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6 Survival Schools That Don’t Require Roughing It

Learn to build a fire, track animals, and forage for wild food—and still sleep in a bed

In Sweden you can have an adventure without even leaving the hotel. (Courtesy Asaf Kliger/Icehotel)

Learn to build a fire, track animals, and forage for wild food—and still sleep in a bed

If you’re spending time in the woods, it’s smart to learn some basic survival skills, like how to start a fire from scratch, how to build an emergency shelter if you’re caught out overnight, and how to catch a fish with a spear. Survival schools tend to be rugged boot camp–like outings—and who wants to waste vacation time for that?—but a new crop of outfitters are offering guided trips that teach crucial wilderness skills in settings that also involve gourmet meals, comfortable accommodations, and fun adventures mixed in with the learning.

Oceania Expeditions

Kabakon Survivor, Papua New Guinea

On Oceania Expeditions’ five-day Kabakon Survivor trip, you’ll be stranded for three days on an island in the Bismarck Archipelago, off the shores of Papua New Guinea. Instead of a Wilson volleyball to talk to, you’ll have a crew of locals who arrive each morning via canoe from the island next door to teach you basic outdoor living skills. Days are spent hiking through the bush, fishing from outrigger canoes, picking tropical fruits, weaving hats, and building fires. At night, you’ll sleep in a thatched bungalow. From $5,886, all-inclusive.

Adventure Out

Santa Cruz or Marin County, California

Start with Adventure Out’s five-hour clinic, which covers the basics of wilderness survival: building shelter, starting a fire, and learning about edible plants. You can sign up for a class in either the Santa Cruz Mountains or Marin County, both of which allow you to be back in San Francisco by dinnertime. Ready for more advanced classes? The group offers clinics on everything from backpacking in the desert to making bows and helpful tools. From $125.


Jukkasjärvi, Sweden

At Sweden’s IceHotel, 124 miles north of the Arctic Circle, you can sleep overnight in a suite made of ice and snow. (Heated rooms are also available.) If that’s not enough of a lesson in survival, sign up for the hotel’s three-hour wilderness survival course in the Lapish forest, where you’ll learn to start a fire from scratch—in case, well, you’re stuck out in the cold overnight. Rooms from $528; wilderness class is $147.

Rule of 5

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Rule of 5 Wilderness Company promises to teach you the five fundamental skills of wilderness survival: shelter, fire, edge (using a rock as a knife), vessel (making a water dish), and cordage (turning plants into ropes). You’ll learn those important skills while camped out in a safari-style tent village on 65 acres of private land in the Tusas Mountains. Three chef-prepared meals a day are included, along with access to propane-heated outdoor showers. On multiday trips, you’ll spend the first and last nights at Santa Fe’s upscale Drury Plaza Hotel. From $425.

Wild Norway

Trondelag, Norway

They call it Hotel Spruce, but it’s really just a wilderness camp that changes locations in rural Norway based on the season. A field biologist and a veteran of the Norwegian Naval Special Forces will show you where to fish for arctic char, how to forage for mushrooms, and the best way to set up an emergency shelter. They also offer a winter version that’ll prep you for a polar expedition. From $1,516, all-inclusive.

Canyon Ranch

Tucson, Arizona

At Canyon Ranch’s all-inclusive resort, the focus is on self-improvement. You can go hiking or biking through the Sonoran Desert, get a coconut-melt body wrap, or take advantage of some 40 fitness classes that are offered each day, covering topics like nutrition and life management skills. You can also learn survival techniques like animal tracking, archery, primitive fire-making, and building a knife from a stone flake and a yucca string. You’ll end your day with a healthy organic meal and a mocktail, since booze isn’t served here. From $1,987 per night, all-inclusive.

Filed To: Survival / Norway / Adventure / Sleep / Santa Fe / Santa Cruz / Arctic / Tucson / Mexico / New Mexico
Nicolas Henderson/Creative Commons )

San Marcos, Texas

Billed as the world’s toughest canoe race, the Texas Water Safari, held each June, is a four-day, 260-mile jaunt from the headwaters of the San Marcos River northeast of San Antonio to the small shrimping town of Seadrift on the Gulf Coast. There’s no prize money—just bragging rights for the winner. Any boat without a motor is allowed, and you’ll have to carry your own equipment and overnight gear. Food and water are provided at aid stations along the way. Entry fees start at $175 and increase as race day approaches.

The Ring

(Courtesy Quatro Hubbard)

Strasburg, Virginia

The Ring is a 71-mile trail running race in early September along the entire length of Virginia’s rough and rocky Massanutten Trail loop. To qualify, you need to have run a 50- or 100-mile race before the event and win a spot through the lottery system. Entry is free. Complete the run and you’ll become part of the tight-knit Fellowship of the Ring and be eligible for the Reverse Ring, which entails running the trail backwards in the middle of winter.


(David Silver)

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Each spring, competitors gather in Santa Fe’s historic plaza with a simple goal: be the first to reach 12,308-foot Deception Peak, 17 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain away. Competitors run or bike the first 15 miles to the local ski area before transitioning to their waiting ski-touring setups for the final push to the top. Time stops only when they’ve skied back down to the tailgate in the resort’s parking lot, which is funded by the modest entry fee of around $25. To add to the sufferfest, some participants sign up for the Expedition category, in which they strap their skis, skins, boots, and poles to their bikes for the long ride up. Start dates vary depending on snow conditions, but look for the event page to be posted on Facebook in late March or early April.

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