Ancient Pathways, LLC

Welcome to Ancient Pathways, LLC
Outdoor Programs in Desert Survival and Bushcraft

Friday, December 9, 2011

Kindle Release of our books: Surviving a Disaster & The Modern Hunter-Gatherer

We now have two of our books up on Amazon Kindle for those who enjoy e-books and will be getting these into Barnes & Noble and Smashwords shortly. 
Students hanging strips of meat on the jerky rack. It only takes six hours to dry in Arizona.

The Modern Hunter-Gatherer: A Practical Guide to Living Off the Land

Surviving a Disaster: Evacuation Strategies and Emergency Kits for Staying Alive

We are also finishing up the final editing on our new DVD on Winter & Cold-Weather Survival Skills and will have details on this posted in January. 

Enjoy the Wilds!

Tony Nester
Ancient Pathways, LLC

Monday, December 5, 2011

Desert Medicine Conference Notes

I had the good fortune of being asked to teach at the Wilderness Medicine Society's Desert Medicine Conference in Tucson last month. In addition to teaching several workshops on basic desert survival, I sat in on lectures by the leading physiologists, MDs, toxiclogogists, and sports-trainers in the world today. Most of these are folks who literally wrote the chapters on venomous creatures, heat-stress, and dehydration in wilderness medical manuals on the market today. 

Following are some (scattered) notes from different lectures. This is not intended as medical advice so do your own homework before heading out to the desert or working in the heat and talk to the locals and resident physicians who live in those parts for the most current info as this material is constantly changing as research progresses. 

Desert Medicine Notes, November 2011
Dehydration and Heat-Stress Issues
At 70% humidity or higher, sweating stops and is ineffective for heat dissipation.
Heat Stroke- 80% fatal if delayed more than 2 hours. Cool First, then transport, but avoid getting them hypothermic by cooling for too long! Lessons learned- if your kid/hiking partner has  heat-stroke, cool them NOW and then deal with getting them out or transporting as the damage is considerable and potentially fatal the longer you wait.
Sunburn/Solar Radiation issue
A person will be more photo-sensitive if they are taking:
For every 1000 feet of elevation, there is a 4-7% increase in UVB.  Clouds absorb only 30% UV rays.
Maximum SPF needed for protection is 30 SPF. Vitamin C ointment is excellent for sunburns and tissue recovery.
Venomous Creatures
From a single rattlesnake bite, you may get 1-4 fang marks (maybe you got bit twice, maybe the snake had another fang growing in, etc...)
Most bites nowadays are middle-aged men (out barbecuing in backyard) or women (out gardening in backyard).
Treatmen in field: Immobilize limb (put arm in sling) to avoid lymphatic pumping and walk/get out. Anti-venom is critical, especially for kids. Time = Tissue so don't waste precious time with John Wayne methods or gimmicks on the market, just get them to the ER.
Bee Stings
Bees attack because of visual and olfactory factors so reducing these will help in your survival- Breathing and waving arms is what draws bees to you so run out of area, don’t swat them- just RUN, and cover eyes/mouth/nose while retreating. Once safe, pull stinger out any way you can, use poultice of wet salt. It’s a myth that you shouldn’t grab the stinger in your skin and pull out. Just get it out/scrape it, pull it, whatever.
3 million people or 1% of population are hypersensitive and there are around 50 deaths per year in US.
Yellowjackets are not found in the Sonoran Desert.
500,000 stings/year in Mexico
15,000/year in US
250 stings are severe, especially in childrens under 5 years of age. Anti-venom is key in treating so get kids (or adult who is not responding well) to hospital. Most people use ice/Ibuprofen. Kids and those with pre-exisiting health issues are at the greatest risk so don’t waste time if you suspect they were stung and call 911 and get them to the ER.
All this being said, have fun in the Land of Little Water.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Mantracking Class AAR

This past weekend we hosted a 3-day Mantracking Course in Flagstaff. It was taught by the staff of the renowned David Scott-Donelan School out of Sierra Vista. We had a full house of students, many were former survival students of mine along with several several LEOs present and some of my instructors.

The initial phase focused on the basics of tracking, terminology, stride, straddle, determining how many people walked through an area, and plenty of spoor-pit demonstrations and interpretation exercises.

