How Wilderness Survival And Urban Survival Skills Fit Together
May 9, 2011 by Dr. David Eifrig Jr.
There are a lot of misconceptions about how wilderness survival, camping and urban survival do or do not fit together. The arguments range from saying that neither wilderness survival skills nor camping will help in an urban survival situation to saying that all you need for a long-term urban survival situation is your camping or survival gear. The truth lies somewhere in between.
No matter what your skill level and experience level, I have some great stuff for everyone this week.
In both wilderness and urban survival, the most important common factor that will determine success or failure is your mindset. The basics of survival are also common to wilderness and urban scenarios: shelter, water, fire and food first, and then medical needs and security. But there are some huge differences.
Solo Survival Vs. Group Survival
In wilderness-survival situations, it will normally be you and/or a small group of people surviving off of the land or off of what you have been able to carry in or pre-position. It is easy to frame a wilderness survival situation as you vs. the world. To be specific, it can be easy to identify with a character like John Rambo, who just wants to be left alone.
Often, wilderness survival situations happen because there is no one else around.
A long-term urban-survival situation is completely different in this respect. People will be all around you. After your ability to keep your mind under control, one of the biggest factors that will determine long-term survival is how well you are able to interact with other people. Can you make friends? Can you effectively exchange your goods and services with others? Can you do it so that you’ll get as good of a deal as possible and still be able to trade with that person again in the future? Have you acted in a way that will cause people to want to help you when you need help?
Four-legged Threats Vs. Two-legged Threats
Wilderness and urban threats are different, also. Unless you’re in an escape-and-evasion situation, your main threats in a wilderness situation will be weather, sustaining yourself, injury, sickness or infection and four-legged predators. A bright fire is a good thing in a wilderness situation, because it will help keep predators and bugs away.
In an urban-survival situation, the animals and predators you need to worry about have two legs rather than four. You will still have weather, sustaining yourself, injury and sickness or infection to contend with. But the fire that protects you from four-legged predators in a wilderness situation will attract two-legged predators, people who may want your supplies without giving anything in return.
Why am I stressing this point? Because if you identify yourself with the John Rambo character and can survive for weeks at a time alone in the wilderness, that’s great. There are several wilderness-survival skills that carry over to urban situations, but you might also want to focus on your interpersonal skills if you think you may need to survive long-term around other people.
“When TSHTF, I’m Going To Get Out Of Dodge And Head For The Hills”
And, as I’ve said before, many people’s plan for surviving if TSHTF is to pack up and head for whatever wilderness or small towns are within reach. It is a romantic notion, and it makes a possible disaster seem like it could actually be an improvement over current life, but it just is not realistic.
If a fraction of those people actually head for the hills, the hills are going to be hunted and fished clean in a matter of weeks and you’re still going to have to be skilled at dealing with other people. (As a note on the mass head-for-the-hills scenario, if it happens during a dry time of the year, it is safe to assume there will be mass wildfires to contend with as well.)
This should make any non-John Rambo types feel a little more comfortable, too. It should go without saying, but you don’t need to turn into a Rambo to survive an urban survival situation. But that doesn’t let you off the hook on practicing wilderness survival skills. There are many wilderness survival skills that are useful, if not necessary, in urban situations.
Using Wilderness Survival Skills In Urban Survival Situations
People who made it through Beirut’s urban-survival period reported going through several boxes of matches per month. The simple skill of knowing how to blow an ember into flame makes this laughable… if it weren’t so sad and avoidable.
A basic wilderness survival skill I use every morning when I am in the woods is to find an ember from the previous night’s fire; place it into a bird’s nest of dry grass, inner stringy tree bark, milkweed, thistle or other materials; and blow on it until there is a flame. In an urban area, you can do this with any of these materials, but also with paper products, cotton balls or other materials.
Take it one step further: The wilderness survival skill of making a coal from a bow drill, hand drill or other primitive means will allow you to make fire without matches, lighters or an ember from a previous fire.
