Basic Survival Skills for your Summer Adventures

Summertime is full of fun and adventure. Often this comes along with a certain level of risk and the reality is that disaster can strike at any moment. The key to mitigating these disasters is being as prepared as possible with some basic survival skills.

The truth is that it’s not just those taking back country adventures that risk finding themselves in survival situations. Anyone engaging in any outdoor activity could find themselves in dire straits at a moment’s notice. Something as simple as driving your car into a ditch on a desolate highway could find you struggling for life and in need of some basic survival skills.

We aren’t trying to be doom-sayers but it is a simple reality that we all must acknowledge so we can be prepared for when it happens. But don’t worry, with the right tools and a bit of knowledge of these summer survival basics, you will be well on your way to being prepared if the unthinkable happens to you.


There are a few items that are critical in a survival situation. Whether out for the day or a week-long expedition, these tools should be in every adventurer’s possession. Keep in mind, there is a possibility of being separated from your gear so the stuff in your pockets could save your life.
Before you start any adventure, be sure to always let someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back.

A good multi-tool will contain a good knife blade (essential) and a strong set of pliers preferably with a wire cutter. There are many types on the market and the rest of the attached tools can be tailored to your activity. This will give you the ability to “McGyver” everything from cleaning a fish to fixing a broken down ATV.

Rope has uncountable uses in any outdoor scenario. I prefer to carry paracord. Good paracord (550/200) has a tough outer sheath with multiple inside strands. It can be separated allowing the sheath to be used for heavy work, (200 lbs break strength) and the small interior strands for everything from fishing line to stitches. Paracord bracelets are popular right now. It also makes for great shoelaces.
fire starter

At least one way to make fire should be on your person at all times. A good old Bic lighter in the pocket is tough to beat. However those do have the tendency to fail or not work when wet. Waterproof matches are another good option but not as convenient. My personal favorite is a blast match. This is a version of the flint and steel but allows for one hand operation.
personal locator

Although our goal is to get away, this bit of technology should be on your “must have” list. Several versions of personal locators are on the market today. The one in my pack is the Delorme inReach. It not only has an emergency call but can be linked to my smartphone and allow me to send text messages via satellite from anywhere. It also has an option to allow loved ones to track your progress on a tablet or computer.

Even with limited knowledge of how to use it a compass can be very useful. Taking a bearing before you head out to collect supplies can prevent you from getting turned around. Familiarize yourself with a map and note your direction of travel before you head out.
bonus items

If you have the room available add these to your survival gear

Water purification tablets – simple, light and effective way to make water safe to drink
Food – Granola bars, chocolate bars, freeze-dried options. Anything that will not spoil
Wire – A small spool of soft wire. Good for everything from building shelters to snaring supper.
Duct tape – Rain gear patch, bandage, a million and one uses.
Drop Cloth – Those small, conveniently packaged bits of plastic you can purchase to keep the paint off the furniture can also make a shelter or help collect water.
First Aid Kit –Commercially made in many sizes, tailored to your activity. With these tools you have everything necessary to provide your basic needs for your unscheduled stay in the Wilderness.

Take your time as you start to assemble your essentials. Being in a rush can lead to poor decisions, losing your way or a possible injury which will only make the situation worse.


Water is of utmost importance when in a survival situation. Your first order of business is to locate and secure a water source. If you have water on you, ration it until you find a source for more. In the event you cannot find a source of water, there are a few things you can do to create a water source.

Try to find a low area or an area where it looks where water may have been present. Tall grass spots, willows, tamarack are all good indicators of moisture under the surface. Using whatever means at hand, dig a hole deep enough that water may leach in. Small rocks can be added to the bottom to help sediment settle out.

Solar Still basic survival skills

Solar Still

If the hole you’ve dug doesn’t look like it will give up water, use the sun to draw it out. Set a container to catch water in the bottom and anchor a piece of plastic over the hole. In the center of the plastic place a weight to create a cone and allow water that is condensed from the sun to drip into the cup.

Plants draw water from the ground and transpire it into the air when done. If you have a plastic bag on hand you can collect it. Place the bag over the leaves of the plant, the more succulent the plant, the better and tie the bag tightly to the stem. The greenhouse effect created will speed the transfer up and the bag will collect your water.


Shelter may not seem as important in summer months as it may in winter but weather can change without notice and being wet can make survival a challenge. Heat can also be a drain on the body causing dehydration, exhaustion, heat stroke and sunburn. All of these can make survival much more difficult than it would be otherwise. For these reasons shelter should be of considerable importance in a survival situation.
When building your shelter choose a location that takes advantage of as many natural elements as possible. Take into account the prevailing wind. Stay away from low spots where moisture may pool or cold, damp air may settle. Build it big enough to cover you completely and allow you to rest, but not too big to allow weather in. Be creative. Improvise. Here are a few options of varying degrees of complexity depending on your situation and the tools you have available.

The coniferous trees in the boreal forest can provide quick and easy shelter. Find a Large tree with thick, low slung branches that you can tuck yourself under. This will provide natural shade from the sun and wind. With a little extra work, more boughs can be weaved in to aid in shedding water.

