fitness is key to survival in the wild

Move or Die: HOw to hone your survival mindset

Let’s start this with a question, what is one of the most important  “skills” to acquire when it comes to wilderness travel and survival?

Well for me it has to be fitness. You need to be both physically fit and mentally fit. If you’re not you will be severely unprepared and everything else will become much more challenging. So how fit are you, honestly? 

I have seen many people who lack a good level of fitness struggle on courses both in the woods and mountains, especially the hills!

They start off well and good and make good navigational decisions and are a solid member of the group, however, they quickly drop away and all they can focus on is breathing and staying with it. They stop looking at the map, they overheat and get wet from sweat, they develop blisters and don’t drink enough. Soon enough they are becoming a moving casualty that needs help. When they arrive in camp they are so tired that discipline of the routine fails, and they again don’t do the things to aid their own recovery. This downward spiral will take you 6ft under and leave you there. 

The same can be said when in the woods. It is a lot of graft! Building shelters, shifting fire wood and carrying water, it is always surprising how much walking we do. Soon enough you can’t keep up with the setting sun and your way behind on your tasks. 

We must harden our bodies, hands and minds to working and moving outside. This is simple. Just go and do it. Get out hill walking, get out in the woods building shelters, go and volunteer doing some coppicing work. You don’t need to join a gym, just go and work.  

Gym bunnies may look good in skinny jeans on a Friday night but an upland sheep farmer will outwork them all day long. Develop real world fitness and strength. As much as you would never see me at one, a cross fit gym is probably the best place if you can’t get out chucking firewood, axes or sheep about. 

Personally I train every day in one form or another. I trail run in the hills regularly and max out at around 33 miles a week. This keeps my cardio where it needs to be, cardio is king! It also keeps my legs strong and used to moving over terrain.

I also do Pilates and some yoga. Core strength and flexibility is hugely underrated.

I eat clean, minimise booze and make sure I am well hydrated. It may seem a bit over the top, but I try to keep myself ready. Ready to move whenever and wherever needed and not feeling tired, hung over or generally unhealthy. Preparedness and survival should be habitual not a special occasion.

Importantly, I do the things I enjoy. Walking in the hills, deer stalking and teaching all this stuff. I spend a lot of time outdoors, which all helps my body and certainly my mind. 

Sleep is super important. You need to sleep a minimum of three hours a night to maintain basic functions. However, to be healthy, happy and at optimum we need 8. It is rare I am up past half nine or ten. 

Harden your hands and feet. This may seem odd but again I have seen it become an issue. Spending all day in comfy shoes doing little walking is a shortcut to ripping your feet up on the hill. Again, you can’t train for the mountains in a gym. You need to get out in bad weather and with your boots and pack on. This is the only way you will harden your shoulders to the pack and your feet to the boots. 

Lastly, your hands. These are your primary tools. Work on grip strength and toughen them up. Next time you meet a Cumbrian dry stone waller or sheep farmer shake his hand, you will soon understand what I am on about! 

Now we must harden our mind. Mental toughness is a muscle. I have spent time with many people who, once upon a time, were hardened. However, life, retirement and warmth has softened them. 

We harden steel by heating it in the flames, beating it with a hammer and then plunging it into cold water. This process of hardening is very similar to developing mental strength.

Bad weather, COLD, Maximum effort and discipline all strengthen us. Seek out misery and spend time there. You have to do hard things to harden yourself. 

Meditation and reflection provide me with an opportunity to settle my mind and focus. As hippy dippy as it sounds, acceptance is key when we face adversity. I regularly say we can’t fight nature. Accept the rain, the cold, the sand or the damn midges. Make peace with it and let it flow past you like water flowing past a rock in the river. Stand strong.

“Once you plant the seed of doubt it will soon germinate and grow into a huge quit tree, casting its dark shadow over everything you do” 

We must stay positive and know that when it gets hard we have been here before. We have made friends with the darkness, the cold, pain in our feet, stress and hunger. Never doubt yourself and when you do, know, “I have been here before and won” 

Never quit. That’s easy to say but not so easy to achieve. We ALL quit things!

I regret all my mistakes, and quitting is ALWAYS a mistake. It will haunt you for the rest of your life and comes to you every time you feel the same emotion.

That moment when you want to throw in the towel is only a second of time. And the whole process of the challenge is only a few minutes or an hour or a day or two. However, you will feel the guilt forever. Take that second, reflect, and go again, never quit, I promise, you will regret it. 

Starting is always the hardest part. If you’re feeling a tad heavy or slower than you used to then get out there and MOVE or…..well you know the last bit!

Start training the skills, be ready and be hard to kill, survive and thrive!