How Do You Survive in the Wild with Nothing?


We were asked the question earlier on today on Twitter by one of our followers “How Do You Survive in the Wild with Nothing?

Twitter as a platform doesn’t really give us the space to give an appropriate answer so we have decided to create a post for all those wondering the same thing.

The steps below may sound simple but will require plenty of knowledge and practice before they are ever needed in a real situation.

Find Water

The average person can only survive a few days without water while they may last up to 3 weeks without food.

Water plays an incredibly important role in the functioning of the human body. It is used for many things such as blood circulation, body temperature regulation, and helping you to keep your wits about you, which is especially important in any survival situation.

Without it, your body will start to shut down and it will do so fast.

This is why finding water becomes such a high priority during a survival situation.

The easiest source of water would be to locate already existing bodies of water such as streams, rivers, or lakes. Running water such as streams are preferable over standing water due to them being less likely to contain bacteria.

Take the time to stop and listen for the sound of running water. 

If you can not locate any bodies of water in your location, don’t fear as you still have ways of getting some much needed water.

Try to find any animal tracks on the ground as like humans, animals rely heavily on fluids too and these tracks can often lead you straight to the source.

If you still have no luck, head to a lower elevation as water naturally flows downhill, so you’re more likely to find a stream in a valley or canyon than in a flat, level area.

If you still have no luck, you can try the following:

  • Collect rainwater – gather any supplies that you may have for collecting the rainwater. This could be any containers or even a poncho or plastic bag if needed.
  • Dew collection – use a cloth to collect the dew from grass and plants and then wring it out into a container.
  • Dig a well – if there’s green vegetation, there is more than likely groundwater seeping in after a few feet.
  • Plant transpiration – tie a bag around a leafy green tree branch or shrub during the morning. Place a rock in the bag to weigh it down a little bit so the water has a place to collect.
  • Snow/ice – always melt the snow or ice before drinking. Trying to eat the snow can make your situation a lot worse by lowering your body temperature enough to cause hypothermia.

Before ever drinking any water that you find in the wilderness, do the safe thing and purify it first. The easiest way is to boil the water for 5 minutes, longer if at an altitude above 2,000 meters.

If you have plenty of sunshine you can use that to your advantage by exposing your water to direct sunlight over 24 hours which will allow the UV rays to kill many pathogens.

If nothing else, use a cloth or piece of clothing to make a crude filter that can filter out any solid particulate matter.

Make a Fire

How to Start a Fire in the Rain

Next up, you need to think about fire. This has many benefits in a survival situation such as:

  • Boiling water
  • Cooking food
  • Warmth
  • Signaling for rescue
  • Keeping wild animals at a distance

Decide where you are going to build the fire and clear the area of any debris, leaving only dirt. Make sure that there are no low-hanging branches and other vegetation that may catch fire.

Once you have an area cleared you need to collect some tinder which will be used to actually get the fire started. Materials such as wood shavings, wadded paper, or dried grass are all perfect examples.

You have a few ways of arranging your fire but the most popular method is to create a teepee style arrangement. You can do this by arranging the kindling (small twigs) in a teepee shape and then the larger pieces of firewood around it. Light with matches or a lighter and enjoy.

There may be times when you won’t have any matches or a lighter at which point, you need to get creative. If you wear glasses you can use those to focus the sun’s rays onto the tinder. Even binoculars can be used the same way. Flint and steel can also be rubbed together to create a spark.

None of the above an option? It may take a lot longer but it is still possible by using friction to make a fire. Using a flat piece of wood as your fire board, cut a small notch to rest the spindle in.

Rapidly roll a long, thin stick between the palms of your hand until the tip of the stick glows red. Once an ember is formed, drop it onto a pile of tinder and gently blow on it till the flame catches.

Build a Shelter

Build a debris hut a frame

So now you should have been able to find water and start a fire for a variety of things, now is the time to look at building a shelter.

This is not as easy as throwing some branches together, location of your shelter also matters.

