5 Basic Survival Skills You Need When Bugging Out

As we mentioned in our How to Make a Bug Out Plan post, the more skills you have, the more self reliant you are and the higher your chances for survival become.  Here we are going to discuss some basic survival skills and teach you how to best utilize them to protect yourself and your loved ones when disaster strikes.

basic survival skills

Basic Survival Skills

When you are out on your own without the support net of a healthy society, these are the traits and basic survival skills you need to master in order to succeed.

1.  Positive Mental Attitude

This is actually more important than any of the other basic survival skills because when you are relying on your ability to wring survival from your surroundings, once you give up hope you are done.  There are many amazing stories of people who have survived avalanches, fires, floods, and being isolated for extended periods and making it through thanks to an undying will to survive.  They are ordinary people who would simply not quit.  Keeping a positive mental attitude will give you the strength to never give up on yourself no matter the circumstances.

Some ways to instill this mentality are:

  • Set goals for yourself – These may be daily or even hourly goals such as making it to the next hilltop or obtaining a meal from your surroundings.  Make sure they are achievable and objective based.  Every goal you accomplish will be a psychological boost for you and will build confidence in your basic survival skills.
  • Focus on what you can change – If a major disaster has struck, focusing on the unfairness of the resulting situation or the loss that has occurred will not help you.  However, focusing on building a shelter or staying dry will help immensely.  Concentrating your efforts to make your situation better will help you both in the long and short term.  Ignore the big picture and focus on improving your immediate situation.
  • Keep hydrated and nourished – This will give you the energy to persevere in the face of adversity.  A steady water and food supply are extremely important.  You will not be looking to feast daily but meeting your basic calorie and hydration needs will be enough to keep you going.  2400-3600 Calories  per day is a good amount to aim for.  Additionally, if this requirement is squared away it will allow you to focus more on recovery efforts or finding help.
  • Be outwardly positive – Positivity creates more positivity.  Showing fellow survivors that you are with that you have a positive mental attitude will prevent the group being dragged down under the weight of the disaster.  Be the seed that grows into higher morale for your team.

2.  Water

Beyond your own internal fortitude, water is the most important resource you require.  Finding it and knowing how to make it fit for consumption are two of of the most important basic survival skills you can learn.

  • Know how to look for signs of water.  This may be looking where plants are growing, where terrain slopes or contours into a natural water trap, or observing animal movements to see where they are finding their water supply.
  • If you are able to map a route as a part of your Bug Out Plan, identifying likely sources for water along the way will be a massive boon.
  • Understand how to treat water to make it fit for consumption.  Drinking contaminated water can be deadly.
  • Filtration – this consists of passing water through very fine membranes to remove particles and some pathogens.  Some viruses may still make it through even the finest filters available.
  • Purification – treating water with either chemicals such as iodine or UV light sources.  This neutralizes all pathogens but does not eliminate particles.
  • Boiling – This is a type of purification as it kills all pathogens but does not remove particles.  Water should be kept at a rolling boil for at least 1 minute to sterilize it.
  • Because of the separate benefits of both filtration and purification it is recommended that you use both methods to be 100% sure of water safety.  The most basic way to do this is to pour water through a cloth and then boil it.  However a more effective approach is to pass it through a filter device such as the MSR MiniWorks EX Microfilter and then purify it using tablets or a SteriPen.  These items should be considered mandatory requirements for any list of Bug Out Bag Essentials.
  • Be able to exploit rainfall if possible.  This may include catching it in a poncho or container if available.
  • Utilize a Solar Still – This can be purchased here or fashioned out of your survival gear.  A Solar Still uses the sun’s heat to evaporate liquid and then recapture it as clean water.
  • Understand how much water you need – A person can survive 72 hours without water.  It is however recommended that someone who is active consumes 75% of their weight in ounces daily. So if you weigh 150 lbs then you should be drinking about 113 ounces (3.31 liters) of water per day.
Basic Survival Skills
A Home Made Solar Still

