Must-Have Skills For The Outdoors

The best outdoor equipment in the world is useless if you don’t know how to use it. Knowledge of key outdoor skills and when to use them always trumps the best gear.

Here are some essential skill sets for anyone who wants to be fully prepared for outdoor adventure!


The art of starting, building, and maintaining a fire is known as firecraft. Knowing how to bake biscuits in a reflector oven could be as important as getting warm after a winter soak when you’re miles away from camp.

The knowledge and use of fire and cutting tools are probably the two most important skill sets in the arsenal of a true outdoorsman. After all, it is because of these two factors that humans exist today.

The first thing to learn is how to start a fire. This starts with understanding the fire triangle, tinder sources, and different ignition methods.

Ignition can be accomplished through a variety of methods, including – methods based on friction, sparks, or chemicals are all options.

The various kinds of wood and their properties for cooking, warmth, signaling, and other uses are also important. Poplar, for example, quickly boils liquids. Locust, chestnut, and oak all burn cleanly and quickly. Pine stumps have lighter wood that is high in turpentine and will burn even when wet.

Educate yourself by reading, experimenting, and going camping.

Hygiene and first aid

sanitation in the wilderness

Ever wonder why the military is so concerned with neatness (short haircuts and dressed boots, for example), inoculations, dental care, staying in shape, and foot care?

Because they understand the importance of personal hygiene in battlefield effectiveness. The same is true for the outdoorsman. A health crisis should not occur in the backcountry.

Small problems can quickly escalate into major issues. Blisters, chafing, rashes, insect bites, cuts, and scrapes must be avoided or treated promptly, as they can be debilitating.

Similarly, knowing basic first aid is essential not only for you but also for others in your party.

What if someone breaks their leg a day away from assistance?

Would you know what to do and how to do it correctly?

Sitting at home and watching a video does not substitute for hands-on training. You owe it to yourself and those you care about to take basic first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation classes (CPR).

You’ll be glad you did if you ever need them.

Water procurement and treatment

Do you know when it is safe to drink untreated water?

Do you understand when and how to use filters, purification tablets, or both?

Do you know where to look for water in arid areas?

Water is literally life. Water makes up a large portion of our bodies, and dehydration is a daily threat to humans, even in cities.

Water needs are difficult to quantify because each person and situation is unique. The darker your urine, the more dehydrated you are, is a good rule of thumb. Keep hydrated: When one feels thirsty, the body may already be losing up to 2% of its fluids.


navigation in the outdoors

Sure, GPS is fantastic. Understand how to use it. But what if it breaks down, the batteries die, or you drop it in a river?

It is possible that you will not always have it. A traditional compass is a simple piece of technology: It always works and is usually reliable unless you live in a region with unusual geology that affects its accuracy.

Map reading and/or compass skills can assist you in determining where you are and where you want to go. Using a GPS will never replace the ability to look at a map and mentally “see” the terrain, as well as knowing how to use landmarks and dead reckoning.

Dealing with the extremes

What if you get caught in a snowstorm or rainstorm overnight?

Could you build or improvise a shelter quickly and efficiently to protect yourself from discomfort or hypothermia?

Better yet, do you understand weather lore well enough to be prepared for such a storm before it occurs?

There are numerous shelter-building options, including lightweight emergency shelters that can be carried in the absence of a tent. Even more valuable is knowledge of nature, which will allow you to predict and avoid potentially hazardous situations.

It is also critical to recognize clothing as essential outdoor gear rather than just something you wear on your back. Knowing how to layer clothing for a specific climate, trip, and set of conditions is critical to your comfort and safety in the outdoors.

Educate yourself on the numerous technologically advanced products available. On the other hand, never underestimate the utility of a simple, multi-purpose tool such as a trash bag.

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Proper camping

Many park personnel, ironically, dislike campers because they create extra work for them in the form of bad behavior, resource damage, litter, irresponsible wildlife encounters, injuries, and even death.

Knowing how to camp well is a valuable skill.

Knowing how to choose and keep a clean campsite, protect limited resources (understanding of Leave No Trace principles), find wood, safely use fires and stoves, avoid wildlife, pitch a tent, get a good night’s sleep, and use trails courteously are all important skills.

Proper use of blades

Axes and knives are essential tools for any outdoor enthusiast. Many tasks can be completed with a knife alone and many more with the addition of an ax. They can be used to replace a paddle lost in a wilderness dunking or to build a shelter to wait out bad weather.

A knife is a versatile tool that can be used for everything from cutting tent rope to skinning game or preparing food for meals. Choosing a knife is a personal decision that is influenced by the expected use as well as the user’s personal preferences.

Axes should be selected with the task in mind. The greater the distance from civilization, the larger the ax. To be useful and safe, these tools, whether ax or knife, must be kept sharp and in good working order. If you were not fortunate enough to learn to use them as a child, training is available.

Using knots

using knots in the outdoors

Another extremely useful outdoor skill is the use of knots and lashings. You’ll use them to hang bear bags, lash tarps and tents together, lash shelters together, and tie loads onto cars and trucks, among other things.

This is a simple training exercise. There are numerous instructional videos and animations available online. It never hurts to have a primitive equivalent in your skill set, such as improvising lashings from appropriate plant materials, such as hickory withes, when constructing a shelter.

Traveling well

Traveling well is a skill in itself. Much is based on preparation and proper and efficient packing. The rest is attitude and understanding that the journey is just as important as the destination.

How to pack and use a backpack correctly is an important skill, as is fitting the pack to the person in the first place. Knowing your torso length (the distance between the C7 vertebrae in your neck and the iliac crest) is essential for a proper fit. Before making any purchases, make certain that you are purchasing the correct size pack.

Learn to make your own gear

Making your own gear not only saves money, but it also teaches you knowledge and patience, both of which are important outdoor skills in their own right.

Leatherworking for a knife sheath, blacksmithing a hook or fire striker, sewing, tanning deer hides, or making a bow or an ax handle are all activities that don’t end with the finished product.

You now have the knowledge and skills to create more!

Confidence grows in tandem with skill level, resulting in increased knowledge and the acquisition of more complex skills.


Surviving and thriving in the outdoors requires a set of specific skills that need to be improved with every outing. You can’t just head for the woods and hope everything will turn out ok if you lack the basic understanding of the skills listed in this article.

The wilderness can be an inhospitable place, and you must be sure you do everything in your power and prepare to be able to handle the challenges of Mother Nature. There are no second chances out there, and you are the only one responsible for the outcome of a trip into the wild.


Suggested resources for survivalists:

Top tips for winter camping

The #1 food of Americans during the Great Depression

Selecting a proper wilderness campsite

Find Out What’s the Closest Nuclear Bunker to Your Home

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