The United States Military tests its capabilities and preparedness by exercising its systems, soldiers and supply chains in war games. [These include field training exercises (FTXes), Command Post Exercises (CPXes), and Mobilization Exercises (MOBEXes), Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercises (EDREs) and more.] These war games are used to ensure that their personnel is trained and fit, that the hardware of every sort works as it was intended to work and that in times of duress their supply chain will provide the fighting men at the front what supplies they need in order to be victorious. I have extended my preparations for what the future might hold by exercising my personal set of war games.
I have been preparing for surviving a variety of events for a little over a year. Living in a rural area in eastern Oklahoma we are in an area prone to tornados and wildfires. Beyond natural disasters I am very concerned about the effects of geopolitical decisions our government has been making. I have read numerous articles and books on what to accumulate, how to store what you collect, how to do it on a budget, what kinds of defensive arms and skills to accumulate etc. etc. etc. I have used this information to formulate my own lists of needed supplies; food, shelter, hardware, knives, guns and so on. I have broken it down into lists of those things absolutely essential, those things that would be great to have and those things that may not be essential to survival but that would make surviving more comfortable. What I am about to share with you is as essential as anything on any of those lists!
If you are not mentally, physically and spiritually prepared to deal with survival situations all your supplies will only help you temporarily, if at all! Sociologists have researched human behavior in disaster situations and have found that immediately after an event 75% are in a daze, 10% are even worse, crying and wailing, while only 15% start working on a solution to alleviate suffering and provide for human needs. Not surprisingly they found that these 15% were also the ones that were trained and had practiced what to do and how to deal with survival issues (shelter-food-water). In other words, they had participated in some form of war game prior to the event they were thrust into. Preparation time is never wasted time.
My War Games consists of testing your personal readiness to deal with the physical and mental challenges we might face in the future. I’m talking about testing your readiness to deal with off-grid living by regularly practicing those skills and preparing your body physically by wilderness backpacking. Preparation time is never wasted time. I’m talking about backpacking into wilderness areas as if you were “bugging out” and using the things you would use, both hardware things and skill things. You will learn what things you can live without and therefore lightening your BOB and also you’ll learn what things you really need to have. Just like when you started collecting your cache of prepping supplies you will learn slowly at first and grow in wisdom and ability, with time you will find out where your weaknesses are and also your strengths. Backpacking as a recreation is not only a good war game to test your survival supplies and skills but you will be preparing physically for the challenges of post calamity survival, whether its days or weeks without power because FEMA is inept or even longer because of political, financial or petrol disaster on a nationwide or worldwide basis. Surviving off grid will take skill, will take good preparation and will require a person to be healthy and fit. I suggest that backpacking not only tests your ability and resources but also helps you continue to improve and prepare in all these areas.
Now this is an area of prepping that I have been working on for a lifetime, I just didn’t label it as such! I teach backpacking and wilderness survival skills to Boy Scout Troops, Royal Rangers, VFW Halls, church groups and wherever people are interested in learning how to spend time safely in the outback. A personal aside here, my goal is to reacquaint today’s youth with outdoors skills that sometimes have not been passed down from father to son as in the past. My teaching is based on 40 years of outdoors experience, packing into remote areas on foot and horseback, sometimes to hunt and fish where others haven’t had the gumption to go; and other times just to get far enough away from civilization to test myself, hear from God and just think.
I divide wilderness skills into four categories; pre-trip planning, gear, skills and physical fitness. I will cover each one specifically as to how it relates to survival preparedness.
Pre-trip planning: Any trip to the wilderness requires planning, and planning means decisions and choices. We have three basic needs, water, food and shelter. Planning any trip, whether it’s recreational backpacking or planning to be ready to bug-out means evaluating where you will be going and making choices. Is there water available? In this day and age we can assume all water needs to be treated, learning to treat water on a backpacking trip will give you confidence in the case you might have to bug out and treat your water source. Will you be able to carry 100% of the food you need or will you be able to supplement your supply by hunting and gathering. Sure you can carry a weekends worth of food, but wouldn’t it be a good time to practice your hunting, snaring and gathering skills in case you have to be away from a grocery store for an extended period of time. Is there firewood available where you’re going? I own some pretty awesome lightweight stoves but in a long term situation you will probably run out of fuel so now is a good time to learn how to build a fire under any conditions, use it to cook and to heat a primitive shelter.
