You may know Steven Rinella as an expert hunter and the host of the MeatEater television show and podcast. He’s also an author, and his latest book is The MeatEater Guide to Wilderness Skills and Survival. Today on the show, we’ll talk about the subjects behind both of these projects, beginning with how Steve found his way into hunting and conservation advocacy, how he explains and makes the case for hunting to those unfamiliar with it, and the benefits that hunting has brought into his life. We then discuss how the barrier for beginners to get into hunting is perceived as being higher than it really is, and the more accessible way Steve recommends getting started.
From there we turn to the kind of know-how you should possess for undertaking any kind of outdoor pursuit, whether that’s hunting or camping or hiking. Steve shares why he recommends creating an outdoors kit that you can grab for any expedition, and what to pack in it. He then offers suggestions on outdoor clothing and sleeping pads, as well as the pros and cons of carrying one’s water in a Camelbak-style bladder versus a Nalgene bottle, and why he favors the latter. We also get into Steve’s recommendation for a better alternative to GPS and the importance of regular practice for first aid, and all wilderness skills. We end our conversation with Steve’s approach to getting his kids into the outdoors.
If reading this in an email, click the title of the post to listen to the show.
- The incredible bond that hunting has forged in Steven’s family
- Explaining the value of hunting to non-hunters
- The personal value of hunting
- Is it true that hunting has a high barrier of entry?
- Why you should ignore the way the hunting community defines success
- The played out “fantasy” aspect of survival content
- What to have in your outdoor “go” bag
- The lowdown on outdoor clothing
- What sort of first aid training/knowledge should people have getting into the outdoors?
- What can you do to get kids to love the outdoors?
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- The Epic Story of Sport Hunting in America
- 3 Reasons Hunting is Food for a Man’s Soul
- A Primer on Deer Hunting
- A Primer on Bowhunting
- North American Model of Wildlife Conservation
- How to Find Water in the Wild & How to Filter and Purify Water in the Wild
- The Complete Guide to Hiking (And Enjoying It!)
- Complete Guide to Making a DIY First Aid Kit
- Nemo Insulated Sleeping Pad
- onX maps + Garmin inReach
- How to Get Your Kids to Love Nature
Connect With Steven
Steven on Instagram
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
Listen ad-free on Stitcher Premium; get a free month when you use code “manliness” at checkout.
Read the Transcript
If you appreciate the full text transcript, please consider donating to AoM. It will help cover the costs of transcription and allow other to enjoy it. Thank you!
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. You may know Steven Rinella as an expert hunter and the host of the MeatEater series on Netflix, as well as the MeatEater podcast. He’s also an author, and his latest book is The MeatEater Guide to Wilderness Skills and Survival. Today on the show we’ll talk about the subjects behind both these projects, beginning with how Steve found his way into hunting and conservation advocacy, how he explains and makes the case for hunting to those who aren’t familiar with it, and the benefits that hunting has brought into his life. We then discuss how the barrier for beginners to get into hunting is perceived as being higher than it really is, and the more accessible way Steve recommends getting started. From there we turn to kind of know how you should possess for undertaking any kind of outdoor pursuit, whether it’s hunting, camping, or hiking.
Steve shares why he recommends creating an outdoors kit that you can grab for any expedition, and what exactly to pack in it. He then offers suggestions on outdoor clothing and sleeping pads, as well as the pros and cons of carrying one’s water in a CamelBak-style bladder versus a Nalgene bottle, and why he favors the latter. We also get into Steve’s recommendations for a better alternative to GPS, and the importance of regular practice for first-aid and all these wilderness skills that we talk about. And we end our conversation with Steve’s approach to getting his kids into the outdoors. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at AOM.is/outdoors.
Alright Steven Rinella, welcome to the show.
Steven Rinella: Hey, thank you for having me on. I appreciate the chance.
Brett McKay: So you are the host of MeatEater on Netflix, the MeatEater podcast. You’re the author several books. You’ve got a new one out which we’re gonna talk about today, The MeatEater Guide to Wilderness Survival. But before we do let’s talk about your background, ’cause you have become an advocate for hunting, conservation, being out in the outdoors. How did that get started? When did you start hunting? Have you always been hunting since you were knee-high to a grasshopper?
Steven Rinella: Yeah. I don’t even remember starting to hunt, ’cause my dad was a big hunter. He was kind of unusual as a hunter, in that typically you’ll see hunting kinda flow from father to son. But my dad was raised… For the most part, raised by his grandparents who were Italian immigrants. He was raised in the South Side of Chicago. They spoke Italian in the home. They didn’t know hunting, they had no concept of hunting. He went off and fought in World War II. He had me when he was pretty old, so my dad’s a World War II vet. He went off and fought in World War II. When he got back from World War II he got very, very into hunting, as did a lot of guys in that era. There were as many hunters then in the years following World War II as there are now. And so I was just brought up in it, fishing, hunting, trapping, all since a very early age. I know when I killed my first deer, but other things just getting started out in hunting I have no… I don’t remember it at all. It happened before I can remember.
