Survival Skills every Hiker should know

Things don’t always go to plan. Circumstances can rapidly change taking you by surprise. Do you have the bushcraft skills, how to survive and thrive?

The scenario is you are out backpacking, it’s getting late in the day and you’re struggling to find your way back to your where you are supposed to be. Panic starts to creep in. What happens if I cannot get back? How will I survive overnight or even a few days?

Are your survival skills good enough to get you through dangerous situations and back to your loved ones?

In this article we’ll explore discuss the survival skills that every hiker should know, allowing you to not only survive but thrive in the backcountry.

We have also written an article on how to be safe backpacking that provides further advice.

Don’t panic

If you find yourself lost in the backcountry, panic will set in. At this moment it’s best to stop and try to calm yourself. The last thing you want to do is make any rash decisions. Take some time to rethink your steps.

Review your map and even the landscape. Do any landmarks stand out? Can you retrace your steps? Is there a higher point you can get to that provides a view of your surroundings?

If you cannot find our way back do you know where there is civilization? Is there a farmhouse or town nearby that you can easily access?

Below are some survival skills that will get you through getting stuck in the backcountry for days or even weeks. Providing you time to be rescued or time to return to civilization.

Survival Skills every hiker should know

Find Water

Our bodies can go with food for several days, however, we cannot go without water for less without seriously compromising health. Without water, our health deteriorates rapidly.

Finding Water

Finding water can be a challenge, especially clean sources of water. Below are 5 easy tricks to find water in nature.

Purifying Water

So you have been able to find a water source. It could be a river, puddle or stream, etc. The next step is to purify the water, avoiding bugs and impurities that can make you sick and jeopardize your health.

We recommend taking an inexpensive water purifier or purification tablets. They may not remove all the parasites but will remove most of them significantly reducing the risk of illness. If you don’t have these here are some options below to purify water

  • Boiling. This is one of the easiest options, so long as you have a stove with plenty of fuel for cooking. Boiling for 3 minutes will kill all parasites and make it safe to drink (allow for a full three minutes if over 6,500 feet).
  • Water filter. These are popular because they’re lightweight, but require either squeezing or pumping to work, which can be time-consuming or annoying.
  • Steri-pen. This method utilizes UV light to purify, and works quickly: typically one minute or less to treat water.
  • Chlorine pills. Chlorine tablets and pills are a very lightweight option but will require some wait-time, usually 30 minutes before it’s ready to drink.

Start a Fire

Keeping warm is critical for keeping your body warm, it is also psychologically important as it provides comfort uplifting your spirits. Fire is also good for cooking food and boiling water for purification.

Fires are also important for gaining attention. Smoke from fires can be seen for miles around. To make more smoke place branches with green leaves on the fire. This will make more smoke. Just be careful not to smoother the fire putting it out.

How to start a fire without a lighter

So you don’t have lighter or matches. Don’t panic there are other ways to get a fire going. But before you do anything, you need to find dry tinder to get the fire starter.

Once the flame is developed then slowly stack the fire with smaller sticks. Overtime keep adding to the fire with larger sticks. Be careful not to smother the fire. Fire needs oxygen to burn.

Using a flint

Flint kits are inexpensive and can be purchased from camping and hardware stores.

So you have collected your tinder. The step is to use the sharp edge of the flint is used to violently strike the fire steel at an acute angle to cleave or shave off small particles of metal.

The pyrophoricity of the steel results in the shavings oxidizing in the air. The molten, oxidizing sparks ignite the fine tinder


So long as you have some glass and sunlight, starting a fire with glass is pretty straight forward. Just direct the sunlight through the glass onto the dry tinder. Once smokes starts gently blow on the tinder, nurturing the smoke into flames.


Okay, so you don’t have matches, flint, glass, or sunlight. The next step is to go back to the basics of fire lighting survival. Starting fire through the use of friction takes patience and skill. We suggest you practice these skills at home before you need these in a survival situation.

Don’t forget to take a Knife or Hatchet

Having a knife or hatchet provides you with many survival options. From sharpening spears for hunting to chopping timbers to building shelters, knives and hatchets come in very handy.

Find some food

A few days without food we become lethargic. Activities we would normally do because difficult because we are tired. Fueling our bodies is important physically and also mentally. You want to avoid become lethargic so the sooner you get something to eat the better.

Remembering people have survived for weeks with little or no food. If you have food in your backpack ration it out over a few days of eating.

Sources of food


Insects can be found in most environments. They include grubs, ants, and bugs. Skewer them on a stick and place them into the fire. Although small they are packed full of protein and nutrients.


Scour the waterway for freshwater crayfish. A sharpened spear can be used to spearfish. If possible use rocks to dam up rivers or streams to corner and capture fish.

Small Mammals

Small mammals exist on most continents, they may include rabbits, squirrels wild dogs, and boars. Practice makes perfect. Practice traps before you need them in a survival situation

Build some shelter

A shelter will keep you warm, dry, and comfortable from roaming animals.

Your shelter is not complete until you have placed a bed of leaves for you to rest on. Leaves also provide some insulation from the cold ground. Just ensure the leaves are dry as you don’t want to be bedding down on wet leaves.

We have another article describing how to use tarps for shelter.

Stay Positive

Keeping positive is an important aspect of survival. Keeping a cool head will allow you to think through what needs to be done to ensure your survival.

Final Thoughts

Having bushcraft skills, how to survive and thrive are skills that you want to have when you need them. These skills are a backup plan when things don’t go to plan. Skills that could be a matter of survival or not.

Further Information

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