Survivalism — The Real Truth

I watched the “Out In The Wild” documentary, which depicts 10 “average people” (city slickers) who are dropped off in the wilds of Alaska with a small mountain of gear and told to find their way back to civilization.

It was interesting, entertaining and a bit startling to see just how clueless people really are. In a world nation where virtually everything is provided for everyone, nobody really needs to know anything about self-sufficiency or survival.

What follows is a “plot spoiler” (you’ve been warned!) so if you’d rather watch it first, please do.

Ten people started, but not everyone finished.  The “experiment” as they called it, was rigged from the get-go.  First, anybody that wanted to quit, could by simply pushing a transponder button and a rescue helicopter would show up in a few hours. Of course, this wouldn’t have really happened for any real survival situation, you can’t just “quit” unless you’re willing to just die.

Secondly, they got LOTS of help, something that would not happen in a real survival situation either (or in a “bug out”). For example, their drop off point contained a mountain of gear. The group first had to decide what gear to take and what to leave behind (such as a Ukelele). They took everything.

The two “most experienced” in the group, according to the narrative shown, really had no experience at all. They also only lasted a couple of days apiece, giving up very early. The reason was two-fold: group dynamics and hunger.

Very little food was provided for the group. At each “camp” was a cache of stuff that could be anything: candles, rice, fishing gear, even an ice-axe. The show heavily emphasized the need for large quantities of calories and protein, which immediately began to take its toll upon the participants. They simply could not provide enough food for themselves and never did. Starvation set in very quickly, even though they had lots of help (detailed below), with guns and fishing gear in a heavily populated wildlife area.

The first two that quit, opting out and calling in the rescue chopper because they were incapable of working with the group.  Both were leaders and both quit with a few days of each other. They perceived the rest of the group as holding them back (which was true). The inexperience of the rest of the group and the series of bad decisions they made were costing everyone in excess calories burned and very slow progress towards “saving themselves”.  Essentially, they had to walk out of the wilderness to “succeed”.  The two (very mildly) experienced saw this as a failure early on and simply quit.

In a real survival situation, where there weren’t any real controls, they’d might have simply left the rest and gone off on their own.  They would have died if they did.

The remaining participants kept going, working out their group dynamics reasonably well.  But not a single one of them would have survived in real life either. The only thing that actually kept them alive was all the help they received at each “camp”, which ranged from tiny cabins to wooden platforms or even a crashed plane that they turned into a temporary shelter.  There, they would find other gear that they could use or leave behind and sometimes a bit of food, such as rice or lentils.  But starvation took an early hold on the entire group in mere days, all were running on “fumes” and exhausted.  They went days between single meals comprising only 300-400 calories each, which means that they burned large amounts of body fat and muscle mass.  All lost dramatic levels of weight.

The group tried fishing with near-total failure (in an area replete with creeks, streams and lakes full of fish), and hunting and snaring. They were even given a 22/410 over-and-under single shot rifle / shotgun combination (decent survival gun) and never seem to run out of ammunition. And they had plenty of fishing gear, snare wire and even nets, yet despite all of this, they actually failed rather miserably to provide themselves with enough food.

All would have been dead within 10 or 12 days without the “help” that they received.  In a real survival situation, nobody is going to leave you a cache of gear or a bit of food laying about a cabin, or even provide you with a map to follow your way out of the wilderness.  The group quickly figured out that their “task” was to simply go from point A to B (campsite to campsite) as depicted on the map given to them, complete with compass and directions.  This is not real life, not even close. If you’ve never been lost, then you don’t fully understand what it’s like to have no clear idea where to go, and certainly no idea where you might find help (or even a campsite).

The show actually failed on several points, since they really couldn’t just toss a bunch of people off into the wilderness and say “good luck”, ie., they couldn’t let them die out there, which they would have, every single one of them.  Instead, they had pre-positioned strategic locations with campsites, gear and sources of water.  That’s fine as far as a “show” goes, but it’s not realistic and not something anybody could expect in real life.  But it did show what people would “do” in a situation like this, controlled as it was.

I actually thought the show was very informative, despite it’s shortcomings. I do recommend everyone watch it, as it reveals how groups work, how inexperience and naivety will quickly kill you, and how utterly ridiculous it really is to make yourself a “self-made refugee” by “bugging out” to the wilderness, a Internet myth promoted by keyboard kommandes that have no real life experience with matters like this.

