Ancient Pathways, LLC

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Outdoor Programs in Desert Survival and Bushcraft

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Survival Firestarters- Tony Nester & Outside Mag

This video on survival firemaking methods was filmed by Outside Magazine editor Joe Spring who accompanied Tony on a Knife-Only Survival Course. There are 11 more videos for viewing at Outside Online which accompany Tony's monthly column on survival. You can also go to for Course listings with Tony's survival training school in Arizona.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Water Purification Methods with Tony Nester and Outside Magazine

This video on water purification methods was filmed by Outside Magazine editor Joe Spring who accompanied Tony on a Knife-Only Survival Course. There are 11 more videos for viewing at Outside Online which accompany Tony's monthly column on survival. You can also go to for Course listings with Tony's survival training school in Arizona.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Winter Survival & Safety!!

Survival Tips for Nature's Most Challenging Season
by Tony Nester

We just had a blizzard impact northern Arizona this week and drop over two feet of snow. As it was, I was driving back from Joshua Tree NP after teaching a desert survival class and then had to negotiate the icy roadways back home. Only in the Southwest can you go from the potential for heat-exhaustion to hypothermia and frostbite in one day!

With winter weather upon us, it is time to deck out our vehicles and daypacks for the unexpected emergency. If you become stranded on the road, your vehicle will become a mini-hotel providing shelter and warmth for the next few days until rescuers can get to you. With this in mind, here is some essential gear that I keep in my truck:

sleeping bag rated to zero degrees F
wool hat & mittens
spare wool socks
3-4 upper body layers (not cotton as this fails to insulate when wet)
winter coat
insulated boots or Sorel pacboots
food consisting of a jar of peanut butter, a box of crackers and a package of M & Ms
120 hour Nu-Wick candle for warmth, light, and snowmelting
coffee can for melting snow and cooking
2 gallons of water per person
vehicle cell phone charger
first-aid kit
cat litter or sand for traction if you get stuck
LED flashlight

For a longer roadtrip, I will bring a cooler with food and sandwiches and packets of instant soup and hot cocoa. High-fat food is essential in cold-weather hence the peanut butter which is stowed in the vehicle for much of the winter. Chocolate provides a quick burst of energy and should be in bite-size pieces.

For children
extra clothes and socks
mittens & hat
sleeping bags or blankets
reading materials, coloring books, or "travel" games

If you become stranded on the road, stay with your vehicle. It is a tremendous resource for weathering out a winter storm if you prepared it with the gear above. Run your vehicle every 15 minutes on the hour to warm up your body's core and to conserve fuel for the next few days. Make sure you check the exhaust pipe to remove any snow that has accumulated and crack your window when the engine is running to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

Hypothermia and frostbite are your greatest dangers in the outdoors during the winter months. When dayhiking, dress properly (no cotton!), stay hydrated, and carry 3 firestarters. If you should become hypothermic, get a fire going, dry out, and get some hot fluids in you. A good hypothermia recipe is to have a cup of hot chocolate with a tablespoon of butter. I always carry this solution in a thermos when on the winter trail.

Enjoy the Wilds!

Tony Nester

Ancient Pathways Survival School

Tony Nester is an author and instructor who runs the Ancient Pathways Survival School and has taught courses for the U.S. Military, National Park Service, and served as a technical consultant for the movie Into The Wild.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

How not to "die of exposure"

Hypothermia and Immersion Hypothermia are both serious killers of people in the outdoors each year. Most cases of hypothermia happen in 50 degree F weather and are preventable- dress properly (no cotton!), stay hydrated, and do something about it when you get wet or begin losing dexterity such as build a fire & shelter, get back to the vehicle, or into the sleeping bag. A good hypothermia recipe is to have a cup of hot chocolate with a tablespoon of butter and I always carry this solution in a thermos when on the winter trail.

Keep in mind that the statistics bear out that the classic "survivor" lost in the wilds each year is injured and hypothermic.

Immersion Hypothermia is a real killer and you only have a limited amount of time on your hands. The best info comes from this U of Toronto Professor who has studied it the most and is on YouTube. Pass this vid around to those who spend time playing ice hockey, ice-fishing, or traveling the wilds in winter. It can be a lifesaver to know-

Another test I do with my students on winter survival courses is to have them place their hands (minus gloves) in the snow for a count of 60 seconds. After this, they must get a fire going using their matches, lighter, or spark rod. With a loss of dexterity, the spark-rod wins out as it involves gross-motor movement compared to the lighter and matches. Try this test in the backyard next snowfall and see how your firemaking gear holds up when the hands are numb.

Cottonballs smeared with vaseline and used for tinder is the other half of the picture in successfully starting a fire when the forest is buried in snow.

