Nature’s Classroom: Wilderness Survival Insights from Jason Marsteiner
By Teh Chin Liang
Recently, we talked about surviving in nature, and he explained that survival goes beyond what you see on TV. it could be anything we overlook in our daily lives. He emphasized why everyone should learn survival skills, especially when spending time outdoors.
Why do most people have a limited perception of survival when, in fact, survival skills go far beyond what one might think?
“People often get the wrong idea about survival in the wild because of reality TV and adventure stories. These shows often glamorize the experience, focusing on extreme situations like being stranded on an island or surviving a plane crash in the snow.
However, real survival situations are more common than one might think. Statistics show that unexpected challenges can present themselves during simple activities like day hikes, foraging walks, or casual adventures for viral videos. Many of these explorers are unprepared, lacking both skills and necessary outdoor gear.
Survival skills involve knowing what to do when outdoor comforts are gone. It involves being good at adjusting to different situations, having the right gear for activities like hiking, and knowing what to do if something goes wrong. These skills are valuable in both wilderness and everyday life. ️”
Why do people undervalue survival skills?
It’s true that survival skills are often undervalued. There are several reasons for this oversight.
People often overvalue technology and undervalue traditional hands-on survival skills. Technology has the potential to fail, whereas hands-on skills will prove effective if you practice and attain proficiency.
At The Survival University, we emphasize the universal importance of these skills, providing practical training for everyday life and outdoor adventures.
We train children, day hikers, adventurers, foragers, and even military special forces, all of whom leave with newfound knowledge and a deeper appreciation for survival skills.
The term “survival” can be intimidating as it evokes images of extreme situations and desperation. Our job is to demystify this perception. We make survival skills approachable and family-friendly, making them accessible to a wider audience.
We want to make “survival” as familiar and inviting as “university” or education by building a welcoming community that fosters preparedness and confidence in handling unexpected challenges.
What mindset should a participant have before joining the class and where does the class take place?
Our classes take place in various natural settings, including the scenic mountains of Colorado, the lush forests of Washington State, and the tropical jungles of Costa Rica. We always look for new locations and are currently scouting one in Romania.
We have put together a team of skilled instructors from across the country with diverse expertise to cover a wide range of survival-related topics.
Survival encompasses a wide spectrum, including primitive living, homesteading, medical training, nature connection, self-reliance, rewilding, and various other skills and practices. We don’t favor one aspect over another since participants may have different preferences and goals.
I must, however, emphasize that certain fundamental skills are universally critical in survival situations such as taking care of health, building shelter, starting and keeping a fire going, finding water sources, and obtaining food.
For a survival class mindset, the key is a genuine desire to learn and understand the value of survival training. Being open to learning is essential.
Describe the most memorable experience you had in your class?
Let me tell you a story about an amazing lady. Let’s just name her ‘V’. When V walked into our class, it felt like a scene from Hollywood.
She was wearing high heels, her makeup was perfect, and she had a fancy white cashmere sweater, with two pink zebra-print luggage bags in tow. Her phone was recording her every move. It was clear she was there to become an Instagram sensation.
At the beginning, V camped near the main fire, ate packaged food on fancy plates, and focused on looking good in the videos she was creating. She seemed hesitant and skeptical about many things and only did the most basic tasks.
But within a few days, something almost miraculous happened. Her fancy sweater got dirty, makeup smeared, eyelashes dangling, and her nails broke off.
She had made her own fire, built a shelter, and distanced herself from the group. She even ate bugs and squirrels and desired more. Her entire demeanor shifted from a social media celebrity to someone content in the wilderness.
With our guidance, she decided to forego modern technology, conveniences, and luxuries, embracing a connection with nature while acquiring essential wilderness skills.
V underwent a remarkable transformation, reluctant to leave our camp and cherishing a newfound bond with the natural world. These are the moments that bring deep fulfillment to our work.
Have you developed unique survival skills through trial and error in the wilderness?
It can be challenging to innovate the traditional survival skills due to the prevalence of new technology. Our mission is to reintroduce forgotten skills by reigniting people’s interest through our family-friendly school.
We’re not a hardcore military boot camp, but we’re not all about frolicking in the forest and hugging every tree either. Well, maybe just a few trees! Our classes are a mix of tough training and spending time in nature. We teach both modern and old-school skills that everyone can benefit from. My innovative solution is making survival learning so much fun!
