Learning the Skills
So now the question: How do I learn primitive skills? You can, if you have the time, patience, and desire, teach yourself. There are many great resources in print and online that walk you through learning how to make fire for example. For many people, including myself, this is the logical route. I work on my skills when I have the time, at my own pace, learning and using plants as they become useful during the changing seasons, working with my fire kit under different conditions, making cordage and traps, experimenting and building my skills on a regular basis. And this is the key to primitive knowledge and being able to use it when necessary- practice, and regular practice.
One of the best resources for reading about primitive skills and primitive technology is the Bulletin of Primitive Technology. It is a journal published twice a year by The Society of Primitive Technology. Take a look at their website and browse through the articles available online. Joining the Society costs 30 dollars per year and includes the spring and fall journals. The journal features many very descriptive, easy to follow articles, photos, reviews, resources and reports on primitive experiments. Nearly all of the issues are available as reprints or back issues. Take a good look at the back issues that are available. If you are interested in learning about a particular primitive skill, I guarantee that you will find it in one or more of them. The current journal also lists upcoming gatherings and workshops- this a great resource for finding someone to teach you the skills and to meet others who are studying the methods of the past.
If reading and teaching yourself at first seems impractical, or if there are no workshops in your area, there are schools that offer from courses from day-long workshops to month-long field exercises where you can learn specific skills, or spend weeks living primitively.
One such place for learning primitive skills is the Aboriginal Living Skills School in northern Arizona. It is run by Cody Lundin, author of the book 98.6 Degrees The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive (I recently picked up his book and it is a highly recommended survival primer- it is available on our Guidebooks page). While I do not know him personally, I have only read good things about Cody Lundin over the years. I plan to give him a call one of these days and ask a few questions. Stay tuned for that.
In Boulder, Utah, you can find the Boulder Outdoor Survival School, or BOSS.
If you are in the east, Tom Brown Jr's. Tracker School is world famous. You will not go wrong participating in his classes. If you are unfamiliar with Tom Brown, a few of his many books are also available through our Guidebooks page. You can read about Larry Dean Olsen's Anasazi Foundation at their website. The focus of the Anasazi Foundation is to help youth find their way; it is not a typical wilderness school. If you have the time it is worth a visit to their website to read a bit about what they do.
Primitive Skills and our Survival Scenario- Where to Start?
If you found yourself in the latter of the two scenarios in the introduction- alone, slightly injured, without any equipment, deep in the Escalante, 50 miles from nowhere- and no one knew you were there- what would you need to do to stay alive and be comfortable? And get yourself back to civilisation? As we have stated elsewhere, it is often hard to separate survival skills and primitive living skills. Here we will run through the primitive skills that will make your survival situation more comfortable.
In my experience, there are five areas that need to be addressed: water, shelter, fire, food, and navigation. For the purposes of our discussion lets assume that you had visited our website, read up on our survival kit recommendations, and were carrying at least a knife with you. This single tool would give you a tremendous advantage in your situation. Now we'll walk through this hypothetical situation and discuss the details of the steps you might consider taking.
At the top of the list of priorities for me is usually water. In the desert water is always on my mind. Even if I have just filled my water bottles, I am already, and constantly, searching for the next water source- my eyes are always looking for patches of green that might signal the presence of water, for seeps or springs, potholes in the slickrock, or pools in the streambed along the canyon bottom. We discuss the topics of hydration, heat-related illnesses, and finding and using desert water in depth on our Water and Hydration pages. Please take a look at those pages and read them carefully. The importance of staying hydrated in the desert cannot be overstressed. In our scenario we know that we are on the bank of the Escalante River, so we can check water off our list for the moment, but not without repeating the adage that water is better stored in your stomach than in your water bottles.
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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