In the event of some global catastrophe, would you be able to fend for yourself and your family? How long could you survive off the grid? If you don’t know the answer then you need to spend some time at a wilderness survival camp.
From within our cocoons of technology, we often ignore these questions–at our own peril. It is crucial for us to keep ancient wisdom alive and maintain a connection with nature that can’t be learned on TV or online.
These 7 wilderness survival training schools will realign your mind and body with the wild.
1. Ancient Pathways (Flagstaff, AZ)
Since 1985, Ancient Pathways founder and director Tony Nester has been surviving extreme wilderness conditions–from jungles to mountains to the sub-arctic. His acclaimed wilderness survival camp is located deep in Arizona’s canyon country, a region rich with rugged mysticism. Ancient Pathways students explore prehistoric wonders and native culture while learning how to survive in the high desert.
Courses last anywhere from 2 to 21 days. The famous “Knife-Only Survival Course” is exactly what it sounds like–and it’s not for the faint of heart. The 3-day expedition is so intense that actor Emile Hirsch endured it to prepare for his role as Christopher McCandless in Into the Wild (2007). Ancient Pathways charges $125-$325 for courses; they offer a 10% military discount.
2. Thomas Coyne Survival Schools (various locations, CA)
If you’re seeking a wilderness survival camp with a military pedigree, TCSS (formerly Survival Training School of California) is more than up to snuff. Three branches of the U.S. military have trained at the school. Thomas Coyne’s resume reads like an action movie script: frontline firefighter, helicopter rapeller, swift water rescue technician, and a member of the helicopter rescue team for the first civilian space shuttle launch. His fellow instructors include a decorated combat veteran, a USMC sniper instructor, and a battlefield first aid expert.
TCSS offers a wide range of courses all year round, for all ages and skill levels. You can spend a day learning how to improvise deadly weapons from the environment, or a week surviving the Alaskan wilderness. You can learn how to fight kidnappers from a counter narco-terrorist operator, or simply how to navigate with a compass. Courses can be as inexpensive as $100-$200.
3. Alderleaf Wilderness College (Monroe, WA)
At Alderleaf Wilderness College survival goes beyond “man vs. nature” toughness tests. The school emphasizes sustainable living and permaculture through a variety of educational courses. In classes that last 1-3 days, you can learn how to identify edible mushrooms($85), fashion your own wooden longbow ($300), track wildlife through the woods($250), and more.
For the more dedicated, Alderleaf offers a comprehensive nine-month Wilderness Certification Program ($12,950). Students hone the hunter-gatherer skills and ethnobotanical knowledge of humans past while developing the tools to build a more sustainable future. Graduates earn a Certificate in Wilderness Skills Education & Ecology and a Permaculture Design Certification. Located in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, the beautiful 24-acre Alderleaf campus is a living testament to the college’s commitment to sustainability and community.
4. Jack Mountain Bushcraft School (Masardis, ME)
Bushcraft is the art of living off the land: creating shelter, sustenance, and tools from your environment. JMBS teaches bushcraft not through traditional instruction, but by engaging students in authentic situations where true knowledge is born. There are 4 total immersion programs.
The Wilderness Bushcraft Semester (9 weeks, $7100) is the most popular; it concludes with a 21-day, completely student-guided trip into the woods. The Boreal Snowshoe Expedition (12 days, $2050) is a one-of-a-kind trek through the enchanting winter wilderness of northern Maine. The Wilderness Canoe Expedition Semester (4 weeks, $3600) takes you and 7 other students across 250 miles of rivers and lakes, teaching you firsthand the forgotten secrets of water navigation.
The Yearlong Wilderness Bushcraft Immersion Program combines the former three programs into a comprehensive “no hand-holding experience”: 5+ months of primitive skill-building and wilderness survival training.
5. Boulder Outdoor Survival School (Boulder, UT)
Established in 1968, BOSS is the oldest wilderness survival camp in the U.S. The school advertises physically and mentally strenuous courses like the “Standard” Field Course, in which you and 11 other students traverse Boulder Mountain for up to 28 days, carrying little more than ponchos, blankets, and water bottles.
Boulder Outdoor Survival School was founded by BYU professor Larry Dean Olsen, who wanted to help struggling students reconnect with life’s purpose. However, it’s no therapy center–it’s considered the toughest survival school in the country. And while BOSS requires its students to be in stellar physical condition (and even pass a 1.5 mile run test), the school emphasizes that it’s not a “‘Rambo’ experience.” Rather it aims to preserve the beauty and wisdom of indigenous survival philosophies amidst the high-tech world of today. BOSS courses are led by a diverse group of instructors and cost around $3000.
6. Mountain Shepherd Survival School (Catawba, VA)
This school, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western Virginia, prepares you for the worst. For just $550, you can participate in the Rolling Thunder course, a four-day simulation of a real survival situation. The program will test the limits of your body and psyche as you make your way through the mountains, building your own fires and finding your own water. The Hidden Pursuit program ups the ante: after receiving skills training from a US Air Force SERE instructor, you must navigate “hostile territory,” evading an enemy. MSSS also provides easier courses like Survival 101, and Wild Comforts, a program tailored for children and parents.
7. Pathfinder School (Jackson, OH)
Dave Canterbury, who starred on Dual Survival, teaches you the basics of survival in three-day, $400 courses. The Pathfinder School plunges you and your fellow adventurers into lifelike emergency scenarios that demand agility, creative problem solving, and nature knowledge. $600 gets you into the signature Pathfinder Class, an intense scouting program during which you must seek, hunt, and gather all your own sustenance.
Final Thoughts on the Best Wilderness Survival Camp
This list of the 7 best wilderness survival camps for adults is by no means an exhaustive list. The USA is a big place and each state has some superb survival camps that may be better suited to your needs.
My advice is to do the research and check all the available options then contact the companies to ask any additional questions.