Introduction: A New Kind of Wilderness Survival [Updated!]

About: I worship rock and roll. It has lasted for decades, and will continue. There are so many different subgenres that almost anybody can be satisfied with it. I also love the wilderness, and am learning primitive …

What do you think of when you hear or read the words "wilderness survival?" Maybe a man fighting a grizzly bear to death with his bare hands (no pun intended). Or maybe some poor bloke curled up and shivering in a cave. Or a person hopelessly striking spark after spark onto a tinder ball, to no avail.

Yes, all of these are kinds of wilderness survival. However, they are seen in the wrong light. They stem from the military and the media. TV shows, such as Man vs. Wild, have made us think that wilderness survival is a struggle between man and nature. They make it very dramatic, for the sake of a good show with good ratings. The militaristic way of looking at survival is that the wilderness is the enemy, and we cannot survive until we have defeated it. These are not bad ways of seeing wilderness survival. However, some people (me included) wish to respect the wilderness. And so I present to you a new wilderness survival: primitive living skills, or living with the Earth.

This Instructable is not complete. It is simply meant to open your eyes to an alternative way to survive. There are lots of good books and websites, so look around. If it works for you, you can consider it a good resource.

Do you like this Instructable? Then please give it a vote in the Great Outdoors Contest. Thanks!

Step 1: Survival Basics

No matter who's surviving, be it an ex-military survivalist or a hippie without shoes, there are basic needs to be met. These are commonly referred to in the following order (assuming you're in a relatively safe area and uninjured-- safety comes first!):

  1. Shelter
  2. Water
  3. Fire
  4. Food

They aren't always in this order, as a certain situation may call for a switch in places, but for general reference, this is the order in which you acquire the elements of survival.

However, there is one which is commonly left out: mindset. This is how you look at a situation, and what can often keep you alive. It goes first. So, the list, revised:

  1. Mindset
  2. Shelter
  3. Water
  4. Fire
  5. Food

Step 2: Mindset

The mind is the greatest tool you can have. It can make or break your time in the wild.

Wilderness survival as most people know it is brought on by a few mindsets other than those already mentioned. What many people believe is that you need lots of tools and materials - a whole survival kit - to survive. This is untrue. The one and only thing you need to survive anywhere is your brain and mind. I also prefer a knife, though even that can be made. If you can adapt to your surroundings, common sense will save you almost anywhere on earth.

People also see nature as "the enemy," as I mentioned before. Nature is something that will nurture you if you nurture it.

They view the elements the same way, just trying to kill you. However, if you view the elements as entities, if you will, just trying to do what they were meant to do, they all have a purpose and can help you. Rain will give you water. Snow will help you track. The sun will eliminate your need for a fire and therefore your need to continually use up firewood. In this light, there is no survival, just living.

Step 3: Shelter

Shelter is usually the first thing you will acquire in a survival situation. Without even a simple shelter, you will most likely die of exposure. A shelter can be many shapes, sizes, and materials, but most shelters are going to need these things to be successful:

  • Protection from the elements.
    • Whether you're dealing with rain, snow, or sun, the elements can kill you. If you're in the desert, make a shade shelter. If you're in the forest, use rainproof materials. Etc.
  • Insulation.
    • Insulation keeps the temperature livable. What you need to remember when adding insulation is dead air space, pockets in between material. So when putting leaves on you're debris hut, don't smash them down. Even in the desert, some sort of insulation will keep it cool during the day and worm at night.
  • Small size.
    • Only build your shelter big enough to hold however many people will be sleeping inside. If it's just you, make it a you-sized cocoon. The bigger the space, the longer it takes to warm up.
  • A sturdy structure.
    • You really don't want your shelter collapsing in the middle of the night. Check all joints. If you have some sort of cordage, use it. Try pressing down on it. Try sitting on it. Also, look around. Move any dead trees or large branches that could blow onto your shelter in the wind. Being careful is a part of survival.
  • Good ventilation.
    • I'm mostly focusing on snow shelters for this point, but it applies to all shelters. You breath in oxygen and you breath out carbon dioxide. You cannot breath it in again. Have at least two small holes for air.

