Learn from these Native American survival skills from the past and learn more survival hacks you can use in the future!

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Native American Survival Skills We Can All Learn From

Learning from the Native American

Native American survival skills included crafting survival tools and building shelters. They foraged for their food and hunted their prey, all by hand.

It is astounding to think of how well they survived and thrived based on necessity alone. Would someone like you or me be able to do the same if put into such a hostile environment?

Probably not, and that is why it is good to be aware of old-school Native Indian survival techniques.

How did the Native Americans survive? How were they so deftly able to sustain themselves in the unforgiving wilderness?

It is very easy to forget, in this digital age that people use to live a much simpler and much harder life before the advents of these modern comforts.

The Native Americans are the prime example of how people use to live off the land. They also survived the threats of nature with basic and cultivated survival tactics.

Though the methods and practices of Native Americans varied from tribe to tribe, the innovation for the sake of survival was universal. They borrowed methods from each other and created ones unique to their tribe.

They even borrowed from foreign settlers and visitors. The Native Americans were a group of humans who had to learn how to adapt and we are all the richer and wiser for their survival efforts.

Native American Survival Skills You Should Know

This list will highlight 25 of some of the more interesting Native American survival skills commonly used by the tribes of North America. Let this list be an insight into the lives of these fascinating people.

May this also be an educational tool for our modern culture–a means of appreciating a society so rare and thin today. Let this remind us too that the human spirit and will are much stronger than what we give them credit for.

The tribal mindset and lifestyle of the Native Americans of yesteryear play a huge role in their survival tactics. As you probably are already aware, Native Americans distinguished themselves by tribes.


You have probably already heard of the more common and prominent tribes like the Apache, Navajo, and Mohican. Their sense of community, sharing of resources, and wisdom matters in each tribe.

Their collective protection between tribesmen cannot be understated when considering how Native Americans were able to survive.

If you have ever worked a day in your life wearing the improper pair of shoes then you know how important footwear is to comfort and bodily health. Footwear is just as important to the Native Americans.

In fact, they make some of the most comfortable and durable footwear. Moccasins were the common footwear, made from tanned leathers they sewed and crafted with their own hands.

Designs and cuts vary from tribe to tribe, but it has common features like hard rawhide, rabbit pelt for added warmth and durability.

23. The Fox Walk

The fox walk was a method of tracking, traversing, and hunting stealthily for Native Americans. This specific style consists of wearing thin moccasins to feel the ground better.

They land on the heel first and roll their foot down, then travel in lines to conceal their numbers. This style played a part in battles and in hunting.

22. Preserving Meat

Meat got many Native American tribes through harsh winters. Yet there were no chemical preservatives or refrigerators back then.

Instead, Native Americans would preserve meat by cutting it into lean strips, eliminating fat, and drying it in the sun. This is essentially what we know today as beef jerky.


This thin, dried meat can keep for a very long time and was an essential food supply for Native Americans. We put together a guide to preserving meat in the wilderness.

21. Animal Hides

Animal hides were essential to Native American life and key to their survival. By the process of tanning and smoking, they turn raw animal hides into moccasins.


They also made clothing and even shelter from the animal rawhides.

20. Natural Observation

Being able to tell what kind of weather was on the horizon was a huge asset for Native Americans. They used the natural signs of the environment to predict the weather and to prepare accordingly.


They would study the behaviors of animals who have much keener senses for weather than we do and read the clouds.

19. Using Plants

How Native Americans were able to discern the healing powers of certain plants is a mystery. But we do know these practices got handed down from generation to generation.

It was probably a case of trial and error. They would use plants, herbs, and other life found in nature to heal wounds and treat illnesses.

18. Native American Artful Crafting

Native American skills and crafts work with materials from their environment. They turn the crafting of basic survival tools and shelters into works of art.


Native Americans made their everyday essentials stand up to the rigors of their environment. They took their time and paid attention to details.

In turn, it ensured durability and quality which helped them survive in harsh conditions.

17. Body Paint

Before hunts, Native American tribes would paint their bodies. This way, they blend into the natural scenery.


Stealth was a very important aspect of survival in those times, indeed.

16. Native American Clothing

Proper clothing is essential for anyone to survive in any situation. The Native Americans had their clothing crafting skills down to a science.

They used animal hides and smoked leather to create warm clothing for the cold winters. They also used certain colored clothing for stealth when hunting prey.

15. Native American Camps

The Native Americans often built temporary camps for hunting excursions. But they still needed to maintain a certain level of stealth.

They would build these camps with earth-toned materials and animal skins. They tuck them into the base of foothills or other strategic natural sites so they would be hard to spot from a distance.

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14. Blow Guns

Blowguns have become somewhat of a novelty in today’s day and age. Yet blowguns are weapons for hunting and warfare by Native American tribes such as the Cherokee.

