Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+ Sign up for Outside+ today.
The woods might be the best place to get lost. With a little knowledge, technique, and creativity, it’s possible to scratch an easy living out of the forest. Use these bushcraft skills to make shelter, fire, find food, treat pain, and even boil water.
Make a Shelter
Look for ready-made shelters, like blowdowns, or trees with dense, low canopies. Otherwise, build: Lean large branches against a solid object (live trees, stumps, boulders, or cliffs) to make a lean-to. Layer leaves, pine boughs, palm fronds, or large sections of bark to make your roof water-resistant. Cushion the floor with an arm’s length of leaves, dried grass, or pine boughs for insulation, and pile another stack on top of you.
Make a Fire…
Look for flammable, resin-rich fatwood in the knots of dead pines, then shave it into a tinder pile, or dig around in dry-rotted wood for spongy punkwood, which easily takes a spark.
…And Take It with You
Use your knife to baton a 6-inch-deep cross into the end of a wrist-thick log. Pack the space with green sticks to hold it open, pack in some tinder, and light your torch.
Pierce the blisters that form on balsam, white, subalpine, and Douglas firs to access a clear antibacterial resin that’s great for burns and cuts. Chew (don’t swallow) the bark of willows and the leaves of aspens to release salicin, an anti-inflammatory like aspirin.
Forage a Meal
You can eat acorns: Remove the nutmeat and soak it for multiple hours in several changes of water until the bitter taste is gone. Pinecones of Western pines also produce edible nuts in late summer and fall. Both can be eaten raw.
Craft a Drinking Vessel
Cut a piece of birch bark into an 8-by-8-inch square. Pinch the corners to raise an edge and fasten it with an improvised clothespin (partially split twig).