How to Live off the Land… if a complete breakdown of society ever occurs. Bushcraft, survivalism, self-defense, stealth and survival hunting and fishing.
(2018 “Red Dawn” Survival Guide updated with new techniques and breakthrough gear). If America collapses you’re going to need a back-up plan for survival.
Included:10 Dangers to Living Off the Land and Surviving in the Wild.
How many readers here remember the movie “Red Dawn” from the early 1980s? Guess what — the Wolverines are back in a new Red Dawn.
Americans Under Attack – Some Fight Back, Survive In The Wilderness
What if “Red Dawn” ever actually took place? Russia, China and other nations (think Iran, North Korea, and America’s enemies in South America) knock out America’s defenses and then send fighters and troops into our borders.
Americans are shot, locked away in concentration camps.
Cities and towns fall, one after another, even as an American resistance force rises up from the ashes. Young men and women take up arms, live off the land, and fight from the surrounding country side.
If Society Collapses…
There is always the chance that people across this planet will be left to fend for themselves if society ever collapses — as it has for civilizations many times throughout history.
Is the modern world any different? Not when there seem to be even more threats today.
Why Learning How To Live Off The Land May One Day Save Your Life
Fleeing Into The Wilderness
Where Do You Go?
Once you’re certain that it’s not safe to stay in your community, you should have an escape plan in mind — one that you have already scouted, and mapped out, preferably months in advance.
Be prepared for an emergency. Be prepared for the horrific event that one day you may have to abandon your preps and hit the road or trail on short notice.
You can do something as simple as use Google Earth to give you a general idea of different wilderness areas you – if you’re still here – can flee to in your state after a disaster has struck.
When you have two or three locations in mind go to a back country store that sells topographical maps (such as “Green Trails” maps) and you can easily locate hiking trails, creeks, rivers, and small lakes, elevation points, and even identify different types of terrain, which will give you a better idea of exactly what you’re up against.)
You also should have a compass that you’ve practiced using so that when the time comes to flee into the wilderness you’ll know how to find your way without getting lost.
(If you live in a southern state, consider heading north, and seek out an area that receives plenty of rain. You’ll have much better odds at survival and less odds of dying of heat stroke or wildfire.)
Consider a destination many miles away from any roads, however that is close to rivers, forest, meadows, and even one or more small lakes.
This will put distance between you and the disaster (or other threats) behind you as well as provifde suitable hunting, fishing, trapping, and fresh water sources.
Make sure the route you choose to get there doesn’t include rivers that are impossible to cross. If you do come to a river that’s impassable the only option you may have is to hike along the banks until you come to the narrowest / shallowest part of the river — and that’s where you can consider making your crossing. However, there are additional ways to cross a river and I detail several a few paragraphs down. Get ready for a wild ride!
1. Be Prepared To Run
Keep A “Get Home Bag” In Your Vehicle Packed With Essential Survival Items
Months before you even hit the trail you should have a large backpack at your house (commonly used for multi-day hikes) and a good survival backpack in the trunk of your car or your truck — commonly called a Get Home Bag. Be prepared. If you’re stuck in the city when disaster hits — and have to abandon your car — the small backpack in the trunk of your car can help you survive for a short period of time — even if you have to hike fifty miles to get home.
What size pack for your Get Home Bag? Just a typical size backpack you might carry on the bus or for a day hike can carry enough gear and food to get you by for the next 3 days. Your Get Home Bag shouldn’t be very big, or that can slow you down, and also call attention to yourself. For now you’re trying to avoid calling attention to yourself.
You see, if there’s any civil unrest, or you’re crossing through a city, someone else might want your pack and even shoot you for it. Just depends on how bad the civil unrest is and how freaked out people are.
Waterproof Your Gear For Disaster
Your backpack should be a dark color, not bright, no fancy label (so you don’t look like someone with money or resources). Finally, if your pack is waterproof that is a bonus. If you don’t have the money for a waterproof backpack use garbage bags to protect your backpack’s contents — or just add water-repellant properties to your pack with a product like Scotchgard.
Now you’ve got a waterproof / water-resistant backpack; that’s especially important if you live an area that has a lot of rain or snow, or you have to cross through flood waters: Flood waters can be contaminated by both sewage and chemicals, a toxic smelly brew you probably don’t want contaminating your gear. Or, simply wading through a creek or river can leave your gear soaked, and your clothing wet; now your hypothermic. When it comes to the outdoors, waterproof packs, boots, jackets, and pants can be a huge plus at times.
Items To Keep In The Trunk Of Your Car, For Your Get Home Bag
1. Bottled water.
2. Portable water filter. Lifestraw makes a top rated (and Time Magazine Invention of the Year) water filter priced at only $20. Consider buying 2 or 3 so you have more than one to hand out in an emergency. (In a time of disaster, you’re likely to run into a lot of thirsty people in the hours and days ahead. Just a heads up.)
3. A high-purpose emergency radio with multiple ways to keep it powered like this Kaito emergency radio (it has multiple power sources included miniature solar panel and very useful in an SHTF). You would also likely benefit from having a survival two way radio with you in your get home bag.
4. A flashlight / lantern combo and a headlamp.
5. Rolled-up sleeping bag stored in a sealed garbage bag or stuff sack (protecting it from moisture), as well as military spec paracord (so you can lasso the sleeping bag and other loose gear to the outside of your backpack for transport overland, unless you have room inside your pack of course to carry the bag). An easy way to carry around a very useful amount of paracord is to pick up one of these best survival bracelets. You can have a length of incredibly strong, durable paracord, fishing line, and wiring on your wrist at all times with a good survival bracelet.
We have a list of recommendations for the best ultralight sleeping bags here – these sleeping bags are super lightweight and won’t weight you down in an emergency.
6. Extra clothing — I recommend two pairs of pants (jeans and / or running pants) and two hooded sweat-shirts that can be worn in layers, and even slept in. In addition, I recommend light-weight waterproof “rain pants” such as those worn by runners out in the weather, that can be pulled over the top of your pants / jeans, as well as a waterproof jacket. Or, to avoid spending money on waterproof gear, use a product like Scotchgard Water Repellant to help waterproof essential gear, shoes, etc.
