The 6 Most Important Lessons I Learned from Selco’s Urban Survival Course

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Author of Be Ready for Anything and Bloom Where You’re Planted online course

When Selco’s Urban Survival Course for Women was over, I was both exhausted but wishing it could go on for a few more days. I learned more than I could possibly share in one article. As well, it would be impossible to portray the experience if you aren’t actually standing there in the ruins.

#1 – Layer your supplies.

Selco has written about this before but learning first hand what it feels like to have to search for something of lifesaving importance when time is short has really impressed the lesson upon me.  I now carry my everyday items in a 1-quart Ziplock bag that can easily be moved from purse to purse, or even put in the pocket of the right jacket. (Not including my gun, of course. I can’t carry that out of the country, so for the purposes of this article, just pretend that’s snugly in my holster)

What’s in my layer one kit? It’s very, very simple – the things I would never want to be caught without that are of urgent necessity.

  • Knife
  • Lighter
  • Israeli bandage
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Water purification pills or Sawyer Mini (I prefer the Mini but if I’m tight for space I’ll take the pills instead)
  • Bandana or scarf (tied to my bag)
  • A small package of high-calorie carbs (peanut M&Ms are my favorite cheap survival food)
  • Allergy pills (I have food allergies, and while they aren’t life-threatening, I really want to have these on me at all times.)

Is that all I need in an emergency? Definitely not – I still want shelter, something in which to cook or boil water, a warmer layer, extra socks, etc. But in most situations, I could get by for 24 hours with the items in the kit above albeit not very comfortably.

The key is that there are certain things which should be on your person at all times in the event that you lose your bigger kit in some way. My initial layer one was missing the Israeli bandage and after our lesson, I tucked one in my fanny pack. It was a good thing because the next exercise was suddenly treating a traumatic wound. If I’d had to dig through my bag to find that bandage, my buddy would have potentially bled out while I was throwing gum wrappers and lip gloss out to locate what I needed.

# 2 – Simple is nearly always better.

Several of the other ladies who came to the course brought some very nice gear and even the instructors were excited to check it out. Unfortunately, nearly all of the fancy stuff was not worth the real estate in a backpack.  I wrote about this in greater detail here.

One spectacular failure was a fire steel and knife. No matter what she did, the woman using it could not get a spark. Then, Toby, Selco’s co-instructor, came over to help and he also had difficulty. It turned out that the knife she was using had a type of grind on the spine that made it virtually impossible to use as she wanted. Worst of all, she had told the person who sold her the knife that this was the reason she was buying it. The person was either not knowledgeable or he just didn’t care that it simply would not work.

That wasn’t the only one though. My friend had a very nice little camp stove that she assembled on the fly in an abandoned building. We got a fire lit in it but the openings for tending the fire were far too small. (We were boiling water from a puddle in it.) It took far longer to build a fire and bring water to a boil in the camp stove than it would have using the ground and two rocks to hold our container over the fire – and bonus – that would not have weighed anything.

The real thing I took away from this is that it’s not that sensible to use fancy equipment when a 99 cent lighter or something you can find in the environment would do. Think of it this way: if you can have on you a knife and a fire steel, you can have a lighter. Don’t make things complicated if you don’t have to – in a survival situation, surviving will be hard enough.

Your choices, of course, will differ based on your presumed environment. There are some environments in which finding something to use as tinder would be difficult while other environments would be rich with such items.

#3 – Being stealthy takes a lot of practice.

One thing I really bombed at was being stealthy. We worked on how to walk through a potentially noisy environment without making a sound.  (Or at least not much of one.)  As I mentioned previously, I got a terrible cold on day 2 of the course so I was coughing and sneezing. (It’s hard to be sneaky when you are hacking up a lung.)

