Survival Tips That Could Save Your Life if You Get Lost In The Wilderness

If you get lost in the wilderness, your life may be in danger. Here are some life saving survival hacks and tips to help you survive in the wild.


The natural world can be a scary place and it’s easier than you might think to get lost in the wilderness without any means of immediate escape. If you do happen to find yourself in this sticky situation, don’t panic and try to remember these tips, because they could literally save your life!

Build A Shelter

Assuming you’ve decided to stay put for some time while you await your rescue, one thing you’ll need is a decent shelter to protect yourself from the elements. The last thing you want to do is spend your remaining daylight hours panicking and end up spending the night on the forest floor, mostly because this will significantly increase your chances of catching hypothermia.

No matter what type of shelter you create, you should ensure that your body will be elevated from the ground as you sleep, so create a padded bed using dry leaves or prop yourself up on a platform of sticks or logs to heighten your chances of survival in the long run.

Build A Shelter

Wear any extra layers you have and pad your clothes out with dry leaves and foliage to insulate yourself, and if you happen to have any bubble wrap on you, grab that too. This is because bubble wrap has been proven to create an insulating shield 70% as effective as three cotton blankets, making it a miracle survival tool (if you can resist popping those oh-so-tempting bubbles, that is).

Finding Drinkable Water

The human body can go three weeks without food but can only sustain about three to four days without water, so finding it is gonna need to be at the very top of your list. Contrary to popular belief, drinking your own urine is actually not advisable, and can only lead to health problems and further dehydration.

Drinking urine is basically like drinking seawater. The kidneys filter out 5% of by-product waste from the body when we urinate, so re-consuming it forces your kidneys to work twice as hard, causing gut problems and even kidney failure.

If the next natural water source you were going to reach for is the fabled oasis hidden inside a cactus then you should probably consider the dangers first, as most cactuses protect their flesh with acids and potent alkaloids which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and more dehydration.

cutting down a Saguaro Cactus in Arizona

So where can you find safe drinking water in the absence of a natural pond or river? One sure-fire method to get your precious H20 intake involves two simple things: any kind of plastic bag and the nearest leafy tree.

Making sure the tree receives a decent amount of sunlight throughout the day, just tie the bag over its greenest part and allow nature to do its thing. The sun will force the water stored inside the leaves to evaporate, trapping the moisture inside the bag which can then be pierced to provide a clean water source.

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Another smart way of collecting water without a visible source simply requires you to tie rags, cloth, or tufts of fine grass around your ankles and head for a stroll before sunrise. Walking through tall or dense grassy areas still covered in morning dew can allow you to collect surprising amounts of water which can then be wrung out into a container.

survival hack collecting water ankle rag clothes tufts of grass
© Be Amazed

By repeating this method, native Australians are able to collect up to a liter of water every hour. Finally, keep an eye out for any bees or insects heading for sizable holes in trees that might indicate a potential water source and simply stuff the hole with cloth or absorbent material tied to a stick and ring that baby out.

Making Fire

Fire is one of man’s greatest discoveries, and it’s classed as one of the most high-importance materials when you’re lost in the wilderness. Assuming you’ve forgotten to bring matches or a lighter with you, there are several inventive ways to get a fire going so that you can stay warm and prepare food and water.

Friction-based fires, involving bone-dry wood such as cedar or willow, a spindle, and a dry tinder nest, are the most well-known method but require a lot of patience and steely determination.

making fire wood spindle bow

Creating fire using a glass lens like a magnifying glass or eyewear is a proven and effective approach that uses sunlight to your advantage, but there are ways to achieve this feat even if you aren’t a glasses-wearer.

A balloon or a condom filled with water and shaped to form a concentrated enough beam can work just as well, and if you happen to be in a colder climate ice can even be carved into a lens-like sphere.

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If you can’t find any natural tinder around you to get the flames going once the spark is lit, you’d be surprised to know how many everyday items could come in handy. Corn chips like Doritos, lint from socks, alcohol-based hand sanitizer, or the foam insulation of most backpack straps are all highly flammable and make great tinder.

If you don’t have any of this stuff to hand, but you do somehow happen to have a battery and a foil-backed gum wrapper, just place the wrapper at either end of the battery, and voilà, you have fire!

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Signal for Help

Now that you have fire, it’s time to make an effective signal for help so that you don’t have to spend any more time in the wilderness than is truly necessary. First, select a prime location. A visible and elevated area like a hilltop or ridge is ideal, just make sure it’s isolated enough that you won't accidentally cause any wildfires

The best kind of fire signal requires lots of smoke to attract attention, so you’ll want to gather as much fresh pine, spruce, wet leaves, or even rubber materials as possible, as these create thick or black smoke when burned.

Signal for Help fire smoke signal ground to air signal burning leaves

Next, take a damp blanket or a large branch with green leaves and cover the fire for 3 to 4-second intervals until the smoke ceases before removing the covering to release a cloud of smoke into the air. By repeating this process, you can send simple but effective smoke-puff signals: generally, one puff can alert someone to your location, two can signal that you are safe and well while three in quick succession will indicate an emergency.

Staying Hydrated

With these essential survival elements under your belt, you’ll now be able to boil and purify your collected water to make sure it’s safe to drink. All you really need for this process is a regular plastic water bottle cut into two sections, which will act as your own makeshift filter and boiling container.

