Sunday, March 29, 2020


Here’s the thing about wilderness survival. There are rules and lists for how to survive in the wild, but no single perfect method. Your most immediate needs can change with your environment. Consider the saying:

All models are wrong, but some are useful.

But even though they’re wrong, some rules, lists, and models can be helpful. Not perfect, but useful. At Trackers Earth, the first rule we start with is:

Tell people where you are going.

We call this rule the Trailhead. It’s the information you give people about the route you are traveling and for how long you expect before you return. That way, if you don’t come back on time, potential rescuers have vital information to help locate you. Depending on the scale of our excursion into the wilderness, a Trailhead can take the form of verbal or written information and can be as detailed as you need it to be. This principle also includes the following:

Stay put if you know someone is looking for you AND you are safe in that area.

So let’s say that you do find yourself on your own in a survival situation. That where we can start with our wrong but useful model called the 3 and 30 Rule. It goes like this:

  • You can survive 3 minutes in inclimate air conditions
  • You can survive 3 hours in inclimate weather
  • You can survive 3 days without water
  • You can survive 30 days without food
  • You can survive 30 years in a bad relationship (we’re still testing out this last one)

Based on this rule, you have a hierarchy of needs, and a way to prioritize what you should secure first in order to be safe. Given that many of us are not exploring the ocean or traveling outside of our atmosphere, worrying about air is often not the issue. So we start with the effects of inclimate weather: too hot or too cold. Then we move onto water and food. This leads to another wrong yet useful model, the Order of Survival:

  • Need #1: Shelter
  • Need #2: Water
  • Need #3: Food
  • Level Up: Fire

Addressing what your body needs first will help make subsequent tasks more effective in preserving energy. Again, each situation is different and this order isn’t definitive.

Yet often first thing you might need in a survival situation is shelter to protect you. Then you’ll need a form of hydration, and then food. But to accelerate all of these, you can use fire as a Level-Up, which we’ll explain later. Let’s explore each need in turn.



Shelter gives you cover from weather, insects, and other nasty stuff; and insulates you from the cold and heat. Shelter can sometimes even provide you with camouflage (a negative if you have rescuers looking for you). Finding shelter means tempering the extremes of weather. When it’s hot, seek the cool shade. When it’s cold and raining, look for dry, warm spots and out of the wind.

Your first shelter is clothing, so always dress appropriately for the area you’ll be traveling in. But, like clothes, when building a shelter, think about layers. Many layers can insulate you from the cold much better than one warm coat. So this goes for your clothing, but also for your shelter-building. One of the first things you can do? Add to your clothing’s insulation by stuffing fluffy material such as dry leaves or grasses between two layers until you look like a scarecrow.

When building your shelter, consider the ways we lose heat when building your shelter and making choices to retain your body’s warmth:

  • Conduction—heat-loss through direct contact. Even just sitting on the ground can affect your warmth. So, build a bed in your shelter so you’re raised off of and insulated from the ground. This reduces heat-loss from laying on the cold ground.  
  • Convection—heat-loss through air contact. Your shelter should protect you from exposure to the wind.
  • Radiation—this is the normal heat exchange your body goes through. Insulation in layers can help prevent this heat-loss and trap warmth closer to your body.
  • Evaporation—water conducts heat away from the body faster than air. So if its raining, staying dry when its cold is critical. When it’s too hot, water can help you cool down. 
  • Respiration—also known as breathing. Putting a mask on helps retain the heat lost through your exhale.

When you’re building a shelter, think more like a bivy sack and sleeping bag, and not a castle. Remember, it all begins by tempering extremes—for example, if it’s raining or will rain, seek out a naturally dry overhang or build yourself a waterproof roof.

We often often “make our bed” as soon as possible because you want to be elevated off the cold ground to limit conduction. You can gather dry leaves or soft evergreen bows to create a thick layer of bedding. Remember that the bedding compacts as you lay on it, so add more until you have significant loft. After that, pack the insulation so it will have to burrow into, keeping the shelter close to your body (remember, think sleeping bag). You’ll lose heat with more air circulating, so a shelter that you have to wiggle into like a nest is the best for heat retention. After all, this is survival; not camping.

Take Away: Find natural shelter covering you from rain and blocking the wind. Build a bed inside of that to keep you off the cold ground. Use additional fluffy debris to pack in all around your body. It’s properly snug when you have to burrow in and worm your way in.