Some materials I've seen shelters made out of are: tarps, leaves, evergreen branches, mud, sticks, stones, hides, and caves. I recommend the versatile debris hut. There are good instructions here. You don't need to tie the two sticks together. You can use two Y-shaped sticks.

Research shelters and see what works for you.

Step 4: Water

Water is the second most important thing to get (in most cases). The longest known time a person has gone without water is 7 days. If you are in the sun and working, without drinking, my guess is you will go two days before collapsing of dehydration.

Water was holy in many native american cultures. It was the Earth's blood, and therefore the lifeblood of the people. Unfortunately, because of cattle and pollution, it is no longer safe to drink out of a stream. You will need to take extreme precautions when finding water. If you see excess dead bugs or even bones around a body of water, do not drink from it. Waterborne pathogens are the worst. You will die if you aren't rescued after drinking contaminated water.

I suggest some sort of small pocket filter or a bottle of iodine. They are not natural, and I use them as a last resort, but, as they say, I am fighting fire with fire. There are tons of ways to filter water, and again, I suggest you research. There are also methods such as the solar still, putting a bag over a leaf, boiling it for at least 15 minutes, and simply filtering water through layers of cloth, grass, sand, dirt, and coal.

But, to incorporate primitive living into an unnatural world, you can learn the ways of a water. Find a swimming hole near your house. Go skinny dipping in an ice cold mountain stream. Become one with the water as it flows over you.

Step 5: Fire

Fire is probably the most spiritually connected of all the survival elements. As you blow the tinder bundle you are nourishing a small coal into flame, like encouraging a life to grow and thrive. You have to treat it like a living thing, because it is.

You will need a fire no matter where you are, not only to keep you warm and dry, but also to purify water, to cook raw and most likely toxic meat, and to make an incredible variety of tools. Even in the desert it gets surprisingly cold at night.

The things fire needs to survive are similar to people's. Food in the form of wood. Oxygen. It can't get too cold or wet. It even needs to have its waste cleaned out or it will eventually die.

There are many ways to light a fire, and almost all will work. I will focus on the primitive methods. My favorites are the bow drill (try this and this as well), the mouth drill, and the hand drill. I recommend the bow drill to start. The great thing about primitive fire starting methods like these are that they are almost, if not completely, natural. Therefore, new ones can be made as needed, and you don't need to worry if you don't have matches. There are many others, so please research extensively.

Step 6: Fire Elements

There are different parts to making a good fire.

You've probably heard of the "fire triangle." If not, it's the three things that a fire needs to "survive". These are fuel (wood, grass clumps, sticks, dried dung, gasoline, oil, etc.), a heat source (matches, sparks, a coal, a lighter, etc.), and oxygen (don't smother your fire). Have all of these things and you have a fire.

Before you start your fire, dig a fire pit to contain your fire. Do not put a ring around it. Remove all roots from inside it. Position it about 5-6 feet from the entrance of your shelter, and clear anything even remotely flammable in a circle around the pit with a six foot radius. Even a spark can start a forest fire. Next, build some sort of heat reflector. Depending on your materials, you will want to make it out of wood, stones, snow, or earth. It will be horseshoe shaped, as tall as possible without any danger of it falling on your fire, and positioned so it will reflect the maximum amount of heat towards you and your shelter.

The elements of starting a fire go in the following order:

  1. Combustion (match, coal, spark)
  2. Tinder (fluffy material such as bark or grass with as many exposed fibers as possible to catch the spark)
  3. Kindling (twigs from the thickness of a pencil lead to a pencil)
  4. Squaw Wood (thicker and longer, from pencil to wrist)
  5. Firewood (logs and very thick wood which will keep the fire going. You can break them by wedging a log between two trees and then rotating it so it will snap)

These can be arranged in different fire lays, but it will always go in this order, with tinder on the bottom and firewood on the top. Some fire lays include the tipi, the log cabin, and the lean-to. Research these.