But as much as I’d like to blame it on being sick, it wasn’t that – apparently, I just walk like a bull in a china shop. Fortunately, this is something I can work on at home. We got a lot of great tips about being quieter and stealthier, and as I always say, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

You may not think that stealth is an important skill. I can honestly tell you it never crossed my mind before this course. But imagine a scenario in which there are “bad guys” who want to hurt you or find you. Being able to escape could depend on your ability not to make a sound while walking through the forest or some kind of debris. Alternatively, if there’s something you require or a place you need to get to, and people are camping between you and that desired location, you’re going to want to be able to sneak your way around them without alerting them to your presence.

#4 – Stealth takes time a lot of time and awareness.

When you think about being stealthy, you may be thinking that it’s just about being quiet, but it’s about far more than that. It’s about blending into concealment, using environmental noises as cover for your movements, inching your way across noisy terrain, and being patient enough to wait for your moment to move safely.

Another thing to consider is what you’re wearing. Are you wearing clothes that are sturdy enough to protect you from the environment if you’re spending time belly-crawling across a more open space?  Are you wearing dark clothing but trying to hide against a giant white wall? (Guilty!)  Think about what you have on and in what areas you will blend the most discreetly.

Night time is probably the best time to be stealthy because the cover that darkness gives you. However, you might still need to take an extremely long way around your target in order to blend into the bushes and not be spotted by some sharp-eyed person.

Previously, when Selco wrote articles about how long it could take people to sneak from Point A to Point B, I didn’t really get it. But now I do. It can take an hour or more to cover 40 feet if stealth is of lifesaving importance and you have to be both patient enough and fit enough to do it.

Watching pros like Selco and Toby move silently and patiently was an education unto itself.

#5 – You probably need to be more fit than you are.

I walk most days with my two dogs, but to be quite honest, this isn’t nearly enough activity for survival tasks. I’d recently had major surgery so I wasn’t able to do much lifting at all. However, there were other things that I need to work on that had little to do with either being under the weather or recovering from surgery. Athleticism is clearly not my forte but thankfully, it’s something I can improve.

There are some very specific movements that are important.

  • Carrying heavy stuff – you’ll probably have a pack of gear weighing 20-30 pounds on your back. That may not sound like much but when you’re crouching, standing, walking for hours, or jumping across something, it will begin to weigh you down.  As well, what if you have to help an injured friend or family member to safety? Or carry water at 8.34 pounds per gallon? Strength training is very important and something I’ve added to my routine since I’ve gotten home.
  • Crouching (I wrote about this catastrophe in my previous article.  Seriously, had it been the apocalypse that’s how I would have died. Stuck on my back and unable to get up because my knees were snapping, crackling, and popping.)
  • Squatting – getting up and down quickly and easily to match your profile to the surroundings is not as easy as it looks on television. And what I mean by matching your profile is this: imagine you are in a wooded area behind a house. In some places you’ll have lots of brush and tall trees and can hide upright. In other places, the brush will be lower and your torso and head will be very noticeable if you’re standing in that area. So there, you’re going to need to squat or crouch without being spotted while you’re waiting for your chance to move again. (Or while you’re observing someone – there are numerous reasons you might be out there.)
  • Moving quickly while crouching – if you think regular crouching is hard, try dashing between places with concealment while staying low. My legs were still screaming in protest for days after. As well, it is not how we generally move, so it was a lot to get used to when it’s suddenly presented to you that if your head is too high it’s likely to get shot off. At one point I felt like just getting up and letting the “bad guy” shoot me to put me out of my misery.

The good thing about this is that I now have an idea about what (aching) body parts need the most work. I need a gym and CrossFit STAT. I wrote more about fitness here.

#6 – You may not be able to stay home.

Most of us, myself included, plan to stay home and hunker down with our preps and our gardens and our livestock when the SHTF. But one thing I learned in Croatia and Bosnia is that it might not be an option.

The key word here is “survival.” Sure, you could go down in a blaze of glory defending your home from 40 people who want to haul you off, rape the women in your family, and steal your stuff. But even if you take out a few of them, what did you win? There are times when retreat is the answer.