Remember, any natural shelter is also naturally camouflaged. It’s crucial that you prominently flag your shelter and surrounding areas so rescuers can easily find.



There are a couple different ways to source water, depending on what tools you have available. There are the natural methods: you can sop up dew or collect rain; you can follow a spring to its source; or other basin and draws where your find lakes, rivers, and more.

Most sources should be treated to reduce pathogens. You cannot afford a 2- to 4-week bout of vomiting and diarrhea that will likely dehydrate you. The only real exception to this is dew or rain (which is already distilled, but only before the rain has hit the ground; use a tarp to build a rain catch). While springs might be considered safe, it pays to be cautious; there is no guarantee the water is potable, but you have a higher probability since it’s been filtered through the ground. With any source, beware of any animal defecating, dead or decaying that might pollute it. 

How you treat water depends on the tools you have available. Water can be chemically treated for pathogens (you can purchase this, just be sure to dose the water properly). Water can be passed through a chemical filter. Or you can construct a solar still (this is a pretty succinct video of how to make one). 

And, of course, you can boil water. The Center for Disease Control officially says you need to boil the water for a full minute to be safe (three minutes above 6500 feet in elevation). We agree. And if you don’t boil it for exactly 180 seconds under 6500 feet we’ll be officially mad at you.

But locating water is the first component. Follow draws and other basins. Also, watch for water loving birds and animals such kingfishers, fly catchers, and of course, unicorns.

Take Away: Find water and treat it to make it safe, using whatever tools you have available. 



While you can go quite some time without food, having anything to eat has a positive affect on your emotional well-being. But do make sure that you’re only eating food if you have a steady water source. Water will help your body process the food, and eating without water can dehydrate you even further.

In gathering food, it helps to learn about wild edible plants. Your studies about plants that are safe to eat should start well before you go out. Learn both the toxic and edible species of your area. Even if you are not foraging for survival, learning to key out local plants makes a great trailside hobby.

Just remember, we can go around 30 days without food, depending on the environment and calories your body started with, so long as you have a consistent water supply. So a gourmet meal is not usually your first priority.

Take Away: Hunger may be your body’s loudest complaint, 

but don’t be foolish when choosing what to eat.

It helps to start by learning to identify and prepare common wild edible plants at home. These could include stinging nettle, miners lettuces, acorns, and cattail. You can also gather certain pine needles to steep in tea, providing useful vitamins and nutrients. Along with flavor that contributes to that important psychological uplift. Research safe and sustainable harvesting and processing for each individual plant. Stewardship should be foremost in your studies, you should never over harvest.

Finally, some foods should be processed in order to be consumed. And that leads us into our next point which is…


Fire is the Level-Up for the priorities we’ve discussed in our hierarchy of needs. Fire can warm your shelter and make it more efficient, boil water, make food more consumable, and help create tools. Fire can also serve to signal potential rescuers as smoke can often be seen from the air or smelled from further afield.

There are many methods to starting a fire. But that’s a whole separate article. Like this one, for example

A word of caution about using fire in debris shelters. It is very dangerous and can be considered an advanced skill. You must position, build and maintain your fire with ample firebreaks from any flammable material. To do this you can use distance and stone hearths.

Take Away: Fire is useful. Fire is dangerous. Make sure it is fully extinguished by feeling down to the subsoil of your firepit.


So that’s a tentative plan for how to weather a survival situation. But with all these skills, you should Train before Trial. Meaning, it’s fun (and recommended) to get plenty of practice in before you really need it.

And start with the number one rule to limit how long you have to survive: always tell someone where you’re going. Leave a Trailhead with information of where you’ll be and when you’re expected back. Using all these tips can hopefully help you stay healthy and happy even in the most challenging of times.

So remember:

Address your priority of needs. Use fire to help. And always leave a Trailhead.



It may not feel like it with our warm, clear weather – but we’re already thinking about our Winter Break camp programs. This year we return to old favorites like Winter Survival: Fire and Knives, Here We Go a-Waffling, and role-playing camps like School of Magic. We’ve also been busy coming up with some new themes for 2019. Wilders Chef: Tortillas, Tamales, and Tacos will keep you warm on a chilly winter day, while Elven Archers blends fantasy adventure with archery skills.

