Mental, physical, and practical preparation are a survivalist’s first task. Sizing up situations and risks when they occur comes naturally and consequentially thereafter.
Every scenario has its own features, and an emergency situation is constantly changing. It can be thought of as a flow of events with a number of factors that need to be 1) observed, 2) analyzed, and 3) handled.
In a hypothetical SHTF situation, you may consider the possibility of a transition into three different contexts: urban, suburban, and off-grid.
Needless to say, each one requires a specific plan in terms of:
Mindset and pragmatic approach to problem solving
In this article, we will focus on the essential skills you need to master for survival when you need to bug out into the outdoors.
Bugging Out in the Outdoors: Pros and Cons
Far from being a foregone solution to all the problems that arise in urban or suburban scenarios, bugging out into the outdoors has both pros and cons.
First of all, being an outdoor enthusiast all your life doesn’t turn you into an expert or a pro. In fact, there is a substantial difference in spending some weekends out camping, hiking, climbing, hunting, etc. and mastering real skills you need which could literally save your life over a long period of time.
The biggest advantage of the outdoors is obvious: it represents a valuable resource for different materials like wood, water, and food. The first critical issue arising from this consists of taking advantage of those resources without exploiting what surrounds you.
The second one is related to the true level of your skills and whether you can use them with common sense and accuracy. As in the wise saying, “Use it or lose it,” you cannot rekindle the abilities you gained during your Boy Scout years and pretend you are still good at all – or even some – of them. Without a constant, methodical practice, it is easy to forget.
Furthermore, tension, anguish, panic, and fear could overwhelm you and seriously compromise the application of your skills.
The pros of going to the outdoors are all consistent with the intrinsic benefits of being off-grid.
abundance of timber to make fire, build a shelter, etc.
presence of game
presence of water
possibility to move and live undetected
reduced risks from potentially ill-intentioned people and from high-risk stuations in general
And, just to mention the most obvious disadvantages, the cons have mainly to do with the following:
scarcity (or absence) of modern devices you may need (GPS, mobile phones, etc.)
potential impossibility of finding vehicles
the presence of predators, insects, harsh conditions, etc.
Considering all of the above, bugging out into the outdoors would be the ideal solution only if you are 100% ready to accept both sides of the coin.
Choosing to survive in the outdoors has a certain romantic flare, but… are you really fit for that life? Be honest with yourself when asking this question, especially if your idea is to bug out with your family.
Duty and responsibility must take precedence over childish perspectives and dreams that have no real substance.
Physical and mental preparation can be achieved by spending as much time as possible in the backwoods, experiencing different weather conditions, pushing ourselves to the limit, and testing our attitude and skills.
6 Essential Skills for Bugging Out in the Outdoors
At this point, it will be useful for us to cluster the essential survival skills into several groups.
Bugging out in an area you are familiar with is obviously the most reasonable option.
In fact, having already scouted a specific area can help when
detecting the right place for your bug out spot
identifying the existing resources
choosing which items you will need to bring in
starting to build a shelter
But what if you need to rush into a context you have never been in before?
In this case, a good, detailed map of the area is mandatory, along with adeptness at using a compass and setting reference points while you move.
Natural navigation and orientation are the first skills you need to gain and master.
Once you have identified an ideal place to bug out, setting up a temporary or long term shelter is your second necessity. A lot could be said on this topic but I will touch on the main requirements here.
First, making a shelter requires practical skills like handling a blade (e.g. knives, axes, saws) in the correct way and the ability to make knots in order to make your shelter solid, resistant, and sufficient for all of your situation’s specific needs as regards safety, heating, and comfort.
The next requirement if insulation. Insulation takes a long time and extra care, especially when you only have natural materials available to you. Doing it correctly requires a high level of competence and testing.
Last but not least, making and keeping your shelter waterproof is critical.
Setting up a shelter cannot be considered separately from heating, especially when bad weather strikes.
To stay warm, you have to start a fire, which involves gathering the proper tinder as well as the right wood to burn and to use as a deflector.
There are several methods to start a fire, from using a ferro rod to friction; each one has its own challenges related to resources, humidity, and your physical and mental capabilities.
Knowing every method is certainly good, but never forget to use common sense: when you feel fatigue, your performances cannot hit the top. Being low on calories, for example, will undermine any success.
Gathering edible plants and berries isn’t as easy as it may appear. Just think about the Christopher McCandless story. Running into mistakes is very, very likely.
Therefore, it is pretty reasonable to not only always have a manual of local edible plants with you containing good photos (not sketches!), but also to do a toxicity test before eating any of them.
Collecting and cleaning water is another crucial matter. You cannot expect to last more than one week out if you don’t know how to do that.
Hunting and fishing requires an excellent and profound knowledge of the weapon you use (e.g. rifle, bow, spear), and along with that, all the steps required to skin, process, and preserve what you catch.
But before you can even use your weapon, you must know how to track and approach game. Without that, any attempt to hunt will be futile. Therefore, tracking skills become necessary to pursue your hunting goals.
Tracking will also enable you to gather from the terrain the information you need to live and move off-grid while leaving minimal signs of your passage.
5. Living Undetected
Tracking skills are your best allies when it comes to reading the soil to know if any outsider has approached your bug out place, be it predator or human.
By knowing how to read tracks, you will consequentially learn how not to leave your own so you won’t give away your position and movements.
In this way, you will be able to keep your bug out place safe.
6. Self Defense
Knowing how to handle a weapon safely, how to use it when necessary, and how to maintain it is an often underrated skillset for bugging out.
Mishaps can be just around the corner even if you are in the middle of nowhere. Even if humans are no longer an issue, predators may be: bears, mountain lions, you name it.
Having a firearm and ammo and taking care of them is one of the things you must consider when you bug out.
How to Learn Essential Survival Skills
Reading books or watching videos on YouTube are just good starting points, but you have to try out skills yourself, and, even better, attend classes where you can be taught by professionals.
There are plenty of good survival schools all over the US offering focused courses to teach you how to start a fire, how to build a shelter, and more.
They will lead you in the right direction, giving you all the tools to learn and to fix your mistakes in the proper way.
Being curious, asking questions, and being eager to learn should be your credo.
Test Your Survival Skills in the Field
Knowing the skills you will need to bug out to the outdoors and learning them is the first step. Testing them is the next.
I will emphasize again that it is important to refresh your skills every time you have the chance to do so. Even better is sharing them with the rest of your family. Children always prove to be excellent learners as their minds are totally open to soak in every new thing they come in contact with.
Sharing is not only caring, it is part of growing together and helping each other for the greater good.
One of the best things you can do to practice the skills you need to bug out is to plan a test weekend in the field and try to simulate a bug out situation. This will be of tremendous help when SHTF may occur.
Kyt Lyn Walken
- Certified Wildlife Conservation Ranger at Conservation Ranger Operations Worldwide
- Official Representative & Instructor at Hull’s Tracking School
- Directora de Rastreo Humano por Dynamic Tracking (Spain)
- The way of Tracking – European Mantracking School
This article was optimized by Grace McCuthchen, Survival Dispatch Editor