Wilderness Food: How to Avoid Starving to Death in the Wild

You’re down to your last strip of jerky.

You don’t have any other food left, and you’re starting to get desperate.

Luckily, when you’re out in the wild, you have a whole menu of wilderness food to choose from. It’s just a matter of crossing your fingers that what you’re munching on won’t kill you. 

Kidding aside, you won’t starve in the Great Outdoors as long as you know where to look. That’s exactly what we discuss in this article on finding food in the wild.

Let’s dive right in:

A Quick Recap on the Rules of Survivalism

Before we get down to business, let’s rehash the survival rule of 3. You can only survive:

  • 3 minutes without oxygen
  • 3 hours without shelter in severe weather conditions
  • 3 days without water
  • 3 weeks without food

Of course, these numbers aren’t exact figures, but they do help you prioritize.

Now while you may last weeks without food, it’s gonna be a lot harder to build a shelter and find and purify water when you don’t have the energy. You won’t be able to defend yourself that well, either. But you can’t go for just anything.

So the question is…

What Wilderness Food Can Sustain You?

There are different ways to keep your belly from protesting in hunger. You can:

If you’re looking for a quick bite, you can nibble on grasshoppers or crickets. But if you want something more filling, you can head to the river and nab a couple of fish. Ultimately, it depends on your patience and skill level. It won’t be easy at first, but it is doable.

Wondering what to keep in mind with these methods? Check out the next sections:

Foraging for Plants


Knowing your edible plants from the poisonous ones can save you an early trip to the afterlife. If you have even a sliver of doubt, don’t put that berry in your mouth.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are examples of plants to stay away from and plants to eat:

Plants to Avoid

Whether it’s to camp, practice your bushcraft, or bug out during an emergency, you better familiarize yourself with foraging plants if you plan on going to the woods. There are survival books you can read on the subject.

Keep an eye out for the following plants that can cause you serious harm:

Castor Beans

You’ve probably heard of castor oil. Folks typically use it as a laxative or for hair growth.

But did you know that castor beans have ricin in them? If you chew on enough beans, the ricin will attack your cells and leave them incapable of producing essential proteins. This makes the cells die, and eventually, your body too. 


Looks can be deceiving, and there’s no better example of this than Foxglove. While its bell-shaped flowers make it a popular garden plant, it’s got digitalis and other cardiac glycosides. In English? Those are chemicals that can harm the heart and even kill you when you ingest any of its parts.

Poison Ivy

Duh, with a name like that, it’s common sense to steer clear of the plant. Touching poison ivy can give you a horrible rash. Plus, if you somehow eat it, it can harm your digestive tract and make it hard for you to breathe. 

But how can you tell whether innocent-looking leaves are poison ivy in disguise? 

Here are the characteristics to watch out for:

  • All three leaves are pointed.
  • The middle leaf is the biggest.
  • The leaves look glossy and are never hairy.
  • The plant has toothed edges.
  • If it has berries, they’re light yellow or white.

If you happen to get into contact with poison ivy, wash your skin right away. Don’t burn the plant, or else you’ll inhale its toxic oil. 

Plants That You Can Eat in the Wild

The following plants aren’t only edible and helpful when trying to survive in the wild; they’re also pretty common in the wild. You can eat them alone, brew the flowers into tea, or make a salad using the leaves:


Yeah, you read that right—dandelion, the bane of every gardener’s existence. While this little weed is annoying when you see it sprouting on your lawn, it’s gonna be a welcome sight when you’re stuck in the wild. 

If you didn’t know, dandelion is edible and packed with nutrients. And since you can find this wilderness food growing freely in the woods, it can stave off your hunger when you’re in a pickle.


You can see fireweed almost everywhere you go, and they’re easy to spot with their vivid pink and purple flowers. Fireweed’s shoots, leaves, and flowers are all edible.

Be warned, though. If you harvest a mature fireweed plant, it’s gonna taste bitter as hell. You can tell whether it’s mature when it has several branches with huge flower spikes.


