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The Survival University: Back to Survival Basics

The Survival University

The lure of returning to the wild has had an undeniable pull since we began forming civilizations thousands of years ago, and is even stronger today when many of us spend our days (and then also our nights) sitting in front of screens. There’s something about getting back to basics that appeals to our innermost humanity: a simple life, focused less on having things, and more on our connection with nature. We yearn to raise chickens when we’ve never stepped foot on a farm; we yearn to live off the land when we spend half of our lives in cement high-rises. It’s why we love survival television, right? We want to imagine we are stronger, more brave, more adventurous, and more capable than we actually are most of the time.

I’m not going to lie, I’m addicted to shows like Naked and Afraid and Alone, in which participants go into various environments around the world to prove their mental and physical stamina in survival situations. I’ve learned a few cool things, and I’ve also been entertained by the drama of two naked strangers bickering over the best way to create shelter or set a fishing line with their private areas blurred out. As someone who grew up on a farm in rural Wisconsin with parents who didn’t have much money at the time, I fancy myself innovative and cheap-solutions-oriented, so maybe I’d do ok there. Would I be able to survive 21 days without a meal? My social media tag was “Hangry Heido” for years, and my husband carries snacks in his pocket for when I turn into an angry ghoul from lack of food. So, probably not.

The Survival University
Heidi & Matt making fire!

Regardless of that, my husband Matt turned 40 in May, and his goal for this year was to learn more about how to protect ourselves in a survival situation in case we ran into trouble while hiking or backpacking, which we do a LOT of in the mountains of Colorado. I did some Googling around to find him a survival school for his birthday present, and I kept seeing The Survival University pop up, just a couple of hours away outside of Cripple Creek, Colorado. I emailed them to ask a few questions (ok, maybe more than a few) and got quick, knowledgeable, and funny responses from the owner and founder, Jason Marsteiner. There were lots of options for classes depending on what we were looking for, including foraging and mushroom-hunting classes, fire-building lessons, and even a 50-day survival course that lasts the entire summer, where you’ll find participants thriving and surviving in their own primitive shelters and living off the land. We opted for a 2-day beginner’s class, which seems like the perfect place to start, even though I had once proudly made fire with a ferro rod in front of drunken and cheering friends on a camping trip. I will always treasure that moment; I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so cool.

We camped at nearly 10,000 feet for two nights in temperatures that ranged from 35-50 degrees, and it rained much of the time. We quickly realized that this was not our normal camping trip, where the joints come out and the beer starts flowing around lunch time. But this was so much better, because we were instantly swept into a community of like-minded people who just wanted to learn a few things about getting back to nature, and living for a few days off the grid, like we were meant to… without our grocery stores, ovens, wifi, and the ability to turn the heat up if you’re just a tad chilly and are too lazy to grab another blanket. Even the serious students were incredibly welcoming, and we were never looked down upon as “less than”. One man named Chad invited us to trek into the woods to see his primitive shelter that he had built a few weeks before. This thing was akin to a small lean-to cabin, with leaf insulation, a long fire made of green aspen logs that burned consistently to keep him warm, and a raised platform bed. I was very jealous when he told us that his shelter got to 80 every night, and that he slept in a t-shirt. I hadn’t taken my winter hat off for days!

We had two full days and nights with The Survival University, owned and run by Jason Marsteiner, and accompanied by one of his instructors Aaron Hutchings or “Hutch”, who are both so chock-full of survival knowledge that our heads were spinning with both stories and information. We learned fire starting techniques, signaling in case of an emergency, emergency shelter building, a variety of knots (man, I need to google those again and practice - knots are hard!), navigation techniques to keep you heading the right direction if you get lost, and a bunch of important info that just *might* keep you alive, if you run into a situation where you need a cool head and a few tricks up your sleeve. The second night we laughed about how my knuckles were burned and bruised from unsuccessfully trying to be a good fire-starting student, and how ill-prepared we were with our crappy equipment. We shared a few beverages, a couple of edibles, and someone brought out those delicious peach Gummy-O’s that I loved as a kid, and passed them around. But mostly we were tired, happy, our minds reeling with new information, and thrilled to feel a little primitive, a little bit like we were living like humans are really meant to. Maybe life isn’t just about the next deadline, the next mortgage payment, the next episode of your favorite show.

While our “survival” situation was much different at chilly temperatures and a high altitude, I also wanted to explore with The Survival University Founder, Jason Marsteiner, the differences between hot and cold survival, and things that might save your life in a desert situation, like hiking in Arizona during the summer. One thing that instructor Hutch drilled into us during the class is that “there is no such thing as a small adventure”, and being even a little bit prepared in any situation is hugely important. I had the pleasure of interviewing them both after this experience, and learning even more about how to survive, thrive, and then get home safely to your loved ones, your comfy bed, and delicious pizza.