Brett McKay: So it sounds like this was… It’s something that brought your family together. Not only you and your dad, but your brothers too.
Steven Rinella: Very much so. Very much so. In fact, without that, without that shared bond, without that shared connection, I really don’t know what they’re… I don’t wanna… I’m not trying to disparage my family in some way, but I guess I can’t say. Maybe something would have filled it in. I can say this, without that shared connection, without that bond, it’s hard for me to picture what the bond would have become. It was just a thing we did together, to the extent where if when I was little, if my dad and brothers were gonna go out hunting, or fishing or whatever and I didn’t go, I would get a guilty conscience. I would feel like I was doing something bad by not going. It was that meaningful.
Brett McKay: So you’ve been hunting since you were a kid, and it was just something you did for fun. But you’ve turned it into a career, and your latest ideation is you’ve become sort of an advocate for hunting, and connecting that with being an advocate for conservation. How did you find yourself becoming an advocate for hunting, and why did you think hunting needed an advocate?
Steven Rinella: Yeah. I’ll back up to a earlier part of your question. You said I did it for fun. It’s fun, but… And was fun, but man, it’s just more than that. It almost kinda trivializes it, because oftentimes it’s not fun. I remember being out all the time and crying ’cause I was so cold. It wasn’t fun, it was a compulsion, or a deep, deep passion. It’s hard to… But yeah, we can go with it. But it often didn’t feel that way, it felt like something different. It’s something that needed to be done, you know? And advocacy, I don’t know. I got interested in writing at a early age, and wanted to be an outdoor writer. And was trained to, encouraged to write what I knew about, and so I naturally began writing about what I knew most about, which was the outdoors.
I guess the role of advocacy, I didn’t view it like… I didn’t say, “I want to advocate for this.” I just wanted to explain it, and capture my relationship with it. I think that it wound up being that my explanation was perhaps compelling to people, and it served the purpose of advocacy, but it wasn’t intended to be advocacy. I never felt like I had a sort of cross to bear by going out and advocating for something. It wasn’t that, it was just like explaining my world. And in explaining my world it served the purpose of advocacy, though that was not my intention.
Brett McKay: So why do you feel you need to explain it? Is it because hunting’s less common today? There’s 11 million hunters today, that’s a lot. It seems like a lot, but not as many as we had in the 1950s. But the population’s bigger today, so hunting’s less common.
Steven Rinella: I think that the percentage of population part winds up making it seem scarce. But I got a friend, Pat, he’s a writer, Pat Durkin. I’ve quoted him on this 100 times. Pat Durkin once said of his area in Wisconsin, where he’s from in Wisconsin, he said, “You either are a deer hunter, or you sleep with one.” So I think that there are communities where it’s just… It’s just like there is communities where it’s a real part of life. Every household, when I was growing up… Not every, virtually every household had a hunter in it in my area. So there was no perception in my mind of scarcity. It just… ‘Cause you don’t grow up that way. If you grew up in a city, you might think, “Jesus, there’s no hunters around,” but for me that’s not how it feels. Where I live now, if I point around to the houses around me, I’d be like, “That dude hunts. That dude hunts. That dude hunts.” It just depends on where you’re at.
So I grew up very immersed in that, and I’ve then since lived in places where it doesn’t go on at all. And absolutely, man, like living, I spent time, I spent time living in New York, and I spent time living in Seattle. There, you wind up where you feel like a total oddball. And I think that that feeling like a oddball probably changes how you talk about what you do. But early on, when I was a kid growing up, and even when I was in college and like everybody I hung out with hunted, I didn’t feel there’s anything that needed to be explained, maybe because everybody already knew it. And then you open out to like the broader world and you’re like, “Oh yeah, man, there are places where it’s just not, but there are also… ” You’ve got to understand like for most people that grew up hunting… Like I said, grew up hunting because their dad did, which is pretty typical. That’s just kind of how it flows. People that grew up hunting because their dad did, they don’t… For the most part, I don’t think that they feel misunderstood because it’s around them.
Brett McKay: Yeah. When you moved to like New York, you did a stint in New York, and you tried to explain to people what you did. You said you had to change the way you explained it. What did you do? How did you explain or try to explain what you did?
Steven Rinella: Because you’ve got to back all the way up to step one. I would meet people in New York, who were pleasantly surprised to learn that there was a regulatory structure, pleasantly surprised to learn that there’s this system by which you have state wildlife agencies that manage wildlife in the state. And that they have teams of biologists who do population work to find out how many animals are out there, where they live, whether they’re increasing or decreasing in number. And they draw up harvest plans to find like what a sustainable harvest would be, and how to meet population objectives, and that they have a licensing system where people pay to buy a license and that money that they pay to buy a license goes to fund the wildlife agency that manages the wildlife. And that they have seasons, meaning set dates at which you can pursue these animals, and bag limits.