This is also the time of year where we also start planning for one of our favorite events of the year – the Trackers Earth Holiday Party. It’s a great way to enjoy friends, food and fun activities. Don’t forget to bring an entry for our famous cookie contest… or just sample the entries and cast your vote for the true cookie champion.

Finally, just around the corner is something brand new: Trackers Thanksgiving break camps. What better way to build up an appetite for the holiday and burn all that School’s Out energy than with some amazing outdoor camps. Get outside and explore with favorites like Wilderness Survival: Fire & Knives and Archery Adventure. Thanksgiving Break Camps are the perfect time for younger 4-5 year-old campers to try out a day of awesome Trackers themes like Faeries, Elves & Mostly Friendly Dragons and Rovers Forest Camp before Summer.

As days get shorter and nights get longer, it’s important to find community and adventure – we hope to see you soon.

See you in the woods,

P.S.: Speaking of Summer… keep an eye on our newsletter for our summer theme and location announcements, coming soon. We have some new surprises for you that we can’t wait to share.


It doesn’t feel like an Oregon summer without a trip to the dunes! Check out our favorite photos from our Wilderness Skills Instructor Training program’s trip to the Dunes in the gallery below.


While we believe there’s no other camp like Trackers Camp. We also understand the value of tuition is important to discuss. Our expert educators and the wild lands we teach truly play a special role in connecting kids to the wilderness. As a unique program, much of our infrastructure is more specialized than other camps. While we believe our tuition matches (or is often lower) than other schools that provide similar outdoor programming, I want to illuminate some important aspects related to our budget. We see access to education a vital part of our community and it is our responsibility to be transparent about the mechanisms behind our tuition structure.

  1. Our very low staff to student ratio is essential for mentoring. For example, we typically have 1 teacher to 7 students in our camps. Plus, a larger proportion of our staff work with us beyond the summer season. Most outdoor education industry jobs are seasonal and lack benefits or job security. In what is traditionally a seasonal field, 32 of our educators are employed with us year-round and full-time with benefits (as of 2018). Many others are supported part-time as we work towards one of our primary missions of always creating more full-time employment for teachers focused on nature connection. To our knowledge, we provide more full-time, year-round education jobs than any other camp in the region. That has the impact of creating an educational staff who are more mature and experienced than a typical camp. Our goal has always been to improve the quality of outdoor education by enhancing the professional teacher’s ability to make a healthier livelihood within it.
  1. We support Fair Wage Camps. Better wages improve both our programs and the field. We work hard to set our pay scale above camp standards—for both for seasonal and year-round staff. We compete with other camp programs who, due to a loophole in Oregon law, often pay substandard/sub-minimum wages (something Trackers Earth does not do). When registering for any camp, we advocate researching what they pay their staff; then deciding if this is a wage you would be comfortable with—many pay fair camp wages, some do not. Finally, at Trackers Earth we recognize we can always do better to provide for our teachers. We actively seek to increase their quality of livelihood with us every year. One of our biggest challenges remains to balance tuition cost (both for our programs and within the entire field) with the passionate desire to pay our staff better wages to support their hard work within their vocation.
  1. We focus on preservation and stewardship of natural land for programming. A related expense is transporting students to these places from our centralized urban locations (school buses are not cheap). More importantly, in many public parks, you cannot make a campfire, build a shelter, harvest wild plants, do many wilderness crafts, or even climb a tree. This is understandable for the preservation of these heavily used public resources. It also compels us to acquire and preserve crucial wild spaces specifically to provide these truly hands-on wilderness learning opportunities for all of our students. This also conserves these unique and beautiful lands. While many other youth outdoor programs have sold off their wild lands for development, Trackers has preserved over 171 acres of wilderness for education, much of that is within 1 mile of urban growth—and we intend to do much more in the coming years. We consider our relationship with the lands we care for as a gift: One we can share with the greater community.

To families who need tuition assistance, we have always offered robust scholarships and payment plans related to financial aid. Continuing that commitment to our families we provide more scholarships funds every year—including this coming year.

Hopefully, all this provides further insight into the depth and scope of our program.


Tony Deis
Trackers Earth
Founder & Parent


We have had a few questions as to whether we will be able to offer scholarships for our pilot Forest School Kindergarten for Fall 2016. For the first year, we do not expect to do this for the program. We want to be transparent as to why and what we hope future years will bring as to scholarship awards for our Forest School.

