Tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia on 100 secluded acres is Mountain Shepherd Survival School. Courses taught by former U.S. Force SERE instructors include wilderness and urban survival, leadership and other empowering courses to help you make it through a variety of disasters. The Rolling Thunder course teaches students over four days and three nights the seven priorities of survival, including positive mental attitude, wilderness first aid, shelter, fire craft, emergency signaling, water and food. In this course, you will survive the elements and camp in a primitive manner. Course fees range from $295 to $795.
Primitive Pursuits is a non-profit program in partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension that provides wilderness skills education for pre-school kids, youth, teens and adults throughout the Finger Lakes region of New York state. Course subjects include birding, tree lore and cultivation, bow-making, primitive technology, winter survival and animal tracking, to name just a few. The adult Bow Making class is a three-day course that teaches students the primitive art of bow making starting with tree identification, harvesting and processing in the context of the bowyer. Adult and youth course fees range from $185 to $290.
Based in Duvall, Washington, the Wilderness Awareness School is a not-for-profit environmental education organization dedicated to caring for the earth and our children by fostering understanding and appreciation of nature, community and self. It offers a number of dynamic courses that combine ancient and modern ecological wisdom to empower people of all ages to become stewards, mentors and leaders. Courses range in length from a weekend to a week or even a year. The Wilderness Survival course is an introduction to the skills necessary to live through a short-term wilderness emergency situation, like a 72-hour bug-out. Topics include basic gear selection, survival priorities and how to maintain a positive attitude. Essential skills include building a fire, making a lifesaving shelter, purifying water, navigation, maintaining hygiene and finding wild edibles. Adult and youth course fees range from $75 to $2,850.
Byron Kerns is a former U.S. Air Force SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) instructor who has trained everyone from fighter pilots and Boy Scouts to Navy SEALs and lots of folks in between. His most extreme class is the three-day, two-night Bare Bones course, which teaches the seven priorities of survival: positive mental attitude, wilderness first aid, shelter, fire-starting, signaling, water and food. This is a minimalist experience. No sleeping bags, sleeping pads, tents or backpacks are allowed. The course emphasizes survival techniques, small-group behavior, leadership and teamwork.
Pennsylvania’s True North school provides students with the skills and knowledge to confidently deal with emergencies in remote and harsh environments. The Basic Wilderness Survival course is a two-day, one-night crash course in the basics: Learn how to tie basic knots and lashings, first aid, how to find water, improvise tools and how to confidently build a fire in various weather conditions. Course fees range from $45 to $420.
Operating out of Arizona, Ancient Pathways’ courses specialize in desert survival and primitive technology. Hands-on training in practical survival skills and outdoor safety techniques give students direct experience with the skills they’ll need in the wilderness. The school is operated by Tony Nester, who has over 20 years of experience teaching outdoor survival to such groups as the U.S. Border Patrol, the National Transportation & Safety Board, the National Weather Service as well as U.S. military special operations units. Courses range from Desert Survival and Mobile Bug-Out Survival to Knife-Only, which is the facility’s premier course that offers two days of instruction on how to live in the wilderness with a minimal amount of gear. Course fees range from $125 to $350.
STSC is the only school in the U.S. that provides multi- climate training in areas that range from the Colorado desert to the Alaska wilderness. It offers 18 courses in six different locations. The Navy, the Marines, the Air Force, the California Department of Justice and other organizations have attended STSC training courses. The “Weekend Knife Only” courses are about full immersion as students experience a real wilderness survival emergency with a minimal amount of gear for a period of two to 14 days.
Started back in the 1960s, Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS) provides courses that challenge students to learn about themselves and grow through experiences in the natural world, all while acquiring ancient knowledge and trail wisdom. The 7 to 28-day field course provides a physical test for students with hikes over long distances in the rugged terrain of southern Utah. Students sometimes hike as much as 15 to 30 miles in one day. This course offers high exertion and moderate rations with minimal gear.
Located in Arizona, Aboriginal Living Skills School offers courses in a variety of terrain, from alpine tundra to desert, allowing its instructors to teach skills as diverse as desert survival to winter camping. The Essential Abo course is a foundational class at ALSS where the very skills that were used by indigenous peoples around the world are taught. Students learn to make fire from sticks, build primitive shelters, construct stone tools, create rope and string as well as make wooden containers. These skills, once learned and practiced, will allow students to survive over the long term in the bush.
There are no drive-through windows in the woods. You can’t talk into a tree and order food, but if you know what to look for, nature can and will provide. The Seasonal Wild Edible Plants course is one of the most popular classes at Virginia’s Advanced Survival Training. Students will learn how to safely identify 40 wild edible plants, trees and shrubs, plus learn how to forage for food that is tasty and nutritious. Other classes include emergency medicine, animal tracking and trapping as well as primitive skills.
Someone naked and afraid in the wildness or scrounging for bugs to eat makes for great reality TV. Scenarios like this are all well and good from the comfort of your couch until the power goes out. As you walk outside to find out what happened, you realize that the outage is the result of a much larger emergency that has crippled the power grid and left you and your family in an unsecure location. Before you grab your bug-out bag and head for the hills, stop and think: Can I survive three days in the woods with no gear or food? Here are 10 highly rated schools that will teach you what you need to know to survive and live off the land.
For more information on these survival schools, see below:
Mountain Shepherd Survival School
Wilderness Awareness School
Byron Kerns Survival
True North Wilderness Survival School
Survival Training School of California
Boulder Outdoor Survival School
Aboriginal Living Skills School
Advanced Survival Training
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- Learn Survival Group Skills from Ultimate Survival Alaska
- VIDEO: Backwoods Survival With Campcraft Preparedness
- EJ Snyder Shares Experiences from Naked and Afraid
This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Spring 2016 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.
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