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Basic Survival Skills Everyone Should Know

by Paul-Martin Foss

You’re hiking in the middle of nowhere, enjoying the beauty of nature, when all of a sudden you take a wrong step. You twist your ankle so badly that there’s no way you can move. Maybe you’re in an area with cell phone reception and can call for help, but it’s still going to be hours until someone can get to you. Or maybe you’re really isolated and you’ll have to wait things out until you can get back on your feet and hike out. In the meantime, you have to do what you can to survive. That means knowing these three essential skills.

Starting a Fire

Obviously starting a fire is easiest with matches or a cigarette lighter, but what do you do if you don’t have those available? The first step is to find tinder. Jute twine works well for tinder, so if you happen to use that to strap your gear together, cut off about six inches and begin pulling apart the strands into a ball of tinder. Dried grass, dried pine needles, and the interior of dried bark can also be used.

Once you’ve collected tinder, make sure you have kindling, too. That would be small twigs and small dried branches. Once you have tinder and kindling, then you can start collecting larger pieces of wood to keep your fire going.

An easy trick to starting a fire without matches is to use a 9-volt battery and a piece of steel wool. Touching the terminals of the battery to the steel wool will cause it to spark and begin to burn. Blowing on it gently will create embers that can be used to ignite your tinder. If you don’t have a 9-volt battery but have other batteries, such as in your flashlight, you can try to stretch the wool and rub it over the positive and negative terminals of the battery to start a fire. Blow gently on the steel wool and try to get the embers to ignite the tinder.

You can also use a flint and steel, readily purchased at outdoors shops, or search for pieces of flint outdoors if you happen to be in an area where it’s available. Using a mirror or glass to focus sunlight on tinder can work too, although that requires bright sunshine to be successful. Finally, there are the old tried and true methods of the hand drill, bow drill, and fire plow.

Water Purification

Ideally, you would have water filtration tablets or a portable water filter. Or if you have a pot, you can boil water on your fire. But if you don’t have anything, you can make water filters easily out a combination of sand, gravel, and charcoal arranged in a plastic water bottle. If you don’t have charcoal, you can use some of the charred, blackened wood from your fire once it’s cooled down, or look for trees that have been hit by lightning. If you’re in an area that doesn’t have much water, you can dig a small hole, put moist grass in it, cover it with plastic film, and collect the condensation from the underside of the film.

Creating Shelter

If you find yourself having to spend the night outdoors, you’ll need to create some sort of shelter. There are numerous ways to create temporary shelters, especially if you have an emergency blanket or a piece of tarp. If not, you can get creative with branches and leaves lying around, making sure to keep yourself protected from wind and rain.

While no one wants to stay in the wild by themselves for days, if you find yourself in that situation then knowing these three vital skills can help keep you alive.

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