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Five Crucial Survival Skills

 Basic survival skills: know how to build a campfire

I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to be doing during an emergency is reading an instruction manual. All the gear in the world—and I know, there’s some pretty sweet gear out there—is not going to build that shelter or clean that water by itself. As crucial as stocking up on the right supplies is, we also need to be actively building a base of survival skills to call on in a crisis. We can’t all be Bear Grylls, but the following list and resources offers a good place to start.

So here is a list of the top Five Survival Skills (or How to Make an Emergency Less Scary) that all new and experienced preppers should know.


1. Water

Pop quiz: Which of the following will kill you fastest?

  • Lack of food
  • Lack of heat
  • Lack of water

You guessed it—water should be your #1 concern in a disaster. Storing water will help you at home; purifying water will help you when you’re not close to a clean supply. However, purifying water can also help you at home as well. If officials issue a boil order or you’re concerned about the safety of your at home water supply you’ll want to purify your water. Check out our Insight Article, “Water Filtration and Purification” to learn more. But everyone should know the basics of water collection for survival. Howstuffworks.com has a handy-dandy tutorial about collecting water for survival.


2. Shelter

Basic survival skills: Building a shelter

What do dry grass, garbage sacks, and a fallen tree have in common? They could all keep you from freezing. Knowing how to raise your ultra-light, four-man, double-walled tent in under six minutes won’t help you if you’re caught in the outdoors without it. You’ll need to know how to build a backup shelter out of natural resources if you don’t have that fancy tent on hand. Our Insight article, “Emergency Shelter” tells you how to construct 10+ emergency shelters with little or no gear. Learn just one, and you’re better prepared than you were yesterday.


3. Fire

By all means, keep torches, lighters, and waterproof matches handy. And you’re one step ahead of the game if you’ve been collecting dryer lint or newspaper for tinder. But could you get a flame going without all that on hand? Been a while since Scout camp? Brush up on your fire starter skills by watching one of seven video tutorials from the guys at  (wait for it…) http://howtostartafirewithoutmatches.com/.



4. First aid

We recently devoted a whole blog series to beefing up your first aid skills (check out August 2013 in our archives). Don’t know where to start? Learn the Heimlich maneuver.


5. Food

This is kind of a cheat category. Being able to eat during an emergency includes a variety of survival skills from hunting and foraging to gardening and canning—and frankly, you’d be doing great if you knew a little about each of those skills. You can become a gardening expert by browsing the “gardening tag” on our blog.  You can also develop your food preservation skills by checking out the “canning section” of our blog as well.


But let’s assume the worst. If you were stranded in the woods, miles from your stockpile of freeze-dried entrees and canned peaches, what could you do? Check out these  list of forage-friendly eats from the Chicago Tribune, the Daily Green, and discovery.com. Before you start foraging in your neck of the woods, get a plan guide and get familiar with local plant life.


These are good starting points to begin developing your survival skills. Pick one thing to learn, get really good at it, and then pick a new thing. Before you know it, you’ll be leading treks across Mongolia and hosting your own reality series.

9 thoughts on “Five Crucial Survival Skills”

  • jkcook

    The general idea is wonderful, but I think your answer in #1 is wrong. I think hypothermia will kill you faster than lack of water. People can last days without water, but hours without heat.

  • Malone

    Exposure is a more ferocious adversary. Although I do agree that water is a close second. I appreciate and enjoy the articles like this one as they keep it fresh in my mind. I lived in two extremes, year at Ft. Richardson, Alaska and three at Ft. Hood Texas. All that being said, I don't plan on going either way.

  • TSgt B

    Live by the Rule of 3s!!!!!

    3 hours without shelter
    3 day without water
    3 weeks without food

    You WILL die of exposure/hypothermia in about 3 hours in a hostile environment, either hot or cold, but most often COLD, especially when wet. SHELTER IS YOUR MOST IMPORTANT SHORT TERM PRIORITY.

    WATER is your next. In a short term survival situation, potable water is #2, and you can last 3 days (or longer, depending upon local conditions, your physical condition, etc.) without water. Get schooled in water scavenging/filtration/purification, and be aware that although drinking seemingly clean water from an open source (stream, river, etc.), the only permissible "clean" sources are rainwater or a known, clean well. If you will be isolated, but with a good chance of rescue/recovery in 3-7 days, and it is your only option, drinking from other "fresh sources poses a risk, but MAY be an acceptable one, under certain circumstances if medical facilities are available within a day or 2. Your call.

    Except in an extreme disaster scenario (major catastrophe such as a volcano, tsunami, nuclear war, massive terrorist attack, etc.), the need (as opposed to WANT) for food is much less of a priority than the first 2 above.

    The bottom line is BE PREPARED. Keep a 1-3 day supply of emergency items available at all times, and know how to use them. This will handle 99%+ of your problems.

  • Geo

    Rule of 3
    3 minutes without oxygen
    3 hours without proper shelter
    3 days without water
    3 weeks without food
    could lead to death

  • Ralph

    I have lived in Alaska and now in Arizona, Hypothermia is the most dangerest.

  • Sarah

    I'm going to have to agree that water is SECOND, after shelter. The above comments are right on.

  • Maven5237

    Thank you all for the excellent comments and info. Anyone who spends time in extreme conditions is well aware of the associated dangers. Shelter is number one. I have a reflective waterproof tarp in my go bag that with some para cord can be made into a suitable shelter to ward off rain, sun and wind. However, knowledge is much more valuable. Familiarize yourself with different materials and methods. You never know what will be available.

  • Calvin

    Like all the comments above...., it's SHELTER, water, fire and food. Core temperature loss will kill you very quick.

  • Doug Nicholson

    I'm glad so many caught that goof about lack of water killing faster than lack of heat. There ARE folks out there who know whereof they speak! Lol!

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