8 Things You Need to Survive In The Wilderness

Out in the wild, when the sun dips behind the trees and you're a good distance from any road, that's when reality kicks in. It's you against the elements.

No fancy prose here — just the hard truth that in these moments, your survival skills aren't party tricks. Whether you're a grizzled hunter, military personnel, or just out for a hike, your survival hinges on your readiness.

This isn’t about luck; it's about knowledge and having the right gear. Make no mistake, the wilderness will test you. In the most remote locations, your gear isn’t just stuff you carry — it's what keeps you alive. And your skills? They're what stand between you and real danger.

You need a survival blueprint that covers the basics like navigation and first aid, to the deeper aspects of mental grit and physical stamina. Start by mastering each of the concepts below.

1. Gearing Up for Survival

Preparation is king when faced with survival. And the gear you bring and how you use it makes all the difference. Among an endless list of items you could bring along, here are several you’d be crazy to leave behind.

Survival Kit Contents:

When you're miles from civilization, your survival kit is your lifeline. Carefully chosen, each item becomes a necessity if you’re thrown into a survival situation. At a bare minimum, let’s break down what should be in your survival kit: 

  • Multi-tool or Survival Knife: This is your go-to for almost everything. You'll use it for cutting, fixing gear, and preparing food. It's your indispensable pocket-sized toolbox, and a tough survival knife can handle heavier tasks like chopping wood or defending yourself. Pick one that fits your grip well – it's as vital as your own hands out there. 
  • Emergency Shelter (Tent/Tarp): When the weather turns, or night falls, an emergency shelter is your safe haven. It could be a compact tent or a basic tarp. Whatever it may be, your shelter is your first line of defense against the elements. It's about survival, not comfort. A good shelter keeps you dry, warm, and, above all, alive. It’s your personal fortress in the wilderness, a place where you can rest and regain strength for the challenges ahead.
  • Fire-Starting Tools (Matches, Lighter): Fire is a survival essential. It's for warmth, cooking, water purification, signaling, etc. Imagine trying to light a fire in the pouring rain or strong winds – that’s when the quality of your fire-starting tools really shows. Your matches or lighter should be waterproof and windproof. Quality fire-starting tools are a must – they can mean the difference between a safe night and a risky one. And be sure to pack them close by - they should always be within reach.

Water Purification Methods:

Clean water is a must. While it may be all around you in the mountains and backcountry, you know it’s not always safe to drink. Here’s what you need to make sure your water will keep you hydrated without making you ill:

  • Portable Water Filter: This tool is crucial. When you're hiking for miles and come across a stream, you can't just drink directly. That's where your portable water filter comes in. It turns unsafe water from streams into drinkable water. It's lightweight and easy to use, essential for avoiding waterborne illnesses.
  • Boiling Techniques: If there's a fire, there's a way to purify water. Boiling water is the oldest trick in the book, but it's effective. All you need is a container and a good fire. Boiling kills pathogens and makes water safe to drink. Sure, it takes time and fuel, but in the wilderness, safe water is worth its weight in gold.
  • Chemical Purification Tablets: These are your last line of defense. When there’s no filter or fire, chemical purification tablets can save the day. They're small, easy to carry, and incredibly effective. In just a few minutes, these tablets can turn a potentially dangerous water source into a lifeline. They might leave a slight taste, but when it's a choice between that and dehydration, the choice is clear. Be sure to include purification tablets in your survival kit.

Navigation Tools:

Aside from injury, the quickest way to enter a survival scenario in the wilderness is getting lost. All your rations and gear immediately look smaller when you’re lost. Your navigation tools are your guide back to safety. Play it safe by using the latest tech AND knowing how to navigate in the absence of battery-powered equipment.

  • Compass and Map: Reliable and always ready, a compass and a map are the foundation of your navigation tools. Batteries die, but a compass and map never fail. Learn to read them correctly, and you'll never be truly lost. They’re your silent guides, helping you understand the terrain and find your way.
  • GPS (Bring An Extra Power Bank): GPS navigation isn't what it used to be; it's better. With powerhouse apps like onX, your phone is your navigation tool, period. Forget about weak signals and lost connections; save your maps directly on your phone and keep exploring, no matter where you are. And here's a pro tip: pack an extra power bank for your phone. A battery charger might be the only thing that prevents you from getting lost.
  • Stars and Natural Landmarks for Navigation: When all else fails, look to the stars. Our ancestors navigated vast distances using just the night sky. Learn the basics of celestial navigation, and you'll have a skill that won’t fail even when gadgets do. Similarly, natural landmarks like mountains, rivers, and unique rock formations can serve as points of reference. They’re the language of the land, telling you where you are and where you need to go.

