I love searching the Internet and libraries for bushcraft and outdoor survival-related videos and books. Now I have something to tell you. Many of these lists you read are wrong. If you do a search, there will be a general consensus of the top five skills being Shelter, water, fire, and so forth. I’m going out on a limb in reporting that they are wrong. Not all wrong, but it is not what you should study. Most of the listed are not skills. Water is not a skill, I’m not going to give you a tutorial on how to make water, water is not a “skill” it’s a priority. So the top five survival skills often listed, are priorities, not skills.
In my opinion, the top six skills for outdoor survival are as follows:
- Rope Fabrication
- Bow Drill Use
- Pottery Making
- Spring Making
- Knot Tying
Immediately, many people will see problems with this list, and that’s good to think critically about it. Now let me backup my reasoning starting with Rope making. People say building a shelter is a skill, but often these tutorials start with prefabricated materials.
Rope is quite easy to make from a variety of plants, both strong and fine. Yucca, Dogbane, Milkweed, Stinging Nettle, Cedar, White Basswood, and Tulip (poplars), are all excellent sources for rope material. Once you can identify several sources for fibers you will want to practice twisting material into rope. Often when you watch a survivalist running a scenario they mention there is never down time when surviving. Twisting rope is something that is a low calorie, time consuming task that you should spend every bit of “down time” doing. Primitive shelters often use rope to bind bundles of grass together to make waterproof, windproof barriers. Building a shelter is difficult without rope. If you are out in the wild, in any place in the world you will also want fire. If you do not have a lighter or fire making tools on your person, a fire bow is the best alternative that I know of to make fire. You need rope. Trapping, you need rope. Fishing, you need rope. Describing how to make rope is simple, twist two threads clockwise, and then twist the two threads together counterclockwise, while gradually introducing more material to the individual threads. The best way to learn however, is to watch someone skilled or watch a video of someone skilled, and then practice.
After you have become skilled, you can begin to create fine, and strong enough twine to fish with, but you will start to ask, how can I make this stronger? You can treat your primitive rope and twine with pine tar, or “pitch” which will help the twine stay intact and protect it from sun and water damage. Pitch is harvested and processed from white pine tar.
– One method for making pitch is to mix pine sap with wood charcoal, and then heat the mixture up in a container.
– The second method is to use a “airtight” non flammable container packed with pine wood (preferably loaded with sap). This “airtight container” needs holes for venting, and the bottom needs holes so as the sap heats up it will flow out the bottom into a catch container. While this is not directly a “rope making skill”, it is part of the process, and this pitch can also be used to waterproof nearly anything and was used for traditional boat building.
Warning: Because pitch is highly flammable, extreme caution should be used not to ignite it, should you use it in any application.
Rope fabrication is a critical foundational skill. Every EDC kit includes rope, or twine, or string. However, harvesting and processing rope is fairly easy (although time consuming) and is a skill readily taught to young children as well.
Bow Drill Use
Bow Drills are primitive tools used to build fires. But, they can also be used for construction and fabrication. Bow drills are built from yucca, aspen, white cedar, basswood and willows. I’ve tried several times to build a fire from a bow drill, and unfortunately have not had success. I also would put the Pump Drill under this category. Alternative forms of making fire involve flint and steel, quartz, jasper, and agate also can create a spark against high carbon steel. The sun can also be used, with a magnifying glass, or perhaps a salvaged sheet of reflective material. If you have a space blanket, you can use it to focus sunlight for a fire. However, the most likely materials to be found in a survival situation are the materials to build a bow drill, or pump drill. Especially, if you already know how to fabricate twine or rope.
Pottery is found throughout the world. It is a simple process from a material found nearly anywhere. Clay is found in many creeks and river banks, right at the surface. Clay ranges from a beautiful gray, to beautiful reds. Some people may immediately respond by saying pottery is a long term primitive skill, not a short term emergency skill, which I disagree with. I think if you’re stuck in the wild for two weeks (or even less), you can utilize pottery.
