Top Three Survival Skills

Top Three Survival Skills Every Backpacker Should Know


Top Three Survival Skills Every Backpacker Should Know

Backpacking sounds easy enough — just strap on a pack with a few snacks and a bottle and you’re good to go. Right? While it’s not necessary to overcomplicate things, putting a little more thought into your backpacking trip will ensure that you stay safe, comfortable, and are able to make the most of your adventure. 

Besides knowing what to pack, there are a handful of essential survival skills that every person should master before venturing out into the wilderness. If you’re a seasoned outdoorsman then you might have already mastered some of these skills, but for those who are new to the great outdoors and have never hiked alone, camped in the wild, or spent any amount of time with just you and mother nature, then it’s a good idea to make sure you read up on what to do or not do to survive.

The team at Hennessy Hammock, makers of the most innovative backpacking hammock in the world, knows quite a bit about all forms of outdoor adventure and how to stay safe and comfortable when you’re roughing it. That’s why we’ve created this shortlist of the most essential survival skills. You’ll want to master these before heading out on your next trip.


How To Purify Water Header Image


How To Purify Water

One of the biggest dangers that backpackers face isn’t a wild animal, it’s dehydration. When you’re active (e.g. hiking uphill, on uneven terrain, or carrying extra weight) it’s important to remember that you need to continue to hydrate your body. It is suggested that you drink about one quart per hour. You might want to even increase that if it’s especially hot and you’re sweating profusely or if you’re in a cold, dry climate because cold winter air can strip you of moisture faster than humid air. 

When you stop to think about how much water you need to drink to stay healthy, you’ll quickly realize that there’s no way you could possibly carry that much water — especially if you're going on a multiple-day trip. Remember that water weighs about eight pounds per gallon, and you’ll be going through that in about four or five hours of strenuous hiking. That means you’ll have to be prepared to find a water source and make sure to purify it before drinking.  

Finding A Water Source

Finding a Water Source

Before you head out on a backpacking trip, it’s important to do your homework and first identify water sources along your route. Look for freshwater sources such as rivers, ponds, and lakes. Also, don’t forget about snow. If you’re hiking in an area that has fresh snow, you should be safe to use it as a water source. Just remember that it takes a lot of snow to create a quart of water.

At Hennessy Hammock, we’re constantly looking for new ways to improve our hammocks and that’s why we’ve created this water collector and rainfly tensioner system. It’s a simple way to collect fresh rainwater, condensation, or the water from melting snow. Simply click the funnel to the O rings on the rainfly and screw in a bottle or hydration bag. By morning you’ll have multiple bottles of drinking water ready to go, without ever having to leave camp.      

 stream of waterAvoid Dangerous Water

Avoid Dangerous Water

If you find yourself in a potentially life-threatening situation where you could succumb to dehydration, try to find water in any form as quickly as possible. However, if you’re just scouting the area looking for a way to top off your water bottle, you’ll want to make every effort to avoid these water sources:

  • Water with a lot of sediment
  • Stagnant water that’s cloudy or has an odor
  • Water that has foam or scum floating on the top
  • Water near areas where animals have grazed
  • Snow that is pink, yellow, or is otherwise dirty


Purifying Your Water

Purifying Your Water

Some people talk about filtering their water, but it’s important to make the distinction between “filtering” and “purifying” because they are two very different things. Filtering the water just means that you’re trying to remove the dirt, sediment, and other contaminants that are most likely not going to harm you, but are not something you want to have floating in your water. Purifying your water, on the other hand, means removing chemical and microbiological contaminants that you may not be able to see so that your water is safe for drinking. 


There are several ways to purify your water. One of the most primitive ways of purification is to boil it. Although this is extremely effective for eliminating bacteria, viruses, and algae, it won’t take care of chemical pollutants or heavy metals. An even bigger reason to forgo boiling is the fact that you don’t want to have to bust out your camp stove to boil water every time you need it. It’s labor-intensive and you’ll have to wait for it to cool before you can drink it. 

Iodine Tablets

Another one of the easiest ways to purify water is by using simple iodine tablets. These can be found at just about any hiking, camping, or outdoor store. They’re small, easy to pack, and are more than 99% effective against water-borne pathogens. The problem is, they take some time to work, can make your water taste a bit off, and they have a fairly short lifespan so you’ll probably have to restock your stash every year.  

UV Light 

Just as you may be aware of UV light wands to disinfect surfaces, UV light has also been found to be very effective for purifying water. You can pick up water bottles fitted with UV light wands. Most of them run on batteries, but there are also a few hand-crank versions. They work best when you filter the large particulates out of your water first, but once you’ve done that they’re one of the most effective means for purifying water — and they leave no funny aftertaste. 