After this, we focused on micro-tracking and then macro-tracking exercises where we tracked groups over long-distances and varied terrain. The emphasis was on the tracker formation using flankers which was the key to picking up the trail when it was lost and catching up with our quarry. We spent our days afield rotating duties as trackers and quarry, debriefing, and then heading out again. We ended with a major thunderstorm pounding down on us as we trekked back in from the wilds.

The instructor, Cornelius Nash, had tremendous command of his skill-set and topics and added in plenty of real-world examples. I can't speak highly enough of his teaching abilities and field experience with bringing the science of tracking to life.

I will be hosting this course again in the Spring but I'd highly recommend checking out their class offerings as they teach throughout the world- -they also run one-day events near Tucson and Sierra Vista.


Friday, September 16, 2011

When You Meet a Bear

This article is taken from one of my recent survival columns at Outside Magazine. To read additional articles, visit   -Many thanks to colleague and friend David Cronenwett for sharing his wealth of backcountry know-how and insight into bears. 

What's the most dangerous animal in the lower 48? How do I protect myself from it?

In my experience, other than running into a shady two-legged, the bear is the most dangerous large animal in the backcountry. Given much-publicized attacks by grizzly bears in recent years, I thought I would focus on them and spoke with wildlife educator and northern-skills expert David Cronenwett who lives in the heart of bear country in Montana where his job regularly takes him in sight of these amazing creatures.
This is the right, front foot of an adult black bear.
 David recommends, that if you run into a Griz at close range and they are not aware of your presence, then it’s generally best to quietly leave the area. He says that “if you bump into one that knows you are there, turn sideways slightly and avert your stare, since bears recognize a full-frontal gaze as a threat (predatory stare).  Talk to the animal in an unthreatening voice and pull your pepper spray from its not arm the can unless a charge is in progress.” 

Cronenwett, also states that “bears generally do not want to fight; it’s a dangerous waste of energy and most Grizzlies by far do not recognize humans as prey.  Sure there are exceptions, but most of the recent incidents have involved mothers with young and defensive actions.”  The vast majority of the time, a Grizzly will go the other way if given a chance. 
The top plaster cast is from an adult black bear. The bottom is from a black bear cub. Both are front feet.
 His advice from many years on the trail: “Keep a clean camp, make noise around blind corners and in brushy spots, hang/bear box your food, be alert (hugely important), understand how to recognize bear sign (rub trees, scat, tracks) avoid camping near carcasses, camp away from trails (since critters use them for the same reasons we do) and carry pepper spray.  The effectiveness of pepper spray is undisputed; practice "drawing" and arming it regularly.  This device isn't perfect but far more effective and easier to use than firearms.  Taking a snoutful of pepper spray is a powerful deterrant to a charge.”

David’s wilderness skills training school that focuses on bear ecology can be seen at

Thursday, September 1, 2011

9 Meals To Anarchy

The title I picked up while watching an intriguing docu-drama on the History Channel called "After Armageddon." A good show illustrating what a global pandemic might look like and the challenges of life in the years after the event. I am not one for these doom and gloom movies but this show had a panel of contributors which made it all the more interesting.

The term "9 Meals To Anarchy" was used by survival instructor Kevin Reeve (don't know the man but I liked the expression) when referring to how most people in the U.S. only have a 3-day supply of food on hand at home. During a disaster, after the grocery stores empty and your 3-day supply of grub is gone, then things fall are gonna get ugly for the unprepared.

Brings up the point of how much food to have on hand in your house? It all depends on YOUR living arrangements- are you in a house, apartment, dorm (with roommates), cabin, senior living center, etc.... I tell people in my urban survival classes to strive for 30 days if possible (again space dependent) at the minimum and then build up from there. I have some friends who live in a small town with a population of 200 who keep a 6 month supply on hand while others I know have 2 years. Adjust for your lifestyle, space, and budget but at least go beyond this often-touted three-day supply of food that is bandied about.

What kind of food, you say? There are three main areas to gather up:

1. Canned Goods (especially veges like corn, green beans, etc...)
2. Dehydrated or Freeze-dried (jerky or backpacking-style meals from Mountain Home)
3. Dry Goods like rice, beans, lentils, oats, millet, quinoa and so on.

