Lifesaving Wilderness Survival and Bushcraft Hacks
Today we’re going to be talking about the best survival hacks for staying alive in the wilderness. These are tricks and tips that might just help you avoid and early death on your next outdoor adventure. Not only that, but many of these tips can be used for staying alive in the wake of devastation, when ordinary tools are not available – for example, if you’re you’re sent fleeing into the woods without a plan due a complete SHTF/societal collapse situation.
Forget everything you’ve seen in TV shows and movies (except maybe this list we made of the best realistic survival movies). Most of it is nonsense. But all of these hacks are clever shortcuts to staying alive in the most extreme situations. We’ll be avoiding what we think of as nonsense hacks (like using Doritos as a fire starter). Who has a spare bag of Doritos with them in a survival situation but doesn’t have an actual firestarter? If you’re stuck in the wild with a bag of doritos and you don’t have a lighter or matches… maybe you don’t deserve to be saved. This information is more geared to someone who accidentally stumbles into the forest with relatively little equipment – pretty much nothing but the clothes on their back and maybe a small pack with rations and common supplies.
25 Clever Bushcraft and Survival Hacks that You Can “DIY” in the Wild
#1: Various Survival Hacks to Start a Fire
There are so many different fire hacks, we decided to put them all into one segment. First, use your jumper cables and a pencil to start a fire. Just be sure that you shave down the pencil so that the clamps are touching the lead on the inside on both sides. You can cut the pencil in half if it has an erase on one end (or just cut the eraser off entirely. An electric burst from the power cables will erupt your wooden pencil into flames. Be careful though, this can (obviously) be a dangerous process.
Alternatively, you can just use the power cables to make sparks and start a fire with some kindling. The same goes for any kind of battery. If you have a 9-volt battery it can also work – just rub some steel wool on it and you’ll be producing sparks in almost no time. For AA or any other battery all you need is a gum wrapper or some aluminum foil. Fold the foil or gum wrapper into an hourglass shape with a thin middle. Touch either side to the terminals and the electricity will cause the thin center of the wrapper to burst into flame.
Then there’s the reflective way to start a fire. You can use a mylar blanket, the lens of a camera, or even a smashed piece of glass to redirect the sun’s rays onto something soft and flammable like agave pith, char cloth, or any other tinder. Another great method is using both lenses from your glasses (if you have glasses). A third method – use your pee (or other water). Simply get a ziploc bag, put some water in it, use that as a “magnifying glass” with the sun – voila – your tinder will start catching.
Finally, if you have instant noodles and some alcohol (or other flammable liquid) handy, you can use these to create a makeshift stove. Antifreeze or alcohol will soak the noodles, allowing it all to burn slower – which keeps the fire going longer than it would. One pack of instant noodles soaked in alcohol will burn for roughly 20 minutes – enough time to boil some water.
#2: Collecting Morning Dew for Water
Collecting water is the most important thing for survival. When you wake in the morning and see bits of dew on every rock, leaf, and blade of grass – you need to collect it. The best method is to mop it up. Use a (clean) sock, a bandana, or your T-shirt. You can easily mop a good amount of water in not that much time by simply absorbing all the morning dew from your surroundings into your piece of cloth, then wringing it dry into a container. The great thing about this survival hack is that the water is pretty much drinkable from the get go – no need to additionally filter it.
#3: Water Filtration From Dirty Puddles and Streams
This hack should probably be number one. It’s not always 100% reliable, but when it works it saves your life. It works best with a soda bottle, but any container will do. You simply need to collect water from a (dirty) stream or a puddle in one container (or one half of the soda bottle) and have an empty container beside it. Keep the container with the dirty water elevated above the empty container, then place one end of a cloth strip or kitchen towel into the dirty water and the other end into the clean water. As long as the container with the dirty water is higher up than the empty container, gravity will work in your favor, the cloth will absorb water, which will then fall into the empty container, filling it with relatively clean water.
The dirty water will filter itself through the cloth over time. You will notice the empty container gradually fills with clear, drinkable water. This is a slow process for sure, but it’s potentially a real lifesaver.
