Wilderness Survival Skills Everyone Should Learn

By Suzanne Wiley

You don’t have to be an expert bushcrafter or master survivalist to be able to handle yourself should you get lost or find yourself in a survival situation in the woods. With some basic knowledge, your wits and a properly-stocked survival kit, you should do just fine a few nights in the bush.

Lessons from Mors Kochanski

“A well-trained person needs only a knife to survive.”

One of the most knowledgeable wilderness survivalists in modern history surprisingly teaches a less-is-more philosophy and simplicity as the key to surviving an emergency situation. Specializing in winter weather survival, Mors Kochanski says sleep, staying warm, keeping hydrated and knowing how to signal for help is all the survival skills you need to stay alive. To accomplish this, you’ll need a Ferro rod (fire starter,) mylar blanket, plastic sheeting, paracord, an ax, a good knife, appropriate clothing, a pot and…that’s it. Clothing, fire and a knife being the most important of these.

Who is Mors Kochanski?

Mors with his mentor’s ski-shoe invention. Image courtesy of Masterwoodsman.com
Mors with his mentor’s ski-shoe invention. Image courtesy of Masterwoodsman.com

Mors Kochanski was born in 1940 in Saskatchewan, Canada to Polish immigrant farmers. His father encouraged his children to get an education and Mors traveled seven miles one way to school on backwoods roads. Mors became interested in the wilderness and reading at an early age. As a young boy, his two favorite books were the Boy Scout Manual and The Ashley Book Of Knots.

He served in the Navy for three years, receiving a scholarship to Royal Roads college to study Chemical Engineering. However, was honorably discharged after falling ill. He then studied at the University of Saskatchewan for four years, picking classes of interest rather than following a degree track and was therefore suspended for “lack of direction.”

After that, he held a few different completely unrelated jobs but continued to study bushcraft. In 1972, Mors was offered a position to teach outdoor education at the University of Alberta, while freelancing as a wilderness survival instructor. He became an accomplished author, writing a variety of articles and books, one of which became a bestseller called Northern Bushcraft.

One of the most important and well-known skills Mors reinvented and perfected was the open-faced lean-to called the “super shelter” which maximizes the heat from a fire in order to provide a comfortable night’s rest for those sleeping in it. Mors believes that sleep is essential to wilderness survival. In (book) Basic Wilderness Survival in Cold Lacking Snow, he writes, “I will not let fear or panic rule my mind as this only works against me. The bush is inert. It is incapable of doing me harm. If you can make yourself comfortable enough to sleep about eight hours daily and if you drink enough water to meet your body’s needs, you have it made.”

Click here to read more about Mors and his super shelter.

Basic Survival Skills According to Mors

Fire Starter

Fire making is an essential survival skill.
Mastering the art of fire making is essential to your survival.

Fire is essential to your survival. It provides warmth, boils water and will signal to rescuers. Though Mors invented the parabolic single hole method of fire starting when performing the bow drill, there is no need for those inexperienced or uninterested in advanced and expert-level survival skills to be able to start a fire using the bow drill method. It’s extremely difficult, time-consuming and exerts a lot of energy. Some of you might scoff, but with today’s availability of advanced and compact instant or near-instant fire starters, you should never have an excuse for not being able to start a fire.

What to pack in your kit:

  • Bic lighter
  • Windproof lighter with fuel
  • Magnesium or similar fire-starting rod

12 Survivors Products:

Mylar Blanket

Mors discovered that mylar emergency blankets used to cover his lean-to help keep the entire body warm as opposed to just the part exposed to the fire in front of the shelter. The use of mylar emergency blankets when building a survival shelter is easier and more efficient than building elaborate snow shelters.

What to pack in your kit: 12 Survivors rollup first aid kit includes an emergency blanket or Mini first aid roll-up kit.

As one of the most popular survival items, paracord has virtually an endless amount of uses and is something Mors suggests you carry, as it helps in the construction of your super shelter. Made from nylon, 550 paracord was used in the suspension lines on military parachutes. There are currently numerous qualities of paracord made for the civilian market. 12 Survivors uses paracord with 7 inner strands twisted from 3 different yarns. To learn more about 12 Survivors paracord survival kits, click here.

What to pack in your kit: Paracord Survival Orb.

A good, sturdy knife helps with building shelter, fire starting and has many other survival uses.
A good, sturdy knife helps with building shelter, fire starting and has many other survival uses.

Ax and Knife

“The ax is the most important bush tool there is. Outside of fire, nothing may contribute to your comfort and leisure than a well-chosen ax.”

Both blades are necessary for building a shelter, fire and bushwhacking. Mors has used many, many different knives throughout his career and each has its own use. In my opinion, knives are subjective, and each person will prefer what they prefer. 12 Survivors carries a knife kit which includes a fixed blade, folding blade, hand ax and multi-tool.

According to Mors, a good knife doesn’t have to be expensive. A good survival knife has a full tang, an unbreakable, comfortable handle and a blade thick enough to take a lot of abuse.

What to pack in your kit: Hunter Knife.

Appropriate Clothing

Mors always says to dress for the worst possible weather. Surviving, especially in extreme temperatures, rather hot or cold, is dependent on keeping your body temperature regulated. The importance of the correct clothing can’t be stressed enough. Mors has said, “Your clothing is the most important survival tool you have. Dress properly and any emergency you may have to endure becomes more manageable.” What you wear depends on what time of the year it is and how much activity you are participating in. To learn more about dressing appropriately for winter weather survival, click here.

Mors suggests:

  • Wear 3 pairs of wool socks
  • Dress in layers
  • Don’t wear cotton
  • Avoid sweating


Mors outside a super-shelter. Image courtesy of Masterwoodsman.com
Mors outside a super-shelter. Image courtesy of Masterwoodsman.com

Staying hydrated, says Mors, is one of the most important aspects to basic survival. Procuring water is as important as making a fire. A simple pot designed to be placed over a direct flame will boil water and melt snow for drinking. Mors says not to worry about foraging for food. You’ll conserve more energy fasting. You exert more energy than you could gain from the few calories you’d get from trapping, fishing or hunting for a little bit of food.

Mors famously said, “The more you know, the less you carry.” Educating yourself is first and foremost the most important aspect of survival. Packing a few essentials and knowing how to use them is the secret to survival—and Mors would know. He’s spent his entire life perfecting it.

How basic do you believe a survival kit should be? List your survival essentials in the comment section.

Click here for a how-to pack a winter weather bug-out bag.