The Survival University
Jason Marsteiner

Jason, can you introduce yourself and tell me a bit about The Survival University?

Jason: I'm Jason Marsteiner, and I'm thrilled to introduce myself and share some insights about The Survival University. I am the owner and founder of Colorado Mountain Man Survival and The Survival University. My passion is teaching wilderness survival skills and helping people navigate the great outdoors with confidence. I've honed my expertise through personal experiences and extensive training, including surviving in the mountains of Colorado, the forests of Arkansas and Missouri, the deserts of Arizona and the jungles of Costa Rica.

At The Survival University, our primary focus is equipping individuals with the necessary skills and knowledge to thrive in challenging outdoor environments. Our goal is to empower people with the confidence and abilities needed to navigate various survival scenarios. From wilderness survival techniques to urban preparedness, we offer a comprehensive range of courses tailored to different skill levels and interests.

At The Survival University, we believe that preparation and education are key to overcoming unexpected situations. Through hands-on training, immersive experiences, and expert guidance, we strive to provide practical and valuable lessons that can be applied in real-life situations.

Our team of experienced instructors brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the table. We are passionate about sharing our skills and helping individuals develop the confidence and resilience necessary to handle adverse conditions. Whether you're a beginner looking to acquire basic survival skills or an experienced outdoor enthusiast seeking to enhance your knowledge, The Survival University offers engaging and practical training programs designed to meet your needs.

The Survival University
Aaron "Hutch" Hutchings

Hutch, can you tell me about your survival experience and what you do now?

Bio for (Aaron Hutchings) or “Hutch”: As an autistic young man, his grandfather used outdoor skills and time with other schools as a motivation tool to help Hutch develop coping mechanisms to manage in the world. In his own words, "I do not remember a time before my fascination with adventure. I do, however, remember a time before I was equipped to handle my adventurous nature. This led me to hang on to my grandfather's every word about the old days. The next logical step was to become a Scout and later a United States Marine. When I came home, I continued to adventure, read, and seek out some of the top names in the wilderness community to learn from. Then almost by accident, I became a teacher of these skills myself.

When my journey started there was only Grandpa and books, no YouTube or blogs to learn from. The way our community can connect nowadays amazes me, and the opportunities to teach and learn are better than ever. My classes and writings are filled with lessons learned in the past and with those learned from current experiments. I hope there is some value to the experienced and beginner alike. I am honored to be on this adventure with each and every one of my students."

What are the most important things about survival in a hot climate if you find yourself in an emergency situation?

Jason: Preparation is key when venturing into a hot climate, as it ensures you have everything you might need in case of becoming stranded. Don't risk being caught unprepared in an emergency situation. As a part of our modern society, survival gear is relatively affordable and easily accessible. Before heading out, make sure you have essential items such as a reliable water container and purification system, sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat, lightweight and breathable clothing, a multipurpose tool, a trauma kit, and a signaling device like a whistle or mirror. These simple yet vital items can make a significant difference in your ability to cope with the challenges of a hot climate and increase your chances of survival.

I also recommend adding a comb to your desert survival kit. No, I am not worried about how good your hair looks when you get rescued. Including a comb in your desert survival kit may seem unconventional, but it serves a practical purpose beyond hairstyling. In the desert environment, encountering cactus leaves or areoles that can stick to your skin or clothing is not uncommon. Having a comb on hand allows you to safely remove these irritants without risking getting spines or glochids lodged in your hands. It's a simple yet valuable tool that can save you from unnecessary discomfort and potential injury in a desert survival situation.

When facing an emergency situation in a hot climate, there are a few crucial things to remember for survival:

Hydration: Staying hydrated is absolutely essential. Make sure to find a water source and consider alternative sources like collecting dew in the morning or constructing a solar still. It is a common misconception that a person should ration water but we will talk about that later in this article.

Shelter & Shade: Protect yourself from the scorching sun by finding or creating shade. Seek natural shelters, use clothing or materials to create shade, and prioritize finding a cool and protected spot. If nothing else, chase the shadow of a large cactus or tree throughout the day to attempt to rest and stay cooler and then perform strenuous tasks at night.

Clothing & Sun Protection: Wear lightweight, breathable clothing that provides coverage from the sun. Opt for light colors and loose-fitting garments to help regulate body temperature. Don't forget to wear a hat, sunglasses, and apply sunscreen to protect your skin.

While deserts may be scorching hot during the day, it's crucial not to overlook the fact that they can become surprisingly cold at night. Getting caught unprepared solely based on the daytime heat can be a grave mistake. When venturing into the desert, it's essential to anticipate the temperature fluctuations and pack accordingly. Bring appropriate clothing to layer up during chilly evenings, including lightweight but warm layers, a thermal blanket, and a hat to retain body heat.

