Show Mobile Navigation
Miscellaneous |

10 Survival Skills Everyone Should Know

by Patrick Welsh
fact checked by Rachel Jones

Catastrophe has been a Hollywood staple for generations. Movies have emerged from the production line in an endless stream covering everything from alien invasions to deadly pandemics and nodding at nuclear war and natural disasters. Often, the plot revolves around how people cope in dire circumstances. How do our heroes survive? How do people manage situations that see their world destroyed and survive to start civilization again?

Many call these events “Black Swan” events. From a European perspective, all swans were white; being white was part of the definition of being a swan. That was until the late 18th century when a Dutch explorer came across black swans in Australia. So a “Black Swan” event is something nobody expected, and most people aren’t prepared for.

Yet, survival skills are not only useful after a cataclysm. The unexpected can happen to anyone. You and your family might get lost on a hike. Or severe local weather might mean you have to fend on your own for a few days. Here are ten survival skills everyone should know.

Related: Top 10 Tips From History On How You Can Survive A Depression

10 First Aid Basics

10 Must-Haves for Your Hiking First-Aid Kit || REI

Stow your first aid kit in your grab bag or backpack. The clip above gives a comprehensive guide to the essentials you should pack. They include:

  • Gloves
  • Blister treatment
  • Gauze
  • Bandages
  • Medications (over-the-counter and prescribed)

While you won’t be able to cover every eventuality, these items will allow you to deal with immediate emergencies. As part of your preparation, you must ensure that everything is regularly updated; we suggest you revisit your pack every six months.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to know the basics of first aid. What to do and not do can save a life. Basic courses are readily available on YouTube, and the American Red Cross offers online and in-person courses.

Being prepared with basic first aid knowledge and gear can help you handle an emergency calmly and efficiently.

9 Shelter Creation

Easy Survival Shelter (Stay Warm and Dry)

If you get lost on a day hike or don’t have a tent, it’s worth learning how to make a shelter. This is especially true if you are out in the wild. Finding some shelter is not usually an immediate problem in urban areas as there are often plenty of discarded materials—cardboard boxes, for example, from which you can construct a rough, temporary shelter.

In the woods, it’s a different matter, and our linked video will help you construct a shelter that uses the materials around you to build a refuge. In the mountains, there are different challenges. If you can find a cave that isn’t being used by a bear, wonderful! If you don’t stumble upon a handy cave, you should find a hollow area, work out where the wind is coming from and pile up stones to keep the wind off you.

If you have plastic sheeting or a tarp with you, you can anchor one edge to the top of your stone wall and stretch it down to the ground, and pile stones on it to fix it in place. It doesn’t have to be high; you just need enough room to lie down for the night.

8 Building a Fire


You should have a firestarter in your grab bag or backpack. This could be a flint, a box of waterproof matches, or a magnifying glass. Better yet, pack all three! Use small pieces of wood, pine needles, or cardboard to act as kindling. Add larger pieces of wood as your fire catches, and once you have a good blaze, add larger pieces to keep the fire going.

If you are in the wilderness, build your fire downwind from your shelter. Dig a shallow fire pit or surround your fire with stones. Ensure your fire is away from the surrounding dry brush that could catch light from a spark.

If you want to use your fire to signal for help, try to find an open area away from trees that might hide or disperse the smoke. Pile damp, green grass or brush onto your fire to create more smoke.

7 Water, Water Everywhere

How To Purify Water By Boiling It- Top Prepper Skill Purify Water

We can’t live long without water, but water is also heavy to carry. You will need fresh water in any survival situation that lasts more than a few days. There are reasonably cheap and effective sterilizing kits or tablets on the market that you can buy for your grab bag.

The National Park Service warns against drinking any water from a natural source. It may look clean but still be teeming with bacteria, parasites, and viruses. Boiling your water is a simple way to kill off the most harmful contents. But remember that this will take time, don’t wait until you are desperate.

Boiled water tastes flat; you can improve the taste by pouring it from one container to another and letting it stand for a few hours.