At Trackers, we care deeply about equality in access to education as well as providing a sustainable livelihood for our staff educators. We work to provide livelihood for our instructors to continue to offer what we believe is their important work. Running a program such as the Trackers Forest School, which lies far outside the normal education system, is a challenging undertaking. It will require meeting significant expenses not found in many programs, including how often we travel to wild spaces and the very small class size the activities require. Additionally, our largest expense has always been supporting the continued livelihood of our exceptional staff who dedicate their lives to teaching.

To our knowledge, Trackers has more full-time, year-round staff than any other outdoor education program in our area. Based on American Camp Association salary data, we pay our instructional staff above average for the field in our regions and our administrative staff lower than average—striving to always make our compensation more egalitarian. We believe everyone on our team is vital to our success. We also do not pay sub-minimum wage. This is an unfortunate loophole in Oregon law that allows camps to pay their instructional staff far less than actual minimum wage. While it does affect our budget, we believe we are better paying our people a full wage as we work to support the livelihood of our thoughtful community of educators.

We also support the idea of a $15 per hour minimum wage. In all honesty, not all our current hourly wages meet that criteria. We work hard to budget for and look forward to meeting this goal sooner rather than later, which can be challenging in an field that includes other camps who use sub-minimum wages for their staff.

Another primary area of expense is the preservation and stewardship of land, and the travel costs incurred in transporting students to these places. In many public parks you cannot make a campfire, build a shelter, harvest wild plants, do many wilderness crafts, or even climb a tree. We cultivate wild spaces specifically to provide these opportunities for all of our students while also conserving these unique lands from development. We consider our relationship with the lands we care for as a gift: One we can share with the greater community.

To support equality of access to wild spaces kids can actually use, we consistently donate use of this land to other local parent groups such as all inclusive Baden Powell Service Association (with the 55th Cascadia) and different organizations and schools.

These are conscious choices we have made to maintain the quality of our programs and the livelihood of the staff we serve. We understand that a consequence of these choices is sometimes a tuition level that is not immediately available to everyone. Through our scholarship programs, we work hard to make what we do more accessible by increasing our total scholarships each year. Our summer camps, homeschool courses, after school and apprenticeship programs have offered many full to partial scholarships based on thoughtful evaluation of individual applicant’s income and need. However, differing from these well-established programs, the Forest School is a pilot class. With the intentionally small group of students the first year, there will be less room for scholarships until the school and student body grows.

On a personal note, when I was younger, my parents could never afford to send me to camp. So I understand, empathize and greatly advocate for access while still dealing with the realities of supporting the work of our staff and ensuring the opportunities we provide are sustainable and can grow to reach more people. We ask for the support and patience of all our parents and our greater community as the program grows in its capacity so we can develop such a scholarship program for our Kindergarten. Once the program forms a strong foundation, its scholarship opportunities will grow just as our camp scholarships have.

We also encourage parents to take advantage of our camp scholarship programs. Based on feedback from families, staff and community observations, we have adjusted our income criteria and now provide a greater number of larger awards for camp programs (often 50%-100% of camp tuition). The awards are carefully distributed based on income and need.

We’re now receiving scholarship applications for Summer 2016.

Tony Deis, Founder

Plenty of books have been written recently about the need for children to connect with nature. Outdoor schools, even Trackers, tout the value of nature connection. And we agree it’s important. But how does that connection really happen?

Outdoor education usually comes in two flavors: academic or recreational. Both approaches have value. Both can help foster a love and even a lifelong study of nature. However, if your exposure to nature is only academic or recreational, it’s unlikely you will ever consider yourself part of the wild.

At Trackers we run camps, but our core curriculum is tracking and survival. When I tell people we’re a “wilderness survival school,” I get varied reactions. Are you crazy conspiracy theorists? Mulder to everyone’s Scully? Preppers? Hippies?

To us, wilderness survival means dependency. Dependency on nature for your shelter, for your water, your fire and your food. Dependency on nature to stay alive in a world that is ecologically diverse and becoming more unknown to our modern society every day. We need the Steller’s jay to tell us where the deer passes, we need the nettle for food, we need the spring to quench our thirst.

