32 Survival Skills, Camping Tips, and More Great Outdoor Advice from Field and Stream Magazine

Jerome B. Robinson has been writing about all aspects of the outdoors for more than 40 years. He started at … Continued

Hang a Tarp Without Using Grommets

A “monkey fist” allows you to attach tie-down lines to a tarp or boat cover when grommets tear out or are missing. To make the monkey fist, squeeze a golf ball-“size stone inside the tarp at the attachment spot. Wrap your line twice around the squeeze point on the tarp to hold the stone in place, and tie it off. Attach the loose end of the line to an anchor point and tighten.

Make DEET-Free Bug Spray at Home

If Deet-based insect repellents irritate your skin, you can still keep away blackflies with this safe make-at-home formula. Combine four parts vegetable oil with two parts aloe vera gel and one part citronella, cedar oil, or sassafras oil (available at pharmacies). Apply the repellent liberally on your face, hands, and hairline, and wear light-colored clothing. Blackflies are particularly attracted to dark blue, brown, and black.

A Faster Way to Cut Firewood With a Chain Saw

To cut firewood with a chain saw, lay a deck of long logs on the ground, then build another deck on top of that one going in the opposite direction. Stack up several crisscrossed layers. This keeps all logs supported underneath so they will not bind on the saw when you begin to cut. Saw through the decks starting with the logs closest to you, clearing cut logs out of the way as you go through the pile.

Freeze Pre-Made Car Camping Meals in Zip-Loc Bags

Simplify campfire dining by preparing individual precooked meals at home before the trip and freezing them in zip-seal plastic bags. Label them for easy identification. Not only will the frozen dinners help keep other items in the cooler cold, but the packets are also easy to defrost. Just plop the bags in warm water.

Build a Better Woodshed for Drying Firewood

When you build a woodshed, leave both ends open and cover only the roof and sidewalls. Air will be able to circulate, drying the contents faster, and you’ll have quick access to the best-burning wood. After the heating season is over, refill the end of the shed you’ve just emptied. Next year, start using the stack at the opposite end. You’ll always be burning the driest firewood and allowing the newest to properly age.

Make Your Own Tree-Trunk Boot Drying Rack

Cut a 3-foot length from the trunk of a 6-inch-diameter fir or spruce tree. Then, with a chain saw, split the trunk lengthwise. Lay the split sections flat on the floor and clip off all but the sturdy branches that stick straight up. To make two boot racks, nail foot-long crosspieces of 1×3 lumber to both ends of the trunk sections for steadiness. Place wet boots upside down on the upright branches for quick drying.

Prevent Camp Road Erosion With a Better Water Bar

Reader Tip: You can damage your suspension by driving over a water bar, the wooden or metal barrier used to prevent erosion on camp roads. Make a better one: Sandwich a 12- to 16-inch-wide piece of conveyor belt rubber (find it at lumberyards, quarries, or farms) between two pressure-treated 2×6 boards. Bolt it all together and install so that just the rubber is exposed. It will direct rainwater off the road but yields to tires. — Jason Knowles, Camden, Maine

The Proper Way to Thaw Vacuum-Sealed Meat

Vacuum-seal bags are a great way to store frozen game and fish, but only if you know how to thaw the contents. You must poke a few small holes in the packaging first. This breaks the vacuum and permits normal defrosting to occur. If you do not release the seal, the juices will be sucked out of the food, leaving your fish or meat dry.

Store Your Pack Lists For Camping, Hunting, and Fishing Trips

Reader Tip: After a big hunting or fishing trip, I make a list of everything I brought, stuff I could’ve left behind, and what I wished I had taken with me. I also write a brief trip summary, including weather conditions. When all my gear is unpacked, cleaned, and ready to be put away, I tuck my list in the box, too. That way the next time I’m ready to take a similar trip, I know just what to pack, even if it’s a year later. —Steve Cannon, Sacramento, Calif.

Make A Table For Your Camp Site

Give a 2×4-foot piece of 1/2-inch plywood two coats of poly-urethane and take it on camping trips. On site, cut sturdy table legs from driftwood or deadfall. Sink these 8 inches into the ground for stability, then drive a nail through each corner of the plywood into the top of a leg. Discard them at the end of the trip and cut new ones next time. You’ll find this table so convenient you’ll end up making a couple of them.

Keep Your Axe Head From Falling Off (and Rust Free)

Pour a quart of used motor oil into a bucket of clean sand and store it in the woodshed. Each time you finish using your axe, plunge the head into the oily sand and rub it back and forth. This will clean the blade of dirt and debris, prevent it from rusting, and keep the shaft swelled tight in the axe head. To prevent the handle from drying, apply linseed oil annually.

Campfire Cooking: How to Tell When Your Oil is Hot

Reader Tip: When you heat oil over a campfire to fry fish, place an unlit wooden match in the pan to determine when it’s ready. Once the oil reaches 350 degrees–the optimum temperature–the match head will ignite and then fizzle. Scoop out the match and throw in the fish. —Eli Ricke, Bagley, Minn.

How to Make An Emergency Rain Shelter Using a Tarp

A tarp makes an ideal shelter against unexpected rain. Stake one corner of the tarp facing the wind. Prop a pole under the opposite corner, then fasten a line from the top of the pole to a ground stake or tree. Now pull the remaining two corners tight and stake them to the ground. The resulting half-pyramid shape provides excellent drainage and stands up well to high winds.

How to Split Big Logs with an Axe

Never try to split a large-diameter log down the center with an axe. (You’ll get the axe stuck or, worse, damage the handle.) Instead, whack slabs off the sides until you have reduced the remaining core to a manageable size. To split the core, strike the top of the upright log midway between the center and the edge nearest you, so that the axe handle follows the open split.

