Introduction: Survival Skills Study Guide - the Trail of the Grizzly

Having received some positive reviews from my earlier 'ible, Survival’s Law of 3 I was asked to give a little more info on what skills to develop. It seemed people appreciated the idea of having skills over stuff. Again, that Altoid tin is great, but what do you DO with it. Or what do you do without it.

Well, it took me a bit to think of how advanced should I go. I actually teach a scout program so I know there is as much depth as you may care to have. Well, that got me thinking. Many of you may not have been scouts, or weren't in as outdoors focused program as I teach. So for everyone's benefit, let me lay out some of the skills that I try to focus my outpost on so they can be the woodsmen they want to be. Remember, your mind can be a terrible thing to waste.

This will also be my entry into the Survival Challenge Contest, so your votes would be appreciated.

Step 1: Seven Skills

The scouting program I work with is called Royal Rangers, and in it they have a training path for young men interested in becoming woodsmen, called the Trail of the Grizzly. The Trail of the Grizzly focus on Seven Skills. The seven main skills that our forefathers lived and died by over a century ago: Rope Craft, Lashing, Tool Craft, Fire Craft, Cooking, Navigation and First Aid. 
Now what I'm posting is not the merit badge requirements, but those same seven areas of are a sure foundation to start your survival training on.  This isn't going to be a boring instruction of how to tie knots, but rather this 'ible is intended for to be a checklist for you who really want to have a skill base for survival.  Print this 'ible. Bring it with you on your next campout and actually practice it.  Don't make a 4th Altoid tin kit, practice developing the skills to compliment your gear and use it on an expert level. 

So do you have what it takes to be a Frontiersmen?  Well . . . do you?

Step 2: Rope Craft

Rope Craft is an ancient skill. Rope is one of the cornerstone building materials in the wilderness. Most of us know this, but how much can you do with it?

Here are some of the essential knots that if you learn, rope will become infinitely more useful for you in any situation.

Figure Eight
-Stopper knot at the end of a rope

-General tying and lashing. When in doubt, square it out.

Sheet Bend
-Join two ropes of different sizes

Clove Hitch
-Starter knot for all lashing

-This loop will not draw close. It is excellent for when you want rope handles or rescue loops.

Finally, I know every survival kit always says to back the cordage, and I DO AGREE, what IF you don't have any? I suggest as a finally part of your Rope Craft training you go out to your local part of the wilderness and find at least 3 sources of natural cordage. Once you have found it. Make at least 3 feet of cordage. Have a sense of how long it takes to make a few feet of cordage.

Step 3: Lashing

You have rope. You are in a survival situation. One of your first priorities is shelter. Lashing is the skill of using rope with timber to make useful structures including shelter.

First, there are 3 styles of lashing that can really be fundamental techniques.
Square – used for poles at right angles of each other
Diagonal - for poles at angles that tend to fall away from each other
Continuous – for making tables, beds, and other flat surfaces.

Once know you how to build, there are a few options you have for shelter.
Lean-to (1 person)
A lean-to is the simplest and most basic shelter. This is best suited for sun, wind, and rain protection, though generally doesn’t do much for warmth.

2-3 Person Lean-to
The biggest different between this and a standard lean to is that the roof is elongated to allow both people to sleep under it. The additional length can slow rain runoff. However, the benefit of bunking two people together means that one’s body heat helps to warm the other.

Debris Hut / Diamond Wedge
A better choice for the solo person than the lean-to. When used with proper insulation is very effective against the cold. Now proper insulation, does mean that it may feel like a tight fit, but the purpose of a shelter is to contain your body heat

Watchmen’s Hut
The Watchmen’s hut is best for a group of 2-3 people who have a reason to keep a watch. Reasons could include keeping a fire going through cold night, keeping a lookout for rescue, dangerous predators, or keeping an eye on an injured partner. The benefit is that it has space for two people lying and one to be sitting keeping the watch. Again with everyone in the shelter you share each other’s body heat. If you don’t have a 3rd person but still want to keep watch, you have plenty of room to shelter firewood.


