There are 3 outstanding wood choppers you should consider for your survival, bushcraft, or emergency kit. There are many varieties, sizes, levels of quality, and prices for these tools. These essential tools were developed to address specific local or regional requirements. The ax and machete are pretty standard solutions for most situations. Let us look at the top three outstanding wood choppers that you should consider adding to your field gear packing list.

1. Ax/Hatchet


The ax or hatchet is one of the 3 outstanding wood choppers. They are the standard wood processing tool in North America and Europe. This tool has been in use and in various forms since the Neolithic Period (9500-2000 B.C.) of human history. There are many forms of the axe. The type of bit informs the purpose for their use. The basic types of axes are the felling ax, splitting ax, broad ax, adze, hatchet, carpenter ax, hand ax, mortising ax. Additionally, the hatchet and hand ax are just shorter handle versions of the felling ax.


However, the kind of ax that is most popular for outdoor survival is the felling ax. Other names for the felling axe are the woodsman ax or single bit ax. These axes were developed to cut down and process trees common in the forests of North America and Europe, such as conifer, birch, holly, or oak.


These axes usually have two main parts: the handle or haft, and the head or bit. The blade of the ax is the cutting edge of the ax bit. The handle, in a modern two-piece ax, is made of wood or fiberglass. The ax handle averages between 24-36 inches in length. The ax head averages between 1.5 and 3.5 pounds in weight. Some of the best axes and hatchets of this type are sold at the Sigma 3 Survival Store: Hults Bruk Akka Forest Axe and Hults Bruk Almike Hatchet.

Kit Compatibility

Thus, a good, high-quality ax is a must if you live in the forested areas of the United States or Europe. The Hults Bruk Akka Forest Axe is the perfect fit to carry on the outside of a backpack or to fit the vehicle emergency kit of your truck or SUV. The descriptions and pricing for these axes can be found at the Sigma 3 Survival Store. An ax is an outstanding wood chopper for your kit.

2. Machete


The next type of the 3 outstanding wood choppers that you can consider for part of your survival or outdoor kit is a machete. Machetes have been in use around the world for many centuries. There are different styles of machetes with differing blade lengths.


The primary purpose of the machete is to clear jungle vegetation. Other models of the machete are used to remove brush or cut small trees in the more arid parts of the world where wooded forests do not exist. Machetes with shorter blades are sometimes used to process game, harvest fruits or vegetables, and to prepare food for cooking. The machete is a very versatile tool. The machete is also an instrument that can be used for self-defense, as is the common practice in other parts of the world.


One of the better machetes on the market is the Ontario Knife Company (OKC) Military Machete. This machete has a blade that is 18 inches in length. The blade material is 1095 high carbon steel. This is a traditional looking machete. It is the same machete currently in the inventory of the Department of Defense (DoD) with an assigned National Stock Number (NSN): NSN 5110-00-813-1286. The military sheath for this machete has the stock number: NSN 8465-00-926-4932. OKC sells a Chinese made nylon sheath separately for their machete. A machete is a valuable tool in any survival or emergency kit.

Kit Compatibility

The machete is an excellent consideration for vehicle emergency kits, backpacking, survival or emergency kits or bags, or a home emergency kit. It has its limitations but it is a versatile tool that that can handle most field and emergency needs. This is one of the outstanding wood choppers that you should consider for your kit.

3. Parang


The parang is a type of machete and it is also an outstanding wood chopper. The parang is the wood cutting tool of choice in most places in South East Asia such as Indonesia or Malaysia. Whereas, the machete is more associated with South America and the Amazon basin.


The value that this tool has is its ability to cut desert vegetation such as mesquite trees or creosote bushes. It can process wood for making fires, process food for cooking, and it can function as a self-defense instrument in an emergency.


The significant difference between a parang and a traditional machete is that the parang blade is shorter, with a shallow curve at the cutting edge, and thicker. It looks like it is more akin to the conventional meat cleaver.