Maybe people like you are being rounded up and put into horrific camps. It happened in Bosnia to people of certain backgrounds. Maybe the hordes want your house and there are too many for you to fight off.

Is your stuff really worth your life? Or do you want to survive to fight another day? Me? I want to survive. Yeah, I’m 50 years old, a bit out of shape, and remarkably naive about certain aspects of SHTF living. But I’m going to do everything I can to survive and help my family to survive, too. If that means leaving home with only what I can carry – or only with Layer 1 – or even with nothing at all – then I’m leaving.

It’s a lot better to learn this stuff now instead of after the SHTF.

The most important takeaway is how much stuff I don’t know or can’t do. Never have I felt more compelled to channel my inner Lara Croft. I’m thankful I was there walking up and down a billion flights of stairs for a couple of weeks before the course or I would have been in even worse trouble.

Nothing is more humbling than failure – ahem – a learning experience. You learn so much more from the things you thought you could do but can’t than simply doing the same thing over and over again. As well, it never occurred to me I might need to clear an abandoned building. Or that you can’t just barge right in – it can take hours to do recon on it. Or that I would have to crouch and be stealthy to do it.

Do you know what it would mean if I waited to learn that when it actually does hit the fan? I’d have all these preps and Susy Homemaker skills and I’d be too dead to use them. Prepping and survivalism are two different skill sets and you desperately need both of them. No matter what your age or your fitness level, there are things you can do to learn these skills.

In my next article about this course, I’ll tell you about the changes I’ve made to my plan and about how I’m training based on what I learned.

Excuse me now while I go stalk my cat.

The 6 Most Important Lessons I Learned from Selco’s Urban Survival Course
Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3) PreppersDailyNews.com, an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

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  • Stalk my cat! Awesome!

    Was on a forum and a guy was bragging about his “mad” stealth skills. He would sneak up on a Wal-Mart employee.
    Not impressive dude. Even late at night, Wal-Mart has a certain degree of noise. And that employee is not thinking about someone sneaking up behind them. For that matter their minds a million of miles away!

    I have approached my livestock undetected by them before. But if the wind is blowing just right, they can smell me 100 yards away easy.

    • Good point about the wind blowing.. Since I quit smoking I can detect the odor of burning tobacco from a 100 yards away, upwind maybe only 50. Many a soldier has died because of the craving for a cigarette. If you smoke, quit. The money you save will be considerable. You will also be better able to concentrate on your surroundings if you’re not jonesing for a smoke.

  • Showing up to a course (or life) with untested equipment is a failure on her part. You can literally walk out of the store and try to spark it. Don’t trust folks who sell things because that’s what they do – sell things.

  • What a great article! I learned so much about fitness and movement with my knee replacements. Bending your knee, getting up off the floor, crouching; easy peasy when you’re 10. Try it after 50! The body simply doesn’t move as fast, quickly, or quietly as when we are young.Everyday is just another opportunity to improve! Do some fun stuff, along with the gym: bike, walk, swim, get up and down off the floor at least 5 times a day. I take care of the elderly and those recovering from surgery. The old adage of use it or lose it is very applicable to everyone. I’ve had patients at 90 recover from hip surgery and then go back to golfing and walking in 10 weeks. I have had others who have been willingly sitting in a wheelchair for years, complaining that they can’t walk. The difference is that the 90 yro never stopped working his/her body. When I question them, it isn’t a case of “I’d like to get back to golfing”, it’s “WHEN do I get back to golfing?” Different attitude yields different results. If nothing else, visit a physical therapist for an assessment of your fitness level, along with your doctor. PT’s are worth their weight in gold!

