Basic Survival the Right Survival Skills

People always ask, “Which basic survival skills do you consider the most important?” My best and the only answer is the skills that help you stay alive.

There are six basic survival skills I consider the most important. These skills can keep you alive until help arrives. There are many important skills you need for the long term but, these six skills are essential.

basic survival skills



I’ve seen many recommendations survivalists with differing opinions of the number one skill. I’ve also seen some recommend attitude as the number one skill. While I agree, attitude plays a big role in survival; it’s not a skill but a state of mind.

I want to touch briefly on attitude because while it’s not a skill, it is important to survival. If you look at your situation as hopeless from the beginning, it affects your chances of surviving.

I am a seeing the glass as “half full” type person, and I always plan for the best outcome. A positive attitude isn’t always a sure success. But as a believer in the power of the mind, I can tell you, it delivers amazing results.

No matter what you believe about the positive attitude, I believe a can-do survival attitude makes a difference. The survival attitude may mean the difference between life or death for you and your family.

The basic survival skills in this article are just the basics you need for emergency survival. You can learn more about long term survival skills in my article, Long Term Survival Prepping.

Top 6 Basic Survival Skills

Surviving in the wilderness or out in the open means meeting the survival challenges without panic. When yours and your family’s life depends on your clear thinking, you must remember the first five steps of survival. Stop and assess your situations, then plan and execute your basic survival skills. Once your survival attitude kicks in, re-evaluate your situation and adjust your plans if needed.

Get your family involved in accessing your survival plans which help keep the mind actively engaged with surviving. Activity helps everyone keep a positive attitude while avoiding panic and negative or depressing thoughts.

The Number Three Rule for Basic Survival

There’s a number three “no” rule most survivalists follow for human survival:

  • No air survive 3 minutes
  • Not finding shelter survive 3 hours
  • No water survive 3 days
  • Going without food survive 3

The three “no” rule gives priority to your basic survival and which survival skills are most important; shelter, water, food.

I know some disagree and believe water comes first, but think about it for a minute. You survive three days without water or 72 hours. However, if your body temperature falls below normal, within three hours, you suffer hypothermia.

For me, it seems reasonable that you spend your first few hours building a quick, temporary shelter. You may get thirsty, but you have a better survival chance if you have protection from the elements.

Once you spend an hour or two putting together a shelter, look for water and finally food. After you find the final two items, you can put your resources to a better shelter if needed. Field and Stream has an informative article about seven different emergency shelters you can quickly build for your survival.

Six Basic Survival Skills
1. Build a Temporary Survival Shelter
2. Find and Purify Water
3. Survival Fire Starter
4. Navigating Back to Safety
5. Build a Survival Signal
6. Find Food

Build a Temporary Survival Shelter

survival shelterWhen a survival emergency forced you into a night sleeping in a wilderness environment, you need a temporary survival shelter.

While building a fire, finding water or wilderness navigation are important, seeking shelter is the top consideration. Our bodies can’t take long exposure periods and having a survival shelter helps protect you against extreme elements.


Adverse Element Conditions

Below freezing temperatures
High winds
Blistering heat
Driving sleet or snow
Torrential rains

The body starts breaking down in these severe weather conditions. Direct sunlight without shelter causes dehydration while too much time in freezing conditions and hypothermia begins in minutes. Even a driving rain in a more temperate climate can affect the core body temperature and lessening chances of survival.

Even the smallest and crudest survival shelter means protection. Over the past several thousand years, the human learned to build their shelters with all the conveniences to keep comfortable.

Our homes stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer. We have protection from rain and snow, and we even control our home’s humidity levels. But, as we learned to adapt our surroundings for comfort, we’ve lost our natural ability to adapt to our environment.

Now we take shelters with us when venturing into the wilderness or can quickly build them by scavenging our surroundings.
While we have three days to find water, we have just three hours or less to find shelter. Depending on the extreme conditions of the environment instead of hours, we may only have minutes.