Where there’s water, there are probably cattails hanging out nearby. This fuzzy plant has lots of starch, like yams and potatoes. But unlike the two, you can actually eat more than its root. Its shoots and stalks are also edible. Just don’t be tempted by the ones growing near contaminated water.

Here are different ways to prepare cattails.


The chicory plant has blue or lavender flowers that only come out when it’s sunny. Now you can eat them anytime, but their leaves taste best during spring and fall. Also, blanch the leaves first before you toss them in your wilderness salad. Their flavor can be pretty intense.

Related: 8 Common Edible Plants You Can Find In the Wild 

Roasting Edible Insects

Maybe it’s the multiple legs or the little eyes, but the idea of eating creepie crawlies sounds even less appealing than eating dirt. Still, they’re darn nutritious and easier to nab than fish and other animals. 

So unless you’re a pro angler or know how to assemble traps, you have no other choice but to suck it up and feast on edible insects. Before that, though, remember these:

Find Out What You Can Eat

Like plants, some critters are safe to eat, while others can be deadly. Learn how to identify edible bugs from their poisonous cousins. 

As a general rule of thumb, never eat insects that are:

  • Foul-smelling: These bugs won’t only taste horrible; they’re likely to be harmful, too. The stench is their way of telling you to back off. 
  • Hairy and fuzzy: You know what could be hiding under all that fuzz? Stingers.
  • Vibrantly colored: The bright colors are a telltale sign they’re toxic.

Know Where to Look 

You don’t need to comb the entire forest to find insects that won’t kill you. Just look:

  • Under rocks
  • In tree barks
  • In meadows and tall grass 

Never Eat Them Raw

On TV, you’ve seen folks eat bugs straight from the ground, but don’t follow in their footsteps unless you wanna deal with digestive issues on top of everything else. Do you really want diarrhea in the middle of the woods?

Be smart and roast all the insects you plan on eating. This gets rid of any parasites stuck to the bugs. Plus, it makes ‘em taste better.

Related: Survival Food In The Wild: Edible Insects 

Trapping Animals

one way to get wilderness food is to trap animals

Trapping is way more convenient than hunting. You just set a trap up and leave some bait. Then, while you’re busy washing the grime off your body, gathering nuts, or just taking a nap, it does the hunting for you.

A word of warning, though.

Traps are great, but only use them in emergencies. Don’t be tempted to use them on human beings, either, even if they are a pain in the ass. If you happen to encounter troublesome folks in the woods, set non-lethal booby traps instead.

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about some trapping basics and primitive traps you can make:

What Should You Know About Trapping?

These are the things every rookie to trapping should keep in mind:

Be Familiar with the Law

Certain areas don’t allow making traps for animals. Don’t create any traps unless you’re confident it’s allowed. If it’s an SHTF situation, though, you can probably get a pass. 

Know What You’re Trapping

Obviously, you need to know what you’re trapping before you build a trap. What are the common animals you can find in the area? The type of trap you make will depend on their size and species.

Locate the Best Spot for Your Trap

Location is always the key, whether you’re planning your bug out location or setting traps. After you know what critter to snatch, you’ll have a better idea of where to leave your trap. 

You can either put the trap near the animal’s home or assemble it where they get their water and food. To keep the trap from looking obvious, cover it with leaves, rocks, small rocks, or other debris. 

Have the Skills to Make Traps

There are lots of skills involved in trapping. You need to know how to track animals, make cordage, and tie strong knots.

These skills don’t come instantly, so don’t be discouraged. Start with the basics first, then proceed to the more complicated ones after you get the hang of things. The same thing goes for the actual traps.

Don’t Forget Your Safety

If you’re reckless with safety, your traps will have one unintentional victim—you. Watch your fingers and feet when you’re building them to avoid accidents.

What Traps Can You Rig Up?

There are probably hundreds of traps you can make, but these 3 are among the easiest:

Pitfall Trap

Simple but effective, the pitfall is probably the easiest trap out there. It’s literally a hole in the ground. You just have to make sure that it’s deep enough for an animal to fall in. With a heavy-duty entrenching tool, this won’t be a problem.

