Welcome to the ultimate bushcraft skills and survival guide.
Advancements in outdoor clothing, equipment, emergency food and techniques have been growing extremely fast in recent years.
For those new to the outdoors, there is now an unlimited amount of information on bushcraft skills and equipment available!
However, with that being said, experience is still (in my opinion) the best teacher in any outdoor situation, and your reaction in a wilderness survival situation depends largely on your overall education on the matter.
Symptoms You’ll Experience in the Wild
People who are mentally and physically fit/prepared to survive, are the ones more likely to do so.
To deal with any emergency situation, one must be able to make quick decisions, improvise and remain level headed.
For anyone faced with a emergency wilderness survival situation, fear is of course a normal reaction.
Unless an emergency situation has been anticipated, fear is generally followed by panic then pain, cold, thirst, hunger, fatigue, boredom and loneliness.
It is extremely important to remain calm and assess the situation and not allow the flow of these seven enemies to interfere with your survival.
Pain is often ignored in a panic situation.
Remember to deal with any injuries immediately before they turn into even more serious injuries.
Cold lowers your ability to think, it numbs your body and reduces the will to survive.
Never allow yourself to stop moving or to fall asleep unless adequately sheltered.
Dehydration is fairly common in an emergency situation and must not be ignored.
It can dampen your mind, causing you to overlook important survival information.
Hunger is dangerous but rarely deadly. It may however reduce your ability to think logically and increase your susceptibility to the effects of cold, pain and fear.
Fatigue is hard to escape in any situation, so it’s best to keep in mind that it can and will lower your mental ability.
Remember that the body will often show symptoms of fatigue in order to get away from a difficult situation.
Boredom & Loneliness
These enemies are quite often unanticipated and may lower the mind’s ability to deal with the situation.
Read these 12 tips to overcome boredom and loneliness.
How To Build a Bushcraft Fire
Building a bushcraft fire is the most important task when dealing with survival in the wilderness.
Make sure to build yours in a sandy or rocky area or alternatively near a supply of sand and water as to avoid forest fires.
The most common mistakes people make when attempting to build a bushcraft fire are: choosing crappy tinder, failing to shield precious matches from the wind and smothering the flames with too large pieces of fuel (Come on, guilty as charged right?).
The four most important factors when starting a fire are spark – tinder – fuel – oxygen.
The most common ways to create spark are:
- Waterproof, strike-anywhere matches are fantastic. A cool tip is matches can be waterproofed by dipping them in nail polish. Once dipped, store your matches in a waterproof container.
- A cigarette lighter is also an obvious way to produce a spark, with or without fuel.
- The flint and steel method is one of the oldest and most reliable methods in fire starting. Aim the sparks at a pile of dry tinder to produce a fire.
- The electric spark produced from a battery will ignite a gasoline dampened rag (be careful here).
- Remove half of the gunpowder from a bullet and pour it into the tinder. Next place a rag in the cartridge case of the gun and fire. The rag should ignite and then may be placed into the tinder.
- Allow the sun’s rays to pass through a magnifying glass onto the tinder (I loved creating fire with a magnifying glass as a child).
Dry grass, cloth lint, paper, gasoline-soaked rags and dry bark are all forms of reliable tinder.
Place some of your tinder in a small pile, form it into a teepee shape with the driest pieces lying at the bottom.
Use a fire starter or strip of pitch if it is available.
Remember to keep in mind that smaller pieces of kindling such as, twigs, bark, shavings and gasoline, are necessary when trying to ignite larger pieces of fuel.
Gather all your fuel before attempting to start your fire. Obviously dry wood burns better. Wet or pitchy wood will create more smoke but will eventually dry out.
Dense, dry wood will burn slow and hot, the best type!
Bushcraft tip: A well ventilated fire will burn best.
Build a Bushcraft Shelter
A small shelter which is insulated from the bottom, protected from wind and snow and contains a fire is the ultimate bushcraft shelter and will provide you with a major morale boost.
Before you build up your entire shelter, make sure that the surrounding area has all the materials you’ll need to make a good fire. Also be sure it is close to water source and is protected from the wind.
