Wilderness Survival: Living off the Land with the clothes on Your Back and the Knife on Your Belt

John Kolp
International Marine/Ragged Mountain Press
Mark Elbroch and Michael Pewtherer
Publication Date: 
Wilderness survival skills are a bit far afield for the typical day hiker. Even the inveterate backpacker would not want to push the envelope quite so far. But the title of this book is, in fact, quite misleading. It's not really a text book or a field manual. Yes it does contain 26 detailed and illustrated essays on essential survival topics: eating a balanced diet, maintaining personal hygiene, building "debris huts" for shelter, fabricating canteens and cooking containers, catching trout bare-handed, "carcass care" (aka butchering deer). Rather, the heart of the book is a journal of the authors' 46-day experiment in living divorced from civilization and totally by their wits out in the woods. The commentary is not political or philosophical; this is no Thoreau's Walden. Elbroch and Pewtherer wanted to "stress test" themselves. They had already mastered many wilderness skills and taught in survival schools and camps. They were familiar with the locale-an undisclosed location in upstate New York-which had abundant fresh water springs. Their aim in this extended "off the grid" sojourn was to prove to themselves that they were not merely surviving on stored fat reserves but actually living in the wilderness, healthily at that, on the wide variety of flora and fauna they foraged. The climax of the experience was a four-day "solo." Each man went off alone to fast,meditate, and contemplate his future path in life. Elbroch, writing a decade after the quest, says it was a turning point in his life. It taught him about "letting go" and "going with the flow." Sure that's trite; more interestingly he observes that he learned most about "personal" energy efficiency. "Efficiency is predominant on your mind when you live in a survival situation," he writes. "You cannot afford to waste energy; every action must have a purpose. I've carried that lesson from the woods and it has made my life easier. It has governed my decision making and focused my intentions and behaviors." Reading this book, I found myself at times recalling Stephen Ambrose's Undaunted Courage about Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery exploring the Louisiana Purchase and the hoped for easy path to the Pacific.There was no easy path and the men had to overcome numerous challenges, knowing little or absolutely nothing about what lay ahead. Elbroch and Pewtherer have that kind of backwoodsmen skill and adventurer mentality. Having no new lands to discover, they embarked on an interesting spiritual quest instead.
Trail Walker