As a boy scout camping in the wilderness, survival is of paramount importance. It doesn’t matter how prepared you are: survival tactics are essential when you go to the wild. Sometimes, you may run out of water and food. It may cause despair for a time, but one thing remains clear: you still need to survive. Whatever perils may come your way, your instincts will urge you to try and make it. But will your skills live up to the task?

Here are a few boy scouts wilderness survival tips that will come in handy whenever you camp in the wild. In any kind of disaster scenario, they aren’t merely handy but essential for survival. Nature is beautiful but also fierce and unforgiving. So, you certainly won’t regret having these skills up your sleeve. 

These are a mix of the official recommendations you may get combing through various handbooks and guides. But they are also a piece of an essential know-how. You, and I, and everyone else can and should master them before we kick off that wilderness trek. They will maximize your chances to get out of any wilderness situation alive and well.

Find or Build a Shelter

When you are in the wilderness, your highest priorities should be protecting yourself and preserving energy. This means finding a shelter or making one, and steering clear of wild dogs and other animals.

You ought to know how to build a shelter long before you embark on your voyage. It is not enough that you know how to build a standard tent. Can you also build a suitable shelter within a short period of time if circumstances dictate so? 

Your shelter of choice should be able to protect you from the elements as well as to conserve warmth. If you are camping in a rainy or windy location, you would be well advised to seal the gaps in your tent with a garbage bag filled with grass or leaves to block out the wind and rain.

And when I say shelter, I really don’t mean anything fancy. A single piece of tarp attached with cords or leaning to a tree will do in most circumstances. It’s lightweight and easily foldable, so you can pack it up in the morning and go elsewhere if needed. You can even cobble up a temporary shelter out of debris like old tree trunks, leaves, and branches. (That is, if you’re lucky enough to have a forest nearby.) It won’t hold forever but it may just suffice to protect your arse for a night or two.

However, one thing that many people tend to take too lightly is choosing a good spot for a shelter.

Why didn’t I say perfect? Because such a thing doesn’t exist. Nature hasn’t allocated any of its nooks and crannies for our shelters. You just have to weigh out the pros and cons, and try to hit a balance. Here are the basic concerns:

  • Water should be near but not too near. Whether it’s a lake or a river or even a rivulet, you will need water for drinking, washing and cooking. And taking long walks every now and then translates to energy waste. But if you set up your shelter right beside it, you may be risking a flash flood (if it’s a river) or mosquitos or even nastier insects and animals.
  • Take a look up and down, left and right. Are there any dead branches above you? Steep cliffs that could roll off a rock your way? Also, you should mind the ground. That’s your bed for the night. If it’s damp, even the best sleeping bag won’t protect you from cold. Additionally, make sure that your spot is on a flat surface. Slopes are inclined to erosions, landslides, and other hazards in case of a storm.

Mind the Time

As a rule, always start searching for a place to spend the night as early as noon. At about 3pm, you should have already settled.

This is because often, daylight may mislead you into thinking that you still have plenty of time left to build shelter and prepare food, while this is often not true. Putting up a tent or building a shelter and cooking at night isn’t a daredevil’s concept of adventure. It’s just senseless and can even prove to be quite risky!

What About Wild Animals?

wilderness survival skills

You also need to learn how to protect yourself from wild animals, especially wild dogs, cougars, and coyotes, which are rather abundant in the wild. If you

run into any such animal, the best thing to do is to slowly and quietly back away from the animal. Playing dead or running away is not advisable in the least. If you cannot retreat quietly, the next best thing to do is to try and scare the animal away.

This you can do by enlarging yourself by spreading out your arms and making loud noises. If push comes to shove, throw anything you can at the animal or even stab it in the eyes using your hands. While it is trying to recover from your blow, run to the nearest tree and find shelter.


Find Water and Food

When you are in the wilderness, it is important to remember that you need water more than you need food. You can survive for days, even weeks without food, but only a couple dozen hours without water. If you have run out of drinking water, there are a few guidelines that can lead you to the nearest water source.

First, it helps to know that grazing animals often head to water sources in the morning and at dusk to get a drink, so following them – or their tracks or feces – will eventually lead you to a source of water. Secondly, mosquitoes and flies are often to be found near water.

boy scouts wilderness survival skills

If you are in the desert, you will often find water under a creek bed. You just need to dig a seep wide and deep enough to hold a few gallons. It’s like a mini version of a well! After a while, it will fill with water (if there is any). And there’s your reservoir that refills on its own! If there’s not enough water for subsistence of a group, dig a few of those.