They would fashion these weapons out of cane or reed. They would hollow out the tube where the dart comes in.


A strong breath or blow through the hole towards a target propels the dart. Blowguns can kill small game like birds, rabbits, and squirrels.

Sometimes they are also tipped with poison extracted from venomous snakes and even Gila Monsters to hunt bigger games.

13. Deadfalls

Deadfalls are a kind of trap used by Native Americans to kill their prey. A heavy rock or log would be elevated by rope or a lever made of wood over a piece of meat or food to entice an animal.

The deadfalls usually had a trigger that when the animal touched it, would activate the primitive trap and send the heavy object crashing down on them.

12. Snares

Trapping was one of the main ways Native Americans used to catch their food and snares were among the most common types of traps utilized. A snare uses a vine tied in a loop and attached to a young sapling bent over and is fastened by tying it to a stick driven into the ground.

The loop goes around a piece of meat to entice an animal. The animal then puts its head through the loop and tries to make off with the bait.

The stick dislodges and the loop turns into a noose around the prey’s neck and is suspended in the air as the sapling, free of its fastener, springs back into an upright position.

11. Trapping Pits

This is one of the more straightforward survival tactics utilized by the Native Americans. As the name suggests, this trap is simply a dug pit sometimes fitted with spikes at the bottom to kill or bleed the trapped animal.

The dug pit would be covered up by branches and earth so unsuspecting animals would walk over it and fall in.

10. Fishing Weirs

Fish is an indispensable food for Native Americans and among the ways they would catch fish were fishing weirs.

Fishing weirs are essential traps built by rock or wood that would lead fish migrating up or downstream to a corridor built to be narrow, ultimately trapping the fish.

9. Spearfishing

Another way the Native Americans caught fish was by spearfishing. There were different methods of spearfishing employed depending on the time of year.

In the winter when the lakes would freeze over, a hole was cut into the ice and a lure made of bone was used to entice the fish toward the hole. Then, a spear made of wood for the shaft and copper or bone for the tip punctured the fish.

8. Native American Hunting Tactics

It may seem simple now that we look back but many hunting tactics devised by Native Americans were learned over the generations and used to help them survive.


Simple tactics like reading the wind and standing downwind from a target increased the chances for success of a hunt dramatically.

7. Native American Nomadic Practices

Not all Native American tribes stayed in one place. After the Spanish visitors brought horses to the great plains, many tribes such as the Blackfeet, Crow, and Comanche adopted a nomadic lifestyle.


They then went on to hunt buffalo across the plains all year round. This supplied for them a stable food source and ensured, to a certain degree, survival.

6. Teepees

Of course, there can be no survival without some form of shelter. The Great Plains Native Americans knew this very well and built teepees which are essentially tents.

They were commonly made from buffalo hides and long wooden poles.

5. Dedicated Native American Tribe Roles

Survival drives the Native American way of life. This is even true of the gender roles of the Native Americans.

The men were the hunters and to prevent any waste which could mean the difference between life and death in the North American frontier, the women were the cooks.

They would prepare the meat the men brought back immediately so as not to waste a single morsel and ensure that they had plenty of food.

4. Bows

An indelible image most people have of Native Americans is the bow and arrow which was vital for the survival of all tribes in North and South America.


They can fashion bows out of wood which they support with animal tendons. Natural fibers, on the other hand, are made into strings and serve as bowstrings.

3. Axes

There are certain tools that are as essential now as they were in the days of the Native Americans for survival. Among them is an ax.


Axes are the common Native American weapon, but it also serves other purposes. It is a common household tool especially for cutting firewoods and also for hunting.

2. Water

This may seem a simple and almost thoughtless aspect of survival but the fact of the matter is if the Native Americans did not have sources of fresh water to draw from, they would have never survived.


The plentiful rivers and lakes of the Americas helped sustain the Natives and they regarded water sources with great reverence.

1. Fire

There is no life without food and warmth and fire is number one on the list of 25 essential survival skills that kept Native Americans alive because it provided both.

Native Americans are savvy with the different methods and techniques in starting a fire. Striking stones like pyrites together to create a spark is one.

The spark catches a tinder and you know what happens next. By rubbing two sticks together, it generates enough heat for the friction to combust tinder.

Bow drills and fire pump drills were also some of the common Native American fire-starting techniques. These contraptions used string wrapped around a stick and controlled by a bow to generate the heat needed to start a flame.

Check out this cool video from Tim Jones for some Native American fish trap idea:

It is hard to separate the survival tactics we employ today from those introduced to us by the Native Americans. Thus, we owe a debt of gratitude to these people who learned how to tame the wild Americas and make them a place hospitable for human life.

Have you tried any of these Native American survival skills in real life? Share your thoughts about them with us in the comments section below!

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on February 3, 2016, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.

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