Cotton material (such as sweats, sweat shirts, and jeans) are dangerous in wet, cold conditions — because, once wet, cotton clothing will deplete your body temperature, which means hypothermia in cold (or even simply cool) conditions. Having light rain gear handy that you can throw over your clothing can go along way to keeping you relatively warm and dry.
If the rain is really coming down you may have to find or build shelter until the brunt of the storm passes.
7. Multi-tool — In a get home bag, you don’t want to weigh yourself down with too much gear at the expense of mobility. That’s why you should have a survival multi tool with you instead. These recommended survival multi-tools will help you in a pinch across a variety of situations. It’s the perfect jack-of-all-trades tool that gives you a large amount of utility and allows you to keep your get home bag as lightweight as possible.
Layering Your Clothing
There’s a great chance you’re going to face cold, wet conditions at some point. Physical exertion in the cold can be dangerous; though the physical exertion may warm you up, your clothing will collect the sweat off your body and the cold air around you will cool that sweat down so much that when you stop moving finally you may quickly face hypothermia… and freeze to death.
If you layer your clothing correctly, and choose a “base layer” (the layer closest to your skin) made from non-cotton material that wicks away moisture you can stay warm and avoid hypothermia.
You should have at least two complete outfits (a top and bottom), so that each bottom and top can be worn in layers for added warmth. Homeless people are known to wear 5 or 6 layers (sometimes more, depending on climate) in order to stay warm. Learn from the homeless in this regard.
Wool / Synthetics For Cold Weather
In addition, seriously consider wool socks (warmer than cotton, and even when wet wool can still maintain warmth), and a wool stocking cap — even if it’s not fall or winter.
If you find yourself in an emergency situation and have to sleep outdoors, a stocking cap will help you get through the night with a lot more comfort.
Of course in the spring, fall or winter months, you should have a coat with you at all times. A ski mask is an added bonus. Look for one that only has one large hole where your eyes and nose go. (Only wear it if you absolutely have to to keep warm otherwise you may freak people out when you pull out the type of ski mask that bank robbers wear; the last thing you want to do is call attention to yourself in a situation where there’s panic and chaos.)
7. Dry food that doesn’t spoil (peanut butter, dried beans, shelled and unsalted sunflower seeds, granola bars, energy bars, etc).
8. A small bag of instant coffee or bottled caffeine pills (you may need to keep moving initially, with limited time for rest, thus the caffeine being suggested). Anyone with a daily reliance for coffee or energy drinks should consider a supply of caffeine pills in a time of emergency. Very handy. Easier to pack than coffee. Barter with it. A small bottle packs 240 pills, each 200 milligrams that can be broken in half for those wanting a lighter dose. There’s a good chance something as “insignificant” as caffeine will be appreciated by anyone you’re traveling with. Pass it out to your group for a boost of energy: Keep the moral up and people willing to keep moving!
9. A canvas tarp for emergency shelter (keep wrapped tight and it will take up very little space in your pack).
10. A good knife. A machete is a bonus. But carrying a machete through a city can make you a target for law enforcement trying to quell any civil unrest in the area. (For now, keep the machete out of sight and for the wilderness. If you do have to cross through the woods or brush, locate a good size stick and that can be used to hack your way through any dense foliage you encounter. It’s not as good as a machete, but a stick can still get you through when you need it to.)
We have a list of the best survival machetes here if you’re interested in our recommendations.
11. A lighter (in fact pack multiple lighters; protect them from moisture in a Zip-Lock freezer bag — you can hand out extra lighters to people in need).
12. Candle and firestarter (cotton balls, for example, and a flammable accelerant like Vaseline or even charcoal lighter or gasoline residue that’s been previously applied to each cotton ball). Keep your firestarter in a small, sealed container, so that if your gear ever gets wet, your firestarter will remain dry. (If you live in a region of the country known for heavy rain or snow, consider carrying a micro-torch and fuel, which at 2500 degrees can set just about anything on fire in seconds. If only used for firestarting, you will get a lot of life out of just one bottle of fuel. One of the most frustrating experiences in a survival situation is trying to get a fire going when everything is wet. A micro-torch might not be touted by top survivalists who think a bow-drill is the answer to everything, but it will save the day in rainy conditions when that bow-drill fails even the best survivalist.)
13. A highly rated compass (a cheap compass can break easily and have polarity issues) and knowledge of how to protect the polarity so that the polarity doesn’t reverse on you, making the compass useless or misleading. We have an article specifically about the best compasses for survival right here if you don’t have a sturdy and reliable compass already.
14. Two extra-large heavy duty garbage bags (look for “contractor” garbage bags at your local hardware store). One you can use as a rain coat in an emergency, if you don’t have a poncho. Poke holes in the sides for your arms and poke another hole for your head at the bottom of the bag. Now put the bag on upside down. You’ve got a rain coat. With the other bag (if you have a 30 gallon or bigger bag), you can attempt to curl up and sleep in if no other shelter is available or if you forget to pack a canvas tarp as advised above, or you’re simply in a hurry to bed down out of the weather. Stuff the bag with dried vegetation in an attempt to add insulation, if needed.
15. Weapon for self-defense, depending on how you feel about that and what’s legal in your area to carry in your vehicle. You can do sufficient damage to allow time to escape with a can of bear pepper spray, for example. A bowie knife is also a good deterrent. A handgun and training in self-defense with a firearm can go a long way. We have a list of what we think are the best self defense weapons (non lethal options) that you should check out.
16. Good shoes, such as those used for “cross-training” or “trail-running” (it’s very important that your shoes lace-up well so that they don’t come untied if you have to make a run for it.) At the same time, ankle support can help keep you from twisting an ankle. A twisted ankle in the midst of a long walk can spell disaster for some.
17. State map. Keep this map in your backpack stored in a Zip-Lock freezer bag to protect from moisture.
18. Second, more detailed map of any wilderness area you may need to cross through. This map should have forest service roads marked down, as well as train tracks, and finally hiking / biking / horseback riding trails.
