tips for survival

14 Secret Tips for Survival: You need to have learned YESTERDAY!

You know how the wiser members of your family dropped some wisdom on you at some point, but you didn’t really remember it, and now you’re kicking yourself because you’re pretty sure you really need whatever it was they had to say?

Yeah, me too. Consider this your warning that you need to listen up to these 14 tips for survival– while you might not need them now, just keep them stored away because I’m telling you, the day will come!

Pay attention — what you learn today may save your life (or at least save you some trouble.) We’re going to cover several common sticky situations, from a broken coffee machine to losing your keys, to being stuck in the wilderness without survival gear.

Let’s get started.

  1. How to make a campfire?
  2. How to start a fire without a lighter?
  3. Opening a can without a can opener
  4. How to make a coffee without a coffee maker?
  5. Make a copy of keys
  6. How to open the door with a card?
  7. How to lockpick with a bobby pin?
  8. How to quiet a generator?
  9. How to make fishing rods?
  10. How to fix a broken backpack zipper and jacket?
  11. How to get rid of outdoor flies?
  12. Safety tips about tornadoes
  13. How to test eggs for freshness?
  14. How to wipe your butt?

Core outdoor skills: creating a safe campfire.

Consider the “fire triangle,” which requires heat, fuel, and oxygen to support a fire. If you can supply all three elements, you can get a fire going.

Fire is hugely important to outdoor survival, so it’s best to have a belt-and-suspenders approach to prepping for a wilderness situation.

Creating a campfire is one of those skills that are easier to master if someone shows you, which is why I suggest checking out some videos.

Parks Canada has a great video that shows you exactly what to do, what a good campfire looks like, and how to stay safe.

However, you may not be in a situation where you have paper or commercial wood, so check out this video showing the how and why of building an all-natural campfire in a DIY firepit.

Campfire, but make it hard mode: start a fire without a lighter or matches

Don’t depend on a lighter or matches to get your fire going! If you lose your gear, or your lighter or matches get wet or broken, you’d be in real trouble.

Fire is so important to survival that you should know a few different ways to light one, just in case.

The methods of lighting a fire boil down to three: use friction, focus sunlight with a lens or mirror, or make a spark with flint and steel.

This video shows 13 different ways that range from caveman to MacGyver– at least a few will work for you.

Did you seriously forget the can opener? Don’t worry, we got you– here’s how to open the can anyway.

It’s surprisingly easy to open a can with a metal spoon using the edge of the spoon to create friction at the weak point where the lid meets the lip of the can.

I wasn’t expecting these kinds of tips for survival to come from a genteel ladies’ home magazine, but here’s Southern Living’s detailed write-up proving that we live in the weirdest timeline.

And just in case: here’s how to open a can with a broken pull-tab, how to open a bottle without a bottle opener, and how to open a bottle of wine without a corkscrew.

Bonus: Use a sword to open a bottle of champagne.

No coffee maker? It’s not the end of the world, it just feels like it!

Use ground beans, or grind your beans in a blender or by putting them in a bag and hitting them with something.

To brew, put the grinds in something that can work as a filter, like a mesh strainer, colander, or steamer basket, and pour hot water over it, allowing the coffee to drain into your cup.

A paper towel or a dishcloth can be an emergency filter.

outdoor adventure

In a worst-case scenario, you can put coffee grounds in a pan with water, boil it, and strain out the coffee grounds with a towel, t-shirt, or sock (clean preferred!)

You can also make cold brew coffee overnight by steeping it in cold water (or milk) in a jar.

Cold-brew requires advance planning, but it’s a low ratio of effort to deliciousness, especially in the summer.

How to copy a key by hand (warning: it takes forever) – tips for survival

Duplicating keys is best handled by the experts, but you do what you have to do. In this case, what you have to do is file down a key blank to match the peaks and valleys on your original key.

It is possible to get an impression of a key on a bar of soap or candle, then file down the key blank to match the impression, but it’s way harder than working directly from the original.

It takes a lot of time, a ton of filing, and maybe a lifetime’s supply of patience, but it is possible to do it.

This handy Instructable has great pictures and directions for the whole process. 

Automatic key copiers follow the same process, but the grinder works faster, more accurately, and more efficiently.

Copying keys? Annoying! Opening doors with a credit card: priceless.

I’ve opened doors with a credit card many times. And not just figuratively, in that “money will take you anywhere” kind of way– I have literally shimmed open a door with plastic several times.


According to The Art of Lockpicking, it works best on older doors with slanted latches, since you’re trying to wiggle the card between the latch and the door frame to bypass the lock.

It can be hard on the credit card, so make sure to use an expired card or a card that you can easily replace.

Next level lock picking: the bobby pin method.

If you don’t have time to copy a key, and your lock is too complex to open with a credit card, bobby pins are another solution.

Professional lock picks are basically just flat metal wires, and you can use bobby pins to approximate them and bypass the lock of your choice.

It is a fiddly hobby that requires practice, but it’s worth learning how to do it– The Art of Lockpicking strikes again with a detailed lesson to get you started!

Bonus tip: if speed is more important than stealth, use a crowbar to pop the door open. This video has a similar technique used on windows.

Warning: you can seriously damage the door and door frame with this method, but if you’re weighed your options and you really need to get in …the consequences might be worth it.

Shhhh, generator! We’re trying to sleep!

