how to find food in the wilderness without hunting tools

How to Find Food in the Wilderness Without Hunting Tools

Hello there, fellow adventurers! If you’ve found yourself deep in the heart of the wild with nothing but a backpack, a thermos, and absolutely no hunting tools, do not fret! The woods are a virtual buffet, if you know where to look and how to find food in the wilderness without hunting tools. In fact, the wilderness has been serving up survival situations specials since the dawn of time. Let’s get into it, shall we?

Find Food in the Wilderness Without Hunting Tools

You’re lost in the heart of the wilderness, hungry and without your carefully chosen tools for hunting. You’ve got a survival situation on your hands, and the nearest help is miles away. Your stomach grumbles, reminding you of your first task — finding food.

Hunting is out of the question without tools, right? Maybe not. In such a dire situation, knowing how to find food in the wilderness without hunting tools doesn’t just come in handy – it’s your lifeline. Your survival now depends on your ability to forage, and to turn your predicament into a story of resilience and resourcefulness. Let’s get started, shall we?

Key Takeaways:

  • Edible Wild Plants: Many wild plants are edible but caution is needed as many can be toxic.
  • Universal Edibility Test: Unsure of a plant’s safety? Rub a bit on your skin, wait a few hours, no rash means you’re likely safe.
  • Foraging Techniques: Seek out bright fruits, green plants, edible roots, and insect-occupied plants. Hairy plants are generally safe.
  • Catch Fish Without Tools: Construct an effective fish trap using branches and twigs for a protein-rich meal.
  • Insects as Protein Source: Cooked insects can provide necessary protein. Conquer your fear and see them as protein sources.
  • Hydration: Water sources can reveal other edibles. Always purify water by boiling to avoid digestive issues.
  • Birds and Eggs: Bird eggs are a superb nutrition source. Always cook eggs to prevent salmonella.
  • Larger Game: Use a sturdy stick and stealth to hunt larger game like deer or boar as a last resort.

1. Edible Plants: The Salad Bar of the Wilderness

Ever find yourself face-to-face with a clump of wild strawberries and thought, “Hmm, could I?” The answer is: Yes, you absolutely could! Edible wild plants are like the natural environment’s version of a vending machine.

However, you must tread with caution! Many plants are delicious snacks in disguise, but others might just be the wild’s way of pulling a fast one on you. Did you know that about 6,000 species of plants in the U.S. alone are toxic to humans? So, it’s crucial to learn to identify safe-to-eat plants(1).

Tip: When in doubt, perform the universal edibility test. Rub a small amount of the plant on your skin or wrist and wait for a few hours. If there are no reactions like rashes or itchiness, it might be safe. But remember, many plants can be eaten raw but others require to be cooked to neutralize toxins.

When you’re stuck in the wilderness without your favorite hunting tools, edible plants become more than just a quirky diet trend – they’re your ticket to survival.

2. The Wilderness Salad Bar: Know Your Greens

Identifying safe fairly easy-to-eat plants in the wilderness is a critical skill in survival situations. Here’s a table of common edible wild plants to get you started:

Plant NameDescriptionPreparationWild StrawberriesSmall, heart-shaped berries. Red when ripe.Can be eaten raw.DandelionsBright yellow flowers. Distinctive rosette of leaves.Leaves, flowers, and roots are all edible raw or cooked.Stinging NettlesTall plant with heart-shaped leaves. Covered in tiny stinging hairs.Must be cooked to neutralize the sting. Great in soups or stews.CattailsTall plant often found near water. Distinctive brown, cigar-shaped head.Young shoots can be eaten raw or cooked. The root is also edible but should be cooked.ChickweedSmall plant with white flowers. Leaves in pairs along the stem.Can be eaten raw or cooked.

3. Universal Edibility Test: Your New BFF

The wilderness isn’t always accommodating enough to provide you with a sea of familiar edibles. Sometimes, you’ll be faced with the unknown, and it’s here that the universal edibility test (UET) can be your lifesaver(2).

