Basic Survival Skills You Need to Know for Worst Case Scenarios

Basic Survival Skills You Need to Know for Worst Case Scenarios

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Basic survival skills might be the last thing you think you need to know.

Afterall, we all have a cellphone, right?

But imagine this:

A friend is driving through the mountains, during a blizzard, meeting their family for their brother's destination wedding at a ski resort.

The car just stops.

They guide it to the edge of the road as it rolls off the last of its kinetic energy. Then, they turn the key...

...and nothing. Not a grind, not a click.


Howling wind, swirling snow, and it is a total whiteout.

They grab their ever-present cell phone to call for road service.


Just great.

Absolutely wonderful.

But wait, that isn't the worst part:

No one is expecting them, either, they weren't supposed to make it. It was last minute planning and they were going to surprise their brother. No one knows they're out there...

They think they're back in Illinois at work.

Who needs those basic survival skills now?

Now, what if this was you?

How are you going to McGyver your way out of this mess?

Basic survival skills shouldn’t be an afterthought because you believe that a zombie apocalypse won’t ever happen.

This is the truth:

Basic survival skills should be a well-formed plan in your life.

You never know when you might face surviving on your own in an unfamiliar situation.

It is better to plan for an emergency before the emergency.

The Most Basic Survival Skill Is So Simple 

Before we talk about anything else, the most basic survival skill in your arsenal is deciding to use your survival skills.

Here's how, in four simple steps:

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The first step is to calm down and assess the situation

That's the first skill you need: know that when the poop starts flying off the fan, your first move is to decide what your next moves are.

You're probably wondering what the biggest mistake people make in an emergency is...

Freaking out and acting before they think it through.

An emergency can happen at any time.

Avoid panic.

Here's what you need to know:

Think through a situation first, then develop a plan of action based on your circumstances at that moment.

Let's be honest here:

There won't be a zombie apocalypse. There probably won't be a nuclear Armageddon.

Climate change might cause us some issues, but it is doubtful that the world will *poof* and leave us stranded.

But, while the end of the world as we know it or TEOTWAWKI (pronounced tee-oh-twawk-kee) might be considered a prepper conspiracy theory...

the reality of an emergency can befall us at any second.

Snow, a tornado, earthquakes, an oil spill, a power outage, a car accident, a breakdown -- all real emergencies that can require real survival skills.

Basic survival skills are something you can always pack for a trip.

They don't take up any room in your luggage.

As our hapless traveler discovered -- there is never a cell tower around when you need it most.

The second? Determine what supplies are available

Look around. What do you see?

Determining the usefulness of everything in a survival situation is the first step in staying alive.

Think about it:

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  • Do you see a knife or other sharp tool?
  • Is there a first aid kit?
  • Do you have anything to build a shelter?
  • Is there a blanket or a tarp?

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Look beyond the actual objects around you. Look at them as tools.

What can be adapted to suit your needs?

“Improvise, Adapt and Overcome!”

Clint Eastwood

From the movie Heartbreak Ridge

If you don't have something you need...

figure out a way to make something work.

Third: evaluate your strategy

This is where you sit down and take stock of everything you have.

Analyze the situation with your mind concentrating on survival.


You have rudimentary tools, some snack foods, a knowledge of basic survival skills, and a few other items you found.

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Figure out what else you need. Determine what need is the most urgent. Develop a strategy that will allow you to fulfill that need.

Then finally: take action

In a survival situation, taking no action may lead to one inevitable result:


For our imaginary hapless traveler, if he does not leave the quickly-freezing confines of his metal box, he will be dead from hypothermia before the sun rises.

He knows this.

Each situation will be different. The key to what action you take depends on too many factors to discuss here.

However, we can offer this advice:

Follow your instincts, use your head...

Calm down, assess the situation, check your plan, then take action.

The next basic survival skill, the rule of 3s, helps assess your situation and make plans.

3 Minutes, 3 Hours, 3 Days, 3 Weeks

The Survival Rule of 3s is a simple principle that defines the most important things to remember in almost every survival situation.

This is how you begin assessing your situation.

  • You can live for 3 minutes without air or submerged in icy water before death.
  • A person can live for 3 hours in an extremely harsh environment before death.
  • Humans can live for 3 days without water before dying from dehydration.
  • A nominally healthy person can live up to 3 weeks without food before starving.

Minutes. Hours. Days. Weeks.

Using the Rule of 3s to prioritize your needs is a quick and easy way to begin preparing.

We are assuming that you are not drowning and are still breathing.

So, our list becomes:

Shelter. Water. Food.

