how to build a survival shelter

Learn To Build Shelter For Any Survival Situation

how to build a survival shelterSummer’s right around the corner, and for many people that means getting back to the great outdoors, whether it be for a day hike or a weekend camping trip. This summer, take advantage of your time outdoors to practice the invaluable skill of building survival shelter. That’s right, you need to step out of your comfort zone, leave your four-person tent and goose-down sleeping bag, and try to construct adequate shelter with only the items that would be available to you in a disaster scenario.

It’s the perfect time because if something does go wrong, you can always retreat back into your tent and try again the next night. The summer camping months provide the perfect opportunity to hone your survival shelter skills; however, keep in mind that when the need arises to bug out, you won’t have the luxury of choosing what time of year it is. Practice building survival shelters year-round, especially if you live in a four-season climate where summer and winter present drastically different survival scenarios.

Why Learn to Build a Survival Shelter

Food, water, shelter – the essential elements of survival. Shelter can protect you from the elements and wildlife, as well as keep you warm or dry; finding appropriate shelter can literally mean the difference between living and dying in a survival situation. No matter what your circumstances, you want to be sure you can prepare suitable survival shelter for you and your loved ones.

how to build a survival shelter
Your shelter doesn’t have to be fancy – it just needs to keep you warm and dry.

Possible situations that may require impromptu or planned shelter include bugging out, get-home scenarios, getting lost while hiking or exploring, tending to an injured person while hiking or exploring, or getting caught in a storm. Depending on your situation, your survival shelter needs may differ.

For instance, in a get-home scenario you may only need short-term shelter for a few hours or a night, whereas when bugging out you may be indefinitely on your own. The need for building a lean-to can arise when you least expect it, so learn how to build a survival shelter in a number of different locales and with different resources.

Choosing the Best Location for Your Survival Shelter

Choosing the best location for building your survival shelter will be dependent on how long you intend to be using it – needs for short-term shelter will differ from those required for long-term shelter.

how to build a survival shelter
Take advantage of the landscape when building a survival shelter.

When searching for immediate, short-term shelter, look for trees (especially fallen trees), rocky overhangs, and caves. Trees are an obvious source of shelter and have many useful parts for building shelter including the trunk – which can be used as a support, the branches – which can be used as framework, and foliage – which can be used as insulating material.

Rocky overhangs and caves make excellent areas to take cover but depending on your locale or the time of year, may not be an option. Don’t panic, whether you’re stranded in desert terrain or it’s the middle of winter, you can still put together an effective survival shelter.

In desert terrain with little to no trees, consider using the slope of the land to seek protection and the steep side of a dune for shelter – keep in mind that the gradual side indicates the direction the prevailing wind is coming from and therefore the steep side will provide natural refuge.

If it’s the middle of winter and all available building supplies are frozen or buried under snow, remember that snow will have the same insulating effect as a stick-built shelter. For more cold weather survival tips, CLICK HERE. Additionally, always seek out shelter where the ground is dry. If it is raining, waterways may overflow their banks and ravines, and washes may form.

If you’re in it for the long haul, you will need to consider substantially more factors than sheltering for the short-term. When searching for long-term shelter, look for areas in proximity to water and food sources as well as civilization (if applicable), and for an area that provides adequate visibility for you to see what’s happening around you and for others to see you. In some case, staying hidden may be more beneficial to your survival.

Types of Survival Shelters

Type# of OccupantsTime to BuildDifficultyRequired Resources
Simple Frame and Tarp Method1 to 2Less than 1 hourEasyTarp or poncho
3-4 long straight branches
Cordage to secure frame
Several rocks to anchor tarp
Knife or multitool to cut wood and cord
Simple Body Heat Shelter1 to 2Less than 1 hourEasyLeaves, twigs, dirt, or snow
Sticks to support the opening
Shovel to build mound
Open Shelter or Lean-To1 to 43-5 hoursModerateTree branch to use as ridgepole
10 long straight branches to form a grid
Cordage and/or zip ties
Leafy branches, grasses, bark for roofing
Knife or multitool to cut wood and cord
A-Frame Shelter1 to 33-5 hoursModerateTree trunk to use as support for ridgepole
8 pairs of straight branches to form the sides
Cordage and/or zip ties
Leafy branches, grasses, bark for roofing
Knife or multitool to cut wood and cord
Teepee Variations1 to 23-5 hoursModerateSlender trunk for support pole (optional)
10-15 long straight branches
Cordage for lashing
Leafy branches, grasses, bark for roofing
Knife or multitool to cut wood and cord
Subterranean Survival Shelter1 to 2

4 to 8
1 hour

Weeks to months

Simple- mound of earth or snow, shovel

Complex- shipping container or other wall and floor materials, excavator, tools, plumbing and electrical supplies, power source
Long-Term Log Cabin1 to 4WeeksDifficultLong straight logs
Gravel for drainage and rocks for stilts
Tools for shaving bark and notching logs
Shovel to clear ground
Saw to cut down trees

Simple Frame and Tarp Method

If you happen to have the good fortune of having supplies with you (out backpacking or have bug-out gear) you may be in possession of a tarp that can be used in conjunction with a simple frame to create shelter for the night. To create a frame, lean poles against a lower branch or tree trunk in a manner that will fit under your tarp.

