Monthly Archives: January 2016

Venting on Lost Person Behavior


Ok—going to vent because I’m tired of people with elevated egos dying in the outdoors simply because they entered the back country with the wrong mentality, lack of training, and/or the wrong gear for the environment and wind up in a survival situation. Quite honestly I’m not as upset about them becoming a statistic or a case study, but rather influencing others with their poor attitudes towards preparedness. Only 50% of those placed in a survival situation will walk away and have a story to tell others about. The remaining 50% will be dead, injured, or vanish without a trace.

I was challenged in a class the a few weeks ago on how survival training is really “irrelevant” to outdoor skills. This came from a grizzled and well seasoned guy in the back row sitting with his arms folded across his chest. It only took a few minutes for the agitator to realize he picked an argument with the wrong guy. Here are the stats, but don’t take my word on it, do the research on your own.

Much of this comes from the research I do on lost person behavior. I look at around 500 cases a year and really study at an in-depth level about 50 of them. I eliminated kids and focused on just adults in my conversation. For the sake of this specific argument, I included hunters, photographers, rock hounds, hikers, and generally adults between the ages of 18-65 engaged in some outdoor adventure. I eliminated (except where noted) those with memory loss, Alzheimer’s, and other issues of memory loss or disassociated disorders. I couldn’t remember if in my original argument if I included those who work in the outdoors, so I threw in what I could remember at the time and for the sake of this entry, include those who work in the back country such as guides, surveyors, forest and lumber workers, fish and game/conservation officers etc.

For clarity, I need to include that in the cases I studied, those who were rescued or recovered were more often than not, inadequately equipped and not trained or well prepared for the circumstances they wound up in.

Also, the question around “Where were they when they were found” often comes up in discussions, yet better question, “Where were they not?” They weren’t close to trails, roads, or other common routes. Most wound up in a panic state or took panic actions such as running or walking faster. This is common in adults since large muscle movement provides a rhythmic state, which (falsely) reduces panic. Walking fast or running is to adults what rocking is to a child in distress. Most made the attempt to fix the situation on their own or find themselves, which often makes the situation worse.

Panic also leads to poor judgment, poor execution of decisions, and emotional reaction. Panic comes from the amygdala. It’s the small part of our brain that controls flight, fight, freeze, feed, and …well procreation. The amygdala can save a life in most situations, but it can also cause death. Ask SCUBA divers what the main rule is when you are out of air that you do not do….its shoot for the surface while holding your breath even though the amygdala is wanting you to conserve air in your lungs. Shooting to the surface while holding your breath will cause lungs to over expand and you die. Thanks lizard brain.

Victims in my research also show undeveloped or at best poorly developed direction finding skills and may not have map and compass or at least navigation training. In several interviews I have done, hunters and hikers claim they have internal compass and navigation skills. There is absolutely ZERO evidence that supports internal compassing. In fact, what many claim is an internal compass is really the ability to read clues and signs in the backcountry. I discuss this more in another write-up.

Pride and ego are another factor in my interviews and research. The one single party that claims they do not need training for survival or preparedness is backcountry large game hunters. In several interviews I was told several times “I grew up in the woods”. While this was true for a few (less than 1%), most who had “grown up in the woods” when surveyed actually spent less than 27 days per year in the backcountry. For this reason we never say hunters are “lost”, we say they are “geographically embarrassed.

Barry Mitchell in his excellent work on lost person behavior noted the following:

  • 40-50% are adequately equipped
  • 50% followed a trail or drainage at some time while missing
  • 30-50% move at night
  • 90% are found within five miles of IPP (Our research notes hunters and back packers will travel up 8 miles once they realize they are lost)

In William Syrotuck’s ground-breaking work on lost person behavior noted:

  • Frequently located near natural boundaries and vegetation inter- faces – forest edge, stream, steep slope – and navigation aids – walls, fence-lines, shelters etc.
  • Sometimes wander away from regular tracks and trails and become lost
  • Need to identify ‘magnets’ that may have attracted them

Here is why we believe training is needed by all outdoor enthusiast and why I get upset when we are undervalued. According to Syrotuck:

  • Fatalities………………… 43%
  • Injured …………………….. 3%
  • Unhurt……………………. 37%
  • No Trace………………… 17%

The numbers speak for themselves. If you are outside you need to train and equip yourself for the adversity. As outdoorsman we are going further in the backcountry, rely on our electronic devices, more unfit, and a host of other disadvantages that keep us from coming home when it all goes wrong.