The best survival prepping is learning your travel area and what materials are available if you need an emergency shelter. We suggest carrying a portable emergency shelter. We keep a portable shelter in each car, one for hunting, and another for recreational activities like fishing or camping.

The emergency tube tent is my favorite. The tent folds up compact and weighs 1.8-pounds. This tent is easy to carry and an inexpensive addition to your emergency supplies. The tent is a one-person tent, so you need one for each member of the family. But at under $20 each, it’s an affordable emergency gear addition.

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 Find and Purify Water

Water is necessary for all life. If we don’t have water, in 24-hours, we start to show signs of dehydration. In this article, I cover the basic survival technique of finding and purifying water.

As I mentioned earlier, the top survival spot, shelter or water, is a point on which many survivalists disagree. If you must spend the night in the elements, the shelter is the priority. When it comes to survival, remember the rule of three. No shelter survival is 3 hours or less. No water and survival is three days. Since survival time is limited without protectection, it stands to reason shelter is the priority.

Once you go without water for 24-hours, you start feeling the effects on your body. But even after 24-hours, you can still function. Once your body temperature plummets, you have minutes.

However, once you have your temporary shelter, water becomes the priority. Since humans have a body made of 60 percent water, we need to stay hydrated.

Water lubricates and protects the muscles, joints, and organs and is the primary makeup of our blood. Water moves nutrients and oxygen to the digestive tract, lungs and body cells. This essential fluid helps drive the pumping of the heart through electrolytes dissolved in our body’s water.

Once the body heads toward dehydration, the brain stops functioning properly. Water is essential to brain tissue to keep the synapses and neurons properly functioning.

When our body water falls below 60 percent, our blood and organs begin to lose function when dehydration starts. In a survival situation, after you have your temporary shelter, finding water becomes critical.

Dehydration Symptoms

survival waterWhen you think of dehydration, the first thought that comes to mind is a dry mouth. You’re not wrong since this is the beginning stage of dehydration. The mouth remains wet from the continual saliva production that forms from tissue water. When the mouth gets dry, it means out-of-balance body water also called thirst.

The second warning comes as a headache and worsens until other dehydration symptoms start.

Other Signs of Dehydration

  • Urinary output slows
  • Becoming lethargic
  • Perspiration and tear production stops
  • Nauseated
  • Heart rate becomes rapid
  • Skin starts tingling
  • Body temperature rises
  • Starts hallucinating
  • Develops heat exhaustion
  • Final step is death

When you find yourself in a survival situation, your second basic survival concern is finding and purifying drinking water. Dehydration begins the minute you find yourself facing survival. By having a portable shelter, you can quickly begin your search for fresh water.

Finding Water

When placed in survival mode, knowing the basic survival skill of finding and purifying water can mean life or death. Finding water is an important survival skill. But, if you don’t know how to purify the water you find it does no good. Without purifying the water, you could become very sick or even die. Essential survival skills include both finding the water and purifying it.

Many people make the mistake of thinking they can just carry water with them wherever they go. If you stop and consider this scenario, you’ll soon realize it’s not possible. Humans need at least 1 gallon of drinking water each day. One gallon of water weighs 8.31 pounds. Can you imagine packing water weight with whatever other gear you might carry?

If you’re walking long distances or making a multi-day trip, you just can’t carry that much water. The best course of action is knowing how to find water and purifying it. You also should consider carrying a lightweight water purification system. Every year these filtration systems get better. Purifying gets better making them a great option for survival water.

Experts advise that wherever you find water in the wilderness it needs filtering. Without the right supplies, this isn’t possible. I highly recommend always carrying some portable filtration. Any unfiltered water ingestion can carry harmful bacteria and is a risk to your health. If it’s life or death and no way to purify water it’s a risk you must take.

In my article, Emergency Water Purification – Finding Water, I explain methods for finding water when the sources aren’t obvious.

Purifying Water

There are several methods for purifying water. Digging a well or distilling works great for long-term water purification. But, if you only need water a few days for survival, it only takes short-term purification. In this article, I cover the water purification methods short-term basic survival.

