It’s one thing to think you’ve got the knowledge and skills to survive in the wilderness. It’s another thing to know you can. But there’s only so far that theoretical competencies can get you in real life. If you truly want to up your survival game and get a leg up in case the stuff hits the fan, you need to learn and execute practical skills.
While you could certainly get dropped off in the middle of nowhere and wing it, we think the better option is to take smaller steps. Ideally, that means getting out in the world with a guide who can show and teach you how to survive in the outdoors. Luckily, there are a lot of experts out there who offer training in the form of survival schools. And the following list is our picks for the best survival skill training courses available to the public. So, before you bug-out, make sure you’ve gotten in a bit of practice first.
Aboriginal Living Skills School
A few years ago, the Discovery Channel aired a show called Dual Survival. It starred a pair of expert survivalists with very different philosophies working together to weather varying locales and landscapes. Cody Lundin, owner and operator of the Aboriginal Living Skills School, was a member of that pair. Now he runs his survival school out of the beautiful landscapes of northern Arizona. Specializing in both desert and winter survival, this is certainly one of the American Southwest’s best places to learn outdoor skills – if not the best. Cody also offers private courses for those looking for more intensive 1-on-1 training.
Location: Prescott, Arizona
Offerings: Basic Survival Skills, Desert Survival, Adventure Courses, Private Instruction
Course Length: 1-9 Days
Advanced Survival Training
Offering a well-rounded complement of courses that range from a single day up to five-day wilderness immersion, the Advanced Survival Training school has something for everyone, from the greenest beginners all the way up to seasoned experts. Operating out of a variety of locations throughout Northern Virginia, AST is an excellent east coast school at which to learn everything from bushcraft, to disaster medicine, and everything in-between. They also offer a Medical Preparedness Series taught by guest instructor Rick Pyle.
Location: Somerville, Virginia
Offerings: Bushcraft, Disaster Medicine, First Aid, Archery, Off-Grid Cooking
Course Length: 1-5 Days
Like ALSS, Ancient Pathways is a survivalist training school that operates out of the American Southwest – more specifically, Flagstaff, Arizona. And while they offer a similar complement of courses – including search & rescue, military survival, knife-only survival, and more – they also offer an experience outside of the norm. You see, if you take one of this school’s intensive excursion courses, you’ll not only learn some valuable outdoor skills, but you’ll also be given the chance to explore ancient Native American ruins that would be otherwise inaccessible.
Location: Flagstaff, Arizona
Offerings: Bushcraft, Desert Survival, Search-and-Rescue, Military Survival, Knife-Only Survival
Course Length: 1-13 Days
Boulder Outdoor Survival School
B.O.S.S. – out of Boulder, Utah – is one of the most highly recommended outdoor survival schools out there. And we credit that partially to their vast course offerings that cover everything from three-day skill-based classes to supremely intensive 28-day excursions (which culminate in a mysterious solo “Final Challenge”). The school is also very forthright about the kind of physical and emotional toll their long-form courses can have on a person, but the skill set and competencies you will walk away with will be worth the struggle. It’s also worth noting that this school likes to focus on traditional methods, hoping in part to teach their students to be as environmentally aware of their surroundings as possible.
Location: Boulder, Utah
Offerings: First Responder Training, Desert Navigation, Survival Rescue, Hunting/Gathering, Field Survival
Course Length: 3-28 Days
Byron Kerns Survival
Headquartered in northern Georgia, USA, the Byron Kerns Survival school has been offering public courses on wilderness survival since 2008. But the company’s founder, Byron Kerns himself, has a history that goes back much further. In fact, he was teaching the public as far back as 1996 and, before that, worked as a U.S. Air Force SERE instructor. That being said, despite his wealth of knowledge and military background, Mr. Kerns is said to be exceedingly humble, caring, and – most of all – knowledgable and skilled. In fact, he has actually had a hand in training the primary instructor of True North, another survival school on this list.
Location: Georgia, Florida
Offerings: Survival 101, Hands-On Wilderness Courses, Bare Bones Survival, Private Instruction
Course Length: 2-7 Days
Operating in sight of Washington’s majestic Mount Rainier, Earthwalk Northwest focuses their courses not just on teaching people valuable wilderness survival skills, but also on teaching students an awareness of the world that surrounds them. They believe that, through this method, they can not only help people to knowledgeably protect and save themselves, but also help to make the Earth a little bit better off for it. Do not mistake their compassion for faintness of heart, however, because their courses can still run as tough and intensive as they come. Their three primary fields of focus are on primitive skills, ethnobotany, and hunting/tracking.
Location: Bellevue, Washington
Offerings: Wilderness Survival, Primitive Skills, Ethnobotany, Traditional Hunting, Natural Awareness, Knifemaking
Course Length: 1-Day up to 9 Months of Intermittent Classes
Jack Mountain Bushcraft School
College accredited and GI Bill-approved, the Jack Mountain Bushcraft school dates back to 1999, when founder and anthropology student Tim Smith decided to take his expertise to the public. Still going strong today, this school offers everything from short-form skills-based courses, to long-form immersion trips, to 5+ month intensive courses. Our favorite offering from them, however, is their week-long Canoe Expedition Skills Course – in which a trainer and a group of students set of down river in real wood canoes to learn wilderness survival, navigation by topographic map and compass, and how to handle rapids.