Here’s are the highlights of things I noticed in the documentary:

a) Failure to take it seriously from the beginning. This led to a series of disastrous mistakes, costing the group time and burned off precious calories.  It was a camping trip at first, not “survival”, even though they had no idea how long they would be in the wilderness (weeks or months). They hadn’t truly come to assess their plight until days into the experiment and when they belatedly realized there was no food to be found, but by then, it was actually already too late.  Specifically, the time to “act” (find food in this case) was when you were still healthy and energetic, not when you are starved, depressed and lacking energy.  This point is also true for almost everything else — act before, not later, when you are occupied, disarmed, pursued, or any other “event”.  Do this when you are strong — not weak.

b) Leadership failures. The two “experienced” (I use the term loosely, it was evident that they knew next to nothing) didn’t take charge.  A simple explanation of what the group needed to do, and how to do it (such as make a fire) would have gone a long ways towards making the right decisions and helping with group dynamics.  Experienced people, even mildly experienced people have something important to add to any group. They should not be ignored, unless they were impossible to work with and a danger to the group (this was not evident). Yet the two individuals who quit early on simply failed to share their knowledge like they should have and allowed others to make costly mistakes.  In part, this happened because they too were pretty inexperienced in reality, but common sense seemed to be absent.

c) Gear failures. In the beginning, due to inexperience (and a decided lack of common sense), the group took virtually everything (ukelele and all, including a 20 lb cast-iron pot).  They had quite a bit of gear to choose from, so instead of leaving anything behind, they packed it all up and carried everything over the mountains.  BIG MISTAKE. This wore out everyone, including the two oldest and the two most experienced, which dropped out.  Slowly (much to slowly), the group finally figured out that they didn’t need all that crap and started leaving stuff behind.  But they STILL wound up carrying 60 – 70 lbs packs EACH. This was quite ridiculous.  This was their single biggest “failure” that I saw., repeated at every hike / trek to the next “camp”.  Only the bare essentials should have been carried (food, clothing, shelter related items). They needed to move light and fast in order to get out of the wilderness alive. Instead they moved sluggish and slow, burning up precious calories and time.

d) Movement. The show required the group to move from camp to camp. They were also required to stay at each camp a specified number of days (2 – 4) where they were supposed to resupply themselves however they could with wild game or food they could find.  Realistic enough I guess, but it was a near-total failure. While moving, the group failed to take into account the terrain and the opportunities for hunting and fishing they encountered (except for one situation) in nearly a month of traveling.  Getting to the next shelter / camp was always their primary focus, while starvation was really the real problem.  They “knew” due to the controls, that some sort of shelter awaited them, even if it was just a wooden platform they’d string tarps over.  But they never knew where their next meal would come from — and this lead to their starvation early on.  Although faint with hunger, they really never took this seriously enough.

e) Activities. The group only intermittently hunted and fished, giving up (often) after only a few hours. This is actually why they nearly starved to death. Inexperienced played a huge role in this, but so did impatience.  The group would get up late and quit early. As I said, they learned early on to “just get to the next camp and see what stuff was left for them”, instead of honing the skills to keep themselves alive.  They did manage to keep the fire they finally got started (several days into the experiment) going, learning how to use the magnesium fire starter they had, but this was totally unnecessary.  Magnesium fire starters are really easy to use and there was absolutely no need to keep fires burning all day long. This activity burned up huge amounts of calories finding and chopping wood (they had a hatchet and at least two saws that I saw).  Much too often the group was depicted as just sitting around, mostly just feeding the fire instead of looking for much-needed food.

Someone(s) should have been hunting AND fishing during all daylight hours, morning till night, even if it just meant sitting on a ridge or casting a line into the water. There were enough people in the group to easily accommodate this.  They did try delegating this sort of activity (and the woman proved equally as good as the men or even better, however, they came home empty-handed very often, quitting too soon despite the plentiful wildlife in the area.

They did lay out snares and nets, but totally failed in an entire month to catch a single thing using this method.  They all had 3 days of survival school training, which had emphasized this as a very useful technique.  Snares and fishing lines left in the water work 24/7 while you’re off doing something else.  They also require low calorie expenditures to setup and check (a big issue for survival).  Despite modern fishing gear (rod, reel, line, hooks, salmon eggs, flies, etc.) the entire group only caught TWO FISH in a month.  They even had small boats and canoes left at some camps on the edges of lakes they could use.

