Ancient Pathways, LLC

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Outdoor Programs in Desert Survival and Bushcraft

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Two new books by Mors Kochanski

I opened the mail recently and was thrilled to receive two autographed books from Mors Kochanski and Randy Breeuwsma of Karamat. These are gems that every woodsman should have. A lifetime of study and application permeates his works and his books are the most dog-eared manuals in my library. Both are available on Amazon or directly through

Friday, August 28, 2015

Interview with Mors Kochanski is Now Available in the Backwoodsman Magazine

I'm thrilled to say that the interview I conducted with Master Bushman Mors Kochanski is now available in the latest issue of Backwoodsman Magazine found at bookstores and online. In it, Mors discusses his childhood growing up in Canada using traditional bushcraft skills, his love of books and research, and tips for aspiring woodsman. Few people in the world have his scholarly background and years of practical experience living the life in the wilds and it was a real honor to speak with him. His book, Bushcraft is the tome that every wilderness skills practitioner should own and put to use.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Rigging Tarps and Ponchos for Survival Shelters

Whether it's for camping or survival, a lightweight tarp can be a trusty friend. I use one regularly for sleeping out, coping with a brief storm on a dayhike, or when I'm shade-hungry in the desert. In addition to a Heatsheet in my shirt pocket, I always carry a small 6'x8' blue tarp in my pack for short trips or a 10'x10' Campmor nylon tarp for multi-day trips. These can be erected in mere minutes compared with the time (and calories) it takes to construct a shelter from branches and pine-needles. A blue or red tarp can also serve as a ground-to-air signal panel for searchers.

When I'm staying in a wilderness basecamp near my truck or weight isn't an issue, I prefer a more rugged 14'x14' canvas tarp from Panther Primitives which I arrange in a diamond configuration  (photo above). This provides ample space for sleeping, storing gear, and room for my dogs. There's nothing better than waking up to the first rays of the morning sun from the spacious interior of a tarp. If mosquitoes are severe, I'll defer to a tent but, thankfully, that rarely happens in the mountains and desert regions where I live. See the pics below for more info on rigging methods.

Monday, June 15, 2015

5.11 Rush 24 Pack: 1 Year Later

As a freelance writer for numerous magazines, I receive a handful of items for review. Last spring a batch of 5.11 products arrived including their RUSH24 Backpack. After using this as my primary pack for countless survival courses, personal treks, and air travel I can say that this is a beast and holds up like few other pieces of gear I own.

With my height of 6’, I find the neck yoke and shoulder strap width comfy. There's a wrap-around web platform which is MOLLE  compatible and allows ample space to attach my survival kit and a small medical pouch on the front panel. The size is a little too big for short dayhikes but ideal for 2-3 day treks for my needs. The company states that it is a 2000 cubic inch pack (33 liters) but that is only for the main compartment. Add in the multiple side and front pockets and you greatly increase the carrying capacity. 

I made the mistake of leaving my pack outside my shelter one night in the desert and a packrat chewed through the shoulder strap. I've jerry-rigged the webbing for the past month but will have to look into replacing this soon.  

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Post-Apocalyptic Fiction titles now available in print and eBook formats

Some of you are aware that I am involved in writing fiction, in particular post-apocalyptic fiction and sci-fi. These books are written under the pen name JT Sawyer and have largely been available only on Kindle. This past month saw the publication of the first three volumes in the First Wave Series and it is now available in print through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other brick-and-mortar stores throughout the U.S.

This series focuses on a small band of survivors who emerge from a 22-day Colorado River trip to find that the world has unraveled from a pandemic. They must survive and evade the (gasp...) undead while moving across the rugged Arizona landscape. 

Also, going Live tomorrow is the third book in the Carlie Simmons zombie-apocalypse series, The Way Back. This book takes off where volume two ended and follows former Secret Service Agent Simmons and her eclectic band on a harrowing trek through the wilds. This eBook is available at a discounted rate of .99 cents for the next week.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Overland Expo 2015

My staff and I had the great pleasure of teaching at Oveland Expo again this year south of Flagstaff. We had two days of mud, snow, and rain but, as always, a great crowd of enthusiastic explorers from around the globe. We taught numerous classes on bushcraft, basic survival, and emergency kits along with having a chance to scope out the latest Overland gear and vehicle hardware. Gracious hosts Jonathan and Roseann Hanson must not sleep a wink during the entire weekend with all they have planned during this event and with the arrival of thousands of participants pouring into Mormon Lake (whose diameter increased considerably in about 24 hours!).

