17 Tips for Choosing a Credible Survival Instructor
How to find the “real deal” in a trainer in whom you will trust your life.
In a worst case scenario, bad survival advice will kill you. Assuming you live, the crappy training foundation you’ve built will continue to cause damage in your life. Both are the result of poor training from unqualified people.
Survival training is an investment of your time and money and effective instruction will save you both. Many so-called “survival experts” exist on the internet and elsewhere. While some have good intentions, many simply see an opportunity for extra income due to the increasing popularity of survival skills. This last point has reached critical mass with the current deluge of pseudo survival porn on TV that infects the viewing publics proper learning process regarding survival training and the profession itself.
Poor survival instruction kills. It’s important that you choose your instructor(s) wisely. The advice you take dealing with the safety and lives of you and your loved ones should come from a very knowledgeable source. After all, you’re learning skills that could save your life–not buying a toaster oven. Regardless of an outdoor schools longevity, size, media appeal, number of You Tube videos, TV presence, or fancy web site, the number-one variable into the quality of their program is the quality of their instructor(s).
Ask your would-be instructor how they make their living. If they don’t make their living teaching survival skills they are a hobbyist, not a full time professional survival skills instructor. Also, ask to see if they have been teaching survival skills continuously during their self-proclaimed years of operation. It’s not uncommon for someone’s “30 years” of survival experience to include the 20 years in which they operated a full-time bug extermination company (their real job) – yet they managed to teach a couple free survival courses a year for their cousins Cub Scout pack. Interpreting and promoting years of ones sporadic hobby or wishful thinking as “experience” on a professional resume or web site is fraudulent at best. One way to confirm an instructor’s honesty about the length of their schools operation is to look at the dates of their media portfolio; if they have one. If they claim their school is 20 years old, but all of the newspaper and magazine clippings on their web site are five years old or less, they’re most likely lying about their years of operation and experience.
If your potential instructor has a book, it will give you an overview of how they teach and what they know about a given subject. Books, due to their lengthy writing timeline, offer the writer an opportunity to “give-it-all-they-got”, so to speak, to try to do the best possible job on the subject. If the information seems weak, and/or the book itself is really a “booklet” of fifty or sixty pages in length, reconsider the last few sentences. Self published books by vanity or home grown presses are NOT written by published authors. Anyone with money and time can self-publish. The fact that a writer has been published by a real publishing company will give you another “quality clue” into the potential survival instructors experience level. In order for a publisher to accept a book, many people in the publishing company felt that the writer was good enough (or at least famous enough, see below) at what they did to finance the book for their eventual profit. (Notice how many survival books from TV survival personalities were published after their TV show aired.) This said, there are many great self-published books.
While this trait is rarer than hen’s teeth, it does exist. Whether you wish to learn outdoor survival, primitive living, home preparedness or other forms of doing more with less, they all have one thing in common, self-reliance. Ask your instructor about his or her lifestyle. Would you call it self-reliant? An outdoor survival instructor who lives in a city or town will have less daily outdoor experience than one who lives in a rural setting. If you have the opportunity to see your potential instructor in person, look at their hands, their feet, and their face. Any calluses or tan lines? Any signs of bodily use other than typing, selling survival gear on-line, or surfing survival forums? Self-reliant skills can be very physical and one who practices them on a routine basis will show the signs, just like all native peoples did for thousands of years. The bottom line is this; an instructor who lives what they teach demonstrates their passion about the subject by laying their lifestyle on the line to prove it.
They will be the most familiar with your local flora and fauna. Learning to harvest cactus fruit from an Inuit is sketchy at best. If quality concerns you, the longer dedicated instructors have lived within the geographic areas they teach, the greater experience they’ll be able to pass on to you.
Is your potential instructor known and respected by his or her peers? Are they known at all by their peers? Has their school been in operation for as long as their web page says it has? If they claim to have nearly two decades of “desert experience,” have they even lived in the desert for that long? Are they in the trenches teaching, or just a figure head for their organization? Unfortunately, these days the school with the best web-page, TV show, or brochure is thought to be the best wilderness school as well. Don’t be a fool with your time and money, ask the hard questions and cross reference your instructor.
Most outdoor schools confuse “modern survival skills” with “primitive living skills.” They could not be more different in intention and context. Although there is overlap between the two, learning to flint-knap a stone knife has limited value for your 59-year-old aunt if she finds herself thrust into a real time wilderness survival situation. Ultimately and when taught in the proper context and order, knowing both sets of skills gives you greater potential for success when dealing with a survival scenario. When the chips are down, a bow-drill is no substitute for matches and the know-how to use them. Instructors familiar with other aspects of self-reliance training beyond outdoor survival skills – from homesteading to passive solar design – use this wisdom to supplement and strengthen their teaching methodology across the board.
Learning and practicing survival skills is a very experiential process. Unless you’re getting a price break, hands-on instruction involving more than ten or twelve students will cause the course quality to suffer because you’ll spend more time watching than doing. I specify “qualified” instructors as large schools often have a heavy instructor turn over and therefore rely on “interns” (future instructors working for free to gain experience). It should go without saying that interns have not yet achieved the field experience and knowledge base of a lead instructor. The U.S. military insists on training their Special Forces soldiers in small groups as they know it’s the most effective way to learn and practice hands-on skills. A school that packs dozens of students into a course is more interested in their profit margin than your learning experience.
Training responsibly in a small group allows you to harvest natural materials directly from the wilderness for maximum learning and enjoyment. There is no comparison to being able to create your survival gear directly from a wilderness environment. Most of your knowledge comes from learning to discriminate between “raw materials” in a wild outdoor setting, not a forest service campground. For instance, a course that supplies all of your materials to make a bow-drill set could just as easily be taught in a grocery-store parking lot.
Would you get surgery from George Clooney? After all, he did play a physician on TV. Why would you trust your life to an actor playing the part of a survival instructor on TV?
NO ONE gets field credibility by having a survival show on television.
Within the last few years, on-line survivalism – for lack of a better term – has increased radically. The internet is brimming with on-line stores featuring survival goods by people who have no real field experience in what they are trying to sell. Also, self made videos, blog’s, you-tube whatever’s, e-courses and web sites abound, and with the power of the internet mixed with easily duped people, it doesn’t take long before someone with a couple years of back yard experience becomes the internet darling survival expert. There are only so many hours in the day. If your potential outdoor survival instructor has the time to sit at a computer and maintain a full time blog, facebook page, or otherwise “electronic wilderness presence” on the internet, they are not in the field practicing and teaching outdoor skills.
If a potential school, organization, or individual uses fear as a marketing tactic to pressure you into buying their products or taking their courses, they are not real survival instructors. The hallmark function of a survival instructor is to mitigate fear, not create it.
It is impossible to blog, google, facebook, or you tube field experience and competency. The longer an outdoor survival instructor has trained people in the field – remote wilderness back country – not simply their back yard in a suburban area or a camp ground, the better they should be at the learned mind set of what effective, realistic survival training is all about. When going back to town is not an option, when you’re miles from the trail head in rugged wilderness terrain with inexperienced students having no food, little modern gear, and the monsoon thunder heads are gathering, this is the type of repeated experience that separates the men from the boys for the survival instructor.
Bargain hunting for survival instruction has been a bad idea since humans first roamed the planet. Think about it; you’re proposing to purchase knowledge and skills that could literally save your life or that of someone you love. The few hundred dollars or so that you save up front from a cheaper school could cost you dearly in the future.
By Cody Lundin