19. If you are travelling in a party (with family or perhaps friends, trusted neighbors, etc.) then ideally you’ll have watches so you can synchronize rendezvous times and make plans as a group. We have an article on the best survival watches – some of these watches have other nifty survival features that might also come in handy.
Essentially, depending on the problem you’re most likely to face (which I believe is being stranded in a large city when you’re miles from home — while your wilderness supplies are all at your house), you can decide what you may need / not need in this backpack you store in the trunk of your car.
Your Bug Out Bag
You should have two survival backpacks. One in the trunk of your car (your Get Home Bag), and the other (much larger, commonly used for multi-day hiking and referred to in survival circles as a “Bug Out Bag“) at your home already packed with gear so that you’re ready to flee your community on short notice. Your Bug Out Bag should have enough food and water on hand to get you by for the next 7 – 10 days, or even longer (depending on how well you can pack, how light and compact you can pack your food stocks, and how many daily calories you can restrict yourself to without compromising health or clear thinking).
(Even if you never use your survival backpack — someone else you know will, if you let them know where they can find it. Having a number of articles on survival packed inside will most likely come in handy when they need it most. If you’re religious, remember to pack a small Bible with a personal note instructing them to read the Book of Revelation, the last chapter of the Bible. Lets face it — if all Hell breaks loose and modern day society completely collapses you can bet that the Bible is real — and that the end times are really happening.
You really think this is all an accident? Laugh…)
2. Crossing A River
Slow, wide river – A wide, slow moving river is relatively easy to cross — it may come down to building a simple flotation device upstream 100 – 200 yards from where you want to land. Remember, rivers move, carried by a current. Some are swift and dangerous to cross. Others are slow, but may have a dangerous undertow that can pull you toward the bottom of the river, and you drown. So, a wide, slow moving river may not be safe to simply swim across. Constructing a simple flotation device may be the smartest way to get across.
1) When deciding where to cross, judge the width of the river by the speed of the current, as well as the bank that you hope to land on the far side of the river. Many large rivers collect driftwood along the banks and in coves, some that is floating along shore. You’re in luck, because you can quickly build a raft out of these fallen trees that are already in the water and floating. First, of course, you need rope — cordage to lash these logs together so they can support your weight. If there are multiple people in your group, you may need to build 3 – 4 makeshift rafts, rather than 1 large raft, which would call for a lot more cordage and good sized logs to work safely. The last thing you want is the raft falling apart on your group half-way across.
Here’s a thing or two to know about the outdoors: Rope (cordage), lighters, firestarter, and a makeshift pot or even just an empty can can go along way, helping ensure survival in an emergency. You should already have these items with you. If you don’t, then you should actively collect these items as you approach the wilderness. If you can’t find rope to use as cordage, simply pulling electrical and / or communications wiring out of the walls of an old house or car can work also. Of course, there are primitive methods for making cordage, but in the modern world you should be able to find a source for string or rope somewhere in your environment. Making cordage out of primitive methods is no easy task and should be a last resort (more on primitive methods of survival further down).
Swift, Cold River –The higher you are in the mountains, or the further you are into the wilderness, you have more chances of coming across a fast moving river that is too dangerous to wade across, due to the current. Study your maps and even recon the area in advance if possible to identify any and all bridges across.
Sometimes a bridge may not be an option. Time to come up with a way to swim across safely:
Not many people are likely to carry a life vest into the wilderness, and yet a life vest may be just the ticket to help you swim across. Study the path you believe the current is likely to carry you, but choose a safe place to enter the river. Don’t jump in near any spots that can carry you into a danger zone, such as large rocks, a log jam, or even trees and branches along the far shore.
Won’t your backpack sink? It might sink. That’s not good. So take a few steps to ensure that your pack will float. First of all, wrap your belongings in sealed garbage bags in order to waterproof your clothing and any lights or electronics (effectively trapping some air in each garbage bag, which will encourage floating).
But even better, pack a few empty plastic containers with screw top lids. A large, empty laundry detergent container can be tied to your pack as well, if that’s the only container you have.
Each of these containers you use (with screw-top lids) will contain an air pocket, helping your pack float.
Or you can use waterproof “dry bags” (which cost a few bucks, just to warn you) or use Scotchgard Water Repellant to add a serious layer of water repelling properties to your gear, clothing, sleeping bag, or anything for that matter. A very handy tool also for kayakers, boaters, and fishermen. (I have capsized in a canoe while fishing a remote lake in rough waters in the Pacific Northwest. I have crossed several streams and rivers in my time. I have mountain camped in the snow only to wake up with rain coming down unexpectedly, and now the tent, gear, etc., wet from melting snow. Needless to say, I’ve ended up with wet gear and clothing at inopportune times and now heed people to take steps to protect their gear from water, when in the wild.)
Additional Ways to Cross a River
– Rope and pulley system; used by military special forces around the world or even search and rescue teams. First person crosses to secure line and connections, then gear is brought across using pulley, and then finally people.
– One Rope Bridge – The strongest, most able person crosses first and secures an end of rope to a far tree, enabling others to cross, using the rope as leverage.
– In a swift, yet shallow river it may be possible to wade across. Anchor arms with people you are crossing with and proceed with the current, moving at a downward angle with the water flow, so that you are not fighting the current as much.
– Chop down a large tree – Use directional cuts and placement and even rope to help fell the tree in the direction you want it to fall. If it’s tall enough, it can fall completely across the river you hope to cross. Now use this tree as a bridge.
– Portable flotation device (tube) for emergencies and manual pump – A manual pump is light-weight and doesn’t take up much space in your pack. Seyvlor makes a river tube with an outer skin to help protect from puncture. When deflated a tube can take up very little space in your pack. Inflate / deflate only as needed. Very handy, very cheap to have.
The challenge of course is paddling a tube across a river. These Filipino kids figured it out after a disastrous flood. Can you? If your hands aren’t an option, you can also construct a paddle out of a single flat board.
Lay on your stomach, across the tube, and face the direction you want to paddle. Clutch this single board with both hands (one hand gripping the left side, the other hand gripping the right side), and now paddle. This is the same lateral paddling motion used on Mississippi riverboats, different than a side paddling motion seen in canoes and kayaks. With a tube, a side paddling motion will only turn you in circles, (unless you have two paddles).