Gear-As I said earlier in the area of gear, backpacking will help you evaluate things that you can get along without, what gear provides more than one use (always a good thing) and what gear you absolutely have to bring, usually in duplicate. Another value of backpacking is finding out if your choice of gear is dependable and durable. If a necessary piece of gear breaks or fails to perform on a camp out it may mean discomfort or a problem until you get back home and can replace it. Once you bug-out, if it fails, you can’t return it to the store for a replacement or refund! You will also find out what gear needs to be duplicated. I need reading glasses, so besides the ones in my pocket, needed for map reading and such, I usually have two pair in my pack, one in the first aid kit.
Skills- This is the real crux of the matter! You can read about how to build a shelter and where, you can read how to navigate with a compass, build a fire, cook with a fire, find your food et cetera. But the best education is practice. By using your backpack and actually going into the wilderness you will be practicing survival skills and gaining confidence. Training and confidence is what separated the 15% from the 85% in the scenarios that the sociologists studied. Have you ever spent the night in your backyard with just a blanket and a canteen? Most people never have. Most people have no idea of what being alone at night anywhere is all about. Try it sometime, it’s not as easy as it sounds! Think about what the same night would be like if you were in the wilderness with only you and coyotes howling, or wild boar rooting around you, or someone looking for you that is not looking to “rescue” you. How about building a fire? Daylight, no wind, no rain, matches, -sure you can build a fire. But what if you fell into a creek, its cold, you need a fire, it’s windy and raining? Now can you build a fire? These are skills that need and can be practiced before you actually have to have them. A soldier doesn’t learn how to acquire a target, identify it and squeeze the trigger the day he gets sent into battle, he learns the skills ahead of time and is tested in war games. First Aid is another important skill-both to the weekend backpacker and also to the person trying to survive off grid. It needs to be acquired ahead of time. Learn how to bandage burns, how to control bleeding, take a CPR course, better yet take a complete First Aid course. This skill will be a little harder to practice war game style but education and training will build confidence. When the poop hits the ventilation system is not the best time to be learning essential skills. It is not the best time to find out how far you can’t walk with your bug-out bag, or how much weight you can’t carry, and that brings me to my final category-physical fitness.
Physical Fitness-We live in a comfortable society, we have remote controls, we heat our houses by turning up the thermostat, we get a drink by turning the tap or reaching into the fridge for another bottle of purified, distilled water. It hasn’t always been like this. My grandfather heated a five bedroom house with wood, in northern Wisconsin, without a chain saw or log splitter! He used a tractor driven 36” saw and a splitting maul. He and my grandma had a large garden that they hoed by hand, no rototiller. They were both physically fit because their lifestyle both demanded it and also contributed to it. Any off grid lifestyle whether its short term because of natural disaster or long term TEOTWAWKI will demand that we be physically fit, and waiting until it happens to get fit is a recipe for disaster. I’m 62 and still backpack on a regular basis with scouts and also a men’s ministry I’m a part of. The boys (ages 12-16) often comment on my fitness. Many times during a rest break on an outing I will forgo removing my pack or sitting down, I’m fit, they’re not. There are different types of fitness. A weightlifter can seldom run a marathon, a jogger usually won’t play the line in a football game. In my opinion backpacking is a great way, probably the best way, to get the kind of fitness needed to survive off grid. If you need to grab your BOB and go, all those miles jogging or lifting weights at the gym will help, but the best way to prepare the legs and back for your BOB is to carry your bag ahead of time, especially up and down hills not in the park or on a sidewalk. Part of fitness is weight as proportioned to height. Too thin, no muscle is almost as bad as too fat. Especially since many of today’s maladies are weight related. Diabetes, High Blood pressure, even headaches can be weight related. By getting physically fit now you may reduce or eliminate medications which will be at the very least, difficult to obtain off grid. Essentially, the better shape you are in, the higher your level of fitness will translate into longer success in a survival situation and backpacking on a regular basis is a great way to get into survival shape.
Wilderness backpacking will get you fit, get your skills refined, give you confidence in yourself and your equipment and the best part is that it can be done as a family, a couple, an individual or a group. It doesn’t cost much (National Forests are open to free camping) and is healthy spiritually, mentally and physically. So if you’re serious about survival-why wouldn’t you? My intention in this article was not to get you trained, there are countless books and articles, whole shelves in most libraries, that can train you. My intention was to show you why you want to get your skill level increased and your fitness improved. Wilderness backpacking, with its accumulation of skills and physical challenges is an excellent test of your readiness for survival situations.
The military uses war games to test its readiness for battle. Serious backpacking can be the war game equivalent that tests your readiness, hones your skills and improves your chances at survival.