Hunting with the over-and-under rifle was their only real “food getter” that they learned how to use, and the group killed only a few small animals with this (after many failures). But even this “food found” was less then 1/10th of the calories they needed. Their first “kill” was a mouse for example.  Then a ground-hog (pika). All told, they took in less then 1/10th of the calories they needed to survive.  If it were not for the bits of food left for them at the “camps” by the show promoters, they would have all died from starvation within 10 – 12 days.  Not a single one of them would have actually survived.

They were even given a 45/70 scoped rifle around the half-way point, but still failed to use this long-range tool effectively. And a master hunter guide even showed up to help them learn how to hunt.  This too failed. Eventually, they left this rifle behind, deeming the weight too much to carry.

This is why I strongly disagree with “bugging out to the woods survival” embraced by so many.  It will be an absolute disaster (death trap) for many that try this (99% of these idiots will die). In a real survival situation, you don’t have any help or caches of gear just waiting for you.  You are entirely on your own.  Being a self-made refugee by bugging out is just plain stupid, but many want to try this.  This will be a great way to clean out the low end of the gene pool.

f) Calories.  Probably the most misunderstood and most ignored topic of all.  Everybody discusses “survival”, concentrating on gear, tactics, techniques and so forth, but few pay any attention the the caloric requirements to stay healthy and alive (and being able to have the strength to simply walk out).  Stay-at-home, sedentary “existence” / light work activity most of us have will require a minimum 2000 calories per day. Modest to light activities will jump this up to 2800 calories (where you’re still warm and dry with adequate shelter). More activity (such as hiking) will push this even higher, 3500 calories per day or more.  And strenuous activities will be higher yet, 4500 calories per day.  Add in cold weather, shivering, hypothermia (something that came close to killing the group), constantly foraging for food, wood and shelter, and you can easily be looking at 5000 calories needed per day, per person. The group could not even provide themselves with just 500 calories per day, going almost immediately into “starvation deficit” where their own bodies started to eat themselves, consuming fat and muscle mass.

I’ve long pointed out that adequate calories are critical. Being in the “survival food business” I see a LOT of deception about calories contained in food units and even in individual products. You need far more food then what is widely accepted as sufficient. This is perhaps the single greatest contribution this documentary made — the failure to eat sufficient quantities and types of foods (fats and proteins) will swiftly kill a lot of “survivalists” and even stay-at-home “apocalyptic survivors”. The second greatest was the obvious — survival is very hard and without adequate skills, experience, calorie intake — you will die.

Americans are really accustomed to eating whatever they want, consuming all kinds of calories (this and very poor nutrition is why 58% of us are clinically obese). During collapse, or a survival situation, or a regional disaster, the FIRST thing that comes to mind is getting enough to eat.  The stores are stripped bare in mere hours.  Shelter of course (and water) will rate very highly too, depending on just how cold and wet you are.

I rarely see people storing enough calories, despite filling thousands upon thousands of orders all over the country. Food storage companies “compete” by cheating on calories, selling you less food then you actually need, so they can display a “better price”. It’s ubiquitous. This leads to a huge misconception on what it is really going to take to stay alive.  Everyone wants to cheat themselves on what it is actually going to take to stay alive.  The only possible outcome on this is utter failure. Many, many people will swiftly burn through their “1 year entree supply” in as little as 3 months.  These companies are not being held accountable — but only because nobody has yet tried to survive on what they’re offering.

In my “Survival Challenge“, I’d tossed down the glove, challenging anyone to “prove” that they could actually survive on their own in the wilderness.  Nobody has responded because we all know that our existence is really dependent upon civilization. Professional survival instructors have written me in response to this article, which nobody is willing to republish since it refutes all the garbage they’re still actively promoting about “survival” (and the companies they’re all affiliated with), admitting that they expect 99%+ of “survivalists” to utterly fail (as in “die)” out in the wilderness if they were to “bug out”.  Yet this ridiculous misconception of “bugging out” continues to this very day, raging on the StupidForums on where to go and how to do it.  The lessons learned by those that have tried — and failed — are conveniently ignored.

I’m at a loss on this, giving up on trying to educate people. Calorie intake is a huge issue, and even on my own homestead, and despite all I’ve done, I cannot even begin to meet the total requirements.  I will be very dependent upon other sources of food if the “crunch” happens. I’ve got neighbors who have cows and goats, and along with my chickens, greenhouse, fruit orchard and what hunting I can perform, it might be enough (and a huge 10 year food supply) — for a while.  But if all the hungry hordes from down south come up here, fleeing climate change or whatever, displacing the population and overwhelming the local resources — all bets are off (and so are the gloves).