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3. You’ve Escaped From The City And Made It To Your House
Once you’ve gotten to your house it’s possible that you can live there for a few weeks before you have to head out into the wilderness.
However, if widespread disaster takes place and society collapses and towns and cities in your area are no longer safe to live in — perhaps due to riots or just roving street gangs — you may need to head for the wilderness on short notice; heck, if all hell breaks lose and it’s every man, or family, or neighborhood for themselves — you may have some bad characters in your area who are suddenly dangerous simply because they think that the world has gone mad. Robbery, murder, and rape are likely to turn some areas into dangerous places, and those dangers may soon spill over into the suburbs outside major cities. You’ve been warned.
Consider the riots that took place in Los Angeles following the Rodney King court verdict? That was just one city. Now what if riots were widespread, in multiple U.S. cities. There are dangerous people alive and well armed within each community. They are a threat in any civil emergency. Rape and even group rape has become common place in Haiti, including tent cities where tens of thousands still live, following the disastrous earthquake that killed over 200,000 people in 2010.
That’s exactly why you may want to consider fleeing to a location away from populated areas.
4. Finding Food Along The Way: Foraging For Wild Edibles
After you’ve studied a map and identified the best route to get to the location you’ve chosen as a possible place to set up camp, your next step is to plan your route, knowing that you have to live off the land along the way.
Most people have never “lived off the land”. This means that as you travel through the wilderness you will need to find wild edibles to stay alive. Staying close to a mountain range or river system ensures that you’ll have fresh water and will likely also provide areas to fish (using primitive and illegal methods, which can boost your success rate; more on this below).
If you have a book on wild edibles, and you pay close attention to what plants are safe to eat and which ones will kill you, you can also find berries, roots, mosses, etc. along the way, which are a valuable food source, as they were for Native Americans at one time.
However, one mistake with the wrong plant can end in a painful and miserable death. If you or someone in your household is likely to be “left behind” for this wilderness escape, they should buy a book on Wild Edibles now and begin studying it. Take the time to identify all poisonous plants it warns about beforehand so that you have a good idea of what these are before you or someone else in your household find yourself cold and hungry in the middle of a forest.
Avoid all mushrooms. Many can kill while others will make people severely sick and identification is sometimes misleading. All this considered I think it’s better to just treat all mushrooms as off limits.
Finally, here’s a reality check for you, if you’re ready to hit the wilds with just a book on wild edibles: Some poisonous plants look like edible plants.
Here are some great survival books that cover wild edibles and other topics.
Your best bet is to take some classes in your area on foraging and then get out and practice foraging. If you want to have a real chance of foraging coming through for you in an emergency, your best bet is to know what you’re doing before hand.
Your region may have an assortment of plants (leaves, stems), seeds, roots, berries, etc. that are edible and perhaps even helped support Native American tribes that lived off the land centuries in the past.
5. Keeping Out Of Sight And Setting Up A Permanent Camp
After you’ve covered many miles and you’re a few days into your trek choose a location for your camp that is near a water source — like a river, creek, or lake — and offers secrecy. Anything flanked by mountains and surrounded by forests will help, as dangerous elements will be less likely to pursue you into the bush. They may see your campfire from miles away but they may consider it a waste of time to send someone looking for you (by the way, it may be smart to make a rule restricting campfires during daylight, so that the smoke doesn’t give away your location — not until you’re many miles away from any towns or cities).
Burn your campfires at night and burn them in such a way that those in the towns and cities can’t see the light the fire gives off. For example build your fire behind dense brush. Don’t build your fire on a barren hill. Not unless you’re trying to signal someone. But watch out — anyone can see that signal.
Drones Can Detect Heat-Signatures
When I originally wrote this article a few years back who would have thought that just a few years later a plan for surviving a U.S. collapse should include avoiding drones that may be scanning the countryside from the sky, in a search for what could be deemed by any new powers that be as a “resistance”. Just like Red Dawn, those could be Communist powered, if Cold War fears of a Russia, China, South American, North Korean, etc. alliance ever play out. (Fast forward 30 years and add Iran, Syria, and Pakistan to this batch of unsavory allies.)
So, at some point fires may not be a good idea. There are ways suggested for hiding a heat signature from the sky though, but that’s too much detail to go into here. Here’s another article to read, when you’re done with this one: How to Avoid and Survive a Drone Strike.
With A “Permanent” Camp In Place, What Is Your Objective?
Well, what is your objective? If you’re by yourself you may consider “sneaking” down into the lowlands (and staying out of site of any hostile groups) and seek out others whom you can trust, hopefully good-hearted people, and bring them to your camp. Perhaps you’ve joined up with people who from your old neighborhood, or perhaps people of a similar faith.
Regarding that faith, or shared belief, it’s possible that you can end up with a “spy” in your group, someone who’s loyal to another camp just a few miles away; their survival strategy is to infiltrate other camps and steal goods and possibly murder and even kidnap women or children as slaves (that kind of thing can happen in a time of collapse, believe it or not).
Be aware of the dangers that other people bring with them during a time of mass chaos and civil unrest. The world is a dangerous place and without law and order it’s a hundred times more dangerous. Think about that.
I can’t recommend the optimal number for establishing a camp, but it does seem that the more people you have in your camp the more chances there will be for quarrels and in-fighting. You will need a system in place to deal with social problems and this should be discussed early on. Get everyone on the same page from the get-go. (If you use the Bible as your rule book, your camp will likely get along great. Of course, that means a true commitment to live by it though — think you’re ready for that? Jesus is knocking, my friend.)
Months before you have to head out into the wilderness it may be smart to sacrifice items that will weigh you down, such as a full size tent, and instead assemble a makeshift tent yourself out of heavy duty canvas tarp and duct tape — or, what I call a “Solo Tent”.
The Solo Tent will be your best friend when you have to travel cross country, because it’s very light weight, takes up very little room in your survival backpack (you can roll it up and tie it to the outside of your pack), and sets up in less than a minute.
It’s also very cheap to make.