Tony Nester

Ancient Pathways, LLC

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The value of a good down jacket

I was out in the Painted Desert today, north of Flagstaff. Temps were mighty cold as we had a winter storm roll in (yes it snows in Arizona!) and were hovering around 40 degrees with a 20 mph wind. Snow was on the way later in the day.

In addition to wearing 4 upper-body layers and a Carhart coat, I always pack along a down jacket, which I wore underneath the Carhart today. A down jacket is an indispensable piece of gear. My down jacket is something that is kept tucked behind the backseat of my truck for most of the summer and I have another one that I carry with me in my daypack throughout much of the year, even in summer.

A good down jacket can be had for $80 on up. I usually look for ones on clearance in the spring or through Sierra Trading Post. Mine packs down to grapefruit-size. For longer dayhikes in the mountains, I will actually pack along a tiny, sleeping bag like those made by Mountain Hardwear. Such bags have come a long way from those clunky, polyester bags I had as a scout. Mine packs down to the size of a loaf of bread.

How much space are we talking about in the pack in exchange for what a down jacket can provide if stranded in the wilds for a night?

Down has its drawbacks- loses loft when wet or when used in damp weather for extended periods. Not a good choice for primary insulation in a place like the Pacific Northwest or the Tropics. Here in the desert or as a supplement to a vehicle survival kit, it is excellent.

So, keep an eye out for an extra one next Spring when they''re all going to be on sale. I highly recommend getting one for the daypack or vehicle as emergency gear for when the chips are down and the cold night is upon you.

Enjoy the Wilds!

Monday, October 26, 2009

In the News

Just finished up teaching our 5-week program in primitive skills. We had fantastic weather and a great group of folks! We went on walkabouts in the mountains, spent time tanning deerhides and making bows, visited friends at Hopi, and checked out archeological sites throughout the Southwest to better understand the context for the skills we were learning.

Now I am busy marketing the new book on "The Modern Hunter-Gatherer" and finishing up our Fall season with our November Trapping Course in Utah. I recently had the good fortune to have Outside editor Joe Spring accompany us on a course recently to do some filming for my Outside Online column. He should be posting a variety of how-to videos on the site shortly.

Piggybacking off that, I recently finished 11 videos on Desert Survival that are now posted on our page on Youtube- -These are largely lecture but I will be posting more hands-on videos on bushcraft and living off the land in the near future.

Enjoy the Wilds!

Tony Nester

Friday, September 4, 2009

New Book and Survival Gear Review

It's been quite a while since I posted but there's finally some time to sit down and relax. It's been my busiest season yet doing lots of teaching for the military, taking actor Josh Brolin out for training in the desert, finishing up my fourth book The Modern Hunter-Gatherer while working on a new Hogan at our basecamp. Whew, I need to go on a Walkabout!

After returning from my latest trip, I found a nice package in the mail from Doug Ritter. In case you don't know Doug and his company Equipped To Survive, he runs the most comprehensive survival and outdoor gear testing company you will find. Many refer to his company as the Consumer Reports for the survival industry and I agree. If there's a new GPS, Personal Location Beacon (PLB), firestarter, or first-aid kit, you will get an honest review from Doug as to whether it works, is worth the money, or a waste of money.

I had the good fortune of heading out on a desert survival course with Doug and Ethan Becker a few years ago to test gear and what impressed me the most about Doug is that he goes out in the elements (in this case 112 degree heat) to actually test his gear rather than writing about it solely from the comfort of a keyboard as so many reviewers do. If you haven't seen the man's site, do so- and you will be outfitting your survival kit with quality gear.

OK, so what was in the package? The first contained the eGear Pico Lite designed by Doug. This is a power-packing LED flashlight in a pinky-sized package. Now, most of us have had the fragile keychain lights and mini-pulsar lights that crack the first time they fall on the pavement. The Pico Lite has a durable casing that can take a beating and is powered by four replaceable alkaline button-cell batteries. This is a flashlight that has the output of a much larger LED. In fact, the Pico kicked out more light than my Inova light! But what I like most is that this is a piece of gear that WILL take punishment and that is what I need when out under extreme conditions- reliability. These retail for $12.95 or a blister pack (of 5) for $9.95. Well worth it!

The other item I received for review was Doug's latest survival knife, the RSK Mk5 which in his words, " is compact and light enough to fit in almost any small personal survival kit or stash-away location, yet robust enough that it's a knife you can bet your life on. The blade is made by Columbia River Knife & Tool. I will take this blade out on an upcoming walkabout this month to run it through some tests but so far it is excellent at producing fine shavings for firestarting and did a nice job of cleaning a trout my son and I caught fishing this past week. This is a knife I can see including in my pocket survival kit.