Step 4: Tool Craft

Each creature under the sun has its uniqueness that makes it fit in nature. For we humans, God gave us intelligence and the ability to make tools. Therefore, the skill to use a few well selected tools and well maintained tools will greatly improve your life in nature.

-Your knife-
And I do mean Your knife. I agree that a man who is serious about survival skills should spend some time in the wild with a knife actually using it. Know its weight. Know how well it works on various materials. Your knife will often be your primary tool and may be what you depend on to save your life. Do you want to go through a survival situation with a stranger, or trusted partner?

I'm not going to try and tell you what the "ultimate survival knife" is. That's a personal decision. I will give you characteristics of what to look for.

1. A solid fixed blade knife. I respect the multi-tools and Swiss army knives and usually carry one myself. But if you are planning serious wilderness survival here, then I strongly urge you to get a fixed blade.

2. A full tang. See the picture for reference but the tang is handle part of the blade itself. I recommend the full tang because in the event of total isolation and some accident occurs breaking the handle of the knife, you can hold it by a full tang and use it alone. Also field repairs of replacement handles are much easier with the full tang.

3. In a survival situation, simple and reliable is better. Many knives now come with decorative horns, serrations, holes, jewels, etc. Lots of flash, no reason. You are not looking for decoration for your belt here. You are looking for a working partner to stay alive and comfortable.

4. Stainless vs. Edge Holding This is a debate over the desires of a knife vs. the reality of chemistry. Without going into too much detail. If you get a knife with more stainless steel properties, then you will need to sharpen it more often as it won't hold the edge as well. If you select a knife with a higher carbon steel / hard steel base then your edge will hold longer but you will want to care for rust prevention more. Neither rust prevention nor sharpening is difficult, but you will need to think and weigh in on what your personal opinion is.

-Beyond Your Knife-
If your wilderness includes timber; I humbly recommend at least a hatchet, if not an ax. Singe sided only. Unless you are a professional lumber jack I have not seen the need for a double headed ax. However, the flat edge of my hatchet is commonly my hammer.

Get a sharpening stone, and learn to keep your blades sharp. As crazy as it sounds, a sharp blade is safer than a dull one.

If your wilderness includes timber, I humbly recommend wire saw in your altoid tin, BUT learn to use it right. Get a green branch and string it with the wire, and make yourself a bow saw. You will make a much better tool with longer life that way.

Step 5: Fire Craft

Fire Craft is likely the single skill that can increase your time frame of survival from hours to days.  While shelter is important, fire gives you warmth, psychological comfort, superior protection, signaling ability, water purification and safe cooked food.  There are likely some other benefits as well but you understand. 

-Lighters, matches, waterproofing, etc.-
This is another of those debates that seems to keep people up at night, ironically, around a campfire.   I'm not going to rank those here.  I'm simply going to say one of the above.  If you are in a survival situation and need a fire, then keep a combustion fire starter in your altoid tin so you have it.

-Fire Steel / Metal Match-
I am going to recommend one of these. Their cost is minimal. Their weight is minimal. Their shelf life is extreme and they function even after being soaked. If your primary fire starter goes out, then this is always my first next step. In fact, I'll often have my outpost use this as their main stay so they learn.

-Bow Drill-
When all else fails there will always be nature. Therefore I really highly recommend you learn how to make, and use, a bow drill.

-MacGyver Methods-
There are dozens of ways to make fire from hundreds of bits of scraps and materials. I highly recommend that a person spend some time learning how to have a few extra skills up their sleeves if they need them. Now I won't make an exhaustive list here, but I'll list a few to get you started.
-magnifying lenses
-battery and steel wool
-soda can and chocolate bar
-tinder and flashlight reflector
-Types of Fire-
Also of note is what kind of fire structure you are building.  Everyone knows the tepee and that's fine.  It's a good solid fire structure.  But, I've known some people who couldn't get the balance right for the tepee.  There is a simpler structure as well, an A-Frame. It actually is the simplest fire structure there is and can actually be a base for a tepee. 

