Developing a broad array of bushcraft skills is both rewarding and practical, and there are some essential skills that may save your life. To survive and thrive in any outdoor environment, these are some of the most important skills to have in your bushcraft quiver.
1. How to Stay Warm and Dry
Hypothermia can be deadly even in moderate temperatures, so you must be able to create a shelter to keep yourself safe. Knowing how to build shelter and make fire are necessary bushcraft skills every survivalist should know.
A debris hut is a simple and effective way to stay warm and dry by using natural materials to repel rain and provide insulating layers. Leafy material on the outside sheds rain and blocks wind, and the inside of the shelter creates a pocket of warm air created by your body’s heat.
Building a Debris Hut
First, find some flat ground that provides some natural shelter, such as a large log or rock. Make sure that your spot is not in the middle of a game trail to avoid unwanted night-time visitors. Before you start building a shelter, look up: make sure there are no large, dead limbs overhead that could fall on your site.
Think of the shelter as a lean-to or A-frame, and use natural features to your advantage. Make sure that the entrance is not facing the prevailing winds, and build the shelter as small as possible to preserve body heat. Use branches to create support poles at the entrance and natural features such as rocks, logs, or berms at the opposite end.
The vertical entrance branches can be lashed to the horizontal supports extending back to the log/rock/feature.
Before you complete the top part, fill your shelter with material that can serve as insulation. This includes pine needles, grass, and leaves.
The final step is to complete the top of the shelter by arranging branches in a criss-cross manner and then piling leafy material on top. You want the debris on top of the shelter to be at least one foot high, and when you’re done, place some heavy branches over the top of the shelter to keep the covering from blowing away.
Inside the shelter, make sure that you are surrounded by the fill material so that you are insulated from both the ground and the air.
Building a Snow Shelter
In winter conditions, a snow cave can save your life. Very simply, this is just a hole that you dig into an existing snow pile or into a mound of snow that you create yourself.
If you have more time, you can create “bricks” of snow and build an igloo-type shelter. Whichever type of snow shelter you build, make sure that the structure is sound so that it does not collapse on you.
Burrowing into the shelter will protect you from wind and create a pocket of body heat to protect you from harsh winter weather.
Building a Fire in a Wet environment
Building and maintaining a good fire is especially essential when you’re in a cold, wet environment, but how do you build a fire when it’s raining and everything around you is wet? Strong fire-building bushcraft skills are a must.
First, locate a spot that’s as dry as you can find, and they clear away wet debris. If it’s windy it can be helpful to dig a pit for the fire.
The shape in which yo place your firewood is especially important in wet conditions. You want to use a triangular shape so as to maximize the drying process of the wood and to allow good airflow.
Start with the best kindling you can find, such as birch bark, shavings from the underside of bark, or some natural-fiber cloth from your clothing.
Once you are ready to light your fire, then try to find logs of dead wood that aren’t thoroughly soaked all the way through. Dead wood that hasn’t yet fallen will be the driest. Use an ax or strong knife to chop off the outer layers of the wood to get to the drier inner parts. Move quickly to light the wood so as not to allow rain or other moisture to soak in.
2. How to Stay Hydrated
Finding water in an arid environment
Staying hydrated in arid environments is essential to survival, and knowing how to find water when your supply runs out is a crucial skill.
Should you find yourself without water, your first priority should be conservation. In desert environments, try to rest during the day and travel at night. This way, you are less likely to sweat during exertion. It is also best to avoid eating as much as possible. The digestive process can expend valuable hydration, and you can survive much longer without food than without water.
If you don’t immediately see a water source, look for animals or vegetation. Scan low-lying areas such as dry riverbeds or a damp gully, In any of these areas, dig a hole several feet deep and look to see if any water seeps in.
Another way to obtain water in arid environments is to collect dew. Leave cloth out overnight to collect moisture, and then wring out the fabric; just remember to collect dew before sunrise or it will evaporate.
Another consideration is to have or create some containers for catching rainwater in the event of any rainfall.
Making a Basic Survival Water Filter from Scratch
Ideally, you should always filter water before you drink it. If you can’t filter it, you may be able at least to let it sit for several hours so that any sediment of debris will either sink to the bottom or float to the top.
More effective, however, is using a more robust filter, such as fabric and charcoal. Using two containers, put some sort of fabric over the opening of one of them, and then place some charcoal on top of the fabric. Then pour water from the other container through this makeshift filter. Repeat this process until the water is clear.
