • Pack snow into a mound or dig into a drift to make an igloo-like structure.
  • Allows small fire inside for warmth and light if properly ventilated.

Prioritize quality sleep and rest in your shelter to maintain strength. Seek natural protections from the elements so you can focus on being rescued.

Signaling for Help

Don’t wait for rescue – make yourself easier to find!

Implementing signals improves your odds of being discovered sooner.

Signals During Daylight Hours

  • Smoke from a large, smoky fire. Add green leaves/pine needles. Position on ridge tops where smoke will be visible.
  • Mirrors/reflectors like emergency blankets, water, or any shiny object. Flash reflections of sunlight.
  • Ground markings like rocks/branches arranged into giant X or SOS patterns.
  • Firearm shots spaced out in sets of 3 flashes to signal distress.
  • Whistles/horns – Blow in sets of 3 blasts.
  • Flashlights, lasers, flares or LED strobe lights at night.

Choose Rescue Sites Wisely

Set up signals in highly visible spots:

  • Hilltops/ridgelines
  • Open fields
  • River/lake banks
  • Roads/trails

Repeat as often as possible. Signals are often missed the first few times. Persistence is key!

Foraging For Food and Water

Lack of food and especially water is deadly in prolonged survival circumstances. However, never eat anything unless you’ve confirmed it’s safe first!

Finding Water

  • Follow descending ridges or drainages which will converge into streams.
  • Look for clumps of greener and lusher vegetation.
  • Dig near the base of cliffs or large boulders to reach underground seeps.
  • Collect morning dew from grass/leaves into containers.
  • Trap evaporated water from soil, leaves, or plastic sheeting.

Purifying Water

Boil water for 1 minute or use water purification tablets. You can also create a filter using:

  • Bottles/cans with bottoms punctured and charcoal pieces added.
  • Sand and crushed charcoal layered in bags made of t-shirt material.

Identifying Edible Plants

Look for:

  • Cattail roots, shoots and flower spikes.
  • Dandelion leaves and roots.
  • Clovers, violets, and wild onions.
  • Pine needles contain Vitamin C.

Avoid plants with:

  • Milky or discolored sap
  • Spines, fine hairs, or thorns
  • Beans, bulbs or seeds inside pods
  • Bitter or soapy taste


  • Set simple snares and traps.
  • Use sharpened sticks or basic fishing line and hooks.
  • Club small game.

With caution and proper preparation, nature can provide sustenance until you find your way back to civilization.

Wilderness Navigation

Having the skills to find your way through unfamiliar terrain is critical when lost.

Navigate by the Sun

  • At sunrise, the sun is in the east. At sunset, it’s in the west.
  • Use a branch or poles to make shadows that act as compass needles.

Using Stars

  • Learn constellations and star movement patterns.
  • Use the North Star (Polaris) to determine direction.
  • Southern Cross and Pointers Stars point south.

Read the Land

  • Follow valleys, drainages and slopes downhill to civilization.
  • Animal trails, ridges, and fence lines also often lead to roads eventually.
  • Mark your route by leaving indicators like piles of rocks.

Improvise Compass Needles

  • Magnetize metal pieces by stroking them against fabric repeatedly in one direction.
  • Float needle on leaf, bark, or plastic in water. The needle will orient north-south.
  • Use watch or shadows to determine rough east/west from north line.

Having navigational skills helps prevent panic and wasting energy walking in circles. Stay confident in your sense of direction.


While the outdoors provides beautiful scenery and adventures, it can quickly turn hazardous without proper preparation. Equipping yourself with survival know-how helps you avoid the pitfalls of panic and poor decision-making in emergencies.

Remember to tap into your courage and rational thinking. Rely on your skills, adapt as needed, and never give up hope. The combination of the right techniques and mindset will carry you through any trial until you reach safety once again.

By regularly practicing essential survival abilities like first aid, fire starting, shelter building, foraging, and navigation, you’ll be ready for the unexpected. Feeling capable breeds confidence.

Though dire situations are rare, they do happen. Don’t wait until it’s too late – invest now in learning how to handle them. Outdoor survival skills give you the precious gift of being self-reliant and calm under pressure.

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