Using Your Body for Survival

The human body is an amazing thing and is designed for survival. However, if you do not know how to use it you will miss all of its potential. So think about this: If you were stranded in the wilderness with nothing but the clothes on your back, what could you do to survive?

In this article, I want to focus on ways that certain parts of our body can help with the four pillars of survival. These are food, water, fire, and shelter. I will also cover a few first aid methods, self-defense moves, navigation strategies, and signaling options.


When looking for food, your hands and your senses can be enough to get the job done. Here are some ways to find or catch food with no other tools:

  • Go spit fishing – Most people have never heard of this technique, but it can work for catching small fish for a snack or for getting bait for a trap. Wade out into belly deep water and stand there for a few minutes to let the fish calm down. Then spit into the water directly in front of you. When the fish start to swarm, raise up the front of your shirt. Use it as a net to catch the fish and then wade back out of the water to survey your catch.
  • Catch bottom dwellers – In most bodies of water, there are animals living on the bottom. These are typically slower and easier to catch. Crayfish or freshwater shrimp are a great example. They are fairly easy to catch and taste great boiled. There are also all kinds of freshwater and saltwater clams and oysters that make for a great snack or meal.
  • Catch some bugs – Most people forget that insects are packed with protein and are easy to find. You just have to use your senses to make sure you do not eat any that will make you sick. Insects to avoid are brightly colored, fuzzy, or have a foul smell. Also, if you see an insect walking slowly out in the open then leave it alone. This means other animals know it will make them sick.
  • Pick wild edibles – This includes leafy plants, berries, mushrooms, and even the inner bark from certain trees. If you know what is edible in your area, there is no reason to ever go hungry. However, some plants are safer than others. Mushrooms are the most likely to be poisonous, so I only ever consider varieties that I know I can identify. Berries are the second most poisonous. Your safest bet are black or blue berries of which 90% are safe to eat. Inner bark and leafy plants are the safest option. If it tastes foul or smells foul, it is possible that it may be poisonous.

  • Hunt with rocks or sticks – It takes some practice to be accurate, but there are many small animals that will let you get close enough to throw heavy objects at them. You do not have to kill them with the first throw. Just stun them enough for you to run up and grab them. Birds like grouse and mammals like possums or muskrats are good targets. You can also use this technique with snakes and lizards. Just make sure they are not venomous before you grab them.
  • Build a trap – There are many traps that you can build with just natural materials. You can use two sticks and a flat rock to build a deadfall trap. Just place it in a known game trail and come back to check it the next morning. You can also use small vines or cedar roots to make cordage for snare traps. Just tie a noose, stake down the other end, and then prop it up so the head of the animal will fit through. You can also use sticks or rocks to build fish traps. Just find a shallow pool with fish and build walls that create a funnel shape. The fish will swim in and will not be able to find their way back out.

As you can see there are plenty of ways to get food without nifty tools or gadgets. You certainly do not need a gun or bow to get the job done.


There are many ways to find clean water without a filter or purification tablets. You do not have to even build a fire to purify water. Here are a few options.

  • Collect dew – If you are in an area with thick vegetation such as tall fields, the morning is prime time for dew. You can wrap your shirt around your pant leg. Walk through the field until the shirt is saturated. Then take it off, ring it out in your mouth, and repeat.
  • Collect rainwater – If you know rain is coming, you simply have to find a way to collect the water. The easiest way is to find large leaves and set up a rain catch. This can either be done in the open or under branches that will direct the water into your catch. You can also look for natural collections after a storm. This could be in the crooks of trees, pooled on rocks with indentations, or even puddles formed on the ground. As long as the catch was empty before the storm, you should be fine.
  • Find a spring – Not all springs are safe to drink from, but it is easy to test the water. Normally the only springs that will make you sick have excessive mineral deposits. These give the water a strange smell and a nasty taste. You will be able to tell right away if the water is safe. You can then clear out the spring to get a better flow, or build a catch beneath it.

