The world can be a crazy place, and a lot can go wrong before you even know it. One moment you’re happily hiking along a trail, and in the next, you’re stuck in a life-or-death situation, forced to rely only on your wits to survive.
That’s why it’s extremely important to know basic survival skills should you ever find yourself in such a precarious situation. As they say, you don’t want to be stuck up a creek without a paddle!
1. Egg carton firestarter: Fires are critical for staying warm in cold temperatures. A simple trick is to stuff a bundle of small twigs or coal into the slots of an egg carton. Once they’re inside, light the bottom and add other materials to keep the fire burning.
2. T-shirt water filter: Staying hydrated in the wilderness is an absolute must, but it’s not always easy when the water isn’t clean. To make a DIY filter, start by cutting the bottom of two soda bottles in half.
Fill one with the dirty water and keep the other empty. Tear a piece of cloth, dip one end into each container, and place the dirty water on an elevated surface. Over time, the water will filter itself through the cloth and into the empty bottle.
3. Start a fire using a wax crayon: There are, of course, many ways to start a fire in the wilderness. Another great example works much like a candle would. If you don’t have a candle to burn, you can use crayons instead…
How could crayons work, you ask? It’s because they contain combustible material. All you need to do is ignite a crayon using a lighter or a match. Each individual crayon can burn for upwards of 30 minutes. Suffice to say, it won’t hurt to carry a full box!
4. Go green for warmth: This is an alternative resource that everyone can get behind. If you’re facing plummeting temperatures and aren’t wearing enough gear to stay warm, do your best to find bundles of grass and twigs.
By placing branches, twigs, and grass under your clothes you’ll keep yourself warmer as they help work as a layer of insulation. Just make sure you’re not using anything that will cause an allergic reaction, like poison ivy.
5. Keep mosquitoes and other pests at bay by burning different types of herbs: Research has shown that pesky insects, like mosquitoes and flies, aren’t exactly fond of the scent put off by burning pungent herbs…
Likewise, it’s suggested that the best herbs to burn are thyme and fresh mint leaves. Peppermint is especially strong to humans—it can quickly clear your nasal passages—so just imagine how strong it is to insects. They won’t want to come anywhere near you!
6. You can rub toothpaste on your skin to help soothe insect bites: Everyone who’s ever camped outdoors or enjoyed recreational activities knows exactly how irritating a mosquito bite can be. No matter how much you scratch, it just keeps itching.
Well, now there’s a solution to such annoying bug bites: toothpaste! It turns out that toothpaste’s anti-inflammatory ingredients work to not only decrease redness, but swelling, too. The menthol will also reduce the overall itchiness and cool your skin.
7. Use ChapStick to help seal cuts and scrapes: If you’ve been rock climbing or hiking in the woods, there’s a good chance you’ve suffered some minor nicks and scrapes from various shrubs or sharp rocks. To avoid infection, you’ll want to clean them as soon as possible…
If you don’t have an emergency medical kit readily available, you can use a tube of ChapStick instead. Not only will it work as a sealant for small cuts, but the antibacterial components will also help clean your injury.
8. Stop any bleeding by using a tampon: There’s no denying how absorbent the material of a tampon truly is—that’s its entire purpose, after all—but did you know it can even help stop severe bleeding from all sorts of injuries?
The extra benefit of using a tampon is that it’s already sterilized and ready for use upon opening. Not to mention most tampons are biodegradable. Just be sure to bury it for safe measure, no one wants their blood scent attracting any predators.
9. Convert a condom into a water reservoir: Condoms are made from an incredibly strong, clean, and flexible material. For that reason, they can easily be used to store large amounts of fresh water for long periods of time…
All you have to do is pour the desired amount of water (up to one liter) into it, and then wrap it in a large sock. Then, place a lid or cap on the tube and save it for when you are dehydrated. Pro tip: it helps to use condoms that do not have lubrication on them.
10. You can use an old guitar pick to start a fire: Guitar picks aren’t only useful for shredding solos on stage. While you might typically use them to ignite the energy in a concert crowd, they can be employed in extreme cases of survival, too.
Using a pocket knife or another sharp object, shave little pieces of the guitar pick into a pile. Then, use a lighter to ignite a small fire. This is made possible because of the celluloid in the pick, which makes it extremely flammable, even if it’s wet.
11. If you become lost, build an easy DIY compass: Becoming lost in the wilderness is a huge fear for many people, and it’s easy to happen without trail markers. But if it happens to you, try not to worry, because making your own compass is easy!
First, you’ll need a pin or a needle. You’ll want to rub one end of it rigorously against either your jeans or another rough fabric to create a charge. Then, grab a leaf and place it in a shallow dish of water. Finally, place the needle on the leaf; the end you rubbed on the fabric will point North.
12. Knowing the difference between venomous and non-venomous snakes: Snakes are scary enough as it is, but encountering one in the wild can be increasingly frightful. Luckily, there are ways to identify whether or not said snake is venomous.
For starters, their bite marks look completely different. A venomous bite will always have two holes at the top of its bite and one row of teeth. On the other hand, non-venomous snakes will have two rows of bite marks.
Additionally, a venomous snake will have cat-like pupils, whereas the pupils of the non-venomous kind will be rounded. Finally, venomous snakes have feature rows of scales on the bottom of their bodies, while non-venomous snakes will have forked scales.
