It doesn't matter if you're bugging out after a crisis, are surviving off the land because you've gotten lost and turned around on a hike, or just enjoy spending your nights in the wild, making use of the resources around you is key to staying alive. Today, we're going to cover the benefits of one of the easiest natural items to collect, moss, and why it's much more than just the 'green stuff growing on the trees.' As a survival item, there are plenty of ways moss will come in handy once the SHTF. Here's a few of our favorites.
It gives water Three days without water and you're done, but finding it when you're out in the wild can be a challenge. One of the ways I like to rehydrate is to use Sphagnum moss. It's spongy, and retains water, which you can access by grabbing a piece of the moss and wringing it out like a dishcloth. Plus, you can drink the water straight from the source, because the PH balance in the moss helps keep any bacteria from forming. Of course if you're worried you could always boil the water to be safe, but I've yet to have a problem drinking this directly.
It filters water If a few drops aren't enough to quench your thirst, you can use the acidic qualities of Sphagnum moss as a makeshift water filter when you have no other option. The dense fibers trap dirt and sediment, and the acidity will help kill off any bacteria in the water. it's definitely not a foolproof system, and we always recommend boiling water you've collected from a stream or a pond before you drink it, but in a pinch a moss filter can reduce your risk.
Natural first aid The acidic quality of Sphagnum moss has a second benefit, as it acts like a natural iodine if you have a cut or wound you need to dress. Simply wash the area thoroughly, and apply a new piece of moss on top of the cut, just like you would a bandage, and change it out each time you clean the wound. This also works for rashes, if you've been hiking all day a wet piece of moss will provide immediate relief to rashes or inflamed skin, and just change to a new piece as it dries out. It also works great to relieve the little ones nappy rash, and in a pinch you can use the moss as a makeshift diaper.
Starting fires Moss thrives in wet areas so it's not often easy to find dry, but keep an eye out for varieties like Old Man's Beard as you hike because dead, dry moss is extremely flammable. It's also lightweight, making it easy to carry with you until you really need it as a fire starter. The downside is it burns really quickly, so be ready with your tinder bundle as soon as it takes a flame.
Waterproofing When you need to waterproof your shelter, moss is a perfect resource. You can cut large chunks that hold together because of the intertwined roots which makes it easy to transport, and then use it like shingles to protect from the rain. In wet areas, the roots of the moss will continue to grow, and will form an interconnected roofing system within a day or two. A few drops of water may seep through, but the moss will soak up the majority of the water, and leave the rest to runoff.
It keeps you warm Another benefit of the interconnected roots is that the density of moss makes it an excellent insulator. Used as lining on the walls of your shelter or just shoved into the cracks, moss will help keep biting winds and cold outside, while trapping the warmth inside. You can also use it as bedding, but be careful. There are many insects like chiggers that love living in moss too, and if you're collecting it for this purpose only ever collect handing moss for the trees, and build a raised platform to keep you (and your moss bed) off the ground.
Adds OPSEC As a rough camouflage for your shelter moss is great, because it can make man-made objects look decrepit and abandoned, or break up the structure of your shelter so it looks just like another mound in the wilderness. The further you can keep away from prying eyes the better, especially once the SHTF.
You can eat it The more you can supplement your diet with items from nature the longer your supplies in your pack will last, and depending on your area there are many types of moss that you can eat. Oak Moss. It has pointed branches, is a pale green-grey, and grows on the trunk and branches of oak trees, about 3 to 8 cm long. When you smell it you'll get a strong woody aroma, and is why this one is commonly used as a fragrance in the production of perfumes. Grab a bunch, and soak and wash it before frying it up over your fire like a stir fry. Reindeer Moss. Growing all over the United States, it's a light colored lichen that reaches just a few centimeters tall. At a distance the red parts of the plant look like flowers, and while you can eat it raw the acid it contains will probably cause stomach ulcers. Soak it in water with a handful of ash from your fire to reduce the acidity, and either crush it up to add to your stew, or boil it like tea. Old Man's Beard (Spanish moss). Technically this one isn't a moss, it's a flowering plant known as a bromeliad, that grows hanging from trees like its namesake. Brew it into a tea to get the benefits of the calcium and nutrients that it contains.
The navigation myth Unfortunately, the old wives tale that says moss only grows on the north side of trees isn't actually true, and if you're relying on this to navigate you're going to find yourself quite lost very quickly. Most of the forests I've trekked through in the northern hemisphere have actually had moss growing entirely around the trunk of the tree. Hence the problem. What you can do is look for a rock face. The side that is covered in moss is most probably the one that faces north (in the northern hemisphere of course), as it is in the shade once the sun passes its zenith at noon, resulting in less moisture loss and is where the moss is most likely to grow. Ultimately though, just use your compass or the watch method with the sun to navigate more accurately. When you know how to use moss to your advantage, you'll realize that it's a lot more valuable to you than you initially thought. From drinking water to keeping you warm, moss may just save your life when the SHTF.