These essential tools are the absolute minimum for facing nature's challenges. Choose your gear wisely and respect nature's power. You never know when you’ll need to be flung into disaster.

2. Sustenance in the Wild

In survival mode, your skill in finding food is key to keeping your strength up. You’re not just looking for a meal; you’re sustaining your energy to survive.

  • Edible Plants – Know What to Eat: You've got to know which plants are safe. Edible plants are abundant in the wild, but so are poisonous ones. Before you head out, study the plants in the region you'll be in. Use guides to learn the safe ones – look at the leaves, the colors, the textures. And if you're not sure, don't eat it.
  • Hunting and Fishing – Skills that Feed: There’s a good chance you already know how to hunt - it’s probably what’s put you in the backcountry in the first place. That’s great, because your hunting and fishing skills can go a long way in keeping you nourished. You may need to add a few extra scrappy skills to make the most of a survival scenario though: learn to set snares, fish with makeshift gear, and hunt small game. It's about being patient and quiet. These aren't overnight skills – practice them every chance you get.
  • Cooking Wild Food Right: Got something to eat? Make sure you prepare and cook it properly. Raw meat is risky. Clean and cook everything well. For plants, make sure they're not just edible but clean. Cooking not only makes the food safe to eat but also easier to digest, conserving your body’s energy for survival.

Maintaining Hydration:

Water is your lifeline, not a drink. Keeping yourself hydrated will give your body what it needs to function properly. 

  • Finding Fresh Water: One of your top priorities is finding clean water. Flowing streams are better than stagnant pools. Stay away from water near industrial or farming areas – it's likely contaminated - although if you’re remote enough, this won’t likely be a concern. Natural springs are gold, but rare. And always purify any water you find.
  • Collecting Rainwater: In dry areas, rainwater is your best bet. Collecting rainwater is relatively simple — use any clean container or tarp to catch and store rain. Make sure the container is clean to avoid contamination. In arid environments, techniques like digging a solar still can extract moisture from the soil.
  • Recognizing Dehydration: Dehydration sneaks up on you, especially if you’re at high altitude. Watch for signs like thirst, dry mouth, tiredness, and less pee. Stay ahead of it – drink regularly, not just when thirsty. When water's scarce, lay low during the heat, stay in the shade. Eating wet food and limiting hard work helps save water too.

Beyond ‘making it through’, you’ll need to wisely use what nature gives you.

3. Building a Shelter

Your shelter is your defense against the elements. There are several ways to create a solid fortification, including:

  • Natural Shelters (Caves, Tree Hollows): Sometimes, nature has already done the job for you. Caves and tree hollows can be great spots to hunker down. They shield you from wind and rain, maybe even predators. But, watch out for current wildlife residents – check for fresh signs. Also, make sure it's stable so it won’t collapse on you.
  • Making a Lean-To or A-Frame: If there’s nothing natural around, it’s time to build. A lean-to, with branches against a tree or rock, can be quick to set up. An A-frame is sturdier – it’s a ridgepole with two supports, covered in branches and leaves. Keep it just big enough for you, to trap body heat.
  • Insulation and Waterproofing: Don’t forget to insulate and waterproof. Lay leaves, grass, or pine needles on the ground to keep the cold out. For keeping dry, large leaves, bark, or a tarp work. Make sure your roof sheds rain and extends over the edges to stop leaks.

Where to Build:

The location of your shelter can make the difference between a safe haven and a survival risk. It means everything to your survival shelter.

  • Away from Wildlife: Stay clear of animal paths, waterholes, and signs of predators (always examine trees surrounding your location.) High ground gives you a view and safety.
  • Near Water, But Not Too Close: You need water, but don’t build right next to it. Find a spot a few hundred feet away to avoid flooding and animals.
  • Protected from Elements: Avoid low spots where water collects or wide-open areas with strong winds. Natural barriers like rocks or thickets help. Consider where the sun hits – you want some warmth, but not too much.

Building a shelter in the wild is about striking a balance between utilizing what nature offers and applying your skills to create a safe, functional space. It’s a skill that epitomizes the essence of wilderness survival: adaptability and resourcefulness.