Bushcraft shelters may include:
- Natural shelters such as overhanging cliffs or caves. Be sure to tie a piece of string to the outer mouth of the cave you are exploring so that you are able to find your way back put. Some caves may already be occupied, make sure to check for this. Once you have determined the cave is empty, build a fire close to the entrance of the cave to prevent animals from entering.
- Dig out the natural pit under a fallen tree and line it with bark or tree boughs.
- Near any rocky coastal areas, you can build a rock shelter in the shape of a U. Cover the roof with driftwood and a tarp or even seaweed for protection.
- A wigwam is easily constructed using three long poles. Tie the tops of the poles together and upright them in an appropriate spot. Cover the sides with a tarp, raingear or any other suitable materials. Build a fire in the center of the wigwam, making a draft channel in the wall and a small hole in the top to allow smoke to escape.
- If you find yourself in snowy open terrain, a snow cave will provide shelter that’s good enough. Find a snow drift and burrow a tunnel into the side of it, for about 60 cm (24 in) then build your chamber. The entrance to your snow cave should be on the lowest level and should also be where all your cooking takes place. Your bed should be located at the highest part of the chamber. Make sure you create at least two ventilation holes, ideally one by the roof and one by the door.
Clothing and Equipment
Bushcraft clothing must provide warmth and offer protection from the elements. Layers of light, natural fibers are usually the best.
Hats are a must, as they offer protection from both the heat and cold.
Waterproof outer layers are also necessary for those rainy days.
Bushcraft equipment must light and easily manageable in any survival situation.
Items for your bushcraft survival kit should always be packed in a waterproof container that can double as a cooking pot and water receptacle, you can attach this to your backpack or belt.
To go with your bushcraft survival kit, a solid, comfortable bushcraft backpack is mandatory. Loads of about 18 kg (40 lb.) are fairly average.
Items to include in your backpack are: flashlight, a pocket saw, gas camp stove, first aid kit, emergency food, and a tent and fly.
Some extra useful items to include on your bushcrafting hike are:
- A map and compass.
- A large, bright plastic bag will be useful as a shelter, signaling device or in lieu of raingear.
- A head torch with extra batteries.
- Extra water and food.
- Extra clothing such as rain gear, gloves, a sweater and pants.
- Sun protection such as sunglasses, sunscreen, a hat and long sleeved clothing.
- A sharp pocket knife.
- Waterproof matches, a lighter and/or a flint.
- Candles and fire starter.
- A first aid kit.
- A whistle, flares, a tarp.
What To Do if You Become Lost?
Stay where you are and build a fire. Carefully assess the situation, it’s better to preserve your precious energy than to wander around aimlessly.
If it’s winter, you can use game trails to avoid walking around in deep snow.
Frozen streams and rivers are also easy to follow but watch for weak ice.
The most effective methods for measuring distance is the pace and tally system. :
1 pace = 75 cm (29.25 in)
1 double pace = 150 cm or 1.5 m (58.5 in)
66 double paces = 99 m (107.9 yards) = 1 tally (tie a knot in a string for each tally)
10 tallies = 1000 m or 1 km (0.62 mi)
A magnetic-Sylva type compass is a lost hikers best friend.
First, decide which direction you want to follow then aim over the centre of your compass to the bearing you want to follow and find a landmark on this sighting.
Once you’ve arrived at this landmark repeat the process. If you use this pattern you will follow a relatively straight line.
If you do not have a compass, you will have to use your bushcraft skills like reading the stars. You can use the pole star for direction.
Simply locate the pole star and you will be facing north.
To find this star use the Big Dipper constellation.
The pole star will be located off of the top of the “dipper”, on the opposite side of the handle.
Methods of navigation
There are three common methods of navigation:
Map reading is the most common method used, particularly in developed areas. Maps and aerial photographs may be used when landmarks are super clear
Using a compass in conjunction with maps and aerial photos is wise in areas without good landmarks.
Navigation by dead reckoning is common in areas where landmarks are nonexistent or inadequate. This method combines plotting and recording of a series of courses, measured by distance and direction from a starting point.