Generators: don’t want to live with them, don’t want to live without them. We depend on that sweet, sweet power for all of our electric luxuries, but that whining noise they make?

Awful! Silencing the generator could be as simple as changing its position or adding insulation, or just pointing it away from your campsite.

Or, try the water bucket trick: Put the exhaust pipe in a bucket of water to muffle the sound of the exhaust– just keep the generator above the bucket so that gravity keeps the water out of the machine itself.

Even more important is to remember that even with the bucket, a generator should never be placed in an enclosed space to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

DIY survival fishing rods: if a caveman can do it, so can you.

Vegetarians are at a disadvantage in wilderness survival. The vast majority of plants you’ll encounter are either poisonous or just low in precious calories.

If you’re trying to survive, try to catch and eat an animal– they’re higher in overall nutritional value and it’s much easier to avoid toxicity.

I recommend fishing as a primary strategy because frankly, fish are dumb, and that makes them easy to catch.

You can make a fishing rod with any stick, any string, any hook, and any bait. Seriously, it’s not rocket science.

A strong, flexible pole is best, like bamboo or a birch sapling, but look around you: I guarantee that something in your vicinity will work.

You don’t even really need a rod for this, for example, just a line made of braided bark and a hook made of bone.

Bonus: if you build it, they will come– to your DIY fish trap, that is.

Stupid, tasty fish– they stay fresh in the water, and all you do is collect.

Fix the zipper – don’t replace it.

If the zipper is just sticky, try lubricating it with pencil lead or liquid soap on the teeth of the zipper. If you’ve lost the zipper pull, use a paper clip, safety pin, or keychain to replace it.

Other repairs are more complicated, but generally just require a pair of pliers, your time, and patience.

Fixing a zipper is another skill that is easier to see than it is to read about, so check out this video that shows a solution for several different issues, including zippers that are stuck, broken, or won’t line up.

Flying insects are not invited on this trip– get rid of them, fast!

Flies and mosquitoes are one of the downsides of spending any time outside, but it’s possible to deal with them.

Plan ahead and try to avoid your area’s peak insect season, usually mid-summer.

Most insects are dormant in the winter– while winter camping offers its own challenges, it might be worth it if you really hate being bugged by bugs.

Choose the right campsite. Most insects prefer damp, shady areas and are more likely to be flying around during dawn or dusk near a food source, so keep your campsite dry, bright, and clean.

You can also deploy insect repellent, head nets, citronella candles, and area nets to keep them out. Oddly enough, flies also hate the smell of vodka!

Tornadoes are less fun than the Wizard of Oz would have you believe.

Tornadoes are serious weather emergencies that you need to take seriously. The tornado is moving at upwards of 200 miles per hour, so you can’t outrun it.

Please don’t chase tornadoes– chasing storms causes traffic on rural roads, and worse, you can get stuck where emergency services can’t get to you! has excellent advice about surviving a tornado.

They advise that if you have any warning, get to shelter immediately– the best shelter is an interior room like a basement or storm shelter.


Stay inside for the entire storm, and bring blankets or tarps to help cover you in case your shelter is hit and there’s flying debris.

If you can’t get to shelter, stay in your vehicle, or find a low, flat building and shelter there.

Cover your head and neck, and hunker down until the storm is past. Make a plan now so you’re ready when a tornado strikes.

Never find a rotten egg again– use this simple test for freshness.

Eggs are a delicious source of protein, and raising chickens is a fun hobby as well as a great way to use up kitchen scraps while also enhancing your food security.

But eggs have no outward signs of spoilage, so cracking one open might be a bad surprise.

What should you do to avoid a rotten egg?

The easiest and most accurate way to test eggs for freshness is the float test. An egg that sits on its side in a glass of water is fresh.

If it sinks but stays pointed up, proceed with caution, and if it floats, just throw it out.

Additionally, check for a pinkish egg or black or green flecks in the egg— don’t eat those either.

A good rule of thumb is to crack an egg into a separate bowl before adding the egg to what you are cooking, so you don’t accidentally ruin the whole thing with one bad surprise.

How to wipe your butt. Yes, really.

Toilet paper is one of those luxuries that nobody wants to do without…to the extent that panic buying during the 2020 COVID-19 crisis is causing shortages.

Fortunately, there are tons of ways to wipe your butt without it– and some methods are both more environmentally friendly and more pleasant than the toilet paper you’re used to.

If you’re at home, consider installing a bidet or just jumping in the shower— water is gentler on your behind anyway, and is a great way to feel extra fresh when you’re done.

Extra paper, baby wipes, tissues, corn husks, sponges, or rags can also work (just don’t flush them.)

If you’re out in the wilderness, a flat rock can be a great solution, as can several common leaves, like mullein, cottonwood, or broadleaf maple.

Going to the bathroom out in the wilderness is actually one of those skills, like making a campfire, that depends on your situation– and like making fire, it’s wise to know several different methods before you need them.

This article from REI is a good overview of maintaining sanitation in the woods, and you can learn more about pit latrines for large groups here.

Now, I’m hoping you don’t actually need any of these tips for survival right this moment, but if you do, I hope I was able to help. Good luck, I hope you make it back to civilization soon!

For the rest of you, give these tips a try!

Practice these skills before the emergency so you know you’re prepared for anything– after all, that’s why we have fire drills! It can also be fun and satisfying to master a survival skill.

Get started today so you can show off to your friends tomorrow!

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