Two Things You Must Have To Survive In The Wilderness

bow drill, primitive fire, fire starting

Primitive Fire

How many blog posts have you read where the author talks about their bug-out bags and you think, “Holy cow, just the pack alone costs more than I make in a week!”  I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to be rich in order to put together a good outdoor survival kit. Let me tell you the two most important things you’ll need in order to survive in the woods. Shhhh…. ready?  Knowledge and experience.  That’s all you need folks. Seriously.   By Jarhead Survivor, a contributing author SHTFBlog & Survival Cache Does gear help when you’re on a camping trip?  Of course it does, but gear is a trade-off for experience – let me explain.  If you’ve done a lot of camping with a sleeping bag and tent you’ve never had the experience or gained the knowledge on how to build a shelter out of natural materials. If you’ve always used a lighter you’ve never had to worry about how to get a good spark from your fire steel. If you always use a fire steel you’ve never had to worry about what kind of wood to use for your bow drill set. If you’ve used paracord with your bow drill set you’ve never had to worry about using natural cordage.  I think you get my point.

Don’t Depend On Gear

Once you can go into the woods with just your bare hands you’ll never *need* to depend on another piece of gear. Don’t get me wrong, gear is awesome and I love it, but it’s a good idea to always challenge yourself to try and get to the next level. Next time instead of using your lighter to start a fire use your fire steel. When you can do that no problem try doing it with a bow drill set you made with your own two hands. Also Read: Top 5 Fire Starters When you can build a shelter that will keep you as warm and dry as your tent and sleeping bag (or even better) then you’re well on your way to freedom in the woods.  Living in the wilderness was a dying art, but I think it’s making a resurgence thanks in part to the Internet.  My grandfather was a full blood MicMac Indian from New Brunswick and that man knew more about surviving in the wilderness than anybody.  He would shoot a moose and find a way to use every part of it.  He was a trapper and fisherman and it’s how he kept his family fed in the 30’s and 40’s; he didn’t do it because it was fun, he did it to survive. I spent some time with him in the woods and on the river when I was a kid and when he went into the wilderness all he ever took was an axe, a small  knife for skinning animals, and a lighter in his pocket.  And he considered these items to be a luxury.  Today I see many videos of men and women- both young and old – demonstrating how they live off the land, or give survival tips, or shoot survival videos, or what have you.  It does my heart good to see these skills coming back into the mainstream.

How Does Knowledge & Experience Beat Gear?

Let’s use fire making as an example.  If you can build a fire with one match you’ve got some skills.  It means you can choose your IMG_4993tinder, kindling, and wood carefully enough so that one light is all it takes to get it going.  If it takes you half a butane lighter to get a fire going you have some learning to do, but that’s ok!  Don’t get discouraged.  We all have to start somewhere and building a fire can be a great way to get started. Now that you can build a fire with one match try and start it with a firesteel next time.  This means you really have to understand what materials in nature can catch a spark and then utilize them to make a flame.  You need to be standing by with your kindling to feed that small flame.  Once it’s a little bigger you add thicker wood until you’ve got your fire built up. Also Read: Compass vs. GPS Once you can start a fire with a firesteel every time, you need to bump up your game with a bow drill.  When you can create an coal with a bow drill set you’ve made yourself you are well on your way to surviving in the wilderness.  The next thing you should try is build a shelter from natural materials.  To do this properly is a lot of work, but when you have your shelter build you will be able to survive in any environment.  A tent and sleeping bag rated to -30 is awesome, but knowing you have the knowledge in your head to make it yourself is pure power. Also Read: 7 Tips For Your Bug Out Bag Once you can build a shelter, start a fire with a bow drill, and make a container from birch or pine bark for boiling water you’ll be able to walk into the woods with a confidence born of experience and knowledge.  Instead of a forbidding and dark forest you’ll start to notice things like water sources, hardwood trees with lots of leaves underneath for shelter making, game trails, birch trees with bark hanging off for fire starting, streams where fish live, stands of cat tails which have many uses, and on and on.  You’ll know how to make your own cordage and what materials to make it from.r head to build one from the materials around you is pure power.  You can walk into the woods and survive in comfort. By having the understanding of how to do these things by hand you will have a supreme advantage over those without experience when it comes to spending time in the woods.  Time to bug-out out to the wilderness.  You’ve got the upper hand folks.  Practice your skills!

