Realities of Survival Training
When most people think of survival, they envision a dystopian wasteland full of marauding tribes and mutated people due to nuclear radiation. Proof of this is found in the popularity of television programming related to zombies, doomsday prepping and the like. Then some, those that study survival and bushcraft and have some sort of skills useful for survival, for the most part envision a picture of wilderness living where they will ultimately be forced to try and live off the land. Maybe you fall somewhere in between those views? Regardless of your point of view, survival is hard. In fact, the Merriam Webster Dictionary defines survival as “the state or fact of continuing to live or exist especially in spite of difficult conditions” - no mention of a life or death situation necessarily, merely a potential series of difficult conditions.
When we apply this definition to a training scenario such as a survival course like we offer. Students are made to go into the wilderness with minimal gear to build a shelter, make fire by friction off the landscape and purify all their own water (in later classes), we find that there are students on two ends of the spectrum; those that have difficulty addressing the priorities of survival which are fire, shelter, water, safety/ security and food and then there are those that, as Nessmuk referred to it, “smooth it” and have no difficulty with the course. In this we find that one man's survival is another man's camping trip. Survival, at least for the majority is subjective. We can change how we view survival and the difficulties we encounter through proper training, this training increases our confidence which leads us into another definition, that of Self-Reliance. Self Reliant is defined as “confident in your own abilities and able to do things for yourself : not needing help from other people” so we see that once we are confident in our own abilities and are able to do things for ourselves, we no longer view the tasks of addressing survival priorities as a difficult thing- challenging perhaps due to the physicality needed- but not difficult to complete.
So struggling or having difficulties taking care of yourself in the outdoors means you are surviving the ordeal while confidence in your ability to take care of yourself means you are self reliant. Seems easy enough? We must strive to be self-reliant! I'd like to share with you a plan to help you achieve self-reliance, especially as it relates to the priorities of survival.
1) Train Like it's Real When you decide to go out specifically on a training jaunt or you take a class- treat it like every situation is real. Purposely limit your gear to what we refer to as the 5 C's which are Cutting Tool, Cover, Container, Cordage and Combustion Device. Purposely deprive yourself of water by imposing rules like “Once my current canteen of water is drank, I cannot have more water until I make a fire to boil it”. In the Intermediate classes we run at Campcraft we require students to first build their shelters from natural materials and they only receive one bottle of water for the day. Depending on the shelter style, this can take anywhere from four to eight hours, regardless of weather conditions. After they build a suitable shelter, they are then tasked with creating a fire by primitive means, this first means they try bow drill and if they are unable to complete it within an assigned time they then have the option of finding a hard rock off the landscape to make a flint and steel fire. They then spend the rest of the evening trying to hydrate.
Once your body becomes dehydrated it's very, very difficult to catch back up to normal hydration levels. Having to boil each bottle of water before you ingest it isn't the hard part, it's waiting for that water to cool down enough to drink it! Not to mention during this time there has been no food or snacks- any food they ingest must also be found off the land. It's typically not until lunch time the second day that people begin grumbling about the lack of food. The massive calorie expenditure of the shelter build and the constant maintenance of the fire to purify enough water to remain hydrated catches up with most by then. It's at that time blood sugar levels begin to fall and mistakes begin to occur. People become lethargic, foggy in thought, lose manual dexterity and many are still weakened from not maintaining proper body hydration due to the difficulty of doing so. Add to these actions varying weather conditions and you have a realistic survival training scenario.
2) Don't Cheat Yourself I see it all the time, someone goes into their garage to make a bow drill fire every day for a week and proclaims they have now nearly mastered the technique. The sad reality is that they're using mixtures of store bought, kiln dried woods or woods they collected in the wild and aged in their garage protected from the elements. That's not real! It's one thing to do that to practice the skill to establish proper technique and muscle memory, I think that is wonderful- but do not expect to go grab wood off the landscape and “bust out a coal” as we say on the fly. The ability to do that is an earned skill and it's perishable, if you don't use it, you will lose it. Once you achieve the ability to make a friction fire when you're out camping- make it real for survival by exhausting yourself before attempting it the next time. Anything less is just cheating yourself. Cut and chop a couple ricks of wood or build a natural shelter off the landscape, then try it- train real and when you need it for real, the skills and confidence will be there, THAT is self reliance.
3) Achieve Confidence Confidence in your abilities to provide for yourself is ultimately the difference between surviving and being self-reliant, so make every effort to push yourself beyond your normal limits. This is difficult for some because we crave comfort and allow ourselves a certain amount of slack. In that case, take a course that will challenge you up to and nudge you beyond your limits, for that is the only way that you can grow and still be in a safe environment where there are trained instructors and medical staff. What you'll find in time is that you begin to become more comfortable in the woods with less and less equipment each time you go and what some refer to as “the suck” you begin to embrace as an inconvenient camping experience. Hone your core skills to the point where they are almost thoughtless to you and you'll begin to experience true self reliance.