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25 Primitive Survival Skills Everyone Needs to Know

Discover the 25 most useful primitive survival skills you should start learning today

Survival gear makes navigating emergencies easier, but what happens when you're caught without it in a perilous situation?

While primitive wilderness survival skills may be ancient, that doesn't mean they can't still be effective. We should learn these stone-age essential survival skills—especially now—being reliant on electronic devices (and battery power) to live.

If you’re wondering how to survive the wilderness, we’ve curated a wilderness survival guide that comprises wilderness survival training, survival gear and equipment.

Surviving in Wilderness: Ultimate Survival Tips and Tricks

1. Frictional Fire

Creating fire through friction is one of the most ancient methods for harnessing the power of nature. Friction methods generally involve rotating a drill back and forth on a board (equilibrium is key to getting this working). An alternative is to generate a sawing motion (once again, back and forth). You should keep in mind a few constants regardless of the technique you choose. 

Begin by carefully selecting your materials. Most friction fire sets call for softer woods for the friction components. You should use this wood quickly (if you wish to use the kit right away). However, make sure it is not rotten. Falling bark and fungus growing on the wood are both signs that friction fire components like drills and boards should not be used. 

Additionally, you'll want to look for species that have low ignition temperatures and low pitch levels (pitch is an oil-based sap that acts as a lubricant once heated, causing friction). Last but not least, you'll need to assemble the kit correctly and master the skill of using it. This complex art form has a lot of things that can go wrong—but when everything goes right, fire is born.

2. Tie a Knot

No matter how many hours you've spent practicing tying knots, all that practice is useless without string, cord, or rope to tie them. Here, cordage production steps up as an unsung hero. Simple cordage doesn't require braiding, twisting, or slicing. You can use it right away from plants that provide natural cordage.

Cordage alternatives include wisteria vine runners, long rubbery roots, and strips of bark in the form of ribbons. If you're trying to tie a knot, a simple sheet bend should do the trick, as the materials are usually too stiff to tie complex knots. The inner fiber of certain trees can also be twisted into cordage of any thickness and length for those knowledgeable about plants. You just need a little practice, time, and raw materials.

3. Stone Blades

There are many ways to create razor-sharp blades from common rocks all over the world using different stone-working techniques. A piece of flint or quartz can be fragmented off a sharp stone flake by striking a thin edge with a small stone cobble. When it comes to cutting rope and food, these blades can be as tough as the stones they came from. Lastly, the stone flakes themselves are disposable, something that puts them ahead of your expensive wilderness survival knife. 

When you have other tools available, you won’t be stuck using one knife to butcher an animal. Knives carved from stone do not have to be reinserted into a sheath once you're done, either. Toss the stone back into the woods and continue on your way.

4. Creating Traps

Even if you've never thought about incorporating trapping into your outdoor survival skills, there are many reasons to do so. You can control predators with traps. You can also harvest game animals using traps that aren't practical to hunt (for example, nocturnal animals). When it's too cold or wet to be outside, trapping can still help you collect sustenance. If you follow the rules, using this skill increases your chances of bringing home meat. You'll have to fool their nose and play the numbers to harvest game even when you're not there. 

Whenever you set traps in wilderness survival settings, or any other situation, you must minimize the human scent. There will be dozens of traps you need to set in order to catch wild game. There are a lot of things that can go wrong in trappings, such as setting deadfalls, snares, or other sorts of devices. Still, if survival trapping is done right, it's almost like getting free food.

5. Use Rocks to Boil Your Water

The effects of dehydration can be deadly within days, so remember to drink enough water to keep your body hydrated. Keep in mind, you can't just drink any water to stay hydrated. Humans are vulnerable to many different organisms that are found in raw water across the globe. The contaminants in surface water can be both lifesaving as well as deadly, ranging from viruses and bacteria to amoebas and parasitic worms that cannot be seen. 

A simple method for treating raw water is boiling, which is the oldest and most reliable method of disinfecting water. This method is called “rock boiling,” which can be done without a pot or kettle. First, find a clean and large vessel. You can boil water by dropping small stones (collected from a dry area) into the vessel one by one, after heating these stones for 30 to 45 minutes over a fire. It could be a large wooden bowl or trough (which would be too dangerous to place over a fire). If you do this, be sure to place a barrier between the fire and the wood so it doesn’t burn. You could also find a hole in a rock (which might be too heavy for you to move). Fashion some tongs from a thick green stick to move the hot rocks safely. 