People who are like, “Oh no, shit, really?” Something that you would take to be… That you take to be like, “Why would I ever need to tell you that, like everybody knows this?” but everybody doesn’t know that. And so, then it’s just like explanation. And again remember I said earlier that advocacy kind of happens by accident. You’re just answering a question, like how does it work, right? And when you tell people how it works, it puts their mind at ease because they thought it was just some kind of like rapacious slaughter that had no rhyme or reason to it. They thought you just go in the woods and start shooting stuff. And then when you explain like, “No, no, here’s how it works in this country. We have this thing. We have this thing that we like to call the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, and here’s what that is. Here’s what that looks like.” And then you explain it and they’re like, “Oh, I feel a lot better about it now.”
So winds up being advocacy but it’s just like explanation. There’s not a lot that needs to be hidden. There’s not a lot of like dirty secrets, right? It’s just kind of how that stuff works. And so I found myself needing to explain it more from the ground up, explain it for an uneducated audience. The same way, let’s say you grew up in New York, and you use the subway system, okay? And you’d always used the subway system, and you used to take the subway to elementary school. You probably don’t spend a lot of time… Like you just understand how it works and if someone like me comes in, I’m like, “Ah, man. I can’t, like… It’s just baffling to me, everything about it. Like how to go, where to go, what line goes where, the mistakes not to make.” Everyone knows you should never get on that one at that time. And someone has to just explain it from the ground up, something that they take for granted. It’s quite similar. And their interest or knowledge about hunting, maybe was as much as mine about subways, just wasn’t something I gave any thought to. And to them, it’s like a big part of life and it’s a thing that they follow and have interest in. So that was a thing that happened and that probably like really had an impactful change in how I talked about what I talked about, once I understood the knowledge gap.
Brett McKay: Yes. Showing people who aren’t familiar with hunting, I mean the role… I mean everyone wants to conserve wildlife, that everyone… That’s something people, I think in America, particularly with our… We’ve been blessed with these wonderful natural resources, fantastic environment. People want to support that, and when they see how hunting plays a role in that conservation, it puts them at ease with the lifestyle or the practice.
Steven Rinella: I think that, yeah, I think there are parts of it. And I don’t think that everyone in this country wants to preserve wildlife, but I think you could say like generally that’s true. I think everyone will pay lip service to that.
Brett McKay: Sure.
Steven Rinella: As long as it remains good for the economy. But I think that’s the thing we like to think about ourselves, but there’s a lot of cases where, when the rubber meets the road, it’s just not the reality. But yeah, I think we like to think that. And I think that… I’ve got a friend that did some work one time. He’s a social scientist and he did some work on taking people who are adversarial to hunting and giving them pieces of information, and then sort of like measuring what impact the information had on their viewpoints. And the regulatory structure and the funding structure were things that changed their viewpoint. One thing that hunters love to talk about, and it’s just the kind of silly that we still do it is, hunters love to like… They love to justify their actions based on this idea that if it wasn’t for hunters, we’d be overrun with deer. Or we need to keep the populations in check. It’s just like a knee jerk thing that people go to. And it’s funny ’cause once you start looking into that, it’s just like, very complicated, not really that accurate, and when you try that out, when you try that logic out on people who are adversarial to hunting, it doesn’t move the needle. Like they don’t buy it, right? They don’t see that the good thing that hunters do is remove animals in order to balance ecosystems. They just don’t see it that way. And when you explain that to them, they don’t buy it.
Brett McKay: Do they buy like say if you explain to them the way that wildlife departments are funded in all states is it’s through hunting licenses that…
Steven Rinella: Yeah. They winds up being impactful. They’re like, “Okay. Cool. Dig it.” And the same way with like rules, like regulatory structures, like, “Here’s how we run the whole program.” So like, “Oh, I got it, I can see that.” They go like, “If we didn’t kill all these deer, you wouldn’t be able to leave your house. We’d be so overrun with deer. It’d be a… ”
Brett McKay: That doesn’t…
Steven Rinella: Mayhem!
Brett McKay: Right? That doesn’t land.
Steven Rinella: Yeah, I don’t know about that.
Brett McKay: Yeah, that doesn’t land. [chuckle] Well, so besides the role hunting can play in conservation and wildlife management, game management, you also talk a lot about the benefits that hunting can bring people personally, and you talk about this in your work too, what hunting has done for you. You mentioned it earlier, it was something that connected you and your family, but beyond that, what else do you think hunting can do for people? Why do people go and hunt? What is it, I don’t know, individual level that draws people to hunt?