I’ve been preparing like mad for years, trying to make ready for a future that continues to look worse and worse. It has taken a huge amount of time and effort to get to where I’m presently at, but I fear, I know that it is still inadequate. So I’ll be doing more. I hope to have something “ready” for my kids, who will need these preparations more then I will.  They’re facing a hellish future, and they only real “hope” they have is I develop a survivable infrastructure now. So I push on with this effort, year by year, as I must.

Survivalism is hard, harsh, fraught with obstacles and difficulties, making mince-meat out of the inexperienced and the naive very quickly. But even experienced survivalists know that nobody “survives” out in the woods unless they escape back to civilization (quickly), where they can find the nutrition that they need.  This is the #1 issue for survivalism.  It boils down to starvation. Or in some locations, dehydration.  Or hypothermia, both which can kill you far faster then starvation.  Assuming you obtain enough water, and the means to stay warm and dry enough (separate topics unto themselves), food then becomes your highest priority.

All of civilization is about providing enough food, it’s the reason we even have a “civilization”.  It underlies the basic construct of why we live as we do — in houses, in villages, in cities and in towns. Unfortunately, they’ve “incorporated” the entire paradigm of food production, taking away skills, experience and ability and placing this all in the hands of giant agri-businesses to produce the food to feed the majority of the world.  Few of us actually know how to provide ourselves with enough food — and this documentary shows just how incredibly real and important this issue really is.

Not enough is being done to teach people how to break this dependency.  Blogs like mine are only going so far, but not far enough.  Companies like mine will help you survive, but you’ve got to be entirely realistic about what it’s actually going to take.

The real truth about survivalism is you’re actually going to try to regain civilization where you can survive.  It’s an obvious truth.  It’s the real truth behind the entire “survivalist movement”.


admin at survivalacres dot com

2 thoughts on “Survivalism — The Real Truth

  • November 22, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    For those determined to live the cherished mountain man fantasy after ignoring your sage advice and bugging out anyway, here’s more “food for thought” about the needed daily caloric intake:

    “In the 1700’s voyageurs, would start before daylight, paddling for two hours before breakfast, and would then go on without a midday meal until a big meal at night. Where wild geese were plentiful, the ration for a voyageur was one goose a day. On the plains, the ration was ten pounds of fresh buffalo, or eight pounds of moose meat. On large rivers, three big whitefish, or one salmon would suffice per day. If large game was scarce, eight rabbits would provide sustenance for one man per day.

    It has been estimated that the men on Lewis and Clark’s expedition expended more than 6,000 calories per day. Most of these calories were derived from meat protein from deer, elk, bear, buffalo, antelope, Bighorn sheep, fish, but also, wolf, beaver, porcupine, and during lean times included dog and horse. During the summer along the Missouri River, they supplemented their diet of meat with gooseberries, cherries, raspberries, grapes, plums, and red and black currents. The men also collected “greens” such as cress from along the river.”

    Your basic Rambo mall ninja simply doesn’t have a clue about what it would take to amass and process 6,000 calories a day to survive. NOT GONNA HAPPEN!

    • November 22, 2012 at 10:16 pm

      And neither do “survivalists” have a clue. They’re not doing it now (unless McDonald’s is open ’till midnight), and they certainly won’t be doing it then when they’ve “bugged out”.

      This myth simply won’t die. It also exposes the entire meme falsehood about hiding out it the woods (for any reason). Unless you’re constantly resupplied, it’s death by starvation (or hypothermia). Whatever wildlife is successfully caught will be quickly consumed and still not be enough until it is virtually all gone.

      7+ billion of us exists because there is (usually) enough to eat. Something (far) less then 1 billion of us would exist if we actually had to feed our own selves from what we could hunt and fish and glean from the land. Not only is our environment severely depleted of wildlife, edible plants and regions where wild things still flourish, the calories required to gather this in are quite significant.

      What would happen if the trucks stop rolling and the farms stop farming would be instant starvation for billions of people. Stores would be wiped out in mere hours. Food riots would start in less then 3 days. Within two weeks, cannibalism would begin as food entirely disappears. That would keep a few going for a while — until the meat spoiled or there were fewer “game” animals to chow down on. It would be very, very ugly, very, very quickly.

      Oh, happy Thanksgiving everyone. There is indeed plenty (still) to be thankful for.

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