A parang has several types and varieties. The blade length usually averages between 12 and 18 inches. The average thickness of the blade is around 3/16 of an inch. The most common blade materials are D2, 1075, or 1095 tool steel. The Condor Tool & Knife Bushcraft Parang and the Ka-Bar Adventure® Parangatang are good examples of quality parangs.

Kit Compatibility

This wood chopper fits well in most backpacks. That is why, depending on where you live, the parang is a viable alternative to the ax or machete as your wood cutting solution for your BOB, INCH, or GHB bags. You will not go wrong with this outstanding wood chopper in your kit.

Final Thoughts

The subject of wood processing tools is one that will continue. This article discusses those tools most commonly used for chopping wood for various reasons related to survival. The preferred choice for a tool that is best for that task is going to fall on a matter of preference, most of the time. As with any tool, there are good manufacturers and poor ones of wood chopping tools. The location that you live in and the types of vegetation that is common there will determine which of these three outstanding wood choppers that you incorporate into your kit.

None of us like to think about an economic collapse or apocalyptic disaster, but with the instability of the economy and increasing natural disasters there is a real potential for the Stuff to Hit The Fan (SHTF).  I am not a doom and gloom survivalist, but I am a realist, and feel it is important that we are prepared for the worst.


In the digital age, the act of exchanging actual currency has become a thing of the past.  For most we simply swipe a card with no real thought of exchange, but in a grid down situation your credit cards will become useless.  If our economy was to collapse the US dollar could be rendered valueless, and be good for nothing but tinder.

So what do you use to barter with when it comes to the exchange of goods?  During my travels in Haiti where bartering is still heavily practiced I saw trade as a daily practice.  These 21 items were the most commonly used when it came to bartering.  (Not all items come from experience in Haiti, many are just items in high demand.)

21 Items You Can Barter When SHTF

  1. Cigarettes – they can be traded individually, in packs, or in cartons.
  2. Alcohol – stock up on small bottles which will afford you more opportunities for trade, or better yet learn to distill your own.
  3. Precious Metals/Silver/Gold/Jewelry – These highly sought after valuables have been some of the only true currency for thousands of years, and will still be the go to currency.  I personally save all the silver coins I come across.
  4. Ammo/Guns – 12ga, 22lr, 7.26×39, and 9mm luger are the most commonly used ammo throughout.  Have a good variety in your inventory.
  5. 21_items_img2

    Canned and Dried Foods – Hangry wont begin to describe the hostility people will have when food shortages arise.  There is nothing worse than watching someone you love starve to death.  Having excess  food could have a huge impact in your favor when it comes trade.

  6. Pain Killers/Antibiotics/Medications – Sickness and infection will be on the rise with the lack of definitive care.  Medications and medical skills will become a valuable asset.  I highly encourage you to get medical training.
  7. Purified Water / Water Filters – Having the capability to drink clean drinking water is vital to your health and overall well being. You need to have several hundred gallons in reserve.
  8.  Fuel/Batteries/Power – We are extremely dependent on power in more ways than one.  Batteries are small and can hold a shelf life for years.  Fuel on the other hand is bulky and volatile if exposed to spark.
  9. Candle/Lanterns/Flashlights – Nothing worse than being stuck in the dark for long periods of time.
  10. Shoes – I had several people beg to trade me stuff for my shoes while I was oversees.  I actually ended up giving away every pair of shoes I brought (3 pairs to be exact), and had to borrow a pair from a friend so I could get on the airplane home.
  11. Toilet Paper – Yes the one paper that will actually be currency when crap hits the fan.
  12. Tampons/Feminine Hygiene Products – This can be a difficult area to consider, but if you have a wife, teenage daughter, or women in your party these are very real needs to consider.
  13. Toiletries/Soap – Staying clean is extremely important when it comes to avoiding infection and sickness.
  14. Coca Cola – I would have never guessed Coca Cola would be in Haiti, but it is everywhere, and people love it.  This favored soda is even featured under the identity of Nuka Cola in one of the most popular post apocalyptic video games Fallout, where the player trades the soda for other goods.  I know that is a video game, but I guarantee it will have value.
  15. Salt/Sugar – Not only are they essential to our body, they also increase flavor in our foods. Salt is still traded all across the world today.
  16. Matches/Lighters/Fire Starters – The ability to start a fire is crucial, and without a proper fire starter hypothermia is sure to set in on those cold winter nights.
  17. Heirloom Seeds – Granted the soil is a viable source for growing food, seeds could come in extremely useful.
  18. Warm Clothing – Wool clothing and socks are some of the warmest and most insulative, and on those cold winter days they would be worth their weight in gold.
  19. Books – In a grid down environment, or in the case someone destroys them in an attempt to rewrite history, books are the only real records of our civilization, not to mention the entertainment/enjoyment factor they provide.
  20. Specialty Items – Condoms, watches, coffee, charcoal, playing cards, make-up/cosmetics, gas mask, hazmat suits, you name it.  Anything that might be of value to someone else can be considered a trade good.
  21. Twinkies – “Those spongy, yellow, delicious bastards.” – Zombieland