  • About fire steels and spark scraping

    Most knife blades don’t have the spine ground to a perfectly flat back, and with sharp 90° edge/corners that you need to properly scrape sparks. But it’s easy to grind that spine down just a wee bit to do what you need. Either a motorized or a hand-cranked grinder work just fine, but a metal-cutting hand file just takes longer. Also, a 2-inch end piece snapped off of a hacksaw blade can be made into an excellent spark scraper.

    Also, most fire steels come with a protective coating that’s not obvious to a newbie. That coating has to be scraped off before you can get to the spark-producing alloy itself.

    Newbies need to learn what kind of tinder materials will catch a spark that can be turned into a flame — at least for long enough to light off the next stage of fire building materials. Dryer lint, cotton balls smeared with a little vaseline, cosmetic remover pads made of cotton that pack even flatter than cotton balls, char cloth, etc are just the beginning of usable tinder materials. Bundle that knowledge with learning how to cut a fuzz stick from dead tree branches with your knife, and your fire-making skills are well on their way.

    There are some rotgut quality fire steels on the market that will never produce a spark. To make sure you’re not stuck with a bad one, ALWAYS test it out at home first.

    Then go to YouTube and search on ways to make a fire. You’ll be amazed at the variety you’ll find. It’s easy to carry multiple methods in that “1st layer” kit.

    About portable shelter

    A simple lightweight tarp can fit into that “1st Layer” kit, and serve as shelter, and maybe as fire-heat reflecting material for warmth. It can also make the difference between being able to cook during a long rain, or not. Some military ponchos make good emergency tarps. I like that combination of features the best. YouTube is full of videos on a zillion different ways to pitch a tarp — with or without a floor, and with or without a closable door.

    –Lewis

  • To piggback a little on Lewis’ well thoughtout post regarding knives and firemaking.

    There are You Tube videos on whelter a stainless steel or carbon blade will give off more sparks for starting a fire. Steel having a sharper ninety degree edge … probably has more of an edge when used with a ferrorod for creating sparks onto tinder. There are various blade metals. Test them for yourself.

    When firemaking avoid serrated knifeblade
    edges as they are useless. Better to carry a portable saw or hatchet for cutting. In addition serrated edges take up blade area if you’re batoning wood.
    But then why abuse your primary bushcrafting tool batoning if you have a saw/hatchet? It would better even just to drop a heavy stone on a branch leaning on a log for that matter … I digress.
    Or just carrying a Brick lighter.

    Convex or concave knife edge?
    A concave grind will bite into wood when making a featherstick for starting a fire. A convex blade grind is better for knifes over five to six inches.

    Carry two knifes, one small, up to four inches, for more detailed tasks, and a larger one for heavier jobs. A lightweight knife with a lanyard around your neck is nice to have.

    Some people carry a large knife with a smaller one attached to it’s shealth along with a flat grinding stone for sharpening, and a fire rod, held together with a section cut out of a bicycle tube.

    Ragweedforge.com is a good introduction to Morakniv knifes which make handles with a rod embedded in it or a shealth with an attached rod and blade sharpner. Morakniv knifes are good for beginners since they are very affordable and are of high quality. Stock up on them for when the SHTF.

    Dutchbushknifes.com. has entertaining videos on knifes.

    Tom Brown has a good series of books, one for Tracking.

    A story told by a Korean War veteran. When his patrol was bypassed by a larger North Korean patrol they laid silently on the frozen ground for hours to avoid being detected. To this day his frostbitten knees still hurt.
    Something to think about when slithering on the ground. Kneepads.

    One last ‘pearl-of-wisdom’. Heard this on Lindybeige, Youtube. To help your feet wear two pairs of socks. A larger sized pair between your lighter socks (next to your feet) and the boot.

    • … in addition to the kneepads, elbow pads as a buffer against injury.
      Considering seventy percent or so of our strength is in the legs, developing the leg’s quad and other muscles will take stress off the knees which carry our body weight. High tops boots protect the ankles.
      (Then again the VC who paddled our butts in Vietnam wore saddles. The bare ankles could feel trip wires across a path.)

