> TEOTWAWKI Blog: Long Term Survival: Wilderness Survival



Long Term Survival: Wilderness Survival

It's been a while since I wrote an entry in this series, but it hasn't been forgotten!

Could someone disappear into the wilderness, with only a bag on their back, and hope to survive long term? The idea is hearkens back to older times, when mountain men, explorers, long hunters and others lived in the untamed wilds, with little in the way of outside support.

As a survival strategy, on the surface, surviving out tough times in the wilderness has a lot going for it. In many parts of the country, there are vast, empty tracks of wilderness where someone could walk off and never be seen again. In tough times, even in a massive, worldwide collapse, the wilderness would still offer a refuge from the chaos and violence of more populated areas. And, with enough wilderness skill, one could conceivably survive off nature's bounty - wild edibles, trapping, hunting and fishing to keep your belly full.

Real life isn't so simple and easy--I remember reading that the average life expectancy of a mountain man was a measly year. That's not exactly a long time. And they typically had horses loaded down with gear to help.

Injury, illness, weather, predators, starvation, dehydration - there's a long list of challenges to confront. And there are a lot of people who are planning to head to the mountains in case of trouble, so the local forest might not be so empty post-collapse.

Of course, you will have to deal with injury, illness, bad weather, predators, starvation, dehydration and potential raiders just about anywhere after a worldwide, long term collapse--country, city, small towns, suburbs, you name it. Post-collapse wilderness survival is often dismissed off hand - but doing so, is, I think, rather foolish. If you don't have any better options, the remoteness, seclusion and natural resources of the wilderness could well provide an excellent means for survival.

History is full of examples of people who have retreated to the forest and wild places and survived. One is the Bielski partisans from WWII - a group of Polish Jews who retreated to the nearby forests and then organized an armed resistance against the Nazis.

A more recent example: the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. They retreat to the remote reaches of the mountains and hunker down in caves, often evading U.S. forces and, at the end of the day, surviving and living to fight another day.

It's certainly possible - heck, the Native Americans were surviving in the wilds of North America for a long time.

You would of course want to stack the deck in your favor as much as possible - people, animals, tools, food supplies, and the right location would all go a long way. A group of skilled survivors on pack horses loaded down with tools and supplies would have much better chances than a lone guy with a pack on his back. If you were limited to what you could carry in, some pre-positioned caches would be wise.

Edited to Add: Just to clarify, a lone guy with nothing but a backpack full of gear will have a rough time. A lone guy with a backpack will always have a tough timeThere's only so much one person can do and only so much you can carry on your back. The more help you have, the better your odds. More people, more equipment, more supplies, etc. A group on horseback, on ATVs, 4x4s and so on, loaded down with gear and supplies, will have an easier go of surviving.

There's also nothing to say that once in the wilderness, you couldn't leave for resupply, scouting, scavenging, barter, etc.

Finally - yes, you would have to have some very strong wilderness survival skills. You wouldn't need to be Dave Canterbury, but you'd need to be very good - knowledge of wild edibles, hunting, trapping, bushcrafting and so on.

Your shelter would be a make-or-break thing; a backpacking tent is not going to stand up to long term use, sustained bad weather or winter temperatures. There are a variety of viable long-term wilderness shelters - teepees, yurts, walled expedition tents, cabins, huts, shacks, dugouts/bunkers, and more. Most are going to require more than a knife to build. You may need to pack in the shelter itself on a vehicle or animal, or you may need to carry heavier use tools, a stove or similar.

Trapping is generally the most productive means of getting meat - hunting and fishing being hit-or-miss - so having animal and fish traps available, plus the knowledge on how to produce primitive traps, would help keep you fed.

Camouflage would be your primary defense - a remote location, plus good camouflage and noise/light/smell discipline would do a lot to help avoid any kind of conflict, but ample and intelligent use of camouflage would further any advantages there. And, of course, you'd want ample firearms in case your camouflage failed or you needed to go on the offensive.

Anyways, some food for thought. Is wilderness survival anyone's primary plan in the event of a wide scale collapse? Anyone have any experience living in a primitive shelter long term. Any good points I missed? Let me know in the comments section.


  1. Most "mountain men" had a horse to ride and a pack horse for supplies. Native Americans had whole communities full of people. The Taliban get resupplied and have Toyota Hilux's. There are very few people that could make a go of long-term survival in the woods with just what they carry on them.

    I love to hike and backpack and I might be able to stretch 3 days worth of food into a week's worth while hiking Washington's coast, but that's probably about it. And honestly, after 4 days in the woods I want a hot shower and a real bed to sleep in.

