Climate, health and political upheaval prompting more and more people to sign up to survival courses
The Texas women who recently signed up for Jessie Krebs’ survival course in Colorado were far from the usual outdoors experts she regularly hosts in her classes. Most of the US air force veteran’s clientele tend to be keen nature enthusiasts – trail runners, solo hikers, individuals who pride themselves on wilderness knowledge but want to make sure they don’t end up unprepared in emergency situations.
These Texans were nowhere near that description. But they’d just been through the winter ice and snow storm which effectively paralyzed the Lone Star state – and they were rattled.
The women, who signed up for one of Ms Krebs’ weekend courses at the Denver-area SERE Training School, had “been thrown askew, basically, by the snowstorm back in February,” Ms Krebs tells The Independent. “That really scared them – and they’re like, ‘Boy, the power goes out, what do I do?’”
“Occasionally, people who aren’t really outdoorsy” sign up for her classes, motivated by thoughts such as “we’ve had a pandemic, we’re having storms, we’re having things happen,” she says. “They just want to know what to do if something happens.”
The popularity of survival courses – whether hours-, days-, or weeks-long – has been growing since the early 2000s, when reality and survivor shows caught the attention of the general public, experts say. But with a pandemic, political unrest and impending climate crises on the horizon, a wider segment of the population has been re-focussing on the concept of self-reliance – away from civilization.
“I think some of it is generalised insecurity,” professor John J Shea, who teaches anthropology and a class in primitive skills at Stonybrook University, tells The Independent, adding that his course has seen a progressive spike since he began teaching it decades ago.
“They believe the worst-case scenarios,” he says of current students. “Some of it is also, they recognise that they’re 20, they’re 22, they’re about to graduate college – and, honest to God, some of them don’t know how to light a wooden match.”
Social upheaval over the past two years has heightened that awareness, says Jason Marsteiner, founder of Colorado Mountain Man Survival and The Survival University. He saw his business triple in 2020 – flooded by customers who people wouldn’t necessarily be “expecting to take my classes”.
“Lots of people are coming out, and it’s a little mix of everything,” he tells The Independent. “I wouldn’t say most people come out here because of natural disasters, because natural disasters happen all the time.
“I think what’s going on is people are actually becoming more aware of what always happens. It all was kickstarted by Covid; it really caused people to get out of their little safety bubble. They were getting out of their daily routine and paying attention to what was going on in the environment, in the world globally, nationally, outside of their neighbourhood, outside of their city – looking at things at a national or global level and realising that everything is impacting us.”
The 46-year-old continues: “I see a lot of people from the financial industry, a lot of doctors, people from the medical industry, entrepreneurs, people that own their own businesses, white collar workers – that’s the majority of my clientele … they started visiting parks or going hiking more and they got out here and they realized they don’t know what to do should something go wrong.”
He adds: “I also feel like people – I say this loosely – sense an impending doom … they feel like something’s about to happen, a shift in our society, a shift in our way of life – and they want to be prepared for whatever, be able to forage off the land, be able to do whatever it takes to get by.
“And they just feel like the skills I teach are kind of the core basic skills.”
There’s no overarching body to track survival school and courses statistics in the US; Mr Marsteiner, who converted his business into a non-profit this year, is hoping to streamline and unite the industry to create a “gold standard” when it comes to survival instructors and institutions.
In the meantime, the anecdotal evidence is undeniable when it comes to increasing uptakes among previously uninvolved parties.
“Our demographic has phenomenally widened over the past several years,” Cliff Hodges, founder of Santa Cruz, California-based Adventure Out, tells The Independent.
“I think the interest is widening amongst the general population. Survival training used to be considered really fringey, associated with prepper-type Doomsday folks.
“Now I think everyone is starting to view it as, oh, something that is interesting but also probably necessary at some point.”
Mr Hodges, 41, tells The Independent: “I would say the common reason is people think they’re going to need it someday because, ‘I might get lost when I go camping.’ And some people are saying, ‘I might need it one day because I think society is going to collapse.’”
Mr Marsteiner says he definitely sees clients signing up after “power outages, because of a snowstorm, thunderstorm, lighting storm, or a flood comes through … people are thinking locally but I think people are also thinking bigger than that – not necessarily as big as natural disasters but, I think for political reasons or the change in our social society, that’s been a big push for people to come out here and do this.”