Adventure IQ ( offers workshops and seminars to better equip yourself for survival situations.


6 W’s of Shelter Building


A shelter can protect you from the heat of the sun, insects, wind that either zaps warmth or moisture from your body, rain, snow, hot or cold temperatures. It is the center-point of your Comfort Zone and gives you a feeling of safety and well-being. It can help you maintain your will to survive.

In the rule of 3‘s, we discuss the need to protect yourself from exposure. You can go three days without water, but only 3 hours in extreme cold or heat conditions. In some areas, the need for shelter may take priority over your need for food and possibly even your need for water. As an example, prolonged exposure to cold can cause excessive fatigue and weakness (exhaustion). An exhausted person may either develop a “passive” outlook, thereby losing the will to survive or make decisions that further jeopardizes their situation.

One of the most common errors in making a shelter is to make it too large. A shelter must be large enough to protect you from the elements, but also small enough to contain your body heat, especially in cold climates.

6 W’s of Creating Shelter in You Comfort Zone

When establishing your shelter and your Comfort Zone, understand the first shelter may not be your permanent shelter. When you find yourself in a situation, you often need to take immediate action and get under cover. Intense heat, driving rain, or waiting the night out may all be reasons you move to protect yourself by sheltering, and then moving or creating a shelter in a Comfort Zone. When you go to set up your shelter and establish a Comfort Zone, use the 6W’s to help you establish the area you’re going to call home.

The 6 W’s include:

Weather- You can quickly die of exposure. Let’s make sure you set up to protect yourself against the elements.

If it’s hot and you have to get out of the sun, then set up a tarp that you can crawl under for protection. Even if you only put it up 18” high, you will benefit from the cooler space that sits at the 12” and below area.


In colder weather, keep your tarp low so it can capture heat from either your body or the fire pit you establish. If it looks like rain, make sure you can figure out a way to stay dry or even use your shelter to capture water to drink later.

Wood– If your not building a shelter with it, your creating fire for warmth, cooking, comfort, or purifying water. You can also use it for making tools and other creature comforts. Look for areas where there is a good supply of wood before settling in to establish your Comfort Zone.

Water- Even if you don’t have water in your Comfort Zone, either know where it is or how you are going to procure it. In some cases, you may need to move your Comfort Zone to where you can obtain water.

Widow Makers- That which does not kill you will make you stronger, unless you’re that guy in Utah that had to cut off his arm with a multi-tool. Widow makers are anything that can turn your rescue into a recovery operation. When setting up shelter look for overhanging branches, potential rock slides, a boulder that just needs the nudge of cold-night air to slip, or anything that could hurt or kill you. Avoid these areas at all cost.

Wingers- Anything that buzzes in the air and bites or stings needs to be avoided if possible. Fly’s carry disease, Bees and Wasp leave nasty stings and can be an extreme danger, and Mosquitos cause ailments such as Malaria. To one degree, the smoke from your fire can minimize the issues of flying insects but when selecting a site try to avoid areas of insect concentration.

Wigglers- Anything that crawls on the ground that bites, stings, sucks, etc. Ants, snakes, scorpions, eve centipedes. Some of these you can avoid by not building in their nest, others you just have to keep an eye out for. Before you go out, do a little research on the threats in your area. Don’t overlook the tick threat in your area as well.


If you have attended my workshop on shellers you know I’m a fan of keeping a tarp and light-weight tent stakes in your pack–saves time and calories over making one from scratch.

Dangers of Drinking Non-Potable Water


While the focus is on us as humans, don’t forget your trail buddy or gun dog can be impacted as well so don’t let them drink from streams. Dogs effected by Giardia will suffer, not perform as well as they should, and can run up a pretty high vet bill getting rid of tummy issues associated with water.

In 1989 I was out on an extended hike/ survival skills test with my friend and mentor Gary. We had both run out of water and it was a rare heat wave in Germany. We sat up a temporary sit-spot by the Kyll River, which is a tributary of the Moselle. We were close to the head waters of it, but you first need to understand what flows into the Kyll.

