If you plan to bug out to or just spend more time in the wilderness, it makes sense to learn about tress you could use for survival. You would have to exploit what resources are available in a certain region and you need to recognize the species you could use to make your life easier. Check out these top ten trees for survival and how to use them to your advantage.
For a tree to serve its purpose as a survival tool, it needs to be common and widespread, but also useful. Some species have more uses than others while others occur more commonly in the environment you will explore. Here is a list of the most worthwhile North American species to learn about.
All trees listed here can be useful for the beginner survivalists or for those who are more experienced and know how to use resources to their full extent. The species highlighted in this article provide resources pretty much year-round.
The Beeches (Fagus)
Beech (Fagus grandifolia) is a genus of deciduous trees in the family Fagaceae, native to temperate Europe, Asia and North America. Although they are deciduous trees, you can still see dead leaves remaining on immature trees through the winter or on the low branches of mature trees. The buds tend to be spindle shaped, with points. The nuts have a four-part casing which opens to reveal two three-sided nuts inside.
The nuts of beeches are edible and you can even eat them raw, although cooking them is more indicated to get the best nutritional value. If you plan to camp near this tree, don’t! They are known to drop large limbs, especially in spring. On the plus side, you can look for dropped limbs on the ground and harvest them for your camping needs. They are a very good source of firewood and the embers are ideal for roasting food over. In the spring, you can pick the brand new light green leaves as they are edible and quite tasty (similar to a mild cabbage).
You can also boil the leaves into a poultice or make an ointment treat various skin diseases (eczema, herpes or psoriasis) and to get rid of dandruff.
- Edible Leaves
- Edible nuts
- Very good firewood
- Can treat various skin diseases
The Ashes (Fraxinus)
The ash is part of the Fraxinus genus and there are a lot of species widespread throughout North America. This is a tough deciduous tree yet springy, which makes it resilient. It is a good choice if you plan to make an axe handle or a bow. As a characteristic of this specie, you will find pinnately compound leaves, resembling a feather with opposite pairs of leaflets on a central stem.
The wood it provides lights and burns easily and it’s perfect for starting fires. It can also be used as fuel although it produces only a moderate heat. The leaves of ash were used as animal feeder by the pioneers and they used to cut branches in the autumn and store them for the winter.
- Excellent for carving tools
- Provides durable utensils and tool handles
- Ideal for making bows
- Excellent firewood
The Birches (Betula)
This fast growing deciduous tree is preferred by many survivalists due to its many survival uses. The bark is a well-known fire lighter since it lights easily from a spark or small flame. Even more, due to its natural oils content it burns strongly for a good amount of time. It is ideal for igniting your kindling. The wood is also relatively easy to carve in. It is the main source for hand crafted spoons and cups. Aged birch wood burns well and the roots can be used for bindings. You can use the leaves as natural soap due to their saponins content. It is one of the most easily recognizable trees due to its peeling, slivery or light colored bark with horizontal lenticels.
The Native Americans used to remove strips of bark to be woven into baskets, quivers and even shoes. Large sheets of birch bark were often uses for covering shelters or for making canoes. Oil extracts have also a various number of uses and you can even make quality glue from it.
- Excellent for carving tools
- Good for fire lighting
- Kindling and Firewood
- Good for making containers and baskets
- Soap making
- Birch tar
- Provides adequate shelter coverings
Related reading: Survival Lessons From The Native Americans
The Cedars (Cedrus)
The cedar is a genus of coniferous trees that you can find in the eastern (White Cedar) and western North America (Red Cedar). These are important trees for traditional North American bushcraft. They have fibrous bark that can help make cordage, ropes and baskets. The fibers can be used as tinder bundle to easily start a fire. Cedar provides good firewood that splits very well without too much effort.
Cedar wood can be carved easily to make practical items such as bowls. You can use the wood for friction fire-lighting techniques.
The roots can be used as bindings. Cedar oil was often used by the first pioneer as natural repellent to moths. The cedrus genus is known for its medicinal uses and the leaves have a good amount of vitamin C.
- Making cordage and baskets
- Useful for bindings
- Good for friction fire
- Provides good tinder
- Leaves with high content of vitamin C are ideal for tea making
The Basswoods (Tilia)
The basswood (Tilia Americana) is a deciduous tree native to eastern North America. They have a historical importance and were used for making cordage and ropes. As you can imagine it can become your number one source of fibers for cordage while living in the woods. It provides enough fiber to turn into traps, fishing nets and any other project which may require strong cordage.
The inner bark can also be used to make tinder bundles for lighting a fire. Basswood provides light wood that can be easily carved. The smooth wood can also be used for friction fire. The American basswood is recommended as an ornamental tree when the mass of foliage or a deep shade is desired.
The foliage and flowers are both edible, though many prefer only to eat the tender young leaves. It is a beneficial species for attracting pollinators as well. Bees produce excellent honey with a mildly spicy flavor from its blossoms.