We have a blend of all three at home and the above is identical to what we eat on a regular basis. Don't just buy a 60-day supply of MREs. Your body is already going to be stressed to the max during an urban crisis  and will need some decent, comforting foods so stock up on chow you normally consume. Plus MREs, to me, have a serious Gag factor!

Lastly, don't forget to look at how you are going to cook your meals when the grid is down for a week. That's the nice thing about the dehydrated and freeze dried foods is that they can be quickly rehydrated with a few cups of boiling water. The rest of the food can be heated on a campstove or campfire.

Buy a few extra cans, grains and supplies each time you shop and you will be on your way to increasing your food supplies and avoiding the "9 Meals" predicament. Your belly (and family will thank you). Oh, and don't forget about your four-legged friends and their food requirements.

Stay safe,
Tony Nester

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wet-Weather Firemaking: Resinous Wood Rules!

Resinous wood is king in wet-weather. Wood such as pine, spruce, and fir piled up on a fire in wet weather will help to sustain it during a downpour. Look for wood that is saturated with gooey sap. This stuff is impervious to moisture and will ignite even when wet. Avoid hardwoods like oaks, maples, birch, hickory, etc…. The latter are great for providing long-lasting coals for campfire cookery but won’t burn furiously when wet.

In the forests near where I live in Arizona, we rely on dead Ponderosa Pine trees during our rainy season (yes, we get rain here and lots of it!). It has characteristic yellow streaks that indicate the presence of resin in the wood. In fact, there is probably more resin than actual wood as evidenced by the absence of coals in the firepit hours after burning. We have even gathered limbs sitting in puddles for days (yes it rains here!) and ignited it.

In the Great Lakes where I grew up, we would always use spruce and pine trees and even gather the balls of sticky sap to create mini-torches. Resinous wood is found the world over so look to this when the skies are grey and the night is stormy.

One final tip for a wet-weather environment if resinous wood is in short supply: gather sections from a dead-standing tree over 4” in diameter and split it down the middle with your knife or ax. This was a tip I learned while attending one of Mors Kochanski's fieldcourses in Canada during the late 90s and it has served me well over the years. The interior wood on such a tree will be dry and can be shaved into fine pieces (tinder) to ignite your fire and then the rest of the log can be burned. 

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Recent Urban Survivor Course in Scottsdale, AZ

Just taught a one-day Urban Survival class at the Scottsdale Gun Club this past weekend. We had a full house of 39 students! Along with many good questions on pre-disaster issues, there were considerable, useful tidbits by several EMTs in the audience.

The class was a blend of lecture, group activities, and individual evacuation planning strategies. The focus was not on looking at each individual disaster type but on how to develop a self-reliant mindset and lifestyle by acquiring the necessary skill sets.

It wasn't hard to find a personal example as we, as a family, had to pull out of our home two weeks prior due to the annual, summer wildfire threat. This one caused by an arsonist on the loose who started 20 fires only 1/4 mile from where we live in the woods.

I led off with this and we delved into other areas listed below

-Planning and preparation as the keystone to self-reliance and a look at successful survivors
-When to stay put at home and when to bug-out
-The 7 critical priorities for surviving a disaster
-Home preparation involving food and water storage, meds, and more
-Evacuation planning for your neighborhood
-Bail out kits and shoulder bags for the office, home, and vehicle
-Water purification methods
-Sanitation and hygiene issues for long-term living
-Roadside survival
-First aid kits and common injuries
-Urban trapping

A question arose on how wilderness survival differs from urban survival. One could argue over the radically different environments and the obvious personal defensive considerations in a long-term urban disaster, but the fact is that the body needs certain things to stay alive. Dehydration, hypothermia, medical and hygiene issues, and caloric intake will rear their heads in both urban and backcountry settings. The body doesn't care where it's at! There are many parallels but the goal is the same: Surviving and extricating yourself from the immediate danger. More on this to come...

Thanks to SGC for hosting the course. They have hosted my 1-day Desert Survival courses in the past and are a pleasure to work with.

