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.

Bestseller No. 1
Orienteering Compass - Hiking Backpacking Compass - Advanced Scout Compass for Camping and Navigation - Boy Scout Compass for Kids - Professional Field Compass for Map Reading - Best Survival Gifts
  • Acrylic Baseplate Compass with Azimuth Bearing and 360 degree rotating bezel. For cartographic map navigation and reading with Field Compass located Magnifying Glass, compass Ruler and 1:24000 compass Scale.
  • Durable and Lightweight Compass for Hiking Backpacking. Best Cub Scout compass for Kids. BSA Compass Best Gifts for Beginners Boy Scout Boys and Girl.
  • Professional Advanced Compass for Camping - Orienteering - Hiking - Hunting - Survival - Navigating - Mountaineering - Outdoors - Field Trip.
  • Portable Handheld Compass with magnetic needle and directional arrow, orienting lines compass and lanyard.
  • Real Compass Oil - magnetized needle made by vacuum technology completely filled with a liquid oil. Vertical Simple Compass great come up navigational, orientating and backpackers for men and kid.
SaleBestseller No. 2
Sportneer Military Lensatic Sighting Compass with Carrying Bag, Waterproof and Shakeproof, Army Green
  • 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
SaleBestseller No. 3
Cammenga Official US Military Tritium Lensatic Compass, Olive Drab Accurate Waterproof Hand Held Compasses with Pouch for Hiking Camping Navigation Survival Backpacking Orienteering
  • MADE IN THE USA - This aluminum compass is the top quality pocket compass on the market. Accurate to +/- 40 mils, it performs flawlessly in extreme temperatures.
  • OFFICIAL US MILITARY COMPASS - With this professional tactical compass survival is more likely. A survival compass backed by our government!
  • WANT A COMPASS YOU CAN TRUST? Stay safe with this accurate compass for backpacking. Self powered lighted pocket compass provides illumination for over 12 years.
  • BUILT TO LAST - This handheld compass is water proof, sand proof and constructed with a powder coated aluminum frame for optimal endurance. Waterproof compass for hiking.
  • MULTI-USE - Hand held compass can be used as a hiking compass, camping compass, surveyor compass, backpacking compass, hunting compass, youth scout compass, boat compass and orienteering compass.

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
  • Award-winning LifeStraw water filter is a must-carry tool for hiking, camping, travel, and emergencies; no disaster kit is complete without it
  • Filters up to 1,000 gallons (4,000 liters) of contaminated water without iodine, chlorine, or other chemicals; does not require batteries and has no moving parts
  • Removes minimum 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria, 99.9% of waterborne protozoan parasites, and filters to 0.2 microns; surpasses EPA filter standards
  • An alternative to iodine tablets and bulky purifiers, it weighs 2oz for ultralight portability, and has a high flow rate for drinking from the source
  • Comes in a sealed bag, perfect for storing in a bugout bag or other prepper gear supply kit; measures 9 x 1 x 1 inches.BPA Free materials
Bestseller No. 2
Survivor Filter PRO - Virus and Heavy Metal Tested 0.01 Micron Water Filter for Camping, Hiking, and Emergency. 3 Stages - 2 Cleanable 100,000L Membranes and a Carbon Filter for Family Preparedness
  • BEST INDEPENDENTLY TESTED FILTRATION LEVEL ON THE MARKET: Tested at Multiple USA labs to show Log 5 Removal 99.999% of Protozoa (Cryptosporidium, Giardia and Parasites) Log 5 Removal 99.999% of tested VIRUS (Phi X-174), STAPH and BACTERIA. 99.5% Mercury and 93% Lead Removal which Matches or Exceeds Most Home Systems. Just Ask us for Copies of our Tests!
  • TRIPLE FILTRATION TO 0.01 MICRONS TO REMOVE VIRUS, BACTERIA, PARASITES and REDUCE MOST HEAVY METALS, TASTE and CHEMICALS: thanks to Dual Hollow Fiber Membrane (Ultra Filters) and Carbon Filtration - 20 times more efficient than the competition at 0.2 microns and none of the Competition Comes Close with Our Heavy Metal Removal. PLUS - SURVIVOR FILTER SATISFACTION GUARANTEE and LIFETIME WARRANTY: if you don't love your Survivor Filter PRO, simply return it and we will refund 100% of your purchase.
  • SUPER FAST FLOW RATE OF 500 ml. (17 OZ) PER MINUTE: can be used directly from fresh water source, pumped into attached cup, OR pumped into any portable hydration pack. Perfect for filtering large jugs of water for the whole family!
  • BUILT OF QUALITY MATERIALS: Shell is ABS Material (Same Material Used on Car Bumpers), Polysulfone Medical Grade Ultra Filter (Same Material Used in Visors of Apollo Astronauts), Food Grade Activated Carbon and Handle Contains Steel Bar Inside for Extra Support. BPA Free, Comes with all internal filters and tubing, detachable Drinking Cup, Travel Bag, Detailed instructions and How to Use Manual.
  • SURVIVOR FILTER LIFETIME WARRANTY: Survivor Filter is based in North America and we cover all manufacturing and other defects with our Lifetime Warranty. If you ever run into any problems with any of our products simply contact us and we will work to make it right.
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
  • 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) - Sterling (Publisher)
Sale
The Forager's Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants
  • Winner of the 2006 Midwest Book Award!
  • 218 color photos, demonstrating each edible part in the proper stage of harvest, plus showing important identifying features
  • Step-by-step tutorial to positive plant identification
  • Photos and text comparing potentially confusing plants
  • Thorough discussion on how to gather and use the plants

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.