6. Building a Shelter

Do you remember building stick forts as a kid? This skill is going to prove useful as this time, it could save your life. With nature's resources, we can create many different kinds of shelter for survival. If we can keep a fire going through the night, a lean-to can provide some warmth as well as protection from the wind. 

A debris hut is even more effective for warming up at night, but they are cramped and take a long time to construct. Consider these tips regardless of the architectural style you choose:

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  • Make sure you have enough time to finish it before dark.
  • ​Make sure your building site has good drainage (do not build in a ditch or ravine).
  • ​Pick a location with plenty of building materials to expedite construction.
  • ​Make sure the door faces away from the prevailing winds and storms.
  • ​Keep your fire downwind of shelters, especially if they are built of dead leaves, dry grasses, and other flammable materials.

7. Foraging

The first aspect of foraging is simply picking some weeds and eating them. However, there are many subtleties to the art of weed eating, and there are a lot of things that can go wrong. A foraging activity can involve both basic and complex acts, such as picking berries or cracking and soaking acorns. You must identify the plant species and use the plant parts correctly, regardless of how deeply you delve into the subject. Foraging mistakes can range from minor stomach aches to organ failure and death. Do not collect carelessly.

8. Navigating

In the wild, finding your way might seem impossible without the use of modern navigation equipment and detailed topographic maps. But that's not true. The human species has been figuring things out for millennia. Thus, if you lose your compass or your GPS battery dies, you can still find your way using traditional methods. 

It is easier to determine direction when you look at the sun and moon, both which rise in the east and set in the west, respectively. In North America, most storms and prevailing winds come from the west, so they can follow predictable patterns, too. Stars and constellations can help you navigate at night. Using the North Star and its surroundings (the Big Dipper, Little Dipper, and Cassiopeia), we can see which way is north. 

Put a stick in the ground in a sunny spot midday. A shadow pointing due north will be created at the midpoint between dawn and dusk. Make a mark on the ground where the shadow tip falls (place a stone or point a small stick at it) and mark it again in a few hours if you are uncertain of the time. This will create an east-west line, with the first marker in the east and the second in the west.

9. Fishing

There is more to fishing than just a great pastime. We need protein and fat from fish to survive in the wilderness (two macronutrients hard to obtain while forage for plants). In the spring and summer, this is an important means of gathering food. Fishing tackle in the ancient world looked nothing like the jigs and topwater lures we buy today, but that didn't mean they weren't effective when used correctly. 

When luck and skill successfully collide, traditional fishing techniques such as traps, nets, spears, and hooks can still net a monster. 

10. Tracking

We are descendants of hunters and predators who were skilled at tracking game. Today, tracking isn't used by many people, but it can still be useful in certain situations. Keeping an eye out for signs of danger in your area (such as bears and mountain lions) can alert you to the presence of dangerous creatures. Being aware of dangerous creatures can also lead you to wild game. There are chances that you might find the animal yourself if you know how to follow their tracks.

11. Cooking Outdoors

Although this may seem like a no-brainer, you'd be surprised to find just how few people are able to do it. It's not just about understanding how long food should be kept over the fire, it's also about preparing nutritious and satisfying food.

Open-flame cooking is quite different from cooking with a conventional oven or stovetop. In the wild, it is likely that you will use the spit roast method to cook your game over an open fire. Dutch ovens or solid clay pots can help you prepare delicious food even if you don't have a proper kitchen.

When supplies are scarce, it is imperative to know how to roast, make soup, bake, and get the most use out of the ingredients you have.

12. Recognizing Animal Tracks

Tracking animals is necessary both for successful hunting and to identify predators in your area that could harm you or your family. You need to recognize animal tracks in order to identify animals for food. This is a primitive survival skill that is especially useful if you happen to be in an unfamiliar area.

13. Cleaning and Processing Food

It is essential to learn how to properly butcher and clean game if you plan to raise livestock, grow your own food, or hunt for game to feed your family.