    1. But hiking/backpacking are entirely different from surviving. Being on the move, travelling is generally dangerous and uses up valuable resources - calories, stored food, etc.

      If you were really surviving you'd make camp somewhere and begin to trap/hunt/fish/gather food in the surrounding area to survive.

  2. I think the idea is more attractive than reality. Short term it makes sense, but longer term I think you would want some kind of family and community, which probably means some kind of farming and trading with other groups. The wilderness skills and mindset are great to fall back on, but all the simple skills we would like to tap into - weaving, blacksmithing, etc and having someone to help you due to illness or injury rely on a group, which usually means a fixed location, which pretty soon means that you might as well farm in situ.

  3. Even the mountian men were supported by meeting at the roundvous to get the things they couldn't produce(sugar, powder,lead shot,flour, textiles, and all the other sundry items), and trade off lies, furs, and coquickly, mpanionship. Living out of a backpack may be possible short term, but not for most folks, and defininetly not long term by most modern men. Eric robert rudolph was caught while dumpster diving after evading capture for years with the help of the local. No support and supply drops would put a hurt on you quickly, and kill you in the winter. Only fictional charecters can perform all the functions with no assistance, and pull it off successfully, real world trumps fiction everytime.

  4. I wonder what the bare minimum of requirements would be to pull off long term wilderness survival, especially in terms of number of people, type of transport, shelter, and gear. Most of my prep is dedicated to urban survival, mostly in the short term(not specifically equipped for more than about a month, though I keep about 3-4 months of food on hand because of the way my household buys food). I've started to think longer than that, but I'm taking things one step at a time, as funds allow.

    One very important aspect that is obvious, yet overlooked often us the terrain, climate and available resources in your specific WILD. Surviving in the forest of a Hawaiian Island can be done with only EDC. BUT THE EXTREMES of Sahara or the Arctic are prohibitive. Moral of the story is, the more accommodating the wild, the more time can be spent in it.

    1. Agreed. Not all wild lands are created equal - though native peoples have figured out ways to live in even more extreme climates. Some areas are certainly much more conducive to surviving than others.

  6. I can't tell you how many times I've been told that a person's plan to bug out is to head for the hills and survive off the land. Gee, popular place this land of milk and honey will be when the defecation meets the oscillation. Any plan involving living off wilderness land should be short term for travel or hiding out from the golden hoard. Some have done it, but lets face reality, most don't have the skills to endure such a rough life.

    1. Agree that most lack the skills to make it for very long. Does that mean that those skills are out of reach for everyone? No. If a survivor dedicated enough time, effort and lived in the right area...there's some potential.

      Finding real, remote, secluded wilderness with enough resources to live would be a challenge or impossible in many parts of the country, though.

    2. And really, this kind of "rough life" would be found everywhere in the scale of collapse that we're talking about. Would food, water, resources be easier to find in the city? Suburbs? Small towns? Where would you have a dramatically easier time surviving if the whole world has gone to hell?

      Obviously, if you had a well-stocked retreat, surviving in the bush would be a distant alternative. But if you had no retreat and no better options...

  7. Bugging out into the mountains may be some peoples 'plan'.

    We forget that we are animals and we originated from the forests, swamps and deserts. I think in a Collapse that this is where most of us will return, for Water at minimum.

    Urban dwellings can only offer fresh/bacteria free water for a small time frame after a collapse. After a while the water will become tainted or non-abundant. This will force people into the Higher elevations and into the wilderness to find Ponds,Lakes, and fresh water.

    If you were to walk into the outdoors and find a pond, you will see evidence of many animals conjuring to the water source. Its no different. Eventually the foods left behind in Urban situations will expire or also become scarce.

    Unless the majority of the water/land was contaminated with radiation/disease than after Water, Food is going to be your next goal. The animals in the forest will be able to provide food if you have the skill-set to catch and process the animal.

    Basically I think the Forest(s)/Outdoors will draw Man and creature back into the domain. In a long SHTF situation, I do not think anyone has a chance but to return, at least for some things.

  8. I think the one thing to keep in mind is that there is a difference between surviving and thriving. I personally would rather try it alone than to drag the wife and kids along. Securely evading the golden hoard gets more complicated with larger numbers as does the ability to make agreeable decisions. I feel the likelyhood of surviving is increased with smaller numbers, but thriving is more dependent on increased ones. The best example of how to successfully survive in such a teotwawki scenario has to be the military. The government has already spent a lot of time and money on our soldiers in SERE training.

