25 Best Survival Hacks for the Outdoors

Tips, tricks, advice, or hacks. Call them what you will but there is certainly a multitude of information out there for how to think outside of the box when dealing with outdoor survival situations. 

Some of these ideas have made the rounds for years while some may be newer. I wanted to put together a list of some of my favorite outdoor hacks. 

Best Survival Hacks: You Must Know These…

1. Jar O Matches 

I remember this one while camping as a child. Inevitably the cardboard box of matches that was packed would get crushed or wet. Matches would spill everywhere or would become water-logged.

To fix this, use a small glass jar, or another appropriately sized container to place the matches in. Then cut a striker surface to fit in the underside of the lid. 

2. Extra Cordage 

You can never have too much cordage in a survival situation. To make sure that you always have some on you, consider swapping out the original laces on a pair of shoes or boots and replace them with paracord. 

550 paracord is my favorite and it generally comes with seven yarns, inner strands. If you pull out the yarns and add in the outer sheath that is eight lengths of cordage.

Here is a quick example of how this gives you more cordage in a small package. A 54-inch long bootlace is 4.5 feet long. 4.5 feet multiplied by eight (7 yarns + 1 outer sheath) equals 36 feet total cordage for one bootlace. Multiply that by 2 (for the other bootlace) and you will have 72 feet of total cordage that can be used!

3. Start a Fire with Food

In a survival situation, you will have to weigh whether to consume food or use it for another purpose. Luckily, this method does not require much food. Some foods that are oily and high in fat hold a flame very well. One classic example of this is corn chips. If you need a little fire tinder, light one of these chips and watch it burn!

4. Start a fire with a battery. 

I have always thought that the following two methods to start a fire were pretty cool. The first way to do this is with a 9-volt battery and some steel wool. Place the steel wool onto both terminals of the battery and it will soon turn into a pile of glowing embers. 

The second way requires a small piece of tin foil, like a bubble gum wrapper. Thin out the middle portion of the wrapper by cutting out pieces from both sides so that there is a just a small bridge of material connecting the whole thing. Then place one end of the wrapper on one terminal of the battery and the other end on the other terminal of the battery. This will cause the thinned out portion of the wrapper to ignite into a flame. 

Be carry with these methods as the materials used become hot very quickly!

5. Split a Match 

When matches are your only means for starting a fire they are an incredibly precious resource.  

Take a sharp knife and carefully split the match starting on the end opposite of the match end. If this is done correctly, one match can be turned into two!

6. Windproof Match 

Starting below the match head, use a knife to create a feather stick out of the body of the match. While this does not make the match entirely windproof, it does help to keep the flame going. 

7. Flotation Device

A trash bag or large plastic bag filled with air can be used as an improvised floatation device. If you have a net available use it to cover the outside of the bag. This will help to protect the bag from popping. 

8. Pack Birthday Candles 

Any candle will do but birthday candles are cheap and take up minimal space. Instead of trying to light tinder with matches or a lighter, first light the candle. Candles are easy to light, producing a quick flame without wasting lighter fluid or multiple matches. The steady flame of the candle can then be used to light a tinder bundle. It will also come in handy if it happens to be your birthday! 

9. Watch Directions 

This is one of those methods I think is just neat. You can find north, south directions by using a simple wristwatch. Of course, it needs to be a non-digital watch, meaning one with an hour hand and a minute hand. 

Point the hour hand in the direction of the Sun. Then draw an imaginary line between the hour hand and the number 12. That imaginary line will be pointing in a north-south direction. 

10. Blaze a Trail 

To blaze a trail or trailblazing is a method by which an individual can keep track of the path they are on and which direction they have come from. This has been done by cutting into trees, or by hanging signaling tape. But what if you do not have a knife or tape? Instead, use pieces of charcoal from a leftover fire to draw big, visible arrows on landmarks. 

11. Bandana Water Filter

Place a container of dirty water at a higher elevation than an empty collection container. Then place one end of highly absorbent material, like a cotton bandana into the dirty water.

As the water moves up through the material, lower the opposite end of the bandana into the collection container. Water will be pulled from the dirty container and flow into the collection container, leaving behind visible sediments.  

12. Duct Tape Fire Starters 

I know that there is a lot of fire starting hacks on this list but that is because being able to start a fire is important, and I think they are cool. 