Some of the most common emergency water purification methods include:

Portable UV Lights
Solar Power

Boiling Water

Boiling is the best way to remove bacteria and viruses from water. If you can start a fire and have a container, you can boil water.

The boiling method is the easiest for purifying water. When the water starts bubbling, keep it boiling for five minutes then let it cool another five minutes. You need clear water for the boiling method since it won’t remove dirt. If you have dirty water, you need to filter the water after boiling.

Filtering Water

There are so many water filters on the market that choosing one is difficult. But, with the right supplies, you can filter water without a commercial product. I go into further detail about filtering water in Emergency Water Purification – Finding Water. I recommend everyone carry a portable water filtration system. They’re lightweight and compact making them the perfect survival gear.

My recommendation is LifeStraw, the best personal water filter on the market. The LifeStraw comes in two styles, a bottle filter and the original straw.

LifeStraw Filter BottleOriginal LifeStraw
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Another extremely effective way to purify water is 2% Iodine Tincture. All you need is a couple of drops added to a bottle or about 12 ounces of water.

Water purification tablets contain Iodine, and they work well. The only problem with the tables is they cost more and don’t go as far as the Iodine Tincture. Both Iodine and the purification tablets kill the bacteria and viruses found in unfiltered water.




Portable UV Lights

This lightweight and portable light kills 99% of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa with UV light. But, as with other purification methods, you should filter the water first.

I only used this device a couple of times, and it does work well. However, because the light runs electronically, I don’t want to depend on it working when I need purified water. I prefer a manual purification system like the LifeStraw when it comes to short term emergency water. Bit. as a backup emergency purifier, the Steripen works well.



Solar Power

If you’re stranded for several days and have no other way to purify water, using the sun is another option. Placing clear water in the sun all day kills bacteria and viruses with UV radiation. If you have cloudy skies, it takes two days for the radiation to kill the bacteria.

Solar purification works well with large quantities of water for families or communities after disaster strikes. You can fill clear bottles with filtered water and leave them in the sun.

If you have a water source free of chemical and heavy metal contaminants you can use solar purification. For long-term survival, using the sun is the way to go for building a supply of purified water.

Survival manuals like talking about building solar stills. If using a still as a temporary purification system, it can work until you build a better purification system. But, the problem with solar purification is it takes a long time to produce drinkable water.

My suggestion for solar power water purification is using it strictly for cooking. By using your solar water for cooking, chances are you purify it even more by boiling it when cooking. But, my recommendation is, if possible, don’t use solar power for water purification.

If you learn other water purification methods, you shouldn’t have to rely on solar power for survival water. In a long-term survival preparedness scenario, chances are you have a large commercial purifier like the Big Berkey.

Survival Fire Starter

Starting a Fire

The art of making fire, called fire craft, is an important basic survival skill. The fire has many useful purposes in a survival scenario and can save your life.

A survival fire gives you the three survival elements of: signal smoke, light, and heat. If you’re in the wilderness or in cold or wet conditions, hypothermia quickly sets in. The heat from a fire keeps us warm and dries our wet clothing.

Firelight illuminates the darkness and helps keep wild animals away while acting as a signal light. During the day, the smoke from a campfire can act as a distress signal, alerting search parties of your location.

A survival fire also cooks our meat and other foods. We can use the fire for smoking raw meats, a method used in ancient times as food preservation. Smoke also makes a great insect repellant, especially for disease carrying mosquitos.

Preparedness is the key to having what you need for a survival fire. When you carry fire starting materials or keep them in your survival pack, you can easily make a fire.

But you may find yourself stranded without your fire-starting materials. If you become stranded without your lighter or matches, what do you do? While you may think you’ll always have your lighter, I’m telling you, things happen.

Maybe you forget to put your Bic in your pocket, or you take it out, and it doesn’t work. Nothing is failsafe. Nothing that is, except for investing in learning techniques for starting a survival fire without matches or a lighter.

The following video shows some great ways to start a fire without a lighter or matches.

I also recommend finding a local class on making a survival fire. You can check here for wilderness survival schools in your area.

