June 24, 2017

Do You Need to Know Outdoors Skills to Be Prepared?

When I began preparing, I researched all kinds of topics that people on forums said were important to know; implying that to truly be prepared one had to know these outdoor/primitive skills. I joined some outdoors forums, learned several new and interesting things, and then it dawned on me; I don’t spend much time in the great outdoors! While I enjoy learning these skillsets, I decided I was better served learning more practical things for me personally. I do, however, think there are a few skills everyone (even city slickers) should know. There is more on that below. Before I go any further, I want to say that this is not me saying that strictly learning basic preparedness skills is the only way to be prepared. It is me saying that who are so entrenched in their camp and believe the only way to be prepared for come what may is by knowing outdoor/primitive/bushcraft skills.

I think some of us have romanticized bugging out to the woods and surviving off the land. I think shows like Survivor Man and the many shows like it might hold some of the blame. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy these kinds of shows, but I have seen very few scenarios that I will ever be even remotely close to being in. If you’re someone who thinks you’ll bug out to the woods if the stuff hits the fan to live off the woods, I hate to break it to you, but that’s not realistic. This article titled: Living Off The Land: Delusions and Misconceptions About Hunting and Gathering explores the caloric intake of foraged plants and hunted and trapped game. This article doesn’t take into consideration all of the other people you’ll be competing against for the limited amount of game!

Long time readers will know that I believe, while these worst case events, like EMPS, are possible, they’re not very likely. Let’s say, for the sake of this article, an EMP does go off. In the vast majority of circumstances, I believe that one would be far better prepared having their 5 basic human needs met by staying home (bugging in, hunkering down, etc.), rather than bugging out to the woods. Sure, if the grid is completely down, after all my food has been eaten, I might need to head to the woods to find game, but that is a lot of “what ifs” and “maybe’s.” If I had to flee my home, I would hole up in an abandoned building before I would consider building a shelter in the woods and trying to keep Trudee the dogs and I warm.

To answer the question asked in the title of the article; “Do you need to know outdoor skills to be prepared?” My answer is: I don’t think so. If your goal is to be prepared for 95% of the things that happen every year, I think you would be better served first building Redundancy of the Five Basic Human Needs than learning how to use a bow drill or learning to make a figure four trap.

If you don’t have a grasp on the following, they might be better skills to learn first. Basics of food storage. Multiple ways to purify water. How to meet the basic needs during a grid down event, IE keeping food and medicine cool, how to keep cool without AC or provide emergency heat. The basics of survival sanitation and fire safety Also security topics like Situational Awareness and Awareness and Security in Crowds and home security as well as protecting Your neighborhood.

Please don’t think I am knocking outdoor skills. If you spend time in the outdoors hunting, hiking or doing something else, you should know them and be proficient in them. If they are just a passion, by all means, learn all you can. I also think that learning outdoor/primitive skills are a good skills to learn after you have the basics down, this will really round out your skills set. If we ever do see a prolonged grid down event, everyone will need to know outdoor skills. They can also be a great way for people, especially children to build self-confidence.
Outdoor Skills Everyone Should Know

If you live in the city, you might wonder why I think you should know some basic survival skills. Every year I see several news stories about people who were driving and either got lost, their car broke down or they got stranded somehow. Many of these people panic and make bad decisions. I think they panic because they don’t know what to do to stay alive until help comes. You might not foresee a situation that will take you into or near a remote area, but you never know what God has planned for your future!

For that reason, I think people should know a minimum of three skills; how to start a fire and keep it burning, how to build a very basic shelter, and how to Signal for help.

You’ll notice I only linked to an article I wrote on signaling for help. I was not blessed with a good sense of direction, and have spent more than my fair share of time lost. Knowing this about myself, I spent a good deal of time researching what to do when lost and wrote about it. I do know how to make a fire, and my belief on the subject is to learn how to make one with a lighter first. You should then keep a lighter in your vehicle or EDC if you are heading out. Making a bow drill and starting a fire with it, while very cool, is not realistic for the person who doesn’t spend time outdoors practicing. I also have read, in depth, on how to make various shelters, but haven’t built one, so I don’t feel comfortable telling you what to do.

Instead, I will provide some links to just a couple of the resources I have followed over the years.

