Ancient Pathways, LLC

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Outdoor Programs in Desert Survival and Bushcraft

Thursday, December 30, 2010

What's the best multi-tool?

I get this question a lot in my courses. Multi-tools, like knives, are all about personal preference and the nature of the tasks you are undertaking. My primary blade has always been a Swedish Mora but there are times when the various gadgets on a multi-tool are helpful. The one I use the most is the Wenger brand Swiss Army Knife, the Evolution model in particular. This has a handy folding saw along with the usual features (screwdriver heads, awl, tweezers, etc…). Mine cost around $25 and is a streamlined model of the older, bulkier versions of Swiss Army Knives.  
I also have a Leatherman Wave in my truck’s glovebox for any vehicle issues or minor work. I have found that the most important feature for my line of work is the folding saw that these multi-tools provide. The other features are not as critical (of course, that toothpick feature is nice after a dinner of wild game....). There are so many variations of multi-tools so look at the features you need the most- do you really need scissors or corkscrew in the wilds?
These tools compliment my 4” fixed-blade Mora Knife that is my main “working” blade when teaching and when I am on the trail. I would recommend going with a reputable brand when purchasing a multi-tool like Leatherman, Gerber, SOG, or Swiss Army as there are many cheap spinoffs and the last thing you want in the backcountry is a critical tool that fails you.
Also, keep in mind that a multi-tool is not a knife it- is a multi-tool! So, carry a quality fixed-blade in addition to a multi-tool. The fixed-blade will allow you to split firewood, whittle, and handle the heavy-duty chores associated with wilderness living. Carry at least two blades and remember the motto with critical life-saving gear: “Two is one and one is none.”
Enjoy the Wilds!
Tony Nester
Ancient Pathways, LLC

Friday, December 17, 2010

Skeletons on the Zahara- book review

Looking for some good survival literature, check out the book by Dean King- "Skeletons on the Zahara".

When I was guiding professionally throughout the Southwest for the university, I had a couple from New England who spoke highly of this book. With each bend in the canyon trails we were on, they recounted the tales of hardship and resourcefulness from the book. After that, I forgot about the title only to graciously receive a copy a few months later from those two kind folks.

Once begun, you are not likely to put the book down. The gist: twelve American sailors who were shipwrecked off the coast of Africa in 1815 (yeah, before SAT phones, Leatherman, and spark-rods) and have to survive not only the elements but the hostile nomads roaming the region. They figured they were better off turning themselves over to the locals and being made into slaves than to perish in the desert and that is when the tale of survival really begins. The crew then endures two months of hellish conditions while journeying across some of the most inhospitable landscape on the planet while contending with barbarism and starvation.

There is a lot of insight into "primitive skills" along with providing a look into the harshness of life in the unforgiving desert for those not familiar with this trying land.

Originally taken from the sea Captain James Riley whose journal "Sufferings in Africa" were unearthed by author King, and turned into this riveting account of survival, endurance, and brotherhood. Riley's journal was published shortly after the War of 1812 and gained considerable notoriety, attracting such followers as Thoreau, James Fenimore Cooper, and Abraham Lincoln, the latter of whom said it was one of the most influential books of his youth.

This tale reminds me of when I was pouring over the story of the Bielski brothers (the movie "Defiance" was based them) and Shackelton's story years ago and thinking- "What is there to complain about in life!!"

If you're looking for some literature on the triumph of the human spirit and survival, and from a time when people's ingenuity and skills ruled, then check it out. Just have a cool glass of water handy for the chapter called "Thirst."

Enjoy the wilds!

Tony Nester
Ancient Pathways, LLC

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What is the best way to melt snow for water?

This article is taken from Tony Nester's popular monthly column with Outside Magazine. To read more from his "Survival Guru" column, visit

On overnight winter treks, I always bring a pillowcase that I turn into a snowmelting device later at camp. Simply pack the pillowcase with snow and hang it off a branch near (not over) the campfire. A pot below can catch the dripping water. It normally takes about 30 minutes to fill a quart of water this way so we keep the device going during our evening fire. One woodsman from Michigan I know, prefers using a mosquito headnet instead of a pillowcase as his snowmelting device. Just be cautious not to get the headnet, which is made of nylon, too close to the fire or it will melt.

