Civilian Survival School

Posted by Kevin Estela on Apr 7th 2023

In just a few years, it will be 20 years since I first trained at the Wilderness Learning Center under Marty Simon. Marty, my late mentor and the owner of the WLC, ran that civilian survival school for many years after a long career in the military and service in Vietnam. It’s hard to believe it will be 2 decades since I sat in the “basic” course and learned many of the skills I share to this day. Shortly after attending the school, I continued to attend weekend trips with Marty, his wife Aggie, and the community of outdoorsmen during which I was constantly tested as an instructor prospect. From 2007 to 2012, Marty made me the Lead Survival Instructor and during that time, I enjoyed sharing skills and helping students become stronger outdoors. This year, Mike Glover asked me to run a “Civilian Survival School” and while we already have a very popular 2-day survival course, I knew I could incorporate some of the aspects of the old with the new. It would have familiar aspects of the 2-day course I run at Fieldcraft with the previous courses I ran at the WLC. Held in late January with freezing temperatures at night and mid-40 degree temps during the day, we had a smaller turnout but those students walked away with a better understanding of how to deal with cold-related survival concerns.

The Group Shelter

At the Wilderness Learning Center, we hosted 2 free weekend campouts each year. A staple shelter item at the campout was a large parachute shelter in the center of the field. Surplus parachutes are commonplace at survival schools and for the civilian survival school through Fieldcraft Survival, I wanted to incorporate it as a group shelter. Students were tasked with setting up the shelter using a parachute I purchased from a SERE instructor friend. They used a long center pole like a circus tent and used the 550 cord runners to secure them to the nearby trees. This shelter served as a location for the class’ group gear (Silky Saw, Dutch Oven and Tripod, Paracord spool, etc) and it also was a common learning spot and “outdoor classroom”. I can’t tell you how many lessons have been shared under parachutes over the years but much of the 20 hours of instruction we provide in this course was burned up there.

Cold Camp Unless

Fieldcraft Survival Instructor @wildernesswoodcraft really knows his friction fire skills and makes it a point to practice them 3-4 times a week. I asked him to bring out a few sets and show the students about this course. Normally, we teach from the strongest methodology backward. That is, we use ferro rods, then lighters then matches, then flint and steel. For this course, I wanted to add a bit of stress to the equation. Students were required to make a fire from friction or they would have a cold camp. Brian “@wildernesswoodcraft” ran the students through the block of instruction and demoed the skill on loblolly pine. All of the students were successful and we transitioned into making fires in multiple ways. None of the students had seen or tried the friction fire technique before and if nothing else, they realized the superiority of having tools on their person instead of relying on a skillset from off the land. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proficient with friction fire and love sharing the skill but I choose to leave my house each day with the best fire-starters I can carry in my pockets. All of the students commented they will always have a lighter on them despite their new-found skills and fire-making experience.

Individual Shelters

Normally, during our 2-day survival course, students are encouraged to spend the night near their vehicles in tents or hammocks. For this course, I wanted students to try tarp camping. This time of year, you don’t have to worry so much about the wiggles (primarily chiggers and spiders here in the South East) and it was going to be a clear night. I showed the students how to make a ridgeline and set up a tarp to use with a sleeping pad and bag. After a quick demonstration, the students were given time to set up their own and that night, all of them slept well despite the coyotes yipping and howling sometime around 3 am. The students wanted to go beyond their comfort level and without mesh walls all around, they did. They realized how a good tarp can save weight and knot knowledge can help them set up a shelter in a matter of minutes.

Baldric Rig
During the dark hours of the night, we utilized a large area of light from Streamlight to illuminate the parachute shelter we set up during the day. This light cast a bright spot on the nylon that reflected down to illuminate our workspace. It was in this area the students were given 3 lengths of paracord, 5’,7’, and 11’, to make baldric rigs. These knotted paracord bandoleers are an excellent way to carry a knife when you have additional layers on. For many years, this style of knife carry was common at the old survival school and the simple square knot used to create it could also be applied to keychains, zipper pulls, and carry straps. This simple carry device serves another purpose, helping to wind students down at the end of the day before racking out for the night.

I plan on offering both the 2-Day Survival Course and the Civilian Survival School at different times throughout the year. Based on the feedback received from the students, they really enjoyed the added group tasks that built bonds around the shared food, fire, and hardship. Selfishly, this class was a great reminder to me of my own background and sharing some of my favorite memories with a new group. One student remarked he will share what he learned with his daughters and that for me is the ultimate compliment since an instructor can never know the extent of his/her influence. If you’re looking for a great time in the woods learning how to do more with less and building strength, come train with us. Fieldcraft is best learned in the field and I’m happy to introduce you to lessons that have been taught for years.