Cut a heavy duty canvas tarp into a 7 x 8 piece. Then fold it so that the opposing edges touch. Then run multiple layers of duct tape along the outside edges and inside edge, so there’s a perfect seal that will hold up to heavy use, leaving one side open so you can enter and exit. You can take this an extra step by sewing the edges of the canvas / tarp with a thick needle and twine or very heavy duty thread.
You now have an instant shelter that rolls up like a sleeping bag to take up very little space in your back pack. To use it, pull it out of your pack and unroll it. Next, unroll your sleeping bag, and place it in the Solo Tent, so that the Solo Tent fits like a sock over the sleeping bag. It may not seal at the end, where your head will be when you’re laying down, but that’s fine — you need to breathe right?
(Consider making two or three of these; especially if it’s likely you’ll be traveling with others).
So that’s one D-I-Y way of having a makeshift shelter for cheap. The other way to go is to invest in a quality bivvy sack, the military’s version of a “solo tent” and actually the better way to go in the long run if you can spend the money.
If you have a large canvas tarp, or 3 or 4 small canvas tarps in your party, you can quickly assemble a tipi like the Native Americans of the Great Plains. If it’s large enough, you can even have a small campfire inside. Cut down a small number of slim trees, and trim off all branches, and then lean them up against each other, and then wrap the canvas around the structure, leaving a small hole at the top (so smoke from your campfire can escape). Be sure to wrap the canvas in a way that leaves you with a small door you can peal back to enter and exit, that points away from the wind. (If the tipi is big enough, four or five of you can all sleep inside by the fire.)
7. Avoiding The Cold And Staying Warm
If the temperature drops below freezing and your sleeping bag is not enough to keep you warm, heat up large rocks by the fire, and wrap them in a towel to take to bed with you to keep your feet, legs, and torso warm. Be careful though — if these rocks contain moisture, such as river rocks, they can blow up on you from the heat of the fire.
If it’s really cold, build a fire in a ring of rocks next to where you plan on sleeping. Before going to bed, rake hot coals over the ground you plan on sleeping on, and then place evergreen boughs (branches with pine needles) over the coals, until no coals are exposed. You can now sleep on top of the evergreen boughs, and receive up to three hours of heat, which will radiate up.
Keep plenty of fire wood stacked up on the opposite side of where you sleep, within easy reach. If you wake up from the cold, throw more sticks and larger pieces of wood on the fire, and go back to sleep. You may wake up every hour having to throw wood on the fire, but at least you’ll keep warm through the night.
Here’s a good tip: When you think you’ve gathered enough fire wood, gather five times more. That way you’re sure to have enough fire wood to get through the night.
Note: Here’s how to build a primitive fire even if you have no equipment.
Stocking Cap And Ski Mask (Balaclava)
If you’re crossing over the mountains or find yourself deep in winter, a ski mask is a very handy item as it will help keep your head and face warm at night, when you sleep.
You should also have a stocking cap, which you can pull on over the top of the ski mask, and keep yourself even warmer thanks to the added layer.
Mittens / Snow Gloves
Mittens will keep your hands warmer than gloves, however gloves make holding items like an axe or rope easier. Gloves worn by mountain climbers and cold weather workers (such as people staffed in the northern reaches of Alaska) are specifically made for heavy duty use. Also gloves worn by mountain climbers who are often high above the tree line sometimes in sub-zero temperatures. Look for gloves that are well-stitched and have rubber gripping along the insides. (Consider packing both mittens and ski / snow gloves).
8. Survival Tools And Maintenance
Light Weight Axe And Machete
These are items that you should definitely spend extra money on. The best survival hatchets and axes will allow you to cut down larger branches and small trees much more effectively than lower quality gear.
The machete is important, because there’s a great chance that you won’t be on any noticeable trail at times, and may have to chop your way through heavy brush. Spend extra money on a good machete. Avoid cheap machetes, as many don’t have good handles, which can break apart after repeated use. Gerber makes a machete with a saw blade that can serve two essential purposes (chopping, clearing, and sawing through brush).
For any long term or extended use, you’re going to need a good sharpening stone to help keep your axe and machete blades sharp.
9. 7-10 Days Of Food
Before you even start your trip, you should have enough food in your hiking pack to last at least 7 days – 10 days. This is the food you will live off, until you get far enough into the wilderness, and can set up camp, and begin hunting, fishing, and trapping.
What? Hunting, fishing, trapping.
You want to live off the land, don’t you? You can’t live off freeze dried survival food kits and energy bars forever, especially if all you have is a Bug Out Bag.
As a word of caution, it can take several years for a person to become proficient at hunting, fishing, and trapping, which means you should start learning how to hunt, fish, and trap well beforehand.
We have several in depth articles on hunting, fishing, and trapping on our Wilderness Survival page. Read these articles as a detailed introduction to each skill, and at the very least get out and practice a few techniques.
Read a good book on trapping. Practice setting traps; practice small game hunting.
Call your local forest service and game wardens and check legalities first of course. Finally, again, read the articles we have on hunting and trapping. Either we’ve researched expert hunting guides and their techniques or we’ve had them write articles for our website.
Learning to hunt and trap can take years to learn the ins and outs of game animals — but by doing your homework and studying what experienced guides have to say, you can save yourself several years of learning by trial and error. So learn what works from the experts and apply it from the start.
Do Your Home Work
At the bottom of this article, are links to websites with diagrams and instructions for making a hunting bow, making / using snares to trap small animals, and techniques for using rocks and sticks for “funneling” fish into various traps. Print these articles out and keep them in a Zip-Lock freezer bag, and pack them in your backpack. If you’re forced into a survival situation, you will have the information you need to survive at hand, which will make it much easier than not having this information. You may actually survive.
10. Distance Between You And Them
If the worst case scenario hits, a massive U.S. collapse that follows with an invasion by foreign armies (should Cold War fears ever become a reality), you’ll probably want to hike at least three days into the wilderness, and put about twenty to thirty miles between you and any invaders as quickly as possible. Don’t stick around to find out if they have good intentions. They probably don’t. Better safe than sorry.