Location: Northern Maine
Offerings: Wilderness Survival, Bushcraft Immersion, Fly Fishing Intensive, Canoe Expedition, Winter Survival, Trapping & Hunting, Knifemaking
Course Length: 1-Day up to 5+ Months of Courses
With a focus on harmony with nature, Primitive Pursuits offers courses for anyone from the ages of 3 to 118. Yes, that means preschoolers and the elderly are welcome at their courses. And, although they are a family-friendly school with multi-generational class offerings, they also have a number of courses that are 18+ – in case you’re not too keen on being around a bunch of children and/or families. What is also unique about this school is that, on top of offering multi-day courses, they also offer up to a full 9 months of classes (about 12 hours a week) that will get you prepared to face just about anything.
Location: Northern Maine
Offerings: Wilderness Survival, Bushcraft, Bowmaking, Basic Survival Skills, Hide Tanning, Tracking, Ethnobotany, Family-Friendly Courses
Course Length: 1-Day up to 12 Months of Courses
Sigma 3 Survival School
The only school on this list that operates out of an exceedingly wide variety of locales and landscapes, Sigma 3 is the best place to go if you want consistent instruction at a number of different locations. Here you can learn all the necessary skills whether you reside in the American South, the Southwest, the Northeast, the Rockies, or even internationally. In fact, the two locations outside of the U.S. with courses offered right now are Romania and Costa Rica – which are vastly different from one another and require different skill sets. Whether you want to learn how to escape a hostile urban environment or build a bow and arrow kit from scratch, this is the school for you.
Location: Missouri, Colorado, Florida, Arkansas, Virginia, & International
Offerings: Wilderness Survival, Bushcraft, Bowmaking, Urban Escape and Evasion, Search and Rescue, Ethnobotany, Winter Survival, Fire & Water Procurement
Course Length: 1-45 Days
Thomas Coyne Survival Schools
Formerly known as Survival Training School of California, the Thomas Coyne Survival Schools conduct courses for the Marines, Navy SPECWAR, and the public. And they are, of course, considered some of the best both in this county and in the world. They offer over 15 courses, which are split between California and the wilds of Alaska and include everything from basic survivalist skills (like starting a fire without matches) to over a week of full immersion in a harsh landscape. Still, the courses are just as accessible for expert outdoorsmen as the are to car camping newbies, thanks to the excellence of the instruction provided.
Location: California, Alaska
Offerings: Wilderness Survival, Bushcraft, Winter Survival, First Aid & CPR, Urban Escape & Evasion, Ethnobotany, Winter Field Intensive, Critical Survival Skills, Private Lessons
Course Length: 1-8 Days
Tom Brown Jr’s Tracker School
Founded in 1978, this school is perhaps the most spiritually-driven on our list; but it is no less a superb place to learn some valuable survival skills. In fact, they’d tell you that the incorporation of spirituality into their courses is a boon to their students, rather than a drawback. This is because it instills in people a calm and collectedness that makes for better handling of stressful survival situations. That is what Tom Brown Jr. brings to the table – the teachings he learned personally from an Apache elder and shaman. And its what makes this school unique and valuable.
Location: New Jersey
Offerings: Primitive Cooking, Basic Wilderness Survival, Scouting, Tracking, First Aid
Course Length: 7 Days
True North Wilderness Survival School
Headed by former U.S. Air Force SERE instructor and Byon Kerns protege, Erik Kulick, this survival school has had the spotlight shone upon it by the likes of CNN, the Associated Press, The Guardian, Daily Mail, and a whole host of other publications. They focus on practical skills which people can use in the case of unforeseen emergencies with confidence and efficiency. And they also offer private instruction for small groups, classroom-based lectures, team building exercises, and adventure excursions. If you live in the American Northeast and you’re looking for an accessible survival school, this is it.
Offerings: Navigation, Wilderness Surviva, First Aid, Intensive Excursions, Private Lessons
Course Length: 7 Days
While we do suggest that people take the time to get their hands dirty at an in-person survival school, we also realize the impracticality of that for some people. There is, however, an alternative that sits squarely in-between actual hands-on classes and theoretical knowledge. And it can be found on Survival.com. Once operated by late outdoor survivalist expert, Ron Hood, and now run by his widow, Karen Hood, this website is a one-stop-shop for all kinds of survivalist publications – from their quarterly magazine to an award-winning DVD series. They’re also sponsored by knife brands CRKT, Buck, and Tops – to name a few.
Survival Skills Every Man Should Know
If you’re trying to figure out what type of courses you should tackle first, you can start with our list of the 8 basic survival skills that every man should know.