Nature dependency is the goal of our apprenticeships and year-round programs. Get kids and adults outside to experience a more wild way of living. In our Mariners Apprenticeship students weave themselves into the ecology of the water. They do not  simply stalk, kill, and eat their food (with a fishing pole) but they also harvest it with care and even cultivation, leaving a sustainable future. Our Rangers Apprentices cook meals over an open fire, Wilders Apprentices tend our wild gardens, and Artisans Apprentices make tools for the village.  Even our youngest campers, the Rovers Apprentices (PreK-K), learn Forest Craft that lets them be Truly Helpful to their communities.

Certainly, our programs feature academic learning and plenty of recreational adventure, but we also recognize that the human craving to be outside is an instinct. It comes from a time when observation and empathy for the more-than-human-world was a vital survival skill.

While we certainly need a nature connection movement, we might also need a nature dependency movement. A movement where kids (and adults) develop a love for the natural world by learning how powerfully the wild can care for them.


One day our elders will be our ancestors. We’ve all experienced such loss. We witness as they pass on, knowing sadness to be part of love. And through this grief, we become elders ourselves.

-Artisans Fire

My family’s elders, my own parents and in-laws, make me a better parent. My kids are lucky that both sets of grandparents live nearby. Tony and I can count on them to help watch the grandchildren. Then there are the great grandparents. Those who have passed we still honor. Some still live on this Earth and we treasure each visit.

Children grow to be well rounded with the contributions of elders. As parents, we offer inspiration and values which contribute to the happiness of our children, but elders become part of a greater story. They are the Earth of an extended family, of all our generations and history. Elders know a life of love that understands grief, loss and continuing on.

Elders not only allow for mom or dad to have a break, but they break the kids out of parental routines. Interestingly, through age and maturity, elders share a different perspective on life. Sharing multi-generational stories and skills fosters respect in our children. The world can be small when it’s simply us parents guiding the way.

Elders and all extended family let us know the Village is greater than ourselves. In weeding the garden with Grandma or baking bread with Grandpa, children learn community is not centered on them, but instead, they can grow-up to be truly helpful to their community. In turn, children root our elders, renewing patience and a youthful outlook for life.

Where do you find elders? It can be difficult in this world of the fissioning family. So desperate to be respected or find a connection to other generations, I’ve heard that people take “Elder Leadership Workshops and Initiations”. But is purchased status the answer? Instead, time, patience and great humor cultivates eldership. Even when not related by blood, we can seek out elders whose challenges and joys inspire us. It’s a mutual gift. Looking forward through children adds profound dimension to all our lives.

Not all elders have raised children. Yet how they interact with young people is telling. Great elders are masters of celebrating the simple moments. They appreciate cultivating the story of our shared lives. Elders hold a crucial piece in the puzzle of what is truly important to a family.

Adult and parenthood can mean being selfless, yet it can also be fraught with the hubris of modern life and fissured individualism. An extended family that includes our elders and our youngest generations can be cultivated into a fusion of love and revelry. A reunion to remind us to slow down and live the joys of every day.


Molly Deis

Trackers Earth, Founder


Remember running outside on a cold morning with only a t-shirt and shorts? Or your bare hands throwing snowballs until you could hardly stand it? Many of us wistfully recall accidentally cutting ourselves with a pocket knife while whittling sticks found in the backyard or scraping a knee after skidding around a corner, leaving us to carefully pick out rocks and other bits of Nature.

rangers-apprenticeship-november-2013_7Risk taking with Nature remains one of those elements of childhood that helps create a competent, thoughtful adult. We learn to pay attention while experiencing positive and negative consequences from the more than human world—not just being told what to do by other people.

It’s one of the greatest ironies of being a parent and even teaching at Trackers Camps. A primary tenant of my life’s work is to reduce risk. Everything has to be as safe as possible while also providing outdoor experiences that feel genuine and real.

That’s why our children’s time in the out of doors should go far beyond our camps. Educational programs like Trackers can act a springboard where kids learn useful skills, find friends and get inspired. And we’re always going to play it as safe as possible.

It’s only as parents where we have the liberty to let our children launch down the snowy hill on a sled, climb that tree to the very top and wander the woods with no aim other than grand adventure. So this winter, during its possible cold and rugged days, and in every season, let’s all remember to go outside with our kids to risk and revel with with Nature, with everything real.