Germany has a vast amount of space in the Rhineland-Pfalz area dedicated to dairy farming. Every morning cattle leave their stables and walk to the fields where they graze. These fields drain into the river.It not only contains the output of the cattle, but in the late fall and early spring the fields are furtilized. Cow excrement from the stables is collected into a vat, pumped into a “honey wagon” and then towed to the field by a tractor and sprayed onto the fields.

At this point you have probably realized that one of us decided to bypass the pufification part of this little adventure and I can guarantee, it wasn’t me. Gary learned two important lessons that day, the first to always purify water and the second is the value of the extra TP I packed.

In a survival situation things already suck, so don’t make them worse. By drinking non-potable water (water unsafe for drinking) you may contract diseases or swallow organisms that can harm you. Examples of such diseases or organisms include but are not limited to:

Dysentery- Severe, prolonged diarrhea with bloody stools, fever, and weakness.

Cholera and Typhoid- You may be susceptible to these diseases regardless of inoculations.

Flukes- Not a huge issue in Idaho survival situations. Stagnant, polluted water–especially in tropical areas–often contains blood flukes. If you swallow flukes, they will bore into the bloodstream, live as parasites, and cause disease.

Leeches- If you swallow a leech, it can hook onto the throat passage or inside the nose. It will suck blood, create a wound, and move to another area. Each bleeding wound may become infected. This just has suck (no pun intended) all around it.

Giardia- A common threat in the back country, Giardia lives inside intestines of infected humans, cattle, sheep, or other animals (wild or domestic). Individuals become infected through ingesting or coming into contact with contaminated food, soil, or water. This means that washing dishes in the creek or dipping your canteen in a pond can put you at risk if you don’t sanitize all surfaces that come in contact.

Cryptosporidium- You don’t just have to ingest water, but swimming in water that is contaminated is also dangerous. This is a microscopic parasite that causes the diarrheal disease cryptosporidiosis. Both the parasite and the disease are commonly known as “Crypto.”

The parasite is protected by an outer shell that allows it to survive outside the body for long periods of time and makes it very tolerant to chlorine disinfection.

While this parasite can be spread in several different ways, water (drinking water and recreational water) is the most common method of transmission. Cryptosporidium is one of the most frequent causes of waterborne disease among humans in the United States.

Drinking unsafe water can make your survival situation worse and once rescued can prolong recovery and in some cases cause long-term effects and possibly death.

Sources of H2O



For all Adventure IQ activities, classes, seminars, workshops, etc. our belief that the basic building block to any survival kit is the pack with a hydration bladder that holds the minimum of 100oz of clean and drinkable water. If you have water on your back as your primary source, you eliminate many issues that will arise due to dehydration.

At some point though, you may find that you have run out of water, so let’s first explore resources of water. First some of the most obvious, and then move into more advanced methods of procuring water.

Almost any environment has water present to some degree.

Heavy dew can provide water. When I was on a survival trip in the pine barrens of New Jersey a few years ago, I was able to use this method to supplement my already low water supply. Using your bandana or other cotton material, tie around your ankles and walk through dew-covered grass before sunrise. I would wake up around 4 am for a nature call anyway and figure I could not only expel fluid, but could also use the opportunity to gain fluid. It also allowed me to get warmed up since I was sleeping pretty cold at night. As the material absorbs the dew, wring the water into a container or drink it on the spot. If collecting it, repeat the process until you have a supply of water or until the dew is gone. It is possible to get as much as a liter an hour this way.

Cracks, Crags, Crevices– When I was out of water in the Chiuauan Desert during my mountain bike trip I found small havens of water in Arroyos, small bowls or pockets of water that can add hours or even days to your life. Look around, water sometimes gathers in tree crotches or rock crevices. Again you can dip a cotton rag into the hole or siphon out with a field expedient tube. I often find these pockets in Idaho as well with all the cracks that the volcanic rock has created. A word of caution, animals also hit these areas so purify when possible.

Bamboo and Vines– Vines I am vaguely familiar with and admit that have been taught about bamboo but when I tried bamboo as a water source O.P. Schnabel park in San Antonio on a back trail I didn’t have any luck. In some areas you can find Bamboo. Green bamboo thickets are an excellent source of fresh water. Water from green bamboo is clear and odorless. To get the water, bend a green bamboo stalk, tie it down, and cut off the top. The water will drip freely during the night. Old, cracked bamboo may contain water. Some vines contain water, but get locally trained to understand  better.

