How to Stay Alive in the Woods [Book Rant]

I finally finished it…..well, most of it. My old “manly” book that I bought back in early middle school. You can tell it’s been slightly neglected over the last couple decades. The last couple years, I’ve finally picked it and started carrying with me during my backpacking adventures. And I got through most of it during my last week-long trip to Shenandoah.


A note on Shenandoah….it’s very beautiful. I wouldn’t call it an ideal place to backpack, because there’s two options: Hike North/South in a straight line on the Appalachian Trail (AT) or do side loops perpendicular to the AT. I did the former, and I ended doing “day hikes” deep into the valley with 30 lbs on my back over slick wet rocks, when I could have just left everything up top and traveled more ground (until they closed the park due to Hurricane Florence).

So over those 5 nights, I covered the last chapters of the book, just in case I lost all the things on my back. Still, fairly useful information to know. However, there are a few main themes that the author, Bradford Angier, wants the reader to constantly keep in mind.

  • Everything that we NEED can be provided by nature. Food, water, and shelter. Guidance and medicine. And many obvious things are useful for multiple applications. While birch bark is good for making tinder to start fires, it also makes a great torch, can create good wind/water resistance, and a substitute for quick emergency footwear.
  • When you are alone, you change character. The comforts of community allow us to show off and extrapolate our actions, even if risks our health. Once removed, humans significantly improve their level of caution to minimize any risks that could easily be fatal in a remote environment. Thus, the #1 first-aid item one needs to bring with them is a strong knowledge-base on how to avoid any pitfalls from occurring in the first place.

The book has 4 main sections: Sustenance (food/water), Warmth (fire/shelter), Orientation (find/track), and Safety (avoidance/preparedness). The first edition was written around 1956, but nature has not changed in its capabilities. The part on getting a booklet for 20 cents may be out-of-date, but the main idea is still there. Also, the list of recommended medications may have different names, but the same issues are worth preparing for. There are plenty of diagrams to illustrate simple working tools or possible outcomes. While some topics are common-sense items, I don’t believe they are apparent to the typical civilized human since we never have to apply these habits in the age of Walmart or Google Maps.

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The author does mention how he left the city life of Boston to travel the wilderness to pursue his passions for the wilds of many kinds. There is a section of the book that strikes me quite strongly, with my continued residence in the metro-Detroit area:

With such philosophy not everyone will agree, ……. we have never regretted the decision not to waste what are called the best years of life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable freedom during the least valuable part.” (page 145)

I like to backpack for a few different reasons outside of just “being surrounded by the wilderness.” At the top of this list is this idea of a reset button from society. We grow up taking for granted a lot of our luxuries: AC, warm food, toilets, and roofs are some of the basics. But it goes deeper into our wants on social attention and pursued luxuries that we feel we “need to be happy.” By removing many of these factors, it’s interesting to see how you slowly adapt your mindset over an extended time period. And while you experience this renewed appreciations for your life, it also teaches you what is actually important to your satisfaction in life.

But coming back to the author’s statement, I’m realizing that the ages between 30-40 years are my peak times. And I’m not talking about attractiveness, from my last post(s). It’s when I’m mentally developed, I know what I enjoy doing, and I have the money and energy to pursue it. Now I just need to carve out the time!


Next time, I need more than 5 nights of absence from “life” to push that button!


Note: I really need to update my first-aid kit. A lot of it is still from my boy scout days from middle school, and the white packages are starting to look brown… the iodine is leaking through or something.

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