The next Urban Survivor, run by our company, will be on October 8 in north Phoenix as well as several others throughout the US in the coming year.

Stay safe,


Ancient Pathways, LLC

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Survival for Travelers

This week's article is taken from Tony's reader-driven monthly column on survival at Outside Magazine- you can view the last few years of articles at - under the Survival Guru (their wording).

I travel internationally and wonder how to be prepared for a disaster survival situation? I am thinking of the recent tsunami and what priorities one might have in the city versus the wilderness if you get stranded during a major crisis.
A few critical survival items can make all the difference if you become stranded.
If you are a business traveler and spend a considerable amount of time flying around the country or globe, then consider carrying some traveler’s survival gear in case you ever have to weather out life in a disaster-riddled city. Such a kit should be lightweight and contain: cash, passport, relevant maps, small first-aid kit, a few meal-replacement bars like Met-RX or Myoplex, flashlight, cellphone and charger, spare clothes, and water purification tablets.

While researching my book Surviving A Disaster, I spoke with many survivors and first-responders about what they recommended as the most important survival items on their list. The most common item in all of these cases was the ability to purify water and the means of maintaining personal hygiene. At the very least, carry Potable Aqua Iodine or Chlorine Dioxide tablets which will enable you to purify 25 liters of water per bottle of tablets. A Steripen is also good for purifying but you will want to carry extra batteries. For hygiene, stow some sanitary wipes or purchase a bottle of hand-sanitizer upon arriving at your destination.

Lastly, you may want to add an innocuous multi-tool like a Swiss-Tech 9-in-1 which lacks a blade but has many useful features. This gear can fit in a small fannypack but remember to check airline regulations, particularly with a multi-tool, as they are constantly changing.

Stay safe,

Tony Nester

Ancient Pathways Survival School, LLC

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Dangers of Hyponatremia and the Need For Electrolyte Replacement

It's that time of year when things are starting to heat up in our Southwestern Deserts and daily water consumption rates for those of us in the outdoors will only increase.

One danger with consuming too much water is Hyponatremia- also called water poisoning or water intoxication. Like heat-exhaustion which results from not enough water intake, hyponatremia can be life-threatening (remember the lady in Sacramento who died in her kitchen during a radio-show contest to see who could consume the most water in 2 hours).
A lush spring that trickles out of the side of a cliff near Flagstaff, AZ. This was put in by the cowboys nearly a century ago.

We see cases of hyponatremia all the time at our nearby "survival labratory" - the Grand Canyon. Here dayhikers venturing into the innards of the Canyon and contending with triple-digit heat, are consuming too much water without replacing lost electrolytes. A few hours into the hike, they are nauseous, have cramps, headache, and maybe an altered level of consciousness. In the wilderness medical community, you will notice what's called the "umbles" where the person is stumbling, mumbling, and fumbling as their thermoregulatory ability goes haywire.

Technically, you are hydrated and peeing clear fluid but internally your electrolytes have been diluted from over-consumption of water and that's where things can go downhill. Every time you pee, you are flushing the sodium and potassium out and in a hot-weather environment like the desert where water rates might be 4-5 gallons a day per person, you must replace those lost electrolytes!

The solution: get some quality electrolyte replacement powders (ie, not Gatorade which is low in sodium and has too much dye and sugar) such as GU2O, Vitalyte (my preferred), Clif Bloks, or Camelback tablets. The key is to balance your water intake with electrolyte replacement while you exert yourself.

Sometimes, I will just bring bananas and salty chips in the truck and use those if I am car-camping. For every hour of working/hiking in the heat, I will have a handful of the above snacks with my water. This is what a lot of my ranching friend do here in AZ.

At the end of the day, I will also add some extra salt into my dinner or campfire meals. We do this on all of our survival courses this time of year and during the summer when we are out, 'round the clock, for ten days in 110 degree heat. That's also why I recommend carrying Bullion Cubes in the survival kit as it helps with replacing sodium and spruces up nasty backcountry water sources.

Again, you have to compensate for lost electrolytes in the heat or your body will suffer. Most folks who venture into the heat of the desert or tropics, know they have to bring plenty of water and be aware of heat-exhaustion but often fail to include the all-important electrolytes and forget about the risks of Hyponatremia. Your survival and equilibrium are dependent on both water and electrolytes.