Remember the order.

Knowledge is the most important thing in your basic survival skills tool kit.

Developing a plan to survive

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If you have ever played the game "What If..." you already know how to develop a disaster plan.

Simply stated:

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"What If... your car quit running in the middle of a blizzard and no one knew you were there?"

Using your basic survival skills to develop a survival plan is very similar to the game.

Except it is in real time and your life may depend on your answer.

But the good news is:

Having a plan really means having the ability to formulate a plan in any given situation.

It means being mentally prepared to SURVIVE.

Another step is being physically prepared:

Carry an emergency kit in your car

You might have an auto emergency kit in your vehicle...

However, that safety triangle won't shelter you against blizzard conditions.

Making and carrying a real emergency kit is something that everyone should do.

Here's what I found:

Useful items to include in your emergency kit:

  • Knife -- folding pocket knife, fixed blade, or both
  • Tarp, rain poncho, and blanket
  • 550 Paracord - at least a 10-foot length
  • Fire starting tool and basic tinder
  • Water treatment tablets or a LifeStraw
  • Hand crank emergency flashlight

You can't pack everything, but you should have the essentials. Additionally, selecting dual-use items increases the benefits of your emergency kit.

You're prepared now to make a plan, and have the tools with you to implement it. But what else can you do to be prepared?

Always tell someone where you plan to be

Everyone has a cell phone. We keep track of our friends and family on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

But what if you just vanished?

Contemplate how long it would take your circle to notice you missing.

That is how long you might potentially have to be able to survive in an emergency.

This makes all the difference:

Develop the habit of leaving word with someone detailing your travel plans.

Set check-in dates and times. Have a plan for that person to follow if you miss a scheduled check-in.

Because life happens.

We can't predict emergencies, but we can make potentially life-saving plans to make them less devastating.

Ok - that's setting you up to be able to respond well to any emergency with your basic survival skills...

now, you are going to have to know what makes a good plan!

The Components of a Great Plan

The perfect plan starts with a positive mental attitude.

Assess the situation and collect the articles of survival from what you have available.

Keep your plan moderately adaptable.

That means letting go of things that aren't working and being flexible to the situation.

Consider this:

Any plan should include components that will provide for the four basic things or skills that are needed for a human being to remain alive in any circumstances.

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Warmth and Shelter

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Your basic survival skills can give you an excellent chance of surviving.

Above all: DON'T PANIC!

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You'll need protection against all the scary things

You probably don't give much thought to weapons on a day-to-day basis. Humans are pre-programmed to protect themselves.

But having a weapon to use is inherently helpful.

It's true:

Pack something in your emergency kit that is useful and will provide protection as a weapon.

Warmth and shelter are imperative

Your basic survival skills should include a basic knowledge of how to create a shelter.


You won't melt in the rain...

but wet clothing could give you hypothermia, so staying dry is an important thing to promote continued living.


Being prepared for any situation is imperative for survival.

A simple barrier to protect you from wind and rain could save your life.

Blankets, tents, and sleeping bags can get pretty large and unwieldy. For an emergency kit, the idea is to stay small and functional.

Whatever you put in your e-kit you may have to carry a considerable distance. Look for things that perform dual functions.

Think about this:

You don't need a tent if you have a reflective blanket or tarp and a bit of paracord.

A second tarp under you will insulate your body from the ground.

survival sleeping bag rolls up into a bag that fits in the palm of your hand. The reflective material reflects your body heat back to you, which serves to keep you comfortable.

None of that takes up much space or weight in your car.

Water is of the utmost importance

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Humans cannot live without water.

In fact:

In a survival situation, you have about three days to find water. After that, the effects of dehydration begin shutting down your internal organs.

Don't forget this:

If you have an emergency kit, it should include water purification tablets or a LifeStraw.

If you are in a snowstorm, there is water all around you, but use caution: Snow is evaporated water -- any impurities in the water are also in the snow.

Purify it.

If it is raining, collecting water is fairly simple: use your tarp to funnel it into a container.

Purify it.

If you find a stream -- great.

Purify it.

Take a Break -- Have Some Fun!

If the Abominable Snowman offers you a yellow SnoCone, it's OK -- it's lemonade.

Know what you can eat

Because you can live for three weeks without food, foraging for food isn't as life and death as shelter, warmth, and water.


Your basic survival skills should include knowledge of nuts and berries that are edible.

If you are sure to be rescued in a few days, you may not need to forage, hunt, or trap food.

The squirrels will be rejoicing!

But if you aren't sure of being rescued, start contemplating those nuts and berries.