Justin “Sage” Williams

Director of Operations
Lead Instructor
Sigma 3 Survival School

“The psychological effects of being able to start a fire should not be underestimated; neither should the effects of not being able to start one.”

In any survival situation maintaining your core body temperature is critical.  It could be the difference between life and death. Beyond Shelter (See part 1 CBT Shelter Blog post) fire is crucial.  It has the ability to form a micro climate to protect you from the elements, treat water, cook food, sterilize for first aid, and provide comfort and security.  It cannot be underestimated.

I could write several blog post on the fundamentals of fire alone, but I will stick to just a few key principles.

Four Stages of Fire: By most standards there are 4 stages of a fire. These stages are incipient, growth, fully developed, and decay.

  • Incipient/Ignition – This first stage begins with the Fire Triangle

The Fire Triangle: Too often we think of fire as an object, and fail to understand the reaction that takes place.  Fire is an event.  When the elements of Fuel, Oxygen, and Heat are combined they create combustion which results in FIRE!

  • Growth –  This is where the combustibles and oxygen are used as fuel for the fire. Usually consist of isolated flames.   There are numerous factors affecting the growth stage.       Factors that affect fire development
    1. Fuel type
    2. Availability of air supply
    3. Availability and proximity of additional fuel
    4. Ventilation and changes in ventilation
    5. Ambient conditions (e.g. wind, temperature, humidity, etc.)
  • Fully Developed – When all combustible materials have been ignited, a fire is considered fully developed.  This is the hottest phase of a fire and the point where it produces the most heat.
  • Decay – Usually the longest stage of a fire, the decay stage is characterized a significant decrease in one or more of the elements found in the triangle of fire, putting an end to the fire.

Now that you have a simple overview of the stages of fire, let us look at several different methods for starting a fire.

5 Primary Fire Methods/Ignitions

Friction – Ferro Rod / Bow Drill / Hand Drill / Fire Saw / Fire Plow

Solar – Magnifying Lens (position, angle, and sturdiness is key) (char-cloth, fungus, ball)

Percussion – Flint and Steel

Electrical – Battery & Steel Wool

Chemical – Potassium Permanganate & Glycerin

Be sure to lay down a proper fire platform (ground barrier), and a well prepped tinder bundle before starting a fire.  We have several videos on many of these fire methods.  Having an adequate amount kindling will also greatly impact the effectiveness of your fire.


Always properly extinguish your fires.  Fire Control Theory – fire is controlled and extinguished by limiting or interrupting one or more of the essential elements in the fire triangle.  Before you leave make ash soup.  If you cant place your hands in the coals/ash without burning yourself then you have not properly extinguished your fire.


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The Survival Instructor Course…

How it all began…

I have always been interested in survival and self reliance. From the days of my childhood and on into my teenage years , I pondered the ways of the settlers and the Indians.  During my teenage years, my closest friends and I would go camping or just go down to the ditch banks , make camp fires , spend our time learning to cuss and spit tobacco and were known to fry fish in a shovel from time to time.