Using Gear

When you’re able to do all these things without gear you quickly begin to see what a luxury a Kleen Kanteen can be, or how easy a fire is with a lighter, or how a poncho can quickly and easily be rigged into an overnight shelter in just a matter of minutes.  You’ll have a new appreciation for even the cheapest piece of gear when you understand how to make them by hand from natural materials.

Packing Your Survival Kit

When I go into the woods I always carry a small pack with me and here are some of the luxuries I carry with me.  Your pack will depend on your knowledge and experience, environment, and what you’re comfort level is.  If I ever get lost or find myself in a survival situation and I have my pack with me the question isn’t, “Will I survive?” it’s, “How comfortable can I be tonight in this environment?” So here’s a list of some of the things I carry: With these few items I can be almost as comfortable in the woods as I would be at home.  I can augment most of the gear here with things I can create in the wilderness.  For example:  instead of carrying a foam sleeping mat I can gather debris off the forest floor and use that as a barrier between me and the ground.  It’s more comfortable and does just as good a job insulating me as a foam mat.  And I don’t have to carry it.

BOB Creep

Bob Creep is a term I’ve coined for how your Bug Out Bag tends to gain weight slowly over time.  You go to a store and see some widget hanging up and you think, “Sweet!  I could really use that in my pack!”  And you buy it and take it home and throw it in your BOB and forget about it.  Then a week or two later you’re back at the sporting goods store and you see some other awesome gadget that would look real good in your BOB. You pick it up, take it home, throw it in your pack and forget about it.  A year later your BOB weight has crept from 35 lbs to 60 lbs. How the hell did that happen?  BOB creep, ya’ll.  It’s insidious. Also Read: 20 Things You Need In Your Bug Out Bag I challenge you right now to go to your BOB (bug-out bag), GHB (get home bag), your day pack, your hiking pack, or whatever you carry around with you and see if you can lighten it up by at least five pounds.  You’ll have to assess your own skill set and find out what you’re comfortable taking out of your pack.  Think of it this way, the less gear you have to carry around the faster and easier  you’ll be able to move. tarp shelter 7 How much weight did you cut from your pack? Questions?  Comments? Sound off below! -Jarhead Survivor Support by shopping @ Amazon (Click Here) Visit Sponsors of
26 comments… add one
  • JAS July 31, 2015, 11:24 am

    Good article. Can’t say enough about a good poncho and liner. They are a real life saver. Even when we are not camping, I insist that my grandkids practice starting fires non-traditionally. If we are going to use the Webber grill, they have to gather all the wood and tinder and get a fire going, then we add the charcoal. We practice with a magnesium bar and striker, magnifying glass, fire steel and plain old matches. They have gotten pretty handy at getting a fire going in short order. Nothing like having them catch a nice bass and then get to wrap it in foil and cook it in the coals of a fire they made themselves.

    • Jarhead Survivor August 1, 2015, 12:56 pm

      Hey Jas, thanks for reading!

      That’s great that you make your grandkids practice with different types of fire starting techniques. Good for you and better for them!

      • Aaron August 3, 2015, 9:44 pm

        Seriously where are the guns with all the recent az ctivity?

  • irishdutchuncle July 31, 2015, 2:35 pm

    How did Grandfather deal with the ticks and mosquitoes?

    my other big fear, being alone in the woods, is the worry that I’m not really alone…

    • Anonymous July 31, 2015, 2:53 pm

      …The Great Spirit and I are working out my problems,
      you are never really alone. I worry about the preadatory beasts,
      on two legs, or four.

      I haven’t had a comfortable night outside since 1970.

    • Jarhead Survivor August 1, 2015, 12:45 pm

      Hey Irish! I seem to remember he always had a long sleeve shirt on and wore a hat. The skeeters in the Canadian woods are unbelievable, so it certainly is a great question!