Other methods that I have used include the “snow marshmallow” where you take a large, soccer-ball sized lump of snow (like the hardpacked kind you make for a snowman), and place it on a stick anchored near the fire. You can also use a few (hopefully clean) socks or a bandanna that are stuffed with snow and hung by the fire.

I have heard of survivors using black trash bags and reflective emergency blankets with snow on top to passively melt snow in the sun.

On short dayhikes, I bring along a Nalgene water bottle that is covered from top to bottom with black duct tape to provide me with a passive solar snow-melting device. I have another (lightweight “whiskey” flask) bottle that has a 3’ loop of webbing taped on so I can wear it around my neck and inside my parka where my bodyheat converts the snow into water while I hike.

If you are going to melt snow in your cooking pot over the fire or campstove, be sure to add a little water first unless you like the taste of burnt snow.

For further info on Tony's survival courses, books, or DVDs, check out

News and Events at Ancient Pathways

It's been quite a while since posting (6 months!) and an extremely busy season teaching throughout the US for government agencies and private groups, editing the Desert Survival DVD (now available), and being immersed in EMT school.

Now that things are winding down for the season, I plan to post more often and will be also adding one of my articles on occasion from my monthly column with Outside Magazine. If you haven't checked it out yet, Survival Guru (their wording) has been one of the most popular monthly columns at Outside since its inception two years ago. There is a backlog of articles archived on their website to review and the column is reader driven so send in your questions-

We have also added a partial list of 2011 fieldcourses in Arizona and southeast Utah. Once our schedule with the military is hammered out further, we will add in more courses along with a return of our summer kids outdoor safety classes so stay tuned.

The 2-hour Desert Survival DVD is finally done and available through our site and Also keep an eye out for it at National Parks throughout the Southwest. The material was filmed in the Four-Corners region last spring and covers material entirely different from our Youtube segments . Nearly half the program covers water location methods and hydration issues along with the most up-to-date information on venomous creatures and flash floods. Rounding out the rest of the program are the skills of firemaking, shade-shelters, signaling devices, and survival kits along with a Special Features section for dayhikers as well as Soldiers Deploying to Desert Regions. For more info-

Well, it's time to go finish tanning a deerhide and get out under open skies. Thanks for catching up.

Enjoy the Wilds!

Tony Nester
Ancient Pathways, LLC
Flagstaff, AZ

Friday, April 23, 2010

Defiance & a meeting with one of the Bielski sons

Last night I had the rare pleasure of going to a lecture by the son of Zus Bielski (played by Liev Schreiber in the movie Defiance) held in Flagstaff.

Zvi Bielski, the son, recounted many stories of growing up around his legendary uncles and father who had all been responsible for the largest rescue of Jews in WWII and told many behind-the-scenes stories regarding what unfolded in the movie.

Some interesting tidbits and statistics:

-The final scene in the movie where they flee from the Nazis who've surrounded their forest camp and then retreat to the swamps, didn't last one day but saw them waist-deep in the cold mud of the swamps for 2 weeks while being pursued by up to 60,000 German soldiers (according to Zvi). At one point during this trek, one of the partisans removes a weakened mother and infant from the line and tells them they are slowing down the group and must leave. Zus finds out, goes back, shoots the partisan, and retrieves the mother and baby.

-Those living in the forest not only got food from frequent raids on local (Nazi-sympathizetic) villages but from many farms in the area who helped the Bielski partisans along with continually hunting and fishing the forest lands. The forest was immense then- with up to 800 miles of wilderness to the north according to Zvi. I had wondered about their hunting/foraging efforts as little is covered in the books out there and Zvi said they were indeed hunting everything from deer to bear to rabbits. As we all know, a growling stomach will cause anyone to put aside their food biases after a few days!