Although we already mentioned the difference between water filtration and water purification, there is one exception. Specially designed water filters that can remove even the smallest bacteria and viruses can in fact be used to purify water. That doesn't mean you can carry along a few coffee filters to pour your water through and expect not to get sick. You need to look for filtration devices that are specifically designed to filter out pathogens. For instance, there is a relatively new product on the market that looks like a straw and allows you to drink right from the source. They contain an ultrafilter that removes bacteria, parasites, and even viruses. 


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How to start a fire


How To Start a Fire

The second most important survival skill next to being able to find and purify water is knowing how to start a fire. That’s because fire can offer many life-saving benefits you’ll need when you’re out in the wild. 

Most People Don’t Know How To Properly Start a Fire — But They Should

Most People Don’t Know How To Properly Start a Fire — But They Should

Fire may seem like an outdated necessity when you probably have a headlamp to see and a portable stove for cooking. However, there are several good reasons why you’ll likely need or want to build a fire at some point. The first, and perhaps most obvious, is that it provides warmth. Even if you’re hiking in a climate that’s hot during the day, chances are the temperature will dip significantly at night. When you’re cold, your body needs more energy (more food) and if your core temperature drops too much, you could risk hypothermia. 

Second, fire offers you a way to purify water and cook food. This might not sound like a big deal if you have a water purifier and a camp stove, but things happen — you could run out of fuel for your stove or deplete the batteries in your UV purifier. You could make a wrong step and your backpack (and everything in it) could get washed down the river or sent careening over a cliff. As extreme as this may sound, survival skills are for just that — surviving when you’re faced with the unexpected. 

Finally, if you happen to find yourself in a desperate situation where you’re injured or lost, building a fire is a good way to signal for help. Ideally, you’ll want to build it at an elevation where more people can see it, but even if you can’t, try adding materials such as wet leaves and moss to create thick plumes of visible smoke. 

flint fire starter sparking

Fire-Starting Materials

Fire-Starting Materials

Once you’re ready to build a fire, it’s important to gather the appropriate materials — dry items that ignite easily (tinder), small branches for kindling, and slow-burning larger logs and branches. When looking for tinder, think small and dry. Consider pine needles, paper scraps, and tree bark. Or, think ahead and collect dryer lint or soak cotton balls in petroleum jelly to take with you. Keep in mind that tinder will burn fast, so you’ll want to already have your kindling and slow-burning logs collected and ready to go.  

sitting by the fire

Building a Fire

Building a Fire

There are several popular ways to arrange your burning materials. You might wonder why you can’t just throw everything in a pile and light it on fire. Although you could, chances are your fire may not start, last as long, or it could go out completely if it doesn’t have the air that is required for burning. That is why most people find that arranging your materials in a certain way is the best way to optimize burning performance. 

Two of the most common styles for building a fire are in a “teepee” or “log cabin” shape. As the first name suggests, you’ll want to create a teepee shape with your burning materials. The best way to do this is to start with kindling and then place tinder in the center. Once your fire has started, you can keep it going by adding increasingly larger branches and logs around the outside.

The second most common way to arrange a fire is in a way that resembles a log cabin. You do this by placing two pieces of wood parallel to each other and then placing two more on top at a 90-degree angle. Continue stacking in the same fashion for one or two more layers. 

using fire starter flint to Light the fire

Lighting the Fire

Lighting the Fire

Lighting the fire should be easy if you’ve come prepared. There’s a list of items known as the “Ten Essentials” that every hiker and backpacker should bring with them — and a lighter or matches is one of them. If you want something a little more sophisticated, you can buy a firestarter at your local camping store. These devices make it easier to create a spark. 

But, what do you do if you find yourself in the wilderness without any of these? You can carry a flint and steel and a nine-volt battery or forcefully scrape a rock with an ax or knife to generate a spark. Or, you can even start a fire using a magnifying glass to concentrate hot sunlight on tinder. It might sound like something from a cartoon, and it will take some practice, but it is possible

fire and hammock packed

Never Leave Home Unprepared     

Never Leave Home Unprepared

If you’d rather not rely on having to try starting a fire with a magnifying glass, it’s important to make sure that you’ve packed all of your necessities before you head out on the trail. Hennessy Hammock has the perfect solution — the 4 Season Survivorman Zip XL hammock. It will not only keep you comfortable in all types of environments, it also comes with an included survival kit.

The survival kit was inspired by Canadian bushcraft icon Les Stroud and contains essentials like a fire striker, starter fuel, and a bandana printed with Les Stroud’s survival tips. These and several other items are packed safely away in a zippered pouch so you can take it with you wherever you go.

CTA - Looking For the Only Shelter You’ll Ever Need


Finding Shelter

Finding Shelter

It’s interesting how people choose to leave the comfort of their homes so they can enjoy the freedom and fresh air of the outdoors, only to find that they still need some form of shelter in order to stay safe. That’s because mother nature can be brutal and unforgiving. If you’re going to be spending any significant amount of time outdoors, it’s important to know how to find shelter.  

