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Primitive Living Skills Versus Survival-
Living Comfortably Off the Land

North Face Action Spring Gear at Altrec Outdoors

What are Primitive Skills?

The practice of "primitive skills" has been with man since the very beginning of time. Knowledge of edible and medicinal plants, the ability to find shelter, find water, to hunt and of course defend, and mainly the quest for fire- the most primitive of skills- have set man apart from all other mammals. The will to live and survive is innate in our genetic code, as it is in all animals, but with man's brain and ability to create and adapt, the innate drives have given him the ability to reach unequaled technological heights. He has developed the primitive skills into the world we live in today (for better or for worse). But what if you were returned to the wilderness without any modern devices- could you survive, live, thrive? Could you find food, water, shelter, make fire? These most basic, innate skills have been lost to modern times. But they can be re-learned, re-awakened as it were, and they may perhaps help to save your life some day.

Survival Versus Primitive Living

First lets discuss the difference between survival and primitive living. Although the two terms may be hard to separate at times, they do have different meanings. To survive according to the American Heritage Dictionary is to “remain alive or in existence, to live or persist through”. That definition is very clear. The scenario may be that you have become lost (which you should never do!) on a week-long backpack trip in the Escalante wilderness in southern Utah. The scenario may be that you were crossing the river, your pack and maps were swept away, and you were deposited at the mouth of an unknown canyon far downstream with two sprained ankles. This is a very unlikely scenario, but in this situation the goal would be to remain alive until you are rescued. Assuming you have planned ahead, have a permit and have left an itinerary with someone, you would sit tight in the shade, making sure that you have located a water source, expending as little energy as possible until searchers come to rescue you. This is an example of survival. On the other hand, if you are on your own without itinerary or permit, you would have to live through the situation and eventually get yourself out- this is where primitive living skills might come into play.

The definition of primitive is “pertaining to an earliest stage or state, characterised by simplicity”. Therefore, we can define primitive living as “supporting oneself through the use of simple, early stage technology”. This might include creating fire using friction or spark, foraging for food, hunting using traps, snares or throwing sticks, and sheltering using caves or structures of sticks and brush- all tasks that might be required to help you remain alive as well as comfortable as you remove yourself from the situation. It should be clear that the two terms- survival and primitive living- have very different meanings, but that they can definitely merge into one.

It should also be made clear that surviving, as presented in the scenario above, takes much less energy and experience than venturing into the desert for a week with nothing more than the clothes on your back, and maybe a knife and canteen. The latter is an example of a primitive living exercise. And the skills necessary to do this cannot be learned by simply reading about them. They must be practiced if you are to become proficient enough to use the skills to stay alive.


Back to Top
Primitive Skills- Living Comfortably Off the Land
Primitive Skills- Learning the Basics, Water
Primitive Skills- Shelter
Primitive Skills- Fire
Primitive Skills- Food
Primitive Skills- Navigation
Primitive Skills- Primitive Weapons
Primitive Skills- Fishing
Primitive Skills- Flintknapping
Primitive Skills- Tracking
Desert and Wilderness Survival and the Survival Kit Page
Choosing Your Survival Knife





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