12 Basic Outdoor Survival Skills Every Camper Should Know

Most campers can head outside without needing to know outdoor survival skills. (That’s especially true if you’re heading to a campground that comes fully equipped with running water, electrical hook-ups, and a swimming pool.) But even if your camping accommodations tend to be more comfortable than challenging, it can be confidence-building to learn new outdoor skills. And you never know when you’ll have to ride out a thunderstorm or rappel into a canyon.

The following list of skills won’t prepare you to be the next contestant on Alone, but they might impress your friends and family. These are basic outdoor survival skills every camper should know. Master these and you can move on to the next level.

1. Navigate by day.

Spend enough time outdoors, and the day will come when you lose your phone, break your phone, or its battery dies when you need it most. Without Google maps or any other type of GPS, it helps to know how to navigate by what you can see. During the day, the sun is your best bet for knowing what direction you’re heading. Read this how-to from expert navigator and author Tristan Gooley to learn how to navigate using the sun. Or, you can make sure your camping gear always includes a compass.

SaleBestseller No. 1
Orienteering Compass Hiking Backpacking Compass | Advanced Scout Compass Camping Navigation - Boy Scout Compass for Kids | Professional Field Compass for Map Reading - Best TurnOnSport Survival Gifts
  • KEY FEATURES: This manual magnet compass consists of Acrylic Baseplate with Azimuth bearing and 360 degree rotating bezel. With the help of a magnetic needle which consists of a liquid-filled capsule (bubble free) helps to swing fast and freely point you towards north. The Magnifying Glass is used for reading and navigating geological maps. Along with this, it has the compass Ruler Scale of 1:24000 for precise route mappin
  • PORTABLE & LIGHTWEIGHT: Boy Scout compass is small in size and an essential piece of survival gear to have in your pocket or hiking backpack. Both children and adults can use it, easy to carry during your trips especially for field trips. Portable Handheld Compass with magnetic needle and directional arrow, orienting lines compass and lanyard
  • PROFESSIONAL, ADVANCE COMPASS NAVIGATION: Our orienteering compass is constructed for accurate directions and making it an ideal all-around land navigation kit for hikers, campers, girl & boy scouts and survivalists
  • HIGH QUALITY: On every outdoor journey, a vital and high-quality compass keeps you feeling secure and can read topographic maps. Ideal for use with a kayak, camping trip, climbing expedition, or seeing animals outside
  • IDEAL SURVIVAL GIFTS FOR HIKERS: During any emergency situation where you feel stuck or forget the way, this device can turn out to be a savior to make you out of depth. So, this BSA compass is an ideal gift for beginner cub scout and eagle scout, adults who love hiking, outdoors, girl & boy kids and fishermen's
Bestseller No. 2
Military Lensatic Sighting Compass Survival with Carrying Bag, Compass for Hiking,Waterproof and Shakeproof, Army Green
  • PROFESSIONAL GRADE:This professional grade military compass is the best camping survival gadgets for field trips,Waterproof and Shakeproof.Ideal for holiday camping,mountaineering,kayaking,climbing,adventure expedition,outdoor wildlife,emergencies,and anywhere the beaten track takes you.
  • HIGH ACCURACY:This lensatic military compass rotates very flexibly and the damping oil enhance pointer stability. Built-in a bubble level, which can improve its accuracy and decrease its errors, you’ll always get an accurate reading.
  • MILITARY CONSTRUCTION:Tough and tenacious, the military construction with Waterproof and Shakeproof properties is built to survive the harshest of hikes.
  • FLUORESCENT DESIGN:The compass’ interface glows in the dark,you can find the right direction even at night without getting lost.
  • PORTABLE:This compass equipped with lanyard and carrying bag,which can be easily carried regardless of whether it is traveling or hiking.
Bestseller No. 3
Sportneer Lensatic Military Compass, Compass for Easter Gifts, Baptism Gifts for Boys, Catholic Gifts for Men, Camping Survival Compass with Carry Bag for Hiking Hunting Outdoor
  • PROFESSIONAL GRADE: This professional grade military compass will always lead you in the right direction. Ideal for camping, military usage, emergencies, and anywhere the beaten track takes you
  • ERGONOMIC DESIGN: The lensatic function increases the reading’s accuracy with a lens on the rear sight that magnifies the card dial – so you’ll always get an accurate reading
  • MILITARY CONSTRUCTION: Tough and tenacious, the military construction with waterproof and shakeproof properties is built to survive the harshest of hikes
  • PORTABLE: Keep the compass near you with a belt loop attachment, or place it safely in your pocket with a carrying case, so you can keep your hands gripped on the mountain you’re scaling
  • FLUORESCENT: The compass’ interface glows in the dark, so even when night falls, you can still soldier on

2. Navigate at night.

A cloudless night is probably the easiest time to navigate. First, find the north star. (You may have heard that it’s the brightest star in the sky but that’s not always true. Plus, it can be easy to confuse it for a brightly shining planet.) To find the north star, look for the Big Dipper. Draw a line straight through the two stars on the outer edge of the Big Dipper’s “bowl” or “ladle.” This will lead you to Polaris, the north star, and help you determine which direction is north. (With both forms of navigation—by day and by night—you’ll need a paper map or know the general direction you want to go.)

Survival Skill - How To Find The North Star Using Ursa Major and Ursa Minor

 

3. Find a suitable campsite.

The best place to build a shelter (or pitch a tent) is somewhere high and dry. Don’t set up camp in a valley, canyon, near a stream bed, or at the very bottom of a hill. And when choosing a site, don’t forget to look up too. Stay away from dead trees and branches that could fall on you or your shelter.

