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Are wilderness survival schools/courses worth it?

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The following article is from a guest contributor.

I am currently traveling in South America so I asked a friend to fill in for me on this one.
- Gus

mountains

Unlike Gus, I am no seasoned bushcraft expert. Quite the opposite, in fact. I'm a total greenhorn when it comes to survival techniques and living in the wilderness.

With that in mind, we thought it would be interesting to do a piece that caters to newbies, like myself, who are trying to figure out where to start in their outdoor education. The first thing that came to mind was to look into survival books, videos and special courses with live instructors. The wilderness survival courses really stuck out to me as something interesting, fun and most importantly interactive. So I decided to do a round-up of the best and most credentialed courses I could find and try to decide if participating in a course is worthy use of my time and money.

To help with the research and add an interesting social twist, I decided to post questions on a couple of very popular survival forums (survivalistboards.com & bladeforums.com) and the crowd-sourced information juggernaut that is Reddit.

I got a much better response than expected and several great recommendations.

The questions I asked varied slightly but the basic premise was:

Are wilderness survival schools/courses worth it?

I followed that up asking about the value of courses versus other options like books, videos, etc. and asking for recommended courses. Below are the results.

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Recommended Wilderness Schools / Courses

?BOSS - Boulder Outdoor Survival School

?I've only had experience with BOSS and can tell you that it is definitely worth it. The primitive survival skills you learn, along with their philosophy and community have been a huge positive impact on my life. I had no formal training or experience before my student course and can honestly and confident say that I feel 100% OK with being alone outdoors and having to survive if needed. I did a two week field course but highly recommend the 28 day. There are scholarships available as well. Full disclosure: after my student course I was asked to be an apprentice and worked there all last summer - I'm no longer on that path though - it's a tough job!!!

?aesthetist

I went to the BOSS school 2 yrs ago. I took the 7 day primitive skills course. This is the easiest and cheapest course. It was worth it for me and I'd recommend them and hope to go again for the 14 day field course. I live in Los Angeles and this experience is a welcome challenge and opportunity for me. It's only valuable if you have an interest. You need both time and money for these schools so you have to really want it

hsc3_90293

NOLS - National Outdoor Leadership School

In terms of the value assigned to a given school, it's Caveat Emptor. Some are reputable and some aren't. A graduate of multiple NOLS courses has instructor certifications worthy of inclusion on an employment resume

Astronomy

Wilderness First Responder Course (WFR)

www.nols.edu/wmi/courses/wfr.shtml

I guess it comes down to how much spare cash you have and how often you can be outdoors. If you can afford to take the class, then it will give you a leg up. You could still read a lot and try your skills as often as you can, either way. I haven't had the money to take such courses, though I made it a priority to take WFR class.

whereismysideoffun

Trackers Earth in Portland, Oregon

I took a year-long immersion program with Trackers Earth in Portland, Oregon. I learned a lot. I'm pretty confident that I could just walk to the Cascade mountains with my knife and survive for several years at least.

willowgardener

NASAR - The National Association For Search And Rescue

The course we were taught was by NASAR instructor I think. It has been a while so I don't remember the details but it was everything from navigation to CPR and all.

NamesAreHardasHell

Jack Mountain Bushcraft School

Nothing can compare to dirt time. It'd be like trying to learn to be a carpenter without ever building anything. Check out Jack Mountain Bushcraft and Guide service. It has one of the most intensive programs I'm aware of.

Anonymous Redditor via Private Message


Advice about Survival Training

Beyond the recommendations for specific schools and courses, I also got several great replies about survival education in general.

I think my favorite answer to " Are wilderness survival schools/courses worth it?" came from "ichneumon" on Reddit,

As with many things, "it depends".

I think there are programs that aren't worth it. If the class is just show-n-tell lecture format stuff, I would save my money.
If the class is just skills it might be worth it but it depends where one is in their training.

If you are going to spend your money, you're best best is courses where you actually live in the bush for extended periods of time. Skills are great but they are just the points on the picture you are trying to draw. Connecting those dots into something coherent requires in-context application and the large suite of soft skills gained from living outside.

