Learning bushcraft skills is the key to self-sufficiency in the wild.
Whether you’re an absolute newcomer looking to learn the tools of the trade or you’re a seasoned veteran hoping to hone your skills, keeping on top of your bushcraft abilities is essential when camping for any period of time.
Over the next 13 tips, we’re going to be explaining how you can get the most out of your time in the wild and keep yourself safe, secure, and well-fed.
- 1 1. Starting a Fire
- 2 2. Foraging for Food
- 3 3. Gathering and Purification of Water
- 4 4. Traps and Snares
- 5 5. Making Rope from Plants
- 6 6. Cooking in the Wild
- 7 7. Making Homemade Survival Cement
- 8 8. Building an Emergency Shelter
- 9 9. Tying Knots
- 10 10. Basic First Aid
- 11 11. Navigating the Wild
- 12 12. Keeping Bugs Away
- 13 13. Caring for Your Equipment
1. Starting a Fire
The first port of call for any would-be survival expert is lighting themselves a fire. There are many different ways to start a fire and we’re going to cover the basics in this section. By paying attention and trying out different methods yourself, you’ll always be prepared for the worst and ready to take care of yourself.
What You Need
Here’s what you’ll need to bring with you on your trip (or gather while you’re there) to start a fire:
1. You’ll need tinder to start your fire. If you’re not aware, tinder is the smallest fire-starting material and can be any number of household items. Tinder is best brought from home as it has to be extremely dry to work best. You can use cardboard, wood shavings, newspapers, wax, or specially designed firelighters.
2. The next step is to make sure you have some kindling at hand. Kindling is basically the step between tinder and firewood. It helps keep your fire burning once the tinder has been set alight and it encourages the flames to take hold of larger logs. Kindling will usually consist of small, dry branches and twigs.
3. The bulk of the fire will consist of larger, dried logs of wood. It’s important not to use moist wood, otherwise, it’ll be extremely hard to start the fire. There are many different ways to arrange the logs atop the fire, but keep in mind that different techniques may only work best in certain environments.
4. Last but not least, you need a way to start the fire. This could be anything from a lighter to matches; a flint firestarter to the traditional rubbing sticks method. A great option is to invest in several alternatives, so if one of your options fail, you always have a backup.
Sitting around a campfire can be one of the most enjoyable experiences of your life, but you have to remember to put it out properly when you’re finished. Once the flames have sufficiently died down, sprinkle some water atop the ashes and stir them to make sure no stray embers remain.
If you want your campfire to last for a good amount of time, check out this article on building slow burners.
2. Foraging for Food
We’ll cover how you can hunt for animals a little later in this guide, but it’s first important to understand what other food sources we can find out there in the wild. There are plenty of options for sustaining yourself, so let’s take a look at how you can go about becoming a master forager.
The most important rule to remember when you’re foraging and eating wild plants and edibles is to make 100% sure it’s not poisonous. Never eat something you’ve foraged if you’re not certain about it.
Your first steps should be:
– Finding a mentor or expert who can show you what is edible with confidence
– Acquire literature on the subject and books that you can use as reference guides
Guides which have large, easy-to-identify photos or line-drawings are the only types you should be following. They make it much easier to process the information and reference it in the wild. Make sure you choose a book that covers plants native to your area (or the area you’re camping in).
If you opt for a human guide, check their credentials and make sure they know what they’re talking about. Many experts will have glowing references online and it should be easy to research how qualified they are.
Here are our top tips for what you should learn about foraging:
– First, learn about the dangerous species that may reside close to you
– Do not simply rely on the common names of these plants. Learn the Latin names
– Use all of your senses. Smell, sight, feel etc, are all important to identification
– Learn the usual habitats of plants, to help narrow down identifying species
– Look up companion plants (species which grow close to others) to help identify
– Examine how the seasons affect different plants and when they bloom
– Learn which specific parts of the plant are safe to eat and which are not
These are the main paths which you should follow in your education and they will massively help you learn the basics of foraging and be much more confident in your identification of certain plants.
3. Gathering and Purification of Water
We may be able to go a few days without food (at a push), but water is absolutely essential to staying alive. If you hope to stand any chance while in the wild, you need to have either brought along a huge stockpile of bottled water or know how to gather and purify it yourself.
Gathering water, depending on your location, can actually be a lot easier than you might think. If the weather allows, rain, snow, sleet, hail, ice, and dew can all be collected for purification and use as drinking water.
Fresh rain that hasn’t fallen through the forest canopy is usually safe enough to drink as it is, but you can purify it further if you’re unsure. New, untouched snow can even be melted down for drinking without having to purify it.