      Pilates is good for the body core.

      Dean Juhan’s body method of stressing then relaxing a muscle(s) works.

  • Even on a super hot day, I do not leave home without a wrap. Either sweatshirt, sweater or at least a jean jacket right for the season. There are extras stowed in the car. It can always be slung somewhere to free up the hands or used toprotect from the sun. It’s amazing how many times I’ve been happy to have grabbed a wrap.

    Even though it’s yellow, I carry one of those cheap packet emergency ponchos with my first layer EDC. So light too.! My thought is that if I have to hunker down at night, the wrap will keep me warmer and the poncho will provide a tarp layer to protect me from the elements on the ground and in the atmosphere. If someone knows where I can find a green or black one, that would be much better than the yellow.

    Also carry in my kit, a change of thin cotton socks that can be used to cover my hands as well. And then there’s a packet of those yummy fig bars from Costco. Carry a covering for my mouth an extra absconded from the ER. Keeping my purse light is a challenge. But with whiplash issues, it’s a must.

    One more thought: Remember that video of the collapsing bridge in Minnesota and the lady’s flipflops were flying off her feet.? It’s certainly not cool/chic to wear a full shoe or sandals that stay on when you run. But these days require that extra bit of care for how we will interact with our environment when the SHTF. Being fully clothed and shod can be a sure starting point even if nothing else is available.

    I remember hearing a story out of Eastern Europe just after WW2, where a grandfather advised his granddaughter to wear her snow boots to school in June because he had a feeling. Sure enough, all the school children were rounded up and sent to camps for months and then force-marched for miles through the snow….. You never know what a day will hold.

    Thank you for having this discussion Daisy. We all need to be sharpened! So behind on the physical, it ain’t funny anymore. Switching to a lighter, adding H2O tablets and a couple tablets of Benadryl.

    • Debbers, I really liked your insights above! I’ve read that carrying liquid Benadryl is great, but it dries up fast. The capsules take too long in severe cases (rattlesnake, severe bee allergies, etc) , but the children’s chewable are just right. The dose is according to weight, and are just as easily absorbed through the mouth as the stomach, only faster. If you buy a pack, you could write down on the package how much you would need for your weight, for less fumbling in the heat of a moment. My husband suffers unexpected hives for seemingly no reason, so we always carry it just in case. Hint: too much Benadryl can cause your patient to go into a stupor, which makes moving them a challenge, so prepare for that, just in case.

      • Sometimes when I’m overly stressed, I break out in hives. It may just be nerves. But for everyday, I’ve got grandkids with allergies to bugbites. Having the chewable ones handy may just save a trip to the ER if we are out and about with them. Best wishes in your prepping. If you are in CA, check on your BOB.

        Another thought about the BOB. I’ve pinned a list of things that need to go into it at the last minute like sunglasses, ID, cash, water and extra GORP. Those things can be gathered in a minute.

  • Heads up for California with cascading earthquakes creating a lot of pressure over the next week.

  • Hopefully a quick post about crawling.

    An old-timer told that during WWII he literally, mostly crawled from Normandy Beach to Germany.
    When asked how he knew which direction to go, he said he followed the scent left by the first two waves of soldiers that landed since due to the vibrations of the constant artillery bombardment it loosened the bowels and left a trail all the way to Berlin.

    ‘Graphic’
    SHTF tip from the above soldier: Cover your face with your arms when sleeping to avoid waking up finding that rats had chewed off the cartilage of your nose and earlobes.

    Kinda Orwellian,
    but real.

    Sorry if that was gross. The point is, that is what occurs in war, either by rats, disease or a knife.
    So, in SHTF, as a culture are we prepared to what could happen to captured female combatants? Or males for that matter.

    It’s one of the many not so pleasant prepping considerations besides logistics that may not be for this blog although it has popped up. Apologies if it is.

    so much for a short post

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