Also, it is good to know the Log Cabin structure, because it can be a lifesaver in fowl weather.  The Tepee fire in the center aids in drying the walls, while the walls provide good rain protection to the internal fire.  It becomes a symbiotic relationship that can greatly help you through a cold and wet night.

Step 6: Cooking

If you have survived this long, then you are well on your way. You are also likely very hungry. To that end we should talk about food in the wilderness. First, remember food is far from your first priority. Shelter, Fire and Water far out rank food, but if they are covered or you get lucky, I'd be thinking about dinner too.

Secondly, I would say that the easies calories to gain in the wild would be from the plant life. They don't run away. But the trick to plants is knowing what is safe vs. what is poisonous. That is where studying before hand can be of value. There are volumes of books on the subjects but some fail safes are grasses. Far and above it is hard to go wrong with grass seed and they are very prevalent in North America and Europe. Roasted seed with water to make a mash is actually surprisingly pleasing survival fair.

But most of us here are carnivores. We want meat. And I don't blame you, I like meat too.

Gathering it come into three options, fishing, trapping and hunting.

Fishing for the novice survivalist is the best first choice. The odds are you have some familiarity with it. Most of the altoids tins I read here and elsewhere do include fish hooks, and I agree. But, what if you lose them?
I suggest you learn to make them. Now if you are fortunate to have something with you like a pin or even a soda can tab, fashioning a hook is fairly simple. However, perfectly useful hooks can be made by from wood. See the picture for an example but the biggest mistake is the people select forks that are too thin. You want a branch about a centimeter or quarter inch in thickness at the base and tapers down both side of the fork. This will give you room to whittle down a sharp point, yet still have sufficient material to keep the hook strong. Remember, if you're lucky a fish will be fighting for its life. Make sure your tools have the strength to win the fight for you.

Trapping is a way to make nature work for you. While you are fishing, or tending the fire, or resting, your traps can still be set waiting for you. Trapping is another situation where simpler is better. It is far better to know 2 or 3 kinds of traps and KNOW how to set them than to have 20 ideas, each more complicated than they last, hoping the upgrades will keep you fed. There is no rule saying you can't repeat your types of traps in different situations.

The two traps I recommend are the Spring Snare / Rolling Snare and the Figure 4 Deadfall.
While technically not the easiest snare, the Spring Snare is still simple, and the addition of the spring from a sapling or branch I have found give a much more reliable capture return than just static snares that depends on an animal's panicking.

Also if you find saplings near a fish area, don't be bashful of substituting the snare with a fishing line. You will need a very delicate trigger, but if you can manage it you can have a fisher"man" at the ready around the clock.

If you don't have the saplings available to make a Spring Snare, then you can usually find the heavy object to make a Figure 4 deadfall. Now the skill in the Figure 4 is the details in carving the notches. This is where experience and a sharp knife can make the difference. Notches need to be clean smooth and hold a delicate balance between strong enough to hold the weight, but still able to fall with a sensitive touch.

Now one tip with baiting traps. Attach your bait securely to the trigger. That is the one connection you don't want to fail. Your other connections can be delicate, but not the bait trigger. One suggestion is not to make a spear point but to split the end to make forks to grab and hold the bait. Add a string or two of cordage and you should have a bait hold much stronger than your trap connections which leads to better trigger and capture rates.

Hunting is a valid option, but do to the calorie cost vs. odds of rewards I would always look towards the gathering / fishing / trapping options first.  Now when it comes to hunting, and we are thinking of the novice survivalist, the two basic weapons I would recommend would be a throwing stick and a spear. 

Now, techincally speaking, any stick you can throw is a throwing stick.  But if you actually want to work up something better then nature provided then here is a check list.
1. About a foot in length, and sharpen both any ends.  The odds suggest you will most like be hitting anything with the edge, but if you get lucky and do stake your target you do want the kill.
2. Solid and hard. You want a stick that can deliver a hit.
3. I recommend two to three sticks.  It a lot easier to hit a target with multiple shots.

