The Wilderness Survival Merit Badge: Your Ultimate Guide In 2023


Surviving in the wilderness is the ultimate test of a Scout’s knowledge, skills, and mindset. By earning your Wilderness Survival Merit Badge, you’ll learn what to do if ever you’re stranded alone in nature and in need of being rescued. Plus, this badge will not only help you survive in the wild but also improve your camping and preparedness skills!

This badge mainly consists of knowledge requirements, but some of these skills can be tough to master, so get ready to practice! To complete the Wilderness Survival badge, you’ll need to build fires without matches, learn the seven priorities for backcountry survival, and even construct an improvised shelter of your own. 😀

If youd like my help with any Eagle-required badges, you should definitely check out my Difficulty Ranking Guide to Every Eagle-required Badge. There, you’ll also find the links to my other merit badge guides, as well as a description and summary of each badge’s requirements. I know this resource will be helpful to Scouts on their road to Eagle!

Also, remember that ScoutSmarts should just serve as your starting point for merit badge research. In school, we’re taught not to plagiarize, and the same is true for Scouting worksheets. Answer these questions in your own words, do further research, and I promise you’ll gain much more from every merit badge you earn!

To better prepare for outdoor survival situations, it’s time to dive into learning and earning your Wilderness Survival badge! First, take a minute to thoroughly read each of the merit badge requirements listed below. Then, I’ll be taking you step-by-step through each answer so that you can better understand the art of survival!

Alright then, it’s time to get going! Let’s start by reading and understanding all of the requirements that’ll be necessary to earn your Wilderness Survival merit badge.

What Are The Wilderness Survival Merit Badge Requirements?

  1. Do the following:
    1a. Explain to your counselor the hazards you are most likely to encounter while participating in wilderness survival activities, and what you should do to anticipate, help prevent, mitigate, or lessen these hazards.
    1b. Show that you know first aid for and how to prevent injuries or illnesses likely to occur in backcountry settings, including hypothermia, heat reactions, frostbite, dehydration, blisters, insect stings, tick bites, and snakebites.
  2. From memory, list the seven priorities for survival in a backcountry or wilderness location. Explain the importance of each one with your counselor.
  3. Describe ways to avoid panic and maintain a high level of morale when lost, and explain why this is important.
  4. Describe the steps you would take to survive in the following exposure conditions:
    • 4a. Cold and snowy
      4b. Wet
      4c. Hot and dry
      4d. Windy
      4e. At or on the water
  5. Put together a personal survival kit and be able to explain how each item in it could be useful.
  6. Using three different methods (other than matches), build and light three fires.
  7. Do the following:
    • 7a. Show five different ways to attract attention when lost.
      7b. Demonstrate how to use a signal mirror.
      7c. Describe from memory five ground-to-air signals and tell what they mean.
  8. Improvise a natural shelter. For the purpose of this demonstration, use techniques that have little negative impact on the environment. Spend a night in your shelter.
  9. Explain how to protect yourself from insects, reptiles, bears, and other animals of the local region.
  10. Demonstrate three ways to treat water found in the outdoors to prepare it for drinking.
  11. Show that you know the proper clothing to wear while in the outdoors during extremely hot and cold weather and during wet conditions.
  12. Explain why it usually is not wise to eat edible wild plants or wildlife in a wilderness survival situation.
1a) Explain to your counselor the hazards you are most likely to encounter while participating in wilderness survival activities, and what you should do to anticipate, help prevent, mitigate, or lessen these hazards.

We’ve all seen wilderness documentaries and, let’s be honest, the wilderness is a scary place! Out in nature, there are obstacles like weather, shelter, food, water, and natural predators – just to name a few. In a wilderness survival scenario, each of these factors must be kept top-of-mind in order to survive!

To start your journey to becoming a wilderness survival pro, you should first learn the likely hazards that you might encounter. Below, we’ll be taking a quick look at potential hazards that can be encountered while participating in wilderness activities. Then, we’ll cover what you should do to mitigate, and even prevent them!

Top 10 Wilderness Survival Hazards

Hypothermia/Hyperthermia

  • Hazard: Hypothermia (cold exposure) or hyperthermia (heat exposure).
  • Prevention: Wear appropriate clothing for the weather, layering in cold environments, and wearing lightweight, light-colored, breathable clothing in hot environments.
  • Mitigation: For hypothermia, warm up slowly, insulate from the ground, and stay dry. For hyperthermia, find shade, hydrate, and rest.