#4: Leaf Compass = Natural Navigation
To make a compass out of a leaf, simply find a small puddle of water and lay a leaf in the center of it so that it floats.Then, place a sewing needle or a piece of wire onto the leaf (without sinking it). Believe it or not, the magnetic fields of our planet will orient the needle to point north/south. If for whatever reason you don’t have a survival compass with you, this is one survival hack that might help you with navigation if you’re lost. This is an invaluable tip for getting out of the wilderness.
#5: Alcohol Swabs for Fires
If it’s wet and windy, you can use an alcohol swab to start a fire. You probably have a handful of alcohol swabs in your first aid kit, and in a desperate situation you can use one to start a fire. The alcohol catches fire quickly and the cotton will hold a flame much longer than a match. Obviously you don’t want to waste your alcohol swabs, but if you badly need a fire this is a good survival hack to get one going quickly without worrying too much about tinder.
#6: Plastic Bottle Fish Trap
If you have a 2-liter bottle handy, you can make a fish trap. First you need to cut the upper part of the bottle just where it bottlenecks. Then you can flip the outside piece and put it back into the bottle backwards. Get it to fit snugly, (secure it if you have a way to dot this) and then stick it position in the water. Little fish will swim into the bottle but they won’t be able to swim out. This can help get a mouthful of small fish to survive on. Obviously you’re not going to catch anything big, but it’ll give you small fish to nibble on while you figure out your next move. Keep in mind that in many places, catching small fish (and using traps in general) is illegal. But in a survival situation, anything goes.
#7: The Woodsman’s Stove
Image credit:Frank Behnsen / CC BY-SA
This one will depend a lot on your current supplies. If you’re on a camping trip and you forget to bring a camping stove with you and you need a relatively quick, hot fire for cooking, you can actually build a camp stove out of standard camping supplies. You’re going to build something often called a hobo stove to cook with or boil water with. Take a tin can of any size and poke a few holes in it along the top and bottom, near both rims – these are so the fire has enough airflow and oxygen. Cut a “door” into the bottom of the stove that you can close (basically cut three sides of a square out of the bottom). Use the door to fill the stove with kindling and nearby materials that burn well, light it all up. You can read more about the hobo stove + learn more primitive cooking methods in our article about survivalist cooking.
In most cases you’ll need another container to put on top for cooking and boiling. You can use another can, a pop can – anything metal that can be used for boiling water or making tea.
#8: Water Jug Lantern
Turn your headlamp or flashlight into a brilliant lantern by strapping it to a transparent/translucent water jug. Make sure the jug is full of water, flip the headlamp around so the light is facing inwards (towards the water), then secure it to the bottle. It’s easier to do with a headlamp, but you can also do this with a flashlight if you can macgyver it a bit – you just need a way to secure the “light” part of your flashlight flat against the water container.This makes for an awesome lantern that you can hang from a tree or keep in your camp as a source of light.
#9: Tarp Raft
Believe it or not, you can make a raft out of a tarp and a bundle of sticks. This is one of our favorite survival hacks because it’s such a clever form of improvisation. Lay your tarp flat on the ground and fill it full of dry sticks and branches. Make sure there is enough room to fold the tarp over on itself. Tie it securely closed using shoelaces or anything else handy, then use it to get yourself across a river or downstream. The idea here is that tarp floats, but it can’t carry your weight. Dry wood also floats, but it can become waterlogged and sink, which is why if you were making an actual raft out of wood you need to do it so that water can’t penetrate through from the bottom of the wood where it touches the water to the top of the wood – once the whole piece of wood is wet and soaked it will sink. By wrapping the dry wood with tarp, you’re preventing it from ever getting wet at all, so you get a floating raft that can also support your weight.
#10: Improvised Fishing Hooks & Line
The best way to eat when trapped in the wilderness is by catching fish. In most natural environments like streams and rivers, fish are in abundance. They’re much easier to catch than birds or small critters, but you need a fishing hook. There are lots of things you can improvise fishing hooks out of, such as the tag from a soda can, some safety pins fastened together, and even a well-carved piece of wood.
Now that you have a fishing hook, you need a fishing line. You can make a fishing line out of anything long and thin. Try using your shoelaces, the pull string from your jacket, or even ripping apart an old sock and tying together the threads. There are also “natural” lines that you can use – anything thin enough, supple, and strong enough not to break can be used as an improvised fishing line. Plant or tree fibers can be used for this – and if they’re too weak, you can strengthen them by twisting them together (like a braid).