Some things to consider include:

  • The area should be on level ground
  • Minimum distance of 100 meters from any rivers and streams to avoid your shelter getting flooded during heavy rains
  • Avoid hilltops and exposed ridges as they can be cold and windy, as well as ravines, which can also become wind tunnels or fill with water quickly in a flash flood.
  • Watch out that there is nothing overhead that could crash down on your shelter such as branches or rocks.
  • Try to locate your shelter nearby to the materials that you would be using so that you are not wasting too much energy going out to find materials and carrying them back.

See our guide here for creating a debris hut. A quick look on the Internet will pull up many ideas for wilderness shelters but always remember to create some form of bed that will keep you from laying directly on the cold ground.

Laying on the ground can lower your body temperature to dangerous levels. This doesn’t need to be anything fancy, even folded over ferns, pine boughs, or even a pile of leaves works perfectly fine.

Find food

You might be able to last several weeks without food but that doesn’t mean that finding food should not be a top priority in a survival situation.

You need to proceed with the utmost caution to avoid anything that you are not 100% sure is not poisonous.

Stick to common plants like clover and dandelions, bugs like crickets and larvae, and any fish or small animals you’re able to catch.

You need to be especially careful with wild mushrooms as there are many different species that are poisonous and many lookalikes. If you are not completely satisfied with your identification, avoid!

Warning signs of unsafe plants may include (but not limited to):

  • Plants with white or yellow berries
  • Shiny leaves
  • Milky sap (dandelions are an exception)
  • Umbrella-shaped flowers

Unsafe bugs are often brightly colored but you should also avoid caterpillars.

Although it takes a lot of time to identify whether or not a plant is safe, the Universal Edibility Test may be your best bet.

If possible you could also consider climbing some trees and looking for any eggs in nests

Protection From Wild Animals

Although here in the UK we have very little in terms of wild animals that may cause us harm in the wilderness, our friends overseas do.

In a wooded environment, snakes are something that you must be very careful with.

Here are a couple of cautionary tips to avoid getting bitten by a snake:

  • Avoid tall grasses and dark places.
  • Never blindly stick your hands into a hole, between rocks, or inside of a hollow log.

If you do happen to get bitten by a snake you need to wash the wound immediately to rid the wound of as much of the venom as possible.

Try not to panic or move around too much to avoid increasing circulation which will in turn, increase the spread of the venom.

Keep the bitten area below the heart, and loosely tie a bandage 2-4 inches above the bite. This prevents the venom from spreading too quickly. Just make sure that you don’t tie it too tight that you completely cut off circulation.

Never attempt to suck out the venom with your mouth.

The next animal we need to consider is bears. Generally these aren’t actually interested in humans but won’t be afraid to attack when provoked. In most cases, many attacks occur due to the human accidentally surprising the bear.

You should do the following:

  • Make noise as you walk so that you don’t accidentally surprise a bear
  • Cook any food at least 100 yards from your shelter
  • Don’t scream, run, or make eye contact with a bear to avoid it being mistaken as a threat.

Check out our guide here for more on surviving a bear attack

Signaling for Rescue

How to Create Smoke Signals

Signal fires are by far the most common means of signaling for rescue. Create your fire as we mentioned earlier in the guide.

In order to create an effective signal fire you need thick, black smoke. This can be achieved by using green vegetation on the top of your fire.

The international distress symbol if you are able to get to a clearing is to create three smaller fires in a triangular formation.

If for any reason you have not been able to get a fire going, you can still use the triangular formation but instead of using three fires, use three large piles of rocks or branches.

Finally, mirrors can be used to reflect light to catch the eye of airplane or helicopter pilots.

Getting Out

Finding True North

When lost, it is oftentimes better to stay put if you believe that someone may be out looking for you. If you have tried signaling to no results, you need to try and find your own way out and look for help.

When making the decision to leave your shelter, use anything that you may have to mark your trail. This could be small rock piles, carving marks in trees, breaking twigs, or tying materials to vegetation.

If you are unable to find your way out, you can at least get back to camp. It also has the added benefit of making sure that you don’t keep going round in circles.

Start off by getting up high on a hill in order to get your bearings. Take this time to try and locate any landmarks that you can use to help get you out.

Another tip is to remember that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, which can help you if you remember which direction you came from.

Finally, following a stream or river downstream or downhill will usually lead to civilization eventually.