You want to learn survival skills for several reasons. It may be to gain practical skills that will save you and your loved ones in an emergency.
Or you aspire to acquire the survival skills of our ancestors: such as making a bow and arrows, hunting and trapping, tanning animal skins and flint shaping.
You want to be ready for any situation of theoretical survival that can occur in your everyday life (remember to always carry your EDC survival kit) .
The problem is that we put it all in one general term: survival.
In this article, we will define two important survival types: wilderness survival and bushcraft.
The best distinction is that wilderness survival is short-term emergency survival in a “wild” environment. You do everything to get out of the wild to return to civilization.
This wild survival is courageous, demanding and one can be on the verge of living or dying. Everything lies in knowing your priorities and conserving your energy and resources.
The bushcraft is a skill set that will allow you to stay in the wild in the long run.
It’s about knowing how to live in a wilderness. It’s knowing how to use trees, low plants and animals in your ecosystem. It’s more than just doing the job at all costs.
It is a generally accepted belief that survival situations last 72 hours or less.
However, in general, most survival situations often last less than 12 hours. There are sometimes some situations that last about 48 hours. But it’s more rare.
That said, being prepared to survive for 72 hours is an excellent goal to aim for. If you can do it, it is much more likely to be saved or find your way out of the wild in this period.
Now, there is certainly a overlap between the two concepts mentioned here. Let’s focus first on basic outdoor survival skills .
Here are the wilderness 7 elementary skills (roughly in order of priority):
- Positive Mental Attitude
- Water (and water purification )
To be honest, the food is optional. While I certainly enjoy eating, it’s not a priority for a short-term survival situation. Your body can go weeks without food. It adapts better to primitive life skills.
On the subject of food, the biggest challenge is the transition period between eating 3 meals and fasting. If you are a regular caffeine drinker, then it will be even more difficult.
Survival in the wild consists in using all the necessary means. There are countless stories of human beings who have survived incredible hardships. Things that nobody would want to do.
These tales capture the essence of the human spirit. One of the most fascinating is the story of a man trapped at sea for 76 days on a tiny raft. It’s called Adrift and it’s amazing reading.
There are also some other key ingredients to overcome such a situation.
Do you remember the MacGyver TV series? It was the story of a scientist / veteran from Vietnam who was still stuck between the tree and the bark.
No matter what scenario Macgyver was in, he would use whatever was available to him. His iconic survival gear was a paper clip, tape and a Swiss army knife.
MacGyver was certainly very entertaining, but the lesson here is that you still do not have a bag full of survival gear. Sometimes you have to be content with what you have.
But we must not rely on the invention of survival equipment. I’m taking a wilderness survival kit and a first aid kit every time I’m hiking or going out into the woods. This kit is lightweight, compact and tested. It is small enough so I do not doubt to wear it. I do not leave without taking it.
To be a naturalist
What if you were convinced that you could build a shelter to save lives instead of carrying a tent, sleeping bag and sleeping pad? To do this, the difference is knowing your environment.
You know the wood well, you must rely on less equipment. Which trees are best for building a shelter? Which plants can you use to help start a fire? Which wild edible plants are available all year round? Which animals can help you find a source of water?
These questions can only be answered through research on the flora and fauna of your area.
The more you know, the less you need it.
It certainly has an overlap between skills, but the bushcraft goes from simple survival to prosperity in the wild.
Shelter, water, fire and food are all important. But it does not stop there.
This concept goes beyond a set of practical skills that will help save your life. For some, it’s a hobby. For others, it’s a way of life.
For many people, it’s about acquiring the skills our ancestors needed to exploit the land. Other terms to define it would be: set of techniques of primitive life. Some date back to the Iron Age. Some prefer to acquire skills of the Stone Age. There are many gatherings trying to recreate these moments in our history.
Others just want to prioritize participation in nature, regardless of requirements and guidelines.
I am as intrigued by how to forge a metal knife as a stone spire. I mix old and modern skills to fit my passions. The beauty of primitive life is that you can integrate it into your “normal” life.
I am a man who enjoys many aspects of our modern life. And I recognize that our brain and our body have been designed to survive in the wild.
You can tear a man out of the wood, but you can not tear a man’s wood.
Most bushcraft skills take longer to master. Take the example of fire. For wilderness survival, the goal is to make fire using the equipment of your survival bag (by the way, you’ll find my tips for choosing it here and a list of the best ones there ).
Let’s say you have a metal match and a few balls of Vaseline cotton. How effective will you be? Can you light fire with this type of equipment in the rain to save someone from hypothermia?
For Bushcraft the fire is on another level. It could start with the use of a flint and steel. How to catch a little spark and turn it into a fire (no need for that, of course)? Then you can move on to creating a friction fire: rubbing two sticks together. The most common methods are ‘bow-drill’ and ‘hand drill’.
If I were stuck on a mountain in freezing rain wearing jeans and a light jacket, then an elemental survival kit is more than helpful.
Making fire with the bow would be a last resort and takes an important dedication to master it. It’s not something you want to count on unless you have years of experience.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of primitive life skills:
- Sustainable Scraps
- Strong friction -Large nutrients
- Hunting / fishing
- Flint painting (creating stone tools)
- Creation of bows and arrows
- Manufacturing of containers
- Manufacture and use of tools (knives, axes , machetes, etc.)
There are certainly other skills, but this list will take forever to master.
Where to start ?
Those who start learning survival often ask me where to start. From a practical point of view, wild survival is the starting point.
Skills do not take as long to learn, there is less equipment to acquire, and these skills will save your life in an emergency. Wilderness survival is a great foundation for acquiring primitive skills.
But bushcraft has more appeal for some people. Know how to make a bow and an arrow, for example. Some people want to do it because they did archery in summer camp being kids and it was fun. Others have a deep desire to connect with nature and their heritage. If you go far enough, all our ancestors knew how to hunt, treat game, cook and preserve meat.
In the information age, there is a desire to bring the pendulum back to our human roots. We feel disconnected from the natural world and there is something scary about it.
Here is my recommendation: follow what you are passionate about.
Does it sound more exciting to tip or learn how to make a tarpaulin shelter? You prefer to start a fire by friction or learn to use a map and a compass?
There is no standard answer. But if you follow your passion, this energy will push you to learn beyond the thought “I’m going to learn this because that’s what I have to do”. By expanding our definition of survival, we open our eyes to how to live more fully each day of our lives.
Feel free to share your own opinion and survival experience in the comments section below.