After you’re two or three days into the wilderness, you can consider setting up a temporary camp where you can rest for a day or two, and try to get your bearings. Study your map, and the surrounding geography, and figure out where exactly you’re heading and how you’re going to get there. If it is winter and your goal is to pass over the mountains, you may have to wait in the lowlands until late spring, especially if all you see is snow on the mountains and forest.
For information on mountain survival in the winter, we have an article that goes into a lot more detail: How to Survive in America’s Mountains: When Governments Fall, Survivors Rise
– Candles are excellent fire starters. Of course, you’ll need a lighter or a match to ignite the candle, but once it’s lit, you can place the candle in the ground, and stack tinder and sticks over it until you get a fire going, and then remove the candle and put it back in your backpack. The candle is great because you can use it to ignite damp tinder, due to the constant heat from the candle, which will quickly dry the tinder out and ignite it.
– Keep “000” steel wool. If you get into trouble and need to start a fire, the steel wool is one of the best tinder that will start even wet twigs.
– While in the woods, collect the moss (lichen) hanging from the branches of fir and pine trees. This moss is found through out the Pacific Northwest. Place it in your pocket to dry. Once dried, you can light it with a simple spark from a flint bar.
– Another method is using cotton balls with Vaseline worked into them. It also can be ignited with a spark and burns hot. All though this second method really does not represent true wilderness skills, it is excellent for a survival situation. When putting your survival pack together, pack a number of cotton balls into a Zip-Lock bag that have already been rubbed with Vaseline. Cotton balls by themselves also burn well and help start fires.
– Lighter / Matches – Pack a number of lighters and wooden matches, and keep inside a Zip-Lock freezer bag to protect from moisture.
– Learn and master primitive methods for starting a fire using a bow-drill or other primitive device. These simple devices use friction to create a smoldering, burning ember; this burning ember is then carefully used in conjunction with dried tinder or another flammable material to produce a flame.
Here’s what you need to know about using a bow-drill or other primitive device: Often getting an ember to start burning comes down to technique and perseverance.
If the wood you’re working with is damp, you’re not likely to get a fire started. Go out of your way early in your journey to collect dry and/or flammable materials (including chemicals like gasoline if you’re in a disaster zone) for firestarting.
Consider having a reliable firestarter as an essential to survival, if you’re going to be anywhere near the wilderness.
Always have a plan in mind for procuring firestarter before you’re anywhere in an area that may call for a fire.
When it comes to learning and mastering primitive methods for starting a fire — such as a bowl-drill — methods like these can be developed right in your house as you watch television each night, or just listen to the radio. You don’t have to be in the forest to learn how to use a bow-drill. Set yourself down next to an electric fan that can then blow any smoke that is produced out of an open window, so you don’t set off any indoor fire-alarms while you learn and master the technique of bow-drill use!
Once you’ve got the technique down, the next trick will be to learn how to find natural materials in the forest or mountains so that you can create a bow-drill from scratch. For now, build this first bow-drill using wood and string from a local hardware store. Primitive Wilderness Living & Survival Skills: Naked into the Wilderness by John and Geri McPherson give detailed instruction, including photos, on a number of primitive survival skills, including bow-drill construction (I don’t cover it here because this is an article, not a book — and so I link to books that go into more detail on a number of topics you — and anyone interested in survival — should know more about).
There is a lot of information on water procurement. To keep this article as short as possible, I thought the best thing I could do is post links to articles on other sites, that detail water procurement and purification. If you’re putting together a survival pack, I recommend copying these articles into a word processing document on your computer, and then printing each one off, and placing these in a large Zip-Lock freezer bag, to bring with you into the wilderness.
You should consider practicing these methods in your spare time.
Natural Water Filtration Devices
Wildwood Survival – Water Purification
Primitive Fishing, Hunting, Trapping
Like water procurement, there is a ton of information on hunting, fishing, and trapping in a variety of survival situations. I encourage you to copy and print the following articles on setting snares, making a bow and arrow in the wilderness (if you’d rather buy a bow, here’s our list of the best survival bows on the market), building fish traps, and food preparation of fish and game.
Survival IQ: Preparation of fish and game for cooking and storage
Spear Thrower – Modern look at effective ancient hunting tool
Don’t Just Read About Fishing, Hunting, And Trapping – Practice
The first step to learning how to fish (in the modern age), is to read a field guide or two on fishing. The same goes for hunting and trapping. Take some notes, and re-read these notes from time to time. You’ll learn several points about where, when, and how to find several types of fish and game animals, including wild game-birds, as well as small mammals and even reptiles like snakes and lizards.
If possible, spend some money and buy yourself some time in the outdoors with a local hunting guide, as well as a local fishing guide. If you don’t have the time or means to spend time in the field with a guide, at the least have your guide teach you everything he (or she) knows about hunting / fishing in the region you live in.
Because not all wildlife is the same in every region, also contact guides that can teach you about any region you may one day flee to (in the event of a collapse, should it happen).
Becoming an exceptional fisher a lot of times comes down to learning about individual species of fish, what types of tackle to use for certain fish, as well as what time, where in the water, what depth, and what “technique” to use in order to draw a fish to your line. There is a simple science to fishing, and you’ll learn it by talking to experienced guides, and then practicing the techniques they have shown you.
The same goes for hunting. The same goes for trapping. If you spend the next 2 – 3 years in the pursuit of these three skills, you will be light years ahead of many people today who are drawn to topics on survival, but never take the time to learn the actual trade of survival. A good survival school will address these areas; but go beyond that and actually spend time with a hunting guide and fishing guide in your area.
In the long term, knowing and being skilled at procuring food in the wild can go a long way, providing you with a very valuable skill set.
I suggest buying one or two books on Wild Edibles that cover the area that you may one day have to survive in. If you live in the U.S., you’ll want a book on Wild Edibles that covers nearby states. However, if you live in another part of the world, such as Australia or Great Britain, you’ll want a book that covers that area.
The Illustrated Guide to Edible Wild Plants
Books: A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and central North America
Now that you’ve read these books, contact an actual field guide in your area that teaches on the topic of wild edibles, and has a class that will take you into the outdoors to harvest these plants, also demonstrating ways to properly prepare them.