You should learn this primitive skill just as you should learn to hunt, fish, and trap, since improper cleaning or processing can make you and your family sick.

14. Finding, Filtering, and Purifying Water

In the absence of fresh drinking water, a human can only last about three days. During a power outage or survival situation, finding, filtering, and properly purifying water will be critical.

Practicing this primitive skill could literally mean the difference between life and death. You may have access to a freshwater supply on or near your property, but there is always a chance it could be contaminated.

Finding water in a wilderness survival situation is crucial. Filtering and purifying it to make it drinkable could save your life.

15. Hiking

Putting one foot in front of the other may seem as simple as stepping on a brick, but most people are more accustomed to walking up and down stairs or finding their way to and from their destinations on paved ground. It is not easy to trek into the wilderness with gear and supplies, especially over long distances.

Along with physical exercise, identifying trails, navigating terrain, and even deciding where to camp are all necessary skills for surviving the wilderness. Hiking five miles through the hills in one day can seem insurmountable for those who have spent most of their time indoors.

16. Creating Primitive Technology

The most common things that can be made with only a good knife include: clubs, mortars and pestles, bows, arrows, hooko knives, and wooden spoons. Obviously, if you want to craft something of quality, you'll need more than that but, nonetheless, "primitive woodworking" is a valuable skill.

17. Sharpening a Knife

Our use of knives has become so commonplace that we take it for granted. We use the knives we buy from our nearby stores on a daily basis. Perhaps you even sharpen them every now and then with an electric knife sharpener.

When faced with an extended power outage or survival situation, maintaining a sharp knife can be crucial to completing survival tasks quickly and safely.

18. How to Make Cordage

You are likely to have paracord or another cordage on hand as a prepper, which is a good idea. In a power outage, cordage will come in handy for a variety of everyday tasks around the house.

Nonetheless, knowing how to make cordage from natural or found materials can be invaluable if you find yourself stranded without supplies or if you run out of what you have stored.

19. Predicting Daylight

In an emergency power outage situation, a large number of everyday tasks will be easier to complete during daylight hours. An extended power outage can cause digital clocks and other time-telling devices to malfunction as well.

A survival situation could result in you being stranded without a watch or digital device that tells you how long it is until it is too dark to complete essential survival tasks—like finding shelter and water.

Having the ability to reliably estimate the remaining daylight hours without the aid of technology is an essential primitive skill.

20. Recognizing Weather Patterns

It is very dangerous to be exposed to severe weather, especially if you are stranded outside and unprotected during a storm or natural disaster. Weather patterns can be identified without the aid of technology, which is an essential primitive skill that may just save your life.

Today, so many people depend on TV, radio, or the internet for weather forecasts. When you don't have access to that technology, you need the ability to observe and predict the weather in a power outage or survival situation.

21. Fight Your Way Out

Fighting your way out is the most primitive form of communication. Fighting well does not necessarily mean you know martial arts. It simply means you are willing to use physical violence to defend yourself or those you care about.

If you have never been involved in a physical confrontation or contact sport before, the experience can be jarring and surprising. The very least you can do to prepare is hit a punching bag a few times in order to understand the physics.

22. Limit Reliance on Electronics

Learn how to live without the aid of digital devices—not just in terms of entertainment—but also for communication and directions.

Switch off your home's power for a weekend or even a full week. Make a list of what you still need in case of a long-term power outage, then stockpile the items necessary.

Try turning off the water to your home for a weekend, and see what tasks you find difficult.

23. Hiding

Knowing how to hide is also an age-old skill. Human history has been filled with danger, so staying out of sight was necessary for survival. The right hiding spot could keep you safe when you need it most and knowing how to hide involves more than just being out of sight.

There should be more than one entrance to your hiding place, regardless of whether or not it is in the wilderness.

24. Basic First Aid/CPR

Wilderness First Aid is a great place to start, and a basic knowledge of natural remedies and medicinal herbs won't hurt either.

Historically, humans got by without modern medicine by relying on a range of unconventional methods. 

Identify and treat wounds or broken bones, prevent infections, and even remove sutures. By using the right herbal remedies and knowledge, you can prevent and treat infections, heal colds, treat digestive ailments, and even relieve pain.

