It’s a question we receive all the time on the forum. Generally, the person asking the question wants to do it with as little gear as possible. If you are reading this sticky then there’s a good chance you’ve been directed here because you just asked the same question.
I suppose it’s a romantic notion to think you can survive in the wilderness with few tools. A lot have tried. Most have failed. Some have died doing it. So let’s think about survival as a life style. That is, after all, why you are here. No one would consider computer programming as a lifestyle with no training or experience and they would never consider becoming a stock broker with no training or experience yet folks seem quick to place their safety and their life at risk with neither training nor experience. The reason they are willing to do that is they don’t understand the risks inherent in being in the wilderness with few tools (yes, experience and knowledge are tools). When that happens, they often give up and go home dejected and disappointed or, as is often the case, they put the lives of Search and Rescue folks in peril trying to save them.
I should also point out that no one "practices their survival skills" unless they are in a strictly supervisored environment. No one should intentionally place themselves in an environment where survival skills are required. If you do you need to understand that the opposite of success is a SAR rescue, severe injury or death. Do you really want those options on the table? You can practice camping, hiking, wilderness skills, first aid and/or navigation but you should never think you can test your "survival skills".
That aside, let’s start by having you answer a few simple questions.
1. How much knowledge do you have? You should know how to perform the following tasks in all kinds of environments.
1a. How to build expedient shelters.
1b. Create fire with no tools or tools you create yourself in the wilderness.
1c. Know where to find water and how to purify it.
1d. Basic land navigation.
1e. Basic psychology of survival.
1f. Basic first aid.
1g. Be able to identify plants in your area. Both poisonous and edible.
1h. Understand weather signs.
1i. Basics of trapping and snaring.
1j. How to build expedient tools and weapons.
1k. Basics of signaling.
1l. How to prioritize needs.
2. How much experience do you have? You should be proficient at the items listed above. You will be called upon to deal with each of the items on the list at one time or another. Some of them frequently if not daily and your ability to handle them may determine if you live or die.
3. What do you know about the geography of the area you intend to survive in? You should know and understand the location you intend to call home. You will need to know the flora and the fauna. You’ll need to understand the climate and terrain. You will need to know where the closest town or settlements are located just in case and you will need to know how to resupply yourself. You’ll need to know if the land is government owned, tribal owned or privately owned. You’ll need to know the laws governing each. Being arrested for trespass your third day out is probably going to be depressing.
4. What items do you need to take with you? It is better to have gear and not need it than to need it and not have it. Those are not my words but the words of EXPERIENCED outdoors men and women. If you do not know what items are appropriate for you then you have neither the knowledge nor the experience to attempt what it is you want to do.
So how do you gain the knowledge and the experience? There are many roads you can take to arrive at the same place. Joining this forum is certainly a step in the right direction. There is an abundance of information to be found within the threads of the forum. There is also an abundance of information seasoned members are willing to share. Try searching for the answer to your question by using the Search tool at the top of the page. You’ll be surprised how much information has already been covered and the chances are very good you’ll find your answer. If you don’t find the answer then feel free to ask.
Read. There are a myriad of books on survival, camping and hiking. There is a sticky on the forum that lists a variety of excellent books. You can visit it at:
Read the stickies under each of the headings. They discuss things like the best knife, multi-use items, saws and axes and a whole lot more.
Practice, practice and more practice. If you have no experience then begin by picking one item at a time from the list in number 1 above. Research as much information as you can about it and begin practicing even if you have to do so in your own back yard. Learning how to make a fire bow or fire plough, for example, can be done quite easily at home.
Find a mentor. Someone that has outdoor experience is a treasure beyond words. Their experience is often location or region specific, which is something that will be hard to find in any book. You can find a mentor by joining a group; hiking, camping, reenacting, Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts or your local Community Emergency Response Team. There are any number of group activities that are occurring in your area. You just need to investigate what is available and participate. I’m sure you’ll find opportunities within those groups or individuals that will be interested in helping you.
Take a class. Survival and first aid classes are offered through private, civic and charitable organizations. Find one close to you and see what they have to offer. And don’t overlook local colleges and universities or parks programs.
Just Do It. Go to a local, state or federal park and camp out for a week-end. Start by car camping. That way if you have forgotten something important you are not putting your life at risk. Test out things you’ve tried, like fire starting, following local rules and regulations, or course. Make a list of things you needed but didn’t have and things you had but didn’t need. Each time you go out you can adjust your gear accordingly.
Finally, no one on the forum wants to dowse your dreams or desires. There are folks on here that do exactly what you seek to do. At the same time, we don’t want you to wander off and wind up another statistic. Instead, we want you armed with the knowledge and tools that you need to survive in the wilderness. And forget the notion that you can live off the land. It is not a sustainable life style. Everyone requires some basic staples to remain safe and healthy and to enjoy the lifestyle they have chosen.
If it is truly something you want to do then it is worthy of your best time and talents. And remember, you are investing in yourself. Aren’t you worth that much?