Teaching Basic Wilderness Survival Skills

If your summer camp offers out-trips into the back country, chances are you teach basic outdoor wilderness survival skills like building a fire, finding clean drinking water and how to build an emergency shelter.

You don’t have to be a wilderness camp to offer wilderness survival in your programming. Learning how to survive in the wild is a very useful tool and going through a survival program can be a lot of fun for kids. Using information from Alderleaf Wilderness College, we’ve put together some basic survival skills that you can teach your kids at summer camp.

Attitude is Everything

When it comes to surviving in the wilderness, your attitude is very important. Going through a survival situation might be scary and stressful, so it’s important to stay calm and avoid panicking. Teach the kids to use a SPEAR if they find themselves lost in the woods.

  • Stop
  • Plan
  • Execute
  • Assess
  • Re-evaluate

By stopping to think up a plan, executing that plan, accessing its success will help you keep your mind and body engaged and less anxious. Having the right attitude will improve your chances of survival!

The Rule of Threes

A good thing to include in your wilderness survival program is the Rule of Threes. A human can survive for:

  • 3 minutes without air
  • 3 hours without a regulated body temperature (shelter)
  • 3 days without water
  • 3 weeks without food

That will give them a good idea of what they should prioritize and do first when it comes to finding shelter, water and food.

Find or Build a Shelter

One of the biggest dangers in the wilderness is being exposed to harsh elements like cold, rain or snow and heat. In Canada, we have to protect ourselves from the cold and from getting hypothermia. The best way to do this is to build or find a shelter that will help us keep warm.

General - build a lean to

Shelters need to be away from potential hazards like raging rivers and near building materials. They should be insulated and provide shelter from rain and wind, and should be heated by fire. There are many different shelters to consider including a natural shelter like a hollowed log or cave or a lean-to or snow shelter. Learn how to build a lean-to.

Find Clean Drinking Water

Finding water first is more important than finding food. In survival situations, most people die due to dehydration or from drinking untreated water that has harmful pathogens and other pollution in it. The best sources for clean drinking water are natural springs, streams that are rushing, melting snow and from collecting morning dew.

Teach your campers that they should always have a survival kit on them if they are doing any out-tripping or back country camping. In that kit they should have a way to purify water like a filtering pump or iodine treatment. If you don’t have that, bringing any water to a boil for 2-3 minutes will kill bacteria and viruses.

Build a Fire

If you have a good attitude, sturdy shelter and clean drinking water, you can survive for several weeks in the wild. Having a fire will help you keep warm, dry your clothes, boil water and cook food. Fires also help make us feel good by providing warmth and security.

You should have multiple fire starting tools in your survival kit like a lighter, matches or flint and steel. If you don’t have a fire starter, building a fire may be difficult but not impossible. You can teach your campers how to build and use a bow drill, hand drill or fire saw. 

Find Food

Your campers might be surprised to learn how low food is on the priority list when it comes to wilderness survival! Teach them to remember the Rule of Threes and that you can survive without food for three weeks! There are many edible plants in Alberta that you can teach your campers to identify. Be careful as some plants might have poisonous look-alikes and should be avoided all together.

Other food sources in the wilderness are blueberries, Saskatoon berries, wild strawberries, insects (gross!) and wild game like rabbits, grouse and deer.

Learn About the Natural World

The more you know about the natural wilderness, the better you can survive in it. For example, knowing how to identify tracks in mud or snow can help you track wild game for food. Knowing how to identify edible plants will allow you to find food too. Learn which trees make better firewood, which have thin branches that will work as rope or how to tell which direction you’re facing area all naturalist skills that will come in handy during a survival situation.

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