* It is important to stay alert and observe all unusual landmarks.
There are several reasons why difficulties may occur while trying to navigate.
Some of these include:
When you’re lost in the forest
First things first, if you find yourself in this situation, do not panic.
First, treat any injuries throughout your party. Next, make sure that your basic needs are met.
These include heat, shelter, water and food.
Then check out your map and compass, try to recognize or remember any landmarks you may have passed.
If you want to know how many hours of daylight are left, face the sun and extend your arm towards it. Bend your hand inwards and place your fingers underneath the sun. Forgetting about your thumb, count how many fingers seperate the sun from the horizon.
Each finger represents about 15 minutes.
If it is close to night time, build a bushcraft shelter and fire that is up on high ground and out of the wind .
Eat a snack and drink something warm, then get some rest.
Trust me, it makes no sense to waste precious energy trying to find your way in the dark.
During day time, it’s important to use the daylight hours to signal someone, a fire usually works best for this.
If you must move locations be sure to leave markers behind that searchers can follow.
A fire is the safest method to use when signaling for help.
The smoke is easily spotted during the day and the flames by night. Three signal fires laid 30 m (98 feet) apart and lit when a aircraft passes is a good way to indicate your distress. During the day the best way to create smoke is putting green leaves on top.
The Morse Code emergency signal is S…O…S… and may be sent with a flashlight and consists of three dots followed by three dashes followed by three dots.
The dashes should be twice as long as the dots.
If it’s winter and there’s snow around, messages or signal letters may be drawn in the snow.
A signal mirror is also a very effective method used. Flash the mirror along the horizon regardless of whether a plane is in view. The light flashed from the mirror can be seen up to 100 miles.
Finding food and water
In a bushcraft survival situation, it is possible to live for extended periods of time on little or even no food.
Research shows that a healthy individual can survive on 500 calories a day with no side effects.
With plenty of water and a comfortable resting place you can even live approximately three weeks without food!
During cold weather or periods of more activity more food will be required to maintain normal body temperature.
However, water is still much more important important than food. Two to three cups of water is required each day to stay healthy.
I’d recommend reducing the amount of daily activities in order to conserve the water in your body.
Finding water during the summer months is fairly easy.
You’ll find running water in the forms of springs or streams. In isolated areas this water is usually safe for consumption. But be aware of water in stagnant areas such as ponds and sloughs. This water may carry diseases such as Typhoid fever or Cholera.
If you encounter this type of water rather boil it (for a minimum of 3 minutes), or add iodine (nine drops per quart) or halazone tablets.
It is also wise to carry a lifestraw with you. This allows you to make use of stagnant water in any situation.
If you find yourself in an area with no water ,dig into damp soil and allow this muddy water to settle and become clear. You can also use your sock to filter out small bits and pieces.
Water may also be found in the form of dew on plants.
During the winter months i|d recommend to look for water under ice. Melting ice from snow is going to take more energy.
If you must boil snow, remember that hard packed snow yields more water than light fluffy snow.
Do not eat snow as it tends to dehydrate the body.
Finding food in the wilderness may prove slightly more difficult but it is by no means impossible!
Try and sustain yourself with natural foods before using your emergency survival kit rations.
If there’s no water readily available try to limit your food consumption to carbohydrates, proteins use more water to digest.
All fur-bearing animals and grass seeds are edible.
Bushcraft tip: There is more food value in the roots of plants than the greens.
I’d recommend you to take extra care when consuming seafood.
Try to avoid mussels during the summer months as they contain certain toxins which are not present during the winter.
Sea urchins, you know those prickly purple or green sea creatures? They may be consumed by breaking them open and eating the red or yellow eggs inside.
Snails, clams and limpets can be steamed.
Frogs, snakes, lizards and birds are also edible. Make sure to remove their heads, guts and skin before adding them to the pot.
Care should be taken when consuming any unknown plants in the wilderness.
Always avoid red and white berries, and plants resembling beans, melons and cucumber as they are often poisonous!
There are a large variety of mushroom species, most are edible but some are extremely dangerous avoid ever eating mushrooms unless you can identify them 100%.