4. Wilderness First Aid Skills

Your hunting first aid kit is your first line of defense in an emergency. If you view your kit as a bunch of supplies, then this section is for you. It’s your medical center in the field. For an exhaustive list of the supplies needed, be sure to check out our full list of hunting first aid kit supplies list, but here are several of the basics to include:

  • Bandages, Gauze, Tape: You'll need these for any cuts. Bandages and gauze stop bleeding and keep wounds clean. Tape holds everything in place. Out here, a small cut can turn serious fast, so these basics are crucial.
  • Antiseptic Wipes, Ointments: Infections are no joke in the wilderness. Clean every wound with antiseptic wipes to kill bacteria. Antibiotic ointments help keep infections at bay and speed up healing. Don't underestimate a small cut – treat it right away.
  • Splints, Scissors: For broken bones or sprains, you need splints to keep things stable. Scissors aren't just for cutting bandages – they're for cutting away clothing from wounds or shaping splints. These tools are key for keeping injuries from getting worse until you can get proper medical help.

Handling Common Wilderness Injuries:

Knowing how to handle injuries is as important as having the right items. Since ankle injuries will be the most common injury you’ll face, be sure to check out our full guide on preventing and handling ankle injuries while hunting or surviving in the backcountry. as having a first aid kit.

  • Treating Cuts, Burns, Fractures: Clean and cover cuts immediately. Cool burns with water and cover them. Immobilize fractures with splints or whatever you have on hand. Quick action here can prevent serious problems.
  • Spotting Hypothermia, Heatstroke: Hypothermia shows up as shivering, slurred speech, and slow breathing. Warm the person slowly – no direct heat. Heatstroke comes with no sweat, confusion, and a fast heartbeat. Get them to a cooler place and cool them down. Both need medical help ASAP.
  • Bites, Stings Management: Remove stingers, wash the area, and use a cold pack for swelling. Watch for allergic reactions – they can be deadly. For snake bites, keep the bitten area still and get medical help right away.

Your skills and gear are what stand between a bad situation and a survival story. Be prepared and know what to do – it could save a life when you're miles from help.

There are preventative steps you can take to minimize your chances of injury before you head into the wild - so do your part and get ahead of the situation well in advance.

5. Fire Building Techniques

Knowing how to start a fire (beyond a lighter and lighter fluid) is mandatory. Here are the different techniques to master beforehand.

  • Diverse Fire Starting Methods: Matches and lighters are easy, but you need more tricks up your sleeve. Learn to use flint and steel, fire plows, and bow drills. These methods rely on friction or sparks to ignite a flame. It's about skill, not just luck.
  • Choosing the Right Tinder and Kindling: Tinder kicks off your fire. Use dry leaves, grass, bark, or even lint. It’s got to be bone-dry and quick to catch fire. Kindling comes next – small sticks and branches that will carry the flame to bigger logs. The idea is to build up from small to big.
  • Keeping the Fire in Check: Managing your fire is vital. Box it in with rocks or a dug-out pit. Never leave your fire alone, and put it out completely when you're done. Douse it with water or dirt and stir the ashes. Make sure it's dead out.

Using Fire for Survival:

  • Signaling for Help: Need rescue? Fire can be your signal. Green leaves create smoke for signaling. Three fires arranged in a triangle is an SOS signal seen worldwide.
  • Cooking and Boiling Water: Fire's key for making your food safe to eat and water safe to drink. Boiling water kills germs and parasites. When cooking, control the heat to avoid burning your meal.
  • Warmth and a Mental Boost: A fire does more than cook and signal; it keeps you warm and rebuilds your confidence. It wards off hypothermia and can turn a harsh night into a bearable one. The comfort of a fire – its light and warmth – is a mental game-changer in the wild. This goes well beyond some feel-good story, it’s hardwired in mankind’s DNA to find security through fire.

6. Signaling and Communication

Being able to signal properly in the wild can mean the difference between rescue and remaining lost.

  • Mirrors, Smoke, and SOS Signals: Use mirrors to catch sunlight and flash a signal that can be seen for miles. Smoke is ideal for day and night – a big, smoky fire gets noticed. Add green stuff to boost the smoke. The SOS signal – three short, three long, three short signals – is a global distress call. Use it when you're in real trouble.
  • Improvised Signaling Gear: No standard gear? Get creative. Use bright clothes to catch the eye, make noise with metal or by hitting trees, and spell out SOS big in a clearing or with rocks on a beach.
  • Picking the Right Spot and Time: Signal from high ground for better odds of being seen. Open areas beat dense woods for visibility. For timing, midday is prime for mirror flashes, twilight for fires and smoke. Night's good for sound signals – they travel further.
  • Battery Life Hacks: Keep your gadgets off when not in use to save juice. Protect them from extreme cold, which kills batteries. If you can, bring a solar charger or extra batteries.