There are quite a few species of insects that are edible, and many are nutritious, and may in fact save your life. This is a topic I suggest you read more in depth on: Top 10 Edible Insects in North America
Now, go practice finding and harvesting edible insects in the nearby woods and near lakes, rivers, and streams. Today, you don’t have to actually eat them; but knowing how to harvest edible insects in an emergency can be a life saver, buying you and your group much needed time whenever food stores run low, if hunting or fishing simply isn’t an option that day, or simply isn’t producing at the moment.
Knowing how to hunt and fish doesn’t mean that these skills will always pay off.
Some days you may come up empty. On those days, edible plants, roots, berries and insects can get you and your group by ok.
Hypothermia / First Aid
If you fall into a cold river, immediately get out and get a fire started, stripping down naked, out of your wet clothes. Prop your wet clothes up by the fire, so that they will dry out. You’re going to be shivering and shaking, and you need to warm up as quickly as possible. Start doing push ups and jump ups next to the fire; any physical exertion you can do will keep blood flowing to your extremities and help you warm up faster. When your clothes are thoroughly dry from the fire, you can put them back on and head back out on the trail.
Some plants in your region may have medicinal properties that can be used in the event of certain types of injury. As mentioned above, spend time with an experienced guide in your region and learn about wild edibles; there’s a good chance your guide will also instruct on medicinal plants. Ask first of course, before deciding on a guide.
Learn ways to tie a tourniquet out of available resources, as well as how to use simple thread and needle to sew stitches; additionally, ways to “cauterize” a wound are good to know, as well as what substances can be used as an antiseptic, for wound cleaning.
Finally, learn techniques for building a stretcher and carrying a wounded person to safety.
Clothing For Wet, Cold Weather
Extra large Poncho
Water proof all weather pants
Waterproof boots (knee high)
Alpine / Mountaineering gloves (they’re heavy duty, warm, and made for snow)
Alpine / Mountaineering pants (they’re heavy duty, warm, and made for snow)
Wool stocking cap
Single hole ski mask
Backpacking Parka (winter coat) – How to buy a backpacking parka
Hooded sweat shirt (two, so they can be worn in layers)
Heavy duty sweat pants (two, so they can be worn in layers)
Long underwear, specifically made for cold weather; i.e. non-cotton material
Shorts (for spear fishing and river crossing)
External-Frame Backpack – How to buy an External-frame backpack. Compared to Internal-frame packs, External-frame packs are cheaper, simpler in design, have more compartments, are easier to load and unload, and can often carry heavier loads. External frame packs also allow for additional baggage to be added, such as gear, food, or clothing rolled up in a small tarp, and cinched tight with string or paracord.
Survival Knife – Examples
Flint and steel – Small device that creates a hot spark when struck with a knife. Works when wet, and good for repeat use. Recommended: BlastMatch Firestarter
Lighters / Wooden Matches – Use these to start campfires, until you learn how to create a fire using primitive methods. Once you can start a fire using primitive methods, save your lighters (here is an article on the best survival lighters) / matches for emergencies only.
Mess Kit (small cooking pots with breakaway handles which are lightweight and take up very little space in your pack).
Lightweight Axe – Very handy; chop firewood; build shelter; even build a cabin.
20 Gauge Wire – Very important, and most likely will save your life on multiple occasions. Use to make snares to catch rabbits and squirrels. You can find this at most hardware stores. Or use actual snares such as Dakota Line Snares.
Compass – (How to use a compass)
Cold weather sleeping bag – Choose a rating that will keep you warm at a minimum of zero degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in northern climates, such as Canada or Alaska, go with a bag that has an even colder temperature rating than that. (Examples)
Tarp – Very important for weather-proofing your shelter. To save space in your pack, roll it up and tie it to the outside of your pack. Also, makes an excellent “rain-catch”, for collecting rain water, for drinking.
Rope / Paracord – Use for lashing together shelter; hanging up tarp over temporary camp; crossing rivers; hauling firewood.
Multi-Tool – You don’t always have to pay $100 or more for a good multi-tool. Leatherman sells a highly rated multi-tool for less than $30: Sidekick Multi-Purpose Pocket Tool.
Knife sharpener – Very important. Without it, the blades on your axe and bowie knife can quickly dull. Recommended: Smith’s Knife Sharpener ($7, highly rated).
Bear pepper spray – About the only thing that offers any proven protection from a grizzly bear attack (also works great on humans, if you come across any who are out to do harm).
Hemp cord – (suggested string for making a hunting bow). Though, realistically, your average junior size long bow sold at a major sporting goods store for less than $100 may provide more strength than you can make out of natural materials (if it’s not a skill you currently possess).
Arrows – Arrows sold at outdoor / hunting stores are cheap and lightweight. Buying arrows from a store will save you the burden of making arrows in the wilderness. Consider buying 10-15 arrows. Educate yourself on arrowheads, and which type are suggested for deer hunting, elk hunting, etc. Also learn about bow string and draw strength, if you are going to build a bow from natural materials. Whether or not you can shoot an arrow straight and with power will rely on how well you’ve constructed your bow.
Super Glue – Use to make repairs to hiking boots, arrows, etc. Look for top brands sold at major hardware stores; avoid cheap brands. You want your glue bottles to last through repeat uses.
Medicine Kit – Bandages, antibiotic cream (such as Neosporin), Ibuprofen (pain reliever, fever reducer). You can even include your own homemade penicillin if you’re adventurous and you know what you’re doing.
Cooking Grill – Just take the one from the oven of your house, and tie it to your pack; it’s durable and lightweight. Even better, a small grill from your backyard barbecue may take up less space, yet perform just as well or even better.
Survival Manual – A good manual will provide instructions on fire-making, shelters, snow shelters, first aid, natural medicine, finding water, and finding food using primitive methods of hunting and trapping (that are often illegal outside of an emergency situation).
Choose a manual specific to your area (mountain, desert, tundra, rain forest, etc.)
Zip-lock freezer bags – Protect your maps, survival manuals, Bible, and survival articles.
Collapsible Shovel (US Military Issue Trenching Shovel) – This is an extra item to take along, if you can handle a few extra pounds on your pack. A cheap shovel can break on you though — do not go cheap when it comes to a collapsible shovel. Pay a few dollars more and get the strength and durability that come with it. We have recommendations of the best e tools and survival shovels here if you’re looking for recommendations.