4. Create a basic shelter.

If you’re ever lost outdoors and have to spend the night, building a shelter should be your top priority. Hypothermia is possible even on summer nights and you never know when it could rain or storm. One of the simplest shelters you can make is a lean-to using a fallen tree. Check out these instructions and don’t forget to insulate your shelter with dead leaves or pine branches.

5. Stay warm.

If you’re in a survival situation and need to keep warm, first put on all the clothing you have (but layer appropriately). Then you can use natural materials like dead leaves for extra insulation. Focus on stuffing them inside the main part of your shirt or coat to keep your core warm. And when you sit or sleep on the ground, be sure to have something act as insulation between you and the cold coming from the ground. A pile of leaves could work or a fallen log.

6. Find firewood.

Experienced campers know that not every type of wood is good for creating a fire. The best wood is old and dry. Look for dead lower branches on trees or gather sticks from the ground. If you break them and they snap, they’ll probably be dry enough. If not, they might just create a lot of smoke or not catch fire at all.

7. Build a fire.

One of the most important basic survival skills is the ability to efficiently start a fire. Fires are essential for warmth, cooking, and they boost morale. To build a dependable fire you’ll need three types of wood: fire starters such as very small sticks or bark shavings, kindling (larger sticks), and larger pieces of wood. Here’s a video tutorial on three different methods for building a fire. And since most people don’t get lost with a lighter or box of matches, here are seven ways to start a fire without matches.

8. Purify water.

Even when water in a stream or lake looks clean, don’t drink it without purifying it first. Water filtration systems are obviously ideal but if you don’t have one, there are ways you can purify water in an emergency situation. One way is to strain the water through a T-shirt (to remove obvious impurities), then boil it to kill off any microorganisms. (But keep in mind that not all harmful things in water can be killed by boiling so consider your water source. Contaminants like pesticides can’t be destroyed through boiling.) Don’t forget that rain, snow, and dew are good sources of water too.

SaleBestseller No. 1
LifeStraw Personal Water Filter for Hiking, Camping, Travel, and Emergency Preparedness, 1 Pack, Blue
  • Removes bacteria & parasites: The microfiltration membrane removes 99.999999% of waterborne bacteria (including E. coli and salmonella), and 99.999% of waterborne parasites (including giardia and cryptosporidium)
  • Removes microplastics: Removes the smallest microplastics found in the environment (down to 1 micron), and reduces turbidity down to 0.2 microns
  • Rigorous Testing: All claims are verified with laboratories using standard testing protocols set by the US EPA, NSF, ASTM for water purifiers
  • Long Lifetime: The microbiological filter will provide 4,000 liters (1,000 gallons) of clean and safe drinking water with proper use and maintenance
  • Make an Impact: For every LifeStraw product purchased, a school child in need receives safe drinking water for an entire school year.BPA Free materials
SaleBestseller No. 2
Katadyn Hiker Pro Transparent Water Filter, Lightweight, Compact Design for Personal or Small Group Camping, Backpacking or Emergency Preparedness, one Size (8019857)
  • Proven protection against bacteria and protozoan cysts down to 0.2 micron with pleated glass-fiber filter media
  • Activated carbon in the core of the filter improves the taste and reduces chemicals in your drinking water
  • The field cleanable filter protector screen extends the life of the cartridge in challenging conditions
  • Long-time trusted option for backpackers with it's ultra-light 11oz, compact size and compatibility with hydration bladders
  • Transparent design allows you to see the filtration working
SaleBestseller No. 3
Sawyer Products SP128 Mini Water Filtration System, Single, Blue
  • Ideal for outdoor recreation, hiking, camping, scouting, domestic and International travel, and emergency preparedness
  • High-performance 0.1 Micron absolute inline filter fits in the palm of your hand and weighs just 2 ounces; 100% of MINI units individually tested three times to performance standards by Sawyer
  • Attaches to included drinking pouch, standard disposable water bottles, hydration packs, or use the straw to drink directly from your water source
  • Removes 99.99999% of all bacteria (salmonella, cholera, and E. coli); removes 99.9999% of all protozoa (such as giardia and cryptosporidium); also removes 100% of microplastics
  • Filter rated up to 100,000 gallons; Includes one Sawyer MINI filter, 16-ounce reusable squeeze pouch, 7-inch drinking straw, and cleaning plunger

9. Tie knots.

Knot-tying seems like a skill you’d do just to earn a scout badge. It turns out, it’s a skill that can come in handy if you’re ever in a survival situation. Knots can be used in building a shelter, creating a net to catch fish, climbing to safety, or performing first-aid. Here are 9 knots every camper should know that are worth learning.

10. Signal for help.

If you’re in a survival situation where you can see people, a town, or a plane, it’s important to signal for help. You can build a signal fire or use one of these methods from outdoor expert Les Stroud.

11. Identify edible plants…but be careful.

Depending on where you are in the world and what season it is, you may have many edible plant options or none at all. It’s best to read up on common edible plants where you are before you’re ever in a survival situation. But if you didn’t do that, there are some common edible plants in North America including: clover, cattails, burdock, chicory, and dandelion. That said, edible plants often have toxic lookalikes, so be sure you know what you’re eating before you take that first bite. Also, some plants taste better or are easier to digest if they’ve been cooked first.

Sale
Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to Over 200 Natural Foods
  • Elias, Thomas (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages - 04/07/2009 (Publication Date) - Union Square & Co. (Publisher)
Sale
The Forager's Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants
  • Thayer, Samuel (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 368 Pages - 05/15/2006 (Publication Date) - Foragers Harvest Press (Publisher)

12. Dress a wound and set a broken bone.

Even if you never plan to head to the wilderness, basic first aid is a good skill to have. Most outdoor activities involve some amount of risk. Brush up on basic first aid skills, and consider taking a wilderness first-aid course. At the very least, learn how to dress a wound or set a broken bone without a first-aid kit.