Now, about that emergency kit:

Packing a Go Bag or Emergency Kit

An emergency kit is a specially prepared bag, backpack, or box that you should take everywhere. It can sit in your car trunk.

When you need it, you will bless the time you spent putting it together

You should know:

Very briefly:

  •  An emergency kit contains lifesaving tools, food, and equipment that will allow you to keep yourself alive during an emergency.

Equipment and supplies that you need in your e-kit

Although every kit will have a few different items based on your personal preferences, we will cover the basics.

Helpful Money-Saving Tip

  • All of these products are available via online stores like Amazon, or in your local sporting goods store and big box stores. Buying things locally allows you to "feel" the weight of a knife or hatchet. But shop wisely. Check the item out in person, then buy it online if it is less expensive.

Returning to our four basic survival skills, we can make a list of the items that should be in an emergency kit.

These tools are best for protection

The advantage of sharp over shooty is that sharps have multiple uses.

For example:

A knife can:

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  • Protect you from physical threats from animals
  • Cut a rope
  • Shave sticks to make tinder and kindling to build a fire
  • Sharpen sticks to use as spears
  • Make roasting sticks to cook over a fire
  • Break up ground to dig a hole for a fire pit and other needs
Icons made by Flat Icons from is licensed by CC 3.0 BY

A hatchet can:

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  • Cut a rope
  • Protect you from physical threats
  • Shave sticks to make tinder and kindling to build a fire
  • Sharpen sticks to use as spears
  • Cut small limbs and branches for firewood or lean-to construction
  • Pound sticks into the ground to secure tarps or set snare traps
  • Break up ground to dig a hole for a fire pit and other needs

Your knife can be a small, folding pocket knife, or fixed blade knife in a sheath. Many people opt to carry both.

Likewise, hatchets are available in many styles.

A good No products found. will have a sharp blade and a flat hammerhead opposite the blade. The dual purpose makes it a more versatile tool.

Warmth and shelter come in many forms

Unless you are allergic to wool, you should have wool in your emergency kit.

Think about it:

The Benefits of Wool

  • Wool does not lose its ability to insulate even when it gets wet.

No products found., a wool shirt, or even wool long johns. They pack well and will prove worth their weight in an emergency situation.

A simple rain poncho is another must-have item.

Select one that will fit over you and your backpack comfortably.

Although you can get away with the Dollar Tree version, investing in a better quality rain poncho is our recommendation.

Ponchos have Many Use

  • A good rain poncho can be used to keep you dry while hiking and can double as a tent or lean-to shelter at night.

A survival tarp, or survival blanket, is an important part of a basic emergency kit. They are made from highly insulated material and are reflective.

How to Use a Reflective Tarp

  • In a cold environment, turn the silver, reflective side toward you to retain body heat. In a hot and sunny environment, turn the reflective side away from you to reflect the heat of the sun.

Additional supplies you need to have

Color chart for the 50 feet Type III Paracord 550 Parachute Cord 7 Strand
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  • Paracord was originally used for the suspension lines in parachutes
  • The number, 550, refers to the rated weight, or strength of the line
  • Paracord comes in varied strengths

This useful item can be used to make a tent, unraveled to make a snare trap, or fishing line. We can't list all the uses for Paracord, so just put a spool of it in your kit and use your imagination.

Paracord is easily transformed into bracelets, keychains, and other items that can be carried anywhere.

A flashlight is always a useful tool to include in your emergency kit.

But batteries die at the most inopportune time.

So, what do you use?

A hand crank emergency flashlight will serve your purposes. They provide light when you need it, and many models can even charge your cell phone.

Another utility item you need is a fire starting tool. There are several variations. Find the one that works best for you.

But not just that:

Gather some dry tinder, put it into a zippered storage baggie and keep that with your fire starting tool.


  • A fire starting tool and tinder isn't something you just buy and toss and in your pack. You should practice using it before you need it.

The last thing on the must-have list for your emergency kit is one of the most important...

We have discussed the importance of water.

Having No products found. or a LifeStraw, or both, in your kit is important.

Being stuck in a survival situation is bad enough.

Being stuck in a survival situation with a rough gut from bad water is even worse.

Packing your e-kit efficiently

Pack your emergency kit contents based on an estimated order of need.

You can buy a pre-stocked, FEMA-rated emergency backpack kit.

Unfortunately, while containing tons of stuff...

much of it is just extra weight that you really won't need.

By selecting your own products, you can prioritize what you need based on your level of basic survival skills.

Pro tip:

While you can store your emergency kit in any type of container, or even a box, we recommended you invest in a good-sized sturdy backpack.