Now while all these survival tips are great to know in case of an emergency, it is equally important to know what not to do. The easiest way to take a situation from bad to worse is making a simple mistake like these that could have been avoided.
Eat snow for water: Yeah, eating snow is better than downing a glass of pee or reindeer blood, but snow’s cold. Like, really cold. Eating enough of it to satiate a serious thirst can bring your core temperature down to dangerous levels. Just boil it first. But this isn’t the only survival myth to avoid in cold weather…
Always play dead when threatened by a bear: The opposite is true—you should back away! At least if it’s a brown or grizzly bear. They’re likely just trying to get you away from their kiddos. If a black bear, right, threatens you, well… fight for your life.
Lean-tos make great shelters: They’re simple to build, just a series of branches leaned across a supporting beam-like branch. But they won’t keep you warm, dry, or safe from animals—like black bears—which is a survival shelter strikeout.
A big fire beats a shelter: Need to warm up? Bigger is not always better when it comes to survival. Focus on shelter first, even if it means you sleep beside a tiny fire. Put all your energy into a roaring flame and a rainstorm or heavy wind can leave you with nothing in a second.
Build a fire in a cave for warmth: A fire in a secluded cave—the perfect hovel, no? Almost romantic, even! Well, heat—like that from a fire—makes rocks expand. Expanding rocks break. Breaking rocks crush and trap people. Keep the fire outside.
Wet matches work when dried: Soaked by the rain? Took a dunk in a raging river? Hopefully, you didn’t have matches in your pocket. Moisture changes the chemical balance in match heads, making them impossible to light. Invest in a waterproof container.
Eat anything animals eat: When you do go searching for food, it’s common sense to think what’s good for the birds and squirrels is good for us, too, right? Not always. Birds and squirrels can eat berries, nuts, mushrooms, and more that human bodies find toxic.
Eating raw meat and seafood is safe: Ever have bad sushi? Sure, just bite into a raw fish, you rugged survivor, you. Expose yourself to pathogens and bacterium that wouldn’t leave you fit to survive the toilet. Be safe. Cook your meat.
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Find food immediately: Put that dead bug down and leave that rotting animal corpse where you found it—you can survive about six weeks without food. Yeah, it might be uncomfortable, but prioritize water, shelter, and safe-to-consume food before getting desperate.
Follow flying birds to find water: This works if the birds are actually flying towards the water, but since you, presumably, can’t read a bird’s mind, it’s impossible to know whether the flock’s flying toward an open field, South America, or a caravan of friendly monkeys.
Drink cactus fluid for hydration: There’s one—count ’em, one—type of cactus survivors can safely extract and drink water from without getting sick and vomiting. If you can’t pick out that particular barrel cactus, search for other water sources first.
Drink urine to stay hydrated: No one tell pee-drinking legend Bear Grylls, below, but if you’re dehydrated to the point that urine is an appetizing source of fluid, your pee is mostly made up of bodily waste—not recycled water—and therefore, carries no re-hydration value.
Drink raw blood to survive: Thirsty folks are better served not slurping down a few mouthfuls of animal blood, either. Consuming blood exposes you to diseases and illnesses you’d probably rather not deal with when stranded in the wilderness.
Suck on a stone for hydration: Dry mouth? Some survival myths suggest sucking on stones to work up saliva, but in doing so, you’d only be drawing much-needed moisture from other parts of your body. Is that worth sucking on dirty stones?
Moss grows on the north side of trees: Moss likes shade because without sunlight pestering it, it can better retain its moisture. That means north isn’t always the most conducive to growth. The angle of the sun at your given location, climate, and shade caused by environmental features can dictate moss growth.
Cut and suck a snakebite: Movies show it all the time. Someone suffers a snakebite, and a heroic buddy sucks the poison out. But it’s a farce. All this does is put spit into the open wound and spread venom into your mouth. Try putting pressure on the snakebite instead, then find a doctor.
Drinking liquor warms you up: Nothing perks the sense like a shot of booze in the cold, but because alcohol dilates surface blood vessels, it makes your blood more susceptible to the cold. And, you know, you need that stuff for your vital organs. Try coffee.
Rub frostbitten skin: Don’t do it. Frostbite forms when sharp ice crystals infiltrate your skin and tissue, so rubbing frostbite warm is the equivalent to rubbing sharp icicles into a suffering person’s soft tissues. You’ve got to slowly re-heat a frostbitten limb.
Hot tubs cure hypothermia: Rubbing frostbite won’t cut it, and neither will a hot tub. A dunk in hot water will spike low body temperatures, which can cause a heart attack. Instead, give the victim small doses of warmth by putting hot water bottles on their body.
Space blankets are useless: Mylar-coated emergency blankets look like something from a low-budget sci-fi film, but they do indeed reflect infrared energy, and therefore, heat. Wrap yourself in one of these to keep your body heat packed in tight.
Punch an attacking shark in the nose: Just think about how hard it would be getting a solid punch on the schnoz of an oncoming shark. How fast must you be? How accurate? Instead, put a solid object between you and the beast or claw at its eyes and gills.
Swim parallel to the shore if caught in a rip current: Most rip currents, top, work at an angle, so you can be swimming parallel to the shore while still getting ripped out to sea. Instead, swim along the shore, but towards it, too.