The best thing about going camping is getting away from the daily grind of your everyday life and enjoying time surrounded by the beauty of nature. Even if you prefer glamping, camping with luxuries, there is inevitably something you forgot to bring or that stops working.
There are many various ways to camp as well as tons of locations to camp. Even when everything goes as planned, there are tons of different skills you can learn if you simply put in a bit of effort. Whether you prefer to camp out in your backyard or in a luxury RV or cabin, here’s what camping can teach you about bushcraft and survival.
How to Improvise
One of the things that camping has in common with bushcraft and survival is the frequency of Murphy’s Law. Whatever can go wrong usually will go wrong, at the worst possible moment. When you are camping, you inevitably forget to bring something that you need to cook with, start a fire with, or setup your tent.
Maybe the last time you packed up the tent, you inadvertently left the tent stakes lying on the ground. Or maybe you forgot to pack the food into the cooler. Or perhaps you left without your blankets and pillows. But even if your memory is excellent, and you do bring everything you need, things can break when you least expect it. Instead of packing everything up and heading home when things go wrong, use it as an opportunity to figure out how to do things differently.
Learning how to improvise when you forget something or the item you need gets broken is a primary bushcraft and survival skill that frequent camping can teach you.
How to Choose the Right Campsite
One of the first things camping can teach you about bushcraft and survival is how to choose the right campsite. That nice flat area out in the grassy area might seem like a great place to pitch your tent. But when you wake up and the hot morning sun has heated your tent to what feels like oven temperature, it won’t be so comfy.
So the next time you pitch your tent, you may think under the big shady tree or on the ground near the river would be a great place, until you go to lay down after a long day and discover that there are quite a few hard, bumpy sticks and branches or rocks on the ground beneath you. Camping frequently teaches you how to choose the right campsite not just for comfort but for survival.
When Choosing a Campsite You Learn to:
- Avoid pitching your tent under trees with dead branches that could fall on your tent.
- Clear the area where you are going to pitch your tent of any rocks or sticks.
- Choose a shady spot that won’t get sun during the hottest part of the day
- Select a site on level ground, away from any water source that could flood
- Pick an area with sturdy saplings if you are using trees to build your shelter.
How to Identify Trees and Plants as Resources
If you choose your campsite wisely, you will have no shortage of trees and plants around you that can be used as survival resources. One of the most important bushcraft skills is the ability to identify which trees are good for firewood and which might be better suited to make eating utensils or build a shelter.
Edible plants can also be a valuable resource for bushcraft and survival. You can’t eat what you can’t identify. When you are camping, take time to explore the area and learn what trees and plants are in proximity to your campsite.
Fire Building and Fire Starting
When it comes to camping, you can’t really do it right without having a campfire. So another of the things camping can teach you about bushcraft and survival is how to properly build and start a fire.
There are many different things to master when starting a fire including:
- Multiple Tools for Starting a Fire (matches, lighter, firestyker, etc.)
- The Proper Way to Use the Bowdrill Method
- How to Catch Sunlight Using a Reflective Surface
- Making a firestick
- Building a Tinder bundle
- Collecting and organizing tinder, kindling, etc.
Fishing & Hunting
Another one of the skills camping can teach you about bushcraft and survival is how to catch and clean food to eat if needed. Even if you are just getting started, camping can be a great time to explore the woods and learn to track animals by identifying game trails, scat, and other signs of animal activity.
Fishing while camping can be a great way to pass the time but it can also help you hone your skills to learn the best times of day, kinds of bait, and types of water to catch fish. Some of the skills you can learn and practice when fishing & hunting around your campsite might include:
- Firearm and hunting safety
- Multiple ways to catch fish (pole, net, spear, etc.)
- Proper ways to clean and cook fish or small game
- How to set and check an animal snare
- Making arrows, spears, and other weapons from natural materials
No matter what type of camping you do, you are bound to do at least some of your cooking outdoors. If you are ever in a survival situation, the ability to cook outdoors is going to be a life saving skill. So one of the most valuable things camping can teach you about bushcraft and survival is how to cook over an open fire or at least how to cook outdoors.
- Choose and Make a Roasting Stick
- Boiling Water to purify it or to reconstitute dehydrated meals
- How to secure leftovers from hungry animals
- Cooking in a dutch oven
- What you can cook in a solar oven
Hone Your Senses
Camping can teach you about bushcraft and survival by helping you hone your senses. If you make the effort to listen and observe the activity around you when you are camping you can learn a lot of things that can help you survive in the wilderness. Things to pay attention to while camping include:
- Weather patterns that indicate a storm or other severe weather is looming
- What edible and medicinal plants look like during different seasons
- Bird calls and other animal sounds
- The location of fresh water sources in the area
One of the most important things camping can teach you about bushcraft and survival is how to keep yourself safe from the elements. Wind, rain, cold, snow, and even heat can be fatal if you are left exposed to it for too long. In fact, building a shelter from the elements should always be your priority, both when camping and if you ever find yourself in a survival situation.