Dehydration

  • Hazard: A lack of fluids leading to reduced physical and cognitive abilities.
  • Prevention: Pack lots of water, drink it often, and bring water purification methods.
  • Mitigation: Conserve your energy, seek shade, consume electrolytes, and hydrate.

Injuries

  • Hazard: Falls, cuts, sprains, fractures.
  • Prevention: Wear proper footwear, be cautious, and use tools properly.
  • Mitigation: Carry a basic first aid kit and know basic first aid.

Inadequate Nutrition

  • Hazard: Weakness, impaired decision-making, and a compromised immune system.
  • Prevention: Carry nutritious, lightweight foods. Eat regularly.
  • Mitigation: Know how to forage and have a plan for securing safe sources of food.
    • Diarrhea is another common hazard in the outdoors and is caused by consuming unclean food or water. This can make the victim lose fluids extremely quickly and become dehydrated!
    • To greatly reduce the risk of diarrhea, unless in an emergency, only consume food and water from clean sources.

Wildlife Encounters

  • Hazard: Bites, stings, or aggressive behavior from animals.
  • Prevention: Store food properly, maintain distance from wildlife, and be aware of your surroundings.
  • Mitigation: Know how to respond to encounters with various animals. For instance:
    • Bears: Back away slowly, at a sideways angle. Do not run, as this may trigger the bear to give chase. If it approaches, use your trusty bear spray, or make yourself look larger by lifting your arms.
      • It’s also recommended to shout “HEY BEAR” loudly to scare them off. Seriously, this is recommended. 🙂 For more info on handling a bear encounter, check out this great site.
    • Snakes: Give them a wide berth. If bitten, keep calm, immobilize the bitten limb (keeping it below the heart level), and seek medical attention immediately.
    • Insects: Wear repellent, light-colored clothing, and avoid scented products. Know how to remove ticks and treat stings.
    • Bees: Stay away from hives. If stung and allergic, administer an EpiPen immediately and seek trained medical attention.
    • For more info on preventing and handling various types of wildlife encounters, check out this helpful video (7:03)!

Altitude Sickness

  • Hazard: Headache, nausea, difficulty breathing.
  • Prevention: Acclimate gradually, hydrate, and avoid alcohol.
  • Mitigation: If symptoms become severe, descend to a lower altitude.

Fires

  • Hazard: Forest fires or uncontrolled personal fires.
  • Prevention: Adhere to local fire regulations, clear a wide area around your fire, and always keep it supervised.
  • Mitigation: Have a means to extinguish the fire, check wildfire warnings, and know evacuation routes.

Extreme Weather conditions

  • Hazard: Storms, lightning, floods, etc.
  • Prevention: Check weather forecasts before heading out and have a weather-appropriate shelter.
  • Mitigation: Seek shelter during storms, avoid ridge tops and open fields during lightning, and move to higher ground during heavy rain.

Fatigue

  • Hazard: Tiredness leading to impaired judgment and mistakes.
  • Prevention: Get adequate rest, pace yourself, and stay hydrated and nourished.
  • Mitigation: Set up camp and rest if you’re feeling overly fatigued.
1b) Show that you know first aid for and how to prevent injuries or illnesses likely to occur in backcountry settings, including hypothermia, heat reactions, frostbite, dehydration, blisters, insect stings, tick bites, and snakebites.

Ok, that was a lot of information! Knowing how to stay safe in the wilderness is incredibly important — do not underestimate how dangerous these hazards can be! Here is a chart with the information listed above: 

HazardsEffectsPreventionMitigation 
Hypothermia Hypothermia (cold exposure) or hyperthermia (heat exposure).Appropriate clothing for cold environments and lightweight, breathable clothing in hot environments.For hypothermia, warm up slowly, and stay dry. For hyperthermia, find shade, hydrate, and rest.
Dehydration A lack of fluids leading to reduced physical and cognitive abilities.Pack lots of water, drink it often, and bring water purification methods.Conserve your energy, seek shade, consume electrolytes, and hydrate.
Inadequate nutrition Weak immune system, impaired decision-making. Carry nutritious, lightweight foods. Eat regularly.Have a plan to obtain food
Injuries Falls, cuts, sprains, fractures.Proper footwear and use tools properly.Basic first aid kit.
Wildlife EncountersBites, stings, or animal encounters.Maintain distance from wildlife, and be aware.Know how to respond to encounters with various animals.
Altitude sicknessHeadache, nausea, difficulty breathingAcclimate, hydrate, and avoid alcohol.Come to a lower altitude.
Fire Forest fires or uncontrolled personal fires.Adhere to local fire regulations.Extinguish the fire, evacuate.
Extreme weather Storms, lightning, floods.Weather-appropriate shelter.Avoid ridge tops and open fields 
Fatigue Tiredness Take rest and stay nourished.Set up camp and rest.