But one of the biggest skills you learn when backpacking or doing wilderness survival exercises is how to do without air conditioning, heat, beds, chairs, electronic distractions, fancy food and, sometimes, cleanliness. You also do without specialized tools, many automated devices, motorized transportation and specialized medical care. When you don’t have these things, you learn and eventually embrace the skill of improvising, adapting and overcoming.
You can learn this in an urban environment, and I have drills in the SurviveInPlace.com Urban Survival Course that help people do just that. But it’s also very valuable, if possible, to go out and live out of a backpack or your 72-hour kit for a night or two (or three). Hopefully, you’ll forget stuff — and have to figure out how to improvise, adapt and overcome.
What About Car Camping?
Car camping can be as beneficial for survival training or as useless as you make it. If you take a generator, TV, fans, stereo, inflatable bed, 12-volt freezer and a blender, you probably won’t get a whole lot out of it.
But if that’s as primitive as you can get your family to agree to, there are still survival skills that you can train. Take what you need to in order to get your family to buy in, but just because you have it doesn’t mean you have to use it.
Use a primitive method of making fire… or start by just making fire without using paper, fire starters or by pouring fuel on the wood.
Collect some water and boil it over your fire. Or make a solar still to find out just how little water they actually make and how many square feet of stills you would need to set up to sustain you.
Set up an improvised shelter. If sleeping in it overnight isn’t an option, at least figure out what you need to do to make it comfortable enough to take one or two naps in or spend an afternoon reading in. You may not need to make a shelter from a fallen tree in an urban-survival situation, but you can use the same skills and principles to make a shelter within your house to keep you warm in a cold-weather situation.
It could be as simple as leaning your box spring against a wall, covering the end openings with blankets and making your bed underneath it. In both cases, you’re trying to make as small an area as possible for your body to warm up by radiation and your breath and trying to lose as little heat as possible due to conduction. It is much easier to do this when you’re warming up a small, tent-sized area than when you’re trying to warm up an entire room.
If you have kids or grandkids, simply tell them you’re making forts or little houses. You can have a ton of fun with this. Maybe even turn down the temperature in your house to about 40 degrees one afternoon and night in the winter and have a sleepover in the fort.
If you are willing to kill and eat what you catch and are somewhere where that is allowed, set traps and snares and figure out how many you would need to set to feed you and your family. (As a note, spring-type mouse traps are a great intermediate step for this… just make sure to tie them to something heavy in case you catch an animal by the leg. Once you get comfortable with the traps, you will start seeing several ways to use them as triggers for improvised electronic and mechanical perimeter alarms.)
You can practice all of these tips, regardless of whether you are car-camping, backpacking, on a hunting trip, in your back yard, or sometimes even in your apartment or condo. Just because you have cushy stuff with you doesn’t mean you have to use it.
In fact, some primitive wilderness-survival schools use a similar method to teach survival skills. Instead of dropping students in the woods with a knife, bubble gum, dental floss and a paper clip to sink or swim, they have students bring all of their normal backpacking supplies. They learn primitive skills while they are well-fed and rested, and they can use new primitive skills or fall back on their backpacking gear as they see fit. If their shelter-building skills don’t work well and they are freezing at 3 a.m., they have the choice to fix their shelters, tough it out or slip into their tents and sleeping bags to warm up and regroup.
Even in SERE (Survival Evasion, Resistance and Escape) school, students often fail at catching an animal and are given a rabbit or other animal to kill, clean, cook and eat.
In short, it’s a solid method to use, whether you are learning yourself or trying to help your family members become more self-reliant. And if you have reluctant family members, you’re going to want to make learning new skills as fun as possible so they don’t shut down and resist preparing altogether. Forcing someone to starve because his trap didn’t work or freeze because his shelter isn’t good enough probably won’t win over a reluctant relative, but having fun might.
So, tell me, what wilderness survival skills have you developed that carry over to urban survival situations? What fun ways have you been able to get your family members to learn and practice them with you? Have you practiced any skills while camping specifically to help you in SHTF situations in urban areas? Let me and the other readers know by commenting below.