Steven Rinella: Yeah, I never, ever prescribe hunting. I would never say to somebody, I’d never say like, “Hey man, I know you don’t think you need to go and I know you think that you don’t want to go, but what you need to do is go hunting.” I never say that to anybody. I think it’s like… If you’re compelled to do it and it’s the thing you want to go do and want to go try, knock yourself out, but I would never go to someone and say, “You might not realize… ” The same way you could have some guy, total lazy ass, out of shape, eats junk food all day long, and you’d say, “Man, you know what you need to do, dude? You need to start exercising and you need to clean your diet up.” I would go and offer that to somebody if I felt that they needed it. I never go to people and be like, “What you need to do is go kill a deer.” What I do do is I explain what it’s brought to me and what my experience has been and what the experience of others has been, but I don’t think it’s the kind of thing where you would come and tell someone that they ought to go do it. What it’s brought to me is I just… For me personally, I like to have a very intimate hands-on relationship with nature, and a through line in my life has been that interaction with nature.
It’s how I like to eat, it’s how I like to spend my time, it’s how I like to raise my kids. I see a tremendous amount of value in it. There’s a reality to it, there’s a pragmatism to it. I like being self-sufficient. There’s very little in life that we take charge of anymore. The thing I’ve brought up a handful of times to people would be… We live in a very specialized society now. You don’t process your own raw sewage, most people don’t fix their own car, fewer and fewer people change their oil, you probably didn’t build your house, I know there’s many, many exceptions, but generally, you didn’t build your own house. We farm out, we hand out all of our obligations to other people and then we focus on some little subset of subset of activities, and it makes this whole society and civilization work. The thing about hunting is it gives you a really intimate control over something, which is food, where you actually can have the experience of running A to Z on a process. And I think that there’s a lot of value in that, in seeing something through from start to finish, and that’s the thing I like about it, and there’s nothing more elemental than food.
That’s why I like to grow food in the garden and I like to hunt for food and fish for food. It’s just one of those areas where I’m like, “You know what, I’ll take this one over. I’ll handle this one from the ground up,” and that brings a real sense of purpose, and every time I sit down to eat with my family and eat with my kids and we’re eating game, there’s a real sense of value there, there’s a relationship with what’s on the plate that I simply don’t feel when I go to a restaurant or when I eat grocery store meat. That’s where the value is for me.
Brett McKay: And when you talk to other hunters, is that the same thing you’ve found across the board or people hunt for different reasons?
Steven Rinella: Camaraderie is huge. A lot of people, they don’t admit it, but bragging rights is big. They find a world in which they can find approval. I know a lot of guys that… They’re very wasteful of game and they’d be more wasteful if they could get away with it, but more and more it’s becoming… Socially, it’s becoming untenable to be a game waster, but there are a lot of game wasters out there. There’s a lot of people that hunt, man, that they’ll tell you, “Oh yeah, I hunt for the meat,” but they don’t. They just really don’t. It’s like a thing… They give it lip service, they lie about it, and then there’s people that I’m familiar with, they hunt for social approval. They value the opinions of other hunters and they enjoy hunting, they think it’s fun, but a motivating factor is whatever pushes a person to get a convertible Corvette and have people see them in it. They want to be perceived a way, and that’s a thing too. But that’s true of every pursuit, every discipline you have that. But the people that I choose to spend my time with all have a deep, deep reverence for the food and a reverence for the skillset.
It feels good to be good at something, especially when it’s something that you can never master it. I don’t care how long you do it, you just wind up learning things that you don’t. You just learn where your gaps are the more you do it. There’s no end, there’s no perfection, you can’t even approach it, there’s just too much knowledge out there to try to gain, and chasing that knowledge is good because you can’t beat it. One day I was watching dudes bowling on TV, like a bowling… Whatever you call tournaments in bowling. I remember thinking, “Man, it’s like… ” It shocked me that you would eventually get… ‘Cause it’s a controlled environment, there’s no weather and the lane doesn’t change, it’s the same width, same length. I remember being like, “How could it not be that you’d eventually get where you could just get a strike every time?” It seemed like a shallow pursuit, like a shallow pursuit. This is… Not a ton to it. And hunting and fishing and stuff, man, they’re just infinitely deep.
Brett McKay: Yeah, you call it a practice. For guys who are listening to this and they say, “Well, I’ve always… ” They had that compulsion, they wanna go hunt, something that draws them to the sport or to the practice, but hunting can have… It’s a high barrier of entry because you’ve gotta know where the land’s at, there’s a whole bunch of information you’ve gotta know, there’s money, license, tags, equipment. So guys listening, they think they would have an interest in it, what’s the best way to get started and overcome that high barrier of entry that hunting often has?