Depending on your situation, you may be required to carry your emergency kit quite some distance before finding a suitable spot to "hunker down."

A backpack makes your survival tools easier to carry.

Now, back to packing:

Consider what you need first: Pack those items LAST.


  • Lay your emergency kit contents out on a table or the floor before packing.

Arrange them in the order you will need the equipment or supplies.

The items you will need FIRST should be packed LAST.[/learn_more]


  • Trekking poles are a worthwhile addition to any emergency kit.


Collapsible, saving space in your pack or can be tied onto the outside of your pack.

Assist you in keeping your footing on uneven terrain.

  • Can double as tent poles when you can't find suitable small branches to form a tent with your tarp or insulated blanket.

Using side pockets efficiently

A good backpack will have several pockets on the outside of the pack.

You want to pay as much attention to packing these as you do the interior main pack compartment.

Items that should be in pockets or the top of your pack:

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  • Wool socks (in a zippered bag)
  • Pocket knife
  • 550 Paracord
  • Rain poncho
  • Small first aid kit
  • Water bottle
  • Water treatment tablets/LifeStraw
  • Compass

Depending on the number of pockets, you can also include several other secondary items:

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  • 4 oz package of beef jerky
  • "Hot Hands" warming packets
  • Small sewing kit

Learning the Standard Basic Survival Skills You Need

If you do not know any basic survival skills, how do you get them?

We're going to teach you a few...

But the best resource you have is common sense.

There are also many online resources available.

Udemy is an outlet for online education that has free and low-cost courses on basic survival skills and wilderness survival.

Additionally, there are many independent blogs, hunting websites, and camping sites that offer tons of information on basic survival skills.

But let's start with using and selecting tools.

Using tools and selecting the right ones for you

We discussed being comfortable with your tools earlier.

If a tool goes into your e-kit, it should be something that you are comfortable with.

Not sure how to tell?

When you shop for the tools and equipment for your emergency kit, look for items that feel right in your hand, are easy to work with, and serve more than one purpose.

Then practice your basic survival skills.

Staying warm and building shelter


Remember the rule of 3s?

You have three hours in a harsh environment.

Sometimes that means huddling under your tarp waiting for the worst to pass.

Other times...

it means being able to set up a complete lean-to, then building a fire, and melting enough snow for three days' of water.

Either way, you need to practice creating that shelter before the emergency happens.

Basic shelter components

For shelter building, the components you need should be near the top of your pack.

Because we packed them last:

Paracord, tarp or thermal blanket, hatchet, knife, and trekking/tent poles.

Our first shelter type:

Very basic, A-frame shelter:
  • Paracord
  • Stakes (or sturdy sticks)
  • Tarp or thermal blanket
  • Extendable poles, two trees spaced about 8 - 10 feet apart, or small, straight branches

If you can find two trees about 10 feet apart, this is the best configuration. Simply tie your paracord between the trees 2 to 3 feet above the ground (the height depends on the size of your tarp).

Position your tarp over the line and stake down the corners. Shelter done.

This video displays a variation on the A-frame design:

This video offers several other designs for tent shelters:

The key thing to stress is to KEEP IT SIMPLE.

You are building a temporary shelter...

not a showplace home.

Now you're sheltered!

Building a basic cookfire

If you are in a frozen tundra, you won't be digging any fire pits.

But, anywhere else, start here...

If you aren't on the frozen ground, hollowing out a small pit for your fire has several advantages:

  • Mild shelter from wind at the base of your fire
  • Easier to cover ashes and coals when putting the fire out
  • You can lay rocks around the edge to heat and use for warmth

The quickest, easiest way to build a small fire is to gather your tinder, lay on a bit of kindling, then use your fire starting tool to light it.

You practiced, right?

Tinder is small bits of fluff and stuff that catch fire easily.

Some examples you can easily carry in your emergency kit:

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  • Dryer lint
  • ​Steel wool
  • ​Used dryer sheets
  • Shaved wax or tea candles

Natural examples of tinder:

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  • Dried leaves and grass
  • ​Small pieces of dry, flaky bark
  • ​Shaved bark from dry sticks

Try to find a relatively shielded location for your fire near your lean-to or shelter.

The wind should blow the smoke AWAY from your shelter.

Dakota fire hole

A Dakota fire hole is the most effective cooking fire in the category of basic survival skills.