The basswood has many medicinal uses and the flowers are often used to treat colds, cough, fever, infections, inflammation, high blood pressure, headache (particularly migraine), as a diuretic (increases urine production), antispasmodic (reduces smooth muscle spasm along the digestive tract), and sedative.
- Ideal for making cordage
- Good wood for carving
- Provides good tinder
- Edible leaves
- Various medicinal properties
Related reading: Making Cordage In The Wilderness
The Pines (Pinus)
Pines are evergreen needled trees that can be found in North America in regions at latitudes from as far north as 66°N to as far south as 12°N. These coniferous resinous trees are perhaps as important as birch for the wilderness survivalists. These trees have many uses and the wood is often used for making signal fires at night. It burns relatively fast with a good amount of light. Splints can be used for kindling and dead wood is often split down to useful sizes and used as firewood.
Pine roots can be also used for bindings if no other tree species can be identified in your region. The needles are ideal for a hot beverage as they are rich in vitamin A and C. Because pines have no insect or decay resistant qualities after logging, they are generally recommended for construction purposes as indoor use only. Some species have large seeds, also known as pine nuts that can be harvested and used as food. You can use them for cooking and baking, but also to make pesto.
- Provides good firewood
- Used for kindling
- Can also be used for bindings
- Green needles provide vitamin C and A if boiled
The Maples (Acer)
Maples are trees or shrubs of the Acer genus and can be found in western North America. These are deciduous trees that can be easily recognized due to their leaves. The maple leaf is present on the Canadian flag and it’s their national tree, symbolizing strength and endurance.
The wood is durable yet light and carves easily. You can make spoons and other cooking utensils from maple wood. Any Acer species can be tapped for syrup, although the quantities of sugar can vary greatly from one species to another. The seeds inside the little helicopters are edible and can be easily boiled. The wood is good for friction fire-lighting and is also used as timber for making paper. The branches have multiple forks and can be used as pot holders or for various other cooking jobs. Young maple leaves are edible as well and people used them as salad or boiled with other greens.
- Edible leaves and seeds
- Provides sweet sap
- Good for carving utensils
- Good for friction fire-lighting drills
The Spruces (Picea)
The spruce is an evergreen needled tree from of the Picea genus. These are perhaps one of the most prolific types of trees on the planet. It’s forming the majority of the northern forests in Eurasia and North America. The needles can range from being quite sharp, stiff and spiky, to relatively pliable and
blunt. I’ve used the later foliage for flooring my shelters but also as bedding material. It provides good insulation from the ground and snow/moisture in cold climates. The density of the foliage can be put to good use and you can make thatching materials for your survival shelters.
The lower branches of the tree are often dead twigs which are protected by the dense foliage above. You can use them as kindling without worrying about moisture. The wood burns well and small sticks can be used for fire-lighting. Survivalists and bushcrafters often used the green needles to make tea.
- Good foliage for flooring and bedding
- Foliage can be used for covering shelters
- Good wood for burning and kindling
- Needles can be used to make tea
Related reading: Picking The Right Wood To Start A Fire
The Hazels (Corylus)
The hazels are deciduous trees and shrives native to the Northern Hemisphere. Various species can be found in North America and they are a valuable resource for your camping needs. They provide edible fruits (hazelnuts) and are easily identifiable due to their leaves which are racquet-shaped with double-toothed margins.
Using hazel wood you can make thin, but strong and stiff poles. These poles could be used for setting up tarps, as cranes and for cooking various cooking purposes. You can make a good walking stick from hazel staffs. Hazel is a traditional material used for making wattle, withy fencing, baskets, and the frames of coracle boats. The tree can be coppiced, and regenerating shoots allow for harvests every few years.
- Good wood for poles and pegs
- Edible nuts
- Walking sticks
The Willows (Salix)
Willows are easily identifiable although there are around 400 species, both deciduous trees and shrubs. The leaves have a similar shape, and grow in large numbers along the branches. The narrow, lance-shaped leaf is hard to miss. The leaves are often much lighter on the underside than the top. The bark has diamond-shaped markings up to a certain age and it’s hard to mistake this tree for something else.
Willow shoots are great for basket weaving and for making fish traps. You can also twist them up into withies. The bark contains a natural compound (salicin) that can be used to make aspirin. You can chew a few small green twigs and swallow the juice if you need to relieve a headache. As for the wood properties, you can split it easily and make good feathersticks. The inner bark is often fibrous and can be processed to make cordage. This tree is a good water indicator since it grows in damp ground near water holes.
- Good for making traps
- Ideal cordage material
- Straps and bindings can be made easily
- It has medicinal properties
- Good for friction fire
As you see in this article, rather than naming out a single species, I’ve chose to highlight the whole genus, which contains various members with the same or similar survival uses. I’ve also included the Wikipedia link so you can learn more about the trees which occur where you leave or where you plan to go. Learning about these trees is not mandatory for survivalists and everyone can benefit from their uses and make a camping trip more enjoyable. It will teach you how natural resources can be used when nothing else is available, but it will also provide a glimpse of the past, when your ancestors had to work with what Mother Nature had to offer.
If you have any other preferences, feel free to list those trees in the comments below!