Step 7: Food: Animals

The most important thing to remember when eating animals in the wilderness is to respect the animal who gave its life for you. The best way to do this is to not waste a single part of the animal. Carve bones into fish hooks. Use organs as fish bait (yes, fish love internal organs). Not only is wasting animal parts downright stupid, but it's also disrespectful to the animal's spirit.

There are many ways to kill, gut, skin, and cook an animal. I can't tell you how to do it. I can tell you to be safe when cooking it, and to make sure it's cooked thoroughly, to kill any harmful bacteria.

While hunting without a gun or expensive camouflaged clothes and equipment, you have to keep a very specific mindset. Flow and be one with nature. Go slowly, and let your vision spread out. This is called "wide angle vision," and it will help you see all movement around you. If you stare with "tunnel vision," the opposite of wide angle, the animal will get that sense of someone looking at them and run away.

Step 8: Food: Plants

Even though they are more tame than animals, you still have to respect plants. They are living too, and without them, there would be no life on Earth.

Plants are what you will resort to at first for quick nutrients. You need to know what you are eating, however. Getting sick in the wilderness is usually fatal.

Tea, in particular, is the best way to get quick energy. Steeping the right leaves, twigs, and/or berries in hot or boiling water does wonders. I find pine needle tea to be delectable.

There are four plants that can be easily recognized almost anywhere, at least in the U.S. These are:

  • Evergreens (only a few are toxic. The only one I know of is the hemlock).
  • Grasses (you can chew them for energy and roast the seeds).
  • Cattails (if you have water, you have cattails. They are hugely medicinal, and can be used for cordage, arrow shafts, and other things as well as food).
  • Acorns (oak trees of some sort are in abundance almost anywhere. Boil or roast the acorns to get rid of the foul taste).

Know your plants. Buy a book of wild edibles in your area, find those they could be mistaken for, and actually get out there, identify, and eat them. Very few are fatal, and it's better to try it when you can get to the hospital than in the wilderness. (I claim no responsibility for any mistakes).

Step 9: Extras and Activities

Once you have gotten those four elements, you can move on to tools that will aid you. These include:

  • Clay pots
  • Wood bowls
  • Wood spoons
  • Bark or tendon rope
  • Baskets
  • Knives
  • Axes
  • Hammers
  • Tanned hides for blankets and clothes
  • Boiling using heated rocks (rock boiling)
  • Coal burning (to make wooden bowls)

There are more. I can't explain all of them. Again, research.

You don't have to wait to the end to make all of them. Make them as you need them. Make a knife and cordage for your bow drill. Make bowls for boiling water. Etc.

Step 10: A Closing Word

I'm not saying you can't use man made things when surviving. In fact, I suggest you make a survival kit and use what you have with you and/or what materials you find. What I'm saying is don't become dependent on it. The one day you forget it at home could be the one day you get lost. And when that happens, if you're sufficiently mentally prepared, you won't want to leave the forest once they find you.

This Instructable is just meant as an introduction to primitive living. Get books. Take a class. Research online.

And don't just read. Actually try out everything you come across. Try now, rather than when your life is on the line.

Get acquainted with nature. Find a spot in your local park or the forest behind your house, maybe on an exposed hill or underneath a tree. Sit there whenever you have the time. Go during different seasons. Go during different times of day. Learn the cycles. Learn the pulse. Become one with nature.

Remember, in civilization, humans reign supreme. But in the wild with nothing, man is equivalent to the rabbit or the fish or the eagle.

Enjoy yourself.

Step 11: Extra Material

There are many great authors and resources out there. I would love suggestions.

I'd say 97% of what I know comes from Tom Brown, Jr. His books are inspiring. He is the founder of the Tracker Camp. If you've made it this far, you should read his book, Tom Brown's Field Guide to Wilderness Survival.

There are many other books. Whatever resonates with you is probably good.


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