As far a spears go, every man I know seems to carve a spear or walking stick when they are in the woods.  If you are looking for recomendations then I would simply suggest long and straight.  If you can have a spear about a little taller than you are, simply because while hiking if you trip it is harder to fall on a spear point taller than you. 

Step 7: Compass

Long ago, brave souls would trek into the wild with nothing more than the stars and the sun, and considered themselves fortunate if they had a compass. Now many need GPS to get a coffee.

In the discussion of GPS vs. Map and compass, I will simply say a compass never runs out of batteries or stops working if out of range of towers.

In discussion of compasses, I will say that in my experience the best compasses come on opposite ends of the price spectrum.
On the economical side, the best I have found are the Silva style you can find for $5.00. It travels well, easy to use, and is accurate.
On the high side are Lensatic compasses, what you always see the military use, which are great, but usually $25.00 or more.
However in the middle is a danger zone of lensatic knock-offs. Often found in the Wal-Mart. I've tried using a dozen of them and never been able to get a stable bearing twice. If you are serious about outdoor hiking choose one end of the spectrum or the other and get something that will keep you found.

But never forget natural navigation.
The easiest is using the North Star. The easiest way to find it is using the two side stars of the Big Dipper and use them as pointers to the end of the handle of the Little Dipper. The end star is the North Star.

Also one of the most accurate ways to find use the sun is to incorporate it with an analog watch (the kind with hands.) With the watch level to the ground, point the hour hand to the sun. Then split the difference between the hour hand and the 12 at the top of the watch and you will have South (in the northern hemisphere). Look to for a land mark and you have a direction.


Step 8: First Aid

You will not need to need to spend much time in the wild, before you will need some level of First Aid care, either for you or for your companion.  Sadly, that is training rarely taught these days.  While there is no subsitute for training what I would like to give are some essentials to start with. 

-Everyday Basics-
The hiker’s worst enemy. The sooner you treat them the better. 
Remove any clothing around the blister. Then wash it with warm soap and water. Examine it. If it is not hurting, bandage it to protect it and monitor it. If it is blood filled, bandage it, and monitor it closer, but do not pop it. 
If the blister is painful, and seems filled with clear fluid, use a pin/needle, sterilized by fire, and prick the blister on its edge. With a cloth or pad drain the blister, then bandage. 

Bug Bite
Clean bite then examine. If stinger is still present, use fingernail or edge to scrape stinger out. Avoid using tweezers as the squeezing could press more toxins into bite. Once the stinger is gone, review the bite for possible swelling. If there is swelling, apply ice to reduce. Monitor possible allergic reaction. 

Use tweezers and a steady hand to remove the splinter. Treat as a minor cut.

Beyond the basics there are four areas are the major wilderness injury areas.
Breaks, Sprains and Strains

-Strains / Sprains
Strains and sprains are some of the most common injury to encounter in life, whether it be from a hike in the forest or around the house. They are so common that often individuals confuse the two. Sprains are the stretch/tearing of ligaments connecting bones. Strains are is the stretching of your muscles. Fortunately telling the difference is not so important as treatment for both is the same.

• Pain in the joint or muscle
• Swelling and bruising
• Redness and warmth
• Difficulty moving the injury
• Think RICE
• Rest the injury until pain decreases
• Ice the injury 20 minutes at a time, 4-8 times a day
• Compress the injury with a wrap for at least two days
• Elevate the injury above heart level to decrease swelling

-Broken Bones
Before we talk about treating bones, let’s get a better understanding of what bones are and how they work. Your bones make up the structure of your body. By themselves they are as strong as wood poles. Your bones however are hollow, with layers of thick hard bone surrounding spongy material often called marrow. The important thing to keep in mind is that it’s your bones that they bear the weight of your body. If they are no longer to able to do that, you will feel it.