  9. I did the wilderness thing for a whole year, it is no picnic but it is doable. the biggest thing is heat, a stove of some kind preferably wood that can be set up inside for warmth and cooking etc... I did it in Alaska where it really gets cold and survived, trapping and hunting, fishing. Another thing about isolation is being alone, it is a mind bender but can be handled as well. I plan on going to the wilderness when the hammer falls. I would rather do it in the lower 48 states preferably in the south east do to temperature extremes. That said, I am one that will be leaving civilization behind. also planning on moving back to the states next year so probably northern Alabama, or Tenn area both offer lots of game, fish and fur, plus milder climates than here in Alaska.

    1. Thanks for chipping in with your experiences, MiCamp.

      A stove, fireplace...something to keep your shelter warm is a must if you're going to make it through the winter.

      Companionship - friend, family, heck, a dog - will go a long way to keep you sane if days turn to weeks, months or longer.

  10. I'm an avid backpacker, going on multiple 10-day trips every year to a different eco-zone in CONUS. I've also graduated from Dave Caterbury's Pathfinder school. What I have learned is walking into the woods with just what you have on your back, and not having years of woodcraft, trapping and survival skills to boot is suicide. Just read "Into the Wild". What Dave's school taught me is that even with the years of outdoor experience I have, things get real serious when the food runs out, the rain starts, the lighter doesn't work or you fall and get a nasty gash on your hand or foot. My plans aren't to head for the hills, but back to a small farming community filled with people I grew up with and add my skills to theirs, riding the storm out with people I know I can trust.

  11. As an experienced car camper, I know what that can bring. Living out of a Suburban or van isn't a cabin, but its loads more comfortable than a tent. If you have a piece of land, pulling one of those and leaving it situated for a BO location would (to me) be preferable than living out of tent. Especially in the cold and wet. You can situate to take advantage of terrain (concealment being paramount), install ammenities like a nearby screened cover and a WELL (that would be BIG advantage!)

    Fixed location though - Living in woods with your family (young kids especially!) would be difficult.

  12. The situation will dictate what any of our bug out plans. But in a wilderness bug out as you are talking about above. I believe you have summed up that it can be done. Natives have done it with less, and less accessible knowledge. I grew up in the southeast and hunted and fished my entire life. We don't only do this for recreation, but for food. I have friends now that hunt and fish to get as much meat as they can right now. Most have pretty substantial gardens and do some cow/chicken farming. They pretty much sustain themselves with what God gave us, albeit with certain tools that they may not be privy too in a teotwawki situation. But with hunting and fishing gear and knowledge of farming on a small and large scale I believe it is possible. Most of today's Americans argue that it cannot be done, that's because of our disposable mentality and that everything is had from Wal-mart or the local grocery. I do know this- with a rifle/shotgun/fishing gear/traps food can be had everyday in most areas. Shelter will be the biggest problem to solve depending on your location. The Southeast US you will be okay as MiCamp stated above. I've served overseas in some pretty hostile terrains and I know extreme cold is difficult even with proper shelter. So I wouldn't suggest to bug out to any inhospitable wilderness areas. But I think Alex is right- illness/injury will be your demise in a long term wilderness situation alone. Sick or injured hunting/gathering would be difficult.

  13. I'm an avid solo backpacker/mountaineer. I'm always amazed at how little you need to survive equipment wise, but also how vital the few pieces of equipment you do need are.

    I think this is a viable one year strategy, but you need to know your stuff, be near plentiful game/fish, and ideally have prestaged caches.

    Also, comparisons to Native Americans not well founded. Native Americans were trained from birth for survival in their local environment. Even so, it wasn't unusual for whole tribes to starve to death. Those skills are not something you pick up from your once a year hunting trip. Also, North America has changed. Buffalo herds 75 miles long? Gone. Fishing grounds so rich you could dip a basket in the water snf pull it up full of fish? Gone.

    Sometimes I think the "live off the land" strategy is just a excuse to ignore vital preps like a large food stockile.

    In conclusion, keep the head to the hils option open, but don't make it your first choice.

    1. Good points.

      I will say that we have a lot more readily available knowledge and higher quality gear than the Natives had.

      I agree that heading for the boonies makes a poor primary option, but as a secondary or tertiary, there's potential.

    2. Also recall that most tribes were nomadic, moving from place to place as resources ran low. Firewood for example - how far is it practical to fins and bring it before moving closer to it ? Which brings up an important point = MOVING BULKY ITEMS.

