Posts Tagged With: Prepare Modern but Practice Primitive

Primitive vs. Modern: The Importance of Keeping Skills in Context

by Todd Walker

Primitive vs. Modern: The Importance of Keeping Skills in Context ~

From time to time I get comments on my blog from folks wanting to see more survival stuff without modern equipment involved. These types of comments appear more frequently on my YouTube channel. Here’s a recent one from a my One-Stick-Fire in the Rain video using a ferrocerium rod as my ignition source…

“pleeaaaaase im just waiting to see if some “survival” channel teaches how to do it without these gadgets like fire rods and matches and stuff like that…. come on!”

Spark ignition in the rain is not hardcore enough for some folks. Comments like this don’t offend me in the least. It highlights the symptoms too often seen in of our modern online survival community: We thirst for knowledge but lack real, hands-on experience.

You can certainly gain knowledge if the information comes from reputable sources. However, no matter how reputable or experienced the presenter may be, you can only gain experience by actually Doing the Stuff in the field.

This is a natural progression of what flows from Hollywood minds. Joe Q. Public’s hunger for entertainment and the “next-level” survival show keeps TV production companies scrambling for ratings… all the way to the bank.

The stuff I do is quite boring I’ve been told. I’ll admit, I’m not the most exciting guy in the woods. I like to think I’m smart at times, though. Sensationalism is not my thing. Over-the-top TV stuns shouldn’t be yours either if you ever need to survive in the wilderness.

Skills in Context

Our level of field experience and skills should determine what we carry to the woods. I carry modern tools like a ferro rod, Bic lighter, matches, and other so-called “gadgets” when camping or tramping in the woods. Does this make me less of a woodsman? It may in the eyes of those insulated by technology who have never had to light and maintain a fire in a rain-soaked forest.

Could I start a sustainable friction fire in the rain with resources collected from the forest landscape?

Honestly, I don’t know. I’ve never gone on a self-imposed survival trip without modern fire tools. I practice primitive fire craft while in the woods but always carry backups. In theory, I should be able to leave modern fire starters at home. One day soon I’ll have to trade this theory for action.

But for now, let’s address keeping skills in context.

“if it’s not in context, it’s just arts and crafts.”

~ Steven M. Watts (1947-2016)

Wilderness survival skills are often taught in a vacuum without background information on how these skills personally relate to the student, locale, and history. I’m fortunate to be a student of Scott Jones in the field of primitive technology and experimental archaeology. Scott wrote his latest book, Postcards to the Past, with the intent of developing “practical perspectives for observing, interpreting, and utilizing the natural world” by modern primitive practitioners like myself.

Ancient Atlatls: How to Make a Down-N-Dirty Spear-Thrower ~

Scott Jones firing the bamboo atlatl at a class this summer

I may have hands-on knowledge of fire by friction, but do I have the wisdom to know “when” and “why” to use this skill? I have been humbled on more than one occasion attempting to spin up a coal with friction fire techniques on “dry” days in Georgia. Our humidity sticks to you like fly paper. Add a steady rain or a slight drizzle and I reach for my thumb drill (Bic lighter) or other modern devices to start my fire.

Should you add friction fire methods to your skill set? Is it even practical?

The more I sweat, the less I freeze. The meaning of this statement should not be taken literally. Sweating in cold weather is big no-no. What I mean by this is that the more I practice primitive, the more confidence I build in using a bow and drill or hand drill as a survival insurance policy.

On my journey of outdoor self-reliance, I have found that nothing beats preparedness. Even on day hikes with Dirt Road Girl, I carry my haversack packed with emergency shelter, water bottle, sheath knife, tarred mariner’s line, with room for other essentials… and the occasional rock that catches her eye. Instead of making shelter from forest floor debris, a time and labor intensive doing, my emergency space blanket or GI poncho can be strung up with little effort if need be.

Again, context is essential. Do you want to Learn to Return or Learn to Stay?, as Chris Noble wrote in one of his excellent articles at Master Woodsman a few years back. Skills to return or stay may overlap. The tools and mindset to acquire comfort in the woods are what distinguishes the two. However, the logical choice for most outdoorsy folk is the later.

One of my favorite quotes from Scott Jones in Postcards to the Past is…

“one of my goals is to get people to think about what the think they think.”

The first peoples to settle a land had to make do with what they had, not what they wished they had available. Skills to accomplish this task were passed down from generation to generation. For us moderns, through practice and experimentation, we too can incorporate these wilderness living skills to expand our options.