Make sure to remove any sharp edges from the wood or wrap leaves at the corners to ensure you don’t puncture the tarp. If you happen to be lucky enough to have cordage with you, tie it at an angle between two trees and drape your tarp over top, placing rocks on the sides to hold the tarp in place.

In an emergency, you can forgo the frame and simply wrap yourself and your gear in a poncho and huddle amongst the crook of a tree or other sheltered spot until morning.

how to build a survival shelter
A tarp makes an excellent short-term shelter but you may need to upgrade eventually.

Simple Body Heat Shelter

This shelter is fairly straight forward and easy to build – it is useful for short-term or unexpected situations and can comfortably accommodate one, possibly two, people.

To build a simple body heat shelter, use debris from the ground such as dirt, leaves, and twigs, to create a mound and use larger sticks to frame it. Clear a hole just big enough to crawl into and cover the opening to block air flow and limit the open space. Your body heat will be trapped inside the shelter, keeping you warm throughout the night.

If you are seeking shelter in the winter and the ground is covered in snow, use the snow to build your mound. Even though the snow is cold, it will still serve the purpose of insulating you from the elements outside and trapping your body heat.

how to build a survival shelter
Sheltering under the snow will insulate you from the cold and preserve your body heat.

Open Shelter or Lean-To

The benefits of an open shelter or lean-to are that it offers extra protection against the elements such as wind and rain, and can accommodate up to four people (for a typical lean-to, however they can be constructed as large as resources allow).

how to build a survival shelter
We built this lean-to using two tripods instead of trees for support. Zip ties made quick work of building the grid.

Depending on the supply of materials available, the construction can take anywhere from two to five hours. Start by looking for downed trees that have branches low enough to support the topmost point, known as the ridgepole. If you only locate one tree, use it as the ridgepole – lashing in place if necessary – but if you locate two downed trees near one another, lay a sturdy branch between them.

Gather approximately five to six poles to lean against the ridgepole at roughly a 45-60 degree angle, enough to create a comfortable space to fit your team and gear underneath. This will serve as your grid. To create the grid frame, attach 5 to 6 poles across the frame. Weave flexible boughs between poles at right angles and then use bark or leafy branches to thatch the roof, starting from the bottom and moving upwards.

how to build a survival shelter
Use the grid to weave foliage to create a weather barrier.

You can add additional walls for further protection using the same method. Should you be lucky enough to have a tarp or mylar survival blanket, you can hang it from the opening to act as a curtain.

A-Frame Shelter

The A-Frame shelter is constructed in much the same way as the lean-to, the only difference is that the ridgepole starts on the ground and extends up into tree, lashed at a height that allows enough space to sit underneath. In this way, two sides are constructed to create the A-frame shape, providing additional protection from weather or cold temperatures. For added warmth, locate your fire pit near the opening.

how to build a survival shelter
Square lashings are used throughout the A-frame shelter.
how to build a survival shelter
Side view of square lashing.

Teepee Variations

A teepee can stand alone or be built around the slender trunk of a tree. In some cases, it may be easier to use a slim tree as your center support, lashing poles around it to create a cone-shaped shelter, which will provide a sturdy frame, but also limit your interior space.

It’s up to you whether you choose to completely enclose the exterior and create an opening in the top for ventilation or keep the top secure from rain and leave an open doorway. Always make sure you account for ventilation, especially if you intend on building a small fire inside.

For stand alone teepees, start with three long straight poles and use a tripod lashing to join them. Try to locate a long pole with a Y-shaped joint at one end. This will provide the frame with stability as the next pole can rest within the Y-shape. To build the teepee, continually add pairs of similar sized poles and join them together at the top, leaving the base wide enough to curl up in and tall enough to sit comfortably.

how to build a survival shelter
This technique can be the framework for a teepee or provide ridgepole support for building a lean-to.

Once the frame is constructed, fill in the gaps using whatever materials are available to you including leafy branches, vines, mud and grass. Work your way up from the bottom – as you would with roofing tiles – so that the rain will drip down the overlapping layers instead of into your teepee.

Subterranean Survival Shelter

how to build a survival shelter
This fallen tree can provide adequate shelter – just watch out for critters!

For short-term shelter, a subterranean survival shelter can simply be hollowed out of a mound of earth, creating a warm place to sleep. An optimal location is the root base of fallen trees, as the roots provide structure and prevent caving in.

For a longer-term shelter, substantial planning and effort will be required. A long-term subterranean survival shelter is something you would build in preparation for when SHTF, as opposed to building in the aftermath while bugging out. Those who choose to build a long-term subterranean survival shelter either build one on their property or an offsite location. Designs can range from simple cellar-style rooms to complex homes that are fully outfitted with a power supply, furnished with necessities and comfort items, and have functioning defense systems.