-When Zus (again played by Liev Schreiber) meets his wife-to-be in a ghetto rescue operation by the Bielskis, she later asks him to go back and rescue her parents who are still there. He makes no promises but goes back a few days later and sneaks them out. Two days after that the Nazis removed the remaining thousands of Jews and killed them. The rescued parents lived until recently in NY and died at the ages of 99 and 98! Think of what they had seen in their lifetimes.

Other than a few minor Hollywood scenes, Zvi said the entire family, most of whom were on set as technical advisors, applauded the director and the way the movie accurately portrayed the events and characters involved. Zvi said that he and the other Bielskis still can't spend time in Belarus because of the very real threat of retribution from those whose families suffered payback from the Bielski brothers who were merciless.

If you haven't seen the movie, check it out- it's a must-see piece of history and of great warriors and a survival story of epic proportions. The book by Peter Duffy, "The Bielski Brothers" was recommended above others by Zvi.

Tony Nester
Ancient Pathways Survival School

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Rattlesnake Bites

The following article is an excerpt from Tony's monthly column in Outside Magazine, titled the Survival Guru (their wording). To view the last 14 months of articles, visit

Beware Rattlers!

On nearly every trek and walkabout I've done in the desert Southwest, I have encountered a rattlesnake, especially under and around rockpiles as this is where rodents also dwell.

While writing a book on desert survival, I spoke with the fine staff at the University of Arizona Toxicology Department, who said your best treatment for rattlesnake bite is to grab your car keys and head to the ER. Using suction devices, snakebite kits, and Hollywood methods of cutting and sucking will only waste precious treatment time that should be spent at the hospital.

In the field, stay calm, wash the wound, stay hydrated, and make a call for help if possible, but otherwise, if you're solo, plan on walking slowly back to your vehicle and driving out. Don't use a tourniquet or ice, just plan on getting to a hospital--remember, if you were actually envenomated, time is tissue.

Around 25 percent of rattlesnake bites are dry (without the snake envenomating you), and the good news is that rattlesnake bites are rarely fatal. According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, there were 1,912 people bitten in Arizona from 1989 to 1998, with only four fatalities. One thing to note is that kids are at higher risk from any venomous bites because they have a smaller body mass to absorb the toxin. Interestingly, the pattern associated with rattlesnake-bite victims is that they tend to be male, 18-35 years of age, and intoxicated. In other words, the snake was provoked.

Bottom line: Carry a walking stick and remember the golden rule of wilderness travel--don't put your hands and feet where you can't see!

Enjoy the Wilds,

Tony Nester

Ancient Pathways Survival School, LLC

Thursday, March 18, 2010

SteriPen Water Purification Review

I have had a Steripen water purification device for several years now and have tested it in various locations during this time. Recently took it on the Costa Rica course last month and put it through a few more trials and it held up well.

I have to say this is an excellent product if you understand its limitations. Simply turn it on, stick the probe end into your water bottle/glass and then leave in, while stirring, for 48 seconds for 16 oz or 90 seconds for 1 quart.

-Kills both viruses and bacteria
-Uses UV rays to sterilize water so no unpleasant taste as with Iodine
-Purifies 200 half-liters on one set of batteries (needs 4 AA Lithiums)
-Takes mere seconds to purify water
-Excellent for business travelers, urban survival kits, and in a stationary wilderness basecamp

-Uses batteries though you can get a solar charger
-Delicate so I wouldnt use if backpacking long-distance or would bring Iodine as backup in case system failed.
-Won't work well below freezing as batteries are affected so must be kept warm prior to use in the field.
-Only works with clear water, so no murky, silty, or muddy water. Even prefiltering our desert stream water in AZ doesnt get completely settled and therefore UV rays won't penetrate to the depth of water bottle. In crystal clear mountain streams, it is fine.

Overall, I recommend getting one for your home kit for an emergency, or for international travel to treat hotel/restaurant water. For wilderness travel, I would carry a MSR Filter or Iodine or skip the Steripen if lengthy, travel over rough terrain is involved.

Retails for $80-$90.

Thanks for reading! If you're interested in info on our survival fieldcourses or our books, visit

Take care and enjoy the wilds!
Tony Nester

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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