Steven Rinella: Yeah, I’ve even said the same thing in the past. I’ve sort of put that… I’ve articulated that high barrier of entry but man, I don’t know if I… More and more, I don’t know how much I believe it, because I just kinda look at… When we were kids, I don’t know that we had a barrier to entry, we had pellet guns. Someone gave us a pellet gun for Christmas, and one of those little plastic boxes of Crosman pellets and we went out and hunted squirrels, hard core, and we didn’t have clothes for it, we didn’t have special clothes. So I hear that, and I think for some people, it is a barrier of entry. What I think is we created a barrier of entry, is we created a barrier of entry around how the community has defined success. So the most hunted for thing is not the most hunted for… In terms of man-hours spent, the most hunted for critter is the white-tailed deer. And we’ve kinda built this idea that like, “Oh, that you wanna get a big buck, right? Like a big white-tailed buck. That’s something people want.” “Is that hard to get?” “That’s hard to get.” “That can be expensive to get.”
If that’s what we’re defining what success is, I can see how you’d wind up with it being a high barrier of entry, but if you divorce yourself from what success based on magazines and TV shows and stuff looks like and just measured it as success as being like you went out and procured a meal, okay? You went and procured a dinner, I don’t think there’s a high barrier of entry to go do that, meaning to go hunt small game, okay? To get a rabbit, to get a squirrel, whatever. It feels to me not high. So I think it’s a high barrier of entry to participate at the level that people see through shows such as my own, but in general, I don’t see it. But if I was gonna give someone advice about it, the advice I’d give would actually contradict how we went about it ourselves. We moved out west and started hunting in the west, we just figured it out, man, we didn’t find anybody local, no one showed us anything. I’m telling you, man, no one taught us anything when me and my brother started hunting in the mountains. And no one… Our dad taught us some things about hunting, but we just figured a lot of stuff out.
I think you need to be really comfortable with trial and error and you need to be comfortable with the idea of failure. We would have times in the winter, and we’d go out and hunt squirrels and rabbits in December and January, if we got one or two… If three of us got one or two, it was a good day. We didn’t care about… We weren’t afraid of failing. I think getting comfortable with the fact that you’re entering a thing that is going to take a long time and that’s the point. If you’re comfortable with that, I think you’re ready to go. If you wanna be that you’re gonna walk out the door on a Friday and kill something on a Saturday and it’s gonna be big enough to blow up your social media feed, yeah man, that’s hard work. That takes a lot.
Brett McKay: So yeah, maybe not lower… Yeah, maybe it’s lower expectations. It’s okay to start off small, it’s still hunting. You can still eat a squirrel, you can still eat rabbit, and you’re still practicing those skills that maybe eventually will lead you to go hunt a white-tail or…
Steven Rinella: Yeah, it depends what your ultimate goals are. If your goal is this really personal, I would ignore… If your goal is personal, just to get started and figure something out, I would ignore the way in which the hunting community measures success, and I would just set your own parameters, man, and I would find people that share… It’s a hell of a lot more fun to go into this with someone and find like-minded people and set your own rules for what you want to accomplish and just keep it enjoyable.
Brett McKay: So let’s talk about this. And a transition to your latest book, ’cause not only do you explain hunting, which in turn indirectly turns into advocacy, but you’re big… You want people to get outdoors and enjoy the outdoors and this latest book is all about how to survive in the outdoors. But what I like about it is your approach to it is very realistic, you try to avoid the romanticism that people sometimes associate with wilderness survival and make it really approachable and applicable. So when you first started conceiving this book, what myths of wilderness survival were you hoping to debunk or avoid with your guide to being in the outdoors?
Steven Rinella: Oh yeah, it’s got a little bit… To be honest, I got a little played out with the fantasy aspect of survival with reality shows and this idea that you’re gonna be stranded on a deserted island with nothing but a giant Bowie knife and I just wasn’t really interested in that, but I was very interested in wilderness skills. The book’s called, “The Meat Eater Guide to Wilderness Skills and Survival,” and wilderness skills is first for a reason. In doing the book, me and the folks I work with, we have many, many, many decades worth of experience of being productive outdoors, okay? So in doing the book, I wanted to make a very good manual, a big information dump for people who don’t try to run away from the woods. It’s not like, “Oh, you’re stuck in this dangerous place and you need to get out of here in a hurry,” but rather people that run toward the woods, that run toward wilderness, a manual and guidebook for them to be effective and be safe and develop a good cockiness when they’re outdoors.
Doing a TV show as a reporter and writer, I spend a lot of time going into the wilderness, going into the mountains, going into the woods, the swamps, whatever, with an objective in mind. There’s a thing I’m trying to do. Whether I’m going there ’cause I’m trying to take my kids out hunting, whether we’re going there ’cause we’re making a show, we’re going out to do something. To experience something, or see something. How do you do that effectively and avoid trouble? So in survival, I mean, it’s not just like, what do you do when the chips are down and everything’s gone bad, but how do you just conduct yourself? Meaning, what is the mindset that expert outdoorsmen have? What is the skillset they have? And then, what’s the tool kit they carry? And all the chapters… You can kinda get a sense for the book if you pay attention to how the chapters in the book flow. Where, if you take the water chapter for instance. All the chapters flow best case scenario to worst case scenario.