The UET is a method of trial and error, helping you determine if an unfamiliar plant is safe to eat. But before we delve into the how-tos, here’s a crucial note: The UET is not foolproof. It doesn’t account for individual allergies or long-term effects of consuming a particular plant. It’s always safer to stick to what you can positively identify. However, in a pinch, the UET can be useful.

Now, let’s break down the UET into easily digestible steps:

1. Observation: Look for any immediate signs of toxicity. Milky or discolored sap, spines, fine hairs, and an almond scent are typically indicative of toxicity in most plants here. If a plant possesses any of these characteristics, it’s best to steer clear.

2. Contact Test: Crush a part of the plant and rub it on the inside of your wrist or elbow for about 15 minutes. If you experience any itching, burning, or other skin reactions, ditch the plant.

3. Lip Test: Place a small piece of the plant on your lips for about 15 minutes. If there’s any reaction (numbness, tingling, burning), this plant isn’t your friend.

4. Tongue Test: Place the plant piece on your tongue for 15 minutes without swallowing. Again, any discomfort means it’s time to spit out the plant.

5. Chew Test: If all’s well so far, chew the plant without swallowing and wait. You guessed it—any unpleasant effects mean it’s a no-go.

6. Swallow Test: If you’ve made it this far with no adverse reactions, swallow the chewed piece and wait for 8 hours. If you feel ill during this time, induce vomiting and drink plenty of water.

7. Safe to Eat: If you’ve passed all the previous steps with no ill effects, it’s likely the plant is safe to eat. Begin by consuming small amounts and always be on the lookout for any delayed adverse reactions.

Remember, this test should only be a last resort when you’re unsure about a plant’s edibility and there are no other food sources available. It’s a lengthy process and requires the consumption of nothing else during testing. So, when in doubt, it’s always best to stick to the plants you know.

how to find food in the wilderness without hunting tools

4. Foraging Techniques for the Novice Wilderness Gourmet

For novice foragers eager to tap into nature’s bounty, here’s an elaborated guide with specific foraging techniques:

Color Me Edible:

Fruits and berries tend to showcase their ripeness and edibility with bright colors and vibrant hues. While this burst of color can guide your foraging efforts, caution is essential. Many red berries, though alluring, can pose danger; some are as harmless as they are tasty, while others can be potentially toxic. Specific plant knowledge becomes indispensable here.

Safe bets: Blueberries, blackberries, and elderberries

Potential hazards: Holly berries, yew berries, and baneberries

Go Green:

The color of life, green signifies a wealth of edible possibilities. Many green plants such as stinging nettles, dandelion greens, and wild grasses can offer substantial nutritional value and can be safely consumed. They can be boiled into a soup or stew, stir-fried, or even consumed raw in desperate times.

Key identification points for safe greens: Smooth edges, simple shape, absence of milky sap

Rooting for You:

Roots serve as nutrient storage units for plants and can provide a much-needed caloric punch for a hungry forager. Examples include dandelion roots, cattail roots, and burdock roots. It’s essential to cook roots properly before eating, as they might contain toxins that can be neutralized by heat.

Tip: Root vegetables often have leaves or shoots that appear above ground, which can aid identification.

Hair Apparent:

Certain edible plants, like borage and chickweed, feature fine hairs on their stems and leaves. Although this isn’t a foolproof sign of edibility, it can serve as a useful hint when foraging.

Important: Some hairy plants can cause skin irritation or are toxic to consume, so always pair this clue with other identification methods.

Bug Buffet:

Insects munching away on a plant can indicate its potential edibility. However, don’t consider this a green light to feast right away. Always conduct the universal edibility test to ensure the plant is safe for human consumption.

To remember: Some insects can consume plants harmful to humans, so insect presence is just a possible sign of a plant’s edibility.