3. Acquiring Food
Although it is possible to survive up to several weeks without food, this is far from desirable. Having the bushcraft skills to forage and trap food will maintain your energy and strength to thrive in the outdoors for an indefinite period of time.
Your best strategy for trapping animals for food is to focus on small game such as squirrels, rabbits, and ground-dwelling birds. They are easier to catch than larger game, and you can set as many traps as materials allow so as to increase your odds of success.
A spring snare is an effective and simple trap that works in just about any environment no matter the season, and it can be adapted for use in fishing as well. The most fruitful strategy is to place the snare in the middle of existing game runs or directly in front of a burrow.
The spring snare is a simple contraption consisting of a spring, along with some sort of cord, a trigger, and a noose. The spring is usually a bent sapling or branch, to which a thin cord is attached. The trigger is a two-part piece made of either carved wood or wishbone-shaped branches, to which a wire noose is attached at one end and the cord on the other. The basic idea is that the trigger holds the spring taught, but when an animal enters the noose the trigger pieces are dislodged, causing the spring to release, closing the noose around the animal.
Foraging is an essential survival skill, but one that must be approached with caution and solid preparation. The best practice for safely foraging is to get to know several of the most common edible plants in your own region and stick to those. You can also carry a field guide with you, but be aware that many plants look closely alike so even with a guide, you should still exercise caution.
In general, it is advisable to avoid mushrooms entirely if you are not sure about their identity. Avoid plants with white or yellow berries, shiny leaves, or anything bitter-tasting or having an almond-like smell. Dandelions and grasses are all edible.
As a last resort, you can apply what is known as the “Universal Edibility Test” to determine if a plant is safe, though remember that this test does not apply to mushrooms, only plants. Essentially, the process is to separate the plant into its separate parts and test each for smell, skin-contact irritation, and bite reaction. Remember that this test is not infallible so even if a plant passes the test, there is still a chance that ingesting it could make you ill.
If you find yourself in a survival situation without your fishing gear, noodling or using a hand-line are viable options. However, knowing how to build a simple fishing weir is often the most efficient and effective way to catch fish.
The basic idea behind a weir is to make it easy for the fish to get in, and tricky to get out. A weir can be a stone or wooden wall, as long as it allows water to pass through. It should be built into the shape of a heart, with a funnel at the top. You want to place the weir in a moderate current; not the fastest-flowing water, but enough to move the fish along.
Depending on the size and location of the weir, you can trap baitfish to deploy for larger catches, or accumulate enough small fish to make a meal.
4. Knowing Your Knots
The right knot can be the difference between success and failure in all kinds of outdoor endeavors. The good news is that you can thrive in almost any situation if you know just these five knots:
This Bowline Hitch allows you to create a loop at the end of a line and can be useful in securing materials to fixed points.
The Clove Hitch is a versatile knot that can attach a rope to a vertical or horizontal object. It is easy to fix, and easy to undo.
The Sheet Bend has a very important use: securing one rope to another to make a longer rope. It works well with ropes of differing diameters and will allow you a great deal of versatility.
Fun to tie and surprisingly useful, the Alpine Butterfly allows you to make a loop in the center of a rope, and it also provides a way to circumvent a weak spot in a length of rope.
The Truckers Hitch is great for occasions when you need to be able to pull a line very taut to either secure items or to hang a tarp effectively.
5. How to Make Rope from Plants
If you don’t have rope with you, you can make your own cordage from natural materials.
Look for bark or stalk fibers, or use dry, dead plants whose starches have dried out. If you only have access to fresh plants, then you will need to either soak or boil them to remove the starches. Be sure to allow the fibers to dry fully before constructing your rope.
The next step is to buff the fibers by rolling them back and forth in your hands.
Finally, it’s time to splice your fibers into cordage. Once you finish a cord, it can be used as a strand in an even larger cord, so that there is potential to create very strong cordage if constructed properly.
As you slice, remember to wrap very tightly. There are many methods for twisting and splicing strands, so this is a skill that you should practice before venturing out into the wilderness.
To get started, take one strand and twist it with your fingers in opposite directions until it forms a loop. Next, begin twisting and wrapping the strands, making sure to keep the wrapping tight.
Grow Your Bushcraft Skills
With these basic skills as a foundation, you’ll not only survive for short periods but foster and deepen your connection with nature as your confidence in your bushcraft skills grow.