Springs and other underground sources will usually provide you with clean, safe drinking water. Water that you’ve obtained via “tapping” trees (like the birch tree or maple tree) can also be safe for you to drink. It’s often an extremely abundant source in late winter.
The vast majority of other water sources will usually be dirty or tainted in some way and must be purified. Here’s a quick list of the different ways in which you can purify any water you’ve collected:
– Simply boiling the water in a suitable container over a campfire will remove many parasites, bacteria, and other pathogens. You’ll want to keep it boiling for around ten minutes.
– If you believe the water you’ve collected is extremely contaminated in some way, you can still purify it via distillation. Look up how to make a transpiration bag or a solar still, which are both effective ways of distilling water through evaporation.
– Purchase a survival straw. These handy products allow you to drink directly from a source and will remove a large number of bacteria and pathogens (as well as eliminating odd tastes).
– Another product you can use is a pump-action filter or a drip/suction filter. This piece of kit forces tainted water through a filter and can even be attached directly to your hydration bladder for ease-of-use.
– If you’re looking for some really high-tech survival gear, there are UV light products out there which very effectively purify water and remove bacteria and pathogens using UV light. You can even purchase hand-cranked, batter-free versions.
– One of the most common ways to purify water is by using water disinfection/purification tablets. These are inexpensive and can be dropped right into a bottle of tainted water. They usually take about 30 minutes to an hour to get the job done.
Here is another article I wrote on purifying water that will go into a little more detail.
Many survival guides will tell you that if you’re near the point of death, even dirty water is better than no water. Would you rather be dead and pathogen-free or still alive and ill? It’s a simple enough decision to make if the situation calls for it.
4. Traps and Snares
If you’re unsuccessful at foraging for plants and edibles in the wild, you’re going to want to try and trap your food. There are many different ways to hunt and catch animals without having access to a rifle or any archery equipment.
In this section, we’re going to list some of the best traps and snares you can easily create while surviving in the forest. Obviously, we can’t go too deep into each of these, but you can look these traps up in any good survival book, website or even youtube.
– You can make the simplest of snares by tying a small loop in some wire or string and passing the end of it through it to make a loop noose. Then all you have to do is put the snare in front of an animal den. If you use string, you may have to use some sticks to prop the noose open. When the animal leaves its den, its head will get stuck in the noose and it will tighten as the animal struggles.
– Next on our list is the twitch-up snare. You’ll then need to find two sticks and use them to make a “trigger bar.” Then you simply push your trigger bar into the ground and tie a noose around the end of the sapling. Just bend the sapling down and tie it to the trigger bar. Create a trail or funnel, so that when an animal walks through the noose, the trigger bar will move and the sapling will swing back upwards. The noose will tighten around the animal and most likely break its neck in the process.
– If you’re not confident with knots and rope, try out a deadfall trap. Simply find a heavy, flat rock and prop it up with a small stick. Place some bait underneath the rock and position the stick so that the slightest movement will knock it over and cause the rock to fall on top of the animal.
– A really simple trap you can make for catching fish is called a bottle fish trap. Simply cut off the top portion of a plastic bottle, invert it, and secure it inside of the bottom of the bottle. Place it facing upstream in a river. The force of the water will push small fish inside the bottle and they won’t be able to get out.
There are so many small and simple snares and traps that you can easily set up in the wild. Master how to craft them in a few short minutes and you’ll be one step ahead of the rest when it comes to survival.
5. Making Rope from Plants
When you’re truly stuck in a situation where you need to survive, a rope can be an invaluable tool. As we showed in the last section, simple snares can easily be created with rope – so having some could be the difference between eating and starvation.
If you have no access to a rope, or you forgot to pack it, it’s possible to create your own when you’re out in the wild. Here’s our quick and dirty guide:
– Find some plant fiber. You can use plants such as milkweed, dogbane, bark etc. It’s best procured from dead plants.
– Lay down flat the stalk of the plant you’ve harvested and push down on it to break it into two halves.
– Take each half and break off the outer wood sections in segments of about an inch. This is an easy process, so don’t worry about it being too complicated.
– You’ll end up with two light brown ribbons of fiber. Grind them between your thumb and forefinger to remove any leftover wood and tenderize them.
– Now comes the part that’s hard to explain. You’re best looking up a few videos online to see this in action. You must wrap and intertwine the ribbons together meticulously. If you cord them together tight enough you’ll be able to create a fairly strong rope.
This might seem like an intimidating process, but it’s actually one of the easiest bushcraft skills to master (once you’ve tried it out a few times and watched a demonstration or two). You can use your rope in all kinds of situations, so it’s extremely handy.