      • Derron August 2, 2015, 9:46 am

        Lemon oil works well

        • irishdutchuncle August 2, 2015, 3:10 pm

          roger that, Derron. I’ll probably get some citronella candles, also. the bug juice is going to run out eventually in an extended
          SHTF. I live just down the road a bit from Jarhead and Drew, so I expect we’ll get their small bird sized mosquitoes down here eventually…

  • Lou August 1, 2015, 1:04 am

    Sorry, Jarhead Survivor, before I say what I’m about to say, please know that I have great respect for you.
    Your article is well written. However, I feel compelled to say that it does a great disservice to a great many of those who are reading it.
    First folks, you need to understand that in any SHTF crisis, you will not be living in the wilderness. With very, very, very few exceptions, you will not be able to sustain yourself by living off the land. Unless you have already cashed months, and years worth of food somewhere is the boonies, You will not be able to last for more than a few days.
    Second, historically, in the real world, one of the very few who tried, the Belseki Partisans, in north eastern Poland in WW2, Only sustained themselves by armed raids of the farms and villages surrounding the forest where they lived, by taking food at gun point.
    In a real world SHTF, where you are forced to evacuate your home, you will be refugeeing. This means that you will be displacing from a perceived place of danger, and moving as quickly as possible to a perceived location of safety, and resources, where you have a reasonable expectation of finding the long term resources you will need. Squatting in some woods, with just the small amount of supplies you can pack in, does NOT qualify as a location of safety, and sustainable resources.
    As to depending on wood craft, rather than supplies and equipment,….. How long do you expect to be out in a wilderness survival situation? More than, say, 72 hours? Well,… I sure hope not!. If you’re talking about just 72 hours, most of us, baring dangerous weather conditions aught to be able to come out alive with little or nothing. No food, little water, little shelter, and, yes, maybe no fire. In spite of what some will tell you, very likely, even lacking the necessities, you will still be alive when rescued. Perhaps in a little rough shape, but still alive.
    Primitive shelter, primitive fire making, etc.? The battle in any wilderness survival situation is a battle for calories. How many calories do you have access to, verses, how many calories are you expending. The more physical calories you expend through labor, the more you need to replace through nutrition. I once watched an “expert” in survival, an “Instructor”, try to make a fire using a bow drill. He worked diligently for over an hour. In the end, there was no fire, he was exhausted from the effort, and his hands were bleeding. Finally, he barrowed a Bic Lighter, and got the fire going. Sure, I know how to build four, of five different primitive shelters. Yep, I know five, or six different ways to start a fire the primitive way. I know where to look for primitive cordage. You know what,….. Give me a hammock, a Bic lighter and some para-cord every time. The calories I save, may very well be the difference between living, or dying for me.
    Sorry, bud, I just had to call you on this one.

    • Kyle in NH August 1, 2015, 5:43 am

      No disrespect to you, but I think you’re missing the point of the article by focusing on a few sentences but missing his bigger picture. I’ve been to the same Primitive School as him and learned pretty much the same things he’s talking about. One of the things my Instructor told me after we built shelters, fires, cordage, water containers, and eating wild plants, was that now that I understood what it takes to do all that (as you put the calories), you will have a greater respect for the things you do take with you and won’t forget them. I can make a primitive shelter, but I’ll take one with me. I can make a bow fire, but I opt for a BIC or firesteel. I can make cordage, but I take Paracord. I can make a water container and boil it with rocks, but I carry a SS bottle. I have a much greater respect for the knife that I carry. I do so because I know what I would have to do without it, but I also realize that I am not completely dependent on the gear I do carry, so I’ve over time been able to shave many pounds of “Panic-Gear” that overloads many BOB’s.
      In a Survival Situation, your biggest enemies are Fear and the Unknown. Fear leads to Panic, Panic leads to indecision and inactivity. That gets you in trouble. What you don’t know gets you killed. In our SHTF situation where you’ll need to pull out the BOB, you are correct that you won’t need to survive for weeks in the forest and honestly you are more worried about GETTING somewhere intact than building shelters finding food/water. But what understanding the very basics means that you’re more confident, potentially more effective at what you need to do, and less likely to be carrying heavy packs to accommodate for Fear. It allows one to be able to adapt to variables without having to pack specifically for it, and can allow that same adaptation when things go south of for extended periods. And with Knowledge and Experience (as he points out) you can shave pounds off of said gear to make you faster in GETTING there.
      I would say that over the years through gaining Knowledge and Experience (through websites, a Primitive Class, and experimentation) I’ve reassessed my BOB many times and shed many pounds off my gear. My philosophy of it’s intent and what I need it to do has adjusted from an Oh-S&%$ Bag to one of a tool that compliments my plans and requirements. And I think that what he’s suggesting is something that we should be pushing ourselves to accomplish: to not be satisfied with just our gear but to push the boundaries of our knowledge to make what gear we do take better. It seems like from you’ve reached the same conclusion but in a different way.
      Of course YMMV.