• Generally occurs after major incident
• Swelling, bruising
• EXTREME pain when moving, or touching.
• If necessary set the bone again.
• Splint
• To aid in mobility, make a crutch

In the case of an arm injury, a good recommendation to reduce further injury is to sling the broken arm. This will reduce movement and thus pain.

-Setting a Break
Hopefully, you will never have to set a broken bone. This is necessary when a break is severe enough that the limb is in an abnormal position. You will know it when you see it. This is only to be even attempted when someone else is treating the victim. Do not attempt to set your own bone as the natural reaction to the pain level will be to pass out. This is an example of God’s mercy, sparing the victim from experiencing the worst part of it. If they do stay conscious, compliment them on having excellent strength levels.

Setting a break means straightening it. This is best done with two people working on the victim. Like straightening a rope by pulling the ends, straightening the break by pulling opposite directions. Once straightened, splint.

There are four levels of bleeding.
1. Cuts and Scrapes
2. Veinal
3. Arterial
4. Internal

-Cuts and Scrapes
With smaller cuts, remember your major concern is to prevent infection. Therefore the most important concern is cleaning.
• Clean your hands first.
• Clean the cut, preferably with disinfectant.
• If available, treat cut with antibiotic medicine.
• Bandage.

Bleeding from a vein is major, but can be treated in a field setting.
Primary concern is stopping the bleeding.
• Begin with applying direct pressure.
• If bleeding does not stop, then add pressure to appropriate pressure point.
• Once bleeding stopped, bandage and keep wound elevated over chest.
• Bandage wound, stitch if necessary.

• Treat the same as a venial bleeding, but be aware that the arterial will be noticeably different due to blood spurting from wound. This makes the wound far more serious.

Internal bleeding is the most severe and hardest to treat. Activate EMS.
• Coughing up blood, or bleeding from other areas
• Discolorations beyond normal bruises
• Treat for shock
• Monitor Vitals: Temperature, Breathing, Pulse, Bleeding if applicable, Blood Pressure if possible.
• Slowly but steadily replace fluids.

• Touch a burn with anything other than a sterile covering.
• Use any kind of ointment on a severe burn.
• Remove adhered clothing.
• Try to clean a severe burn.
• Break blisters.

• Cool the burn. For First and Second degree burns use water.
• For Third-degree burns avoid prolonged submersion in water to avoid infection. Ice is preferred.
• Cover the burn loosely with a sterile (preferably non-adhesive) dressing.
• Treat for shock

Weather / Exposure
-Hyperthermia/ Heat Exhaustion
Hyperthermia is the body’s inability to cool itself. Your body is overheating. Mentally the person many seem fine, but their skin is cold and clammy, then you have a strong indication of Hyperthermia. In a more advance state, called heatstroke, a victim’s skin turns to feels hot to the touch, and they may seem delusional. Treatment for both is the same but if a victim has elevated to heat stroke, EMS needs to be contacted.

• Move the victim into a cool place.
• Loosen and remove excess clothing.
• Cool the victim. Use water, fanning, cold packs. If you have cold packs they will be most useful under the arms and where blood flow can circulate the coolness.

Hypothermia is the body’s inability to warm itself. Your body is freezing, specifically your core area. Specifically, this when your core body temperature drops below 95°. The first visible signs of hypothermia is shivering, the body’s means of trying to warm up. If a victim fails to warm and stops shivering, the body begins to no longer notice the cold and commonly numb. If they continue to deteriorate victims often become aggressive.
• Handle the victim very gently.
• Move the victim into a warm place.
• Replace wet clothing with warm dry layers.
• Monitor Vitals: Temperature, Breathing, Pulse, Bleeding if applicable, Blood Pressure if possible.
• If temperature drops to 90° redouble efforts to get help.