6. Cooking in the Wild
What’s the point of learning how to hunt, trap, and forage if you don’t even know how to cook the food you bring back to camp? In this section, we’re going to go over our top tips for cooking in the wild.
If you’re in a true survival situation, you’ll be willing to cook and eat anything. Here is a bare bones way to catch and cook fish in the wild.
If you’re camping for enjoyment, however, you’ll want to cook the best meals you possibly can.
– Invest a little time in planning your meals. Plan an appropriate number of low-effort meals that can be quickly made for the long, tiring days. When you have a more relaxed day planned, try and arrange more elaborate meals.
– Make sure you bring the right equipment with you. A small frying pan and some kind of gear you can bake in are essential if you want to make something more than freeze-dried food. Bring containers with tight lids and as many spices as you can fit in small ziplock bags. Spices can make even the plainest meals absolutely amazing.
– You can cook over a campfire and enjoy nature’s oven or you can bring one of the amazing portable stoves that are available nowadays. They’re extremely cheap now and can be found in any camping supply store.
– Bring enough ingredients that will allow you to be flexible with your food. Some days you may need more than you have planned for that particular section of your trip. If you bring flexible food that can easily be added to any meal, you’ll have a lot more options.
– Don’t just make the same old meals over and over again. It’s depressing to be eating the same thing constantly and it’ll end up lowering your morale.
– If you’re travelling with other people, ask them about what recipes they love testing out while camping and what their favorite adventure meals are.
As you can see, there are so many ways to spice up a boring old camping meal and make sure that you have a varied diet while you’re out hiking in the wild.
7. Making Homemade Survival Cement
You may have never even heard of homemade survival cement before, but it’s one of the most useful tips you’ll ever learn. It can be used for any number of things when you’re camping or in a survival situation. It can even be used when making an emergency shelter (and we’ll be diving into those in the next section).
Here are the basic steps to making survival cement:
– Find a source of mud that has as high a clay content as possible. To test how much clay is actually in mud, simply roll it into a ball and see if it retains its shape. If it does, the mud should be good enough.
– Find a container or use a bucket to collect as much as the mud as possible. The more of this stuff you can make, the better, as it’s such a useful tool.
– Add a little water and some grass to your mixture. Mix it up completely and keep it sealed if you have to step away from it for a second so that it doesn’t dry out completely.
– If you’re using it to build something small, use smaller pieces of grass. If you’re building something fairly large, use larger pieces (they will help reinforce the structure).
– If you’re using the cement as a type of mortar (to seal objects together) add more water and make it a thinner mixture so that it can reach every crack and crevice.
– Keep the mixture topped up with a little water every now and again if it starts to dry out prematurely in the bucket.
There are so many projects that can be completed with a little bit of water, some mud, and some grass. It really is a remarkably solid mixture, so make sure to try it out and remember how to create it if you’re ever in an emergency situation.
8. Building an Emergency Shelter
If you don’t have a cabin or a tent to stay warm in, you’re going to have to learn how to build a shelter for yourself. Some people enjoy doing this purely for the experience and the training it provides, but there may be a time in your life when you’re actually called upon to build a shelter to keep yourself alive – so pay close attention.
In this section, we’re going to list a few of the easiest-to-build emergency shelters you can construct while you’re out in the wild.
These shelters are much like tipis, in design. They’re actually a hybrid of shelters from all around the world, and you’ll see this design across many different cultures. They’re fairly easy to construct if you know how, and mostly just consist of large branches or smaller (stripped) tree logs. They provide amazing shelter from all types of weather.
A ramada is a perfect shelter to create in a hot environment, where shade is essential to survival. They don’t provide much shelter from rain and snow, but they’re excellent at stopping the hot sun from beating down on you. They’re essentially like a rectangle umbrella, supported by large branches and covered in any kind of tarp-like material you can salvage or make.
If you’re ever stranded in a survival situation in extremely snowy weather, you’ll want to learn how to build a quinzhee. They’re of a similar design to igloos, but they’re made from compressed snow and usually, the main sheltered space is dug downwards into the earth. They’re great at retaining heat and keeping you safe from the environment.
There are so many emergency shelter options that you can research and discover how to build. It’s always a good idea to prepare yourself for the worst, so teach yourself how to build a few of these different shelters.
9. Tying Knots
Now that you know how to make your own rope and you know what basic snares you can make with rope, let’s take a look at some of the simplest knots you can learn to improve your bushcraft abilities.
The Square Knot
The square knot is one of the easiest knots you can make and it’s perfect for tying together two lengths of rope. You can remember how to tie this knot by memorizing the phrase “over-under, under-over.”