But how can you tell good spots where there’s likely some water to be found? It’s always a good idea to dig for water in a low area. Plus, the flora will tell you – if it’s dark green and succulent, it means the ground that feeds it is well soaked.   

Don’t let the amazing taste trick you though! The ground itself will purify the water up to a point, but you can’t trust it to do a thorough job. The rule of thumb regarding such water is that you must boil it before you drink. Even if it appears unbelievably clean, don’t run the risk: microbes and bacteria aren’t visible. If you can’t boil it for whatever reason, at least run it over a layer of bark, sand, stone, and charcoal to purify it.

To protect your water source from getting contaminated by wildlife during the night, cover it with rocks, plates, or even branches and leaves.

As regards to food, unless you can hunt, you are left with berries and plants as dietary options. Generally, food that grazing animals eat is edible, although this is not always true. Your nose should be the first line of defense here. If the plant has a strange or repelling odor, don’t even try it.

A universal edibility test can come in handy when it comes to testing the edibility of wild foods.

First, dismember the plant to get separate parts, and boil them all. You will try them one by one. Now, place a small chunk of the part in question on your lips. Did you have any skin reaction on your lips? If yes, throw the plant away. But if it’s okay, it’s time to put a tiny portion in your mouth. After 10-15 minutes of munching without swallowing, focus on its taste. If there’s anything bitter or funky, spit it out. If there isn’t, you may swallow that small bite. Don’t get greedy just yet! You will still have to wait for up to eight hours in order to be certain that the food is totally safe to eat. 

Learn Basic First Aid

When you are out in the wild, there are three kinds of injuries that you are likely to encounter. And don’t even fall into that all-too-common trap of self-deception, thinking that you’re more agile and nimble than most people. I’ve never met a single person who hasn’t experienced at least one of these injuries in backcountry or wilderness!

These are:

    • Burns
    • Cuts
    • Fracture and bone displacement

It is therefore essential that you learn how to administer basic first aid in the event that you suffer from any of them. An injury may seem too minor to pay attention to. But in a day or two, it may turn into a nasty infection if you don’t treat it. If you’re in a group of people, make sure not to hide anything from each other. If your injury isn’t serious, they will surely help you with it or find help. But if it is, you may endanger the whole group by waiting till the last moment.

For burns, the rule of thumb is to remove any clothing on the burnt area and then run lukewarm water over it. When the burn is on a limb, submersion in water will bring you great relief. If blisters happen, don’t pop them or they might get infected.

For cuts, you should aim at keeping the wound clean and stopping bleeding in case of deep cuts. Never ignore small wounds as they are likely to fester into serious wounds that can have terrible effects. Nature is far dirtier than some new age fanatics would have you believe! There are microbes of all kinds lurking about in the air, food, and water. An open wound, however small, is a perfect point of entry for them!

If you have a displaced bone, try to force it back in place by hitting it or rolling in the grass. If it is a fractured bone, then you need to use a splinter in order to keep it in place. This is extremely painful though, so it’s best to have another person do it unless you’re on your own!

Observe Basic Hygiene and Stay Dry at All Times

I know, you may be tempted to let go of your hygiene when you’re far away from the obliging routines of civilized behavior. And honestly, you won’t need most of it. Taking a bath can be quite a tough feat in the wilderness, especially if it’s cold outside.

However, it is extremely important that you observe good dental hygiene while in the wild to prevent the build-up of plaque. Yes, there’s (mainly) no need to watch out for bad breath. Who’s gonna complain when all other members of your party are in the same boat?

But the truth is, even our foraging ancestors suffered from tooth decay. Admittedly, less often – but they weren’t immune to this issue. So why not do everything to prevent it when we can? Even if or when you use up your toothbrush and paste, there are natural ways to replace them. A willow branch, for example, will do a great job acting like an improvised toothbrush, cleaning your teeth mechanically. Plus, the sap will replace toothpaste to an amazing effect.

Also, keep all moist parts of your body, such as under the armpits, your groin area and the area between toes reasonably clean and dry at all times. Bacteria and fungi just love moisture, so don’t give them the satisfaction! If your wilderness adventure wasn’t unplanned and sudden, make sure to bring some powder to absorb all that moisture from your body’s critical parts.