Rest & Activity: During the hottest hours of the day, minimize physical exertion and rest in the shade. Plan your movements early in the morning or late in the evening when temperatures are cooler to conserve energy.

Emergency Signaling: If you need rescue, use reflective materials, mirrors, or any available means to create visible signals. Build fires or use signaling devices like whistles to attract attention.

These are just a few important considerations. Each survival situation is unique, so adapt your approach accordingly and prioritize your safety and well-being.

Hutch, what are your most essential hot-weather survival tips?

Hutch: In the desert, most people understand the value of sunscreen and sunglasses. When teaching desert skills, I advocate an extra pair of sunglasses. But what if they break? Did you know that you can easily Macgyver a pair by copying a snow skill? See, the sand and the snow pretty much reflect glare the same way, so we can deal with sun blindness from both similarly. The sun's UV light reflects off the snow or sand and can burn the eyeball, causing a thing called sun blindness. This can lead to terrible migraines rivaling anything you ever did to yourself in Vegas or, in bad cases, three days of not being able to see or move.

  1. Slice a piece of cloth, edibles' bag, emergency blanket, rabbit ear, car fabric, leather, tree bark, leaves, etc. This slice should look sort of like a ninja turtle mask. Just the colored part, not the whole turtle head.

  2. We poke small holes or cut narrow horizontal slits for our eye to see through. Do this on the ground, not your face. The slits should be big enough to see out of yet as small as possible. You will be surprised how small a slit you can see through once you tie it on.

  3. If you have charcoal, resin from a pipe, or soot of any kind you can apply it under your eyes to help with glare, too.

  4. Tie the mask in place like a ninja turtle and rock your adventure.

Want a million-dollar idea? Edible electrolyte chews! If I was on one of those TV shows, this would be one of my ten items. Treating electrolyte imbalance is super important in desert survival. Believe it or not, prolonged sweating and drinking pure water can cause problems. Pure water and sweating in the desert lead to a shortage of electrolytes that can cause dizziness, hyponatremia, nausea, cramps, and more.

While we are waiting for one of you to design some chews, pineapple flavored please, here are some other options to make sure you do not have to shorten your desert adventure due to electrolytes.

  1. Fill a one-liter container with water.

  2. Add two teaspoons of honey (this can totally be infused honey by the way.)

  3. Add one-half teaspoon of salt

  4. Add one-half teaspoon of baking soda (this can be left out if you do not have any.)

  5. Shake like James Bond was shaking it and enjoy.

Ok, so we have our electrolyte chews, but we might still need water. Where can we find some?

Avoid the whole cactus thing. Unless you know exactly which cactus you are looking for this can quickly make things worse for you.

  1. Dig into moist soil. We can often find dry riverbeds with water not that far below the surface.

  2. If you found a dry river bed, or any sign of moving water, follow it to its source. There may be water there.

  3. Get up early, really early, and collect the dew with a cloth or clothing. In both ocean and desert survival, you can collect liters of drinkable water this way. As long as you do not collect it from anything poisonous, this water does not need to be treated.

There are loads of desert shelters, but here is a nifty one if your car breaks down while you are adventuring.

  1. Pull off your hub caps to use as a shovel or use a shovel from your emergency kit. That works even better.

  2. Start digging between your back wheels. The front, engine side, has less space. If you have a car with an engine in the back, look for whichever side’s axle has the most clearance. This trench should be parallel to the car's length from front to back.

  3. Keep digging until you have made your trench deep enough for your body with clearance to roll to your sides and not touch any part of the car.

  4. During the hot days, slide under the car into this trench, sip some water, and enjoy your pineapple electrolyte edibles.

What are the biggest differences between hot climate survival and cold climate survival, and what you should be primarily focusing on to make sure you stay alive?

Jason: Survival in hot and cold weather climates does share some common principles, despite the contrasting environmental conditions. Both scenarios require individuals to prioritize hydration, regulate body temperature, and utilize signaling devices for rescue. However, it's important to note that there are specific techniques and considerations unique to each climate.

In a hot weather climate like the desert, staying hydrated remains paramount. Contrary to the misconception of water conservation, it is crucial to drink enough water to meet your body's needs. Dehydration can lead to severe health risks and diminish your ability to function effectively. Instead, focus on finding and purifying water sources, utilizing techniques such as condensation traps, digging for water, or carrying lightweight water filtration systems.

Regulating body temperature is also crucial in hot climates. Seek shade during the hottest hours of the day, wear loose and breathable clothing, and use methods like evaporative cooling to manage your body's heat. Building shelter that provides protection from the sun's intense rays is essential.

Additionally, signaling for rescue becomes vital in both hot and cold climates. Carry signaling devices such as whistles, mirrors, or brightly colored items to attract attention. Learn and use universal distress signals to increase the likelihood of being noticed and rescued.