Fast forward to modern day adult hood at the age of 45. By this time I had watched survival experts on YouTube and had witnessed the explosion of interest in bush craft survival that had led to a barrage of survival and self reliance shows.  During this time I had found a school (at the time) in Northwest Arkansas on YouTube called Sigma 3 Survival School and had watched some videos and became very impressed with the skills they were teaching, as well as the simplistic manner they were taught. Life being what it was in the “real world”, I was usually too busy trying to make ends meet to spend much time  following my passions. So, as usual, they fell to the wayside.

One day a couple of years later, I stumbled upon the Sigma 3 website and noticed they had expanded to include four more school locations and had moved the main headquarters to Mansfield MO. I was impressed to say the least so I looked closer at the curriculum and class schedules. I really wanted to participate in this arena and learn from the best, by this time I had surmised them to be in that category.

Preparations begin….

Taking the Forty Five Day Instructor Course would mean that I would have to quit my job, go at the very least a month and a half without income, and attempt to reestablish myself when I returned. My hopes were that I would be able to teach for Sigma 3 and/or start my own school. However, I had to make it through the course and pass before any of that could happen.

I thought about it for several weeks and began to work on acquiring all the equipment that I would need. I had a large portion of it already such as hatchets, knives, canteens, winter clothes and boots, fire starters and the like. None the less, I spent many hours looking fore the extras and pondering which knife would be best , which pack would hold up and what kind of food to take as I was responsible for bringing a months worth with me. I even custom made a bush knife for the trip out of an old saw blade and I always carry a small knife a friend gave me made of the same.

I had made a combination of deer, beef and rabbit jerky for the trip along with my instant coffee, herbal teas, bee pollen, tuna fish and a host of dried vegetables, fruits, nuts and granola for my sustenance.

My Suburban was loaded down. The weather was warm the week  class started so I had lots of warm weather clothes as well as cold weather clothing and rain gear. I took about ten knives, four hatchets and overall, just too much junk!

I practiced bow drill method of fire for a week using different materials, mostly from cedar around my house, before time to leave. I was able to get smoke, lots of it, but failed each time to get a coal and was perplexed as to why. I had watched videos and had found dry materials and could not figure it out. I knew, however, that it had to be something simple, maybe the way I made my notch in the hearth board? Alas, I consigned myself to letting it go until I could learn from the pros. I knew that with the conditioning I had just put myself through, I would surely have it soon.  I later discovered , among other things, that my spindle had too much heart wood in it and I had been drilling into a heart wood fire board, which is a bad combination.

Time to begin the journey…..

I woke up on the morning I was to leave with a strange feeling of excitement mixed with fear and dread. What was I about to get myself into? Was I really ready for this? Was I physically able to accomplish this mission of missions that I had very little experience with? I didn’t know. What I did know was that I had spent the money and it was non refundable. I had to go and had to succeed, that was all there was to it.  So, off I went. I said my good byes the day before and set off to Mansfield, Missouri without any real idea of what was about to happen.

Arrival at Sigma 3 Survival School….

I had finally reached Mansfield and was attempting to navigate my way to county road B where it seemed that I was heading out into the middle of nowhere. After what seemed like several miles, I crossed a railroad track and to my great relief was a sign at a turn off onto a dirt road that said “Sigma III Survival School”!  My heart leaped in my chest and the excitement took hold! I had followed Justin Williams’s (Sigma Director) post on his YouTube Channel Dirt Time Adventures of when he had made the journey before and recalled how he expressed his excitement in his video upon arrival. I felt akin.

So I drove along the winding dirt road and again felt like the road would never end. Finally I came to a gate that was partially in the road , just wide enough that I could drive through. It wound around up an incline and there I saw the “cabin”, a pavilion, and …Awesome! (I thought to myself) A Tipi!  The place looked empty as I pulled into what I assumed to be the parking area. I exited my truck and decided to look around. I saw two men over in the woods past the tipi, so, I went on over and introduced myself. They were both there for the same reason I was, to take the instructor course.  Geoffrey had been there two days.  the other guy had just arrived that morning and there was one guy Steve who had been there a week alone already who was in town at the time. Geoffrey  told me that a bear had been in camp the night before and Steve ( the one in town) had ran it off.