There’s one more thing to take into account – a toilet routine. Alas, nature calls in nature too! The solution is obvious, since there’s greenery and leaves wherever you look. Some of those leaves are wide and smooth enough to replace toilet paper and go gentle on your anus. But you have to be careful if you don’t wanna end up with a nasty anal rush or worse. Before using those leaves to clean your rear end, make sure to wash them and test them against your skin. If no reaction happens, they’re okay to use.

Learn How to Start a Fire

boy scouts tips

While in the wild, you will invariably need to use fire at some point or another.

This is why you ought to know how to start a fire without matches.

But before you start building your fire, it’s paramount to think of safety – yours as well as nature’s. Fire has a way of spreading so fiercely and quickly that it’s hard to believe if you’ve never seen it, and even the softest wind can turn it into a bushfire in adequate circumstances.

That’s why you need to choose the spot for your fire very carefully. Inspect it thoroughly to make sure there is no dry grass or any other kind of flora. It goes without saying that you should never build a fire below or next to a tree!

When there’s no such place, you’ll have to pull out all the plants yourself and fill your fire bed with dirt. The last thing you need to do is make a ring of stones or rocks around the bed, to make absolutely sure the fire can’t spread around.

Now that you’re done with precautions, it’s time to build your fire and breathe life into it. Learn the skill of lighting a fire using a pair of eyeglasses or a bottle of water to focus the sun’s rays on a pile of grass and leaves. Any kind of improvised magnifier will do, with a little bit of patience!

Your kindling can be thin twigs, preferably out of dead branches. Its role is to boost your fire at the beginning, while it’s fragile. That’s why you absolutely need dry sticks, which you can easily check. If they instantly break rather than bend, they are dry enough.

Better yet, hone the somewhat difficult task of lighting a fire by rubbing a dry stick on a rock. Don’t get discouraged if it takes an hour or even more – that’s just how it works. But this craft will certainly come in handy in the wilderness.

I prefer the so-called teepee fires (resembling a pyramid) because they don’t need much nourishing. But they need some practice to get right. So, if you’re in a rush, make any type of fire. As long as it burns and is safe, it should be okay!

Find Your Way

In recent years, our devices equipped with GPS systems have made us very unfit for nature. And I won’t be one of those preppers who insist on letting go of technology and sticking to our ancestors’ ways. We are not our ancestors, and we’ve probably lost every chance to ever come near them in terms of unity with nature.

Tech is great, but the problem lies in the fact that it’s utterly unreliable. How many times has your battery died outside your home, when you needed it the most? And that’s in urban safety, where it can merely cause frustration. Not to mention sudden internet crashes, buggy apps, and other interruptions.

That’s why you should never completely rely on tech. You don’t want to trust an imperfect device with your life. And in wilderness, your life can be at stake, more often that you’d like.

Having a map is also great, but make it a habit to take maps with a grain of salt. Especially if they’re old. A map may show a spring that dried up decades ago. If you spend an entire day and loads of energy looking for that spring in vain, it means a huge disappointment and loss of morale to say the least.

Also, if your map isn’t topographic, you’re in for a bit of confusion. Ten miles certainly is a walking distance, but it will take you twice as much time if you have to climb even a small hummock.

In any case, getting lost can be terrifying. Like so many other wilderness experiences, the first thing affected will be your psyche. That’s why you need to practice the Boy Scout mantra, STOP (Stop, Think, Observe and Plan). Stop panicking and envisaging the gravest possible scenario, and mobilize all of your strength to think and act productively.

You will first need to determine where the north is. Since you know that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, observing the sun’s movements can help guide you in the right direction. If you’re having difficulties determining the direction, drive a 3-feet stick into a clean ground area. Mark the tip of the shadow on the ground, leave it to come back in a while and do it again. Then, connect the two marks with a line. The first mark will show you the west, the second, the east. 

If you need to be rescued, use a mirror or flashlight to catch the attention of the people on aircrafts above you. It will also help to try and leave some traces behind you, so that rescuers may know where you are. Sure, you need to walk instead of just sitting passively and waiting for help that may or may not come. But let your potential saviors know where you went by leaving signs or notes.

If rescuers are nearby, call out to them in as deep a voice as you can muster. A sharp and high pitched voice can easily be mistaken to be that of an animal or bird, so keep this in mind too.


When in the wilderness, survival is vital. If you are armed with knowledge and various skills, you should be able to survive fairly well in just about any conditions. Follow the tips shared above in order to keep safe at all times. They might come in real handy during your wilderness adventures.