Here at Outdoor Revival, we’re strong believers in practicing your skills and getting to grips with them before going out into the wilderness where you could well find yourself having to rely on them to get you out of a serious situation. Here are five survival skills that you can easily practice at home where there’s a lot less pressure.
It’s always good to prepare for the unexpected. They say you should plan for the worst and hope for the best, and that’s good advice for anyone venturing into wilderness areas or even those that enjoy a hike or some camping.
In my opinion, skills are more important than a kit. With skills you can work your way through situations by relying on your brain and ability – when you’re reliant on kit alone, you can become next to useless when you find yourself without it.
Obviously, the best combination is to have both so it’s worth planning carefully when deciding what to take and what skills you should be learning.
Practicing survival skills in your backyard is a lot safer and a lot easier, and it also gives you time to find what works for you personally. If you get enough time to practice and experiment then skills can become a natural extension of your body, and you will find you can just do the things you need to without hesitation. And that’s a very useful ability to have if you’re in a stressful situation.
Start with basic skills, such as making a shelter. Get together some tarps, ponchos, an old parachute or any waterproof fabric. Heck, even non-waterproof fabric will keep the rain off if it’s pitched right. String up a line and drape the material over it and you’ll have a traditional tarp hang. If you have it close to the floor, it’s more like a tent; higher up and it’s good for putting a hammock under.
You can build a frame out of sticks and drape the material around it; this would construct a tipi or tent structure. It’s good to experiment with shelter building; there are many different ways to make them and the more familiar you are with the materials, the easier it will be.
Cooking & Fire
You may be a dab hand in the kitchen at home, but cooking outdoors takes real skill and not a small amount of knowledge to create tasty edible food! Many people rely on gas or liquid fuel stoves when they’re outdoors, and these are great as they’re reliable and work well. However, if you run out of fuel or you’re in an emergency situation, you will probably have to cook over an open fire and that’s a completely different way of cooking.
You will need to gain some experience in order for you to cook tasty food. But equally important is learning not waste any food, particularly if you’ve spent the time foraging for it.
It is easy to get a fire going for a barbecue on a nice sunny day when you have matches or a lighter, but when the wind is howling, the rain pouring down or it is snowing, could you do it then? Probably not, so it would be a good idea to practice the art of firemaking.
There are many different ways of starting a fire, and it’s good to be familiar with at least a few of them. During the past ten years, the Ferro rod (Ferrocerium) has become very popular. It’s a modern equivalent of the traditional flint and steel and works very well.
Then there’s firemaking using the traditional friction method, using dry sticks that you rub together to generate enough heat to produce an ember. This is then added to your prepared tinder, and with a bit of coaxing will produce a flame with which to start your fire. However, this method requires a lot of practice to get right, and preparation is very much the key to success.
Of course, if you don’t know already, it’s also worth learning how to use matches, they’re readily available and cheap. If you get used to using them, you will be surprised at how well they work even in bad conditions. You should also practice with a lighter because, again, they’re cheap and readily available.
Having knowledge of different tinders to get your fire going is important. If you use a lighter then some bike inner tube is a good fire starter (it’s waterproof and burns well), or suitable items that are generally available include cotton balls, wax, petroleum jelly, char cloth, Pringles and many others. Some that might even surprise you. There’s also natural tinders such as birch bark, fatwood, certain fungi, thistle head, old man’s beard and more.
Have a play, experiment, and you’ll come up with ways of fire lighting and cooking that you prefer and enjoy. Personally, I like starting fires with flint and steel, whilst now and then I make a fire using friction, but when I’m feeling lazy I use a blowtorch!
You don’t know how good you are till you’ve made a fire in the pouring rain or cold and windy conditions. If you can do that in your backyard, you should be fine in the wilderness.
Except for perfect, weedless gardens that you see about now and then, you are likely to have weeds growing at home or nearby. The great thing about weeds is that they can often be a ready supply of food. In fact, for many people of generations past, they were a regular part of their diet, it’s that we’ve just moved on from them with modern food systems and supermarkets. We forget that most of our store-bought food started life as a variety of weed.
Below is a list of some of these “weeds.” Be careful, however, to ensure that you know these well and use a reliable picture reference guide before you go eating weeds or any other plant that is potentially poisonous. Be cautious until you know the weeds well.
Burdock. This is mostly considered a weed and much money and many hours are spent attempting to get rid of it. However, it is cultivated in many parts of the world and is even a sought-after delicacy. The roots, in particular, are used. There’s even a drink called Dandelion and Burdock!
Cattails. These are found near water in many parts of the world and there is a good chance you will find them near your pond. You are after the Rhizomes so you’re probably going to get wet!
Dandelion. Most everyone knows the dandelion and all of the plant, including the roots, can be eaten at any stage of growth. Beverages are often made using the roots.
Daylilies. These attractive plants can be found in the garden, having been bought at the garden center, or they can be found growing wild in ditches and crannies around the country. All parts of the plant can be eaten.
Fungi. Fungi are a plentiful resource for foraging but you need to know what you’re picking so use a guidebook and if possible go out foraging with someone that knows about them.
Miners Lettuce. You can find this in the garden or growing in cracks in the sidewalk.
Plantains. This plant is reputed to have medicinal uses and can be used topically for a variety of skin conditions. They can also be cooked and eaten.
Lambs quarters. Also known as wild spinach, delicious!
Primrose. Some people consider Primrose to be an invasive weed but others cultivate it for its pretty flowers. It can be eaten or used to make tea.
Purslane. This is very common worldwide and you will surely have seen it growing through cracks, on the lawn or in flowerbeds.
Stinging nettles. These are quite delicious to eat or can be used to make tea. You will need to take care not to be stung, although if you handle the stems with confidence and work from the bottom upward you’re a lot less likely to be stung. You can wear gloves to start with. Nettles make great soup.
It’s worth having some ability with a bow, or some other hunting weapon, such as a sling, slingshot, or spear. If you need food, then some way of getting it would be good.
Obviously, you need to be careful and make sure that it’s a safe environment for you to practice in, and children and pets should not be allowed anywhere near your practice area.
The point of practicing is so you can use weapons safely and increase your chances of success. If you ever do need to hunt for food, you’ll be glad you invested the time to make sure you’re accurate and proficient. It’s also good if you know how to make the equipment yourself.
The skills listed above are just some you could use to survive. Use your imagination to think of other skills you might need and then get practicing. You’ll then be ready when you need to be.
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