Long-Term Log Cabin

If a crisis or disaster situation truly descends into chaos and it’s TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it), you may find yourself in the position where you need to build a solid and dependable home using only what the land provides. Obviously, this type of survival shelter requires a tremendous amount of time, resources and energy – therefore it’ll save you time and aggravation to learn the basics beforehand.

how to build a survival shelter
If you are permanently relocating, a log cabin may be the way to go.

A long-term log cabin is built using a similar method as Lincoln Logs you may have played with as a child; the general idea is to lay a frame of logs that interlock at the corners to form a rectangle. Before beginning, you will need to clear the ground of grass, level it, and top it with a layer of gravel for drainage. Locate large rocks that can serve as stilts to keep your cabin off the ground and place them at all four corners as well as every three to four feet.

After the rocks are placed, locate the base layer of logs, the sill logs, which will need to be larger than those used for the walls – about 12 inches in diameter. Once the sill logs are in place, you can add floorboards or skip ahead to building up the walls.

how to build a survival shelter
This notching pattern will help shed water away from the joints.

For the walls, look for trees that are seven to ten inches in diameter and cut them to fit the dimensions of your floor plan. To prepare the logs for the walls, flatten the top and bottom so that they sit flush and notch the ends to interlock them and form a sturdy corner – additionally, cutting a notch in the top log only will avoid pooling water in the joints while in wetter climates.

Once you reach your desired wall height, begin using logs in diminishing lengths on either end to create the peak. Notch and lay two long logs perpendicular across the length of the cabin to act as supports for the roof. Depending on the items you have available in terms of tools and lumber, you can construct your roof with split logs, cut shingles, or sod.

Survival Supplies Beneficial to Have on Hand

Undoubtedly, you’ve included tools and materials in both your bug-out and get-home bags that will lend themselves to building shelter; however, it’s important to consider what tools are must-haves if an unexpected need to shelter arises, such as during a hiking or backpacking expedition.

To ensure you have the proper tools, take inventory of the various tasks you will need to perform when building shelter such as cutting, de-branching, notching, lashing, digging, and weaving. Consider what tools could help with these tasks (and all the better if one tool can address several tasks) and make sure they are in your bug-out and get-home bags as well as on your person while you’re out exploring.

Here is our list of the top survival supplies that are crucial to have on-hand when building survival shelter:

ItemShelter Building Applications
Fixed Blade Knife
Cut cord, small branches
Remove bark from logs and branches from poles
Notch poles to fit snuggly before lashing
Saw through small branches
File sharp corners to prevent tearing tarp
Remove splinters
Loosen knots in cord
Larger cutting and debranching jobs
Cut down trees for a log cabin
Prevents dulling your knife and expending excessive effort
Tri-Fold Shovel
Clear the ground for your shelter
Dig in dirt or snow to make a body heat shelter
Level the ground for support poles
Excavating large rocks for stilts
Lightweight Tarp
Use as roof or door for your shelter
Wrap around you for warmth and protection from weather
Make a sling to hang supplies out of reach of animals
Survival Blanket/Bivvy Sack
Use as roof or door for your shelter
Wrap around you for warmth and protection from weather
Make a sling to hang supplies out of reach of animals
Lash poles for framework of shelter when building a lean-to, teepee, or a-frame
Make a line between 2 trees to hang a tarp shelter
Secure food supply in a tree to keep away from animals
Zip Ties
Attach smaller poles together, such as for the grid in a lean-to
Fasten roofing materials to make a rain barrier
Substitute for cord in light duty construction
Hang a lantern or flashlight in your shelter
Work Gloves
Protect your hands from injury while handling building materials and tools
Melt ends of cord to prevent fraying
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Survival Shelter Building Techniques

Knot Tying

how to build a survival shelter
Be sure to melt the cut ends of your paracord to prevent them from fraying.


Building A Frame


Wilderness Precautions

No matter where you choose to set up shelter, always be cognizant of what wildlife may be around. If you’ve found a great location, you are no doubt not the first to have discovered it, so make sure to survey the land for wildlife such as snakes in leaf piles or under fallen trees.

To stir up any creatures that may be hiding in brush or bushes, use a stick to prod the area before proceeding with your hands. Additionally, store any food you have tied up high in a tree to avoid attracting unwanted critters to your dwelling.

In terms of the wilderness itself, avoid any foliage that has a chalky white appearance as this is a mold that could spread through your shelter and impact your health. Also, if a tree contains a lot of ‘lacey’ leaves, that indicates it is probably infested with insects and best to be avoided. For more information on plants and foraging, CLICK HERE.bushcraft skills


Now that you have the basic skills necessary to plan and build your shelter, the next step is to get outside and get practicing! While techniques such as weaving and lashing can be practiced in your backyard, when it comes to building an effective survival shelter, there’s no substitute for the real deal. As you’re practicing, make sure to take note of pertinent factors such how long it takes you to gather materials and construct your shelter – knowing this timing can be life-saving in a real disaster scenario.

Be creative, be resourceful, and most of all – have fun!