Let it Rain- I have had to create the immediate reaction habit to begin collecting water as soon as the skies open up instead of just ducking for cover. Rainwater collected in clean containers or in plants is usually safe for drinking. However, purify water from lakes, ponds, swamps, springs, or streams, especially the water near human settlements or in the tropics. On a side note, when you build the habit of immediate collection, it will drive you crazy to see so much water falling from the sky and you have nothing to collect it in. Makes afternoon drinks on a patio in the spring very uncomfortable with your buddies.


No— urine is not a source…

When possible, purify all water you gain from vegetation or from the ground by using iodine or chlorine, boiling, or using a purification/ filtering system.


Daniel Boone Challenge


So in an earlier blog I discussed the Crocket Challenge. I go on a yearly solo training where I push myself for a few days. This year I will do two weeks alone running up to seven scenarios. I will start with no-gear and low gear content and then move to additional phases. Scenario #2 will be the Crocket. Following a recovery day, I will go into the Boone phase while on my survival solo in Utah and Arizona.

I created this scenario in 1990-94 while teaching survival to Air Force buddies in West Texas who had some field time under their belts but had not ben pushed too hard. The Daniel Boone challenge is designed to test the total skills package. In this 3-day semi-supported scenario designed to challenge your skills, the participant stays a minimum of 60 hours. Building on the psychology of staying overnight with minimal supplies of the Crockett, in this activity I designed it to push the surviveor’s own limits and increase confidence and capability to survive in a scenario.


The last time I did one of these I was pretty wiped out. I had zero luck on procuring food, it was cold and rainy most of the time, and I developed a bad cough. On the morning of day three, Trigger’s rations were looking pretty good.

Once in the opperational area, I will establish a new Comfort Zone (see my Zone Survival Concept) and live for three days and two nights. Part of the scenario is to set up two non-baited deadfall traps to show capability. Food procurement is simulated in the consuption kit. I usually pack a small handful of jerkey to represent the meat you would get from a ground squirrel. Its not allot—trust me. About 1 ounce.

Time: This exercise is designed for a period of 60-72 hours and equipment is limited to:

Cover: 2 wool blankets or one bedroll, waterproof tarp or space blanket. Clothing as required for environment. (no down jackets)

Cutting: Knife and saw

Combustion: Flint/Steel or Friction Fire. (Emergency fire kit zip-tied and in bottom of pack)

Container: Water bottle and metal boiling container.

Care Kit: Include small first-aid kit, water purification

Cordage: No more than 100’

All items must fit into in a small container no larger than 2500 cubic inches (small pack) or rolled into bed roll. My Frost River Summit Boulder Jct comes in at 2300 and change.


Consumption: Food for three days- but must fit inside the pack or bed roll. (Not allot for three days). Survival fishing kit may be carried (have a license too). If you have a license and within legal parameters, you may supplement with wild game.

If water is not safe or readily available at usual site then an extra five gallons are permitted to be cached- but must treat it as if it were dirty and use purification methods. (1 gallon may be carried by hand and water will be cached for my pup only).

At least one tool must be made during this challenge as well as a para-bracelet. I like collecting the tools I have made on my trips and the para-cord bracelets hold a sentimental value for me.

Safety Items/ Bail-out Bag – you need to have one in case stuff does go wrong. This can be cached on the way in to the sit spot/ Comfort Zone. Mark it so you can find it in emergency.


If you decide to do one of these–you are responsible for your own safety.


Davy Crockett Challenge

At the end of this week I head to Utah and Arizona to do some solo survival work. I will be pushing my self in no-gear and low-gear scenarios. These scenarios include going out with nothing at all to surviving on a store bought pocket survival kit, and then wrapping up with a low gear scenario Ilke the Crocket and Boone challenges here. I have done both Crocket and Boone scenarios before numerous times since I first created them in 1990, but this is the first time I have done them in the dead of winter in a desert environment. I guess since I am doing this in the desert, I probably need to remame them. Open to suggestions on the Adventure IQ facebook page.