I had never been anywhere other than a zoo where live bears roaming around was commonplace so, my level of fear mixed with excitement had raised to def con 3. I was more excited than fearful and looked forward to actually getting to see a bear in the wild! However, I never did.

That first night before class was to begin, we were all setting up camp in primitive shelters that were already built on the property. I chose a jungle hooch and put my tarp over it. It was amazingly comfortable and I slept very well.

As people started showing up, I met a barrage of interesting and unique individuals from many parts of the US and the Netherlands. As our instructor course would be running simultaneously with regular courses, I saw many different people come and go with the passing of some of the basic classes such as Survival Standard and Advanced Standard.

We learned about shelter building from emergency survival situations to long term wilderness living and sustainability. We learned how to find and gather materials and resources for fire, shelter and water for immediate and long term use. We learned how to take what nature has to offer and make tools, cordage, medicine, and weapons. Some lessons learned included making pottery, flint knapping, trapping, how to move in the woods for safety and stealth, camouflage techniques, meat and hide procurement and processing, bow making, coal burn containers, basket weaving, navigation methods for night and day, tracking, escape and evasion maneuvers and a host of tidbits along the way too numerous to mention here.

Once our instructors were confident in our abilities, we had what is called Scout Week Knife only.

Scout Week…

We were taken to a new location and allowed only a knife and what clothes we could wear on our bodies at one time. The temperatures were in the 20’s that week dipping into the teens at night. Our first objectives were to build a primitive shelter, find a water source and gather materials to build a bow drill kit so we could make a fire. Not everyone is able to accomplish fire on the first day due to the various requirements for a proper kit and the physical demands of such an undertaking. We were alone in our endeavors until we achieved our tasks.

I tackled shelter building first and had a really nice one built in just a couple of hours , had found a fresh water spring and some discarded plastic water bottles to use as canteens and then I spent the rest of my afternoon looking for material for my bow drill kit. It can be difficult to find proper wood in the right stage of decay and dryness to achieve a coal. After I had acquired what I thought was the best I was going to find and still have enough daylight to gather firewood for the night  I set out to build my kit and get my fire started.

A bow drill kit is made up of five parts, the hearth board, spindle, bearing block, bow and the coal catch. I recommend using a small piece of wood instead of a leaf , something like a thin shaving about an inch or so long and wide enough to hold the coal securely. This provides a good ground moisture barrier and protects that hard earned coal better.

By the time I got my kit made , it was getting dark and I could barely see. I was tired and knew that it would take the rest of my energy reserve to use the bow drill to get a coal. I hoped that my kit would be good enough, I had my doubts. I could feel the temperature dropping as the night was taking over. So, I took a few moments to relax and mentally prepare myself for the task at hand.

And so, I began. By the time I had burned the spindle in, it was really getting dark, I could barely see as I carved my notch in the board. By the time I was ready to drill for a coal, I had to feel with my fingers to find placement for the spindle. As I  worked the bow to heat up the board, I began to smell smoke. I knew that It was time to add pressure and really go for a coal! I could tell the smoke had increased greatly as scent of it engulfed my lungs. I gave it all I had for a final few seconds and then……exhausted, my heart sank as I considered how cold the night was going to be without a fire. I just sat there, didn’t move, just catching my breath….. out of the darkness…is that….YES! It’s glowing red! I had a coal and it grew and grew until it was glowing bright and beautiful as it pierced the darkness. I grabbed my tender bundle and gently placed it in the center, folded it gently around and began to lightly blow taking my time until it burst into flame. I quickly began to lay in small sticks and slowly fed it until it was a magnificently warm campfire.

I had done it! I had achieved shelter, water, and fire on day one. I was relieved and quite pleased with myself. That night I slept well.