It’d be way too much to cover here, but for more info on treating these injuries, be sure to check out the in-depth injury section of my guide to the First Aid merit badge and Camping merit badge! Alternatively, you can Google, “(hazard type) ScoutSmarts” and you’ll be sure to find the hazard covered in more detail. Now it’s time to move on to requirement 2!

2) From memory, list the seven priorities for survival in a backcountry or wilderness location. Explain the importance of each one with your counselor.

Imagine, you’re stranded on an island all by yourself! Do you know what you need to do to survive? What is the first step you need to take? Being in the wilderness (stranded or otherwise) is tough, and in order to survive, you’ll need to have your priorities straight.

That’s where the seven priorities for survival come into play! By securing these priorities, you’ll gain the best chance at making it in the wilderness, so it’s important to know what they are by heart. So now, without further ado, the seven priorities for survival in a backcountry or wilderness location are:

Wilderness Survival Priority 1: Keep a Positive Mental Attitude

It could be difficult to acknowledge that you’re genuinely in trouble and trying to survive. Once you are no longer in immediate danger, you should gather your bearings, settle down, and regain your calm. A great way to remember this is through the acronym, STOP (Stop, Think, Observe, Plan).

If you’re lost, don’t panic and keep running without a clear direction. You’re more likely to be found and rescued while staying in one location, so freeze and assess the situation. During this time, it’s crucial to have a positive mental attitude as losing your head and panicking could potentially cost you your life.

Mental resilience determines how effectively one can utilize resources, make decisions, and persevere. First and foremost, a calm and positive mindset will help you think clearly, make solid survival decisions, and increase your chances of sustaining yourself until you’re found.

Wilderness Survival Priority 2: Administer First Aid

Immediate medical attention can prevent minor injuries from becoming major ones. Understanding how to treat cuts, burns, fractures, and other injuries can make the difference between life and death in situations where medical help is hours or days away.

Ensure any open wounds or broken bones are immediately treated, as they could worsen over time. If you have a significant injury and are trying to survive in the wilderness, take this into account and limit your movements so as not to make things worse. Preventing infections and excessive blood loss is crucial!

Wilderness Survival Priority 3: Shelter

Exposure to extreme cold or heat can be deadly. A shelter protects against the elements like wind, rain, and sun, and can prevent hypothermia or heat-related illnesses. It also provides a psychological sense of security, and will make you more likely to be spotted by a team of rescuers!

Building a shelter can be difficult, especially if you’ve never done it before. Check out this neat video (17:48) to see 5 great examples of how you can build a backcountry shelter in a pinch!🙂

There’s a common backpacking saying that goes, “You can survive 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food.” This is especially true in extreme conditions, so always prioritize finding a shelter to protect yourself!

Wilderness Survival Priority 4: Fire

Fire serves multiple purposes in a survival situation: it provides warmth, purifies water, cooks food, signals for help, and keeps away potential wildlife threats. Moreover, the act of building a fire can also boost morale. Once you’ve got your shelter established, Fire-building will be your next mission!

  • Using Signal Fires: Three fires in a straight line or triangle formation is a universally recognized distress signal. Plus, the smoke can also be seen from a considerable distance during the day.
    • Using green leaves or rubber will produce a thicker, whiter smoke that’s better for signaling.
    • Ensure you keep your fire under control and follow the rules outlined for earning your Fireman Chip. Do not start a forest fire!