3.  Food

  • Hiking with your Bug Out Bag loaded with essential survival gear will cause you to burn 400-500 calories in an hour.  To keep your body working as an efficient machine it is important to keep it fueled up.
  • First off, ration what food you have with you.  You are concentrating on survival, not feasting.  Eat small portions when you are hungry but do not over do it.
  • Supplement your rations with foraged sustenance from your surroundings.  This means you will need to learn what edible plants are around and how to harvest them.  Also learn where these plants grow.  Does a particular berry grow around water holes?  Does a high calorie plant prefer the shade?  Learn these aspects to understand where to look for sustenance.  Some plants are only edible after cooking or boiling, learn what you need to do with your local flora to make it palatable.  Additionally, learn what is hazardous or poisonous to eat to avoid making yourself sick!
  • Understand what types of animals inhabit your area.  This includes possible predators to avoid and prey to seek out.  Learn what environments these animals inhabit.  Is there a particular fish that likes eddies and whirlpools?  Target these spots to find them.  Does an animal in your area like to eat a particular plant?  Placing snares in the vicinity of these plants would be ideal.  If you do not know how to operate a firearm, a slingshot may be a good option for you.  There are many options for slingshots, such as The Scout Hunting Slingshot or learn how to make one here.  Also learn how to prepare these animals for cooking.  This includes skinning and butchering animals and filleting fish.  We have embedded the below videos as a tutorial in these basic survival skills.

Basic Survival Skills: How to Fillet a Fish

Basic Survival Skills: How to skin a squirrel

Basic Survival Skills: How to Butcher a Deer

4.  Shelter

A well prepared person will have a means of sheltering themselves from the elements as a part of their Bug Out Contents List.  However, a TOTALLY prepared person will also have learned survival shelter building as one of their basic survival skills.  A survival shelter does not need to be complicated or fancy but it should keep rain/snow out, keep heat inside, and be easily cobbled together from local materials.

  • A survival shelter can be built from most anything – debris from collapsed buildings, trees and leaves, animal hides, or a tarp or poncho
  • Consider bringing paracord and a saw or hatchet when building your Bug Out Bag Contents List as these can be your best friends when building a shelter.  With these items you can make a survival shelter out of just about anything in very little time.
  • If you do not have paracord, zip ties, duct tape, or another binding material, primitive rope can be improvised from strips of tree bark, small green saplings or branches, and vines.
  • A basic survival shelter could consist of building a frame from long rigid materials such as tree branches or 2×4’s and laying a poncho or tarp over it.
  • If you cannot use your poncho or tarp for this, layer brush on to the frame sloping away towards the ground to insulate for warmth and keep moisture out.   See the picture below for a general idea of this.
Store Bought Survival SheltersA Shelter Made On the Trail

Basic Survival Skills
Image Credit: simonov on Flickr

5.  Fire

Fire can provide many things when in a survival situation and both building and maintaining one are essential basic survival skills.  A fire will give a morale boost, provide heat and light, and enable you to purify water and cook food.
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  • The basic requirements to build any fire are to give it air, fuel, and an ignition source.
  • Air – A fire consumes air hungrily and it is important to build it in a way that allows air to flow into the combustion.  Do not smother a fire by putting too much fuel onto it.
  • Fuel – This is what actually burns in a fire and can be sourced from many places.  If a branch or stick snaps cleanly it is dry and will burn well.  If it bends and splinters it is still green and will smoke and smother a fire.
  • Ignition Source – this can be a lighter, matches, or a fire starter that you bring with you.  You should however learn more primitive means of fire starting as one of your basic survival skills in the event that these items cannot be sourced.  See the video below for one simple method.
  • A fire is build in successive layers of increasingly larger wood.  You start with tinder, which is very small, dry, and catches easily.  Examples of tinder are tree bark, dryer lint, coconut husk, and pine needles.  From tinder you go up to kindling which is generally twigs up to the diameter of your little finger.  Next is fuel wood which is in sizes up to your thumb.  Continue to add more wood gradually until you have a fire large enough to ignite logs.  These logs are what will produce the majority of your coals in a fire pit.
  • The opposite technique is to build what is known as an “Upside Down Fire”  This has large logs at the bottom and tapers to fuel wood, kindling, and then tinder at the top.  An upside down fire allows you to build your cooking fire and then let it burn down without having to babysit it and can be great in makky outdoors situation.  Check out my in-depth instructional guide to learn how to build an Upside Down Fire here.
  • Learn how to use a fire to cook food.  Coals are a far better method of cooking food than a naked flame.  Coals will produce a more even heat and allow you to control the rate at which your food cooks, rather than having some parts seared with the inside raw.  A naked flame is however better at boiling water.
  • The most commonly used types of fires are called a Teepee and a Log Cabin, which are pictured below.
  • A Dakota Fire Pit is another type that is less widely used than these but more efficient.  See the image below for how a Dakota Fire Pit works.
Teepee FireLog Cabin Fire
basic survival skills
Image Credit: mikemol on flickr
basic survival skills
Image Credit: geraldford on flickr