While there are similarities in the core survival principles, it's important to acknowledge and adapt to the unique challenges each climate presents. Acquiring specific knowledge and skills for each environment will greatly enhance your chances of survival and resilience in extreme conditions.

The Survival University
Colorado location of The Survival University

Tell me about water intake in the desert… if you’re stuck in an emergency situation with only a little bit of water, how should you ration it? Does that change in a colder climate?

Jason: In emergency situations where dehydration is a concern, it is a common misconception to ration water supplies. It is crucial to understand that rationing water can actually be detrimental to your survival. Instead, it is recommended to drink all the water your body needs and prioritize finding additional water sources as your primary task.

Rationing water in a dehydrating situation may seem logical, as it aims to make your limited supply last longer. This approach can have severe consequences. When the body doesn't receive enough water, it starts to shut down various vital functions. Dehydration affects physical and cognitive abilities, impairs decision-making, and hampers overall performance. That being said, your body can only absorb around 8 ounces of water every 15 minutes, so it's advisable to sip small amounts frequently rather than chugging it. Excessive intake will only lead to increased urination. However, if you have limited water available, it's still crucial to drink what you have, but avoid consuming more than 8 ounces every 15 minutes.

By consuming all the water your body needs, you allow yourself to function at a better capacity. Hydration is crucial for maintaining body temperature, lubricating joints, supporting organ functions, and transporting nutrients throughout the body. It also helps maintain mental clarity and focus, which are essential in survival scenarios.

Drinking sufficient water not only improves your immediate well-being but also enhances your chances of finding additional water sources. When adequately hydrated, you can think clearly, make sound decisions, and maintain the physical stamina needed to search for water effectively.

While finding more water becomes a top priority, it is essential to consider conservation methods and explore potential sources, such as nearby streams, vegetation, or underground water reserves. Keeping a proactive mindset and being resourceful in locating water can significantly increase your chances of survival.

Remember, in a dehydrating emergency situation, drinking all the water your body needs is crucial for maintaining physical and cognitive abilities. Stay hydrated, seek additional water sources, and prioritize your well-being to improve your chances of survival.

What are some things that you should ALWAYS make sure you have with you when heading out on a hike or camping trip?

Jason: When embarking on a hike or camping trip, it's important to ensure you have a few key items with you. Start by crafting a well-thought-out plan and sharing it with close friends or family for added safety. Prioritize signaling devices like a fully charged cell phone with a backup battery, a Garmin InReach or similar device, an emergency whistle, and a signal mirror to call for help in case of an emergency.

Additionally, equip yourself with a reliable fire-starting tool such as a lighter, ferro rod, or matches, and practice using them in different conditions to be prepared for any situation. Don't forget to pack suitable clothing for protection and a tarp that can serve as a quick emergency shelter. Bring along some rope or paracord to aid in shelter construction and learn a few useful knots.

A knife is a versatile and valuable tool that can be used for various tasks if you have the proper training. It can be used for hunting, fishing, fire starting, shelter building, and more. Finally, carry a container like a metal canteen to transport and purify water, ensuring you stay hydrated throughout your journey. These items are compact and lightweight, allowing for easy portability without adding significant weight to your load.

The Survival University
Heidi showing how much fun The Survival University is!

What is your favorite common sense survival tip, or something that people often overlook that could turn out to be detrimental?

Jason: One often overlooked survival tip that holds great significance is acquiring basic medical training beyond CPR. In the backcountry, CPR alone has limited usefulness. It is highly advisable for outdoor enthusiasts to learn essential skills such as patient assessments, splinting, pulse checking, bleeding control, recognizing signs of shock, and other crucial medical practices. By equipping themselves with these simple yet vital abilities, individuals can greatly increase their capacity to save their own and others lives in emergency situations.

Where can people find you to book classes, watch your videos, follow you on instagram, etc.?

Jason: To access our classes and learn more about us, you can visit our website at For regular updates, instructional videos, and engaging content, you can follow me on Instagram at jason_thesurvivaluniversity, as well as TheSurvivalUniversity. Additionally, you can find us on Facebook and YouTube by searching for The Survival University or Colorado Mountain Man Survival.

Hutch: People can find me at both TSU and Ready Set Adventure Box. I teach most of my museum, school, birthday parties, online, etc. through there since it is mine. On location, I teach at TSU and many other schools.

Instagram - @hutchs_adventure

Email -

Amazon books

“Cooking Secrets Of The Montana Mountain Man” will be out soon.

“The Quinzhee: How to Build A Survival Snow Shelter”

“How To Make And Use Hide Glue: ‘The Duct Tape Of Our Ancestors.’"

In the words of Hutch: “Remember, there is no such thing as a small adventure. Stay safe out there! See you on the adventure trail”.


Facebook: @CMMSurvival


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