So the water chapter, begins at car camp and how much water do you bring, how do you transport it, how do you bring it, how do you treat it for long-term storage, what do you intake every day, what do you need for cooking, what do you need for cleaning, just how much water and how to move it. And then it goes through… It kind of flows through this idea of, okay, you’re using locally-sourced water and you have surface water available to you, what are the tools and methods you use to make that water safe? The worst case being all the way down to, there’s no surface water. You have no way to treat water. You don’t have any way to transport water, now what?
The food charter begins with how much food to pack, calorie-wise. What are good packing lists for an overnight trip? Week long trip, here’s a packing list of food. And it ends with cannibalism. Kind of a tongue-in cheek, like it’s somewhat of a joke, but it ends in cannibalism. So we’ve gone from best case to worst case, and it flows like that. And I think it flows like that because people that are outdoor practitioners usually are coming in under best case scenarios. We stop by REI and pick some stuff up. We go to Sportsman’s Warehouse and pick some stuff up. Trouble comes later. It doesn’t necessarily spring out of nowhere. It’s usually because we’ve made some bad decisions along the way.
Brett McKay: Well, let’s talk about just general stuff you can bring. That first chapter, you dedicate to kits that you should bring, gear and clothing you should bring to the outdoors. What’s your approach to just a basic kit that any person who’s gonna be out in the outdoors, whether they’re hunting or doing a day hike, what’s some good stuff to have with you to make your expedition not comfortable, but so you’re not having to resort to cannibalism eventually?
Steven Rinella: Yeah, yeah, me and the guys I work with, we all carry a kit, and just kind of a term we use, people are familiar with something called a survival kit. They’re familiar with a first aid kit. But this is like… We don’t precede it with any of those words. This is a kit, meaning it’s everything. I have a little bag, it’s like about the size of a coffee mug, maybe a little bit bigger than a coffee mug, and that thing comes with me everywhere, man. If we go on vacation… We go to Baja every year and spearfish with our kids, and I throw that thing in there. If I’m going on a day hike, I throw it in my bag, and it’s kind of like my thing I always carry with me. And it has stuff from fire-starting kit, water purification system, lots of little single-serving meds, insect repellent, sun screen, a light. I have a light that’s the size of a couple quarters stacked together, utility cord, zip ties, compass, whistle, signal mirror, wax dental floss dispenser with a heavy duty needle, a circle patch kit, all kinds of stuff I keep in there. And then depending on where I’m going, I have other envelopes I add to it. So in my gear, I have this drawer. I keep my kit in there, and I also keep all these sort of auxiliary envelopes.
And if I’m going to potentially… Let’s say it’s Southeast Alaska where it’s like everything’s soaking wet. It’s impossible to start a fire. I have an extra fire thing. I have an extra med thing, anything with firearms and stuff, a tourniquet, right? So just this thing that I know, and it saves a lot of packing chores. When I come home… It’s all my essentials. And when I come home, I put that thing away so it’s ready to go. And it really reduces my packing list ’cause my packing list is grab that bag, and I know what’s in that bag, and I don’t let that bag get depleted. And it makes it be that… It eliminates a lot of that, “Oh no, I forgot my light.” It’s not… It lives in there. So we explain that approach and then other similar kits, depending on what types of expeditions you’re on, other more advanced or specialized kits we get into. But like I said, I don’t know any serious outdoors men, outdoors women that don’t have that being a part of their thing. So that’s where we start the book. That’s where it all begins, man.
Brett McKay: So having that kit and that just makes… It makes going out in the outdoors a lot easier ’cause you have it ready, and it’s like, “I’m just gonna do a hike today.” You just pack that up. You don’t have to worry, “Do I have this? Do I have that.” You know you have it. You’re out.
Steven Rinella: Yeah, you don’t be like, “Man, I should grab a flashlight just in case something happens. I should grab a space blanket. Oh yeah, let me go grab a granola bar.” It’s like, “My bag is ready.” My buddy could be like, “Hurry up quick, something happened.” I’d be like, “Great”, and I’ll grab my bag and out the door.
And I’ve got my stuff. And then we get into everything else that you’d expect like tent selection, gear, how to build a pretty… How to build a very simple bullet-proof gear kit, not a little kit but a set of gear that’ll get you through 90% of the scenarios you might encounter in North America. And that takes some special understanding. But how to put together an assemblage of clothing, footwear, sleeping gear, cooking gear that you’re ready for 90 some percent of environments, locations that you could find yourself in.