Water hemlock is a particularly poisonous plant which is found in swampy areas of British Columbia.
It grows up to two meters, with hollow roots and small white flowers.
The dangerous baneberry plant grows up to one meter tall and produces small white flowers and white or red berries.
This plant is very poisonous, if ingested and may affect the nervous system.
Fishing and Hunting
You can use snares, traps, nets and set lines to capture animals to help you with your survival.
Trails are excellent places to set up snares. Keep in mind that animal tracks offer information pertaining to the type of animal, its size and the direction it was headed.
If you follow these tracks you are more than likely to end up at water-holes and feeding grounds, this is where you may use your traps or snares.
First Aid & Health
Shock | Breathing | Bleeding | Fractures | Dislocation | Sprains | Concussions | Heat Exhaustion | Sunstroke | Cramps | Burns | Snow Blindness | Frostbite | Blisters | Headaches | Snake Bites | Bee Stings | Hypothermia | Hyperthermia
Whenever you venture out into the wilderness make sure to bring with a first aid kit and book.
I recommend the two below.
Something I like to do is take a first aid course, I highly recommend you to do the same. After one of these courses you’ll realize how ridiculous actors do CPR in movies.
Infection and disease from insect bites can actually be avoided when maintaining a proper diet.
It is important to try and bathe daily but if this is not possible be sure to wash your hands as frequently as possible.
Using some bushcraft skills, soap can be made using ashes and animal fat or by boiling the inner bark of a pine tree!
You can even construct a toothbrush by mashing the end of a green twig.
When setting out for your journey remember to pack a wide range of clothing and extra footwear.
If an accident occurs in the wilderness it will be your responsibility to deal with the situation.
The specific sequence of actions when dealing with this situation is:
- Remain calm, provide your patient with quiet, efficient first aid treatment.
- Keep the patient warm and lying down. Do not move the injured person until you have discovered the extent of the injuries.
- Start mouth-to-mouth artificial respiration immediately if the injured person is not breathing.
- Stop any bleeding.
- Give your patient reassurance. Watch carefully for signs of shock.
- Check for cuts, fractures, breaks and injuries to the head, neck or spine.
- Do not allow people to crowd the injured person.
- Do not remove clothing unless it is imperative.
- Decide if your patient can be moved to a proper medical facility. If this is not possible, prepare a suitable living area in which shelter, heat and food are provided.
People go into shock when the body is not getting enough blood flow. Injury regardless of how minor can cause shock.
Hemorrhage, cold and pain will intensify shock. When experiencing shock the patient will feel weak and may faint.
The skin becomes cold and clammy and the pulse, weak and rapid. Shock can be more serious than the injury itself.
Use the following method to prevent and control shock:
- When treating injuries: i. restore breathing ii. stop bleeding iii. treat breaks and fractures.
- If there is no head or chest injuries place the patient on their back with the head and chest lower than the legs. This will help the blood circulate to the brain, heart, lungs and other major organs.
- If severe head and chest injuries are present elevate the upper body.
- If the injured person becomes unconscious, place them in a face down position to prevent choking on blood, vomit or the tongue.
- Keep your patient warm and under shelter.
If the breathing has stopped, begin mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Place the patient on his/her back and follow these steps:
- To open the airway lift the patient’s neck and tilt the head back.
- Keeping the neck elevated, pinch the nostrils to prevent air leakage.
- Place your mouth completely around the victim’s mouth and blow, watching for chest expansion.
- After removing your mouth, listen for air leaving the patient’s lungs and watch for the chest to fall. Check for an airway blockage if the chest does not rise.
Repeat these steps approximately 12 to 15 times per minute.
If you are treating a child, cover both their nose and mouth with you mouth. Use smaller puffs of air and repeat this method 20 to 25 times per minute.
In order to control bleeding, elevate the wounded area above the heart and apply pressure using either gauze or clean cloth. If you have none of these things dried seaweed or sphagnum moss also works.
Apply pressure at the pulse point between the injured area and the heart if bleeding fails to stop.
If bleeding continues, use a tourniquet between the injury and the heart. Be warned this method should only be used in extreme situations.