How to Store Ropes and Cords Without Tangling

Camping ropes, anchor lines, and electrical cords wrap neatly and easily on V-boards. Cut a 20-inch length of 1×6 board. Drill a 1-inch-diameter hole 6 inches back from the center of each end. Draw lines from the holes to the nearest corners of the board and saw out the resulting wedges. Wind the cord in the notches. Longer boards can accommodate greater lengths.

Why a Wok Makes the Best Camp Cooking Pan

Why a Wok Makes the Best Camp Cooking Pan

Predict Approaching Rain Using Moon and Sun Halos

A halo around the sun or moon is caused by the refraction of light through ice crystals in high cirrus clouds. Its presence indicates that low pressure is approaching and rain or snow can be expected within 24 to 36 hours. If the halo is broken, the open side indicates the direction from which the storm will come and signals that precipitation can be expected soon.

Pour Stove and Lantern Fuel Without Spilling

When pouring camp stove fuel or motor oil from a can with a spout at one end, hold the container with the spout at the top. This allows air to flow through the opening smoothly, permitting the liquid to exit in a steady, consistent stream. If the spout is positioned at the bottom, air enters in gulps, causing an erratic flow that is impossible to direct without spilling.

Design Your Campfire for Cooking Over Coals

When you’re cooking over a campfire, make your fireplace a double-wide. Build a fire on one side of the pit and keep adding wood to maintain a constant blaze. Rake coals from under the burning wood and spread them evenly on the other side to provide steady, even heat. Replenish the coals as needed. You’ll have much greater control over how fast food cooks and can avoid burned meals.

Find Your Bearings When Lost Without a Compass

To determine direction without the aid of a compass, drive a 3-foot stick into the ground in a sunny location and set a stone at the tip of its shadow. Wait 20 minutes, then place another rock where the tip of the shadow has moved. The first marker indicates the west end of a line running between the two points; the second marks the east.

Keep Fireplace and Woodstove Smoke In Your Chimney

If smoke puffs into the room from a fireplace or woodstove, light a sheet of newspaper and hold it up the chimney. The bright burst of heat will reverse the draft and send the smoke upward. To be sure your chimney draws properly when you start a fire in a cold fireplace or woodstove, begin burning with small amounts of crumpled newspaper and thin strips of dry wood. Don’t add heavier wood until the smoke is drawing briskly up the chimney, not escaping into the cabin.

Use Duct Tape to Keep Your Boots Tied When Hunting in Brush

Use Duct Tape to Keep Your Boots Tied When Hunting in Brush

Use Bullet Box Dividers to Organize Tools

Can’t keep your tools in order? Here’s a solution. The compartmentalized plastic dividers that high-powered rifle bullets are packaged in make excellent holders for small workshop items. Mount a few bullet dividers on the wall in your workshop and use them to hold pencils, screwdrivers, small chisels, files, awls, and drill bits.

Dry Wet Digital Cameras, GPS and Other Electronics Using Rice

Dry Wet Digital Cameras, GPS and Other Electronics Using Rice

Use a Tool Belt to Organize Your Camp’s Cooking Site

When camping, tie a many-pocketed carpenter’s apron at eye level on a tree trunk within reach of your cooking site. Fill the pockets with cooking utensils and a pair of long-handled pliers for handling hot pots and pans. The apron pockets provide a means of organizing utensils so you will always know where they are and have them close at hand when you need them.

Dry Wet Feet With Baby Powder Before Putting On Socks

Wet, sandy feet are a nuisance to outdoorsmen-“difficult to wipe dry and nearly impossible to pull socks over. A liberal sprinkling of baby powder, however, will absorb moisture instantly and allow you to brush the sand off. Socks are easier to pull on over powdered feet, and dry feet are essential for fungus prevention.

How to Plank-Grill Salmon, Bluefish, Mackerel, and Shad

Oily fish like salmon, bluefish, or mackerel taste better when plank-grilled. Marinate a fillet in soy sauce and lemon juice. Lay it skin-side down on a 1/2-inch-thick hardwood plank that you’ve soaked in water. Put the wet plank on a gas or charcoal grill, cover, and cook for 12 to 15 minutes. The plank will steam, then emit just enough smoke to flavor the fish perfectly.

Keep Track of Time When Hiking or Hunting

Always make a note of the hour before you set out hunting or hiking in remote country. Knowing how long you’ve been on the move tells you how much time you must allow to retrace your route, should waterways, rough terrain, or other obstacles prevent you from taking a compass-line shortcut. You will then be able to get out of the woods on schedule.

Test Image Alignment Before Buying Binoculars

Bargain binoculars sometimes produce images out of alignment, making it impossible to get a perfect focus. Test before you buy by focusing on a distant horizontal line, such as a rooftop. Still looking through the binocs, slowly move them away from your face until the view splits into separate images. If the line remains straight, the glass is properly aligned. But if it’s higher on one side, the prisms are faulty.

Keep Your Glasses from Fogging Up

Keep Your Glasses from Fogging Up

Make a Better Paper Towel Holder Using a Fishing Sinker

Make a paper-towel holder for outdoor use by fastening a 12-inch piece of 1-inch-diameter dowel at the center of a 7-inch-square wooden base. With a screw and washer, attach a piece of 30-pound-test monofilament leader to the top of the dowel. Tie a 2-ounce sinker to the loose end. The weight and leader will prevent gusts of wind from unwinding the towels.

Jerome B. Robinson has been writing about all aspects of the outdoors for more than 40 years. He started at F&S in 1989 and remained a regular contributor for many years. Although he is a generalist, Robinson is best known for his writings on dog training and on hunting and fishing in the Far North.