We personally swear by this e-tool from survival brand TAC9ER because it’s durable, compact, and has different configurations. 

Snare Trap

Some burrows you see in the woods aren’t random holes. They’re actually animal dens, aka where some wilderness food is hiding.

To catch the critter living there, you just need to make a snare. Simply tie a loop and use a paracord (which you should always have in your survival kit) or wire to make a noose. Then, put the snare at the den’s entrance. It will capture the animal by its head as soon as it leaves the den.

You can also put snare traps on the ground, but you have to tie one end to a tree, and depending on the size of the animal you’re targeting, hang the loop at head level. 

Deadfall Trap

A popular primitive trap, the deadfall is great for those who aren’t expert trap-makers. All you need is a heavy rock, some sticks, and bait. You’ll use the sticks to prop up the rock (or a log, if you want) and then add the bait below.

When an animal grabs the bait, the sticks will fall and BAM…you don’t have to worry about lunch! 

These are the 3 main configurations for the deadfall:

  • Paiute: This is probably the most used deadfall trap of them all and also the easiest. It has 4 wood components and uses cordage to tie them together.
  • Figure 4: You need three sticks to make the Figure 4 deadfall. Unlike the Paiute, it uses notches etched into the sticks to stay secure. It takes longer to learn this since you need carving and whittling skills. 
  • Split Stick: The Split Stick is the Paiute and Figure 4’s lovechild. While its trigger is sensitive like the Paiute, it also doesn’t use cordage. The whole structure is designed to collapse after the target gets the bait.
Related: Primitive Trapping: Make Your Own Deadfall Traps 

Catching Fish 

Nabbing fish is a lot more difficult in the wild than it is when you’re on a fishing trip with full gear, but techniques like fish baskets, bush lines, and spearfishing can help you land a nice catch. Here’s an article that explains how to rig up each of those.

In terms of finding the perfect fishing spot, the general thing to remember is that fish love their cover. You can spot them hiding under places like logs, trees, and rocks.

Besides these, fish also hang out in:

  • Deep holes in rivers and lakes
  • Places where the water changes or stays still
  • Areas where waterways meet
Related: Wilderness Survival 101: How to Catch Fish 

Bonus: How to Cook Your Wilderness Food 

man looking intently at a fire

Just because you’re roughing it with the food you’ve picked, caught, and hunted yourself doesn’t mean you have to go full Neanderthal and eat them raw.

Fires exist for a reason. Start one with your trusty flint and steel to make your food in the wild more appetizing. This will also help you eliminate the bacteria your wilderness food gathered. 

But if you wanna go a step above the usual campfire, you can try the old-school cooking methods below for your wilderness food. 

  • Clay: If you find clay near the river, you can use it to form pots and bowls for your food. 
  • Leaf oven: This method involves wrapping huge leaves around your meat and then putting it above hot coals.
  • Hot stone: Here’s a quick science lesson: rocks and stones make awesome heat conductors. So with a flat stone, you can have your own primitive griddle.
  • Charcoal: Who says you can’t enjoy a barbecue in the wild? It’s possible when you know how to make your own charcoal. Here’s a neat article that teaches you how to do it.
  • Rocket stove: You can make a rocket stove even if there aren’t any bricks, concrete, or metal lying around. A Dakota fire hole uses the same concept, and all you need to make one is an e-tool, sticks of wood, and a fire starter.
Related: 9 Primitive Cooking Methods Every Prepper Should Know 

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re bugging out in the wild or trapped there on a camping trip gone wrong, you need to eat food in the wild even if you can survive 3 weeks without eating. It gives you the energy to perform more important tasks like finding water and making a shelter. 

As a prepper, it’s crucial to know how to find and get wilderness food. You can’t only focus on stockpiling survival supplies. But since it takes months or even years to master these skills, you better start hitting the books and practicing ASAP. 

Have other tips for catching or cooking food in the wild? Share them down below!

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