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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 that I use every morning when I’m 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 you have flame. In an urban area, you can do this with any of these materials, but also with paper products, cotton balls, or other materials.

Urban survivalTake it one step further, the wilderness survival skill of making a fire 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.Take it one step further, the wilderness survival skill of making a fire 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” that you learn when backpacking or doing wilderness survival exercises is how to do without. Do without AC & 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 make 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’d 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 it. 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 of 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’s 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’ve got kids or grandkids, simply tell them that you’re making “forts” or “little houses” and you can have a ton of fun with this…and may even be able to turn your house heat down to 35-40 one afternoon & night in the winter and have a sleepover in the “fort.”

If you’re willing to kill and eat what you catch, and are somewhere where it’s allowed, set traps and snares & figure out how many you’d 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 them, you’ll start seeing several ways to use them as triggers for improvised electronic and mechanical perimeter alarms.)

You can practice all of these, regardless of whether you’re 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 paperclip to sink or swim, they have students bring all of their normal backpacking supplies. They learn primitive skills while they’re well fed and rested and get to using 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 in the middle of the night, they have the choice to fix their shelter, tough it out, or slip into their tent & sleeping bag to warm up and regroup.

Even in SERE (Survival Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) school, students oftentimes 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’re 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 that they don’t shut down and resist preparing all together. Forcing your family to starve because their traps didn’t work, or to freeze because their shelter isn’t good enough, probably won’t win over a reluctant relative. But having fun just might.

God bless and stay safe,
David Morris

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