Brett McKay: Well, speaking of clothing, what’s… Of course it’s gonna vary based on what you’re doing or what the climate is like, but what does an adaptable clothing kit look like? What do you recommend for an all around outdoor clothing kit?
Steven Rinella: Yeah, like I said, if you’re trying to meet that 90% thing, start with Merino wool base layers. I like Merino alot ’cause it doesn’t smell. I don’t know if you remember Capilene. It just reeks so bad. It reeks so bad you can’t even get the BO out of it when you wash it. So I like the way Merino just stays so comfortable, still keeps some insulating qualities when it’s wet, doesn’t start to smell. So starting with Merino, then like a good wool or synthetic field pant, then some kind of bullet-proof shell pant like a rain pant. And if you add a very thin lightweight down pant that you can wear between… That you can wear under that shell, which converts it into a snow pant. There you’ve got… Granted, it’s four layers. But on your legs, you’ve got a Merino base layer, a pair of field pants, a pair of puffy pants, synthetic, preferably, and a shell. There you are, like… Again, 90 some percent of the scenarios you could possibly find your… 95% of the scenarios you’d ever find yourself in in this continent; you’re comfortable. It’s just a great system.
And then likewise a similar… Similar thinking on tops. Then you get into other camp gear like a tent selection, sleeping pad selection, sleeping bag selection, where you’re just ready to go man. I have kind of my main thing and I keep… There’s a tote in my garage. I keep everything really organized. But my main stuff like this, just lives there, ’cause I know when I pack, I start with that box. I might need to grab a couple other things to specialize, and we cover like desert conditions, deep winter snow conditions, things you’d add on, but starts out with this like basic system, which is pretty easy to accumulate, and it just makes it that you’re ready to roll. You’re always gonna be… You’re always gonna be comfortable, you’re always gonna go in feeling ready to go, feeling prepared.
Brett McKay: What’s your recommendation on sleeping pads, ’cause I’ve had… I’ve been like experimenting with this. I’ve tried the foam pads. I tried the air mattress for backpacking, and last time I used the air mattress, it sprung a leak at one o’clock in the morning and I found myself just cold and on the ground. And then so I tried a backpacking cot which was okay, but it was kind of heavy. Like what’s your go-to?
Steven Rinella: Man, I like insulated inflatables. There’s some now… I’m a big fan of ones made by NEMO, and I carry patches for it. I used to always carry like the closed-cell foam Z-Rest RidgeRest type things. They’re pretty bulky. They’re good. They’re pretty bulky. When you’re on frozen ground, they’re not anywhere near ideal. And yeah, I do like the inflatable but you have to rethink how you manage it. You don’t sit out by the fire on it. What I usually carry when it’s cold, I carry an insulated inflatable and you need to treat it like… You need to be gentle with it man, you don’t crawl around on it. You don’t go on it with your boots. At bedtime when you’re getting ready to go down for sleep, you inflate that thing, and get it on your sleeping bag and in the morning you put it away. And then you’ll get, man, season after season after season out of it. As soon as you start doing stupid stuff with it, sitting on it out by the fire where some hot embers is gonna pop and blow a hole in it, you’re just gonna ruin it.
What I carry instead, is I take a chunk of a Z-Rest or a RidgeRest and cut off just about 18 inches of it. And that’s like a butt pad or a kneeling pad. And especially with the grounds frozen or snow, I carry that. I use that for sitting out by the fire. I use that for kneeling on the snow or on frozen ground. It’s just a small little thing. You can just tuck it, like tuck it inside your pack. And I use that for all that stuff that is… All that stuff that blows up your sleeping pad, I use that thing instead. And I keep my sleeping pad for what it is. ‘Cause it’s… When the ground is frozen and it gets down zero degrees, below zero, in the winter, staying warm is hard to do with a… One of those thin closed cell foam pads. So as much as they’re indestructible, they leave a little bit to be desired in my view.
Brett McKay: So in your chapter on water you have how to purify it and filter when you’re out in the outdoors. But one interesting things I took away from that was the debate between Camelback and Nalgene bottles. [chuckle] I’ve been the Camelback guy, but then you raised these objections or the cons of the Camel that I’ve experienced. I’m like, “These things suck. They’re leaking all the time. It’s hard to fill up.” And I think after reading this book, I think I’m gonna try Nalgene the next time I go backpacking. Is that what you go to? Is your go-to the Nalgene bottle?
