From plant medicine to shelter building and group living skills, these schools will teach you to survive and thrive in any situation.
Proper planning and preparation prevents piss-poor performance, or so the saying goes. Whether you’re intentionally going into remote regions with minimal gear, or you could have sworn you just passed the same juniper tree for the third time, survival knowledge and skills are going to be your best friend.
It’s always great to have your Emergency Medical Technician or Wilderness First Responder certification, but even short of that, the ability to depend less on gear is key when you find yourself in a pinch.
These are five of the best survival schools that provide experience-based courses to hone bushcraft, survival skills, and urban preparedness. For decades, survival schools have been operating across the country in Arizona, Utah, and the Pacific Northwest, taking folks on single or multiday, several-week, or even month-long adventures.
So even if you’re certain that you’ll never find yourself alone, naked, and with nothing but a knife in the middle of the Peruvian jungle, the applicability of skills, the mental and physical resilience, and the creativity of surviving that these schools teach will surely assist in many other aspects of your life.
The 5 Best Survival Schools
Located in the Pacific Northwest about an hour from the Seattle-Tacoma Airport, Alderleaf offers courses such as Wilderness Survival, Wild Mushroom ID, Survival Stone Tools, and Home-Scale Permaculture. Although normally offering 5- to 21-day and several months-long courses, 2022 currently only has one- and 2-day courses available due to the continued impact of the pandemic.
For kids, Alderleaf also offers a 5-day Wilderness Skills Youth Camp in July.
Courses include skills such as flintknapping (the art of making obsidian arrow points), tracking and flora identification, purifying water, making bow drills, and trapping. All courses except for the summer youth camp cost under $300.
Alderleaf has also developed the Essential Wilderness Survival Skills Online Course to complete from the comfort of your home. This seven-module course provides core knowledge including shelter building, water purification, fire skills, wild edibles, preparation and prevention, and a final review and wrap-up.
The course costs $297 with a 60-day guarantee.
BOSS has been running survival programs near Boulder, Utah, for over 60 years. Its philosophy to “know more, carry less” provides confidence to survive in the beautiful, remote areas of southern Utah with minimal gear.
Its field courses take you across the Aquarius Plateau for 7, 14, or 28 days. A true test of physical, mental, and emotional strength, these courses certainly require some degree of suffering. And although not all risk is removed, BOSS’s high standards for safety are there to protect you. You’ll leave having learned to navigate and survive as a group, and most importantly, you’ll leave resilient.
BOSS’s skills courses tend to focus on specific hard skills (in place of extra gear). A 7-day or 14-day primitive village experience teaches you fire making, primitive pottery, hide tanning, and trapping. Two Navigator courses and a Wilderness First Responder course (and refresher) are also offered, as well as a 7-day Queer Affinity Course for LGBTQIA+ folk consisting of 11 students and three instructors.
Courses start at $1,895. The WFR refresher is $320. Tuition assistance is available.
Since 1991, Cody Lundin has been at the helm of the ALSS in Prescott, Arizona, and continues to actively teach. A former co-host of Discovery Channel’s Dual Survival and author of two books, Lundin remains an icon in the survivalist community.
ALSS is offering seven skills courses and three adventure courses in 2022. Many of the skills courses are 2 days and focus on learning bushcraft such as fire making, natural cordage, stone tools, and primitive shelter building.
Adventure courses tend to be longer and more focused on the application of skills. Disconnected from the world, you’ll find yourself and your skills tested as you embrace a simpler way of living.
The Ultimate Abo course will fashion you with primitive tools to sustain a hunter-gatherer tribe, and the Desert Drifter journey, ALSS’s toughest course, will teach you to find water, build fire, and secure shelter and food in remote areas.
Lundin also offers personalized private courses for those willing to shell out for a custom-designed experience. Courses start at $695.
Three S’s for Scout, Survive, and Sustain, Sigma 3 has a wide range of instructors and courses to learn from. Often located in Missouri, Sigma 3 will teach you to need less, swapping your gear for the knowledge it provides so that you, too, can “walk into the wilderness with nothing but a knife and survive indefinitely.”
Sigma 3 is partly known for the intensive instructor courses which have allowed it to train hundreds of people who are available for private or group hire. The two programs currently available are a 45-day Survival Instructor Certification located in Missouri, and the 8-day Jungle Survival Certification located in Peru.
Sigma 3’s other programs include survival and sustaining bushcraft skills. The Wild Crafter is a 3-day edible and medicinal plant course, and the Primitive Bowyer allows you to hunt game after crafting your own bow and arrows.
Sigma 3 also offers Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (S.E.R.E.) courses for tactical urban survival, and weekend courses focused on topics such as shelter and water, fire making, primitive trapping, and more.
Courses range from $100 to several thousand. Skills courses range from $375 to $695.
Also located in the Pacific Northwest, the Wilderness Awareness School has been educating since 1983. It offers adult and youth programs, and is located 45 minutes outside of Seattle.
Connecting folks with nature, the Wilderness Awareness School is as much focused on hard skills as it is on soft skills, such as cultivating emotional intelligence, learning and practicing healthy group dynamics, and self-regulation.
Courses include a once-a-month Wild Plant Intensive program, a 2-day Wild Edible Plants course, Wildlife Tracking Basics, Spring Wilderness Survival Basics, as well as several others. It also offers a weekly online series called Wild Women of Color to provide an affinity space for strengthening one’s connection with nature.
Youth programs include day, overnight, and school year programs. Its youth expedition programs are for kids 14 to 18 years old and are 5- to 7-day adventures in backpacking, fishing, and tracking wolves as a group. School year programs are available on a monthly or weekly basis.
Prices vary greatly from $125 and up.