The main reason I practice primitive fire is the integration into the natural world I gain. My senses sharpen when woods trekking if I plan to make fire by friction. With a keen sense of urgency, I take note of overlooked trees and their dead limbs to determine if a tree swallowed fire, and, in return, will pass fire onto me. As Native American stories go, not every tree swallowed fire.

Another practical reason for friction fire practice is the attention to detail required. Preparing finely processed tinder material which will turn a small coal into fire is a practice which transfers nicely when using an open flame or 3,000 degree sparks from a modern ferro rod.

Friction fire demo at my school

Friction fire demo at my school

Mastering different fire by friction techniques is my goal. My middle school students love this stuff. But it’s not a method I try first when I’m cold and wet. Add the stress of a real survival situation with accompanied elevated heart rate and the fine motor skills needed to craft an effective bow drill set from the landscape is quickly lost. This bit of context is lost on most folks watching entertaining videos from the comfort of home.

But our pre-history ancestors did it. That’s the only choice they had. I’ll bet Grok would have used a Bic lighter or ferro rod if that technology was available.

As I’ve said before, fire covers a multitude of survival sins. Even if you’re improperly dressed for the environment, fire can help you sleep. As Mors Kochanski says, “The quality of a survival kit is determined by how much it can help you when you need to sleep. If you can sleep well at night, you have it made.”

Until you’ve done enough friction fires that you can’t get ’em wrong, and ironed out all the pesky nuances of twirling sticks together, and you’re ensured that physically injured will never happen, go prepared with modern fire tools. If not, be prepared to be vexed with a cold, wet, miserable, sleepless night in the woods… or worse.

This is not to say you should ditch primitive skills. Nothing could be further from the truth! You just need to keep them in context.

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Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has chanced. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

Be Anti-Fragile: Prepare Modern but Practice Primitive

by Todd Walker

Skills get swallowed by survival gear. Depending on the latest knife, gun, or shiny-survival-object may seem like a smart plan.

The thing is…

Plans and reality are not the same thing.

Be Anti-Fragile: Prepare Modern but Practice Primitive |

Nothing’s wrong with reliance on modern survival gear. I own my fair share of modern tools of self-reliance. Thousands of fires can be started with a butane lighter. But what happens when modern equipment and gear fail? And it will fail. And rust. And get lost. And wear out.

Abrupt Changes Ahead

To handle change, you’ll need skills that gain from disorder and disaster.

There may come a time when our instant gear gratification mentality can’t be satisfied and you have to depend on your own hands to make what you need. From cordage to cutting tools to combustion… these skills won’t rust or wear out with use!

Practicing primitive goes beyond building redundancy in gear. Stone age technology connects you to your ancestral past, no matter which part of this dirt ball your family tree grew. In this context, you appreciate the deep understanding of “primitive” people, their skills, and their knowledge required to use available resources.

It takes time and energy to develop these skills. Take fire craft as an example. Once you practice friction fire or flint and steel, the skill of building a proper tinder bundle to blow your primal ember into flame makes your modern fire craft efforts more successful.

The Burning Secret of Flint and Steel Fire |

Flint and steel is a long-term fire-making option for your kit

Shortsighted moderns discount flint and steel as antiquated. Precisely! Practicing primitive gives you options and options make you Anti-Fragile.

Anti-Fragile Skills

Anti-Fragile didn’t originate with me. Taleb coined the term in his paradigm shattering book, Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder. This book causes…

Altered thinking.

Considering the fragile world we’re in today, we need a new blueprint for self-reliance. One that benefits from disorder, randomness, and shock.

Just as fire feeds on obstacles, so do skills. Anyone who owns a skill faced high barricades that made them stronger. Anti-fragile people are much better at doing than talking.

Doers do. Talkers talk. The two are clearly unequal. Doers become anti-fragile.

Knowledge, Skills, Resources

Doing the Stuff  of Self-Reliance with your modern gear, with your knowledge, with your resources, in your area is the only way to build resilient skills. But we want more than resiliency. As Taleb explains,

“Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”

Dirt time with modern tools aids in future, unpredictable survival events. Hours of practice and testing with your cutting tool of choice shows little deviation in the outcome. The modern space blanket in your kit is a proven emergency lifesaver. With use, you’ve discovered your gear’s limitations and abilities.

You need dependable, bomb-proof gear. To some degree though, predictable equipment and tools lull us into fragility. Meaning… we become too gear dependent.

