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Leon's Blog

Can you learn valid survival/preparedness skills from the internet or website?

Can you learn valid survival/preparedness skills from the internet or website?

Suppose you’re a brand-new beginner prepper/survivalist, and want to learn more. How can you tell if a website is valid, or if it is BS? Here are some things to look for.

by Leon Pantenburg

My career  has been spent in the news business, and for decades, I was an investigative reporter/photographer. Today, I am the advisor/instructor of The Broadside, the newspaper and a media outlet for Central Oregon Community College in Bend, Oregon.  One of the sessions I teach involves finding credible sources.

Wilderness area, Oregon Cascades.

Anyone can claim to be a wilderness survival expert, or expertise in any form of preparedness.

Here’s what I learned about the internet and valid information, and some criteria for deciding if you can trust a website:

Credentials: There is no national or international accrediting organization for survival instructors that I know of. Basically, you have to rely the author’s word about his training. Things to look for could be outdoors experience and  association with groups (Search and Rescue Teams, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts etc.) which spend a lot of time outdoors. These associations are easily found in communities, and valid instructors are easy to check out.

Military service is not an indication of wilderness survival expertise. As a public affairs specialist for the U.S. Army, I never was sent to a wilderness survival school, nor was that part of the training for people in my specialty. The military typically only trains people in skills they will need to do their jobs.

Beware of those who claim to have “trained” with certain elite units. People are not just allowed to tag along on trainings that don’t directly relate to their Military Occupational Specialty.

To check out a military expert, look up his/her Document of Discharge 214 (DD-214). These are public records, and will list dates of service, places he served and schools attended. Don’t buy the “top secret” excuse. If someone was in the military, he/she was paid and had dates of  induction and discharge. These are public record.

If there is a mysterious blank space in someone’s employment or business resume, check to see if that person was incarcerated during that time. These records are also public, but obtaining them may vary from state to state.

Beware of people with no known address, or who are vague about what part of the country they live in.

Where do they live? IMHO, OpSec is a joke, and you’re only fooling yourself. If you go anywhere, there are multitudes of hidden cameras watching every parking lot, convenience store or shopping mall. There is no escape, and just about every phone has a video capability.

And let’s not forget the invisible surveillance drones that can observe anything. Or google maps. If anyone wants to find where you live, they can check with the county property records, another public document.

Leon's snow cave

Does the author actually go out and do the things he writes about? Does he/she actually use the gear  that is reviewed?

It’s on the internet (or published in a newspaper, or the person being quoted is recognized as an expert from somewhere). Don’t believe anything without a credible source (Hmmm…so how do we verify this statement? Stay with us –  it will all be revealed in a few paragraphs.)

Wikipedia is not considered a valid source by reputable newspapers or news stations, because anyone can post anything about any topic.

Common sense: There may be some actions a so-called expert might take that set off your BS alarm. Pay attention to these.

In one instance, an “expert” created a dugout shelter in a dry streambed in a desert. Anybody with a rudimentary knowledge of gravity would know a dry creek bed is where rainwater will flow to, and subsequently be the site for a flash flood. So this dugout created the lowest point in an established path of a flash flood!

In another instance, a popular “reality survival expert” dove headfirst into a pool without checking first for obstructions. (Look up one of the most common reasons for spinal cord injuries among young people.)

A lack of common sense indicates the author is short on something. It may be knowledge.

Nicknames: In the news business, we don’t rely on anonymous sources unless there is the potential for extreme danger to the source. Even then, the decision to use an anonymous source is made on a case-by-case basis.

Personally, I think any author is suspect who relies entirely on a pen name. It is a credibility issue –  you can’t google a nickname and find much. But someone like Lisa Bedford, The Survival Mom, is real. I’ve met her and she runs one of the most credible websites I know of.

Likewise with Jarhead Survivor of SHTF Blog. I know Jarhead’s real name, the part of the country he writes about and that he is a credible source. He chooses to not use his real name online.

So who can you believe? Check out these aspects of any survival website:

Apply the following criteria to ANY website or source of  information before you decide to trust it, according to Central Oregon Community College Emerging Technologies Librarian Michele DeSilva.

  • Who is responsible for the website? What are the author or organization’s credentials? (Hint: if you have trouble determining who is responsible for the website, it’s probably not that credible!)

    When the lights go out, and the blizzard starts to rage, know what to do to do to stay safe and warm inside your house. (Pantenburg photo)

    Make your preparedness plans based on credible information. (Pantenburg photo)

  • Don’t rely on a site’s domain alone for determining a website’s credibility! Anyone can register an .org site, for any reason. .Edu sites can have student projects or really out-of-­date pages. Many .com sites are excellent sources of information.
  • One exception: .gov sites are reserved solely for U.S. government sites and are generally pretty credible (unless they are out of date, so be sure you know when the site was created and updated.)
  • Look for an “about” page (or a “mission” or “purpose” page). What’s the purpose for this website? Is there a particular point of view that informs the Website?
  •  Is the website’s content up to date? When was content last posted? Where is content coming from? Is the author creating it or collecting content from other sites/sources? If the content is coming from other places, what, if any, value is added by the website you’re looking at?
  • Some sites exist just to generate advertising revenue! They copy content from Wikipedia or other free, online sources just to drive traffic to their sites.
  • Does the author cite his or her sources? Is his or her information verifiable?
  • If the author is presenting something as his or her original research, what gives the author credentials, or expertise, in this area?
  • Are there lots of spelling and grammatical errors on the website? Any obvious factual inaccuracies?
  • How many ads are on the page? Are there lots of links to commercial sites that have little or no relation to the topic the website is about?
  • A good site can have ads (Mine does – please buy stuff!) but, again, watch out for those sites that exist just for commercial purposes.

So can you rely on a survival website to learn something?


A  place to start would be to decide on a preparedness-related topic you have some knowledge of, for example, canning. Find a canning website you can trust, based on valid information you can personally verify. Then ask the author if he/she can recommend a specialized website or source for other things you need to learn more about.

Most of us in the preparedness industry are happy to refer people to other subject matter experts. When it comes to canning, I don’t know diddly and am completely incompetent to provide any information. But I know some people who could help you out.

And since by now you should be questioning my credentials for writing this story, here they are:

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Leon's Blog

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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