Step 1. Gather the clay, as pure as possible. After you gather clay, you want to purify as well as possible. In a survival situation, you could stage different batches, as the longer you take processing clay, the higher quality you will have.
Step 2. Shape processed clay into a bowl. Make several, with variations on size and shape.
Step 3. Dry out the bowls for many hours
Step 4. Slowly warm the bowls for several hours
Step 5. Slowly heat the bowls to a very high (kiln) temperature
Step 6. Allow the bowls to slowly cool
This abbreviated process should show that this process takes several days, and that you will not
be able to travel while doing it. However, it is a simple process, and can be done with zero tools.
Some things that you can make with pottery… A bowl that you can cook in. You can boil water, and also you can transport water, and store water. With the same clay pottery techniques you can make a hearth, a chimney, or a small oven. So for long term survival, pottery can turn a miserable situation into a practical living situation. Also, manipulating clay is obviously a step towards baking bricks. (For shelter structures, ovens, or for chimneys.)
Springs are widely used, and until recently I did not realize that an effective spring could be made with primitive tools. Admittedly, I often fantasize about time travel, and what knowledge would be the most useful in establishing a kingdom. With that, I started to study ancient weapons, and why Romans had such an advantage against their enemies. Simply put, they were better at everything, but their ranged advantage came from spring technology. I am not talking about metal coils, but rather wraps of rope (rope, see a theme here?), between two parallel braced supports. The simple configuration was utilized in crossbows, ballistas, scorpions, and other high powered projectile launchers. Immediately, reading this you may realize that a crossbow made this way possibly is easier than making a longbow. However, springs can be utilized in traps as well. These springs can be built up to incredible strengths.
Knot tying takes time to learn. I’ve learned how to do a dozen knots. But I immediately remember only three. Take the time to learn several knots. The best way to learn knots, is to choose a knot, and tie it every day for a week. Most of the time we will tie a knot at the end of a rope, but you may find you want to tie a knot in the middle of a rope. Also there are knots to tie two ropes together, and so on and so forth. The reason there are so many different knots, is there are so many different situations you
might need a knot in, and learning a knot without knowing what situation to use it means it’s a useless knot. A great set of videos for me, has been the Corporal’s Corner videos. He uses a few knots, in specific situations and demonstrates why you would use those knots.
Lastly, let’s tie these together. We know the priorities of survival are shelter, water, and food. (So often the priority of security is neglected in survival, however the Number 1 priority is always security. Many people realize this. However, security is such a dynamic threat to address, where shelter is fairly static, the threat is cold, the solution is a water barrier and insulation) and luckily, shelter and water should be fairly easily addressed. Food, is I feel, terribly under-addressed.
Many people know to boil and filter their water, and can throw together a shelter of some sort. However, gathering food is difficult. As a rough estimate, let’s say you are twenty pounds overweight. Twenty pounds of fat will provide roughly 70,000 calories. Roughly what you burn in 20 days, or as little as 10 days for someone with a large amount of muscle mass, engaged in strenuous activity..
Keep in mind, if you are fasting and only drinking water, your body goes through a type of shock. Your blood sugar plummets, and your energy levels follow, so you cannot think clearly and decision making is impaired. Now, let’s add a very stressful situation you are not normally in, a situation you have trained for, but is outside of normality. Regardless, that will increase stress. What, if at the same time, you are not getting the coffee you are used to, or cigarettes?
Having been in these situations with other people, I have quickly learned that “the will to live” does not replace discipline and training. Sports, such as baseball, football, soccer, are all examples of sports that are not won on the sportsfield. They are won through training, practice, and organizational management. What happens on the field is simply a reflection of the training work that was already done. The same is true with survival, how you perform during a survival situation has everything to do with what you did before the situation.