Water containers – Lash two empty water containers (with tops that seal) to the outside of your pack. These should be big enough to hold at least two gallons of water each. Choose water containers that will last under repeat use, and will not break if dropped. These water containers will come in daily use when living in the wilderness. Use one container to collect “dirty water” from rivers and lakes. Use the other to contain “purified water”, as you procure it through filtration and boiling. Do not confuse the two containers.
Tooth brush and tooth paste – If you ration out your tooth paste (using a small amount every other day, for example), you may be able to stretch your toothpaste out for many months. Otherwise, backcountry methods such as using ashes from a fire can help keep teeth clean.
Dental floss – Take care of your teeth in the wilderness. There are no dentists, and having teeth go bad is a painful way to live. (Dental floss can also be used as emergency fishing line.)
Fishing kit – Pack hooks and lures and wire snips. Tie to your dental floss or fishing line. Preferably, you should have a long roll of fishing line. Re-use hooks and fishing line, as much as possible.
Other items – Toenail clippers, small sewing kit, signaling whistle, Mylar space blanket.
Survival Tips For Living Off The Land
The following tips were provided by Wilderness Ways.
Hunting – To help disguise your natural human scent just before the hunt, try this method taught to me by a true (old-time) woods-man. When your warming up next to the fire on that chilly morning Just before daylight; Before putting out your fire and it has burnt down, lay a large portion of fresh cut GREEN pine needles on your coals. When they start up a good cloud of smoke, start jumping through the smoke several times while in your hunting clothes for the day. Be sure to close your eyes when doing this, as the sap smoke may burn your eyes a little. The pine sap and odor will coat you and your clothes with a layer of pine scented residue. The odor is pleasing, and if you have a very light sticky feeling (which shouldn’t last long before drying) the sap smoke has done it’s job. Be sure to coat your boots real well by holding your feet in the smoke about twice as long, as it will ware off quicker while walking to your hide.
Fishing in a Lake, Creek, or River – The next time you’re fishing in a creek, try finding mussels or freshwater snails in the shallows of the creek. If the creek is fast running try looking around the downstream side of a sunken log or stone. The snails prefer these areas of calmer water. Mussels can be found in shallow sandy flats of the creek. Their shells are black usually and they can be seen fairly easily against light colored sand. Once you obtain a few snails or mussels crack them open and use them for fish bait. Both the mussel and the freshwater snail have hard bodies and you can often use the same snail or mussel to catch several fish. Bream love them.
– Don’t neglect your teeth when you’re out in the wild. In fact, I would suggest taking extra special care of them. This is one area “where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
– Pack Bandannas. You can filter particles from water, prior to boiling, and use as a tourniquet.
– Don’t get “lost”. When embarking on fishing / hunting runs, or covering a large area to collect berries and roots, etc., always know how to get back to your camp. Keep survival items on you at all times: Carry a water bottle, a bowie knife, fire starter, and if you have it, food.
– Don’t sleep in the clothes you cooked in — bears and other animals can be attracted to the smell. Keep any “contaminated” clothing and food scraps a good distance away from camp, and high out of reach of bears (for example, by hanging from a tree branch). As soon as possible, wash this clothing in streams and rivers by immersing in water and rubbing with sand. Wash all cooking tools in the same fashion, as soon as possible, to remove the smell of food.
– Smoke any meat you get as soon as you kill it. It will last longer. You must be fast and efficient about this. If you hesitate, flies may soon land on the meat and contaminate it. The moment flies land on the meat, they are likely laying larvae, and your meat will soon be crawling with maggots. In the end, prepare and smoke as much meat as possible before the flies arrive.
– If intestinal contents contact meat, consider the meat contaminated; cut off and discard affected area. Proper carcass care in the field is vital to preserving wild game. Big game animals should be field dressed immediately to cool the carcass and then hung by the head to allow the body cavity to drain thoroughly.
– Never sleep directly on the ground as it will sap your body heat and chill you faster. Instead, to help retain body heat, lie on leaves and evergreen boughs.
– Have two or more plans or projects going at all times. That way, regardless of weather, materials shortage, or whatever other variables may come up, you will be able to keep yourself occupied. This also helps to prevent disappointment and keeps your spirits up. This is very important in the wilderness.
– A sure way to keep warm is to carry a candle with a candle holder and an extra large poncho. Pile a layer of insulation on the ground. Sit down on that insulation pile and have your extra large poncho totally enclose your body, including your head, and light the candle. In this small space the air will quickly heat up. It is best to have a candle holder with a protective top so you don’t end up burning your poncho should it fall on the candle flame. This set up can keep you warm in an emergency situation. You will need an extra large poncho to totally enclose your body when you sit on the ground. Don’t forget to put that layer of insulation under you.
FURTHER READING –
How to Make Emergency Snowshoes
How to Make Primitive Snowshoes
Native American Inventions: Kayak, Toboggan, Birch Bark Canoe, and Moccasins
Start a Fire
Seven Ways To Light a Fire Without a Match
Swedish FireSteel. Sparks will fly.
Hunting for Food: Hunting For Food: Guide to Harvesting, Field Dressing and Cooking Wild Game
Solo Stove (#1 wood burning stove recommended by Backpacking Magazine due to it’s small size and ease of quick use — I’ve got one of these and I recommend it also)
Avoiding Bear Maulings: Grizzly Attack Defense
Avoiding Conflicts with Mountain Lions
Outdoor Action Guide to Winter Camping
Books: Exploring the Outdoors With Indian Secrets
Books: Making Native American Hunting, Fighting, and Survival Tools
How to evacuate an injured man
Our Top Posts About Wilderness Survival
More Information about Wilderness Survival Guides
Survival Skills: Essential Techniques and Skills to Stay Alive
U.S. Special Forces Survival Training
Rocky Mountain Survival Guide: Bugging Out to the Rockies
U.S. Special Forces Alpine Warfare Guide
How to Survive in Extreme Conditions – Siberia
How to Survive in the Mountains
U.S. Special Forces Advanced Mountain Operations School
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