How to Live Off the Land

Ever gotten the urge to quit the rat race and live in the wilderness? In fact, it's very difficult for a solitary person to live comfortably off the land. Most people who do so are members of highly cooperative societies who balance the uncertainty of their existence with an intricate network of mutual support. You have no safety net if you're flying solo.

Step 1

Clarify your objectives. Is your goal to experience a short-term wilderness retreat, live in harmony with nature for the long haul or just survive a reality-show stint in the South China Sea? What level of technology and tools will you employ: GPS device or compass and sextant? Zippo or flint and steel?

Step 2

Enroll in a wilderness preparedness course, such as those offered by Outward Bound (outwardbound.com) or the National Outdoor Leadership School (www.nols.edu). You will learn vital skills such as navigating with a map and compass, shelter construction and first aid.

Step 3

Choose an environment with significant opportunities for food, water and shelter. Solo adventures are really only feasible in warm or temperate climates. Abundant water is essential to survival. If you don't have a reliable source of clean water, become expert at purifying water in large quantities.

Step 4

Become expert at starting a fire without matches. Your best bet is probably the bow-drill technique. For detailed instructions on this, go to www.wmuma.com/tracker/skills/fire/bowdrill/.

Step 5

Learn how to make a basic shelter. Review 474 Survive Being Lost for instruction. Choose a camping spot with easy and reliable water access. Without a mechanical system of delivery and storage, obtaining water may be your biggest daily task.

Step 6

Know how to use, repair and sharpen basic tools. Living off the land requires that you get very close to that land. Axes, knives, shovels, hoes and fishing gear will be essential to your survival.

Step 7

Study the flora and fauna of your intended destination. Be able to identify edible plants and practice locating, harvesting and preparing them long before you set out.

Step 8

Learn to see and feel changes in the weather and to take appropriate action.

Step 9

Practice whatever hunting method you choose until you are an expert. Hunting is difficult and unpredictable; fishing is more reliable and requires less physical effort.

Step 10

Learn how to process skins in order to make clothing. Practice harvesting reeds and grasses in order to make baskets and rope.

Step 11

Keep an apartment in Manhattan for those times when you need to get away from it all.


  • Be familiar with the animals in your environment. Some you may want to eat, and others may want to eat you--or your food. Animals tend to attack only when unable to run away.
  • Pay particular attention to identifying poisonous plants, insects and snakes.
  • Retain some means to make contact with society in case of an emergency.
  • Practice and be able to administer first aid to yourself. See 466 Assemble Emergency Kits.


  • Read Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. In addition to serving as a warning for anyone who's thinking of disappearing into the wilderness, it also touches on the issues involved in removing oneself from modern technology.
  • Books that teach outdoor survival skills are popular, and any major bookstore will have several titles. All survival strategies, however, require that you practice until you're proficient.
  • Explore the medicinal properties of native vegetation.
  • See 106 Prepare an Organic Vegetable Garden. You'll need to plant a high-yield food garden.

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