Wilderness Survival Book Review

Trail Walker Book Review: Nov/Dec 2007Wilderness Survival:Living off the Land with theClothes on Your Back andthe Knife on Your BeltBy Mark Elbroch andMichael PewthererInternational Marine/Ragged Mountain Press, 2006Reviewed by John KolpWilderness survival skills are a bit far afieldfor the typical day hiker. Even the inveteratebackpacker would not want to push theenvelope quite so far. But the title of thisbook is, in fact, quite misleading. It's notreally a text book or a field manual. Yes itdoes contain 26 detailed and illustratedessays on essential survival topics: eating abalanced diet, maintaining personalhygiene, building "debris huts" for shelter,fabricating canteens and cooking containers,catching trout bare-handed, "carcasscare" (aka butchering deer). Rather, theheart of the book is a journal of the authors'46-day experiment in living divorced fromcivilization and totally by their wits out inthe woods.The commentary is not political orphilosophical; this is no Thoreau's Walden.Elbroch and Pewtherer wanted to "stresstest" themselves. They had already masteredmany wilderness skills and taught insurvival schools and camps. They werefamiliar with the locale-an undisclosedlocation in upstate New York-which hadabundant fresh water springs. Their aim inthis extended "off the grid" sojourn was toprove to themselves that they were notmerely surviving on stored fat reserves butactually living in the wilderness, healthily atthat, on the wide variety of flora and faunathey foraged. The climax of the experiencewas a four-day "solo." Each man went offalone to fast,meditate, and contemplate hisfuture path in life.Elbroch, writing a decade after the quest,says it was a turning point in his life. Ittaught him about "letting go" and "goingwith the flow." Sure that's trite; more interestinglyhe observes that he learned mostabout "personal" energy efficiency. "Efficiencyis predominant on your mind when youlive in a survival situation," he writes. "Youcannot afford to waste energy; every actionmust have a purpose. I've carried that lessonfrom the woods and it has made my life easier.It has governed my decision making andfocused my intentions and behaviors."Reading this book, I found myselfat times recalling Stephen Ambrose'sUndaunted Courage about Lewis and Clark'sCorps of Discovery exploring the LouisianaPurchase and the hoped for easy path to thePacific.There was no easy path and themenhad to overcome numerous challenges,knowing little or absolutely nothing aboutwhat lay ahead. Elbroch and Pewtherer havethat kind of backwoodsmen skill andadventurer mentality. Having no new landsto discover, they embarked on an interestingspiritual quest instead.