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Wilderness Safety and the TRUTH about Wilderness Survival: "Reality" vs. The REAL

Despite the impression of what most people understand as wilderness survival, after the decades-long fad of television’s survival “reality” shows, REAL wilderness survival was never intended to be a game, or fun, or easy! Real wilderness survival is NOT a game, it is NOT fun, and it is NOT easy!! Nor was it ever intended to be a stand-alone “hobby”, it is actually just an extension of wilderness safety, and wilderness safety is all about risk management.

On the contrary, wilderness survival is a serious subject, worthy of serious study, by the serious-minded. And despite the exceedingly RARE occurrences of real-life “long-term” wilderness survival ordeals, it was certainly never intended to aid in extending a wilderness ordeal or situation! (virtually all survival ordeals are resolved within hours, rather than months). Likewise, wilderness survival was never meant to be a go-to “plan”, wilderness survival is NOT a plan, wilderness survival is what you do if the plan FAILS!

Even the many instructors, who popped-up during and since the survival fad (including in R.E.I.), don’t fully understand wilderness survival, contributing to the confusion from within. This is because there is no state license to practice, no diploma from an accredited college or university, and no standardized certification course for instructors (or students for that matter). So, it's up to the potential student to educate themselves BEFORE they pay their money! Even so, you would be hard-pressed to find a survival instructor who is CLEAR on what the curriculum should include or NOT include (unless they’ve read my work!).

In fact, it’s primarily because of those survival-reality TV shows that there is confusion over the line between bushcraft and wilderness survival, and the celebrities produced by the genre have done little to alleviate that confusion or paint an accurate picture of what wilderness survival truly entails, particularly the ones who are NOT actually wilderness survivalists to begin with, but bushcrafters (even the few reputable ones!)

“Bushcraft” is a word of Australian origin. It refers to the skills (or “crafts”) needed or used to prolong one’s stay in the Australian “bush” (areas populated with gum trees, i.e. eucalyptus trees, a genus of over seven hundred species of flowering trees, shrubs or mallees in the myrtle family). By contrast, the primary goal behind wilderness survival is to END wilderness survival as quickly, as efficiently, as safely, as possible. This is because wilderness survival ordeals are a serious, life-threatening, EMERGENCY situation!

In a nutshell, basic bushcraft begins with: (7) Sheltering, (8) Fire, (9) Water, and (10) Food. However, although wilderness survival includes basic bushcraft, bushcraft does NOT include wilderness survival! This is specifically because the goals of both are diametrically opposed. Also, bushcraft can include ANY number of related ‘arts and crafts’ or studies (potentially dozens), typically depending on the individual interest/s, skill/s, or whim/s of the instructor.

On the other hand, the study and practice of wilderness survival includes 16 subjects. No more, no less: 1) Planning, 2) Preparing, 3) Proficiency, 4) Backups, 5) Basic Survival (Strategies and Concepts); 6) Signaling, 7) Sheltering, (8) Fire, 9) Water, 10) Food, 11) Wilderness Survival Psychology, 12) Mind-Body Sciences, 13) Wilderness Survival Case Histories, 14) Advanced Wilderness First-Aid, 15) Conditions (Terrain And Weather), and especially 16) Wilderness Survival Training. The first five are “The Five Essential Steps”, the second five are “The Five Basic Skills”, and the third five are “The Five Advanced Subjects.” Moreover, the first rule of wilderness survival is to AVOID wilderness survival! (This is where wilderness safety comes in, if you are safe, there’s no need to “survive”).

Why “especially” when it comes to “16) Training”? Wilderness survival requires: 1) Knowledge (through study), the mental database upon which one relies, without it, one cannot hope to fully understand something. 2) Skill (through practice), the polished ability to apply that knowledge, without it, one cannot perfect what one learns. 3) Experience (though training), without it, knowledge and skill are just theory. However, The Four Cornerstones of Wilderness Survival ALSO requires, 4) Judgment (from common sense), without it, we are prone to rely on the presumptions of knowledge, the assumptions the of skill, and the expectations of experience. Judgment is the act or process of forming an opinion, or making a decision, after careful thought, then adjusting and adapting what we’ve learned to fit the facts at hand. To do this, you need two things: 1) The benefit of knowledge, skill and experience, and 2) The ability to apply what you’ve learned to the situation at hand, that “ability” is called intelligence, but it’s PRACTICAL intelligence, not academic.

The primary purpose behind the study and practice of wilderness survival is to aid in: 1) Protecting the will to survive despite external (i.e. thirst, injury) or environmental (i.e. terrain, weather) issues. 2) Preserving the will to survive despite psychological (i.e. hopelessness, ego depletion) or physiological (i.e. stressors, illness) issues. And, 3) Prolonging the will to survive despite duration (i.e. longing, boredom) issues. However, the largest, and arguably most important, component of wilderness survival is actually wilderness survival PSYCHOLOGY. Particularly when you consider most of wilderness survival deals with how and when you perceive threats, make or avoid mistakes, and ultimately who lives or dies. It is what makes the study of wilderness survival a study of human nature (in the wilderness context).

I could very EASILY go on, but by now, you are hopefully beginning to see how different and detailed REAL wilderness survival is from the typical perceptions and assumptions of what most people THINK is wilderness survival.

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