#11: Floss is Everything
Dental floss can be used for so much. This is something you might have in your bag purely by accident, but it can save your life in numerous ways. You can use floss for a fishing line, as rope, to tie together your shelter, to use with animal traps, and even as replacement laces for your boots. Floss is an all around excellent survival tool thanks to how strong it is. You can even braid it to create thicker and even stronger cordage. Use it as sewing thread, as a fishing line, use it as tinder, for stitching wounds, as a tripwire.. even as a cutting tool for softer food items or as a bow string! Scratch what we said earlier – having floss with you shouldn’t be an accident. You should have floss on you all the time on purpose – it’s an incredibly versatile piece of survival gear.
#12: Duct Tape Snow Blinds
Speaking of snow, anyone who’s ever tried to walk through a tundra knows how horrible it is for your eyes. The sun reflects off of the snow, and your eyes get overloaded from all the sunlight – this is known as “snow blindness”. To fight off snow blindness, make a mask out of duct tape. Simply make a band that fits around your head and cut two thin slits in it. Imagine batman’s mask – that’s the kind of look you’re going for (a very budget version of it). This will minimize the amount of light that’s getting to your eyes, and although you’re giving up peripheral vision you’re protecting your eyesight both in the short and long term.
#13: Grow Your Batteries
Let’s say you run out of AA batteries but you still have some AAA batteries that work. This survival hack allows you to turn your AAA batteries into AA batteries. Simply wrap your AAA battery in some kind of cardboard or paper to get the proper diameter. Then you can use a stack of coins or some aluminum foil to increase the “length” of the battery. The trick is to get the connection points to touch even though the length of the battery is different. Turns out, batteries are pretty much all the same – AA and AAA batteries don’t actually function any different from each other – they’re just different sizes to fit different types of devices. If you extend the conductive points of an AAA battery, and wrap them with something so that they fit snugly into spaces designed for AAs, then they’ll work just the same.
#14: Cattail Bug Repellent
Cattails make excellent bug repellent. All you need is to find a cattail head, light it on fire so that it’s smoldering, and then prop it up somewhere upwind of you. Just make sure you don’t leave it laying in some leaves or something where it can start a forest fire. The smoke from the cattail head should repel bugs fairly well. As a side note, you can also eat a good portion of the cattail plant – if this interests you, go learn more about wild edible plants.
#15: Write with Ash in an Emergency
If you’re lost in the woods and have access to fire, you also have access to writing materials. Have you ever picked up a burned stick from your fire and saw the charcoal all over your fingers? This can be used to help mark your path. Mark arrows on the sides of trees and scrawl messages on bark for people who might be looking for you. As can function as an improvised substitute for ink.
#16: Spoon Spear
Yes, you can turn your spoon into a spear. If you happen to have a metal spoon with you, use a rock and shave the rounded sides of the spoon down until the “oval” part has turned into a triangular spear. This can be used for a whole bunch of different things, and you can easily lash the handle of your spoon to a long stick to make a longer spear, which makes for a decent makeshift weapon or hunting/fishing tool.
#17: Butterfly Bandage & Shoelace Splint
With bandages in short supply and your hands likely taking the brunt of any possible injuries, you may want to think about turning a normal Band-Aid into a butterfly Band-Aid. Simply slice each end so that it has four adhesive strips (essentially into this shape > – < ) rather than two, but leave the middle part solid. This will let you place the bandage between your knuckles and on your fingers much better.
Fingers can break easily while out in the wild. If you broke a finger or sprained your wrist and are in need of a basic splint, try finding two extremely dense branches, placing one on either side of your finger or hand, and using your shoelace to pull them tight. This will keep your bone rigid for better healing (this is one of those things that you can use a belt for as well if you break a bone larger than a finger bone).
#18: Leaves for Warmth
If you find yourself freezing cold, stuff your jacket and pants with leaves. It’s not ideal, but stuffing leaves into your clothing can keep you warmer and drier. You can even stuff some leaves into your boots and your socks to keep your feet warm. Additionally, you can also cover the surface of your shelter (your tent, tarp, or whatever) with leaves, which helps both with warmth and as makeshift camouflage.