Mastering these foraging techniques opens up a rich, varied menu of food sources in the wilderness that don’t require any hunting tools. Step into nature’s kitchen with confidence and curiosity, but never forget that knowledge and caution are your greatest allies when choosing wild edibles.

how to find food in the wilderness without hunting tools

5. Catching Fish: Because Sushi is Trendy, Right?

Spearing fish with a sharpened stick, a skill frequently romanticized in survival tales, can indeed be an effective way to secure a meal. However, it requires precision, patience, and some practice, which might be challenging for beginners. Instead, let’s embrace an alternative method — a simple, but highly effective fish trap. Here’s how:

Constructing Your DIY Fish Trap

Creating a basic fish trap requires minimal materials and no specialized tools. All you need are some naturally available resources:

  1. Find two V-shaped branches: The branches should be sturdy and long enough to be wedged firmly into the mud or sand in shallow waters. The size of the branches will determine the size of your trap. Consider what types of fish you’re targeting and choose your branches accordingly.
  2. Secure the branches: Position the branches in the water so they form a narrow V-shape, pointing downstream. Wedge them firmly into the mud or sand so they don’t move with the current.
  3. Create a barrier: Collect a bunch of smaller twigs or reeds. Line them along the open side of the V, creating a fence-like structure. Ensure the twigs are close together so that the fish cannot escape through gaps.
  4. Leave an entrance: In the center of your twig fence, leave a fish-sized entrance. This will allow fish to swim in but make it difficult for them to swim out.

Once your trap is set, all that’s left is to wait. Fish, driven by the current and their search for food, will swim into the trap and find it difficult to escape.

Remember: Catching fish for survival is about more than just filling your stomach. Fish are a great source of protein, essential fatty acids, and a range of vitamins and minerals. But also, fish should be thoroughly cooked before consumption to kill any potential parasites or pathogens.

In the game of wilderness survival, the fish trap is your secret weapon. It’s simple, requires no hunting tools, and offers a passive method of catching food while you attend to other survival needs.

6. Bugs & Insects: The Unsuspecting Protein Powerhouses

he wild’s edible treasures are not confined to berries, greens, roots, or fish. In fact, a significant portion of the world’s population relies on a surprising, yet highly nutritious, source of sustenance: insects. Yes, you read that correctly. While the idea may initially invoke feelings of disgust, in survival scenarios, overcoming any aversion to these six-legged creatures can prove crucial. Not only are insects abundant in most environments, but they also pack a hefty nutritional punch, rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats.

When and How to Hunt for Insects

The activity of insects is heavily influenced by temperature, weather conditions, and the time of day. Generally, early morning hours, when temperatures are still low, are a great time to go bug hunting as insects are less active then.

Here are some tips to boost your insect foraging success:

  1. Look under rocks and logs: Many insects hide or sleep under rocks and logs. Just remember to put the rock or log back as it was after you’re done inspecting.
  2. Check tree barks and leaves: Many insects, like caterpillars and beetles, can be found crawling on the bark of trees or munching on leaves.
  3. Dig into the ground: Some insects, such as grubs and ants, live in the soil. A careful dig around the base of plants or in damp areas can yield results.
  4. Use a stick: Tap tree trunks or branches with a stick. Many insects will fall or fly out when disturbed.

Cook Before Consuming

Regardless of the type of insect you’ve found, it’s essential to cook them before eating. This ensures any potential parasites or harmful bacteria are killed. Roasting over a fire is a simple and effective method of cooking insects.

Common Edible Insects

Here are a few common insects and other creepy-crawlies known to be edible:

  1. Crickets: Rich in protein and widely available.
  2. Ants: Acidic but safe to eat. Some indigenous cultures also enjoy ant larvae.
  3. Grubs: These fat larvae can be found in decaying logs and are a great source of protein and fat.
  4. Earthworms: Although not insects, they’re included here as they’re rich in protein and commonly found in moist soil.