If you intentionally practice shelter building when camping, even if you bring along your own tent, you’ll be better prepared in a situation where your familiar tent isn’t available.
Shelter building skills to practice when camping include:
- Different ways to build a shelter from natural materials or formations
- How to make cordage from natural materials
- Various ways to tie knots depending on what you need them to do
- How to properly lash branches or pieces of wood together
- Make a tent stake from a tree branch
- Multiple ways to make a shelter from a tarp or plastic sheeting
- Ways to insulate your shelter against the elements using natural materials
How to Collect and Purify Water for Drinking
Next to shelter, fresh water for drinking is one of the most important resources in a survival situation. Even if you bring water with you, it’s a good practice to scout the area for places where you can get more water if you need it. Next time you go camping practice some of these skills so you’ll be prepared to stay hydrated in any type of situation:
- Ways to find fresh water
- Multiple ways of purifying and filtering water
- Boiling water with heated rocks
- Different ways to collect rainwater
- Proper use of a water filter
Another critical skill camping can teach you about bushcraft and survival is how to navigate in unfamiliar territory. Once you have your tent and campsite setup, take some time to walk out into the woods or surrounding area.
Pay attention to landmarks, watch the position of the sun, use a compass to guide you, or mark your trail as you go so that you can find your way back. If someone is with you, practice using audible and visual signals to help your partner find their way to you. All of these skills are critical for you to master before you need to depend on them to save your life.
Basic First Aid Skills
Invariably when camping, someone is going to get sick or injure themselves. Although most times camping injuries are limited to minor cuts, scratches, or blisters, it’s a good chance for your to practice your first aid skills. Camping can teach you about bushcraft and survival by giving you the opportunity to hone your first aid skills away from home. Again, instead of packing up and heading home when an illness or injury occurs, see if you can assess the severity of the injury, treat it, and keep going.
Always seek medical attention for severe illnesses or injuries but even something like a minor allergic reaction, a small burn or sprained ankle can be treated at your campsite rather than ending your trip and heading immediately to the nearest urgent care.
What bushcraft and survival skills have you learned while camping? Share your campsite learning experiences in the comments below. Let us know if we’ve missed a vital bushcraft and survival skill that you have learned or practiced while camping.
A mother of four and grandmother of nine boys and one girl, Megan is living the lifestyle any prepper would want. Gardening, homesteading and constantly planning for emergencies big and small, she’s a beacon of knowledge in the prepping community.
9 thoughts on “Here’s What Camping Can Teach You about Bushcraft and Survival”
Learned a lot from camping through the years. How to stay warm, how to stay dry, fire building, how to sleep comfortably on the ground ect. All with a security net of a vehicle and $$. Makes for good practice when such back up ammeedities are not available.
I agree; but, would add how to do things with minimal effort. Cooking with cast iron or a cast iron Dutch oven and serving or even eating out of the pot, saves dishes and effort.
It does; but, now those amenities are part of our everyday life and as I age, I like it that way. In my mid to late 20’s I had something to prove; but, in my late 60’s, not so much anymore.
Now that we’re retired, we have no daily grind other than basic homesteading chores, and our location is surrounded by the beauty of nature with hundreds of acres of fields and wooded areas within a short walking distance. I really feel sorry for city dwellers; but, they probably feel the same for me, since there’s no local Starbucks and no pizza delivery here.
Fire Building and Fire Starting
Multiple Tools for Starting a Fire (matches, lighter, firestyker, etc.)
I always carry several mini Butane lighters in my kit, since we all know that 2 is one and 1 is none.
I’ll address these individually
• The Proper Way to Use the Bowdrill Method
I’ve built many a flame (not fire) with a bow drill and even once with a hand drill. I recommend the bow drill over the hand drill; but, using it is not the issue. Constructing it from scratch with a knife and local materials is the real challenge.
• How to Catch Sunlight Using a Reflective Surface
While this works, a magnifying glass or inexpensive Fresnel lense usually works better and is easier to use.
• Making a firestick
Google gets confused with this one, since the Amazon FIrestick is used for watching streaming shows. Instead try “Feather stick” or “Fuzz stick”, easily made with a sharp knife and any old stick you pick up.
• Building a Tinder bundle
This one is easy; but, take some practice.
• Collecting and organizing tinder, kindling, etc.
Also easy; but, I also always carry some fatwood in my kit to help things along.
We need to add one or more USB chargeable Plasma Lighters and some charcloth for use with flint and steel or a Fire Piston. Please note that a Ferro rod (Ferrocerium rod) is not flint and steel; but, is often confused as such.
Fishing & Hunting
Keep in mind that prior to a SHTF event, one must follow the fishing and game regulations.
Firearm and hunting safety
Having taught Hunter Education for 27 years, I concur with this one, and would recommend that all new hunters take a course, which Is required in many jurisdictions.
• Choose and Make a Roasting Stick
Good for marshmallows and hot dogs; but, with practice you can cook many things.