Your Thoughts?

Have you ever been in a situation where you needed to build a temporary shelter?What did you build? What tools do you carry that are useful in building a survival shelter? Share you thoughts and experiences in the Comments section below, thanks!

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primitive fire making

Primitive Fire Making – 6 Ways To Make Fire Without Matches

primitive fire making

In a survival situation being able to start a fire can mean the difference between life and death.

Hopefully your bug out bag or survival kit has the fire starting tools that will help you start a fire quickly and reliably. But what if this gets wet, lost, or used up?  Then you will need some primitive fire skills to build your fire. Primitive fire making is a bushcraft discipline that uses simple tools and natural materials to create fire.

By being able to make fires quickly and effectively in any weather conditions, you will be better prepared for emergency situations.  In this article I am going to show you how to start a fire using primitive skills as well as compare and contrast the various methods to help you decide which one is best for you to learn first.

Primitive Fire Making Techniques

Flint and Steel

This is the easiest of all bushcraft fire starting methods. All that is required is a flint and a piece of carbon steel (such as your survival knife). Flint and carbon steel should be a part of every wilderness survival kit as it will allow for easy primitive fire starting in virtually any conditions:

  1. The friction formed by striking the steel against the flint will form sparks.
  2. You want to strike the steel against the flint with a loose wrist. It may take a bit of practice to get the technique down.
  3. Have tinder ready to ignite as the sparks start to fly from the flint.
  4. Gently blow on the sparks that land in the tinder or char cloth until it ignites.
  5. Make sure you have your kindling nearby and ready to add to the tinder once it catches.

primitive fire making

This method of bushcraft fire starting is relatively easy to execute. It requires the least amount of physical strength and energy to perform and can be done with only two items. We recommend the SurvivalSPARK Emergency Magnesium Fire Starter as a trusty flint and steel tool. However, if find yourself in a situation without carbon steel or a flint available, which is why it’s important to know as many primitive fire making techniques as possible.  This will better perfect your wilderness survival skills, preparing you for all situations.  Here is a video that shows you how to find flint in the wilderness:


Fire Plough

This is the simplest form of primitive fire making using only natural materials.  It is essentially an optimized way to “rub two sticks together” with the base board being one and the plow stick being the other.

Start by procuring a flat piece of hardwood at least a couple of inches thick to use as your baseboard.

  1. On the flat side, cut a straight line down the center using your survival knife.
  2. Hollow out this line to create a shallow, thin groove, about ¼-inch wide.
  3. Find a softwood stick, at least 1-inch thick. Use your bushcraft knife to carve the end of the stick to a rounded point, with the tip being small enough to fit into the groove on your board.
  4. To cause enough friction to generate sufficient heat to ignite a fire, we will now rub the two crafted parts together.
  5. Applying continuous force, rub the stick through the groove in the wood, starting at one end and going toward the other.
  6. This will require a bit of strength in order to create the friction necessary to form a spark.
  7. As the stick rubs against the baseboard, wood will slowly shave off.
  8. The friction you are causing will create heat and tiny embers, which will ignite the wood shavings.
  9. Have your kindling ready and, as before, gently blow on the sparks within the tinder to ignite a flame.

The fire plough method of primitive fire making is simplistic in design, allowing it the versatility to be applied in virtually any location. It’s an ideal wilderness survival tactic due to sheer simplicity.

Nonetheless, it does require quite a bit of physical force and energy to create the spark, someone who is weakened by starvation or exposure may have difficulty getting the fire plough to work. As with all primitive fire starting methods it is essential to practice in order to perfect the technique.  Here is a video demonstrating the fire plough method:

Hand Drill

A hand drill is a bushcraft technique that is simpler to build than the bow drill, but it will require greater energy, patience, and skill to implement. All that is required is a drill and a fireboard.  The stick being used for the drill is spun between two hands (instead of using a bow to spin the drill) to generate enough friction to create embers.

  1. In the same way as the bow drill’s drill was constructed, find a softwood stick and carve one side to a rounded point.
  2. Cut a small hole in the softwood fireboard, about an inch from the edge of the board.
  3. Cut a v-shaped notch connecting the hole and the edge of the board, with the point of the v connecting with the hole.
  4. Fill the v-shaped notch with tinder. Position the point of the drill into the hole on the fireboard.
  5. Place both palms flat on either side of the drill. Press your hands in firmly, and rub them back and forth.  Apply downward pressure as you spin the drill for added friction.
  6. Continue to spin the drill in the fireboard until smoke and embers form.
  7. As with the bow drill once the embers start to make the tinder smolder gently blow to develop a flame.

primitive fire making

This method is easy to construct in a pinch, making it a valuable bushcraft skill. Be sure to practice often because it can be difficult to implement.  Persistence and endurance are required to make it work.  Here is a video showing the hand drill fire starting method:

Bow Drill

This method is more complicated to build than either of the previously mentioned methods. However once a bow drill is built it requires less exertion to create a usable ember. Lets take a look at how to build a bow drill fire starter:

  1. Start by finding a piece of hardwood, rock, or bone that contains a divot or shallow depression. This will serve as the socket that the drill rests in.
  2. Next, find straight stick that will serve as your drill. The drill will need to be a piece of hardwood about ¾-inch thick. One end should be blunt and the other end will be chiseled to a rounded point.
  3. Make a flat piece of softwood, at least 1-inch thick, to use as a fireboard. Cut a tiny hole into the board, about one inch from the side, barely big enough for the tip of the drill to rest in.
  4. Cut a triangular notch connecting the hole to the side of the board, with the point of the triangle connecting to the hole in the board.
  5. Find a bendable, green stick to craft into a bow.
  6. Tightly tie a piece of sinew or paracord to the bent ends of the bow.
  7. Place your tinder into the triangular notch in the fireboard in step 4. This is where the sparks will form.
  8. Place your foot firmly on the fireboard to hold it in place. Loop the bowstring around the drill and place the point of the drill into the hole in the fireboard. Grab your socket from step 1, and place the depression in the socket on top of the drill to hold it firmly in place.
  9. Pull the bow back and forth rapidly. As you do so, this will drive the drill into the wood, creating friction.
  10. As the embers begin dropping into your tinder nest, gently blow until it ignites.

primitive fire making

Although a bow drill is more difficult to build than a fire plough it should create fire faster and with less effort.  If you are able to make your tools you can use them multiple times, making your investment pay off again and again.  Here is a video demonstrating the bow drill technique:

Pump Fire Drill

The pump fire drill is the most difficult to construct of all the primitive fire starting tools.  This is due to its more mechanically complicated nature.  This is compensated however by requiring nearly no effort to generate embers and a fire once the pump fire drill is constructed.  Lets take a look at how to build one:

  1. Find a round piece of hardwood and cut a small hole in the center. Using sinew, cordage, or paracord attach a sharp rock or arrow to the end of a hardwood stick.
  2. Drill a hole through a rock at the same width of the stick, and push the stick through the hole, with the arrow resting about one to two inches below the rock. The rock should fit snugly, without moving.
  3. Find a slightly curved piece of hardwood and drill a hole through the center, the same width as the stick.
  4. Insert the curved piece of wood onto the stick, an inch above the rock, so the bow in the wood is facing upward.  It should fit loosely so the device will easily rotate inside of it.
  5. Etch two notches on the ends of each side of the bowed wood so that a string can be tied around easily. Tie a piece of sinew, cordage, or paracord to connect the edge of each side of the bowed wood to the tip of the stick, in the direction away from the arrow.
  6. Grab the bow wood as a handle. Press the arrow to the hole in the firewood and spin the device to wind it up.
  7. Allow the device to unwind itself. As the arrow is driven into the fireboard, embers will form.

primitive fire starting

This bushcraft fire starting technique requires almost no effort to create a fire and is great for people of smaller stature and strength. However, the pump fire drill itself will take some time to build so it should be practiced or built ahead of time and then brought out when needed.  Here is a video showing the pump fire drill technique:

Fire Piston

The fire piston is a primitive fire starting technique that is a bit more complicated to make, requiring the use of hardware to build.  The fire piston uses the pressure created by quickly ramming the piston down a chamber to generate enough heat and pressure to ignite a piece of charcloth or other tinder.

  1. You will need a piece of copper or strong plastic pipe about 10 centimeters long. Sand the ends so they are smooth.
  2. Plug one end using a brass end cap, piece of metal, or wood. Glue the cap on so it fits snug.
  3. Take a 10-millimeter thick wooden piston and cut it so that it is a couple of centimeters longer than the tube.
  4. Insert the piston into a power drill. Run a file on the end of the piston, a couple of millimeters from the end and run the drill until the file carves a smooth indented line around the piston.
  5. Insert a 10-millimeter rubber ring around the ring in the piston. Drill a 5-millimeter hole into the end of the piston on the side with the rubber ring.
  6. Apply a thin layer of glue to the end of the piston to clog the pores of the wood. Drill a 10-millimeter hole into a cylindrical wooden knob and glue the bare end of the piston into the knob.
  7. Fill the hole at the end of the piston with charcloth.
  8. Lubricate the rubber ring and insert the piston into the copper tube. Forcefully push the piston into the tube quickly, pulling it back out immediately.
  9. Do this repeatedly until the charcloth ignites, then transfer the ignited charcloth to your tinder.

While the fire piston method does require some effort to build, creating a fire with it is incredibly easy.  Although it can’t be built out in the woods with simple tools it is still useful to learn.  Once a fire piston is built it’s a light weight and compact addition to any fire starting kit.

Bonus Method: Fire Starting Tools You Can Depend On

While primitive fire starting is a huge asset in your survival skill set, being prepared with the right tools can make your life a lot easier.

I recommend the SurvivalSPARK Emergency Magnesium Fire Starter as mentioned above. It is a fire starting tool that you can count on getting a fire started quickly in an emergency situation.