Get some different replacement powders from the local gear shop and try 'em out (some are tastier than others) and then stuff a bunch into your vehicle, BOB, and survival kit.

Stay cool,

Tony Nester
Ancient Pathways Survival School, LLC

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Desert Survival Gear & Essential Items

Desert Survival Gear and Garb- How to dress for the heat

Let’s go top to bottom and start with headwear. A wide-brimmed hat is an essential item for desert travelers unless you want your face to turn into a piece of driftwood. There’s a bevy of types from cowboy to Indiana Jones style explorer hats.

I have bounced back and forth over the years between using Tilley, Filson, and Stetson brimmed hats. The Tilley hat is ideal for triple-digit weather during the hotter months of the year as it is a lighter fabric. During the cooler months, I will opt for the oilskin Filson or a wool, crushable Stetson cowboy hat. The latter two will cook my head in the summer though and I value my hair.

Eye Protection
Many cowboys go without them but if I can reduce the chances of getting cataracts later in life, I will start by wearing sunglasses while afield. Goggles are excellent as well and come in handy when the wind kicks up and can help prevent a corneal abrasion (not fun!) when there’s flying grit (different than True Grit).

Enough said! Especially critical as you climb up in elevation. SPF 15 or higher. The Bullfrog brand is superior for waterborne activities like we see up at Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

Bandanna or Shemagh
A shemagh is a garment many of our troops and indigenous cultures use in Africa and the Middle East for wrapping around their head and necks. They are usually made of cotton and are larger than a bandanna at about 43”x43”.

This is one of my most treasured pieces of desert garb and I’ve used it not only as a scarf but water strainer, sling, dustmask during sandstorms, potholder around the campfire, pillow, and much more. Mostly, it keeps the sun off my neck but can be soaked in water and draped over my hat to keep me cool while hiking.

I also have a large silk bandanna that I was given by some ranching friends and you’d be hard-pressed to find a cowboy without his protective, multi-purpose neckerchief. The latter can be purchased through western wear stores. Get it in large.

Cotton bandannas which sell for a few dollars come in a variety of colors and some with topo maps and star charts printed on them. I usually have one lining the inside brim of my hat which acts as a sweatband and also bulks up my hat’s inside if it’s too loose (like after a haircut or days without enough serious thinking!).

Outer Shirt
Long-sleeve, lightweight cotton/poly or cotton/nylon material. These are quick-dry fabrics and don’t have the hypothermia-inducing qualities associated with wearing 100% cotton in the outdoors. Columbia, Royal Robbin, and Patagonia are good brands to consider.

Inner Shirt
For cooler weather, a wicking layer is essential to prevent your core from becoming chilled from sweat. Coolmax, Underarmor, silk, polypro and wool are all outstanding fabrics that will transfer your perspiration away from your body.

Your hands are essential survival tools and you don’t want to shred them on cactus spines or mesquite thorns while gathering firewood or building a shelter. Pick up some work gloves at the hardware store or leather tactical gloves for something more durable.

I like the 5.11 brand desert pants as these are a ripstop cotton/poly material and have held up well on punishing fieldcourses over the years. Filson also makes Safari-style desert pants that are extremely lightweight although these start at about $110.

The beauty of the 5.11 and BDU pants are all the cargo pockets for stowing my survival gear like firestarters, signal mirror, snacks, and pocketknife. Avoid, at all costs, jeans and 100% cotton materials.
A decent hat, shemagh scarf, sunglasses, poly-cotton shirt, 5.11 pants, and leather boots for desert trekking.
A 2” leather belt is my preferred for carrying a firearm. Cabelas and Galco has affordable quality leather belts.

As with the inner-shirt, wear a wicking layer as damp cotton can be harsh on the skin long term. Boxers are much better than briefs which can chafe the groin region.

There’s a plethora of fabrics for socks nowadays- try Smartwool, Thorlos, or Smart-Wool. Avoid cotton athletic or tube socks unless you want more blisters than usual.