#19: Use Toothpaste for Everything
If you are out in the wild on purpose, you probably have toothpaste with you. Keeping your teeth clean and your mouth fresh is obviously recommended even in the wilderness – but did know you can also use your toothpaste as an ointment for insect bites and rashes? Additionally, some kinds of mint toothpaste help with warding off mosquitoes and other bugs.
#20: Chap Stick Your Cuts
Just like using toothpaste to soothe your insect bites, you can use chap stick to help seal your cuts and keep them from being infected. Many people keep a tube of lip chap in their pocket at all times. Simply rub it on your wound to help keep it sealed. Getting an infection in the wild can be extremely dangerous, so this survival hack is a good one to keep in mind. This method can also be used to stop or slow blood loss (to an extent). Vaseline can also be used in the same way (in fact, in boxing, Vaseline is often used by cut-men to seal off cuts so they stop bleeding).
#21: Grass Tire
If you get a flat tire on your way to somewhere important, you can actually fill it with grass from the side of the road if you don’t have a spare tire. Find the rip in the tire and then stuff it full of grass from the roadside. This could take quite a while, but it will work. Honestly, not sure how practical this one is, but if it’s between this and driving on a flat tire (which is very dangerous), I know what I’d choose.
#22: Snowball TP
If you find yourself using the toilet in the bush in the wintertime, but you’re unsure which leaves are safe to wipe with, try using a snowball. This is actually better than using leaves. By packing a tight snowball and using it to wipe, it’s basically like using a wet wipe instead of toilet paper. This is a clever hack for anyone who finds themselves out of toilet paper in any kind of winter-y outdoor environment.
#23: The All-Purpose Belt
Belts aren’t just for keeping your pants on your hips. You can use your belt to lash together a temporary shelter, to bundle firewood, use as an improvised tourniquet or even to restrain somebody. Whenever going out in the wild, always make sure you have a quality belt with you. You can find countless uses for a belt. Ideally, you have cordage with you at all times (generally in the form of paracord) – but if you don’t a belt can act as a makeshift substitute.
#24: Blanket Chair
Lounge in comfort by turning your blanket into a reclining chair. You will need to build an A-frame from four solid branches, then tie your blanket (or a tarp) to the corners and sit down. It’s just like lounging on the sofa!
#25: Keep Everything
In a survival situation, nothing is useless. Whether you’ve retreated to the forest for safety due to social unrest, you’ve gotten lost while hiking, or you’re just testing your survival skills by going into the bush for a few weeks alone. No matter what your situation is, try to keep everything. Almost anything can be put to good use in the wild.
Garbage can be used for catching water, clothing can be used for bandages, bedding, and traps, bits of fish can be used as bait for bigger fish or in animal traps, wrappers can be used as emergency band-aids, etc. Keep everything and be creative, and you will always find a way to survive. If we end up in a world where you can’t easily go out and buy new things, then everything (even stuff you’d think of as trash) becomes more valuable.
The Best Survival Hack of All – Being Prepared
Surviving with nothing but the clothes on your back can be tough. The best “survival hack” is to not need hacks at all – by being properly prepared and having the right wilderness survival knowledge.
Knowledge is your best friend. Before stepping foot in the wilderness, you should arm yourself with the necessary skills that will help you provide for your basic needs. Shelter and fire are the most important – know how to build a shelter in the wild and how to start a fire. Next is water – knowing how to find water in the wilderness is a crucial skill. Then we get to food – cover all your bases by learning basics in survival fishing, hunting and trapping, and recognizing wild edible plants. Then work on your ancillary skills – how to navigate without a compass, how to make a torch, survival cooking techniques, and so forth.
There are lots of simple survival hacks that you can (and should) be aware of as well, but preparedness is your best friend. Before heading out into the wilderness, whether it’s a long trek or just a recreational camping trip, make sure you have the right tools, equipment, and supplies for whatever it is you’re doing. Tell people where you’re going and when you expect to be back. If you plan on wandering off away from your campsite by yourself, even just to use the toilet, make sure you have your map and a flashlight in your pocket at all times. A compass, a knife, warm clothing, and a basic small emergency kit should be kept on your person no matter where you are. The real hack to survival is being prepared and having the knowledge to survive.
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