Most Important Survival Skills

Most Important Survival Skills

There is so much knowledge out there about survival situations that it can be overwhelming. It can make one wonder, “where do I begin?”. Over the many conversations I have had with people about survival skills, one question always comes down the pipeline. “What do you think are the most important skills to know?”

A question like that can be a little tricky to address. While certain skills are universally important to know, other skills become more important than others depending on the environment a person finds themselves in. 

To that end, I wanted to make a list of the top survival skills to know that should work across any environment. 


Survival Skills To Know

I chose the first several skills based on the Survival Rule of 3. If you are reading this article then I am pretty sure you are familiar with what that is, but if you are not, the Survival Rule of 3 states:

  • You can go three minutes without air 
  • You can go three hours without shelter 
  • You can go three days without water 
  • You can go three weeks without food 


I know that many people disagree on the exact time frames that are listed within the above set of information. That is because those timeframes can change quite a bit depending on different variables that are specific to a person and the situation they find themselves in. 

However, I believe the one thing most people can agree on with the Survival Rule of 3, is the order in which things happen. And this is my reasoning for the first four skills. The first four skills that I will list I do so in the order of importance, at least in my opinion. The skills after that are not listed in any order of importance.  


First Aid and Medical Skills 

Having medical knowledge in first aid techniques and addressing trauma is at the top of my list because a medical emergency can end you faster than anything else. When you are alone, you become your own doctor. 

Obviously, most of us are not going to be as knowledgeable as a doctor but we should know basic life-saving techniques. A person should know how to address breathing issues such as a blocked airway, CPR, and how to control blood loss. Seconds truly matter during a medical emergency and knowing some basic techniques could save your life. 


Building Shelter and Maintaining Core Body Temperature 

In the original version of the Rule of 3, it states that a person can only survive for three hours without shelter. This is a little misleading, so I always feel that I need to briefly explain it.

What this rule is really referring to is being able to go three hours without maintaining core body temperature. Given the circumstances and the environment, a person can survive a long time without shelter as long as they can maintain their temperature through hydration, building a fire, and wearing weather-appropriate clothing. 

A physical shelter is a great thing to have, and I am not knocking it. If you can set a shelter up then by all means do it, just do not burn a ton of energy or time by being distracted from the primary goal. Knowing to build a few different types of shelters is very helpful because it will hopefully get you out of the cold, wind, rain, provide shade, and offer some level of protection from wildlife.  


Finding, Filtering, Purifying Water

Due to our accessibility to water during normal times, a lot of us take water for granted. This will not be the case in a survival situation and water will become a precious resource. There are three things that you need to know how to do concerning water in a survival situation. 

First, you need to know how to find water. Examples include collecting rainwater, creating a solar still, and digging for it. 

Second, you need to know how to filter water. Filtering removes as much physical debris as possible. A manufactured water filter that you can buy and put in your pack will be your best option, but improvised filters can be constructed from clothing, bandannas, and natural materials such as moss. It should be noted that no amount of filtering is ever one hundred percent effective in removing harmful microorganisms. This is why the next step is so important. 

Lastly, you need to know how to purify water. Filtering removes debris such as pieces of vegetation and sediment whereas purifying water neutralizes any harmful components such as microorganisms that can make you sick. 

There are several ways to do this. Examples include using purification tablets, UV light, bleach, and iodine. But the best option for someone in a survival situation is to know how to make a fire and boil the water. Boiling water is the most effective way of consistently making water from an unknown source safer to drink. 


Finding, Processing, and Preserving Food 

As is the case with water, many of us take food for granted and don’t question where or when our next meal is coming from. In a survival situation, you won’t be able to simply walk to the cupboard and pull out what you want. 

Even though our bodies can survive much longer than we think without eating, testing those boundaries is not a good idea. Sources of food should never be passed up and there are three things a person should know how to do. 

  • You need to be able to find and properly identify edible food. Just because you see wildlife eating something doesn’t make it safe for humans to consume. 
  • You need to know how to process it so that it is safe to consume.
  • You need to know how to preserve food so that nothing goes to waste. 


Providing our bodies with enough calories becomes a critical task for keeping our bodies warm, completing work, and maintaining clarity of thought. Going just a few days without eating and a person will begin to experience negative side effects, and everything will become much more difficult to do. 


Reading a Map and Using a Compass 

Navigation is often an underappreciated and essential skill set. Less and less people seem to be concerned with learning this skill because nowadays we push a few buttons and a device tells us step by step how to get to our destination and exactly how long it will take. 

Navigation Tool

Outdoor GPS devices and even our phones may stay functioning in a survival situation, but they should not be one hundred percent relied upon because technology can fail for many reasons. Because of this, it is important to know how to navigate using a map and a compass as well as knowing how to do so without those tools. For anyone wanting to know more about navigational skills, I highly recommend the book Essential Wilderness Navigation by Craig Caudill. 


Starting a Fire 

I don’t think there will be much argument here about the value and importance of knowing how to start a fire. Fire gives us light, warmth, the ability to make tools, keep insects and predators at bay, signal for help, cook food, boil water, and an overall sense of safety and well-being. 

Survival Torch Fire Starter

In our minds, the process of starting a fire is a simple one but in reality, it can be a whole lot harder. Do not settle on knowing just one technique for starting a fire and learn as many as possible. Learn how to identify different types of wood and the advantages or disadvantages of burning them. 

Lastly, and this is extremely important, learn how to build and maintain a fire in adverse weather conditions. Starting a fire on a clear sunny day when there is no pressure on you is not a challenge. Also, we know that it isn’t always clear and sunny days. Increase your fire-making skills by practicing in the rain, snow, and windy conditions. 


How To Think Outside the Box

Being creative and not succumbing to tunnel vision is helpful in a survival situation. This is because there is usually a lack of supplies and the thinking that there isn’t much to work with. But if you can change your perspective and look at materials and tools differently, you may be able to use that item in ways it was not designed for. This same principle applies to any other task you may run into. 


How to Use Critical Thinking Skills 

The last item I wanted to briefly touch on is that people need to keep their critical thinking skills sharp before and during a survival situation. If a person is paying attention to warning signs beforehand, then they may not end up putting themselves in a survival situation. 

If a person is properly prepared with skills and supplies beforehand, then they will be in a much better position should they end up in a survival situation. 

If a person ends up in a survival situation, there are many things that should not be done and there are situations where critical thinking will save you time, energy, and even your life.  



There you have it, my take on some of the most important survival skills to know. Thanks for reading and stay prepared. Let us know what survival skills you think are important by leaving a comment below. 




Bryan grew up in the Midwest and spent every waking moment outdoors. Learning how to hunt, fish, read the land, and be self-reliant was part of everyday life. Eventually, he combined his passions for the outdoors, emergency preparedness, and writing. Bryan is a published author with Fox Chapel Publishing. In 2019, Bryan authored the book, Swiss Army Knife Camping and Outdoor Survival Guide. In March 2021, he released his second book, Paracord Projects For Camping and Outdoor Survival.

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