An amazing rig with rooftop tent parked nearby amongst hundreds of such vehicles that were in attendance.
Vehicle extrication skills and rigging systems were some of the many workshops participants could register for during the three-day event.

There were many vintage vehicles present whose design and durability was a wonder to observe.
For those on the East Coast, the Expo will be running their 3-day event in North Carolina in October. For more info, check out Overland Expo.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

A New Take on the Micro-Survival Kit

Recently I had the good fortune of teaching a survival skills class for the fine folks at U.S. Palm in Phoenix. Owners Rob Anderson and Brandon Finch make some of the finest tactical gear on the market today and one of their staff, Greg Beck, showed his micro-survival kit that he always carries with him. Now, bear in mind this kind of kit presupposes that you possess survival skills to begin with, as Greg certainly does, and it would be one notch up from your EDC gear.

The beauty of Greg's kit is in the simplicity. The only thing I would add in are a half-dozen water purification tablets and a few steri-strips and knuckle bandages. Everything here is multi-purpose. Even the alcohol prep pads can be used for firestarting in addition to hygienic needs.
Everything is neatly stored in a multi-tool nylon sheath. To make space for more items, one could substitute the Leatherman with a smaller Swiss-Army knife.

The specific components shown are as follows:

Leatherman Rebar tool

SureFire Titan-A light (AAA battery powered)

Exotac nanoSTRIKER fire starter

Fox 40 whistle

Custom made glow fob

SERE compass

12 feet of 400lb Dyneema cord w/ rubber band

2" x 1.5" signal mirror

(2x) alcohol swabs for tinder

$50 bill

Multi-Tool Pouch

A multi-tool pouch makes for a personal survival kit that you can carry on your belt on short outings.

For more information on their line of tactical gear, visit U.S. Palm.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Pre-Made DF-4 Deadfall Trap That Will Keep You Rockin' With Wild Game

The diminutive DF-4 Deadfall Design is compact enough to stow a few in your Bug-Out Bag or long-term survival kit.

I've had the good fortune of meeting some great folks in my fieldcourses over the years and two of them, Eric and Ed from the DF-4 Company in Cottonwood, Arizona have put out an amazing product for feeding yourself in a wilderness survival situation or if the grocery shelves ever empty during a true grid-down crisis. This design is so simple but reliable it blew me away the first time I set it up (with one-hand such is their design!). As their website indicates, it's an "Innovative Design Based On Traditional Technology."
Set in literally seconds, this deadfall just needs to be baited and it's ready to roll (or rock!). This is the smaller version of deadfall that the DF-4 company makes and is suitable for smaller rodents.

While I teach how to carve the primitive Paiute and Widget Deadfalls in my fieldcourses so students know the skill, this is a carving method that takes time and practice. It's also a very perishable skill set which is why this pre-made deadfall is outstanding. There are no angles to remember when you're belly is rumbling and no elaborate whittling to be done. I've always been a believer in blending the best of both primitive and modern bushcraft techniques and when it comes to long-term living off the land, the DF-4 would free up a lot of time that could be spent on other critical survival skills.
The time-tested Paiute Deadfall was used into contemporary times by Supai, Hopi, Paiute, and other tribes in the Southwest. It can be a frustrating trap to set for the beginner and takes considerable practice under varied field conditions to be succesful with.
Ed and Eric put a lot of thought into the design to make it easy to set, sturdy under pressure, and light enough not to be a burden in one's kit. Get a few dozen of these and spread them around your BOBs and you'll be able to procure meat if a true survival emergency befalls you. Now for the disclaimer-  YOU are responsible for checking into your state's game laws and regulations.
This little beauty is a little larger than a ballpoint pen and about as light as it's made from 6000 series aluminum.
For more info, check out the DF-4 website or, better yet, drop in on the makers at one of the survival expos or sportsmans shows that they frequently attend around the western U.S. Ed is also the designer of an excellent, field-expedient poncho shelter and these guys, with their constant innovation and field-testing, would make even MacGuyver jealous.
The quick-latch trigger system allows you to set the trap with one hand. This frees up your other hand to place the rock or log weight and avoid the notorious School of Crushed Knuckles typical in learning to use deadfalls.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Some Survival-Related Films to Warm Your Bones

With much of the country deep in the clutches of a brutal winter, I thought I’d toss out a few bushcraft and survival-related flicks to consider while hunkered down on the couch while the howling wind slams down the powder against your abode.