The blade is 1.75" long and the knife has an overall length of 3.81." Cost is $26.99. I carry two blades on me at all times in the backcountry, and will now add this one for the smaller jobs in the bush.

Again, when you are looking at getting survival gear, obtain quality items that will get you through the long, cold night when you're stranded and life hangs by a thread. In survival, you do get what you pay for, both in skills training and in the gear you carry. Ritter's gear is highly recommended by our school for the forethought and durability put into it!

Stay safe and enjoy the wilds!

Our 5-week program starts up here shortly and after that it's more fun with the fine warriors from Ft. Bragg so the next blog might be a while.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tis the Season For Fishing

Note- the following is an excerpt from Tony's forthcoming book on food procurement due out this summer. In the book, this chapter will also cover gill and cast nets, cleaning and cooking fish, and an assortment of primitive methods.

Improvised & Modern Fishing Gear

Fishing was a huge part of my life growing up in the Great Lakes. I could walk in any direction and practically run into a river, lake, or creek. Nowadays in the Southwest where I live, good fishing is hard to come by so the focus is on wild plants and small game. For those who live near riparian areas, you should definitely become versed in the fish of the region and the (legal) methods for catching them.

Having access to such freshwater ecosystems is the best of all worlds for a modern hunter-gatherer. With such a water source, you not only have fish to subsist on but edible plants such as cattails and bulrush along with an excellent chance of spotting animals coming down for a drink. Plus, in a survival situation, your hydration needs can be easily met.

Fishing Kits

Every fisherman has their take on what should go into a fishing kit. I have two setups. One is a reductionist survival fishing-kit and the other is a collapsible fishing pole with a standard reel. Be sure to obtain a fishing license for your state and to follow the guidelines. The rules are in place to protect the ecology of rivers and lakes so stick to them.

I have to say that you will dramatically increase your catch if you talk to the locals in the region. Stop in at the tackle shop and pick the brains of the people who are out fishing the region daily. They will give you a feel for what type of bait to use and where the best spots are for fishing. There is no substitute for local knowledge.

My minimalist fishing kit for the backcountry is pretty simple: three dozen assorted hooks secured on a safety pin, two dozen split-shot sinkers, small roll of 6 lb monofilament line, and a few bobbers.

I don’t use a pole but rather cast off of my hand, a stray pop can, or a smooth stick. I have probably caught more fish on survival outings using this simple “hobo reel” than through using any of my expensive rod and tackle sets, most of which are gathering dust. I was first introduced to this setup in the Boy Scouts but have found it to be pretty universal and still in use by native cultures throughout the world which is no surprise given it's low-tech appeal.

If you would rather purchase a pre-made survival fishing kit, then I would consider picking up one of the fine kits from the BestGlide Company in Texas. I recently obtained a sample kit to try out and was really impressed with both the quality and well-thought out components that went into their Standard Kit which retails for $24.95. This company sells a kit that will take care of your emergency fishing needs if you are not inclined to assembling your own. For info, check out

Carry A Big Stick

For a longer wilderness trip, I will bring along a collapsible fishing pole with a quality reel and an assortment of artificial lures. As you can guess, we are not talking about an expensive fishing kit with either of the above setups. If weight is an issue, then just pack along the hobo reel. Remember, you will need the appropriate license and be mindful of harvesting regulations for your state.

Successful fishermen are ardent observers of their surroundings and constantly filing away information on weather, insect hatches, etc…. Awareness is critical to subsistence hunting and fishing so pay attention not only to the waterhole where your line is dangling but to the immediate landscape and weather.

Lastly, remember when fishing to not overharvest a river or lake and to only take what you need. Other creatures, beside us humans, depend on aquatic wildlife for their survival too.

The Film World

I recently had the pleasure of taking actor Josh Brolin ("W", "No Country For Old Men") out for a survival training course to help prepare for an upcoming film. He picked up the skills like an old pro.

Often times on courses, folks ask about accuracy in films in terms of survival skills. Some are better than others but below are a list of the ones that myself and my fellow instructors have enjoyed and either excel at showing the atmosphere or accurate skills (or both).

Some of these are not appropriate for youngsters.

Into The Wild
Last of the Mohicans
The Snow Walker
The Fast Runner
Black Robe
The Naked Prey
Quest for Fire

Ten Canoes
Derzu Usala
The Edge
Jeremiah Johnson
Ten Canoes
Defiance (at theaters in 2009)

About Ancient Pathways

Tony Nester is the author of numerous books and DVDs on survival. His school Ancient Pathways is the primary provider of survival training for the Military Special Operations community and he has served as a consultant for the NTSB, Travel Channel, Backpacker Magazine, and the film Into the Wild. When not on the trail, he lives in a passive-solar, strawbale home in northern Arizona. For information on Tony’s books, gear, or bushcraft courses, visit

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