Not sure how to make a fire without matches? Don’t worry! We’ll be covering 3 great ways to light a wilderness survival fire in requirement 6, so stay tuned. 😀

Wilderness Survival Priority 5: Signaling

When lost or in distress, being able to signal for help will greatly increase your chances of being rescued. Aside from building high-smoke fires, there are several types of signaling you can use, such as:

  • Mirrors: One of the non-electronic signal techniques with the greatest range is the signal mirror. When used properly, a signal mirror may project a beam of daylight up to 10 miles away, generating a flash of light that may draw the attention of passing automobiles, boats, airplanes, or pedestrians.
  • Flags: For thousands of years, flags have been used as a form of communication. While there are signal flags that can be purchased, you can also make your own. 
    • A fast flag is made of a colorful piece of clothing attached to a pole. You can make a very large flag by tying a poncho to some tent poles, or you can attach it to a tree for a free-standing signal. 
  • Whistles: The worldwide distress signal is usually understood to be three strong, consecutive whistle blows.
    • Choose a colorful whistle that is easy to find if dropped. Be sure to have your whistle attached to a lanyard, ring, or clip so you don’t lose it.
  • Survey Tape: Your survival signaling gear would benefit greatly from the lightweight addition of a bright roll of survey tape.
    • You can use these easily torn strips to identify existing trails, make new ones, and even leave messages.

Wilderness Survival Priority 6: Water

The human body can only survive a few days without water, so a clean-running stream or lake must be found as quickly as possible. Plus, dehydration can lead to a rapid decline in physical and mental capabilities. That’s why, in survival situations, finding and purifying water should be a top priority.

We’ll be discussing water purification methods in much more detail once we hit requirement 10, but for now, just remember that most natural sources of water are unclean. Bacteria live in rivers and ponds which, if drunk, would likely result in illness — causing one to lose even more fluids. Ensure you’re only drinking clean water!

Wilderness Survival Priority 7: Food

While humans can survive for weeks without food, a lack of nourishment weakens physical strength and hinders one’s chances at survival. Securing sources of food will allow you to maintain energy and morale over an extended period!

If you have some food in your pack already, make sure to be smart about consuming it. Don’t allow yourself to get too weakened by trying to overly ration your supplies. But, at the same time, try to make your food last as long as possible so that you’ll be able to sustain yourself until rescue arrives.

3) Describe ways to avoid panic and maintain a high level of morale when lost, and explain why this is important.

You’re holding back panic and morale is at an all-time low. Imagine, you and a friend are lost in the woods. Now, it’s getting dark, you can’t find the trail, and the temperature is starting to drop… What do you do? 

According to the seven priorities covered above, you’ll first need to have a positive attitude to ensure you make smart decisions. (Let’s face it – panicking or yelling “We’re going to die!!!” is definitely the least helpful action in this scenario 😛) But how in the world are you supposed to stay calm and collected – let alone positive – in this situation?!

Well, maintaining a positive mindset and avoiding panic when lost is crucial for survival. So no matter how difficult it is, you need to be positive and make sure the people around you are too.  Here are ways to avoid panic and maintain morale, followed by reasons why each method is important:

Ways to Avoid Panic and Maintain Morale When Lost:

  1. Stop, Think, Observe, Plan (STOP):
    • Stop: Halt and take deep breaths. This helps in grounding oneself.
    • Think: Consider your situation rationally. Remember training or advice you’ve been given about what to do when lost.
    • Observe: Take note of your surroundings. Recognize landmarks, resources, potential hazards, etc.
    • Plan: Prioritize your immediate needs and make a short-term plan.
  2. Rely on Training and Knowledge: Reflect on any training or wilderness knowledge you have. Knowing that you possess the skills to handle the situation can be a huge morale booster.
  3. Stay Hopeful: Hold onto positive thoughts. Think of loved ones and reasons to stay motivated.
  4. Avoid Negative Thoughts: Push away demotivating thoughts. Instead, break challenges into manageable tasks and tackle them one by one.
  5. Mental Distractions: Sing songs, recite poems, or recall happy memories. Mental distractions can keep fear and anxiety at bay.
  6. Stay Hydrated and Nourished: Dehydration and hunger can impair judgment and increase feelings of anxiety and hopelessness.
  7. Use Tools and Equipment: If you have survival tools or a survival kit, use them. Knowing you have resources can increase confidence.

Why is Avoiding Panic and Maintaining Morale Important? 