The perfect movie to help fend off cabin-fever. Tom Hanks in a groundshaking look at solo survival in the Pacific. What’s not to like about Hanks cursing at his Wilson volleyball, his primal joy in creating fire by friction, and his ultimate return to the world. Not many viewers are aware that script-writer William Broyles (who also penned Apollo 13 with Hanks) spent time on a desert island in Baja learning castaway skills with primitive technologist Steve Watts and company. During their training, a bunch of “junk” washed up on the beach one day and they found a box of Japanese videotapes, a pair or ice-skates, and….a Wilson volleyball.

Into The Wild
Actor Emile Hirsch wistfully portrays the fate of Chris McCandless who perished from starvation in Alaska after a months-long solo trip ended badly. I liked the movie better than the book and chunks of it were filmed in my backyard in Arizona. I had the good fortune of taking Emile Hirsch out for a 3-day training course prior to filming and he was a cool, laid-back dude who was clearly intent on his craft.  I’ve written before about our outing in my book, Life Under Open Skies and Emile portrayed the challenges of living off the land extremely well. I’m still astounded at how deeply this story runs through youth culture in our country and many of my college students still bring up the McCandless story around the campfire. McCandless’s sister just came out with a book recounting her experiences growing up with her brother and what may have led him to the path he took in Alaska.

The Snow Walker
Based upon one of my favorite authors, Canadian writer Farley Mowat, this movie was adapted from a short story called “Walk Well My Brother” in the book, The Snow Walker.  This movie was instantly praised within the survival community as getting it right, as far as having realistic skills and the power of mental attitude in overcoming adversity. A truly poignant and moving account of one man’s efforts to save himself and the young Inuit girl in his care after their plane goes down in the tundra during the 1950s. Some of the best acting, scenery, and storyline you are likely to see in a movie. Next to Jeremiah Johnson, this is the other movie I always recommend to students of mine. Pick up a copy of Mowat's The Snow Walker book and read the other amazing tale, The Blood in Their Veins for a story you'll never forget.

I read the book on Tuvia Bielski years ago and eagerly awaited the release of this film with actor Daniel Craig (007) which he said was one of the most profound roles of his life. The Bielski brothers kept their group of over 1200 people alive in the boreal forests of Belarus during WWII while evading Nazi troops, tending to illness, rearing kids, finding food, and coping with brutal winters. If you get this movie, check out the special features which has interviews with the present-day descendants of the survivors and the Bielski brother’s own kids who served as consultants on the film. I went to a talk in Flagstaff a few years back by Zvi Bielski who is the son of Zus Bielski (played by Liev Schreiber in the movie). The book by Peter Duffy, "The Bielski Brothers" was recommended above others by Zvi. You can read more from my previous blog posting on this but be aware there are spoilers.
 After I left the theater and, later after hearing Zvi’s presentation, I kept thinking, “What the hell do I have to complain about in life?” This is a truly astounding film experience about the triumph of the human spirit.

Jeremiah Johnson
"The Rocky Mountains are the marrow of the world..." I think this is the most quoted movie on our fieldcourses, amongst fellow survival instructors, and at rendezvous. Eighty-percent of this film’s dialogue is from actual mountain man diaries and accounts, and legendary woodsman Larry Dean Olsen was the consultant for the film so the skills are amazing. Apparently Redford really got into this role and took to the training. Filmed in some pretty amazing backcountry locations in Utah, this story is about the life of Jeremiah “Liver-Eating” Johnson (also a book) who is rumored to have dispatched several hundred Crow warriors during his tenuous stay in the Rocky Mountains during the 1830s. Some memorable scenes and a look at the harsh realities of carving out a home in the wilds and just how harsh life is when trying to procure food from the land. This movie, with its bent for realism, is a 180 from the romantic Hollywood flick, Dances With Wolves. Just remember to "watch yer topknot, pilgrim."

Alive: Miracle in the Andes
I remember reading about this story in the news when I was a kid  and later read the book on the harrowing and horrific story about the Andes plane crash survivors. This movie, with actor Ethan Hawke, was made with one of the actual Uruguayan survivors, Nando Parrado, serving as a consultant so the details are spot-on from what Parrado indicated. The movie recounts the story of the ill-fated rugby team who crashed in the Andes in 1972 at 11,000 feet and whose 16 survivors had to endure 72-days of bone-numbing temperatures along with having to make the decision to consume their own dead. After several decades of indecision, Parrado eventually wrote a book about his experience which should be required reading for anyone involved in not only survival but leadership, crisis management, disaster planning, or anyone who wants to learn more about survival psychology. See the movie and then watch the hour-long documentary- Alive: 20 Years Later.