Again, there’s a lot to choose from but here are a few pointers: avoid black; get ankle high or higher boots as this will help to keep spines and stickers from attaching to your socks and making life miserable; and get some decent insoles which your feet will appreciate after a long day of hiking.

My preferred brand is SWAT Original. One pair tends to last for about 8 months of abuse and a few hundred miles of hiking. Danner also makes excellent desert boots. On the low-end but still reliable are the Hi-Tec brands.

On overnight or multi-week trips, I will also pack along some Gold Bond powder for applying to my feet and boots at the start and finish of each day.

Other items

Eye drops
On overnight or longer trips, it’s nice to have some eye-drops along to wash out the grit and dust from your eyes after a day of being in the wind. Systane eye-drops or other saline based solutions are good.

Electrolyte replacement powder
Water and electrolyte replacement powders are both critical to your body’s thermoregulation ability. Hyponatremia, which happens when too much water is consumed and electrolytes are diluted in the bloodstream, can be life-threatening. GU20, Hydralyte, and Clifshots are just a few of the electrolyte replacement items available. These replace lost sodium and potassium and are essential during the hotter months of the year when your water consumption rates increase dramatically.

Really, in the desert- you’re kidding! Yeah, that’s right, carry 2-6 quarts in the pack and 10-30 gallons in the truck depending on the time of year and number of people. Even it is was a wet year, even if it rained that day, even if my buddy told me he came upon water in the same canyon that week, I will still bring plenty of it with me as there’s a reason it’s called a DESERT and you don’t want to turn into jerky!

And if, for some reason, you do run out of water, then stay put from 10 am to 5 pm and hike during the cooler hours of the evening or morning. People have lasted up to two days without water in triple-digit heat of the Grand Canyon and Death Valley while others, trying to find water in the middle of the day, have perished within 3 hours for heat-stroke. Hole up in the shade like a coyote and remaining clothed to cut down on sweat loss.

An old desert-rat who had spent most of five decades prospecting in the arid Southwest once told me that his binoculars saved him more sweat than anything else in his pack. If you can get to a vantage point and scan the topography below for water, you can locate water sources more readily and reduce the risk of trekking to what looks like a “suspected” waterhole. I carry a pair of 8x24 binoculars for just this purpose and they have served me well.

Aquarium Tubing
A 3’ section of aquarium tubing will enable you to extract water from tiny rock fissures, hollow tree cavities, and sandstone seeps where your water bottle can’t fit. A Ziploc baggy is also handy to have along these lines and I carry several gallon-sized spares in my first-aid kit.

Down Jacket
For nine months out of the year, I carry a down jacket in my daypack and scrunches down to the size of a grapefruit. Remember the desert is a land of extremes where it can be 110 degrees during the day and then plummet to 30 degrees at night! A down jacket is low-cost life-insurance against hypothermia if you get stuck out at night.

In conclusion, dress properly, pre-hydrate prior to your trip, cut out caffeinated beverages, take frequent breaks to prevent heat gain, and suck down those electrolyte drinks every 30-60 minutes in the intense heat. Remember that shade-hunger is a good thing.

Enjoy the Wilds!

Tony Nester

Ancient Pathways Survival School, LLC

Monday, January 24, 2011

The book- "The Long Walk" now a movie

First read this book, "The Long Walk" in the 80s while holed up during a grueling 21-day trek in a canvas tent during howling winter winds in Idaho. The story, which covers a survival march across Siberia, the Gobi Desert, and Tibet, delves into the account of Gulag escapee Slavomir Ravich.

Reading the book lessened the cold at my back and made me appreciate the woodstove in the corner. Now it turns out that the 1956 book was not entirely accurate and large parts, if not the entire story, were fictional.

The movie titled, "The Way Back" should make for a riveting movie but we'll see? Stars Ed Harris and Colin Farrell. The movie centers on Janusz, a Polish prisoner of war accused of sedition by his Soviet interrogators and sent to a gulag near the Arctic Circle. His escape is a story of human endurance as he and some other prisoners make their way across the landscape.

I'd be interested in hearing feedback on the movie. We only have one theater in town and it's unlikely it will make it here. The book is still worth checking out as the author had some knowledge of cold-weather survival skills despite his fanciful storytelling.


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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