  • Find plant or animal sources of water – There are certain plants that have their own internal stores of water. Coconuts are the one that is thought of most often. If you can split one open on a rock, you can drink the water inside. Prickly pear cactus is another good option. If you carefully peel off the skin and spines, the fruit inside is packed with moisture. Just be cautious not to consume too much as it can make you sick to your stomach. If you find yourself lost at sea, you cannot drink the ocean water. However, if you find a way to catch a fish you can break the spinal column and drink the fluid from it. This will require several fish, but it is a better option than dying from dehydration.
  • Melt ice or snow – Ice is always a better option than snow because of the air content. Ice is 10% air, while snow is 90% air. If you must use snow, try to pack it into tight balls before melting it. Move it out into the sun and devise a catch to hold the melted water. If you are in a hurry, you can also wrap the ice or snow in cloth and place it between your legs or under your arm. Your body heat will melt the ice and the cloth will catch the moisture. Periodically wring out the cloth until the ice is all melted.
  • Dig a well – If you are in a dry climate and cannot find water, digging a well with your hands or with a rock can help. Look for creek beds or low spots where there is still some green vegetation. Even though the surface is dry, this is an indication of water below the surface. Just keep digging until the soil starts to get moist. You can also use this technique to filter dirty water. If you have a contaminated water source, dig your well several feet from the edge of the water. This forces the soil to filter the water before it reaches your well.


There are not many ways to make fire without tools, but there are a few.

  • Make a friction fire – You can make a fire with found materials. All you need is some dry wood with a medium hardness and a sharp rock to help form it. Cut a notch in the side of a flat piece and then start to scrape out a dent in the top. Take a stick about six to ten inches long and round one end. Then place it in the dent and spin back and forth with both hands to create friction. This will form a hot ember that you can transfer to tinder creating a flame. You can also use shoelaces or natural cordage to create a bow or friction cord. A plough drill is also an option on which you simply drive a stick downward along a flat piece of wood. All of these methods require time and patience.

  • Use the lens from your eyeglasses – If you happen to wear glasses, you can use the lens as a magnifying device. This will concentrate the sun’s light on a small spot creating extreme heat. You need very fine a fluffy tinder and strong direct sunlight, but this method can work.
  • Find rocks that spark – This is an imperfect science as the purity of different rock types can vary. A dry creek bed is an ideal place to look for these rocks. Once rock should be silicate based. Try a few different combinations until you can get a spark. I can normally find a good pair within about 30 minutes of searching. Then just find some fluffy, dry tinder and get to work.

  • Form a lens from ice – This is one of the toughest ways to start a fire, but it can work. You have to find a chunk of ice with very few air bubbles in it. Start smoothing it out with your bare hands. The heat from your hands will melt the surface of the ice making it more transparent. You want the ice to form a thick lens about three inches in diameter and about 1.5 inches thick. Once formed, use a stick with a ‘Y’ in it to prop it up over your tinder. Be sure you have direct sunlight and adjust your lens on a small spot. Eventually, your tinder should start smoking.


Most people think of tools for building a shelter. However there are shelter types you can build with your bare hands or find ready to use.

  • Build a debris hut – Debris huts only need three pieces of large wood. The rest is comprised of small branches, leaves, and dry grass. Simply break off two branches about four feet long and one about eight feet long. Put long branches in between two tree trunks to create the leverage to safely break them. Prop up your two smaller branches to make an A frame and use your longer pole for a ridge pole. You can drive them into the ground if they will not stay upright. Then lay smaller branches at a 45 degree angle along the right pole. Cover the whole thing in about four feet of leaves or other debris.
  • Find a cave – This is simple enough, but you do need to use your senses to ensure that your cave is safe. Make sure there are no animal tracks near the entrance. This could show that predators are using the cave on a regular basis. Be wary of any foul smell as caves sometimes contain poisonous gases. Bats can also pass on disease through their feces.
  • Build a lean-to – For this shelter, you will need more branches. Find two trees about eight feet apart, both with branches sticking out about four feet up.   Find a ten foot ridge pole and rest it across these two branches creating a horizontal beam. Then lean as many branches as you can find across it at a 45 degree angle. If you need more insulation from cold or rain, you can pile several feet of debris on top. I completed one of these with no tools in about an hour.