Lean-to basic survival skills


The classic. You will need a ridge pole at about breast height. This can be attached to two trees with your cord or wire, or come in the form of a tipped over tree. “Lean” branches of an adequate length against the ridge to make a wedge design. Don’t forget to cover the sides. Spruce boughs, leaves, or moss can be used now to shingle the shelter.

This can be constructed the same as the lean-to with the tarp taking the place of most of the roofing material. It can also take a pup tent shape with the tarp simply draped over a pole leaned into the crotch of a tree and anchored to the ground using rocks or sticks as pegs.

Simple. Dig a hole long enough to lay in and deep enough to be comfortable. Line the hole with grass or leaves for a bed. Create a roof with sticks and cover with leaves, grass, etc. This will provide shelter from the heat and draw cool from the soil. Not recommended if rain is in the forecast.

Building a bed of leaves or boughs in your shelter will keep you off the cold ground and help to stop the creep of moisture up from the soil. This will help to get some much needed rest


With water and shelter taken care of, food is your next priority. Rationing will be important if you have an existing supply of food and it is important to never assume you will be rescued before you run out. You can go some time without food but hunger can cause weakness making even the simplest tasks difficult. Before your current rations expire it is important to forage for more food. Luckily sustenance is abundant in the wild and with a little work you can gather a stash of edibles to keep you going.


Cattail – The tender inner white parts of the shoots can be eaten raw or boiled.

Dandelion – The leafy greens can be eaten raw along with the unopened flowers

Pigweed – The young greens can be eaten raw or boiled

Wild Rose – Petals, buds, fruit, shoots and leaves can be eaten raw. Fruit can be boiled for tea.

Berries – At the right time of year berries can be in plentiful supply. Blueberry, Saskatoon, Chokecherry, Cloudberry and wild Raspberry and Strawberry are common and easy to pick out. Be careful to avoid other berries. Stomach irritation can occur when these are eaten.Edible Pla ts

Always err on the side of caution when gathering plants. Unless you are 100% confident, stay away from mushrooms. Stick with ones that are easy to correctly identify. There are many out there that can add to your discomfort or worse.

Fish – We are lucky in the fact that a lot of our water bodies contain fish. They may be as small as minnows but all can provide sustenance. If angling gear isn’t an option, simple fish traps can be made by piling rocks to corral fish into an area where they are able to be caught. Remember many species are more active at dawn and dusk when they cruise the shallows. This can make them easier to target. Remove the innards and cook them well. Freshwater fish can contain parasites but most are killed by cooking.

Small Game – Squirrel, rabbit, gophers and even mice are creatures of habit and are trapped with relative ease. Snaring is a very effective way to gather these sources of protein. Make your snares, from your thin wire or inner strands of paracord, keeping your target species in mind. Rule of thumb is a 2” loop, 2” off the tree for squirrel and a 3-4” loop, 5” off the ground for rabbit. Once their travel paths have been identified place your snares in areas where the trail is naturally constricted.

Remove the fur from the animals by making a small cut from one hind foot to the other below the tail. Use your fingers to loosen the hide from the back legs and then peel forward like removing a sock. Pull as far as the head and remove it as well as the feet. Take care when gutting small game as they can carry parasites as well and be sure to cook thoroughly.


Fire is important for several reasons besides the obvious warmth and cooking. Fire can also provide a sense of security which helps ease the mind about the present situation and can also help keep wild life at bay. It’s important to keep your fire small and manageable for several reasons. First, it will require less fuel to keep it going meaning less work to do which is especially important if you have sustained an injury. Second, it will help reduce the risk of forest fires or accidents. Where possible, fires should be built in clear areas to help reduce the risk of forest fires.
To start your fire quickly and easily with the first ignition you will need “fine fuels.” Nature provides excellent fire starter such as Birch bark and Usnea (Bear’s Hair or Old Man’s Beard), But there are some everyday items that are also very effective. Cotton balls or old t-shirt pieces can be coated with a little Vaseline for a man-made fine fuel that will catch with a blast match and maintain a flame for quite some time. Alcohol based hand sanitizer does the trick too.

Survival Tip Dryer lint is one of the best fire starters you’ll find. One spark from a flint and steel and your fire is roaring. It’s virtually weightless and most of us have an endless supply which makes this a great addition to your survival kit.


Injuries should be tended to as soon as possible. Even minor ailments such as splinters or a headache can cause a distraction from the task at hand and make things more difficult than necessary, which in turn can lead to worsening of the present situation.

We recommend taking a first aid course but some basic supplies and knowledge can go a long way as well.

A good first aid kit should contain, an assortment of adhesive bandages, a roll of gauze or gauze pads, skin tape, an elastic bandage, disinfectant or alcohol pads, rubber gloves, a triangular bandage, an antihistamine and some pain relievers. Tweezers and scissors are handy as well. These should cover most minor wounds.

Make sure you take the time to familiarize yourself with the contents of your first aid kit and how to properly use each item.

A little preparation and knowledge can go a long way if your trip doesn’t go quite as planned. No matter where your adventures may take you, plan ahead, travel safe and enjoy all that nature has to offer.

by Steve Yanish

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