Bushcraft/survival is not an academic subject. You can't learn it from books and living room practice anymore than you can learn boxing from books and a heavy bag.

ichneumon

It echoed the sentiment from many of the responders that reading and watching videos can be great and informational but there is truly no replacement for getting out there and actually doing it, as seen in "Astronomy's" response.

But nothing will substitute for hands-on practice and experience. You can read about fishing, watch videos showing others catching fish, and own all kinds of survival fishing gear. That doesn't mean you can actually catch a fish. Thus, hands-on tutelage is worth it for those willing to pay.

Astronomy

Another thing that many people think is important is knowing yourself and your skill level.

no matter your skill level, there is always more to learn, there's classes from the most basic stuff to very very advanced stuff, i think the key to it all is being aware of your limitations and your own personal skill level as to if the class will be worth it or not, like a basic survival course would be a waste on some of our members here, but it still doesn't mean that there are no other areas of survival/prepping that taking a class or two would do them good.

loki81

Knowing what you know is key to finding the right courses or materials to advance your learning without wasting time and money.

The usefulness of different media or schools depends on what you already know.

If you already know the basics of fire for example then you don't need to go to a school to get different ferro rods explained to you. A simple video or text would suffice.

Considering cost and time schools should be best to develop the right mindset and cover the basics. For everything else I think different avenues would be more efficient and tailored to your own needs and interests which you have identified by then.

Jens Schuetz

Learn the "to do's" and the "NOT to do's" in a school to give you a foundation. Beyond teaching a survival school also let's you practice in a safe environment which is really key. You learn more by doing. After that you'll be better able to identify what will work for you and your environment. And what kind of knowledge you need for the type of outdoors activity you're doing. Some skills just aren't practical everywhere and for everyone so taking an all inclusive class makes less sense at a certain point. For instance I'm not going to pay money and take time off work to take a class that spends a lot of time on fire by friction because I see it as a waste of time for my area. The amount of skill needed to reliably start a friction fire at the time of year I'll need a fire(wet and more wet) is just time prohibitive. I'd rather just carry a mini bic and concentrate on other skills/interests.

Shotgun

man by river

Redditor "-BushWacker-" was one of the few that brought up the social aspect of taking a course. This hadn't occurred to me initially but having a group of peers can make learning much more fun as well as providing a sense of accountability.

If you don't have the cash on hand, you can just as well find some videos on youtube, read a bit and then test it out in your backyard or local forest for free. The great thing about survival courses is that they are very social. Practicing on your own hand out in the woods on a, for example, 3-night overnighter, it can be a bit boring.

-BushWacker-

Some of the most practical advice came from veteran survivalistboards.com member "azb",

One of the biggest skills you need is the ability to not panic in a bad situation. Keeping your head can be trained, but not really taught. Experience, in this case, is certainly the best teacher.

I've had several people ask me to take them out in the bush and teach them "survival skills". In each case, they all wanted to start with things like starting a fire with a bow drill and making a debris shelter. I wanted to start with the basics, like safety, preparedness, basic navigation, good stewardship of the forest, etc. You know, things that would prevent you ever needing the survival tricks so popular on TV.

azb

I love the way they stressed the importance of the basics, however un-sexy that might be. This is the kind of advice that should get preached more often. It's understandable, but seems that many newcomers in the survival world get enamored with the "tacti-cool" and gimmicky side of things that the most practical concepts often get overlooked.

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TL;DR Conclusion

Yes, many courses that teach survival are worth the money but you need to make sure:

  • They are reputable and have well known instructors
  • They match your skill level
  • They are practical for survival situations that you might find yourself in

Good courses are most valuable because they give you hands-on experience that you cannot really learn from reading or watching videos.

In the end, I feel like ?"bunkerbuster" put it the simplest by saying,

Best teacher is wilderness experience.

bunkerbuster


This is obviously not a comprehensive list of every school and course out there nor is it a scientific evaluation with a rating system. It is simply a list of recommendations from "friends" online pulled together with the hopes of pointing newcomers in the right direction.

If you feel we've missed a good option, please let us know and we'll continue to grow this resource. Thank you.

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