The other interesting survival fire starter worth checking out is the Everstryke Pro Waterproof Emergency Lighter which integrates a wick and striker wheel in a small waterproof housing.

What is the Best Primitive Fire Making Method?

In an ideal world we could just go out and master all of these 6 techniques and be ready to build a fire no matter the circumstances. However not everybody has time to master all these survival skills. What I suggest is picking one, or 2 at most and practicing it until you can create a fire using it in your sleep.  Picking which method to learn comes down to several factors including:

  • What resources are available
  • How much time you have
  • How much energy you want to expend

Feel free to try out all 6 methods to find which is the best for you.  Once you have that figured out practice, practice, practice.  The time invested improving your primitive fire starting skills will pay huge dividends if you ever need to start a fire without matches.  Always remember, Chance Favors The Well Prepared.

Your Thoughts?

Do you have a favorite primitive fire making method?  Have any tips for starting a fire without matches?  Let us know in the Comments Section below, thanks!

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cold weather survival

Cold Weather Survival Tips and Skills

Surviving when you are cut off from the support net of society is extremely difficult under even optimal conditions.  Cold weather survival situations add significant additional challenges which must be trained and planned for.  These challenges can be overcome by gaining cold weather survival knowledge and experience as well as  tailoring your bug out bag as we mentioned in our recent article covering cold weather survival gear.  In this article we will review the most essential cold weather survival tips to practice and employ when beating the cold.

cold weather survival

Keeping Warm During Cold Weather Survival

A key to cold weather survival is keeping your core temperature warm.  A combination of shorter days (less sunlight), wind chill, lower temperatures, and ice and snow will conspire to steal body heat and energy away from you.  Your body will have to work harder and consume more calories to keep you warm.  In order to stay warm practice the following cold weather survival tips:

Dress in layers

This is the best way to regulate your body temperature while surviving in the cold.  Multiple layers are better than one thick layer because they trap air between them.  This air is then warmed by your body and acts as an insulator against the cold.  Start off with a light wicking layer to keep perspiration away from your skin and build up from there.  Three to five layers are good for most adults.  The outer layer should always be wind and waterproof to minimize heat exchange and keep water out.  Layers are additionally excellent at regulating temperature because you can add or remove them if you find yourself to be cold or hot.  If you are travelling with children a good rule of thumb is to dress them in one more layer than you have on to keep them warm.

Keep active

Keeping yourself active will keep your heart rate up and maintain a good flow of warm blood to your extremities.  It is important to not overexert yourself however.  If you become drenched in sweat this moisture will sap heat away from you.  Keep a moderate pace for your activities whether hiking or building a shelter.  Maintain your temperature by removing clothing layers to keep warm but not hot.  Slow down or stop to rest periodically to avoid burning yourself out.

Keep fuel in the tank

As you will be burning a lot of energy keeping active and keeping your temperature up you will need to consume extra calories and drink extra liquids to keep your body going.  It is important to pack extra high calorie/low weight rations in your bug out bag.  This may include nuts, granola bars, energy gels, or powerbar type foods.  To keep hydrated pack gatorade powder, which can be mixed with water or melted snow.  This will keep you hydrated far better than water alone.

Cover Your Head

Up to 90% of the heat you lose will be through your head if you do not keep it covered.  Keeping a hood up or hat on will keep this heat in as well as keep your head dry if you are working in snow.  Also this is the easiest layer to remove if you find yourself getting hot.  Keep your head covered to keep that precious heat in!

Cold Weather Survival Tips

Surviving in cold weather requires the same basic survival skills as in any other environment.  It is necessary however to add to your skill set as some tasks become more difficult under cold weather survival conditions.

Cold Weather Shelter Building

Building a survival shelter should be a top priority during cold weather survival.   A good shelter will keep out the wind and damp as well as keep heat in.  Cold weather survival provides some additional challenges as well as benefits to survival shelter building.

A basic A-frame or Lean-to shelter works well using branches and piling snow on top.  Snow is an excellent insulator and makes a great outer layer of a shelter.  If you have chosen to include an emergency blanket, poncho, or tarp in your bug out bag essentials, any of these items can be used to form the roof of your shelter if laid upon the frame of branches.  Using one of the items as a ground cloth will additionally insulate a shelter against cold and damp.  An important thing to consider when building a cold weather survival shelter is that if you are going to build a fire in a shelter be sure it is ventilated with a chimney to avoid suffocation.  Check out the below videos for instructions on building a winter survival shelter.


Fire is essential in a cold weather survival scenario for two reasons:

  1. Keeping Warm – this is obvious but its importance cannot be overstated.  Having a fire will raise your morale and keep the spectre of freezing related medical problems out of your mind.
  2. Melting Snow – This will give you a nearly limitless water supply while surviving.  Boil the water from melted snow to ensure any pathogens are killed.

When gathering wood in a winter survival situation be it is preferable to collect branches that are not lying in the snow as the moisture from snowbound wood will make it harder to burn.  Look for dead branches in the lower parts of trees in the area.  For more tips on fire building check out our article on Basic Survival Skills.