Calories In Versus Calories Burned
We can use 3,500 to 5,000 calories a day during a survival situation. Here are some plant that you might consider:
- One cup of chopped dandelion: 25 Calories
- One cup of Burdock root: 110 calories
- One oz. of Cattail root: 8 Calories
That’s a lot of plants that you would need to eat, to yield 3,500+ calories! So consider foraging plants which are high in micronutrition a supplement to what you hunt, fish, or trap for fat and protein. For fat and protein that you do not have to do a lot of work for, trapping makes the most sense. Surface water seems to be the best locales to find sources of meat, year-round. If you know how to make rope, you can make snares, nets, cages, and other traps. Do not limit yourself to just one food source. Note that you can only actively “mine” (hunt) one source at a time if you do not utilize trapping.
JWR Adds: Setting a trap is like hunting 24 hours a day, and laying multiple traps is like having multiple hunters simultaneously out in the field.
Some potential food sources:
-Fish (and other water creatures)
For instance: 100 grams of cricket provides 121 calories (12.9 grams of protein)
You can build traps (or simply gather) every one of these categories, and you should. Bird traps have been made in a variety of ways using string and rope. I see people in survival shows describe how they simply dispose of guts away from their camps because they do not want it around and I am disappointed. Guts are great to lure other creatures. Weave a box from twigs, and put the guts under it, set a trigger to collapse the trap and you could catch a bird without even being near it.
Box cages can be used for smaller animals as well. Remember, animals walk the path of least resistance just like anything else, so you can funnel their movement towards traps by building walls of simple twigs and such. Guts can also be used to feed insects, and those insects can be used as fish bait. Cages can be built for fish as well, again using rope and twigs and rocks, you can build a funnel for fish.
If you become skilled with building primitive springs and triggers, you can build activated triggers for fishing rods, and other animals. It is important to build snares strong enough to lift the targeted animal off the ground to help prevent the animal escaping or chewing through the rope, or to drag your snares kit off.
Once you have examined the variety of trapping techniques you can use, it starts to reveal that you can quickly deplete an area of food and animals. I think there is room to argue the utilization of different areas, and to essentially travel from areas that are proven providers.
In closing, I’ve discussed in short several skills that I believe are fundamental foundational skills. As you think on this list, you can see how it becomes a system of skills, as all the skills are utilized in other aspects of survival. None of these skills require that you bring tools, but each of these skills will help you source tools.
I did not include edible plant foraging in this list, but I do not discount it. I think learning to catch fish will outperform any plant foraging, knowledge worldwide. But as you spend time outside in your area, you should learn what plants are plentiful and edible.
About The Author
Currently I live in New Orleans, so in the current pandemic I’ve been without work as I am an artist. (Yes, a contradiction of ideas, an artist living in New Orleans who reads SurvivalBlog?) but I’m also a list of other things. I am working on designing electronic circuits for a variety of survival solutions. I’m interested in designing a solar powered, waterproof, shock-resistant, minimal, ham radio transmitter. I just finished designing a UVC lamp controller that will run a lamp in a bathroom once everyone has left the room (Kills Covid-19 along with other viruses, mold, fungus and bacteria). I’m also interested in designing other circuits, such as, motion sensors, and area denial systems. However, I will need support to continue this, and improve the projects I’m developing. Some of the projects will be somewhat sensitive and I will not openly advertise the capabilities of the systems, however I would like to make them available to other survivalists and patriots.
One example is actually what I’m writing this article on. Currently, my screen is a 3.5” touchscreen running on Linux on a Raspberry Pi 2. Although this is very small, I have a full size keyboard and mouse. Overall this system cost me about $100, and has a MS Office [compatible] suite. Using this system provides a great deal of privacy as many of the other systems out there monitor many types of activity you conduct, and exploits of operating systems, target other systems.
If you are interested in contributing to electronic solutions please join my groups on assorted platforms. You can find me by searching Jonathan Gardner on other platforms. You can also email me at JohnGardner@gmail.com
I look forward to reading your comments. Thanks. And be safe and prepared out there!