Other Outstanding Movies With a Survival Theme

The Fast Runner
Black Robe
Quest for Fire
All Is Lost
The Naked Prey
Dersu Uzala
Last of the Mohicans
The Edge
Ten Canoes
The Happy People: A Year in the Taiga

If there’s another film that should be on the list, send me an email.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Five Survival Myths

Many readers email me about the survival skills that show up in movies or so-called reality shows. Being involved in educating others over the past 25 years, I thought I’d mention a few myths & misconceptions that have crept into the field of survival.

1)  Can you really get water from a cactus?

There’s a reason you don’t find cactus juice at the grocery store. It’s a noxious substance full of alkaloids that can push a heat-stressed individual into heat-stroke. The few times I’ve tried this  method, to glean its supposed usefulness, has seen me nauseous. Carry water with you in the desert or hole up like a cowboy during the heat of the day until you can locate water. A person sitting in the shade in 90 degree F weather will expend six-quarts of water over 24-hours so there’s no substitute for being prepared in the wilds.

2) If the world falls apart, I can just grab my rifle and bug-out-bag and retreat to the wilds for a few years until society re-establishes itself, right?

Living off the land in a solo fashion is brutal. There’s a reason our ancestors lived in tribes- it takes a lot of people on the land to provide sustenance. It is far better to have some supplies on hand at home and then augment your pantry with any wild game, fish, or edible plants that you might be versed in obtaining. Even better than that is to have a like-minded group of family and friends that you can work together with to ride out such a disaster. I wish life in the wilds were like the romanticism found in the movie Dances With Wolves but it’s more like the harsh reality of the film, The Snow Walker.

3) I saw this reality-show where the guy was lost and rubbed two-sticks together to start a fire. Is that possible?

None of us would be here today if our ancestors hadn’t mastered the fine art of friction firemaking but this is a skill to practice on camping trips and backyard outings. Modern survival is about being prepared and carrying at least three firestarters (Stormproof matches, spark-rod, and lighter) with you at all times when in the backcountry. I teach primitive firemaking skills to show my students how to perform the method but find that, even under the best of conditions, it is a challenge and not reliable for most people. This is not the method I want to use if I am lost, injured, or stranded in the wilds with the sun going down! I've worked as a consultant on several reality shows and, with the exception of Survivorman, these shows are heavily-scripted. On one program, there was a crew of 12 people accompanying us, including two staff whose sole job was to drag around coolers filled with double-shot espressos and sandwiches while filming scenes of the host living off the land. That was my last involvement with "reality-TV." There's nothing romantic or fun about real survival- it's only adventure in retrospect.

4) My buddy said that if you’re thirsty, you should put a pebble under your tongue and that will help you stay hydrated. Does that really work?

This simply stimulates the saliva glands which can help get rid of cottonmouth (which in turn helps briefly with your mental attitude) but you’re not actually adding water to your body, only redistributing existing fluids. In the intense heat of the Southwest, I sometimes consume 2-3 gallons of water per day so this is not a viable method for staying hydrated.

5) I have a three-month supply of food, ammo, water, and supplies laid in, just in case there’s a disaster. Is this enough to weather out the crisis?

 There are no cookie-cutter answers. It all depends on your region, time of year, weather, family size, budget, and other variables. Having supplies ahead of time is critical but, in the end, it’s people working together and the power of community that often saves the day. Look at present-day examples from around the country and you will see that it is human goodwill that makes life possible after a disaster in addition to well-thought out supplies. All this being said, the six key areas to plan for when preparing your home are: food, water (and water purification), medical supplies, security, hygiene, and alternative power.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Peter Kummerfeldt: A True Master of Survival

In November, I had the great fortune of working once again with master survival instructor Peter Kummerfeldt at a Wilderness Medicine Society conference in Tucson. In addition to being someone who was clearly born to teach, Peter has some of the most extensive global survival experience of anyone I know of in the field. He is the real deal. When he speaks about the intense heat and varied wildlife in Africa, or building an igloo in northern Alaska when it was -30, or trekking in the jungle for days with only his machete, you know he's really done it. Peter spent 30 years as an Air-Force Survival instructor and then later as a professional hunting guide in the Rockies. Prior to that, he grew up in Kenya and currently offers his own photo-safari trips to various regions of Africa.
One of my favorite quotes from his lecture on survival was: "Forget that old saying, 'You will rise to the occasion during a crisis.' That's absurd. However, you will settle to the level of your training." Time and again, Peter has always stressed that having the proper gear is not enough- you have to know how to use it and try it out under non-survival conditions.

One of Peter's hands-on survival classes in the Rocky Mountains.