• Boiling Water to purify it or to reconstitute dehydrated meals
This can be useful; but, I always carry additional methods of making potable water, like filters and chlorine or iodine tablets. Look for “Potable Aqua”
• How to secure leftovers from hungry animals
This one isn’t all that hard unless you live around large predators like bears. Making noise and flashing lights will scare off raccoons and the like; but, in bear country this becomes a very important skill. Luckily, bears around here are very scarce.
• Cooking in a dutch oven
One of my favorite ways to cook on a campfire / coals.
• What you can cook in a solar oven
I have had less success with this than other means, since Ohio is constantly overcast; but, for our members to the south and far out west, this could be fun.
Hone Your Senses
Situational awareness in the field is important, especially when hunting. The important thing is to get comfortable, sit still, and Listen.
When deer hunting I’ve had squirrels come right up to my arm before noticing I was there.
• Different ways to build a shelter from natural materials or formations
My two favorites are a debris hut or under the lower boughs of an evergreen. Nature provides everything you need if you know what to look for and how to deploy it.
• How to make cordage from natural materials
Thisis one of my weakest skills and why I always carry several hundred feet of 550 paracord with me and sometimes a few bungee cords.
• Various ways to tie knots depending on what you need them to do
As an avid camper and rock climber in my 20’s, I can tie a plethora of useful knots; however, I may not currently know them by name; but, only by function. For those who are interested, this is one of the best knot sites I’ve found on the web: https://www.animatedknots.com/
• How to properly lash branches or pieces of wood together
Lashing Is easy; but, for stability, don’t forget “frapping” that tightens the lashes to stick together and make the whole thing strong & stable. Before anyone looks up this word and get shocked by the current slang use, check out the details here: https://247scouting.com/web/BSA160/attachment/document_15172634230_2939.pdf
• Make a tent stake from a tree branch
• Multiple ways to make a shelter from a tarp or plastic sheeting
Thisis where paracord and bungee’s can be helpful or the Grabber space blanket with hood and grommets.
• Ways to insulate your shelter against the elements using natural materials
Dry grass, leaves, and evergreen boughs all work well for this.
How to Collect and Purify Water for Drinking
One of the ways that too often gets forgotten is to use a clean T Shirt or bandana to collect morning dew off the grass and other leaves.
Boiling water with heated rocks
I haven’t use this for purifying water; but, have used it for cooking.
Proper use of a water filter
Generally you need to prefilter or let turbulent water settle until it’s clear to keep the filter from clogging too early.
For this any compass will do; but, a good idea or map of the area is also useful. The only thing that makes a compass good is that it always points true north.
Such useful reminders and tips. Thanks for sharing!
A good compass that is portable will never point to true north, but it should always point to magnetic north. A good map of the area is important too, especially a USGS topographical map as that will provide you with the declination between magnetic north and true north for that particular area.
As an old military sort, I prefer a military lensetic compass, topo maps, and a sturdy map protractor. Map reading and land navigation were among the very first lessons we were taught in Marine infantry training and was reinforced throughout my military career. I never used GPS until after I retired and I still preferred the old fashioned way. No batteries to fail, no satellites to depend on.
A good compass can only point to magnetic north; but, beware, since I’ve picked up a handful of cheap compasses at a store and set them on a table or countertop away from other metals, and have seen them point in various directions, all depending on how well they were constructed and how much care was taken in magnetizing the pointer / needle. When I mentioned true north, what I meant was magnetic north; but, that the compass actually points to true magnetic north, meaning that the needle was in the proper orientation when being magnetized and many “cheap” compasses are not.
As for declination, it’s important; but, with a map where you’re actually looking at landmarks, you only need a general idea, which here in Ohio is nearly always about 5° West.
To see the general declination where you live, here’s a good resource: http://www.princeton.edu/~oa/manual/mapcompass2.shtml
I like the Lensatic and have used it; but, prefer the one I trained on as a kid in the boy scouts, an illustration of which is included in the above link. It has the straight edge and rotatable compass orientation to allow for declination.
As for GPS, I use it for a few things, like turn by turn vehicle navigation with our “Tom Tom” and for ham radio when setting up radio equipment, where absolute Latitude, Longitude, and Altitude (above sea level) can be important for coordinating frequencies of repeaters, and for pointing Yagi (beam) antennas toward a weak signal sources.
Here’s the first part of that article for those who maye be interested.
Proper land navigation is truly becoming a lost art. I hate to think about some of the young people growing up today dependent on GPS and without a clue how to navigate without it. Some of my daughter’s friends can’t drive any distance without the aid of their GPS–and I’m not talking about out of state but from their home to the mall! For many kids, their first car had GPS–they relied on it from the beginning and simply never were required to LEARN their way around. Navigation without aid of GPS is definitely one of the skills I’m committed to teaching my kids and grandkids. Thanks for sharing!
Even the military got sloppy on teaching land nav. Sure special forces and special operations people were well-trained in map and compass work, but not so much the regular grunts. That has changed recently because of the potential of GPS satellites being knocked out for some reason. The Navy also increased training for officers and quartermasters on the good old sextant.
When I went in the Marines in 1971, the very first classes they gave us at Infantry Training Regiment was land nav. I still prefer to use a military lensetic compass.