The hiking trail you were on has disappeared in a dense woodland, and darkness is gathering around you. The only sound you can hear is the howling of a distant wolf. Quick—what’s the most important tool you’ll need to survive in the wilderness? Dry matches? Water? A flashlight? Actually, it’s none of these things (though each is good to have on hand). The answer to survival questions like these is familiar to graduates of the Survival Skills Weekend courses, held in a 200-acre (81-hectare) private wilderness in upstate New York.
There are many wilderness survival schools, but John D. McCann’s series of Survival Skills weekends (there are three levels, beginner to advanced) stands out for its hands-on, deep-woods approach and the practical experience he brings to his students. A former Marine drill instructor, McCann is also the author of Build the Perfect Survival Kit, the first book of its kind. The 48-hour weekend courses are limited to a maximum of 10 students and cover everything from water purification and squirrel trapping to clever ways to start a fire, like connecting the positive and negative ends of a cellphone battery with a length of steel wool—the steel wool will ignite. (Kids, don’t try this at home!) Campers are asked to bring their own food, clothing, and basic camping equipment; a cookout dinner is provided for all on Saturday night.
Though it sounds like a lot of serious work—and much of it is—participants also rave about the fun and excitement involved in the survival experience, otherwise known as bushcraft. McCann also helps students avoid the pitfall of buying a lot of unnecessary or overpriced equipment they won’t need. A CD, for example, is reflective enough to signal a passing plane, and an Altoids tin comes in handy as a makeshift frying pan. But the most useful piece of survival equipment, according to McCann, is the one you’re least likely to forget at home—your brain.
Survival Skills ( 845/471-2434; www.bepreparedtosurvive.com).
When to Go: Courses are scheduled throughout the year; check website for dates.
Albany International Airport (113 miles/182km).