Read this article about tourniquet application.
After bleeding has been controlled, wash the wounded area with disinfectant and apply a dressing and bandages.
In most cases a fracture is classified as either a simple (closed) or compound (open).
Signs that a fracture is present include:
- Pain in the affected area.
- The area may or may not be deformed.
- The victim is unable to place weight on the area without experiencing quite severe pain.
- A grating sensation or sound may be present during any motion of the injured area.
Treatment is as follows:
- If in doubt, treat the injury as a fracture.
- Splint the joints above and below the fracture.
- If the fracture may penetrate the skin, it could be necessary to apply traction to straighten the deformity.
- Be sure to pad your splints.
- Check the splint ties frequently to be sure they do not hinder circulation.
- Cover all open wound with a clean dressing before splinting.
Dislocation happens when the ligaments near a joint tear, allowing the bone to move around in its socket.
Do not treat a dislocation unless you are a trained professional as permanent damage may occur.
The affected extremity should be supported using a sling or other device and pain controlled with aspirin or any other suitable drugs.
Sprains can be treated by applying cold to the area for the first 24 hours then once the swelling has subsided, let the sprain sit for a day.
Apply heat the following day to aid in the healing process.
The sprain should be splinted and rendered immobile until the pain has completely disappeared, this should take between 1 to 6 weeks.
Concussions or other head injuries are often accompanied by a leakage of watery blood from the nose or ears.
Some other symptoms may include convulsions, pupils unresponsive or headaches and vomiting.
Keep the injured person warm, dispense a pain killer regularly and allow time for the body to rest and repair.
Heat exhaustion is not uncommon when water is not sufficient.
The body becomes dehydrated and salt-depleted, resulting in nausea, faintness, a weak, rapid pulse and/or cold and clammy skin.
Treatment includes plenty of rest, liquid and salt tablets.
Sunstroke may occur when the body is exposed to excessive sun.
The body becomes overheated and provides too much blood to the circulatory system resulting in a flushed, hot face, rapid pulse, headache and/or dizziness.
Treat sunstroke by resting in a cool area and applying and consuming cold liquid.
Prevent sunstroke by wearing proper headgear.
Muscle cramps occur when the muscle accumulates too much lactic acid or a loss of salt through perspiration.
Treatment includes resting, deep breathing and stretching.
Practise proper bushcraft techniques and restore the salt balance as soon as possible.
Shock commonly follows after burns.
Administer a pain reliever immediately, apply gauze covered in Vaseline to the affected area and bandage.
The patient should consume more water than usual.
Symptoms of snow blindness include scratchy or burning eyes, excessive tearing, sensitivity to light, headaches and temporary loss of vision.
Bandage the person’s eyes and use cold compresses and a painkiller to control the pain.
Vision will generally be restored after 18 hours. If symptoms still persist for more than 48 hours go see (no pun intended) a doctor.
Always wear snow goggles or sunglasses in snowy areas to prevent snow blindness.
Frostbite occurs when the tissue of an area, most commonly the toes, fingers or face, is frozen either from direct exposure to the elements or high wind.
First degree frostbite turns the area cold, white and numb.
When heated the area becomes red and can be compared to a first degree burn.
A blister will form after warming with second degree frostbite.
Dark skin, gangrene, and a loss of some skin and tissues is common in third degree.
Fourth degree frostbite causes irreparable damage.
The affected area will remain cold and lifeless and generally a part of the area is lost.
With adequate clothing frostbite can easily be avoided – bushcraft essentials.
Superficial frostbite may be treated by cupping one’s hands and blowing on the affected area, warming from another warm hand or, with fingers, placing them in your armpits.
For more severe cases, medical aid should be sought as soon as possible.
Blisters are the painful, and common, result of ill-fitting footwear.
Always make sense to wear in your shoes before heading out on a bushcraft adventure.
At the first sign of discomfort, remove your boots and socks and place a piece of adhesive tape over the affected area. I like to use this one.
If it is absolutely necessary, open a blister. Make sure to first wash the area thoroughly then insert a sterilized needle into the side of the blister.
Once the blister has been popped, apply disinfectant and a bandage.