All you have to do is tie together two overhand knots, tied over each other in opposite directions. This produces a strong and versatile knot that is perfect for securing your gear while you’re out in the wild.
The Sheet Bend
If you have two pieces of rope that you want to tie together (or a paracord and another piece of rope), but they’re different sizes or textures, the sheet bend is a great knot you can use.
The first step in tying a sheet bend is just to create a loop and then feed the other rope under and through the loop. Instead of completing the loop, pull it under the other rope to make an ‘x’ shape. Pull it tight and you’ve got a strong knot.
If you want to tie a loop that won’t constrict at all, then you’ll have to learn how to tie a bowline knot. This is the ideal loop for hanging objects from hooks or branches and securing your gear safely.
All you have to do is twist your rope to make a loop (leave excess rope for a larger-sized loop). Then you just feed the end of the rope through the loop you’ve made and wrap that end around the base of the rope that’s just above the loop. Carry on wrapping it back down the length of the rope and secure it and you’re done!
There are hundreds (if not thousands) of different knots that you can learn to tie and you’ll soon discover how rewarding and relaxing it is to learn them.
10. Basic First Aid
Anytime you’re out in the wild, you should know at least the basics of first aid. It’s so easy to quickly learn really simple techniques which could end up saving your (or someone else’s) life, so why not invest a little of your time into taking a course or reading a few books?
Here are some of the most basic first aid skills you can learn:
– Before treating any injury, try to completely wash and sterilize your hands to reduce the chance of transmitting any kind of infection.
– You can usually stop bleeding by sterilizing the area and applying pressure with a gauze pad or a clean cloth for several minutes.
– In cases of severe bleeding, a tourniquet could save your life. Learn how to properly make and apply one.
– Wiping down tweezers with alcohol is a great way to thoroughly clean them before using them to remove any debris (dirt, glass, wood etc) from a wound.
Many organizations can provide you with basic first aid courses which will teach you so much more (I.E. dealing with broken bones, performing CPR etc).
Even just keeping a small first aid kit with you at all times is a positive step towards responsibility. They’re fairly inexpensive and can be added to over time to ensure you have everything you need. Here’s what every good first aid kit needs:
– Adhesive tape
– Alcohol wipes
– Allergy medicine
– Aloe vera gel
– Antibiotic ointment
– Bandages (in different sizes)
– Calamine lotion
– Cold packs
– Elastic bandages
– Gauze rolls and pads
– Hand sanitizer
– Hydrocortisone cream
– Latex-free gloves
– Pain relievers (like acetaminophen and ibuprofen)
– Saline wound wash
– Scissors and tweezers
None of these items is especially heavy and they can make all the difference in an emergency situation.
Even the most experienced survival experts can occasionally get lost while hiking. Learning how to properly navigate and find your way through forests and other hostile environments are one of the most fundamental bushcraft skills you can teach yourself.
Here’s what you should be learning:
– How to properly use a compass
– How to read a map
– How to navigate using the sun
– How to navigate using the stars
– How to navigate using the flow of water
– How to navigate using plants and natural features
There are hundreds of books out there that will teach you the basics of navigation and you can even invest in a full course with a mentor (if you really want to have an extra edge). It’s such a worthwhile skill to learn and could eventually save your life, so definitely put some time and effort into it.
12. Keeping Bugs Away
If you’ve ever spent any amount of time outdoors, you’ll know how annoying bugs and insects can be. Mosquito bites hurt and other tiny creatures make your skin crawl. Here are our quick tips for keeping them away:
– Keep food stored in airtight containers
– Burn sage to stave off mosquitos and ticks
– Invest in a strong mosquito/bug repellant
– Buy bug repellant bracelets
– Hanging dryer sheets can keep away some insects
– Buy bug repellant candles
There are so many natural and store-bought remedies. Don’t let these little creatures ruin your outdoor fun anymore!
13. Caring for Your Equipment
Our last tip is one of the most important bushcraft skills you can learn – properly caring for your equipment and ensuring that your survival equipment is clean and working at all times. These products we buy are not meant to be disposable items (for the most part), they’re meant to last a lifetime.
Take pride in your equipment and ensure they’re always serviceable. If you bring a knife or bushcraft axe out with you while camping, then invest in a sharpening stone and keep the blade clean and sharp. Small habits like this will increase the lifespan of your gear tremendously.
That’s our final tip of the article and now we’ve reached the end. Hopefully, all of the information we’ve provided will have given you a basic knowledge of the best bushcraft skills you can learn. In some cases, we’ve pointed you in the right direction to further your knowledge and learn even more, so make sure you do just that.