The Davy Crockett challenge is designed to provide an overnight experience in the woods using only minimal items. This is an easy introduction to a semi-supported scenario designed to help train on how to deal with the psychology of staying overnight with minimal supplies if you have never done so. This is a solid step in building confidence.

In this scenario the participant will establish a new Comfort Zone area and live for a day to day and a half.

Time: This exercise is designed for a period of 24-36 hours. Equipment is limited to:

Cover: 2 wool blankets or one bedroll, waterproof tarp or space blanket.

Cutting: Knife.

Combustion: Any method other than matches or lighter. Wet fire methodology recommended. Flint/Churt and Steel and Bow Drill to practice with.

Container: Metal water bottle.

Care Kit: Include small first-aid kit, water purification

Cordage: No more than 50’

All items in a small container like a satchel or rolled into bed roll.

If water is not safe to access or readily available at usual site then an extra one to two gallons are permitted to be cached- but must treat it as if it were dirty and use purification methods. I will only be taking what is in the bottle.

Safety Items/ Bail-out Bag – this is designed so the participant (me in this case) does’t die and if its someone else- they don’t sue me over not having the common sense to take a bail out bag.

Camera to take photos



If you do this—you are responsible for your own safety in this

activity. Your well-being comes first.

This will be scenario #3 that I run, The first two will be a no-gear and the second will be a knife only and no other gear. I figure having two wool blankets with a few items will be a welcome change. I will eat between each phase, but notice that food is not included in this phase. I will (hopefully) procure off the land.

Survival Training for Building Resiliance


We often focus on the Rule of 3’s as more of a guideline on how long you can endure withoutwater, food, contact, etc. However the often overlooked first rule is that without faith and hope you do not have a chance to survive.

Your job in a survival situation is to stay alive. As you can see, you are going to experience an assortment of thoughts and emotions. These can work for you, or they can work to your downfall. Fear, anxiety, anger, frustration, guilt, depression, and loneliness are all possible reactions to the many stresses common to survival. These reactions, when controlled in a healthy way, help to increase a survivor’s likelihood of surviving. They prompt the survivor to pay more attention in training, to fight back fear when scared, to take actions that ensure sustenance and security, to keep faith with his fellow survivors, and to strive against large odds.

When you cannot control these reactions in a healthy way, they bring you to a standstill. Instead of rallying your internal resources, you begin to focus on your internal fears. You mess with your own mind. The survivor who loses faith and hope immediately experiences psychological defeat long before you physically succumb. Survival is natural to everyone but getting unexpectedly thrust into the life and death struggle of survival is not. Don’t be afraid of your “natural reactions to this unnatural situation.” Prepare yourself to rule over these reactions so they serve your ultimate interest–staying alive.

Survival looks like an adventure on the television and for some it seems like a natural part of life. In reality it involves preparation to ensure that your reactions in a survival setting are productive, not destructive. Below are a few highlights to help prepare yourself psychologically for survival.

Know Thyself

Be honest, most of us think that because we are outdoors allot, went to a few Boy Scout camps, or are avid hikers/hunters, we “live in the woods”. While this is true for some, its not true for most.

We emphasize getting out and training in all conditions, not only to prep you for an unforseen survival event, but as a confidence builder for any situation. Cancer, job loss, death of a loved one all require resiliance.

Using our methodology of “Zone Survival” you are able to have a starting point as well as a point to retreat to when training outdoors. Through the training you do in your Comfort Zone, discover who you are on the inside. Strengthen your stronger qualities and develop the areas that you know are necessary to survive. To know more about Zone Survival, sign up for one of our classes at


Anticipate Fears

You will get scared. Some people have never spent the night in the woods, gone a few days without food, or traveled cross-country using only a map and compass.You will be afraid the first time you are alone in an unknown situation whether it is training or for real. Don’t pretend that you will have no fears. Begin thinking about what would frighten you the most if forced to survive alone. Train in those areas of concern to you. If you are worried that you wouldn’t be able to start a fire in rain, go out to Ft Backyard and turn on the sprinkler and figure out how you will get a fire going while water falls on you. Worried about dressing out game, get with someone who can teach you how to prepare wild game for eating. The goal is not to eliminate the fear, but to build confidence in your ability to function despite your fears.

