Home Camping Tips Wilderness Survival Skills: Building Shelters and Finding Food in the Wild
Wilderness Survival Skills: Building Shelters and Finding Food in the Wild

5 min

September 8, 2023

Ever imagine getting lost in the wild, like some sort of wilderness reality TV show? We’d like to think we’d channel our inner Bear Grylls, but let’s be real, surviving in the wilderness requires a solid set of skills. 

And no, ordering takeout isn’t one of them! If you want to be more Grizzly Adams than Goldilocks in the great outdoors, this is your guide.

Understanding the Basics of Survival

The rules of wilderness survival are as straightforward as a preschooler’s math test: it’s all about threes. You can survive 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter in harsh conditions, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food. That’s right, food comes last, contrary to what your belly might say after an hour without a snack.

Building Shelters in the Wild

Here’s your crash course on how to be a wilderness architect. Building a shelter in the wild is like playing a game of chess with Mother Nature – you always need to think a few steps ahead.

Factors to Consider When Building a Shelter

Before you whip out your inner Bob the Builder, there are some key factors you need to keep in mind. You’re not just seeking any location – you’re after prime wilderness real estate.

  • Find your Goldilocks Zone: You want a spot that’s just right. A place that’s safe from natural calamities, not a highway for nocturnal critters, close but not too close to a water source, and visible enough to be seen by rescuers. You’re not setting up shop for a season of Survivor, after all!
  • Size Matters: Contrary to what MTV Cribs taught us, in the wilderness, smaller is usually better. A smaller shelter is easier to heat and quicker to build. So, as much as a wilderness mansion might sound cool, keep it cozy and compact!

Types of Wilderness Shelters and How to Build Them

  • The Lean-To Shelter: This is like the PB&J sandwich of wilderness shelters – simple, reliable, and easy to make. You’ll need a sturdy branch, a tree, and some leaves. The magic happens when you lean the branch against the tree, make a wall with smaller branches, and cover it all with leaves for insulation.
  • The A-Frame Shelter: If the Lean-to shelter is the PB&J, the A-Frame is like the gourmet panini of wilderness shelters. To build one, you need to create a tripod using two short sticks and one long one, adding ribs along the length. Then, cover it with leaves or any other available thatch. This is your wilderness penthouse!
  • The Snow Cave: For the winter wanderers out there, the Snow Cave is your frosty fortress. Locate a sturdy snowbank, dig a tunnel and then a cavern, and don’t forget to create a small vent for airflow. Make sure to reinforce the structure to prevent an icy collapse!
  • The Debris Hut: For those who like a bit of luxury in their wilderness adventure, the Debris Hut is like the five-star resort of survival shelters. Start with an A-frame, then go all out with layer upon layer of debris and branches, creating a sturdy and well-insulated home-away-from-home. 

Finding and Preparing Food in the Wilderness

Post-shelter setup, it’s time for “Wilderness MasterChef” or shall we say, “Wild Vs. Well-fed”? Let’s dive into the world of bushcraft banquet preparation, where we turn Mother Nature’s pantry into a scrumptious smorgasbord.

Foraging Edible Plants and Insects: Nature’s Buffet

You’d be surprised at the abundant salad bar that nature offers. The key is knowing what to look for and what to avoid. 

Edible Plants: Dandelions, clover, and cattails are just a few examples of the green delicacies you can find. But be careful! Not all that glitters is edible. Never eat anything unless you’re 100% sure it’s safe. In doubt? Apply the Universal Edibility Test, but only when desperately necessary.

Wild animals, anyone? Cringe-worthy but packed with protein. Rabbits, fishes, and more might make your skin crawl, but when prepared right, they’re the wilderness version of fast food. Remember to cook them first to kill any possible parasites. 

Hunting and Fishing for Survival: Your Outdoor Slow Cooker

Just because you’re in the wild doesn’t mean you can’t have fresh meat. Hunting and fishing are like your outdoor slow cooker, gathering nourishment while you attend to other survival tasks.

  • Hunting: Setting up traps and snares can help you catch small game without having to run around with a spear all day. The key is to place them in animal trails or near water sources, where animals are likely to pass through.
  • Fishing: A make-shift fishing line can work wonders. The best times are dawn and dusk when fish are feeding. And if you’re by the ocean, don’t forget about shellfish – they’re easy to catch and delicious to eat!

Cooking and Preserving Food in the Wild

Now, it’s time to put on your wilderness chef’s hat.

  • Cooking: You don’t need a sous-vide to cook in the wild. Skewering and grilling over an open fire, stone boiling, and cooking directly on the embers are just some of the techniques to cook your food. The important thing is to cook your food thoroughly to kill any pathogens.
  • Preserving: Leftovers? No refrigerators here, but nature provides. You can smoke or sun-dry your food for preservation. If in colder climates, take advantage of nature’s freezer!


Mastering the art of wilderness survival isn’t about becoming the next reality TV star; it’s about safety, self-reliance, and understanding nature better. So, get out there, start practicing these skills, and who knows, maybe you will be the next Grizzly Adams! 

In the wild, you can’t rely on Google Maps. Instead, learn to navigate using the sun and stars. And always remember to leave signs and markers for potential rescuers.

And always remember, nature doesn’t challenge us; it only sets the exam. It’s up to us to pass it. Happy surviving!

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