Headaches are often experienced in the mountains due to inadequate eye protection, tension in the neck, constipation, dehydration or water intoxication.
Water intoxication is swelling of the brain tissue which happens when the hiker has sweated excessively over a period of days and consumed large quantities of water without taking any tablets.
Aspirin may be used to alleviate the pain but one should find the source of the headache to prevent any further discomfort.
It is estimated that between 7000 – 8000 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the United States every year.
If you come across a snake, slowly ease back.
A snake bite rarely causes death; however victims should get medical treatment within 8 hours – depending on the snake that bit you.
If you are bitten, follow these steps:
Keep the victim calm, reassuring them that bites can be effectively treated in an emergency room. Restrict movement, and keep the affected area just below heart level to reduce the flow of venom.
Remove any rings or constricting items because the affected area may swell. Create a loose splint to help restrict movement of the area.
If the area of the bite begins to swell and change color, the snake was probably poisonous.
Monitor the person’s vital signs — temperature, pulse, rate of breathing, blood pressure. If there are signs of shock (such as paleness), lay the victim flat, raise the feet about a foot, and cover the victim with a blanket.
Get medical help immediately.
Bee stings are common and completely harmless, unless you are allergic…
If you are stung remove the stinger, it’s best to scrape the stinger out using a credit card or something similar. Then apply disinfectant and cold water to reduce the swelling.
When the temperature of your body falls to a level at which your vital organs can no longer function you are experiencing hypothermia or exposure sickness.
Hypothermia will develop rapidly and is caused by cold, wet and/or windy weather that chills the body at a speed faster than it can produce heat.
A lack of energy producing food and proper clothing will heighten the speed at which hypothermia affects you.
Always remember to bring extra clothing (layers are best).
While hiking make sure to take frequent breaks and keep a close watch for members experiencing signs of fatigue.
Exposure sickness generally occurs in temperatures of less than 10°C (50°F).
Symptoms are easily recognizable:
- Feeling cold and constantly exercising to keep warm.
- Uncontrollable shivering and numbness.
- Violent shivers. Your mind becomes slow and starts to wander.
- Violent shivering ceases and muscles begin to stiffen and become un-coordinated. Exposed skin becomes blue and thoughts are foggy. Victim usually lacks the capability of realizing how serious the situation is.
- Pulse and respiration slows.
- Victim will not respond and becomes unconscious.
- The section of the brain controlling the heart and lungs ceases functioning.
Treatment must be quick and efficient:
- Move the victim to a sheltered area, out of the elements.
- Remove wet clothing and replace with dry clothes and if possible, a sleeping bag.
- Wrap warm rocks and place them near the patient.
- Do not let the victim fall unconscious.
- Give the victim a warm, non-alcoholic drink.
- Allow another person in the sleeping bag to share body heat.
- Exhale warm air near the vicinity of the patient’s mouth and nose.
Not to be confused with hypothermia, hyperthermia is a result of the body being overheated due to increased air temperature, solar or reflected radiation, poorly ventilated clothing, a low fitness level or excess bulk. The condition is extremely dangerous and should not be under estimated.
- Heat cramps may occur and should be treated by moving the victim to a shady area and supplying water and salt tablets.
- Heat exhaustion is a mild form of hyperthermia and includes symptoms such as headache, dizziness, fainting, clammy skin, blurred vision, nausea and vomiting. Treatment is the same as heat cramps.
- Heat stroke is the most serious degree of hyperthermia. The victim will have little or no perspiration, a hot and flushed face, full pulse, and become either apathetic or aggressive. Cool the victim as quickly as possible paying extra attention to the head, neck and chest. If the bodies temperature continues to rise, unconsciousness, delirium, convulsions and ultimately death may occur.
To avoid hyperthermia, avoid any strenuous activity on super hot days, wear loose clothing and a hat, drink plenty of fluids and take salt tablets.
I hope this bushcraft survival guide has been of great use to you. In future posts you can expect me to go into further detail about many of the topics mentioned in this article.
Feel free to reach out to me in the comments section below, I’d love to hear about any of your bushcraft skills and experiences.