In a survival pinch, signaling and communicating smartly are key. It's about using what you've got, whether old-school methods or the latest tech, to let rescuers know where you are and get you back to safety.

7. Mental Toughness and Resilience

Your headspace in the wild is just as crucial as your physical skills. A positive attitude is a key survival tool. There’s a ton of science behind it, specifically how your mindset impacts your physiology. An immediate order of business is to shift from ‘fight or flight’ mode and back into your full brain power steering the ship. You can get there quicker with greater mental toughness, with a key goal of remaining positive.

  • Boosting Morale: It's tough to stay upbeat in hard times, but it's essential. Set small goals to nail that sense of achievement - be sure to study the MTNTOUGH Mindset for tactics to reach a positive state of mind. Remind yourself of your past wins. Use mental tricks like picturing yourself overcoming challenges – it can lift your spirits.
  • Building Mental Resilience: This is your shield against the wild's curveballs. Get tougher by pushing your limits safely, like during your training. The more you deal with controlled tough spots, the better you'll handle real crises.
  • Handling Loneliness and Fear: The solitude of the wild can hit hard. Keep busy to beat loneliness. Stick to a routine for a sense of normalcy. Face your fears, but don't let them boss you around. Deep breathing and mindfulness can keep fear in check. Fear's normal, but you decide how it affects you.
  • Setting Priorities: Nail down what needs attention first. Shelter and water come before anything else. Focusing on what matters most saves your energy for the big stuff.
  • Creative Problem-Solving: The wild demands thinking on your feet. No tool for the job? Figure out how to make do with what you've got. Improvise with what's around you.
  • Staying Calm, Staying Sharp: Panic is your worst enemy out here. Keep cool by dealing with what's in front of you. Break big problems into smaller bits. It makes them less daunting and keeps you focused. Deep breaths help keep your head clear.

Developing mental toughness and resilience is about preparation, practice, and mindset. Equip yourself with not only the physical tools and skills but also the mental strategies to navigate the challenges of the wilderness. You can kill two birds with one stone with MTNTOUGH’s functional fitness. Remember, survival is as much about mental endurance as it is about physical endurance.

8. Navigating the Terrain

This goes hand-in-hand with knowing how to read a map and using your compass to prevent getting lost, but in addition to your map skills, nature can provide you with some navigational hints. Here’s what you need to know when navigating without a compass or map.

  • Sun and Stars for Direction: The sun's your daytime guide, rising in the east, setting in the west. At night, stars, especially the North Star in the Northern Hemisphere, keep you on track.
  • Reading the Terrain: The land itself points the way. Rivers flow downhill, valleys might lead to settlements, and mountains can guide you longitudinally. 
  • Weather Patterns as Guides: Weather can steer your travel. Knowing which way the wind usually blows and how weather patterns move in the area can help you anticipate changes and make smarter travel choices.

Navigating in the wild merges skill, knowledge, and keen observation. It's about reading the land, sky, and elements to find your way. 

Becoming Always Ready

MTNTOUGH's 'Always Ready' concept is a mindset that toes the line of lifestyle; a commitment to being prepared for whatever the wilderness throws your way. Being physically and mentally equipped to handle any situation is the premise. It’s also the thinking behind building your 'Always Ready' kit, which you can find detailed instructions at MTNTOUGH's guide to creating an emergency preparedness kit.

The core of 'Always Ready' is comprehensive preparedness and understanding the unpredictability of nature while equipping yourself with the knowledge, skills, and gear to face it in the best way possible

This involves more than just having the right equipment. You need to know how to use the gear you have and cultivate a mindset of resilience, adaptability, and proactive thinking.

MTNTOUGH+ doesn't just equip you with tools; it builds you into one. Through our programs and workouts, you’ll foster the physical strength, endurance, and mental toughness to endure and thrive in survival situations. MTNTOUGH’s functional training prepares your body and mind to be ‘Always Ready’ for a challenge.

To start building your resilience and begin your journey to becoming 'Always Ready,' take advantage of MTNTOUGH’s exclusive 14-day free trial. This is your opportunity to experience firsthand how MTNTOUGH prepares you for the rigors of the wilderness with no strings attached. Embrace the 'Always Ready' philosophy and transform yourself into someone who doesn't just prepare for the unknown, but masters it.