Shelter is a means of protecting your body from extreme exposure to sun, wind, rain, cold, and snow. An excess of any of these natural phenomena can put you at risk. If you’re out hiking and you see storm clouds coming your way, it might be best to turn around and head back to your car. But, if you’re a long way from anything, or, if you’re lost and it’s getting dark, it’s a good idea to start looking for shelter.   

checking surrounding for shelter

Check out your surroundings

Check Out Your Surroundings

Your options for shelter depend on your location and what is available to you. You can start by evaluating the surrounding area. Is there anything that is already existing that you could use for shelter? A cave might be a good option, but it can also be dangerous. Deep holes where you could fall and wild animals are two things you don’t want to encounter in a cave. 

Keep an eye out for things that could make setting up a shelter easier. For instance, an uprooted tree, a rock outcropping, or a thicket of trees can be a good starting place that will help to provide at least some shelter. Then, you can add branches, a tarp, a survival blanket, or whatever you have to make it more wind and rainproof. 

You may have to get creative depending on your situation. Just do your best to remain calm and do your best to improvise with what you have. Need shelter in a large forest? See if you can find a large pine tree with branches that hang to the ground. You might be able to find shelter under the low-hanging branches close to the trunks. Need shelter but can’t find anything because it’s covered in snow? Make yourself a snow cave! Snow can actually be very effective for insulating you from the cold air outside.

Hennessy Hammock packed up

Pack the Essentials

Pack the Essentials

Safety and success in the wilderness often come down to how prepared you are — not only in knowledge and skills but also with regard to what you pack. If you decide not to pack a tent or backpacking hammock, or you forget to pack one, the other items you pack will be even more necessary for ensuring that you have some kind of shelter.  

The three items that you’ll need to stay safe in place of another type of formal shelter are a tarp, heavy-duty cord or rope, and an insulating sleeping bag or emergency blanket. The rope and cord can be used to create a shelter that will help keep out wind, rain, and snow, while the emergency blanket or sleeping bag will help keep you warm. Keep in mind that, unlike a sleeping bag, an emergency blanket is also waterproof.

building shelter

Building a Primitive Shelter

Building a Primitive Shelter

Most people who need to find shelter in the wilderness won't be lucky enough to find a cave or other pre-existing shelter in the area. That’s why you should know the basics of how to construct a temporary shelter. An open-sided lean-to is one of the most popular types of survival shelter. It’s the easiest to make, but since it isn’t enclosed, it may not work very well if you’re cold or caught in inclement weather.

It’s made by leaning building materials up against fallen trees, rocks, or other pre-existing structures. For a traditional lean-to, you’ll want to find two sturdy trees, approximately eight feet apart. Then, you’ll take another branch that is long enough to place horizontally between them to act as the ridgepole. Secure that branch with rope or whatever else you have. Once you’ve done that, you can find additional branches to lean against it at a 45-degree angle. If you can’t find enough branches, or if you want to make your lean-to more wind- and rain-proof, you can also add a tarp. 

sitting safely by fire and shelter looking around

Don’t Put Yourself in Danger

Don’t Put Yourself in Danger

When you’re looking for the perfect place to set up your shelter, be mindful of where you place it so as not to add to your problems. Being close to a lake or stream is nice for accessing water, but make sure that you’re not in a place where it could easily flood. Also, look for loose rocks or boulders that could come loose and invade your campsite. Even a relatively small boulder can weigh hundreds of pounds. Finally, if you’re in the forest or near some trees, survey them for dead branches. You don’t want to be sleeping in your lean-to only to have a dead branch come crashing down from overhead. 


Pack a Hennessy Backpacking Hammock and You’ll Never Have to Worry About Shelter


Pack a Hennessy Backpacking Hammock and You’ll Never Have to Worry About Shelter

If you are tired of carrying a cumbersome tent and all of the poles and gear that goes with it, we understand why you might be tempted to head off into the wilderness without it. But, for your safety and comfort, we encourage you to try a Hennessy backpacking hammock instead. 

Having water, fire, and shelter are the three most important and influential factors in survival in the outdoors. With a Hennessy backpacking hammock, you’ll have a functional, lightweight shelter no matter where you go. Each one is designed for durability and offers several important features to help keep you comfortable, dry, and out of reach from mosquitos and other flying nuisances. 

When you set out on an adventure, oftentimes, you never know where you’ll set up camp. This can be an issue for tent sleepers who need to find even, rock-free ground to place their shelter. With a Hennessy, you can string your hammock up from anything in the area — trees, poles, or any other stationary objects. Because you are suspended up off of the ground, you won’t have to worry about waking up on the wet ground or having to sleep on a hard, uncomfortable surface. You can sleep comfortably and wake up rested, even in a survival situation.   

To learn more about Hennessy backpacking hammocks, visit our features page or compare hammocks and purchase one today!

sitting in front of hennessy hammock

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