By incorporating insects into your wilderness survival diet, you tap into a vast, often-overlooked resource that requires no hunting tools to harvest. Despite initial reservations, you might find that bugs are not just a viable survival food but a nutritional powerhouse as well. As the saying goes, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!

foraging in the woods

7. Staying Hydrated: It’s More Than Just Drinking

Water’s role extends beyond quenching thirst and maintaining body functions. Believe it or not, water can also serve as a guide to food sources. With keen observation and a bit of luck, water bodies can reveal a whole new realm of potential sustenance, from aquatic plants and animals to insects and more.

Food and Water: An Interconnected Web

Life clusters around water sources. Where there’s water, there’s life. And where there’s life, there’s food. For instance, the stomach contents of caught fish can provide clues about the local plant and insect life that you might have overlooked. In addition, many edible plants grow near water bodies, and water-based creatures like frogs, crayfish, and mollusks can serve as valuable protein sources.

Safe Water Consumption: It’s Non-Negotiable

While water is an essential resource, it’s crucial to consume it safely. Natural water sources often contain microorganisms that can cause digestive issues or even serious illnesses. Nothing ruins a good survival situation like a dodgy stomach. Therefore, always purify your water by boiling it before drinking.

Here are some simple steps to ensure safe water consumption:

  1. Collect: Gather water from the cleanest available source. Fast-moving water is generally cleaner than stagnant pools.
  2. Filter: If the water is cloudy, filter it through a cloth or makeshift filter to remove large particles.
  3. Boil: Bring the water to a rolling boil for at least one minute. At altitudes over 2,000 meters (6,562 feet), boil for three minutes.
  4. Cool and Store: Allow the water to cool before consuming. If possible, store extra water in a clean container for future use.

Always make sure your water is clean and safe to drink. It’s not just about survival – it’s about thriving, and clean water is at the heart of it. So, embrace the water sources in the wilderness. They are your hydration stations, your food guide, and essentially, your lifeline to survival.

8. Alternative Methods: A Little Creativity Goes a Long Way

With your newfound foraging techniques and fishing prowess, you’re already well on your way to becoming a wilderness gourmet. But let’s throw in a few more ingredients for good measure.

Birds and Eggs: A Feathered Feast

Birds are high up on the menu but not always easy to catch with bare hands. However, their nests often contain eggs, which are a superb source of nutrition. Remember to cook the eggs, as eating them raw may lead to salmonella.

Large Game: The Ultimate Prize

While our focus here has been “without hunting tools,” a sturdy, sharp stick and a bit of cunning could lead to a larger meal. Look for signs of large game like deer or wild boar. Stealth and patience are your allies here, but remember, this should be your last resort due to the energy and risk involved.


Mastering the art of finding food in the wilderness is like learning to dance with Mother Nature herself. Whether you’re stranded in the woods or simply out to test your survival skills, remember these tips. The first rule of survival is to stay calm. After that, everything else is just figuring out what’s for dinner. And with these skills in your arsenal, that menu is looking pretty good!


How do you find edible food in the wild?

To find edible food in the wild, you need to have knowledge of the local flora and fauna. Familiarize yourself with edible plants, fruits, and mushrooms native to the area, but always avoid consumption if you’re unsure. If edible plants are scarce, consider insects and smaller creatures for protein, and use techniques like the universal edibility test for plants and foods you’re unsure about.

How do you find food in a survival situation?

In a survival situation, finding food involves identifying edible plants, capturing small animals, and maybe even fishing. Edible plants can be identified by color, shape, or by conducting the universal edibility test. Small animals and fish can be trapped using simple tools or handmade traps. Additionally, insects can serve as a protein source if you’re not squeamish.

How do you get food in the forest?

Getting food in a forest involves foraging for edible plants and berries, trapping or hunting small game, fishing in freshwater sources if available, and harvesting insects for protein. Edible plants can be identified through their appearance and through the use of the universal edibility test. Hunting or trapping requires knowledge of animal behavior and making use of makeshift tools and traps.


1. USDA. “Research Programs and Projects at This Location : USDA ARS.”, 2018,

2. MasterClass. “Universal Edibility Test: How to Test a Wild Plant’s Edibility.”, 21 Nov. 2021,