  • Dig a snow cave – In deep snow you need to get out of the wind, and a snow cave can be dug with your bare hands. Find a drift at least four feet deep and insert six inch long sticks all over the mound. Start digging in at the base of the mound and keep hollowing out the snow until you reach the points of the sticks. This will ensure you do not dig too far and cave in the shelter. Once you can move around, try to build a shelf higher up for sleeping. This will allow the coldest air to sink below.

  • Sleep under a spruce – In deep snow, a spruce tree can make for a great shelter. The thick branches leave a dry area underneath that is padded and insulated with dead needles. The snow piles up around the tree to block the wind, and the overhead branches help with the elements as well.


There are several ways to signal for help without any tools.

  • Build a stationary signal. This could be writing out ‘SOS’ in the sand or snow. It could also mean drawing an arrow to signal your direction of travel or blazing your trail on trees with a rock. The key to any stationary signal is contrast. Use dark rocks or branches on snow or sand, and light rocks or branches or dark soil.
  • Know hand signals and Morse code – When the time comes to actively signal for help, knowing these universal methods of communication can make a huge difference. Waving both arms back and forth over your head tells any rescue personnel that you need help. Everybody knows ‘SOS’, but try to learn some other signals as well.
  • Use clothing as a signal – Bright or reflective clothing can stand out easily in an all-natural setting. If you see a rescue vehicle, do not be scared to shed a jacket or pants if it is bright and could catch their attention. Attach to a long stick and wave it over your head.
  • Make lots of noise – This can mean yelling, but can also mean banging on anything you can find. A car hood or plastic barrel works well. Artificial is always better.

First Aid

  • Spit on small cuts and abrasions – Saliva can help blood clot and helps to clean the wound if clean water is not available.
  • Hold pressure on deep wounds – I recently was cleaning a deer with a brand new knife and cut my thumb to the bone. I was able to keep it from bleeding just by applying pressure to keep the wound closed. Eventually I was able to get to a bandage and get it closed up properly.
  • Know basic first aid – CPR and the Heimlich maneuver are simple techniques that can save lives with no first aid gear. I saved my wife from choking a few years ago and have really felt the importance of this training since.


  • Know your North – Use the sunrise and sunset to help determine which way is north. Then keep the sun on a certain spot on your head to keep moving in the right direction. Confirm your direction by watching shadows or observing the location of moss on trees. You can also use a stick to build a DIY compass. Drive a stick into the ground and mark the point of the shadow. Then wait 20 minutes and mark the point of that shadow. Draw a line and you have your North/South axis.
  • Watch your daylight – Use the sun to see how much daylight you have left to arrive at your location. When you place your hand against the horizon, every four fingers is about an hour. Determine how many hands are between the horizon and the sun and you will know how many hours of light you have left.


  • Use tough parts of your body – When defending yourself, your fists and feet are somewhat fragile. You are better to use your elbows and knees to strike at your opponent. You are less likely to injure yourself.
  • Know your anatomy – If you are attacked by somebody with a blade, know how to protect yourself. Use the outside of your arms and legs instead of the inside to avoid arteries. Defend your torso, neck, and head to avoid fatal blows. Also know where to strike your opponent to disable them. This is the knees, feet, groin, neck, and face.
  • Know how to escape – If you are tied with duct tape or zip ties, you can use a swift move downward to break free. Just slam your wrists on your stomach and pull out. Also, your teeth can loosen or cut many of the bindings that criminals may use on your hands.
1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Kristopher

    January 2, 2017 at 9:32 am

    This is an awesome post. I am a hunter and I usually hunting in the forest, all tips in this post help me very much. Thank you for sharing

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