      A lot of living outdoors is moving items from here to there. Wood for fires, dirt for gardens / drainage prjects / berms - whatever. A good heavy duty wheelbarrow with no flat tire would be a good tool to have. And nope - I ain't the notorious Gunkid, lol.

      Just saying.

  14. despite how soft Humans have become, wilderness is doable with the skills, anyone contemplating this as a place to go to should be practicing wilderness skills daily. When I went into the wilderness, I banked on years of experience that I had, and even with that I had a couple of very close calls due to accidents. accidents will happen and if you are not prepared for them, you will die in the wilderness. If the wilderness is your destination of choice, know your emergency medical procedures, and have the medicine and gear to treat yourself. Know how to build a shelter, a good, wind proof shelter with heat. Building a fireplace is not as easy as it sounds, and it is easy to set your roof on fire with a wood stove and a stray spark I know, I did it. Also, sewing yourself up in the wild hurts like hell but if it needs to be done its all on you. a companion is a plus and a detriment depending on their skill and mental attitude or stability. If I was not a woodsman I don;t know if I would choose the wilderness as my first choice... that said, learn the skills you need before you make up your mind, or before your mind is made up for you. I packed in 3 loads of gear, made 3 trips from where I stashed it and each trip took days, so be prepared for the worst.

  15. Without the proper mindset you can say goodbye to any skills or equipment that one may have. Survival is about getting the head in the right space first, then utilising any skills and natural resources or equipment through improvisation and being tenacious.

    Humans are the only animals who have outlived the supplies of their immediate area (i.e. importing products from other sources) without the need of relocating, which is a massive concern for the world, but also shows that one must sustain life not just by living in the wilderness but living where the resources are in order to sustain life (and relocating as necessary).

    Any sod could head out with a pack on their back and last three days without water or three weeks without food, but I wouldn't consider that long term.

  16. In a way it's nice to know that I'll be virtually alone within months of shtf. It's also a little sad. But then again people are not my thing. Everywhere I look I see so much emphasis on urban survival, guns guns guns, equipment, vehicles, beasts of burden etc. Now I'm reading some of these comments all but saying wilderness survival isn't viable long term. And some have said you basically have to be stationary for it to work. These are myths, falsities, fairytales conjured by modern society. At least in my part of the world.
    With only the clothes on your back, a knife and some means of fire (plunger, matches, lighter, bow, etc.) and just a grasp of some skills you can survive indefinitely. And be on the move while doing it. Remember that the body tends to take over and tell you what it needs. You may crave fish eyes or even have the urge to scarf down fistfuls of dirt. Your body knows what to do. We are not long in civilization comparatively.
    With a pack full of twine, hooks, tinder, a plunger, copper tubing and wire, large leather needle, camp axe, knife, machete and my recurve (35#) you can walk into the woods and come out 20 lbs heavier. I'm talkin thrive dawlin! While on the move.
    Toss in a pirogue, car battery and collapsable solar panel and you can really make time!

    If I knew nothing about wilderness survival I'd still hit the woods before staying urban. Urban dwellers would likely experience a drastic and violent reduction in population within months. And guns are noisy and unnecessary unless you are urban. Camo, planning and knowledge can keep you out of any situation or guarantee superior position, even for a lone operative armed with traps and primitive weapons. In the wilderness that is. Don't get me wrong I'm still bringing a couple guns just in case lol. And don't underestimate pellet guns add a source of quick, quiet good and even defense. Also pellets are very quick and easy to make.
    Now I'm only talking about low wet woods and swamp/marshland. I have almost no experience with mountain or northern winter survival and deserts and badlands are not viable from my perspective.
    Injury and illnesses are deal breakers if not properly treated regardless of where you hunker down so for the purposes of this discussion I consider it a non issue.
    As far as a larger group in the wilderness situation I agree with an earlier poster that they can be a burden. No more than five able bodied "thrivers" to remain light for moving or for permanent residence. Takes a lot of food to feed five plus my dingo.
    And don't forget wherever you are, urban, mountain, swamp, woods, crops can be grown on the slick, guerrilla style 60' in the air so bring seed. corn, potato, pumpkin and the like!

    I think ultimately it boils down to will and preparation. Even if you plan on staying urban learn to make some traps, wild edibles, containers etc. I only plan on raiding urban areas 2 or 3 times a year at most (luxuries) but I promise you I've been learning all I can to prepare for urban survival. I urge everyone to do some light study on things you are unfamiliar with. Just in case.