If you and your friend are stranded in the woods, and one of you begins running around in circles panicking, is anything about your situation improving? Are you more likely to survive the night or find help? (Admittedly, the yelling may attract some attention if anyone is nearby but the answer is no 😛)

That’s part of the reason why it’s so important to remain calm. In the wilderness, every decision you make determines if you’ll survive–no matter how small it seems. Running around in circles seems harmless once they calm down, but it can lead to problems later on like fatigue, which can cause other problems. 

That is just one example. There are other reasons why it’s important to avoid panic and maintain morale when in the wilderness, such as:

  • Improved Decision-making: Panic can lead to rash choices, while a calm mind evaluates options more clearly.
  • Conservation of Energy: Panic increases energy consumption due to adrenaline rushes and unnecessary movement.
  • Increased Resilience: High morale allows individuals to face challenges head-on, overcome obstacles, and persist in trying conditions, which increases the chances of rescue!
4) Describe the steps you would take to survive in the following exposure conditions:
— Cold and snowy
— Wet
— Hot and dry
— Windy
— At or on the water

This is the fun part! Imagine that you’re stranded in one of the environments above. What steps are you going to take? How are you going to find food, shelter, and water? What can you do to increase your odds of survival and rescue? Let this scenario play out in your mind, and take a minute to think it over. 

Surviving in different exposure conditions requires specific strategies and actions tailored to the environmental challenges faced. In addition to the 7 priorities, you’ll also need to adapt to the difficult conditions. Here’s an example breakdown of steps to take for each scenario (I challenge you to come up with more steps of your own!):

Steps to Survive in Cold and Snowy Conditions

  • Prioritize Insulation and Heat Capture:
    • Dress in layers to trap in body heat.
    • Keep your body, especially your head, hands, and feet, covered to minimize heat loss.
  • Seek Shelter:
    • Find a natural barrier against the wind and snow, like a rock outcropping or dense forest.
    • Build a snow shelter like a snow cave or quinzhee if needed.
  • Stay Dry:
    • Wetness increases heat loss. Avoid sweating by shedding layers if you start overheating.
  • Create Heat Sources:
    • Build a fire, if possible.
    • Use a stove or heater if you have one.
  • Stay Hydrated:
    • Melt snow or ice for drinking. Don’t eat snow directly as it will lower your core temperature.

Steps to Survive in Wet Conditions

  • Waterproof Everything:
    • Use tarps, rain covers, or even plastic trash bags to protect your gear.
    • Wear rain jackets and waterproofed clothing.
  • Stay Elevated:
    • Set up camp away from low-lying areas to avoid flash floods.
    • Be careful of camping under trees, and avoid staying under dead branches that could fall.
  • Maintain Body Temperature:
    • Wet and cold can lead to hypothermia. Stay dry, and change into dry clothes if you get wet.
  • Collect Rainwater:
    • Use tarps or leaves to collect and funnel rainwater for drinking.

Steps to Survive in Hot and Dry Conditions

  • Limit Exposure:
    • Travel during cooler parts of the day, like dawn and dusk.
    • Sunburn is a huge risk, so find a shaded shelter to protect you during peak sun hours.
  • Conserve Water:
    • Drink small sips regularly.
    • Avoid alcohol and caffeine as they promote dehydration.
    • Collect water whenever possible.
  • Protect Your Skin:
    • Wear lightweight, light-colored, and loose-fitting clothing.
    • Cover your face and top of head, if possible.
      • I personally would use a spare t-shirt to tie as a bandana around my head. 🙂
    • If available, wear sunglasses and sunscreen.

Steps to Survive in Windy Conditions

  • Find Shelter:
    • Natural barriers like rocks, trees, or depressions in the land can provide windbreaks.
  • Anchor Your Gear:
    • Make sure all your equipment is secured, so it’s not blown away.
  • Protect Your Eyes and Skin:
    • Use goggles or sunglasses to protect against blowing sand or debris.
    • Cover skin to prevent windburn.
  • Be Aware of Dangers
    • Look for potential risks such as flying debris, swept-up dust, falling branches, or additional weather hazards.

Steps to Survive On The Water

  • Use Lifejackets:
    • Always wear a flotation device when on open water.
  • Stay with the Vessel:
    • If your boat capsizes, stay with it. It’s more visible to rescuers than an individual in the water.
    • Swim away to a safe distance, to avoid being pulled under, and afterward look for floating debris to cling onto.
  • Protect From the Sun:
    • Use hats, towels, or long-sleeved clothing to prevent direct sun exposure.
  • Collect Freshwater:
    • If stranded for an extended period, use rain catchment systems or solar stills to gather drinking water.