First, pierce a few holes in the cap, then fill the top half with layers of moss, grass, and small stones (or even better, fine sand) which will filter out various unwanted impurities and sediments as it drips into the bottom half below.

filtering water cut water bottle sand stones and moss

Now place your filtered water in its container over the fire and wait for it to boil, as long as the bottle is full of water it will stay firm enough to withstand the flames, just don’t rely on this method as a long-term fix, as chemicals released from the plastic could be harmful.

If you can get hold of any charcoal, this can be crushed and added to the water as it boils to aid the purification process, and it can even make the finished product taste more drinkable, as this method does not imply that the water will taste particularly nice.

Insect Repellent

If you’re truly lost in the wilderness, the last thing you want is a horde of bloodthirsty mosquitos preying on you as you sleep. As no one plans to get quite so lost it’s likely the more absent-minded among us would’ve forgotten to bring an effective insect repellent along to ward off the annoying bugs.

Luckily, there’s a simple remedy for this itchy predicament. All you need to do is find the nearest pine tree and grab a fistful of its sharp green needles.

bunya pine

Mosquitos and other flying insects can’t stand the scent of pine, so crushing the needles up and rubbing the oils on your clothes can provide quick relief. And why not take some back to burn on your campfire for a fly-free zone?

Foraging for Food

With shelter, fire, and safe drinking water you should be well-equipped for survival, but it won’t be too long until you start feeling peckish.

If creating hunting materials from scratch seems beyond your abilities and there doesn’t seem to be any large game available anyway, there are plenty of easy ways to satisfy your hunger just by foraging around and knowing what to look for. It might not occur to you at first, but there’s plenty of good grub to be had by flipping over sizable logs and surveying the ecosystem beneath.

termites insects log wood

Insects like ants, termites, beetles, and grubs are easy enough to catch and kill and are packed full of valuable fats and proteins. Most can be eaten raw or cooked for a few minutes if they have outer shells, just avoid spiders, ticks, and flies if you’re unsure, not that any of those sound particularly appealing to begin with.

Recognizable wild berries like blackberries, gooseberries, and elderberries are great too, but any white berry is generally toxic to humans. Searching for edible mushrooms in damp, dark areas can seem like a bit of a minefield, but there are some simple rules to follow: choose mushrooms with brown or tan "gills" on their underside and white, tan, or brown caps, but never white gills or red caps, as these can be deadly! If you’re not sure, just don’t eat it.

Amanita parcivolvata amatoxin mushrooms

Getting Your Bearings

In case you’ve been lost for a while and rescue seems increasingly unlikely, you’re gonna have to leave camp and get on the move, but you have no idea where you are. Assuming you have no compass and your smartphone is out of battery eliminating any hope of using its GPS system, there are still a couple of clever ways to figure out your location.

Unfortunately, moss doesn’t always grow on the north side of trees, and waiting for the sun to set in the west can be a big waste of time. But fear not, if you happen to be wearing an analog watch, you can easily turn it into a compass using just the sun and a bit of quick-thinking ingenuity.

Tips That Could Save Your Life if You Get Lost In The Wilderness finding bearing using watch

First, point the watch face horizontally so the hour hand is in line with the sun, then figure out the center point between the hour hand and the 12, and there you have your north/south line. In the southern hemisphere, the 12-o-clock mark should be pointed toward the sun, and the line exactly halfway between the hour hand and this mark will point north.

Smartphone Hacks

If you don’t have a watch, but you do have a dead smartphone and you’re in a desperate situation, you can dismantle it to create your very own survival kit. Besides a mirror you can use for signaling and circuit boards which can be sharpened into a makeshift knife, there is a tiny magnet behind the speaker system which has big potential.

You’ll need a small metal pin like a needle, a watch pin, or a hair grip that can be rubbed against the magnet for several minutes to magnetize it, and a puddle or pond with a still surface.

Tips That Could Save Your Life if You Get Lost In The Wilderness magnetic needle finding bearing directions

Place the metal pin on a leaf and wait for it to align itself with the earth’s natural north and south magnetic poles, which will provide you with a directional line to get your bearings. Generally, the end that points furthest from the sun is the north and the closest is the south, although this is reversed in the southern hemisphere.

Escaping Quicksand

Quicksand isn’t always found in barren deserts as the movies would have you believe. In fact, you could be hiking near a riverbank, lake, or marshland and before you know it, you’re trapped in the deadly stuff and sinking fast.

It’s important to act quickly and to know what to do to escape your impending muddy fate, and your first move should be to make yourself as light as possible, so lose any backpacks, shoes, or heavy clothing before sinking any further.

The human body is less dense than quicksand, so it's impossible to drown, but you’ll still want to stay calm because frantic movements can dislodge the sand and suck you further in. Instead, breathe deeply and move slowly, wiggling your legs slightly to create pockets of air for the liquid to trickle down and loosen the sand's grip.

quicksand wiggling legs to create pockets of air

Now lay back to distribute your weight evenly across the surface and remember your basic swimming lessons by replicating the backstroke and using sweeping arm movements to propel yourself backward. Once your legs and lower half are freed, roll away from the quicksand until you safely reach the hard ground and breathe a sigh of relief that you’ve made a lucky escape to safety.

Tips That Could Save Your Life if You Get Lost In The Wilderness

The wilderness can throw all sorts of challenges your way, but now you should be better equipped to deal with them. If you were amazed at these survival skills, you might want to read our article about facts that can save your life. Thanks for reading!

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