Pelican Flyer •
June 1, 2021
Getting lost in the wilderness – even if it’s on purpose to escape the crowds or hunt for wildlife – requires specific survival skills. And it’s vital for any backcountry hiker or avid hunter to sharpen these skills, whether it’s foraging for food to creating a shelter using only the materials and elements around you.
The next time you find yourself outdoors, try your hand at one of the many bushcraft techniques humans have practiced since the dawn of time. Here are six must-know bushcraft skills to help you survive in the wilderness.
When it comes to bushcraft skills, it’s critical to know how to build a makeshift shelter. Having a shelter can protect you from the elements and prevent hypothermia, which will kill you quicker than starvation and dehydration during a single night of freezing temps.
Consider the weather you might face and build a shelter style from there. There are many variations to choose from, each with its own protection features and materials, such as branches, leaves, moss and even a tarp. However, the easiest one you can create is a lean-to shelter. Practice making shelters to master this essential bushcraft skill.
Aside from shelter, the next bushcraft skill you need to know is how to start a campfire. However, it doesn’t mean relying on matches or pre-packaged firestarters. If you become stranded in the wilderness, you would need to know how to start a fire using the resources around you, sans matches! Practice with Ferro rods and different types of tinder to keep your fire-building skills sharp. Without your trusty headlamp, a fire can not only keep you warm, but provide lighting to cook and prepare a shelter with.
It’s about more than building a fire, too! Part of this bushcraft skill also involves gathering dry wood and positioning the fire correctly (i.e., out of the wind and near the shelter to reflect heat). Once you have the fire started, you must also maintain it.
The human body can only live without water for three days, so finding water quickly is imperative! Even if you carried a water bottle in your Ten Essentials, you will run out and need to find more. Locating a water source is more than a bushcraft skill – it’s essential for all backpackers.
When you set up shelter, seek out an area close to a water source. Listen for rushing rivers or babbling creeks to seek one out. When you find water, filter the water to remove contaminants and then boil to kill any remaining bacteria and pathogens. You can make water from fresh snow without decontaminating it, but melt it first to save calories your body would require to melt and digest it internally.
Learn how to identify edible wild plants to provide yourself with nourishment. Campfire or no, some wild plants, fruits, nuts and seeds can offer enough calories to give your body energy to survive. Stay clear of mushrooms unless you are an expert. Many ’shrooms look similar, and if you eat the wrong one, it could be deadly. Being familiar with wild plants can come in handy for medicinal reasons, too.
Along the same lines as foraging for food is sharpening knives. Unless you are already on a hunting trip with your rifle in a nearby gun case, a well-honed knife can help you catch dinner.
A sharpened knife can be secured to a stick to catch fish or to hunt for small wildlife when you need them. It can also simply be used to cut wood limbs to length to help build a shelter wall. Essentially, a dull knife does you little good, so make sure to learn how to sharpen a knife across a flat, fine-grained rock using only water and maybe oil.
Sailors aren’t the only adventurous folk who need to know their knots. Considered one of the most useful bushcraft skills, learning various types of knots can secure shelters, hang provisions in a tree and even save your life should you need to make a splint.
Check out Animated Knots, where you see step-by-step visuals of each knot, helping you learn faster. One practical bushcraft knot to know is the sheet bend, which can grip the corner of a tarp, branch or object that doesn’t have a hole to help keep it secure. Practice your knots until you can do it behind your back with your eyes closed.
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