To be clear, I’m an advocate of carrying a basic kit before heading into the woods… or anywhere else for that matter. But, again, could you benefit from the harm of lost or broken tools in the wilderness?

The answer depends on whether or not you have the knowledge and skills to use available resources from your environment. There’s no substitute for investing in skills and knowing how to use local resources. As much as I’d like to try white birch bark as tinder, heard it’s good stuff, we’re fresh out in my neck of the woods. No worries… you can’t walk far in my woods without finding resin rich fat lighter littering the forest floor.

Understand that specialized skills and specific resources are needed to replace the 5 C’s of Survivability (Cutting Tool, Combustion, Cover, Container, Cordage). These tools are the hardest to replicate from the landscape. However, it’s doable.

A.) Cutting Tools

Would I willingly trade my fixed blade knife for a stone tool? Not a chance! Unless I’m forced into that situation, I’ll always choose the modern knife as my primary cutting tool. However, stone age technology paved the way for us moderns.

When Primitive Skills and Prepping Have Sex |

Scott Jones demonstrates how to make an arrowhead from glass

Without mad flint knapping skills, you can create stop-gap edged tools from bipolar flaking. So easy a caveman can do it!

B.) Combustion

Modern sure-fire is packed in all my fire kits. They’re consumable. Mother Nature provides unlimited primitive sure-fire if you know where to look. Your anti-fragile pine responds to shock by exuding flammable resin to protect its life, and, in turn, gives you fire and life.

What’s your local go-to natural sure-fire tinder?

Do I start all my fires with a bow drill? Nope. I carry a lighter and ferro rod. Do I practice primitive fire with different, local wood? Yup. I’ve found pine, poplar, and cedar to be my favorites.

Here’s my personal primitive skill of the month… hand drill fire. I’ve harvested dry mullein and yucca stalks for this experiment. Dirt Road Girl just smiles and watches patiently in the car as her wild husband gathers resourses in the right-of-way. I love my wife!

Be Anti-Fragile: Prepare Modern but Practice Primitive |

Mullein and Yucca stalks for my hand drill experiment

The hand drill should be a comfort zone buster. Stay tuned for my blister update!

C.) Cover

Caught in the elements without manmade cover will quickly drain your core temperature. To combat heat loss, build primitive shelters with available debris. Calories will be burned, but if this your only shelter option, it’s worth it.

Be Anti-Fragile: Prepare Modern but Practice Primitive |

Rock outcrops and ledges are ready-made shelter

You may get lucky and find a rock outcropping or cave for hunkering down. Even with ready-made natural shelter, add a 4 to 6 inch layer of compressed leaves or natural material in your bedding area as a barrier against conduction.

D.) Container

Keep an eye out for other people’s trash. Sad to say, folks are trashy in the woods. But this could be a bonanza for your survival. Glass bottles, drink cans, and plastic are all useful and should be grabbed up.

Again, crafting or burning natural containers from wood takes time, resources and skill. Expedient containers for water can be made from bamboo, if available. Turtle shells make great bowls. Baskets can be weaved from plants or crafted with tree bark. If you’re so fortunate as to find a vine of gourds, you’ve just located container heaven. Of course, gourds are a cultivated crop that originated in the wilds of Africa. If you locate a gourd vine, you’re probably close to civilization anyhow.

E.) Cordage

Many natural fibers can be made into functional cordage in an emergency situation. Simply twisting fibers together without fancy reverse twists will provide strong cordage. Roots and vines can be used to lash shelters.

Be Anti-Fragile: Prepare Modern but Practice Primitive |

Yucca plant behind my school


Learning to make natural cordage is a skill every outdoors person should undertake. Get in the habit of collecting natural material when trekking or hiking through your woods. Inner fibers of trees like Tulip Poplar, Red Cedar, and Black Locust make excellent cordage. Nettle, Dog Bane, and Yucca are great cordage plants in my area.

Be Anti-Fragile: Prepare Modern but Practice Primitive |

Down and dirty yucca cordage

The skills that give you options when modern gear fail will be of the primitive type. My journey into learning primitive skills continues. You never master primitive skills. There’s always something else to learn from thousands of years of history!

Taking the sage advice of Dave Canterbury to Prepare Modern but Practice Primitive has given me options… and made me a little more Anti-Fragile.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube and Facebook page… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network on PinterestGoogle +, and Facebook.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

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Categories: Bushcraft, Lost Skills, Self-reliance, Survival, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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