Be Realistic

Survival situations suck at best. Don’t be afraid to make an honest appraisal of situations. See circumstances as they are, not as you want them to be. Keep your hopes and expectations within the estimate of the situation. When I was without water in the Chiuauan Desert and days from water, I sized up the situation, realized I could die, and devised a plan to get back, even if it was to only get back closer to rescue. When you go into a survival setting with unrealistic expectations, you may be laying the groundwork for bitter disappointment. Follow the adage, “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.” It is much easier to adjust to pleasant surprises about one’s unexpected good fortunes than to be upset by one’s unexpected harsh circumstances.

Adopt a Positive Attitude

During my own situation, I made up my mind that I was going to live. You can survive three days without water, but only three seconds without faith and hope. Adopt a Positive Mental Attitude (PMA). Rescue should be a sweet interruption to your survival. In other words, get so good at it that when rescue occurs it is a welcome surprise. Learn to see the potential good in everything. Looking for the good not only boosts morale, it also is excellent for exercising your imagination and creativity.

Remind Yourself What Is at Stake

Its when we realize that we are going to possibly die that we need to remind that if we don’t make it back we are going to be missed. Remember, failure to prepare yourself psychologically to cope with survival leads to reactions such as depression, carelessness, inattention, loss of confidence, poor decision-making, and giving up before the body gives in. At stake is your life and the lives of others who are depending on you to do your share.


I spend hours perfecting small parts of my craft. Building bow drill fires, hunting game with a slingshot, making natural shelters, and attending classes like wild edibles are just a sample of how I keep my brain and my “can-do” spirit in shape.

Through survival training and life experiences, begin today to prepare yourself to cope with the rigors of survival. Demonstrating your skills in training will give you the confidence to call upon them should the need arise. Remember, the more realistic the training, the less overwhelming an actual survival setting will be. Training in realistic conditions when its wet, cold, you’re hungry, your injured, or a combination of any of these will prepare you when everything goes south.


Learn Stress Management Techniques

In every real situation we have to quickly understand what we can control and what we can influence, all the other stuff we have to let it go. If you don’t learn to take it down a notch you’re likely to get into more trouble. People under stress have a potential to panic if they are not well-trained and not prepared psychologically to face whatever the circumstances may be. Many lost people run when they realize they don’t know where they are. Its an survival response inorder to get large muscles moving and create a rythmic state that calms.

While we often cannot control the survival circumstances in which we find ourselves, it is within our ability to control our response to those circumstances. Learning stress management techniques can enhance significantly your capability to remain calm and focused as you work to keep yourself and others alive. A few good techniques to develop include relaxation skills, time management skills, assertiveness skills, and cognitive restructuring skills (the ability to control how you view a situation).

Remember, “the will to survive” can also be considered to be “the refusal to give up.”

Introduction to Survival Psychology

IMG_7880It’s late October and you and your buddy are amazed by the unseasonably good weather. To enjoy the day, you decide to go on a mountain bike ride. You pack light since you won’t be gone long so you throw in a few bottles of water to go on the frame, some trail mix and your cell phone.

You ride hard, pushing each other. The scenery and weather are so great that you lose track of time and before you know it, the sun starts to set.  Moments later, disaster strikes. Dodging your buddy on a turn, you both tumble down a steep hill and break your leg. Your bike partner is shaken and bruised and both bikes sit below you in a tangled mess. Even at your weight, there’s no way your buddy can haul you out. You are several miles from your car.

You’re almost out of water, the snacks got left in the car, and your cell phone isn’t getting a signal.

Introduction to Survival Psychology

So often we have focus on how survival skills increase your odds of staying alive. With that, you need to understand it takes much more than the knowledge and skills of building shelters, finding food, and creating fires to live successfully through a survival situation.

There are numerous cases where people with little or no survival training have managed to survive life-threatening circumstances while others with survival training have used their skills and died. In a majority of thecases where someone comes home verticle and not horizontal, it can be attributed to positive mental attitude. Combining skills with a solid understanding of how you will react to a situation improves your capability to survive. In addition, placing yourself in scenarios, where you have to endure hardship, will strengthen your resilience. The key ingredient in any survival situation is the mental attitude of those involved. Having survival skills is important; having the will to survive is essential.

Stress and Survival

Technically there is good stress (eustress) and bad stress (distress). Stress can be described as our reaction to pressure. It is the name given to the experience we have as we physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually respond to life’s tensions.