I know that, to you, a knife isn’t the key survival tool. What other tools do you believe are often overlooked?
While a knife is valuable, it’s not the top priority in the real survival—it’s more like the second MVP. In true survival, our primary goal is to reach safety, escape tough situations, and ultimately, seek rescue to return home.
In times like these, the key thing you need is a way to communicate to the world outside. It could be as basic as a whistle or signal mirror, or you can opt for more advanced options like a cell phone, GPS locator, or satellite phone.
The key to survival is, when exploring unfamiliar territory, it’s best to create and share a plan with a trusted friend to keep communication open and have tools, beyond a cell phone, for emergencies.
Could you share challenging moments in the wild and how survival skills were applied?
My perspective has changed through the years. I now see difficult situations not just as survival challenges but as chances to use and improve my skills.
This shift isn’t about being arrogant or complacent, instead, it comes from increased awareness and a proactive approach to avoid such situations.
As I go on adventures outdoors, I focus on safety and preparation for myself and those with me.
Even though there are always risks in outdoor activities, I work hard to be ready for the worst situations without letting fear take over.
I’ve had various wildlife encounters like bears, rattlesnakes, mountain lions, and moose. I’ve also been trapped in a blizzard in remote places, navigated through lightning storms with heavy rain, and dealt with vehicle breakdowns in the wilderness.
These situations posed less of a survival threat because I’m prepared. These situations gave me opportunities to practice and improve my skills. I make sure to plan ahead and focus on staying safe and being ready for unexpected circumstances.
What have you learned from spending a long time in the wilderness without modern technology?
My time in the wilderness has given me profound insights into the transformative power of nature, away from modern technology. It’s about reconnecting with a more primal connection to the world.
One of the most striking revelations from my wilderness experiences is the overwhelming sense of calm that permeates my being.
In nature’s beauty, my worries from the fast-paced modern world fade away. The clamor of daily life gives way to the gentle symphony of rustling leaves, flowing streams, and the chorus of birdsong.
Yet, the most significant change is my connections with others. My time in the wilderness introduced me to a diverse group of like-minded individuals.
Our friendships deepened through shared adventures. Sharing laughter by a campfire or having deep conversations on a mountain is way more real than the connections we often see in today’s technological world.
Your message for our nature-loving travel community?
Remember, the great outdoors is a treasure trove of joy and wonder, ready to be explored. Here are some nuggets of wisdom to keep in mind:
Respect Nature: Treat nature like a good friend, leaving no trace, ethically harvesting what you need, cleaning up, and expressing gratitude to nature.
Tell Someone Your Plans: Tell a friend or family when and where you’re going and don’t deviate from that plan. It’s a safety net you’ll be glad you have.
Connect with the Locals: Get to know the local wildlife, plants, and people. They have fascinating stories to tell.
Stay Hydrated and Fed: Nature adventures can be exhausting. Stay hydrated and have snacks on hand. A hungry hiker isn’t a happy one.
Mind the Weather: Mother Nature can be unpredictable. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and pack accordingly. Rain gear, sunscreen, and an extra clothing layer are your friends.
Tech Isn’t Everything: Remember to unplug. Enjoy the beauty of the natural world. Take in the sights, sounds, and smells. Immerse yourself in the world around you!
Make New Friends: The best part of any journey can be the people you meet along the way. Share stories, exchange tips, and make lifelong memories with fellow travelers.
Safety First: Prioritize safety in all situations, from wildlife encounters to unforeseen mishaps. Learn wilderness first aid and develop an emergency plan, as it goes beyond basic first aid.
Embrace the Unexpected: Embrace nature’s surprises, go with the flow but only in a way that sticks to the plans you’ve shared with friends—these unexpected moments often become your favorite stories.
Gear up and Get Trained: Finally, pack the right gear and consider training to boost your confidence in the wilderness. Watching videos on the internet doesn’t count. With proper training, you get to enjoy your outdoor adventures to the fullest.
Go out there, learn some new skills, embrace the wild, and let nature’s magic fill your heart. Your next journey is waiting, and it’s bound to be an unforgettable one. Happy adventuring!