The rest of that week was spent making primitive weapons, gathering wild edibles, improving shelters, making natural cordage, making a basket and eating insects. The only food we had was what we could harvest from the land with what we could make or find having only a knife. I found out black ants are natures skittles, they are quite tasty. I ate roasted grasshoppers and spiders and later on in the week I was able to catch some small bass from the creek.

By our seventh and final day of scout week, we were all ready for a feast. We had been playing a game about food for several nights to pass the time  by naming food that begins with letters of the alphabet from A to Z. We had food on the brain.

We had started our journey with fifteen instructor candidates and now we were down to only nine of us left. We had all become very close and connected. I had noticed early on that my dreams had become very active and vivid. I had been experiencing deja vu and commented that I knew that I was where I was supposed to be. During conversations I had found that many of us were  having the same experiences of vivid dreams and deja vu.  Through our collective trials and victories as the weeks had progressed, we had become a family. This would serve us well the following week.

Our final week consisted of SERE training, modified from a military version to a civilian counterpart. SERE stands for Survive Escape Resist Evade. This training will test your mind, body and will. You will learn how tough you really are. I won’t go into a lot of details here, this training is best experienced rather than discussed but, I will say that you will experience a small taste of what being kidnapped, interrogated, and tortured could be like.


When I received my certificate and patch that says I am a Sigma 3 Level 1 Instructor, It meant more to me than any other certificate I had ever had and still does to this day. I had accomplished something that not many people could do and I had gained new family and entered a brotherhood like no other.

This whole experience changed my life forever and the way I see the world around me. I found out that I am stronger than I once believed and I am confident in my abilities to survive in the wilderness. I still have much to learn and much to improve on but, I have the will, determination and a foundation to build upon. Bushcraft is now a part of who I am and I will continue down this path from now on.

In closing, I encourage you to follow your dreams. Don’t be afraid to break out of the box that society has put you in, and take the Sigma 3 Survival Instructor Course. The more I learn about nature and what it has to offer, the more I understand that is where real life is meant to be lived. There is peace and joy in the wonders of the wilderness. Step out and experience life as your ancestors did, reconnect with nature.

Pleasant journeys my friends….

Doug Householder

Sigma III Level 1 Instructor

Difficulty Rating: Level 2

The Horseback Survival Course is held in the area of Apuseni Natural Park in Romania. It is in proximity of Cluj Napoca city. The course is taught by Sigma 3’s Level 1 Instructor Boota Sebas, and Equestrian Guide Bethlendi Istvan. It covers the basics in horseback riding, survival basics, and some advanced survival tactics. This course will prepare you for all the most common wilderness survival scenarios and teach you how to recognize and gather resources from different environments.

The Horseback Survival course is all hands on field training. Our survival training will cover the survival priorities and what techniques work best in mountain pastures, deciduous forest, and resinous woods. We’ll ride about 3-4 hours per day, learn how to put the saddle on, and how to take care of a horse. The program will set you on a path to total wilderness self reliance. After learning the skills taught in this survival training course, you will understand what it takes to survive in almost any environment or condition. The horseback survival is very comprehensive and covers a multitude of different subjects about wilderness survival skills. You will meet people, whose unique way of life is still a long row of traditions and customs, whose stories are as old as the mountains. This survival training class is very intensive and is almost entirely hands on with very little lecture time. The skills we cover are a mix of primitive and modern survival skills. These are skills that your friends will be impressed with the next time you go camping. These are skills that tend to stick with you for a lifetime. Self Reliance skills truly give you an empowered feeling, because after your training with SIGMA 3 Survival School, you will be confident to walk into any environment and take care of yourself, your friends, and your family.


