Q&A With Adventure Out: Bay-Area Based Survival Training

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Three years ago, I took a wilderness survival class at a campground in Fairfax. We learned the basics of surviving in the wild: building a shelter, finding water, and making fire. We learned by building our own shelter and climbing right into it. The instructors made it look easy, but it turns out making a fire using just sticks is not easy. It takes a whole lot of practice. And the only way to learn is by doing.

The class I took was run by Adventure Out, a Santa Cruz-based company founded by Cliff Hodges for just this purpose. Trips leaders take people on rock climbing expeditions, mountain bike rides and survival workshops.

Hodges and his team of expert leaders are all characters – as is to be expected. Hodges, who has appeared on MTV’s MADE as a survival coach, talked to me about avoiding getting a real job and why he’s not teaching people how to make fire with stones, he’s just helping them to remember what their ancestors always knew.

Why did you start Adventure Out? How did you get started?
I started Adventure Out nine-and-a-half years ago. I was 24 years old and really just didn’t want to get a “real job.” Just kidding. I started Adventure Out because I wanted to do something with my life that I was passionate about. I wanted to work with people, to teach, to share the things that I loved and, most importantly of all, to teach people that being a recreational user of outdoor/natural spaces makes us responsible to be stewards of those spaces as well.

What are the different classes you offer? What’s the most popular class?
We offer beginner through advanced instruction to private groups such as corporate retreats, team-building, school groups, and scouting groups, as well as open-to-the-public programs that individuals can sign up for. Our activities include surfing, rock climbing, wilderness survival skills, mountain biking, and backpacking.

Our Wilderness Survival classes are the most popular and what Adventure Out has become renowned for. Our survival program includes classes in basic survival (shelter building, fire-making, etc.) as well as advanced primitive skills like stone tools, bow-making, hide-tanning, animal tracking, traps and snares, and more.

Do you teach all the classes or do you have experts teach them? How do you find these experts?
In the beginning of Adventure Out, I taught everything. As the company has grown and expanded, I bring in instructors both that are already experts and some that have come up through our organization with years of leading trips, assisting/interning, and slowly learning the skills and teaching methodology. We pride ourselves on a very high level of both expertise and professionalism. We only hire people that are excellent teachers, not just experts at a certain activity.

What are “survival skills” and why would someone want to learn them?
It’s funny that you ask it that way. I always tell people that what we call “survival,” human beings just called “life” for thousands and thousands of years. Survival is how to live off the land, in harmony with the land. To find shelter, stay warm and dry, drink pure water, and hunt/forage for your own food without the use of modern equipment or tools. I like to teach that you aren’t “learning” survival skills, you are “remembering” them – all animals are born with the instinct to survive and I refuse to believe human beings are any different.  We just need to remember how.

Have you ever had to use any of these skills in real life situations?
I choose to use the skills in real life situations. I’ve never been careless enough to be in a survival situation by mistake. But I do go out and practice survival for enjoyment and my own personal growth. I hunt large game with all hand-made bows and stone-point arrows; I forage for wild edible plants; I’ve built and slept in earthen shelters. There is nothing more rewarding, invigorating, and spiritual for me than to live close to the land.

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