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7 Things Preppers Need to Know About Wilderness Survival

Avatar for James Walton James Walton  |  Updated: August 22, 2019
7 Things Preppers Need to Know About Wilderness Survival

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The rickety log cabin has torn cloth for curtains and a door made of bamboo lashed together. There is a trellis outside that is made of twigs and branches and a small row garden. Maybe there is a dog wandering around outside. However, it’d have to be a Shepard or something intimidating.

Suddenly, the bamboo door rattles and from this rickety cabin comes the survivor. His clothes made from pelts and he has a stone knife in his hand. In fact, he looks more Viking than a modern-day survivor. The Survivor starts a fire with some flint and steel. He has some fish filets smoking over the fire.

This is something out of a movie. It’s a fantasy. Preppers tend to get wrapped up in this wilderness survival fantasy.

The host of A Family Affair on The Prepper Broadcasting Network often warns her audience to, “Prepare for your family, not your fantasy.”

Wilderness Survival for Preppers

It’s important that we set the scene for all of this. This is an article about wilderness survival for preppers. It assumes that times have gotten bad. Otherwise, you would be in your home enjoying the luxury that even a home without power presents over a lean-to in the woods.

For preppers to hit the woods and take on the hurdles of long term wilderness survival, brought on by a bugout situation, it means that society has fallen or the threat to your specific regions is unprecedented. I am assuming that you will be staying in the woods for an extended period.

Seasons over seasons are being spent under the trees and all the trials that go along with it.

These considerations are vital for the person who has planned his bugout to a remote national forest or another wooded area to hide out from the decay of the world they once inhabited.

1. Trees

When it comes to foraging and wild medicine most people think of plants. They think of things like mullein, boneset, common plantain, coneflower or echinacea. There are a number of different plants that grow wild and offer serious medicinal properties to the forager.

However, these resources are basically available for two full seasons. The spring is a time for them to mature and by late fall they can die from exposure to that first frost. What do you do if your answer to illness dies the week before you get sick?

I like pine needle tea for boosting my immunity in the cold weather. It’s a powerful healer that is always going to be around despite the season. Hence the name evergreen.

Yank a handful of long needles from a white pine or a few small branches with needles from other types of pine and place that in your kettle with some cold water. Start with cold water as it leeches out the goodies much better. 

Bring that water to a boil and then simmer it for about 20 minutes. This is a great tea in the cold because it warms the body and has 250mg of vitamin C per cup! Leave the orange juice in the fridge.

This is just one example of how trees like pine, oak, hickory, black walnut and willow can help you all year long.

2. Temporary

One of the biggest reality checks that prepper’s need is the fantasy of living out their days, after a collapse, under a lean-to in the woods. A few good camping sessions does not warrant you the ability to survive, Infinitum, in the woods.

One of my favorite camping tales came from a dear friend who underestimated the conditions of a cool night with rain. He set out for some hiking with a buddy and things turned south as the night came upon them.

We often think that it must be freezing or storming for life in the woods to be miserable.

A beautiful Autumn day gave way to a night in the 40s. After a long hike, the cooling of the earth was welcomed by these two campers until the rain came. Their tent was not waterproof they started getting wet inside their shelter.

Before long things got bad. I quote, “We spent the night soaked and shivering. Till the sun came up we just spooned each other. It was miserable.”

This is a stark reminder that your time in the woods should be temporary. If you look to survive out there you better have a serious set of skills and gear. Winter will come, food will be scarce, and illness will follow. Are you prepared to deal with any of that?

3. Traps

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Traps are such an important part of wilderness survival. You do not want to get into the habit of shooting at small game with a handmade bow and arrows. While this falls into that FANTASY category again, you should avoid it.

Gathering food through trapping is passive, repeatable and very effective.

Using firearms is loud. It will attract other people if they are in the woods with you. I don’t know how to make a bullet, so that means after I shoot my last bullet, I have problems if the rifle is my primary means of feeding the family.

Metal traps like the 220 conibear and even live traps are a much better option. These traps will likely outlast you if you take care of them. They cannot run out of ammo or arrows.

There are two things to consider when deciding which type of traps to carry into the woods. Do you want traps that kill the animal instantly or do you want traps that hold them alive? There are benefits to both.

Killing Traps

If you haven’t killed an animal before or if you aren’t particularly fond of it, killing traps are the way to go. Traps like the 220 conibear are going to kill the animal by asphyxiation. It happens quickly. Nothing lives long without air. In fact, nothing stays conscious long without air.

The DF-4 Deadfall trap is another great option for your bugout bag. These are lightweight and highly effective killing traps. Easy to set for anyone.

Live Traps

While killing animals is not fun there is one big benefit. You can keep those animals alive and eat them when you are good and ready. Small game animals are easy to keep alive and allow you to eat them later. The meat cannot spoil if it’s walking around in the cage.

4. Bring Metal

Preppers and survivalists tend to go overboard when it comes to primitive skills. Making things like rock knives and hand-drawn bows can be very rewarding. This puts us in contact with long lost generations of people who survived the worst and delivered us to the 21st century.

I enjoy taking the kids out to the woods and playing around with primitive skills. One of the quickest little tools to make with kids is a frog gig from a tree branch.

  1. Smooth out the stick with your knife. Remove any burs or growth from the main branch.
  2. Using your knife, create a sharp point on one end of the stick.
  3. Carefully cut that point into quarters. Slice right down the middle of the point a then divide that section into two more points.
  4. Now you will have four points in total. You can spread these points out by jamming a couple of sticks between the points. Just slide a thin twig down between the points and it will open them up.
  5. Do this with one more stick to open the other two points.
  6. You should have a long smooth branch with 4 points that are spread open.
  7. Sharpen the individual points with your knife.