Survival Skills Taught include:

  • Horseback riding basics
  • Identifying and gathering resources
  • Primitive and modern survival shelters
  • Methods of wilderness water procurement
  • Bow drill friction fire making, how to use a ferro rod, flint & steel
  • Creating an all night fire
  • Making char cloth, feather sticks, and tinder bundles
  • Survival fishing tactics
  • Primitive trapping
  • Numerous improvised primitive dead falls and snares
  • Wild edible and medicinal plant uses
  • Primitive & Modern Navigation Methods
  • Primitive tool making


  • Day 1 – Airport or bus pick up, gear preparation
  • Day 2 – Horseback riding basics, navigation, safety & hygiene
  • Day 3 – Shelter Day! Students will build primitive & modern shelters.
  • Day 4 – Fire Making/Friction fire, all night fire, etc.
  • Day 5 – Water Procurement and primitive cordage. Learn to get clean water quickly.
  • Day 6 – Food procurement methods/ Survival fishing and trapping
  • Day 7 – Graduation and Sayonara Party

Food and Water Required: Water will be provided and food is your own choice. We recommend quick field expedient meals such as canned food or MRE’s. They can quickly be made and won’t slow down the learning process.

Minimum Gear Required:          

  • Fixed Blade Knife & Folding Saw
  • Ferro Rod
  • Poncho & Rain Gear
  • Outdoor Clothing
  • Metal Canteen & Cordage
  • Overnight Camping Gear
  *You don’t need much equipment for our courses, though good equipment does speed the learning process up greatly!

How to get there?

By airplane via Avram Iancu Cluj International Airport (CLJ)


Course Dates and Enrollment listed below:

May 14-20, 2017; Cluj Napoca, Romania

August 27- September 2, 2017; Cluj Napoca, Romania

The Shocking Truth About Survival TV Shows

Being someone who has dabbled in survival TV and had a lot of experience in dealing with Hollywood producers, I feel more than enlightened to the ways of the Reality TV world. And since I’m not under

contract, like so many people on TV, I can actually tell you how it is behind the scenes. No confidentiality contracts here! So many people watch TV and see these so called survival shows and think they are learning realistic skills. When in reality almost everything on reality TV is faked and the people producers pick for the show are based on character content and not for their actual survival skills. There are a few exceptions to the rule, but not many! Producers couldn’t give two shits if you have real survival skills and experience. Their vetting process is ridiculous! For instance, a recent show that I was picked for had a recognized survival expert call me and ask me about 10 questions over the phone to determine if I could survive. None of those questions related to any technical skills, just really broad questions that wouldn’t really determine anything about what I could do at all. And then from those questions I would be touted as a top tier survival expert that you should listen too. Well, maybe they are right that I’m the best of the best, but they sure as hell don’t know that from proper vetting. They see me on camera and say “this guy will make good TV, lets pick him and pair him with his total opposite so that there is controversy.” That is how it works folks! Really, the only thing they care about is how you’re going to interact with other members and if are you going to do something crazy from time to time. Because if you do that, they are going to get the ratings no matter what your skills are. So that is why I tell people that there are only a few real deal guys on TV and they are few and far between. I am personal friends with a lot of the TV personalities that you have seen out there, and even many of them will admit openly that they don’t know a ton about survival. Just the broad strokes, their claim to fame is TV personality and not a survival expert.


Probably the most popular show among survival enthusiasts is Survivorman. While I consider Les Stroud to be one bad-ass mofo, I don’t think that even he would say he is a bushcraft expert. He has trouble with even the most basic of skills such as primitive bow drill fire. I have beginner students that are more proficient than he is at bow drill. But do you know what? Les Stroud has an amazing mental survival game and sometimes that is all you need. That guy can just about endure anything and many times that is all it takes, especially if you combine it with some very basic skills. But you won’t learn much in the way of bushcraft from his program, so I recommend that everyone take everything they learn on TV with a grain of salt. It might be good stuff, but it also might get you killed! So Caveat Emptor or buyer beware!