25. The Reuse and Repurpose Process

The amount of waste we accumulate today seems to be greater than what we keep. Our ancestors reused and repurposed things as much as possible during times of scarcity.

You should know how to repair or re-engineer your broken or damaged gear, as well as how to salvage what you find in the field. We will still have plenty of trash sitting around in the event of a societal meltdown.

Salvaging and repurposing include the following examples:

  • To repair a damaged backpack, sew an old piece of tarp onto it.
  • ​ Reload or recycle bullets.
  • ​Recycle and reuse old glass jars and lids.
  • ​Construct a shelter from building remnants.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the different wilderness survival tools needed?

You would be wise to assemble a collection of tools that can easily fit into a backpack or tactical pack. Some wilderness survival tools that we think every wilderness enthusiast should have with them are:

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  • Shovels: There are a number of compact multitool shovels that are lightweight and compact enough to fit into a pack.
  • ​ Fixed blade survival knife: If you are going to carry a blade, it should be a fixed blade survival knife with hacking capabilities.
  • ​The field knife sharpener: Most people forget to bring a sharpener when they take their knives out in the field. The field knife sharpener is a wilderness essential.
  • ​Illumination: If you're going all primitive, use fire for illumination.
  • ​Paracord: Paracord is one of the most versatile survival tools available on the market, and it can be used for many installations ranging from shelter building to fishing.
  • ​Tools for starting a fire: Making fire in the wilderness is a skill you should be able to learn, however, don't rely on it too much. Make sure you have items such as a lighter, matches, flint, and steel.
  • ​Heavy-duty backpack: You'll have a lot of gear to carry, so invest in a quality backpack. You'll be in a bind if your backpack fails. Additionally, comfort is important, especially when trekking through the wilderness for long periods.
  • Emergency blanket: A cheap but effective survival item you should always have in your wilderness survival kit.
  • ​Tarp: No matter how flimsy and cheap the tarp is, it's better than nothing. During downpours, you can keep your gear and emergency shelter dry with a tarp. We recommend upgrading to a heavy-duty survival tarp since they are much more reliable and reasonably priced.
  • Duct tape and trash bags: Stay away from perfumed trash bags and get some good, durable outdoor trash bags as well as a roll of duct tape. You can use them in any survival situation. immediately

2. How do I make a body-heat shelter in the wild?

Twigs, branches, and leaves can be fashioned into body-heat shelters by enclosing warm air pockets in a tight space.

The following is a step-by-step guide to building a body-heat shelter:

  • Gather organic debris, such as tree branches, leaves, and bark from trees. Try and get as many materials as possible. 
  • ​Make a pile of the materials you have collected. The pile should be tall enough to cover you completely and its length should be equal to your height.
  • ​You will need to dig through the middle of the heap and secure the opening so that you can pass through while simultaneously preventing the cold from seeping in.
  • ​Block the entrance once you crawl through the opening. Make sure you have enough breathing space.


Primitive skills are not simply a way to cope with an apocalypse, but rather a testament to self-reliance and independence. Humanity's insurance policy is preserving and passing on these skills to future generations.

In this way, we can not only ensure that people will survive, but that they will also be able to remain in contact with the planet that we inhabit.

Practice your survival skills as soon as possible, before you get stuck in the wilderness. The safety of your backyard can be a great place to learn essential skills like fire building and constructing a shelter. When the proverbial chips are down, these skills come in handy.

Did you find this article about survival in the wilderness useful? If so, please share it with your friends.

Article by Sam Fury

Sam Fury 3 png
Sam Fury 3 png

Sam Fury is the creator and owner of the Survival Fitness Plan.

He has had a passion for martial arts and outdoor pursuits since he was a young boy growing up in Australia.

As a young adult he joined the military and studied outdoor leadership in college. After that, to further his skills, Sam started traveling to learn from the best in the world in various fields related to the Survival Fitness Plan including various martial arts in China, SE Asia and Brazil, Parkour in Singapore, Surf Life Saving in Australia, and others. 

These days, he still enjoys learning new things, traveling and sharing what he has learned via the Survival Fitness Plan. 

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