The Survival Sherpa is one of my favorite outdoors mentors. You’ll learn all kinds of outdoors and survival related skills from Todd.

The Late Ron Hood is another person I learned a lot from. His wife Karen has picked up the mantle. You can purchase a wide selection of almost 30 outdoors related DVD’s from Survival.com

I also recommend the affiliated forum for Survival.com, Hoods Woods. I haven’t been an active Hoodlum for some time, but this is a fantastic place to research and ask questions.

The last resource I’ll share is Dirttime.com, where you can learn much from the three Survival Instructors who write for the site.

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  1. We have our get home bags and of course we had a compass. I know how to use and compass and navigate but realized my wife had no clue. So that was the first outdoor skill we learned. We also practice building a shelter and starting a fire. Never so a woman have so much fun learning to use a firesteel waxed cotton balls. I agree there are certain basic outdoor skills you need to know ASAP. The only other outdoor skills we have learned a little about is what wild plants in our area are edible and can be added to our food supply when needed. (Kudzu leaves are good in salad and unlike lettuce are available when other salad veggies are fresh in the garden.)

    • Knowing wild edibles is a great one too, nice add.

    • One added note about the “wild” foods:
      It’s not just what’s in the area that can be foraged, but what you can do with the wild foods after you ID them.
      They’re commonly “weeds,” commonly hardier than veggies, commonly won’t attract the attention that squash or tomatoes or barley would, and there’s a wild edible that grows in pretty much any environment.
      Knowing that particular outdoor skill means you can cultivate almost any yard even if you have a hard time growing a traditional veggie, border to border, baking to soaked, sunny to shade, clay to sand to loam, flood-drought ditch to soils made tougher by constant pine and oak drop.

      People who can’t grow turnips or basil, brambles, or even grass can regularly find something like knotweed, dandelion, ramps, henbit, spring beauty, docks, or a host of others that will grow very happily, or that will grow but not spread because the environment isn’t perfect.

    • The biggest skill you need if you plan to bug in or bug out, is finding enough water.

      You will need 3 to 5 gallons a day, per person, for drinking, cooking and basic living, requirements. You can survive on less amounts of water than that, but only for a short period of time.
      Multiply 5 gallons by the number of people living within 20 to 50 miles of you and you will begin to see the problem of all of you finding that much water, on a daily basis.

      Many cities and towns will not have enough water to support their remaining populations after a week or two in a crisis. Especially If there is no electricity to operate well pumps and operate upstream dams, that control the amount of water flowing down to the city or town.
      Rivers and lakes near cities and towns, will also soon be controlled by criminals and extortionists, much like happened in many places in the old West. Various groups may decide to “shut off” the water, to those living downstream of them.

      So having a plan that will hopefully provide you and your family a sustainable supply of water will be critical.

      • Chris Ray says:

        I agree that having water or access to it is key. Though I don’t know about the 3-5 gallons a day part. the number I hear most often is 2 per day; but the truth is this is all speculation. I tend to think 1 gallon a day for drinking, another for cooking and bathing (think sponge baths, not soaking), and maybe one more for “just in case” is probably fine.

        • This amount (3 to 5 gal,per person) is used by Relief agencies in determining the water needs of refugee camps.
          So it is a well tested and approved, minimal, sustainable, water needs, number.

          However refugee camps also rely on immunization and antibiotics for disease control.
          Diseases like Typhus, are carried by body lice. Body lice are common in battle field conditions and refugee camps where Individuals can not bathe and put on clean and sterilized(lice free) clothing.
          Sick individuals will also have increased water needs to deal with fevers and hygiene (like diarrhea) issues..

          Post SHTF, our only disease preventative and treatment may be lots of soap, hot water and clean clothing. So the 5 gallon a day per person figure, might still be way to low.

          Then there is the culture shock issue.
          Considering American’s use 100-200 gallons of water a day, asking them to reduce that to less than 1/10 of that, is a problem.
          It will result in increased stress levels and possible(rebellious) usage that is in excess of planned water allowances.
          Creating additional problems, especially in family or group settings.

          Now in storing water, an additional 5% is usually added to the total, to account for spillage, leakage or other losses.