If you are out in the wild, try to take water from as close to its source as possible. This will not guarantee that it’s fresh, but it may contain fewer contaminants than water from further downstream, but you will still need to purify it.

6 Foraging for Food

11 Easy Edible Plants for Beginner Foragers- Eating Wild Food

People in difficult circumstances soon discover that they are less picky about what they eat. Look online for a guide to edible plants in your region. Importantly, don’t eat mushrooms or berries that you are not absolutely sure about. Some suggest you check if something is dangerous by rubbing your lips against it or even tasting it slightly. This is not sound advice; some plants are so toxic that even a small amount could kill you.

You may be tempted to try fishing or trapping, this is fine if you have the time, but unless you know what you are doing, this can be frustrating and time consuming. It may be better to concentrate on gathering edible plants.

Your grab bag should contain energy bars, food concentrates, and trail mix to supplement your dietary needs.

5 Map Reading

How to Read a Topo Map

Learning to read a map goes hand in hand with learning to use a compass. They are both skills that are essential if you are in the wild. We have gotten used to using apps on our phones to help us with everything, and many people go hiking with just a phone to guide them. This is not sensible. Batteries don’t last forever; coverage can be patchy, and in a survival situation, there might be no coverage at all.

You should have a topographic map of your area—the United States Geological Survey produces excellent topographic maps. A topographic map shows the landscape’s natural features and can help you plan a route through unknown territory.

Make sure that your map is covered in waterproof film or that you have a waterproof pouch for it—you don’t want it to turn into a soggy lump in the first rainstorm.

4 Navigation

How to Use a Compass || REI

You know that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. You may also know other folk wisdom that tells you how to work out which direction is north. But these are not a substitute for reading a compass. When used alongside a map, a compass will help you work out how to get to your destination and, of course, doesn’t depend on your cellphone.

You can study orientation through videos on YouTube and immediately put your knowledge to the test by devising a course in the local park. This way, your kids can learn how to use a compass and have fun simultaneously. Like map-reading, using a compass is an easy skill to master and allows you to show off your prowess as a woodsman.

3 Think About It!

Survival Mindset: Get your head right & survive!

You might not realize that having the right mindset is a skill you can learn. Surely, some people are prone to panic, and some keep a calm head. There’s some truth in this, but you can learn to assess situations and devise practical solutions.

This type of cost-benefit analysis allows you to evaluate the risks associated with various decisions against the benefits they might bring. For example, in a survival situation, what are the risks and advantages involved in moving on versus staying where you are? This is a skill you can develop along with your family members. You can make a game out of deciding what you would do in a “What if” situation.

Survival might depend on being able to make practical decisions in different environments. If you approach survival as a practical problem to be solved rather than an insurmountable difficulty, your chances will improve dramatically.

2 Surviving in the Home

Tips to prepare your home and family for natural disasters

You should take precautions if you live in an area prone to natural disasters. But no matter where you live, a “Black Swan” event could happen tomorrow. Planning for the unexpected is a skill. It involves assessing potential risks and deciding what you can reasonably do to mitigate any situation.

It’s a good idea to keep a stock of essential food, medicine, and water to last a few days. Make sure that you have batteries for flashlights and candles. Store everything in a safe, protected space. These preparations don’t need to cost much money, and you can build your supplies over time. The skill lies in deciding what is essential and what is not.

1 What to Pack in Your Grab Bag

50 Items For Your Survival Kit and Bug Out Bag

Your grab bag should be ready, so you can pick it up and leave at a moment’s notice. Again, the skill lies in proper planning. You don’t want a bug-out bag that weighs more than you can easily carry, so be reasonable with your packing. And remember to personalize each bag for individual family members, including your lovable, furry friends.

One suggestion is that a sudden survival situation will be traumatic for everyone. But young children will find it especially stressful. Make sure that you can quickly get hold of a favorite cuddly toy for each of your kids. It seems like a small thing, but it can go a long way to easing your child’s mind.

fact checked by Rachel Jones