basic survival skills

Basic Survival Skills: Dakota Fire Pit

basic survival skills

Basic Survival Skills: Making a fire without matches


There is no doubt that learning basic survival skills will significantly increase your chances of success.  Putting in some time now to teach yourself these basic survival skills will make you better prepared and help you provide for yourself and your family when disaster strikes.  As with your bug out bag contents or bug out plan, you should tailor your survival skill set to match your environment.  To learn what you need to master in order to survive in a cold weather setting have a look at our article on cold weather survival tips.  We mentioned several survival tools in this article that partnered with your skills will make your struggle far less daunting including paracord, a hatchet, saw, and fire starter.  To see how these items will affect your overall survival kit and see what other items you can add to your Bug Out Bag list, check out our Free Bug Out Bag Planning Tool.  Remember, chance favors the well prepared.

Basic Survival Skills

Your Thoughts

If you thought this post was helpful, please Like, +1, or Share it using the social media buttons at the top of the page!  What do you think of these basic survival skills?  Is there a survival tactic that you would recommend?  Please let us know in the Comments Section below, thanks!


Chris Ruiz

My name is Chris and I created this site to help ordinary people prepare for the uncertainties of the modern day world. I believe that a well-prepared society is the best safeguard against any natural or manmade disaster.

4 comments on “5 Basic Survival Skills You Need When Bugging Out

  1. Chris, I know this is an old post, but I am new to your site. I was reading this article and I couldn’t agree more with you. Your basic survival skills checklist is right on par. The first part, positive mental attitude, I can’t stress how important this is to survival. I have had to endure this process when I became disabled in 2010 due to kidney disease. Your scenario was quite similar to what I had encountered. After two decades of running both claim and finance departments for major health insurance agencies here in Houston, I had to put up the suit and tie and call it quits. While this gave me more time to be prepared for life, this didn’t give me the structure I had taken for granted. I really never knew how much structure I was receiving from the workplace. First and foremost, I had to set goals for myself, for each given day. While I have always been a big picture person, like you stated, it was important at this point in time to goal oriented and set smaller more sensible goals. This would keep my psyche on track, rewarding me along the way. I had to sit down and draft a to-do list so I could focus on the small goals which would in turn mold my big picture. It’s all too easy to become overwhelmed, without structure and without goals.
    Another point you touched on was displaying a positive attitude. When you are negative, and always project negativity, people will either not want to be around you or you will surely bring them down to your level. I found at first, I was beating myself up for being disabled, and I would show that to my wife when she got home from the office. While she never complained it, I recognized it quickly and remedied the situation. For me it was a brief phase, and I was grateful it was only that instead of a new way of life.
    I was also finding that with the lack of a business application purpose, and trying to stay busy at home to keep my mind and body on track, I was neglecting some very important things. These things were my appearance and my diet. I would go days without eating or drinking the proper amounts of water, as well as days without doing simple things like shaving. It’s easy to let things go by the wayside when you can. I began to become a tad overweight and a bit furry. All of which I soon resolved by joining the local gym, and buying a razor.
    Keep up the good work Chris, sorry it is taking me some time to read through all your articles. js

    1. Hey John, that is a very inspirational story that we can all take something from. I agree with the idea of setting smaller goals for yourself to help overcome big challenges. That and paying attention to the smaller things to get them out of the way so you can dedicate your headspace to the larger obstacles.

      Thanks for contributing to our community and good luck prepping!


  2. I am disable myself. I got messed up in Vietnam, and to do a lot of life skill changes, to survive. Had to learn how to do things different to help myself and be able to deal with all the life problems and to get a long with other people. I had to just set small goals and work up. I am retired military, both Marines and
    As for the fire, the NVA and VC, made a tunnel to let the smoke come up farther away from where they were at, as not to give there location away.

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