    • Jarhead Survivor August 1, 2015, 12:52 pm

      Hey Lou, thanks for the comment and I do agree with what you’re saying. To paraphrase, it makes more sense to carry a lighter than it does to try and start a fire with a bow drill. It’s also easier to carry gear.

      Again, I agree with that statement. My point is exactly what Kyle said below, I think he just said it better than I did.

      I certainly wouldn’t want to get caught out overnight without any gear, but if it did happen I know that I’d survive. And like your example about the survival expert who couldn’t start a fire with a bow drill – sometimes you just don’t get the fire. With the right skills, any gear that you do carry can be better leveraged by someone with wilderness skills and knowledge than some city slicker who’s spent his whole life in downtown Manhattan. (No disrespect to city slickers. I’ve been in the woods with folks like that. While it may be a broad generalization I think you know what I mean.)

      Anyway, good comments folks! Thanks for reading.

  • Artz ApeSide Attic August 1, 2015, 1:31 pm

    The ONE fact I know? I don’t know what is going to happen!
    That is for what I prepare!
    Just thinking, you know…
    Guys, you two are my personal argument:
    I believe when SHTF – you will not be ABLE to “bug out”for a time, if ever.
    Living in a wildlife preserve my resources are fairly abundant, more than most. I have made the decision and have prepared “not to leave” the water supply, flora/fauna and the semi-tropical weather.
    Alone I will have enough new issues arising rapidly, but this time it will include kids and women… most have never witnessed atrocities, I will try to keep it that way. We will have to deal with shock for days. Getting these people psychologically stable will be key to the survival. Just another thought….

    • Kyle in NH August 2, 2015, 1:35 am

      I understand and agree with what you are saying. I’ve had to evolve my thinking to my GF and her kids. Most of my thinking involves bugging-in until I have no other choice. For me, SHTF could involve having no choice but to withdraw to a safer location. As for that very last chance of having a national disaster with long-term survival implications, I’m simply not there yet, and might never be. I recognize that I don’t have the network of like-minded individuals that can create such a place or maintain it. I accept that in that situation, I am at a severe disadvantage and I applaud your situation.
      But for me, the Bug-Out bag represents a much greater tool than simply when the SHTF. It can also help with extended outages, vehicle breakdowns, and other simple disruptions away from my home. For that, it allows some type of comfort for when life throws a curveball at me or my family.

  • gat31 August 1, 2015, 2:56 pm

    Shaving weight off the BOB is a great idea,however,how many of us in reality are gonna be pack ready 24/7? Do we carry it when we walk our dog? How about run to the store? Do we take it to work? Do we have one in the house,the car, and the job? Most of us don’t. Ladies at least mostly carry a purse so we could potentially have a couple things with us. ln a perfect disaster ready world,we have a full tank of gas,an all terrain vehicle with brand new tires, a full collection of ammo and weapons at our finger tips, and enough supplies with our person at any time to get through a week or more til the dust settles and we can asses our situation.(sorry dozed off into dreamland there) Real world is going to have hundreds of people in crazy panic mode for every one person who is even somewhat prepared. Just think of all the people you know right now who would panic if they lost cell service.What about the ones who would freak out if the gas pumps just quit or they suddenly couldn’t buy beer and smokes. Seems to me a descent pair of pants with extra pockets to hold minimal gear (knife,gun,trail mix,cash) would be enough to get you to safety until you have time to make a plan depending on the disaster.A person carrying a big backpack would be a giant target in my book.Here’s an idea, how do we handle a room or street full of people in panic mode? How do we help talk them into calmness so they aren’t being stupid? Many of us are going to suddenly have to be our own police force and be the voice of reason in the middle of crazy town. Wow that ended up being longer than l planned sorry bout the ranting. Good luck out there.

