Looking for a basic wilderness skills primer?
101 Skills You Need to Survive in the Woods by Kevin Estela should be on your reading list.
by Leon Pantenburg
“What is the biggest challenge to getting people outdoors?” I asked.
This was part of a recent conversation with some instructors at the University of Mississippi outdoor adventures program. This program provides equipment, guides and transportation to college students looking for an outdoor adventure. Outings range from snow camping, to hiking, kayaking and canoe trips in wilderness areas.
Many of the international students, the instructors told me, come from mega cities, where they have never been in the dark or in a quiet atmosphere. A place with no Wi-Fi? – unthinkable! To these students, going out in the wilderness is an almost incomprehensible thought. Sometimes, the most intimidating part is going the distance from the parking lot to the equipment center to sign up for a trip.
One way to overcome this intimidation factor is to develop a survival mindset.
And that’s one reason 101 Skills You Need to Survive in the Woods by Kevin Estela is one book that should be required reading for neophyte outdoorspeople.
Estela is a respected wilderness survival instructor and the owner of Estela Wilderness Education. Estela has over 101 plus published print magazine articles in premiere survival magazines. His day job is teaching history at Bristol Central High School in Connecticut. He started outdoors activities in his early teens whitewater kayaking. The idea for writing a book came from several sources.
According to Estela and many other experts, forming a survival mindset is paramount to survival in wilderness and urban settings. But where to start?
That can be in your favorite reading chair, safe inside. The foundation of all survival skills, according to Estela’s book, is a “Feeder” mindset. That means being in control of a situation, and becoming proactive rather than reactive. Estela’s teaching approach is from this standpoint, and he builds the mindset from there.
Maybe the best advice for would-be wilderness survivalists is to start out small and take baby steps first. That is where this book can be invaluable. 101 Skills breaks down the whole concept of wilderness survival into smaller, doable tasks. Pick a topic that interests you, and get started. The book is divided into ten categories, and each has related tips.
Here is some of the good stuff in this book:
- The book is an easy read, partially because of Estela’s skill as a wordsmith, and his background in teaching. It seems as if he is sitting there beside you, guiding your hands and talking you through learning skills. This is a book you can give to someone who is considering learning bushcraft and wilderness survival skills.
- Practical advice: My litmus test for any survival book is how the publication deals with solar stills. The stills require several specific tools, and an inordinate amount of effort to build. Seldom will a still yield enough water to replace the sweat required to make one! Estela points this out in his book. This is just one instance. The other tips are eminently practical, and it is clear Estela knows what he is writing about.
- Firemaking skills are emphasized at the beginning, as they should be. The ability to quickly make a fire under extreme conditions cannot be under-estimated. While Estela discusses some of the primitive methods of igniting a fire, he also mentions that he always carries a lighter and Swiss Army Knife everywhere. (I do too!)
- A good knife is paramount to survival, and Estela discusses how to choose and use blades in survival situations. This is a good start for finding that best survival knife for you.
- Knots are survival tools, and several common knots are shown, and where they can be used.
- Using a map and compass could take an entire book to explain. Estela explains the bare bones basics in several pages. You can rely on his recommendations to get a good start on becoming proficient in land navigation.
- It doesn’t matter how experienced the outdoorsperson is – you can’t know what you don’t know. Nobody knows everything, and perusing this book may draw your attention to a topic or skill you need to develop or work on.
101 Skills is not a complete how-to manual for wilderness skills, nor was it ever intended to be. Every journey starts with the first step (You’ve heard this before!)
When it comes to learning wilderness survival skills, that first step might be reading a quality book. Then take more baby steps. Before you know it you’ll find your stride. This book will help.