Today I am writing an article to explore some of the age-old, essential survival skills of our ancestors.
Essential Survival Skills
I want to mention that there are hundreds of bushcraft survival skills (like concealing a fire) that we could glean off of the frontiersman of old, but those would take many books and years to cover completely. The research you can do on this topic is endless. If you were to combine it with more modern skills and developed technologies, I am not sure one person could cover it in a lifetime.
I intend to focus on primitive skills and will be highlighted in some future articles, today’s article focuses more on some general philosophies of frontiersman survival while mentioning some of the more modern to help adapt.
Settlers across the world were forced to brave the elements and survive for years at a time away from civilization. The skills and lessons they have to teach us about prepping and survival are innumerable, and we have likely forgotten as many valuable lessons as we have retained.
One group of people, famed for their ability to brave the elements and survive against the worst nature could throw at them, were the American frontiersman. Today’s preppers can learn countless lessons by reading the journals and stories of these men who tamed the West.
Traveling Light and Efficiently
A lot of modern survival gear is well designed with new-age materials that allow them to be more effective, as well as smaller and lighter. At the same time, many of those going out to brave the wilderness these days take more equipment than a frontiersman would’ve needed in a year.
Now, of course, packing light or efficiently isn’t some sacred science lost to time (in USMC Recruit Training, one of the first things you’re taught is how to cram all your gear inside your bag as effectively as possible), but the efficiency of our modern gear and equipment, as well as the shorter duration of our stays out in the wild, mean that our ability to “do more with less” like the fur trappers of old has been diminished.
For example, in 1807, a pioneer was recorded as saying, “I was alone and on foot carrying a pack of thirty pounds…” This was during a journey without known parameters, out for an indefinite amount of time. Today’s average hiker is carrying a pack of around 30 pounds as well (the “optimal” weight by backpackers today is said to be 15 lbs), and the long hike Appalachian trail competitors will be carrying around 22lbs.
These two are pretty comparable in terms of daily needs, but you must also take into account the frontiersman was staying out indefinitely, did not have modern and lightweight materials, and had to bring along self-defense items (as well as extra gunpowder) not included in today’s kits. Almost everything he had would be more cumbersome and more massive and would need to last longer.
While expert backpackers of today can get the weight of their gear extremely low, this was a skillset common amongst our ancestors who knew it could mean the difference between life and death.
Something struck me while I was researching this article. I watched this 18th-century kit video, then an Iron Age Viking woodsmen gear video, then this video about 17th century Scots, and finally a video about the traveling gear of Southeast-Asian Monks.
I realized the things they brought were incredibly similar, even more so than I would have assumed at first. It seems the optimal kit was pretty much agreed on a few thousand years ago, and people have just been tweaking it for their unique circumstances each generation.
This coincides perfectly with more recent theories of the “Five C’s of Survival” which are explored in the last video from the Asian monk’s. These are concepts where multiple experts have gone through and examined the critical necessities of human survival.
Here are the things that everybody seemed to carry throughout most of human history:
- Weather appropriate clothing w/layer options
- Fire-starting kit
- Cordage and/or sewing kit
- Containers for holding water and food
- Extra cup or small bowl for cooking and storage
- Efficient carrying system (bags or straps)
- Extra furs and blankets
Each of these was either carried by all or was omitted in only a case or two (but I’m led to believe these were accidental omissions or circumstantial to that person’s needs).
- Small Axe / Saw tool
- Oilcloth ground covering and/or tent-type structure
- Sharpening Stone
- Area Maps
There is an updated/modern 10 C’s that could be a better way to make sure you are covering all of your bases, it’s interesting to see how closely they match up with kits through history. Really, cargo tape, candles, and specifically a cotton bandana are the only items not well covered by past trekkers. They typically considered the Canvas Needle and some sort of compass or source of direction.
To bring it all back around, we can see that by looking at the gear of a frontiersman (in this case, an 18th-century Longhunter), we find complete coverage of the 10 C’s… minus the duct tape for obvious reasons.
3 Frontier Tips You Shouldn’t Leave Home Without
While I didn’t plan to list general frontiersman-themed survival tips in the article, some are too good—or necessary—not to include. Aside from the most essential, fire starting, water purifying, and food gathering, here are some good tips to go along with the thought process that you are truly stranded in the wilderness fighting for survival.
1. You Only Want to Shoot Once When SHTF
Steven Rinella made this point in the past, and though I’m not sure what historical document he pulled it from (he attributed it to Daniel Boone), it makes sense.
Back in the day, when hostile natives shared your hunting grounds, you didn’t want to take a second shot while hunting. A single shot will be heard, but it can be hard to place the direction it came from. The second shot, once hostels are listening, can give away your position much clearer.
Nobody wants worms. Trichinosis can come from eating wild meat that has not been blasted by fire. In the wild (unless you can measure 160 degrees), this means cooking all of your meat until there is no pink left showing. One has to remember the meat you purchase at the convenience of your local grocer is FDA regulated and provided in a controlled manner.
Wild game is eating what they can find, drinking from streams and still water. They may have contracted other bacteria or viruses that can be easily removed by good ole flame sterilization.
Most of us who studied topographical maps in the past did so because we were in the military or taking a trip in the comfort of our gas guzzlers. When I was looking at those maps, I know that the only time I would take notice of rivers or waterways was when they would impede movement or provide a danger zone. For frontiersmen, everything from rivers to creek beds gives away vital information about the surrounding area.
When you are far from civilization, these waterways will still be one of your best methods for orienting yourself and finding people. Small waterways usually flow into bigger ones, and humans tend to live where water flows. If you are hopelessly lost, follow the water.
Always remember, these skills if studied and practiced can never be taken away from you. They are skills you can pass on to your children and actually be fun to instill. Not to mention, they could be the one thing that saves your life.
As always, I hope this helps someone, Be Ready Before You Have To Be!