Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Reading survival books and watching YouTube videos are great ways to learn basic survival skills. But putting those skills to use in a real emergency takes another level of competency.
In addition to remembering how and when to perform a potentially life-saving task, you need to keep your wits about you. Would you be able to find or create a shelter, build a fire, locate water, and forage for food in the wilderness far away from the comforts and conveniences of home?
For a growing number of Americans, one way to find out is by taking hands-on outdoor survival courses. Although the pandemic caused many of these schools to switch to online learning for a time, they are back in the swing of things.
Many offer instruction that ranges from one-day sessions to multi-day or even multi-week intensive training. Summer camps for children and teens are also a possibility. Here is a list of some of the best survival schools in the U.S. Click on the name of the school for specific course offerings, availability, and registration details.
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Advanced Survival Training – Stafford, Virginia
Classes at this Northern Virginia school range from one-day sessions to five-day wilderness immersion programs.
Some of the many course topics include Bushcraft, Wild Edible Plants, Map and Compass, Bow making, First Aid, Disaster Medicine, Archery, Off-the-Grid Cooking. Kids may attend some classes with a parent.
Alderleaf Wilderness College – Monroe, Washington
Located in the spectacular Puget Sound region of Washington, Alderleaf Wilderness College offers courses on wildlife tracking, foraging for food and medicinal plants, permaculture, and sustainable living skills.
Online and in-person classes are offered year-round, and there are options for people of all ages and skill levels. Most of the shorter courses are family-friendly.
Ancient Pathways – Flagstaff, Arizona
Ancient Pathways provides outdoor survival and bushcraft courses in the high desert and mountains of Arizona. Most classes range from 2 to 10 days, and in addition to teaching survival skills, they include information on natural history and native cultures.
The school’s website maintains, “The best way to remain “civilized” is to get away from civilization for a while.” Skill-based courses include Outdoor Survival Basics, Orienteering & Land Navigation, and Desert Survival and Ecology.
Field courses include Knife-Only Survival and Desert Survival Basics. Kids age 14 and up may attend with a parent.
Boulder Outdoor Survival School – Boulder, Utah
Based in Boulder, Utah, this survival school’s offerings range from three-day skill-based courses to intensive 28-day trips.
The school focuses on environmental awareness, and topics include Bushcraft, Desert Navigation, Survival Rescue, Hunting and Gathering, and Field Survival. All courses are designed for people age 18 and up.
Coyne Survival Schools – California and Alaska
Coyne Survival Schools (formerly the Survival Training School of California) offers courses ranging from basic survivalist skills for newbies to total immersion in a harsh landscape for the more experienced.
Most classes range from one to eight days and include Bushcraft, Winter Survival, First Aid & CPR, Urban Escape & Evasion, Winter Field Intensive, Ethnobotany, and Critical Survival Skills. Training is available for all ages.
Earthwalk Northwest – Issaquah, Washington
With the majestic Mount Rainier in the background, Earthwalk Northwest focuses on teaching primitive skills, traditional hunting, ethnobotany, and hunting/tracking. The school’s founders, Frank and Karen Sherwood, both served as head instructors at Tom Brown Jr.’s Tracker School before launching their own school in 1995.
Course lengths range from one day to up to none months of intermittent classes. The school will custom design courses for groups, schools, or families.
Jack Mountain Bushcraft School – Masardis, Maine
Founded in 1999 by Tim Smith, this school offers short skills-based courses, long-form immersion trips, and multi-month intensive courses. A favorite among students is the Canoe Expedition Skills course, which teaches wilderness survival, navigation, and handling rapids.
Other courses include Wilderness Survival, Bushcraft, Fly Fishing, Winter Survival, Trapping & Hunting, and Knifemaking. Youth and family programs are available.
Mountain Shepherd Wilderness Survival School – Catawba, Virginia
Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Mountain Shepherd Wilderness Survival School borders the Jefferson National Forest, and the Appalachian Trail is nearby.
Course selections include Backpacking Essentials, Bushcraft, Outdoor Fitness Bootcamp for Women, Survival 101, Wilderness First Aid, and specific classes designed for kids and families. “Humble Thunder” and “Rolling Thunder” are two of the school’s four-day advanced survival experiences.
Primitive Pursuits – Ithaca, New York
Primitive Pursuits is a non-profit 4-H program that is in partnership with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, New York. The family-friendly program teaches wilderness skills education to kids of all ages (even toddlers!) and families.
Some courses are for adults only. Topics include Basic Survival Skills, Bushcraft, Bow making, Hide Tanning, Tracking, and Ethnobotany. Course lengths range from one day to many months of intermittent classes.
Sigma 3 Survival School – Reeds Spring, Missouri
Headquartered in Missouri, Sigma 3 offers survival training in a variety of locations. Following the three S’s in its name – Scout, Survive, and Sustain – the school offers three levels of training to match their students’ fitness and experience levels.
Classes, which can range from one day to 45 days, include Bow making, Bushcraft, Urban Escape and Evasion, Ethnobotany, Search and Rescue, Winter Survival, and Fire & Water Procurement. Children age 10 and up are allowed to attend most courses with a parent.
Tom Brown, Jr.’s Tracker School – Waretown, New Jersey
Founded in 1978 by Tom Brown Jr, this school is based on the teachings of the Apache elder who taught Brown survival skills. With over 75 classes divided into eight-course tracks, this school focuses on connecting with the natural environment.
Subjects range from beginning to advanced instruction in building shelter, finding water, making a bow, and finding food and water. Some courses are available for kids and families.
True North Wilderness Survival School – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
True North Wilderness Survival School aims to provide students with “the skills and knowledge to both effectively function in the wilderness, from traditional backcountry to urban disasters, and to appropriately respond to emergencies while awaiting rescue or backup.”
Topics include Basic Wilderness Survival, Primitive Cooking, Navigation, Tracking, and First Aid. Most excursions are designed for age 15 and up. Some children’s instruction is also available.
And for something a bit different, we’ll close with this annual event.
Old School Survival Bootcamp – McArthur, Ohio
Held each May, this three-day event features hands-on learning in survival skills, homesteading, bushcraft, off-grid living, herbalism, homeschooling, and self-defense taught by experts from around the country. The 2021 event had a line-up of more than 50 classes each day.
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