Those are just my ideas for survival in each of these exposure conditions! I deliberately left out some other good options, so I challenge you to rack your brain and come up with a few strategies of your own! By thinking through your wilderness survival steps, you’ll more readily have a plan if you ever are lost in the wild!

Now, to recap everything we covered here, I made you this handy chart. 😀

Exposure ConditionsPrecautionary Steps
Cold and SnowyPrioritize insulation
Seek shelter 
Stay dry
Create heat
Stay hydrated
Wet Waterproof everything
Stay elevated
Maintain body temperature
Collect rainwater
Hot and DryLimit exposure
Conserve water
Protect your skin
Windy Find shelter
Anchor your gear
Protect your skin and eyes
At or on the waterUse life jackets
Stay with the vessel
Protect from the sun
Collect fresh water
5) Put together a personal survival kit and be able to explain how each item in it could be useful.

What do you think you should have with you to survive the wilderness? There are a lot of factors to consider and a lot of items that would be really useful. Of course, you can’t bring everything with you, so you have to pick just a few when building your personal survival kit!

This can be difficult, so I’ve created a sample kit to help you along the way! However, when making a kit of your own, keep in mind the Scout camping essentials, along with the Scout 10 essentials. However, a wilderness survival kit will look a bit different from both of these lists. Here’s my sample kit:

Sample Personal Wilderness Survival Kit:

Below, I’ve also added an Amazon link to the best-quality versions of these items to give you an example of what to look for! 🙂

  1. Multi-tool or Pocket Knife (I prefer multi-tools, especially when camping):
    • Usefulness: Essential for tasks like cutting, carving, food preparation, or making other tools.
  2. Firestarter (e.g., Flint and Steel, Ferro Rod, Waterproof Matches, Lighter):
    • Usefulness: Vital for warmth, cooking, signaling, and boiling water to purify it.
  3. Whistle (This is a really cool combo item containing a compass, paracord, and fire starter!):
    • Usefulness: A loud whistle can signal your location better than shouting, conserving energy and reducing the risk of vocal strain.
  4. Water Purification Tablets (and a Water Bottle):
    • Usefulness: Ensures access to safe drinking water by eliminating harmful pathogens.
  5. Compact First Aid Kit:
    • Usefulness: Treats minor injuries, cuts, or burns. Should include bandages, antiseptic wipes, and tweezers.
  6. LED Headlamp or Flashlight:
    • Usefulness: Provides illumination during nighttime, can be used for signaling, or navigating in the dark.
  7. Space Blanket (Emergency Mylar Blanket):
    • Usefulness: Reflects body heat back to you, providing insulation and warmth. Can also be used as a signal due to its reflective surface.
  8. Compact, Nutritious, High-Calorie Food (e.g. Trail Mix or dried fruit):

While the items I just listed are the essentials, other useful things that you should also consider keeping in your survival kit include a:

  • Small Compass
  • Waterproof Container or Trash Bag
  • Duct Tape
  • Compact Rain Poncho
  • Notebook and Pencil
  • Change of Clothes
  • A Survival Book To Reference
6) Using three different methods (other than matches), build and light three fires.

You’ve probably seen movies, shows, or even cartoons where someone needs to light a fire and they begin viscously rubbing a stick against a stone, desperate for a spark to ignite their firewood. Or, maybe they comedically can’t light a match and go through a whole box of them to make a fire. 

Well, after this section you’ll be better at lighting fires than all of them! Knowing how to make a fire is an incredibly important skill for wilderness survival. And, almost more important than knowing how to make a fire, is knowing how to make a fire without matches!

Below are the steps for three different methods of building a fire — no matches or lighters involved:

Fire Starting Using Flint and Steel (Ferro Rods):

Materials:

Steps:

  1. Place your tinder in the center of your prepared fire pit.
  2. Hold the ferro rod close to the tinder.
  3. Using the striker or the back of the knife, scrape the ferro rod with a swift motion. Sparks will fly off the rod and land on the tinder.
  4. When the tinder catches a spark and starts to smolder, gently blow on it to nurture the ember into a flame.
  5. Gradually add kindling to build up the fire.