Navigating Back to Safety

Many times, a survival situation arises when we lose our sense of direction in foreign surroundings, and we become lost. Everyone at some time in their life gets lost. Whether it’s an unfamiliar city, a large shopping mall, or even a local neighborhood, getting lost is scary and unsettling.

No matter where you get lost, the mountains, the desert, or the forest wilderness, it is a fixable situation. You can find your way back out and survive. But, it takes learning the skills and practicing.

Learn to recognize the directional tools you have and how to use them. By taking the time to learn the skills of navigation, losing your bearings doesn’t mean being forever lost.

There are lots of navigation techniques that don’t involve compasses and GPS. Mastering the basic survival skill of navigation gets you back on course. Sadly, many survivalists overlook this vital survival knowledge. Learning navigational techniques might make the difference between life and death.

There are three basic survival steps to take once you get lost:

Sit Down – Don’t keep wandering around. Sit, take a deep breath and calm down. By becoming anxious, you worsen your situation with bad decisions.

Start Thinking – Start asking the important questions of how you got there and how long before it gets dark.

Pinpoint Position by Observation – Once you’re calm and know how long you have before sunset, it’s time you identify landmarks. Take notice of distinctive sounds and visuals. Are there mountains or large trees, traffic sounds or running water? All these sights and sounds can help in finding your way to safety.

Here is an informative video highlighting navigational skills for not getting lost.

Build a Survival Signal

When you’re in a survival situation waiting for rescue your basic survival skills should include understanding help signaling. Survival signaling must draw attention to your location and be strong enough for people to notice.

Compared to the vastness of our surroundings, we are a tiny spec. If you get lost in the wilderness, finding you is difficult if you’re not drawing attention to yourself.

There are two elements to effective survival signals; contrast and intelligence.

1. Contrast: Your survival signal should stand out in your surroundings. You want a signal that contrasts with everything around you, so your location is visible. You have many ways to stand out in your surroundings and rescuers unable to find you should not happen.

2. Intelligence: You need a rescue signal that is a sign of being made by intelligence and not a natural occurrence.

basic survivalThere are many visual and audible emergency signal devices, including, fires, flares, and whistles. The most popular of these devices is the Personal Locator Beacon or PLB.

This small and affordable rescue signal is a satellite-connected device that operates as a personal panic button. Available with several options, the basic model simply alerts your monitoring company which in turn calls the local authorities. More advanced models let you email or text through a satellite connection. You can make a call for help and let authorities know the type of crisis.

Each of my family members have one of these devices and carry them whenever camping, hiking, or kayaking. But, we know, satellite signals aren’t always that reliable, so we don’t solely rely on the PLB.

For a complete basic survival plan you need the old-fashioned survival signal equipment. As backup we use personal flares, rescue signal mirrors, or the supplies for building a signal fire.

Find Food

Finally, we come to the last item on our basic survival list, finding food.

I saved food for last because humans can last for about three weeks without food. Before you succumb to starvation, you should be back in civilization or have your survival living established.

After three weeks, you can consider your situation as long-term survival. By following my basic survival skills, you have the simple necessities of shelter, water, and fire. If you haven’t found it already, you need a steady source of food.

In this article, I went on the assumption of unexpected and short-term survival. Short-term is survival preparedness that comes after a natural disaster or in the wilderness. You must hunt or forage for food, or you have a supply of portable food like freeze dried or dehydrated.

If you follow my suggestion of always having the survival necessities wherever you go, then food isn’t an issue.


In my long-term survival article, I discuss the steps for surviving weeks, months, or years. I offer instructions on preparing for the long haul with preserved food, water filtration systems, and semi-permanent shelters. I also have in depth product reviews, giving you the information you need before you buy.

As our world becomes unstable from threats of war, disease, and societal collapse, the need for basic survival skills rises. You not only need survival supplies, but you need the skills and knowledge to survive. Family Survival Prepping brings to light the many threats we face daily and how you need to prepare for anything.

I hope you take the time and explore my site. I want you to have the information you need to keep your family alive and safe in these turbulent times.

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