    • Kyle in NH August 2, 2015, 2:08 am

      I think what you are bringing up is important and a very valid consideration when it comes to any preparation. Indeed, it plays an important part of any plan and this website (and many others) seek to inspire people to think about that very real possibility in our Society.
      I look at disaster levels by percentages (90%, 4%, 3%,2%, 1%) and a personal color threat system (Green, Yellow, Red, & Brown) to which I coordinate with the family. In that 90% category (and really for much more) of things that might happen, an EDC kit (which you seem to be inferring) is well enough. My “kits” tend to be modular in that they step up and build upon each other, so that I keep a Get-Home/BOB in the car at all times, with defense considerations and other items depending on weather and my personal color levels. I keep a vehicle kit independent as well, as well as a “daughter-maturing kit” to which my GF thinks I’m crazy for having :P. My direct concern is getting home for resupply and ideally simply bugging-in.
      Apart of every single plan and kit is serious consideration for avoiding the people you’re talking about, which should be apart of any action plans you have, whether it be bugging-in, bugging-out, or grabbing a lawn chair and popcorn and watching the end roll in. As you say, you can’t avoid the real world, but I think your plans have to include avoiding (the Panic Hordes) and dealing with them (threat assessment) to be well rounded in your thinking. This of course goes outside of this specific article but well within the scope of this website.

  • William Simpson August 1, 2015, 3:44 pm

    I hate when some asshole criticizes. In all reality none of us are prepared for when the SHTF!!! I read posts and watch video to learn and improve my understanding of the necessities needed for when bugging out becomes survival mode. Everything is not for every one but knowledge improves chances. Thanks for the post…

  • LARRY W. August 1, 2015, 5:13 pm


  • Artz ApeSide Attic August 2, 2015, 1:23 am

    Sorry lost my train of thought. GHB/BOB, I will not argue semantics, the intents are the same – I will use GHB. Jarheads – I love’em! Everything you have listed for a GHB, with the new and improved survival equipment…I will put that (tested gear) in my pockets or sling. And I know you have one, but a water straw/filter is too easy to carry and needs to be on your list.
    The military taught me something in the Navy, that I’m sure they taught you in jarhead school. Proactively keep your equipment CLEAN AND IN PROPER WORKING ORDER. C’mon friend? If you influenced one idiot to run off in the swamps with nothing but his underwear…? And you know there is “one” out there.

    • irishdutchuncle August 2, 2015, 3:58 am

      c’m on,
      you know that underwear is too hot, and restrictive to wear in the swamp…

      I’ll probably go with a loincloth.

  • Artz ApeSide Attic August 4, 2015, 5:06 am

    Whew… I wear 4 things in the swamps: Shorts, deets, hat, and more deets. Me and the Ape swing free out there! Feels good in the hammock while you clean your nasty feet! Or something.

  • Pineslayer August 4, 2015, 9:31 pm

    BOB creep, I’m going to use that, thanks. I’ve set my target weight at 30lbs with a pack that can carry more if need be. That would include food for 2 to 3 days and one quart of water.

    By the time you add a handgun package, that doesn’t leave much room for extras.

    So would ones wifey be classified as a luxury item?

  • Roger August 15, 2015, 2:25 am

    I would add a few things to your list such as a backpack to keep and carry the other gear with. A wrist-rocket-style sling shot with at least a couple dozen 3/8″ steel balls for self-defense and hunting, extra ammo in the form of small rocks will probably be at your feet, and legal to carry in most places! Making a wooden spear from locally-available materials will tell most people not to mess with you! As a last-ditch effort/defense, you can carry a small squeeze bottle (such as a small mustard bottle) in a zip-lock bag filled with a combination of dry salt and cayenne pepper to spray in the direction of would-be attackers, this WILL get their attention! As they are hacking their lungs out and clawing at their eyes, you retreat with all good speed! Or take their lunch money! Good Luck!

  • Jack Carter November 6, 2015, 6:33 pm

    You are missing one of if not the most important of all items.
    A way to create SAFE drinking water.
    There are many choices to select from.
    Pick your favorite.

  • yooper December 12, 2015, 4:18 pm

    Hey Jarhead, I`m with you on this. I`m just an old Leather Neck like you.

  • Art December 12, 2015, 6:35 pm

    Thanks JH!
    You blog is #1! I would ask you to consider you add to your posts…
    “Please bring/teach a child.”
    I do my best and find my “paycheck” in those inquisitive bright eyes and smile.
    Good Day.


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