Here’s a great video (2:57) I recommend watching as a demonstration: 

Creating a fire without a match isn’t too difficult once you know what you’re doing! I highly recommend watching all of the videos I’ll be including so you have a visual understanding of how to make the fires. Then, you’ll be prepared to demonstrate this skill for your counselor later on!

Fire Starting Using A Bow Drill

The bow drill is probably the most effective friction-based technique you can use to light a fire! However, it’s a lot of hard work. Let’s dive into how to build and use a bow drill. 

Materials:

  • Rope/String
  • A Curved Stick or Bow
  • Another Straight Stick to Spin (Spindle/Drill)
  • A Hand-hold Stick (Goes Across Spindle Top 1/3rd)
  • Fireboard with V-notch
  • A Green Leaf
  • Tinder

Steps: 

  1. Create a bow: Your arm should be about the length of the bow. Use a flexible, slightly curved piece of wood. Anything may be used as the bow’s string, such as shoelace, rope, rawhide strip, etc. 
  2. Prepare the fireboard: In the fireboard, make a v-shaped notch and a depression next to it. Your tinder should be placed beneath the notch.
  3. String up the spindle: Catch the spindle in the bow string’s loop. Put the spindle’s other end under pressure with your socket by inserting the other end into the fireboard.
  4. Set up your hand-hold stick: Hold a stick perpendicular to your spin stick to affix it in place.
  5. Begin sawing: Start sawing back and forth with your bow. Spindle rotation ought to be rapid. Up till you produce an ember, keep sawing.
  6. Build a fire: Place the ember within the tinder nest and give it a gentle blow. You’ve lit a fire for yourself!

Here is a quick video (1:47) I recommend watching! It shows the process step by step:

Fire Starting Using A Magnifying Glass

Materials:

  • Magnifying glass, binocular lenses, or clear plastic bottles with water.
  • Tinder (e.g., char cloth, dried fungi, or dark and dry leaves).

Steps:

  1. Find a spot where you have direct sunlight.
  2. Hold the magnifying glass or lens above the tinder, adjusting the angle so that sunlight focuses on the smallest point possible.
  3. Keep the focal point steady. The intense heat will cause the tinder to smolder and eventually ignite. This may take a few minutes on a cooler day.
  4. Once the tinder is smoldering, gently blow on it or add more tinder to help it turn into a flame. Add kindling and continue building the fire.

Here is another quick video (1:32) showing how to light a fire with a magnifying glass! (Admittedly, this is probably the most fun way to start a fire on this list! 😛):

There you have it, 3 ways of building a fire without matches or a lighter! To help you better remember the main points, here’s a nifty chart you can use to memorize the steps of each fire-making method: 🙂

MethodMaterialSteps
Flint and Steel (Ferro Rods)A Flint and Steel Igniter
Striker or back of knife
Tinder
Place tinder in the center of the fire pit.
Hold the ferro rod close to tinder.
Scrape the ferro rod with a swift motion.
When the tinder catches a spark, blow softly.
Add kindling to build fire.
Bow drillRope/String
A Curved Stick or Bow
Another Straight Stick to Spin (Spindle/Drill)
A Hand-hold Stick
Fireboard with V-notch
A Green Leaf
Tinder
Create a bow.
Prepare the fireboard.
Get a socket.
String up the spindle.
Begin sawing.
Add kindling.
Your fire is built!
Magnifying GlassMagnifying glass
Tinder
Move to a spot with direct sunlight.
Hold the magnifying glass adjusting the angle towards sunlight.
Keep the focal point steady and concentrated.
Add kindling and continue building the fire.

Congrats on Finishing Part 1 of The Wilderness Survival Merit Badge!

Great work, Scout! We’re now halfway done with earning the Wilderness Survival merit badge!! We just covered a ton of useful info so that you’ll better be able to handle anything that Mother Nature can throw at you. Amazing job making it this far, give yourself a huge pat on the back! 🙂

Once you’re ready to continue on to part 2 of the Wilderness Survival merit badge click here!
(Part 2 is in progress, subscribe to my newsletter for updates)

Also, if you’re interested in the difficulty rankings for every Eagle-required merit badge, you can check out my full guide here! PS: The article also links to my other ultimate badge guides that’ll help you complete your merit badge worksheets.

Cole

I'm constantly writing new content because I believe in Scouts like you! Thanks so much for reading, and for making our world a better place. Until next time, I'm wishing you all the best on your journey to Eagle and beyond!

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