Man vs Wild

Man vs Wild is a great example of a show that is entertaining but will probably get you killed if you take it seriously. Just look at the name of the show and you will know that this isn’t about true survival. Hell, I’m not even sure that Bear would call it a survival training show if he wasn’t under confidentiality agreements. The show is about doing stunts related to survival skills to get awesome ratings and showcase Bear’s amazing physical skills that he demonstrates over and over. That is more the basis of the show; doing exciting stunts and not real world survival. That is why Discovery Channel is always looking for the next Bear Grylls, because his show lasted the longest and smashed the ratings. It is stunt based TV that gets viewers excited and keeps them entertained, while showing very little real world skills for survival. And its all done under the guise of being a documentary, when its really not. That’s a perfect blend in most Hollywood yuppy producer’s minds. Honestly, Bear is a bad-ass and one of the strongest guys on TV but even he will admit that he isn’t a bushcraft expert. He is a great TV personality with a skill for presenting things in a fashion that everyone wants to watch him. Remember the talent controls no aspects of how the show looks or really what is done. As a TV personality  you are a subcontractor of your production company and are required to perform the tasks asked of you.

Naked and Afraid

I’d say the only real deal survival show out there right now is Naked and Afraid. It’s about the most hardcore show that has ever been on TV and there was no faking anything with the exception of some serious medical emergencies. You know you got a real survival show when the producer almost dies from a snake bite, another guy almost dies of dengue fever, one got extremely sick from food poisoning, and another almost most bites the bullet from infection. But even Naked and Afraid has its limitations on skill demonstration and many of the people on the show aren’t true experts. Or maybe they thought they were experts and found out differently under stressful survival conditions. Then again, some people on the show are amazing and you wouldn’t even know it because of editing. Many of the shows like this one actually down-play the success of the survivalists to make it look like they struggled a lot more than they did. Because suffering and problems is more interesting than winning and kicking ass in the bush. They pick and choose the winners based on how presentable they are on TV. You have to remember that every show has a story line and that the producers need to tell you a story filled with drama and then show a couple of skills on the side. That is the winning business model for survival TV. Drama, stunts, entertainment, and then education in that order of priority. Also, remember that even the best survivalist can get a bad edit. Many times when doing these shows I am asked what is my biggest fear. Every time I tell the producer my biggest fear for survival TV is getting a bad edit. I could literally go out there and live like a king and they can edit you to make you look like a total jackass! So when watching these shows you need to remember that some of the people that looked bad on the show actually did good, and some of the people that look fantastic actually sucked at the skills.

I have found a few exceptions to the rule about TV personalities, because I know some instructors on TV that are the best of the best. And guess what; I hired them! Laura Zerra and Eugene Runkis are the real deal and have the legitimate experience to tout their resume and what they have done. Not only on TV but their entire lives has been a journey of self reliance and testing yourself against the wild. That is the way real survivalists are forged! Laura completed 21 days naked in Panama under some of the worst conditions ever with the worst bug bites I have ever seen, and they didn’t even show the worst of it. Not only did she have amazing mental fortitude, she had the bushcraft skills to eat well while there on the island. They don’t show it, but the team actually ate really well and Laura only lost 12 lbs because she was eating crab/lobster, coconuts, and various other wild foods most of the time she was surviving! That is how you separate the winners from the losers on the show. I always tell my students what separates the men from the boys is the ability to eat well while in the bush and Laura lost the least weight of anyone of the show under some of the worst conditions. That is how you know she kicked ass!

Now, I’ve been on more than one survival TV try-out and I was the only real survival expert there on the final cut. You get all types, but rarely do you get the true sage bushmen on a TV show. Most beginners don’t know how to tell the difference because you will only see it in the minor details of the skills demonstration because editing really is a magical art. I’m just telling you this from the perspective of a full time survival instructor; take what you see and hear on TV with a grain of salt because most of it is faked. The number one rule to remember when watching these shows is that they are for entertainment only! The only way to get real survival training is to get some instruction and then get out in the woods and get some dirt time. Dirt time is the only thing that will lead to a truly well rounded survivalist that can live off the land indefinitely. And that is our ultimate goal as instructors, to pass on the old school tribal knowledge that will enable you to live like a king in the bush. So if you want to learn survival, don’t do it on TV. Get training, get dirt time, and get in the woods!

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