Camping can be as primitive or glamorous as one would like it to be. However, what would happen in the unsuspected event of a heavy storm, a lost map, or some kind of threatening incident that would cause you to flee to the forest without any of your gear? Do you know what plants are safe to eat and which are toxic? Could you start a fire without matches? Many of these traditional skills are still practiced in the Appalachian Mountains, utilized by mountain-folk, herbalists, hikers, fishermen, hunters, survivalists, and campers. It is even commonplace to see such skills taught at festivals throughout the Smoky and Appalachian Mountains. Be sure to visit our calendar for upcoming events in the area! If you plan on going camping this spring, it is worth knowing these invaluable survival skills!

Pitching Camp Like A Pro

Knowing where to pitch a tent is vital to staying warm and dry, as well as having easy access to a food and water source. The perfect place to set up camp is roughly 100-150 yards from moving water with the tent nestled closely to evergreen trees that can provide a natural windbreak; if you can use these trees to anchor a tarp, even better. Pay attention to the ground; after all, you will be sleeping on it! If the ground is squishy, this could lead to waking up wet or having super damp clothes and gear, it is best to pick another spot. Remember, if the ground has a gentle slope, be sure to rest your head at the top.

Hand Drills for Fire-starting

Knowing how to start a fire without modern tools is an essential survival skill in the Appalachian forest. The primitive bow drill method is used to create friction-fires. While this is much easier to understand having seen it rather than reading it, we will cover the basics. The bow drill technique involves a piece of soft, dry firewood, a drill holder, a wooden drill, and a bow. The bow is made from tying a piece of rope to either end of a small piece of wood, such as a branch that is roughly a foot in length, there should be a few inches of slack left in the rope. The drill is made from a short, hard piece of wood with its bottom end sharpened. For the drill holder, you should find a small piece of wood that fits in the palm of your hand. Notch the bottom side to create an impression that matches the diameter of the top end of the drill, so it can snugly fit inside. Your choice of firewood should be a soft wood, this will sit on the ground underneath the sharpened edge of the drill. Cut a small notch near the edge of the firewood, this impression is where your drill will sit. In use, the bow is held horizontally and the slack in the rope is wrapped around the vertical wood drill. Putting pressure on top of the drill with the holder and moving the fastened bow back and forth in a sawing motion causes the drill to create heat on the firewood underneath it. After a while, you will get coals that you can use to start fire to fine tinder.

Wild Edibles in the Appalachia

Nothing is 100{c81ca3f6b47d12e1c39c99c5f24f4a0138260dd15eaf7743f5d45e15c35b5b24} safe, so try to learn to be familiar with the plants in your area, but this method has been used by survivalists and has provided sustenance in life or death situations. Many toxic plants, berries, and mushrooms will provide clues that it is poisonous before eating it. Survivalists will first crush the plant or berry and rub it on the inside of their wrist, then wait for 10-30 minutes. If there is no reaction, the second step they may take is to place the plant on the tip of their tongue. If there is any tingling, burning, or numbing sensations, they will assume it is toxic and will not eat it. However, if this phase goes well they may place the plant inside of their mouth, between the gums and the teeth or tucked in the corner of their cheek and wait at least 15 minutes. If there are no adverse reactions, that plant is said to be safer to eat than plants that cause any type of ill reactions. However, this is not always the case. Some plants are only toxic in large amounts and some mushrooms can cause liver and kidney failure within 24-48 hours after ingestion. These survival skills are to be used in life or death situations only.

Navigating Without a Compass

Many people who live in the Appalachian Mountains can easily identify the little dipper, if you can too, then you have already found the north star. The north star is the first star in the series that creates the handle, leading up to the ladle. If you are not familiar with your constellations and have access to a sunny location, you can use this next trick to create a compass on the ground. Find a relatively straight stick and drive it into the ground so it stands upright. Place a rock at the end of the shadow cast by the stick. Wait 15 minutes and place a rock at the end of the shadow’s new location. Draw a literal line, or an imaginary one, through the center of each rock connecting the two. You have just created a line from east-west, the first rock signifying west. Now bisect this line and you will have a north-south line, completing the compass.

Next time you venture out into the woods, bring these survival skills with you, and be sure to check out our calendar for traditional Appalachian skill-building classes in your area!

Do you have something to add? Tell us about your survival skills in the comment section below!