The Need for Stress in Survival

We need stress because it has many positive benefits. Stress provides us with challenges and the drive to move beyond our current situation. It gives us chances to leverage our strengths. Stress can confirm our ability to handle intense pressure without breaking and tests our adaptability and flexibility to situations. All of this is known as eustress.

Too much stress can take its toll and create dangerous situations for the survivor. Too much stress leads to distress. Distress causes an uncomfortable tension that we try to escape and, preferably, avoid.

Below are common signs of distress often found in survivors when faced with too much stress:

  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Angry outbursts
  • Forgetfulness
  • Low energy level
  • Constant worrying
  • Propensity for mistakes
  • Thoughts about death or suicide
  • Trouble getting along with others
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Hiding from responsibilities


If not controlled, stress can be destructive. Not only does it discourage the survivor, but can be a catalyst of bad decisions. Feeling the need to rush, take unnecessary chances, or taking short cuts can all lead to disaster. When faced with a life or death situation, the human brain uses the Cerebellum to harness the capability to be rational. When immediate danger arrises, the ability to be rational is bypassed and hijacked by the Amygdala, the part of the brain that offers few options. With the Amygdala flee, freeze, or fight are the only real options. Any of these three can be the wrong decision. A survivor under new and uncertain stress can panic and forget all training. Key to your survival is your ability to manage the inevitable stresses you will encounter. The survivor works with stress instead of the other way around. A possible way to prevent Amygdala hijack is by practicing immediate action drills. This is discussed further in the lectures on video.

Survival Stressors

Any event can lead to stress. Chaos tells us that multiple events create a survival situation. These events are not stress, but they produce it and are called “stressors.”

Stressors are the obvious cause while stress is the response. Once the body recognizes the presence of a stressor, it then begins to act to protect itself.

In response to a stressor, the body prepares either to “fight, freeze, or flee.” This preparation involves an internal SOS sent throughout the body. As the body responds to this SOS, several actions take place. The body releases stored fuels (sugar and fats) to provide quick energy; breathing rate increases to supply more oxygen to the blood; muscle tension increases to prepare for action; blood clotting mechanisms are activated to reduce bleeding from cuts; senses become more acute (hearing becomes more sensitive, eyes become big, smell becomes sharper) so that you are more aware of your surrounding; and heart rate and blood pressure rise to provide more blood to the muscles. This protective posture lets a person cope with potential dangers; however, a person cannot maintain such a level of alertness indefinitely.

The cumulative effect of minor stressors can be a major distress if they all happen too close together. A survivor’s body will already or soon will be subject to physical exhaustion or possibly injury. After awhile resistance to stress wears down and the sources of stress continue (or increase), eventually a state of exhaustion arrives. At this point, the ability to resist stress or use it in a positive way gives out and signs of distress appear. Anticipating stressors and developing strategies to cope with them are two ingredients in the effective management of stress. It is therefore essential that the survivor in a survival setting be aware of the types of stressors that will be encountered.


Injury, Illness, or Death

Injury, illness, and death are real possibilities a survivor has to face. Perhaps nothing is more stressful than being alone in an unfamiliar environment where you could die from an accident or have witnessed the death of someone else.

Illness and injury can also add to stress by limiting your ability to maneuver, get food and drink, find shelter, and defend yourself. Even if illness and injury don’t lead to death, they add to stress through the pain and discomfort they generate. It is only by controlling the stress associated with the vulnerability to injury, illness, and death that a survivor can have the courage to take the risks associated with survival tasks.

Uncertainly and Lack of Control

We are control freaks. We manage our time, set expectations for others, and chase after goals. We check sports scores through smart devices and and expect updates on major news stories. Some people have trouble operating in settings where everything is not clear-cut. The only guarantee in a survival situation is that nothing is guaranteed. It can be extremely stressful operating on limited information in a setting where you have limited control of your surroundings. This uncertainty and lack of control also adds to the stress of being ill, injured, or killed.