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The steps to build a Dakota fire hole are simple:

  • 1
    Use your knife or hatchet to break up hard earth
  • 2
    Scoop dirt out of the hole with your hands
  • 3
    Your hole should be 12 - 18 inches deep
  • 4
    Begin a second hole about a foot from the first hole
  • 5
    The second hole should be at least a foot deep
  • 6
    Dig a tunnel between the two holes
  • 7
    Light your fire outside the first (deeper) hole
  • 8
    Lay kindling in the first hole and add the fire when it is burning well

Air fuels the fire from the second hole and tunnel, allowing the fire to burn hotter. This configuration produces less smoke than a normal campfire.

This video demonstrates digging a Dakota fire pit and lighting a fire:

Finding food, water, and foraging

Normally, if you have some jerky and non-perishable foods in your emergency kit, you might not need to forage.

But if you're stuck for a longer period, food will become a concern.

Something handy to add to your emergency kit is a fold-out pamphlet that describes edible plants.

The ones shown below are from Waterford Press. They are full-color and laminated to stand up to lots of use.

Peterson makes some excellent field guides, but carrying books can get heavy.

Several field guides about edible wild plant, medicinal plants and herbs and more
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Nature is her own grocery store.

And her prices are better too.

You have to work harder to find the good eats.

Available plants will vary depending on where you are stuck and what time of year it happens to be when you're stuck.


  • I once attended a survival workshop taught by one of the men who tested all the McGyver tricks before they were performed on camera.

    Nature is her own grocery store.

    And her prices are better too.

    You have to work harder to find the good eats.

    Available plants will vary depending on where you are stuck and what time of year it happens to be when you're stuck.

    He fed us Cattail.

    The root is tender, juicy, and tastes similar to a cucumber.

    But he wasn't done!

    He shook the flower heads into a zippered bag, added some water, and made us some pretty decent pancakes!

Setting simple snare traps

While it may seem unappetizing to many people, if you are in a situation where you must rely on basic survival skills, you may need to trap and kill small animals.

What that reality means you need to know:

Setting a snare trap is a very effective way to trap small animals.

Snares are made with wires or cording.

You can set several snares near your camping area to conserve energy when you have to check them daily.

We have to mention this, we're sorry

  • While a snare trap is designed to kill an animal by strangling it or crushing its internal organs, you should prepare yourself to find the occasional still-alive animal in your snare.

Setting snares is pretty difficult to explain, but we found a great video:

If you would like more information on snares, we found 26 different styles, with instructions.

If you need to McGyver some meat, taking a few minutes to learn some of these techniques will add to your growing arsenal of basic survival skills.

The Most Important Thing to Remember

Practice. Practice. Practice.

Learning a few basic survival skills can mean the difference between life and death.

Most survivalists will tell you that you can never know enough.

They're right.

Additionally, you need to practice your basic survival skills.

Practice starting a fire by lighting your charcoal grill without lighter fluid, newspapers, or other accelerants.

Use your backyard to practice setting up different types of shelters.

That's not all you can do:

Read books on edible plants. Walk in the woods and try some tasty snacks.

The key takeaway we would like to leave you with is that an emergency does not have to be the catastrophic apocalypse...

An emergency can happen on your way home from work.

Your home could lose power in the middle of winter, or in the hottest part of the summer.

You will need basic survival skills.

And once you have them -- no one can ever take them away from you.

Let's Catch up on Our Hapless Traveler

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We left our fellow at the stage of making a decision for his survival. Fortunately, he had an emergency kit stowed in his trunk.

He was fairly confident with his basic survival skills...

After taking stock of his supplies, he realized he wasn't in bad shape.

It was still daylight.

His kit was in a backpack, which made it easy to carry.

He had recently re-prioritized how it was packed, so his shelter components were easily accessible.

He pulled on the wool shirt that was in his pack, then his winter coat over that. Cussed a bit about his choice of running shoes over hiking boots...

but he had dry socks in the pack he could put on after he got settled into a shelter.

He wrote a quick note to leave on his dashboard, telling potential rescuers what direction he would be heading.

And off he went into the wilderness.

About 200 yards into the woods, he happened upon a huge fir tree. Snow had drifted around it but left a nice, igloo-like hollow area under the huge boughs. The ground was frozen but dry.

He set up a small lean-to, built a fire using the twigs and branches he found under the tree and in the area nearby.

And then, finally:

Our traveler dined on beef jerky, melted snow for water, and was in great shape when the road crew found him two days later.

He did miss the wedding though.

The only part of his basic survival skills training that he got wrong was not telling anyone about his plans.

What is in your emergency kit? Let us know down in the comments what your go-to tool is, and how you practice survival skills at home, or outdoors, to be ready.

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Last update on 2021-10-19 at 23:42 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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