How to Survive in the Woods


From car breakdowns in the dark to being stranded alone in the wilderness and losing GPS connections for a walk-out, being embroiled in the classic battle of Man versus Wild is more common than you might think. Some people even put themselves in such situations to come out stronger. 

Therefore, if you are into traveling to or through the woods, knowing survival skills with no gadgets at hand is imperative. The following are survival tips and tricks to get you going till you find your way out!

1. Find a Dry and Warm Space

Picture of a man sitting on dry ground.

Did you know? The most likely cause of death in the wild is not dehydration or starvation. It is hypothermia instead. The term hypothermia refers to a state when your body loses more heat than it can produce, leading to your body temperatures falling drastically. It is a more grave threat if you are wet or it is winters or raining. The temperatures also drop low on summer nights. As it is not possible to light up fire from scratch in this time of urgency, you should find yourself in a dry and warm space. Therefore, find a natural shelter like a shade of trees or rocky outcroppings. You can also build yourself a dry floor by piling up debris and leaning branches. 

2. Find Water 

Picture of a waterfall.

The human body can go weeks without food but can only survive 2-3 days without water. However, in the span of these three days, your body will become dehydrated. Symptoms of it are extreme and may prevent you from functioning. Therefore, the next step for survival is finding water. 

The body is 60% water and is essential for life-supporting functions like blood circulation, body temperature regulation, and safe energy levels.

If it is raining, consider yourself lucky and collect the raindrops in a container. You can also use your raincoat or non-toxic leaves. When you have nothing, soak up your traditional-worn clothes with the raindrops and twist to squeeze out water.  

However, it will not always be raining while you are out in the wilderness. Therefore, your water source will be existing water bodies in the woods. You have to navigate your way through to the rivers, lakes, streams, and springs. Do the following to find these:

  • Stop and listen to any sounds that indicate running water.
  • Follow animal tracks as they may lead to water bodies.
  • Head to lower elevated areas. Water flows naturally downhill. Hence, you may find a stream there. 
  • Go towards the parallel mountain ranges as they may have a stream of water running down. 

We recommend springs and streams: their movement ensures they contain fewer bacteria and freshness. On the contrary, rivers and lakes are stagnant water bodies, causing illness as they are likely to be polluted.

If nothing works out, collect dew off plants with your clothes. You may also consider digging a well around green vegetation: groundwater will seep through after a few feet. Lastly, snow on the ground can also be a good water source. Just make sure it is not yellow before you melt it for drinking. Make sure to let it warm for the prevention of hypothermia.

We also recommend boiling off the water for 5 minutes with your fire. 

3. Make a Fire

Image of a bonfire in a camp at night.

Make fire by creating a fire pit around your staying place. Clear the patch you are planning to light up for only dirt to remain. Place rocks in a ring circle and keep them away from vegetation or branches to prevent wildfires. Spread out a layer of materials that burn easily: you may use wadded paper, grass, or wood shavings. After this, arrange a layer of kindling and firewood in a teepee or criss-cross shape. Light the matches and enjoy! 

In case you have no lighters or matches, rub flint and steel together to create a spark. You may also use lenses of eyeglasses, binoculars, and magnifying glasses to focus beams on your tinder piles. You may also use wooden sticks to cause fire via friction.

4. Build Yourself a Shelter

Image of a man in his wood shelter.

Now that you have water, fire, a natural abode, you can get to work for a shelter. You may choose a new place or build one in the space you first chose. We recommend making an A-Frame shelter. You need two trees that are 6 feet apart: wedge a sturdy branch of 4 feet between off the ground. You then have to lean smaller sticks against the horizontal branching to form walls. For an insulating touch, consider leaves, ferns, and dirt your friends!

Make sure to have bedding as laying on the ground can be fatal. We recommend using piles of leaves or folded ferns for your natural mattress. 

5. Set Out on A Food Hunt

Image of a tree with bright red berries.

With everything so far, you are all set to survive the wilderness. However, not for too long if you do not eat. Therefore, start foraging for food. Stick to traditional fruits, plants like clovers, bugs like larvae, and normal-sized fish. We recommend avoiding mushrooms as there are many poisonous wild species. Avoid yellow or white berries, umbrella-shaped flowers, thorny vegetation, and milky sap, as these may be toxic. Do not forget to stay away from caterpillars or brightly colored bugs as well. 

You may use the Universal Edibility Test. In it, you have to separate a plant into its pieces and test each part. Rub them on the inside of your arm on a patch and wait 20-25 minutes. If no reaction happens, repeat this step on your lips. With none again, swallow a small amount and wait for 8 hours to see if you do not fall ill. If you do not, it is safe. However, if you do feel unwell, vomit to empty your stomach. You may also follow the birds or squirrels: the nuts and plants they eat are safe for you too.

6. Protect Yourself From Wildlife

Image of ants on wood.

Avoid tall grasses and dark places as they may have snakes. You should also never stick your hands in holes. Maintain a safe distance from wildlife animals if you encounter any. Do not threaten animals or overstep their territory: try to slowly walk back if you see a large animal coming closer to you.

If you get bit by any insect or animal, wash off your wound with soap and water immediately. Do not breathe or walk rapidly, as it fastens circulation, making the spread of venom efficient. Keep your bitten area below heart level and tie a bandage above the bite. It will prevent the poison from spreading too quickly. 

Lastly, never attempt to suck out the venom. It may spread through the porous membranes of your mouth. We Also recommend against cutting bitten flesh.

7. Signal for Help

Image of a person helping another on a mountain. 

With the tips so far, you can only survive in the woods and not live like a hermit. Therefore, it is time to signal for help before you go out of your supplies. You can signal for aid by creating a campfire. We recommend going on top of a hill and placing three fires in a triangle — it is the international distress symbol. If you fail to make fires, pile up three large rocks or branches in a triangle instead. You may use mirrors to reflect light for catching the eye of pilots. 

Surviving in the wilderness requires not just practical skills but also a strong mental approach. Delve deeper into this topic with our insightful post, How to Develop a Mindset for Survival in Adverse Situations?‘, where we discuss the importance of mental preparedness and resilience in overcoming the challenges and unpredictability of survival scenarios, like those encountered in the woods.

8. Find Your Way Out

Image of a man trying to find his way out.

When you’re sure no help may arrive, it is time to take a leap of faith and find out your way. Make sure to mark your way through so if you find no way out, you can go back to your campsite. You may look for east and west with the sun’s direction of movement and mark your way. Another way is to pile rocks or scratch tree bark with numbers.

Start by going to a high elevated region, preferably mountains or hills. Stand on top to mark any landmarks. If you can’t, follow a stream or river downhill. It may eventually lead to a civilization! 

The Bottom-line

Survival in the woods may not be easy, but it also isn’t impossible. You need to take care of 4 essentials to come out alive – warmth, water, food, and shelter. Amidst this, the will to live and find your way back is equally important. Therefore, once you set up your resources for survival, do not lose hope and signal for help. Find your ways out as well.

Don’t forget to read some Great stories of survival for inspiration.

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