          So it is far better to have large quantities of water available, rather than not enough.

  2. I fully agree with your opinion that woodsman / survivalist skills may not be the best starting place for most preppers. While this skills may someday turn out to be the difference between life or death, that could be said of a lot of other esoteric skills as well. Do I need to know how to remove an appendix with a pocket knife and a pair of tweezers? It may come in handy, but I have more immediate things to learn. Like how to grow my own food or how to cook with long-term storage food ingredients. Every person’s circumstances and priorities will be different. I’ve lived in big cities and in small towns. There are a lot of “city slickers” who are poorly equipped to survive in the woods, but there are also some country boys who would get themselves killed in the big city. Your skill set needs to fit your context. Good article.

  3. Great thoughts here, Chris! And thanks for the shout, brother!

    Anyone spending time in the outdoors camping, hiking, hunting, etc, soon find out the importance of your three skills listed. Woodsy knowledge can only be obtained while in the woods. :) Gardening skills are learned in the garden. You see where I’m going, right. But these three outdoor skills can be developed without a wilderness. Most of have one… a backyard. lol.

    I like Forever Man’s insight too. I work in the city only because I’ve yet to figure out how to make a living in the woods. I’ve been told to follow my passion and the money will follow. We shall see.

    Thanks for adding to our self-reliance/preparedness quotient!

  4. Heartless of Bradenton says:

    I suppose that we all need to redefine a bit what “outdoor survival skills” means. Outdoors – the word itself is simple, ‘out of a door’, not in a dwelling. Not necessarily meaning trees, trails and/or any other thing rural. And that is the place to begin. Stop thinking we are all going to be modern Daniel Boones or something. Slapping on our coonskin hats and traipsing off to hand-to-handing it with a black bear and sleeping in a crook of a tree. Simply put – are concept of ‘outdoor’ needs to include any city, town, village, ……… anywhere we are that is not home, behind a door living in familiar comfortable safety.

    Survival. What possible difference does location mean to that word? If I draw breath in a decaying building or under decaying leaves, I’m still surviving. To survive means everywhere and anywhere. Again, very simple.

    Last – skills. knowing how to get water to drink from a stream or underground source, a solar still or whatever is no more survival oriented than knowing how to tap into a pipe found in a basement, or abandoned toilet tank. Shelter as I’ve said above is wherever a person can snatch some rest, recover warmth or cool off and not get killed. Starting a fire? Sure, nice to know. We all need that tool; but, knowing when to NOT start a fire is equally important. Knowing how to make heat without it and the associated smoke, fuel that will rapidly disappear, cooking smells and the like are just as much so. Knowing how to short-circuit a car battery with a wrench to heat it is just as much a skill as rubbing two sticks together.

    Consider all of you, us – just what the reality could become. And where “outdoor survival skills” are to take place.

  5. An outstanding article! I’m glad someone has finally said it!
    Old Rob Crusoe was hardly a wilderness survivor. What with all the stuff he recovered from his ship, he might as well have had a Walmart just around the corner, And of course he had his goats…

  6. As an Eagle Scout, I learned a lot of woodland skills, survival skills… Emergency Preparedness is a merit badge you can earn. I am so thankful to have had that training when I was young. I never forgot it, and am now passing it on to my son. I would highly suggest if anyone has boys, you look at Scouting to teach them all kinds of valuable life skills and opportunities for some great outdoor experiences. But Scouting is not just for the woods, there are troops in the cities as well, and they do a lot of great community service work. Even if you don’t have sons the right age, you can get involved and help kids, you’d be surprised how much you will learn when you help and teach kids.

    I agree not everyone needs to have tons of woodland skills. But a lot of those are transferable to just plain survival situations like you said. And if you live in the city and the food runs out, you may find yourself heading out to the country to find food. Do you know how to hunt? Field-dress game? Cook it on a fire? Wouldn’t be a bad set of skills to know wherever you live.

    • I think the scouts or an equivalent is a great idea. I was to young to join the scouts, so I joined a church based group call The Royal Rangers. I don’t know if they are still around, but I learned a lot from them.