Cold Weather First Aid

The two biggest medical problems found in cold weather survival are hypothermia and frostbite.  Both of these are very dangerous and need to be watched out for at all times.  Familiarize yourself with the symptoms and treatments for these two conditions:


A condition where one’s body temperature drops below the ability to self-regulate.  This typically begins when the core temperature goes below 95F degrees.  It can happen easily if someone falls into a cold stream or frozen lake and must be addressed quickly to increase a person’s chances for survival.

  • Shivering

  • Loss of coordination

  • Weak pulse

  • Drowsiness

  • Slow speech

  • Confusion or memory loss

  • If possible seek emergency medical attention

  • Remove any wet clothes and replace them with dry ones or a dry blanket/sleeping bag, etc

  • Protection from wind or anything else that may cause further heat loss

  • Seek shelter

  • Warm the person up by putting them in a shelter, bringing them near a fire or using your own body heat

  • Drinking warm liquids can also be used to bring a person’s temperature back up


This occurs when a body part (usually an extremity or an exposed ear or nose) becomes so cold that ice crystals begin to form in the tissues.  It should be treated immediately and can lead to the loss of the frostbitten body part!

  • Numbness in the affected area

  • White patches on skin, these will turn black in severe frostbite

  • Hardening of the affected area

  • Seek emergency medical attention if possible

  • The affected area should be gradually warmed up by moving to a warmer area such as a shelter or near a fire and covering it from the elements

  • Warm water can also be used

  • Care needs to be take to not place anything hot on the affected area as this can cause burns that are not felt due to numbness

  • Try not to walk on frostbitten toes or feet as this can cause additional damage

  • You should NEVER rub the affected area to warm it up

Cold Weather Survival


Cold weather survival can be a brutal and trying circumstance.  However with some planning and the addition of some carefully chosen cold weather survival gear you can greatly increase your chances of success.  There is no replacement however for experience and knowledge.  If you live in a cold weather area try going out in the woods for a weekend with your bug out bag and cold weather survival gear to practice making a shelter and fire with the contents you have with you.  This will test your abilities and show you where you need to expand your knowledge or if your gear (including your cold weather clothing) is up to the task.  Remember, chance favors the well prepared.

Your Thoughts?

Do you have any cold weather survival tips that you want to share?  Have you had to survive in freezing conditions yourself?  Please let us know in the Comments Section below.

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EDC List

Every Day Carry List – Assessing Threats and Choosing Your EDC Items

EDC ListHopefully, by now, you’ve devised your bug out plan and have packed your bug out bag using our bug out bag list.

Awesome, you are now better prepared than the overwhelming majority of the populace. But what survival tools should you have in your every day carry kit?

Here we will look at what a survival minded person could have on their every day carry list that would help prepare them to deal with dynamic situations that may arise in everyday life.

What is an Every Day Carry List?

An every day carry list is a set of items that you have with you under most scenarios (at all times if possible) that helps you be prepared at a moment’s notice to deal both daily situations as well as be ready to survive in emergency situations. These items may be designed to aid your survival on their own, or they may be there to help you get to a safe location or back home. It can be made up of a wide variety of items and should be tailored to your lifestyle, locality, and probable threats.

Ideally, the items on an every day carry list will be small both in number and size and will be possible to carry on your person without an extra bag or container to lug around. There are some people however that do choose to carry the items on their every day carry list in a specific EDC bag and others who prefer to consolidate this kit into fewer, more flexible items such as those covered in our 10 Best Multi-Purpose Survival Tools post.

What should be on YOUR Every Day Carry List?

1. Things You Carry With You Already

This is important to review for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they probably reveal some of your basic day-to-day needs which give us insight into what your greater every day carry (EDC) needs may be. Secondly, if you are already carrying an item with you, you would not need to replicate its uses or functions elsewhere. Or perhaps you can modify one of these items to make it a better EDC tool without adding another piece into your EDC kit. Keeping an every day carry list simple and light is key.

  • Wallet – I need my ID and cash daily. I can’t leave home without this.
  • Keys – Can’t leave home without these unless I want to climb through the window to get back in! I am going to add a “Grenade” Survival Kit Key Fob to my keyring, which comes with more paracord and a fire starting kit.
  • Phone – I always have my phone on me to contact loved ones or the authorities in the event of an emergency. To improve this, I am going to load PDFs onto it with critical documents and a map of my local area in case I need to access these while the phone network is unavailable. I am also going to slip a razor blade and a laminated hard copy of that same map in the space between the case and the back of the phone as backups. If you do this, don’t forget to remove the blade before going through a security checkpoint at an airport!
  • Watch – A friend once told me “Never trust someone who doesn’t have a watch.” It is an item that many of us carry every day. Some ways we can supercharge this into an EDC survival tool is to add a compass or use a paracord woven watch band. If you do not want to add a compass, you can learn to use your watch as a navigation tool.