Duct tape takes a flame well and burns for quite a time. Take a length of tape and roll it into a nice little bundle. When you are making a fire, light the end of the tape bundle and place it under your firewood.

13. Create fire with an empty lighter 

A butane lighter will eventually run out of fluid. When this happens do not discard the lighter! As long as the flint wheel produces sparks it can be used to start tinder on fire.

14. Duct tape cordage 

Duct tape is pretty strong stuff. By folding the adhesive side over itself in a spiraling manner, a length of cordage can be created. 

15. Glass knife 

As we all know a knife is one of the most important tools to have in a survival situation. Lucky for the survivalist there is trash throughout nature.

Coming upon broken glass means you could create an effective cutting tool. If certain materials are available, fix the glass into the end of a stick to use as a handle. Use extreme caution as broken glass is incredibly sharp.

16. Make Butterfly Bandages 

Butterfly bandages are used when attempting to keep longer cuts closed. If you do not have any of these, improvised ones can be made from regular band-aids.

Place one sticky of the bandaid on one side of the cut and twist the middle portion several times to create tension. Then stick the other end of the bandaid on the other side of the cut. Several of these can be used in a row to help keep a wound shut. 

17. Cordage Saw 

Some synthetic cordages, like paracord, can be used as a saw to cut through other synthetic materials and some types of vegetation. 

Take a length of cordage and hold the ends, once in each hand. Then place the middle of the cordage around the item that needs to be cut. Apply pressure and use a back and forth motion to “saw” through the material. 

18. Plastic Bottle Cordage 

I really wish I would have been the one who originally thought of this because I think it is ingenious.

A smooth plastic bottle, like a water bottle, works best for this. Use a knife to create a puncture in the top or bottom portion of the plastic. Then slowly, and carefully use the knife to make a spiraling cut around the bottle, just like peeling an apple. 

The lengths can be as short or as long as desired but the result is some strong cordage that can be used for a variety of tasks. 

19. Plastic Bottle Goggles 

Okay, so these are not exactly goggles that you strap to your head. But a clear plastic bottle can be used to see more clearly underwater. 

With the bottle in hand, push at least half of the bottle under the surface. You can then look through the drinking spout to check out what’s going on below!

20. Plastic Bottle Binding Rings 

Pick out a spot on a plastic bottle and cut all of the way through the plastic on both sides of that spot. This will produce a plastic ring that is quite tough to break. The ring can be used to help bind two items together, like two pieces of wood.

21. No saw, no problem!

Did you know that you can cut down a small tree, a sapling, with just a knife? I have used this method a lot and it works well. 

Grab ahold of the sapling and pull it to one side without breaking the trunk. On the point of the trunk that is under the most pressure, where the bend is, use a knife and press into this spot. The knife will easily cut through these strained fibers. 

22. Transfer fire with punky wood

Sometimes your camp needs to be moved, which may mean trying to move your fire. One way to do this is by using a piece of punky wood. 

Punky wood is rotten wood, which doesn’t burn like normal wood. However, it will hold embers and smolder for a long time. This means that embers can be carried over a long distance to be used in a new fire pit.

23. Phone Journal 

If you can spare the battery power or have the means to recharge it, consider using the camera on a phone to document important items. Such as food items that made you sick or photograph the path and landmarks as a way of knowing where you have been.

24. Leather Belt 

A leather belt isn’t just a fashion accessory or a means of holding your pants up. It can be used to hone the cutting edge of a knife, to carry wood, hold up a shelter, and anything else you can think of for this handy strap.

25. The Shirt Off of your Back!

Just like the leather belt example above, the clothes you are wearing can be used for a multitude of purposes, that is if you can spare them. For example, a white cotton t-shirt can be used as a water filter, washcloth, bandana, face mask, cordage, water collector, and a signaling device. 

Wrap Up

There are so many outdoor survival hacks, old and new, that it would be difficult to put them all together in one article.

I’m sure that you recognized a few in the above list but I hope you found a few news to peak your interest. If you have a great outdoor survival hack that wasn’t on the list, feel free to leave it in the comment box below. Thanks for reading!

Bryan Lynch
Written by Bryan Lynch

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. His goal was to spread positive information about this field. Recently, Bryan authored the book Swiss Army Knife Camping and Outdoor Survival Guide. Read more of Bryan's articles.

Leave a Comment