Frostbite often occurs with hypothermia, but can occur by itself Frostbite is the freezing of your flesh, generally the limbs.
*Do NOT rub frostbitten areas.
*Do NOT immerse with warm water.
Both of these common mistakes result in extreme pain.
• Treat for Hypothermia
• Areas that are frostbitten immerse in lukewarm water.
• As water cools, replace with new lukewarm water. Never go above room temperature (approximately 70°F). This may take hours or days.
• Monitor Vitals: Temperature, Breathing, Pulse, Bleeding if applicable, Blood Pressure if possible.

Shock is the body’s inability to cope with changes. Every moderate to severe injury brings with it the possibility of shock. Even emotional or psychological situations can create physical shock. That’s why it’s important to stay calm in all survival situations. Fortunately, shock is something we can treat for even in a field environment.

Regardless of type, the goals of the rescuer are the same: prevent blood loss and preserve body temperature. When treating remember that when a person is lying on the ground 75% of their body heat is lost through contact with the ground, so cover and insulation both above and below the patient is important.
*Remember, unless the victim is in an immediately dangerous location, DO NOT move a person with likely spinal injuries.

Step 9: Practice, Practice, Practice

My final word on the subject of wilderness survival is simply the adage that practice makes perfect.   Survival skills are something you only want an academic knowledge of if you ever truly need them.  If you need them you will want experience, so NOW is the time to start having that experience.  Take baby steps if you need, put down the game controller, practice tying knots.  Leave the tent at home on your next campout, build your own shelter.  Forget the matches on the next trip.  Practice, practice, practice.  Chances are if you have read this 'ible you'll enjoy it anyway.

Thank you,
Comments welcome.


GaleW1 made it!(author)2015-12-12

absurdism,I have a hard time believing that stainless steel will hold an edge better than a high carbon steel blade, never seen it in all of my experience, also if high maintenance means putting a little oil on the blade every few days, then I guess you have been an office worker too long. Can't find oil in the wild, try from the side of your nose, I have naturally oily skin so I can oil a six inch blade at one time.

shanemd made it!(author)2014-11-17

The image for the bowline knot is in fact an image of a taut-line hitch. While the taut-line hitch is a very useful knot (for creating taut holding lines for tents and such), these are two very different knots. Please see for an accurate picture and tying instructions for a bowline.

And if you're interested, see for an explanation of the taut-line hitch, another wonderful knot to have in your repertoire.

oleshooter308 made it!(author)2013-08-14

I like, brother. I was a Royal Rangers Leader for 25 years, and also an adult FCF member years ago (the good ole, bad ole days, if you know what I mean - initiations and such), have lapsed for awhile. Concentrated on Boy Scouts, and my son is an Eagle. He almost got his GMA as well. Regrets: in view of recent "membership developments" which I believe will destroy BSA, I now sometimes wish I had stuck with Royal Rangers only. Very good to see the program is alive and well.

CrLz made it!(author)2011-10-18

Great write-up!

Step 9 - Practice is definitely the most important, yet often missed. Glad you posted it.

absurdism made it!(author)2011-10-02

Stainless steel has better edge retention than high carbon but it cannot hold an edge as sharp high carbon. Carbon steel is softer but you can hone it to a ridiculous level of sharpness. In a wilderness survival or self reliance situation it's a toss up between the two. You were correct about stainless steel ability to resist corrosion. Stainless doesn't rust and is tougher but will never be as sharp as high carbon. High carbon steel blades are not as tough but they do have the advantage in terms of sharpness. The disadvantage of carbon steel is that you need to treat the blade to avoid it oxidizing. If you ask me, a knife that doesn't rust and keeps its edge longer would keep you alive longer, as opposed to a soft bladed knife that rusts if you don't have a preferable environment to store it in and the materials to treat it right. You could be soaking wet for days in the wild and if your blade gets wet for days it will definitely get rusty. There are alloys now that incorporate the best qualities of each but you should expect to pay a lot for them.

absurdism made it!(author)2011-10-02

High Carbon = Sharper, more flexible, susceptible to corrosion/high maintenance.
Stainless = Resistant to corrosion, tougher edge, not as sharp, low maintenance.

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