This little gig can be used to catch frogs or fish. Before long it will break but you can get a few good uses out of it.

Your other option is to buy a metal frog gig for $4 that will likely outlive you! This is the whole argument about metal in a nutshell. Can you make a knife from flint knapping rocks? Sure. It will never be the same tool as high carbon steel, full tang survival knife.

At European contact, the natives were dazzled by metal. It was like something from another planet. Once they realized the durability of metal, they were ready to trade as much as they could for that metal. Metal knives and tomahawks changed the game for the native Americans.

While primitive tools and skills are essential to a woodsman it’s important that your stake your survival metal.

5. Tools

Your bag should mostly be weighed down by tools. Good metal tools are going to take you further than anything else in a wilderness survival situation. That is because with tools and skill you can make almost anything you need!

Let’s look at the top 5 metal tools you should carry for wilderness survival.

  • Survival Knife

While the survival knife is undeniably a tool it is mostly designed for use of its razor-sharp blade. This could be for things like carving and processing wild game.

A survival knife has many other uses as a tool and when designed properly can be one of the most multi-functional survival tools in your kit.

  • Woodsman’s Ax

A short-handled ax is going to give you options that your survival knife will not. Now you can fell trees and split logs. You can use a woodsman’s ax to build a serious camp from the trees around you. A sharp blade and the ability to use that ax is going to make it a necessary tool for wilderness survival

  • Folding Saw

Good luck reproducing a saw. Its basically impossible in the wild. Saws make processing wood even easier than an ax, in some regards. A simple folding saw is an excellent tool to include in your kit. They are also very affordable.

  • Ferro Rod

You might not consider a ferro rod a tool. It doesn’t drive nails or turn screws, but it has tremendous value. There is no better fire tool for wilderness survival than the ferro rod.

Even a lighter is going to run out of fluid but a nice long ferro rod that is ½ inch thick will likely start fires for your entire life! If you know how to start a fire, it will be handed down to your kids like any other tool.

  • Draw Knife

In wilderness survival cutting and shaping, wood is a big part of maintaining shelter and other structures.  Your tarps and your tents will eventually tear if we are talking long term.

A draw knife is a two-handled tool with a blade in the center of the handles. It’s designed to drag the sharp blade over uneven wood and create soft or straight edges and planes. A great tool for setting up a bushcraft camp.

6. Bugs and Sun

While tools and metal are great, all the metal in the world won’t protect you from the biting insects. These nasty little creatures will eat you alive, literally!

Even the life-giving sun will become a danger in a wilderness survival situation.

Most survivalists and preppers forget about the simple additions like bug spray and suntan lotion. Of course, these are sustainable solutions to the problem of sun and bugs, but they will give you a nice head start.

It’s a simple fix to something that becomes a serious problem fast. If your first week in the wilderness involves being

7. Light Danger

I am an Olight guy. I like to have a good flashlight at arm’s length. This could be because I spent years of my life inspecting warehouses. Food warehouses to be exact and this can be a very important job that assures the quality of the product stored in that warehouse as well as the warehouse’s ability to maintain compliance with regulatory agencies.

The high lumen flashlight has also become a big part of the EDC, mine included. However, it’s important to understand the distinction between daily flashlight use and wilderness survival. As I mentioned earlier, I am looking at wilderness survival through a prepper’s lens. This means things have gotten very bad and you are trying to survive amongst the trees.

This means you are likely avoiding contact from others. Unless they are part of your MAG or some wilderness community that you have built.

Nothing will give your position away in the night like a burst of a 1000 lumen light. Even a low powered flashlight will be noticeable from a great distance. I am talking miles in straight pine forest. It could be even further in mountainous terrain.

When a light winks on it will catch attention in a wilderness survival situation. The same is true of a fire.

To avoid light danger in wilderness survival it might be better to let your eyes acclimate to the darkness. If you need fire, explore the Dakota fire pit as this can mask both light and smoke to some degree. It’s not perfect but its certainly better than turning on that high lumen flashlight.


If you haven’t spent a lot of time sleeping and living in the woods, you are likely going to hate it. We are creatures of convenience and it has changed our view and experience in the woods. We like sheets, beds, climate control and many of us even love the hum of a fan in the background.

There are lots of voices echoing the sentiment that rushing to the woods to bugout is less than ideal. I think it involves lots of planning and consideration if you choose to go this route. Of course, some people have no other option. It’s not like the American public is sitting on an extra $40,000 for a bunker or a cabin on some land.

The most important part of wilderness survival is to understand it will be the hardest life you have lived to date. If you have a family, it will be extra tough. It’s going to be hot and uncomfortable, then it’s going to be cold and terrible and in between that it will just be uncomfortable, and you will likely be dealing with hunger most of the time.

If you leverage the tools and tactics, we talked about above you will fair much better than the average person. Just remember, there are no guarantees in the wilderness.

At the very least, I would say get out and enjoy the wild. There is something very special and, dare I say, medicinal about it.

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One Response to “7 Things Preppers Need to Know About Wilderness Survival”

  1. Okay let me put this a simple as I can. If your plan when the balloon goes up is to run off to the woods to survive YOU ARE GOING TO DIE. Sorry to pop bubbles but this is a simple fact. Even people that do these things for a living will run out of meat to hunt,food to forage or water . You can’t stay in one place as you will use up all the resources in an area quickly and will need to move. This what the Indians and mountain men did. I live in the Sierra Nevada mountains and hike a lot and have gone days at a time without seeing any major game animals like dear ect and if you think you will live off of squirrel and chipmunks for any extended period of time once again you are wrong. I agree with what the article says about what you need to bring with you but you will only be postponing the inevitable

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