I am always humbled being in Peter's presence and was honored to co-teach several desert survival workshops with him. If you have a chance, take his one-day survival class which he offers around the country and pick up a copy of his outstanding manual, Surviving a Wilderness Emergency which is one of the best books on the market today. It covers how to prepare for outdoor trips and shows exactly what field-tested gear should go into a quality survival kit. Peter's website also has volumes of comprehensive articles ranging from lightning safety to the latest research on hypothermia, international travel security, and more. We will be hosting a 2-day non-overnight survival course with Peter on October 3-4 in Flagstaff.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Quote from Master Woodsman Horace Kephart


 “A camper should know for himself how to outfit, how to select and make a camp, how to wield an axe and make proper fires, how to cook, wash, mend, how to travel without losing his course, or what to do when he has lost it; how to trail, hunt, shoot, fish, dress game, manage boat or canoe, and how to extemporize such makeshifts as may be needed in wilderness faring. And he should know these things as he does the way to his mouth. Then is he truly a woodsman, sure to do promptly the right thing at the right time, whatever befalls. Such a man has an honest pride in his own resourcefulness, a sense of reserve force, a doughty self-reliance that is good to feel. His is the confidence of the lone sailorman, who whistles as he puts his tiny bark out to sea.”
Master Woodsman Horace Kephart (1862-1931)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Real Man

 A Real Man
One of the pleasures of working with the military special operations community is all of the stories that the guys share around the evening campfire when we’ve finished the day’s teachings.
We have one unit in particular that we have been working with for many years and the unit’s NCO, Mike, shared a great tale with us involving a camping trip he went on with his 14-year-old daughter who he visits with each summer.
Mike had taken his daughter Ashley on a 3-day campout in the forests of Pennsylvania. One evening, he wanted to show her how to make fire by friction, using the bow-drill. He had cut down a cedar branch and used it for his fireboard and drill while securing a maple branch for the bow. Using his bootlace for the bowstring and a chunk of maple for the handhold, he created a primitive fire in mere minutes. His daughter sat entranced the whole time, watching her father’s finesse with the ancient skill. When Mike was done, she immediately grabbed the primitive tools and looked them over, yearning to recreate fire as her father had. It was a proud moment for Mike. They spent the rest of the evening working on survival skills, carving spoons, and laughing about other trips together.
Fast forward two weeks to Ashley’s birthday party at her mom and stepdad’s house.  Amidst a crowd of friends and family, Ashley’s stepdad is ready to light a blaze in the backyard fire pit. He returns from the garage with a stack of newspaper, matches, and a can of lighter fluid. Ashley moves forward in disgust at her stepdad’s materials and declared, “A real man can make a fire with his bare hands and some sticks. A real man doesn’t need to use matches or a lighter!”
An awkward silence enshrouded the guests as a frostbitten expression slid over her stepdad’s face. Ashley’s mom quickly stepped in and plucked her daughter from the crowd while comforting her husband.
Later that night, Mike got a call from his daughter recounting the whole story and could barely restrain his laughter. However, Mike said his ex-wife had another take on the story and its long-lasting ripple effect at the party. 

***This story is an excerpt from Tony's new book, Life Under Open Skies: Adventures in Bushcraft. Available on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and other digital platforms.*** 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Traps & Tools for Living Off the Land

Is it better to rely on hunting with a rifle or bow or to use traps instead? And should I focus on small game or big game?

With regards to food procurement tools, why not use both? This allows you to utilize both a passive and active approach to procuring wild game. Out of the two, the passive act of trapping is far more efficient as the trapline does the work for you while you are back home or out hunting. My preferred setup is to have at least three dozen snares or Conibears set out. Once those are in place, I can use the rest of my time walking the land with my .22 rifle for any moments of opportunity for taking wild game. In recent years, I have switched over to a Hatsan 125 air rifle which is a .25 caliber and has excellent stopping power for shots on small game at 40+ yards. For big game, I prefer a scoped Savage .308.
A #110 Conibear, spool of snare wire, rat trap, and commercial snare for small game.
There’s a reason that most native cultures throughout the world focused on small game procurement on a daily basis in addition to large game as the former is far more plentiful. A deer will last a family of four for seven days and is a great addition to the daily menu but squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, beavers, and other rodents are far easier to procure on a consistent basis until you can take down a deer or elk. Squirrels, in particular, have a very high amount of interstitial fat, making them an excellent meat source preferable to lean rabbit meat. So, concentrate your efforts on the smaller critters along with attempting to procure a deer or elk.

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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