Being prepared for anything is a big challenge when you don't know where to start. The key we teach all of our students so information overload does not scare them into not taking any action at all is to divide the core survival skills you need to master into separate channels. But there's lots you can spend your time on, and to make it easier for beginners to get started the team at APE Survival sat down and brainstormed everything you need to know to survive. Our initial list had over 50 different items, but we prioritized and refined these into seven core skills you can start learning today. Having a working knowledge of these seven skills will dramatically improve your ability to survive whatever may come. That being said, this list is also a reflection of our opinions based on our years of experience. The key here is ‘our.’ You may need to adapt these seven skills to your local situation, especially if there is something you face locally that is a higher threat. Perhaps personal safety is more critical than first aid where you are, or an ability to navigate trumps your desire to signal for help when you're living off the land. As with all survival information, take the learning the following overview gives to help build your plan of attack, but the key is to use it within your own circumstances, so you create your own master plan for survival. Here's the seven survival skills we recommend you learn:
Starting a fire Being able to start a fire is critical in a survival situation. It keeps you warm and boosts your comfort levels during the night, you can use it to cook your food, purify your water, as a signal for help, a source of light and even for keeping critters at bay. You need to know at least three methods of starting a fire. Matches or a cigarette lighter will not last forever, so ensure you're competent with a fire steel and striker as well as using a local fire-starting technique like a bamboo saw or a hand-drill. The second part of this skill is knowing how to actually build a fire that stays lit, and practicing sourcing tinder, kindling and fuel wood. Being able to use this skill effectively is more than simply sparking a flame, you need to create a fire that stays lit and burns through the night.
Sourcing water Depending on the area you live, sourcing water may be even more important than starting a fire. After 2-3 days without drinking water you're going to be in big trouble, and water needs to be one of your top priorities should you find yourself in a survival situation. Learn at least three different local ways of obtaining water, because these are going to be heavily dependent on the environment you find yourself in. Large plastic bags over foliage can draw water from tree leaves, and is a tactic used in outback Australia where water is hard to come by. In other times getting water is as simple as taking it from a stream. Following the rule of three, make sure you have three different ways you are competent in purifying water. There are filters available that make this step easy, and also pack a metal water container in your bug out bag so you can boil any contaminated water over a fire as a backup. Water purification tablets are your third option, its relatively easy to follow the instructions on the pack when you use these.
Finding shelter Exposure to the elements is one of the biggest risks you face as you try to survive, and if you aren't carrying a tent in your kit, you should at least have a tarp. If the horrifying event occurs and you lose your bug out bag, knowing how to construct a makeshift shelter from debris is a key survival skill, and so long as you have a heavy knife to collect materials you can put together a rough shelter to help you get through a cold night in just a couple of hours. It's also possible to do this without any tools at all, it just takes a little longer to obtain the branches and leaves that you need.
Feeding yourself Now you've secured fire, water and shelter, your immediate needs are covered and your rumbling stomach becomes the next priority. It's not critical to eat in the first few days, but after a week without food, you're going to rapidly start losing strength as you face a declining ability to survive. Hopefully you had enough foresight to pack emergency rations into your bug out kit, and you can stretch these out by fishing, or hunting small game with snares along game trails. You should also build a working knowledge of the local edible plants, as we never recommend eating anything unless you're sure you know exactly what it is. Practice all of these skills on weekend hiking and camping trips before you need to rely on them to survive, there are particular knacks to hunting and fishing that are not fun to learn on an empty stomach.
Basic first aid Pack a basic first aid kit and know how to use every part of it. You're going to need to know general things like how to clean and close a wound, effectively manage a burn, how to set and immobilize a broken bone or a sprain, and how to identify and treat shock, hypothermia and heat exhaustion. If your local fire station offers first aid training, take a course, otherwise get your hands on a complete book of DIY first aid techniques and make sure to study it.
Signal for help It's good practice to always let someone know where you're going when you head out in the forest, so if you don't make it back or you fail to check in at a pre-arranged time, they can begin alerting the authorities you've gone missing. In most survival cases, sitting tight in a shelter when you have all your other basic needs covered is your best option, but you need to give some thought to how your rescuers will be able to find you. The key here is to be noticeable. You can't stay out in the open all the time, so construct an unnatural object that draws attention. Use color, movement and shapes that don't sync with the area you're in, and in the U.S. the standard practice is to use a group of three. Three rocks together, three logs in a row, or three crosses in a field all indicate you need assistance. A small mirror can reflect the sun during the day, and build a signal fire that is ready to be lit at a moment's notice should you hear a plane or a helicopter above.
A positive attitude The last component plays a critical role in your ability to survive, and is arguably more important than any of the six before because it impacts your ability to effectively perform all of these. Focus on developing a survival mindset. Keeping a level head even when everything else around you screams to panic is the key to staying positive, and can make a big difference in making it through the tough nights and long days. Celebrate every small win you're able to achieve, and make sure you're always doing something each day to improve your overall situation. It may be days or even weeks until you're rescued, and you need to ensure you stay sane during this time, so you can make it home to your friends and family in one piece. Getting a handle on these seven skills, means you'll be able to make it through most emergency survival situations, no matter what you're facing. All of these techniques require practice and study to master, so start making your preparations now, just in case. An emergency is exactly that, a situation you had not planned to be in, but once you're stuck in it you have no choice but to see it through. With the right knowledge and training, you'll be able to do survive with ease. Which of these seven skills are you going to start working on today?