Recently, a friend asked me to recommend a book on outdoor skills and survival. I quickly gave him the names of a couple on my bookshelf, and he replied with a few more he’d found.
This led me to think about the state of affairs in our country and the average citizen’s ability to live in the field if needed. It’s not a good state.
As recently as the 1950s/1960s, nearly every man in the United States had the skills to start a fire, find or build shelter, and hunt or gather food, in the wild. Even the men who lived in the city and worked in factories could survive if needed. During the Great Depression, many did.
The advent of the microcomputer and silicon chip is where we went downhill. As jobs and life became more technologically-dependent, people lost those skills.
If the power went out today, the Department of Homeland Security estimates that in one year, 90% of the US population would be dead. That’s a lot of people.
Can you imagine a current 16-25 year old with no WiFi? For days?
Do you have outdoor skills?
Some of you will say, “I don’t need them, I’m bugging IN & staying put”. That’s a good plan, right up until it isn’t. Let’s say you bug in, as society collapses around you. The neighbors will eventually know you have food, and they don’t. I don’t care how well you shoot, odds are stacked against you. What will you do when FEMA rolls in and seizes your “excess food” under the Defense Production Act (look it up)? There are many scenarios in which bugging in will need to become bugging out.
Not to mention, that as society collapses, the power will go out, and with it water and gas service.
Remember…In a crisis, movement is life.
Others say, “I don’t need those skills, I have a fully stocked bug out location”. OK. What if you can’t drive to to your bug out location because of the situation? A 2 hour drive can easily become a 10 day walk….Outdoors.
Let’s say you drove up to your idyllic bug out location, and a few weeks later, several hundred armed and hungry refugees arrive on foot. You’ll need to bug out again, at least temporarily.
Having the skills to stay safe and hidden in the field (what we Marines call “outdoors”) can save your life.
Go out into the hill country & bring back
Branches from olive & wild olive trees,
& from myrtles, palms, & shade trees,
To make temporary shelters.
Nehemiah knew what he was talking about.
Get out and learn how to make a natural, temporary shelter NOW, while it’s not absolutely crucial. Shelters are easy to make, once you learn how. It’s really nothing more that using branches and forest debris to make overheard cover.
There are many good books available on Bushcraft, Wilderness Survival, and Primitive Camping. Find one that you like and make it a reference guide. I use the SAS Survival Guide, 3rd Edition.
Now then, get your equipment – your quiver & bow –
And go out to the open country
To hunt some wild game for me.
Isaac knew he was too old & feeble to hunt himself, so he sent his sons. I’m probably too old & feeble, but I’ll do it myself anyway.
The ability to hunt and trap game is an essential survival skill. I don’t care how much canned or freeze-dried food you have, you’ll need to supplement it with fresh protein. Wild game is better for you anyway.
Again, there are many good books on the topic, and the same one I listed before can help. Most state Natural Resources departments also publish hunting tips and guides to help with wildlife management.
Learn these skills now, because if you try to learn when it’s critical, you can’t afford to fail.
Learning to identify plants and fruits/berries is also vital.
We’ve become so accustomed to artificially-maintained norms, that we generally refuse to go outside during bad weather and when we do, it’s uncomfortable.
If you were going to go for a walk, but saw that it was raining out, what would you do? Be honest, you wouldn’t go. I submit that you should go for the walk anyway.
The United States Military uses the best outdoor gear you can find. Their basic rain poncho design hasn’t changed in decades because it WORKS. Combine a USGI poncho and a USGI Gore-Tex rain suit and you’ll be warm and dry despite the rain. The poncho is so good that it can be used as a tent. I have two and when snapped together, they make a VERY nice tent.
Last spring (the one before covid, like 4 years ago), I wore my USMC-Issue Gore Tex rain suit and a USGI poncho for a 13 hour day in the field and it rained the entire day. I was mostly dry at the end of it.
Learning to be comfortable outdoors in all kinds of weather is a good skill to have. The hard part is, there is only one way to do it. Get out, put on a rucksack, and start walking in the rain, the heat, the blizzard, whatever. Once you learn that you can be comfortable moving a distance carrying a load in bad weather, doing it in good weather becomes simple.
The Viking Test
Viking Preparedness suggested a test and beginning training exercise. He said put your gear in a rucksack, including fire starting materials, cooking gear, and a lunch. No matter what the weather, put on the ruck, walk out into the woods for one hour, make a fire, prepare lunch, then break down the site, and walk the hour back. It’s a great test and preparedness exercise. Do it at least once a month for a year and you’ll be fully acclimatized to all four seasons and all weather types.
If it’s raining or snowing, DON’T put it off, do it anyway. When the time comes, you won’t get to pick the day.
The only thing I’ll add to this exercise is when you first arrive at the halt/lunch location, immediately prepare either a camp site, including a shelter, or a fighting/security position that you could defend yourself from. It’s a good habit to get into whenever you halt (establishing a hasty fighting position), and it will get you analyzing terrain from a security standpoint.
Make sure you are picking a halt location tactically, something out of the way, hidden, and defensible (but that’s a whole other article). Sterilize the site when you are finished so that no one can tell you were there.
Map & Compass
Another lost skill is using a compass and map to navigate. We’ve become so reliant on our phones or GPS, that most people don’t even know what direction they’re facing.
I frequently get called a “Human GPS” because I always know where I am and what direction I’m facing. I don’t think it’s anything unusual myself, because it comes from being in tune with my surroundings and remaining engaged with the natural world, not the technical one.
In the preparedness community, many people place a false reliance on handheld GPS. They realize that, yes, the cell networks will go down, so they buy a handheld GPS.
There is a problem with that, though. The GPS satellites are only HALF of the equation. 25% is your handheld unit. The other 25% is the permanent ground stations that the GPS satellites track to know where they are above the earth. What do you suppose would happen if those ground stations were either without power or destroyed?
The best option then, is to obtain paper maps, lots of them, and a QUALITY compass, not a $10 Wal-Mart special. I have a USGI luminous compass and while it was expensive, it’s worth it.
Get out and navigate using the map & compass, so that you can do it when it becomes necessary,
We’ve lost a critical skill set. Having been in the Boy Scouts in the last 15 years isn’t a help either, since they generally only camp now at places with gas grills, showers, and restrooms.
Learn what the Marines call “Rough Terrain Skills”, the ability to move yourself and your gear over rough terrain in any weather condition.
Once you’ve mastered that, start doing it at NIGHT.
Learn to rely less on technology, and more on your own skills.
I was fortunate to grow up living an outdoor lifestyle thanks to my grandfather, my father, and my uncles, all of whom were avid sportsmen and those surviving are still to this day.
These skills can be learned at any age, with just a little effort and study.