  7. My home is in the deep woods so going to sit under a bush has no appeal to me. It is log built and has solid wood doors bolted together It is the best shelter around and all my tools are here. To heat with wood you have to have wood which means learning a chain saw or in a shtf event having a cross cut saw.. We have a black smith set up and know how to use it to make blades. We hunt so we know how to take care of a deer and tan the hide. All this takes time to learn and is basic stuff. You will need log working tools also like pee vees, froes, peelers etc to build with logs All Daniel Boone stuff

  8. Rev. Dr. Michael E Harris says:

    The first thing that your article triggered in my mind was the abundance or lack thereof of game. In the mid-Atlantic region, the white-tailed deer population has increased an order of magnitude since the first white settlers came here. In looking as 20th century data, the deer populations declined to their minimums in the 1930s to 1960s. In Tennessee, for example, the 1940 deer population was around 2,000, but game management procedures increased the deer population to 900,000.

    The population of edible animals is high, but with a large population of hunters, the number of edible animals could decrease quickly. There is a very real danger with too many hunters and too many hunters without hunting skills in the field. My father survived a year in combat in Europe in WWII and a year in combat in Korea; when asked why he did not hunt in New Jersey, his response was that it was too dangerous. My father grew up hunting to feed his family, but he was afraid of lousy hunters.

    I can imagine a group of ‘city folk’ trying to survive in the woods and having someone make a salad with poison sumac leaves. I have books in my library to help me identify edible plants in my part of the country, but I would not trust me to feed anyone with my ‘book learning’.

    I live in a rural area, but we have nice housing developments. The local woods are not safe, as we are in the wetlands of New Jersey. At my age, and state of structural damage, I am going to stay home.

    Three or four years ago, the CERT groups from three counties combined to conduct an airline crash search and rescue. It had rained the night before and the duff (the dead stuff on the ground) was about a foot deep. The trees were about as close as nature could have them. I caught my foot on a dead branch, fell to the ground, and damaged my knee. It took eight EMTs with chain saws to even get to me; the trees and bushes made in impossible for the EMTs to bring in a stretcher–they had to use a backboard.

    I live near a jungle that has it out for humans. It would take modest-sized groups with lots of tools to make the wilderness livable. And, the Jersey Devil was born only a handful of miles away.

    • If the trucks stopped making deliveries for some reason, and people had to fend for themselves. I think the game would dry up very, very quickly.

      I bet your CERT groups got a great lesson that day; though I am sorry you had to go through it.

    • I live in a nice development in a rural area, and we are surrounded by woods, so we have deer coming into our back yard many nights. I can’t legally shoot in our neighborhood now, but in a SHTF situation, I wouldn’t think twice about waiting out there at night with a cross-bow.

      I agree that hordes of inexperienced hunters in the woods would create a high potential for hunting accidents. Good thing to keep in mind. Heck, even “experienced” hunters do stupid things. I personally know some folks who recently experienced a death in the family from a group hunt gone bad. And they were all experienced hunters. So, yeah, would not want to be out there with a lot of newbies who don’t know which end of the barrel to point towards the game.

      Who knows how it would all play out in a SHTF event. Would masses of people start hunting, causing the game population to dry up? Good question. If the supply chain broke down, would people in cities leave everything, and migrate to the country in hopes of finding more food? How many would resort to hunting? How far would they go out of the city? Would masses of people do this, or would people band together into groups and designate duties based on experience/skills. If so, you might have groups choosing a few individuals to be hunters for the group. (Think Lewis & Clark= had a few guys who’s specific job was to go out hunting every day and bring in meat for the crew.)

      There are so many deer, I think it would be a couple of years of heavy hunting before the game dried up, especially if most people don’t know how to hunt (it ain’t always easy/fast/guaranteed). If an event lasts a long time, and people are smart, they will band together into small communities and start raising domestic animals for meat, (much easier than hunting). Although depending on how people react, that could be a tempting target for raiding groups, and require strong defense.

      Chris, have you read any of Terri Blackstock’s books? Last Light, is first in a series about a family living in Alabama during a long-term, global power outage. Author is a Christian and poses a lot of questions about how Christians should act in such a case. It’s not a “guy’s” book really, my wife read them first, but I’m enjoying reading them just to see how people cope with the situation. I think it’s far from reality, but I’m always looking for perspectives and ideas.

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