2. Things That Would Help With Frequently Encountered Problems

Do you have problems that you face repeatedly? Is there a potential problem that has a high probability of occurring in your normal day or commute? Is there something that you frequently use that has the potential to break? Having an EDC item that could assist in these situations would make your life easier generally and be of great help when the high potential risks become a reality.

  • Folding Knife – I have to frequently cut cardboard and plastic at work, but this would also be good if I was in a more office based role where I would be dealing with staples or opening letters. You cannot go wrong with the Kershaw Blur Folding Knife with a Partial Serrated Blade that I have been carrying with me for years and it still is razor sharp and can be easily opened with one hand. A small yet powerful addition to an every day carry list. Check out our in-depth article on How To Pick The Best EDC Knife.
  • Flashlight – I am in a dark parking lot daily that this will help out with that. It will also be useful in case of a blackout or a fire. A good LED flashlight (check out our article here on picking the best EDC flashlight) is also powerful enough to signal for help and small enough to fit in a pocket and can also double as a self-defense tool. We love the Fenix PD35.
  • Multitool – A multitool is the jack-of-all-trades of the tools that you can carry with you every day. You can get a full-fledged multitool such as the Leatherman Skeletool or opt for a lower profile tool that has less functionality by carrying a credit card multitool that fits in your wallet.

3. Things That Would Help With Rare and High Consequence Problems

This is a category of items that needs to be risk assessed versus threats in your area. They are meant to cover potential problems that are low probability to occur but if they did, would have a severe consequence. We will go over performing a risk assessment below, but a brief example would be if you ride in a vehicle to work every day. For this activity, there is a very low probability of needing to escape the train, bus, or car but if there was a crash and you needed to exit quickly, there would be severe consequences of not being able to do so. In this case having a glass breaking Tactical Pen or a seatbelt cutter would make a huge difference towards improving your chances of survival. Tools of this nature are what make up this category.

  • Tactical Pen – A Tactical Pen is a high-grade metal pen that can double as a self-defense tool and glass breaking aid. I constantly need a pen at work so carrying this with me will not be adding an unnecessary item that I will rarely use. This is more of an upgrade to meet a daily need with the capability to address the rare but high consequence situation of defending yourself in the event of a personal attack. The Gerber Impromptu is an excellent choice for this although we cover several great options in our Tactical Pen buying guide.
  • Pry tool – This will help me open doors and containers in the event of a car accident or a problem in my workplace or home. There are many options out there for this, the best one I found is the Boker Minibar Blade which excels in function, having both a pry tip and lever tool, but is a bit rough on the wallet. A cheaper option would be the Key Chain Pry Tool by Schrade.
  • Paracord – Paracord is awesome as it is light, strong, and will not rot. It has nearly as many uses as duct tape. I would not be looking to carry around enough to make a rope ladder or anything as complicated as that but having some at my disposal if I need to splint a broken bone or tie an emergency shelter down would be handy. There are a lot of options for paracord bracelets and other wearable items, such as The Friendly Swede Paracord Bracelet as it comes with a metal clasp that doubles as an emergency fire starter.

Our Favorite Every Day Carry Gear

For some more ideas, be sure to check our 10 Best Multi Purpose Survival Tools post for some other versatile EDC items.

How To Assess Risk

Rating the relative risks of threats in your locality is a good way to judge whether an item is worth including in you every day carry list or even your bug out bag contents.

The basic process for this is to judge each threat on two criteria:

  1. Probability – What are the chances of the threat occurring? Is it something that is highly probable (like slipping and falling on ice), which you see once a week or several times per month? Is it low probability (like an earthquake), which you would expect to see maybe once per year or every several years? Is it somewhere in between such as a car accident? Rate the probability of threats occurring realistically from your own experience and what has occurred historically in your locality.
  2. Potential Impact – What would the impact be if the threat actually happened? Would it be mild and easy to overcome? Would it send people to the hospital? Does it have the potential to be deadly?

We have created this Threat Assessment Matrix to help you visualize this concept:

Every Day Carry list Threat Assessment Matrix

This chart is a great tool for determining whether or not to add an item to your every day carry list. Keep it in mind and refer to it when building yours.


As you can see, there are some easy steps you can take to assess your every day carry needs and determine what is appropriate to be put on your every day carry list. Stick to the principles of addressing realistic, probable threats and keeping your items multi purpose and small to be most effective.

Remember when planning your every day carry list, chance favors the well prepared.

If you still haven’t packed your bug out bag, make sure to review our Bug Out Bag List to help you get started ASAP. Your EDC kit and your BOB are key to being prepared for anything and everything!

Want Even MORE Info On Building Your EDC Kit?

If you are looking for even more information on how to build your ultimate EDC kit you can check out my book, The Every Day Carry Guide. It is a comprehensive manual that will teach you:

  • How to be prepared at all times – no matter where you are
  • How to build your first EDC kit from scratch
  • How to refine an existing kit to make it more effective
  • How to pick the best gear to realistically make you more prepared
  • How to assess threats and risks in your every day life


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! Do you have some every day carry items that you would like to share? Do you have any questions about making an every day carry list? Please let us know in the Comments Section below, thanks!

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