You are at the bottom of the food chain. Even as a seasoned outdoorsman your modern body was not built to withstand the environment for long term. Get over it, deal with it, and do something about it. Even under the most ideal circumstances, nature is quite formidable. In survival, you will have to contend with the stressors of weather, terrain, and the variety of creatures inhabiting an area. Heat, cold, rain, winds, mountains, swamps, deserts, insects, dangerous reptiles, and other animals are just a few of the challenges awaiting the survivor working to stay alive. Depending on how a survivor handles the stress of the environment, the immediate surroundings in the Comfort and Explorer Zones can be either a source of food and protection or can be a cause of extreme discomfort leading to injury, illness, or death.

Hunger and Thirst

The general rule is 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food. Without food and water a person will weaken and eventually die. Thus, getting and preserving food and water takes on increasing importance as the length of time in a survival setting increases. For a survivor used to having his provisions in the pack, foraging can be a big source of stress.


Forcing yourself to continue surviving is not easy as you grow more tired. It is possible to become so fatigued that the act of just staying awake is stressful in itself. Rest is important, but in cold weather when the body is not able to keep its self warm, going to sleep can be a death sentence. Getting food, warmth and hydrated will allow you to take breaks and sleep, but only after you have everything else squared away.


There are some advantages to facing adversity with others. As outdoor enthusiasts we learn individual skills, but we often work as part of a community. Being in contact with others also provides a greater sense of security and a feeling someone is available to help if problems occur. A significant stressor in survival situations is that often a person or team has to rely solely on its own resources.

The survival stressors mentioned in this section are by no means the only ones you may face. Remember, what is stressful to one person may not be stressful to another. Your experiences, training, personal outlook on life, physical and mental conditioning, and level of self-confidence contribute to what you will find stressful in a survival environment. The object is not to avoid stress, but rather to manage the stressors of survival and make them work for you.


You have to make up your mind today that when you get into a survival situation you are going to make it back. Practice your skills in controlled environments, but you need to get out there and work when the odds are against you. Setting up a shelter in the wind, lighting fires in the rain, or fasting for a few days just so you know you can endure hunger will better prepare you when you face an actual situation.


Night Out Minimum

075Was talking with a class yesterday and was asked– “What do I really need to go out and spend a night or two in the woods and not carry a bunch of stuff. I want to go bare minimum and learn to deal with harsh conditions.”
I always advise safety first- especially with those new to learning survival and bushcraft. This is why starting out on day trips and setting up a sit-spot or in our working language a comfort zone and spending four to eight hours learning different aspects of gear and gaining experience is best for beginners. Becoming proficient with fire, water procurement, learning what equipment and clothing  you need and how to best use it, and building your mental toughness to endure various conditions will help the new guy (or gal) in the woods.
The basics are pretty simple and I will cover a bargain basement bushcraft set up later but for now what we teach in our survival training is:
  •  Something to cover and create a micro-climate like a tarp and sleeping bag or wool blankets
  • Something to carry water in and to boil water for purification
  • Something to cut wood, cordage, etc like a full tanged knife
  • Something to get a fire going
  • Something to tie up your tarp with

These items are the minimum to provide Food, Fire, Water, and Shelter. Everything else is for comfort and consumption.



In late 2013 we converted our RC race track in the back yard to BushLab. I wanted someplace where:

(1) I could teach survival and bushcraft skills to small classes
(2) provide an environment to develop and master survival and bushcraft skills
(3) demonstrate that suburban landscaping could be used for creating fire, shelter, cordage, and food 
(4) a venue to gather with friends and family for special occasions.
(5) demonstrate that bushcraft and survival skills could be practiced in a suburban environment, and…
(6) a personal retreat for me

What I have found is a great personal retreat in my own safe haven. In this project I’ve been able to prove that you can to a degree and on a smaller scale bring the wild into Ft Backyard.I no longer need to drive extended distsnces to get a nature fix, work on bushcraft skills, or teach class, I can wake up on a Saturday morning and teach a survival class or a fire craft wotkshop right here in Meridian. Another reason I love living in Idaho.


Everything in my yard is there to support bird and squirrel habitat, make fire out of, eat, make cordage, and other paleo or survival projects. The 24′ parachute supported by lodgepole pines provides potection from the elements. Below the canopy we have a spot for teaching fire craft, workingon bush experiments, or a special place to observe wildlife.

Setting up your own sit-spot in Ft. Backyard isn’t difficult and you don’t need allot of space. Using your imagination and sweat  equity you can have your own spot.