Steven Rinella: Yeah. But you gotta remember I’ve lived most of my life in the northern tier states. The big like Camelback dudes are all down in like Utah, Arizona, where it’s just like a little bit warmer and at times very hot and dry. And so hydration is hard, as you know. So a lot of guys that I know that spend time in the desert where they’ve gotta be very mindful about water intake, and that’s kind of like top of mind all the time, they use them. And they’re like, “Yeah, man. They’re problematic, but I drink three times as much water. I don’t need to stop and get out my water bottle, I’m just sucking water all the time. And so that’s what I do.” I’m from the north like the… It’s just different. But it seems like every time I’m with someone on a backpacking trip that’s using the Camelback, there’s always a part of the trip where you go like, “Hey, is there supposed to be water dripping out of the bottom of your backpack?” [chuckle] And sleeping bags get wet and down gets wet, it’s just hard. I just don’t like them. I just don’t… It doesn’t seem bulletproof to me. The hoses freeze up, there’s always an issue.
I like to use… My water system, my general water system is I use a SteriPEN, so UV light to purify water. I use a Nalgene bottle and I use MSR dromedary, like a 2-quart collapsible, heavy heavy duty fabric bag, and that’s my… And I have a plastic cup, so that at a little seep or something hard to get into, where you can’t dip a Nalgene in there, I can scoop it up with a little cup and fill it and purify that way. I’m not filtering. So if there’s like debris and stuff I’m not getting the debris out besides letting it settle, but I’m purifying the water. That system would change depending, but that’s generally what I go with for water.
Brett McKay: Any advice on gear or apps to help people navigate in the wilds a little bit easier?
Steven Rinella: Yeah, there’s two things I live by now. For a long time, I was a GPS guy and I would use chips. Right, I would use a Garmin GPS. I always like the Montana 600, and still do, and I own one of them, and you get state-by-state chips that you can load in there. Now, I’ve just gotten away from it. Now I use my phone, I use an iPhone 10, with onX on it. OnX Hunt, and on onX Hunt I can download very detailed maps onto my phone where I’m going, and you can download maps five miles wide with like very good detail, down to maps that are 100 miles wide or 50 miles wide with lower detail. But it’s aerial imagery, or you can toggle back and forth between aerial imagery and classic topo, or aerial with Topo lines overlayed on it. It works without a cell signal, ’cause your phone has a GPS functionality built into it. So you can go out… You can take a full charge on your phone, put it on airplane mode, run onX maps, with the maps you downloaded of where you’re going. Your phone’s GPS works and you’ll get days worth of battery. I then carry a little external battery which I can get two more charges off of, and I could have that thing on for days and days, running it just like the a GPS, it’s so much easier to use.
Brett McKay: I’m gonna download that as soon as we get off of this conversation.
Steven Rinella: Dude it’s like…
Brett McKay: It sounds awesome.
Steven Rinella: Yeah, you pay for it but it’s not expensive. The other thing I use now that like a lot, is I carry a Garmin inReach, and what it is, is you can text, you can text through satellite. So no matter where you are on the planet, you can text and this also has an SOS button, you hold that SOS button down for I don’t know what it is, 20 seconds or something… I don’t know what it is. You hold the SOS button down, that message is getting out and it is sending your coordinates to someone. You can send pre-planned messages, so you can just type a bunch of messages ahead of time and every day you say, whatever. You can say to your husband or wife or whatever like, “Hey, I’m gonna text you at 5 o’clock man, if I don’t text you at 5 o’clock, something’s wrong.” And it just sends a pre-planned message. Or you can download an app on your phone, it’s called Earthmate, and then you can text using your phone through the inReach, ’cause if you’re using the inReach, you’ve gotta do that old style thing where you go like A-B-C click, and multiple clicks to hit every letter. But then you can just type text messages on your phone and it sends it via satellite through the inReach device, and that’s been just a… I have kids. I’m married, I have young kids. It’s hard being gone. That has been a real… That’s been a wonderful tool to have. And like I said, I’m like a tech-friendly person.
I don’t like tech to come in and ruin my experience or like create barriers between me and the natural world, but areas where it just comes down to safety and common sense and communication with my family, I’ll take it. And one of the things that makes this book different, just to kinda plug the book is there’s no survival book out there that does any kind of a job dealing with like modern tech and its applications for these purposes, and this book is exhaustive in it.
Brett McKay: Another thing you’ve gotta be worried about if you spend a lot of time outdoors is eventually you’re gonna have… Maybe have some sort of injury, whether that’s spraining an ankle, ’cause you fell, you tripped over a rock, or even more severe ones, what sort of first aid training do you recommend people take before they go out into the wild?
Steven Rinella: I’ve done a lot of it, right? I’ve done Wilderness First responder classes, I’ve done infant CPR, I’ve done CPR. It’s just hard to remember the stuff, man. Whatever you get, I just think you need to continuously brush up on it. And then best practices change in kind of a frustrating way. Maybe you learned CPR a while ago and, they found a better way to do it. But you’ve gotta revisit it all the time. If you tested me right now, tested me on the timing and procedures and best practices for everything in the book, I might even fail the test and we did the book, right? It’s just something you’ve gotta stay up on and study and memorize. I learned through this process that I need to do a better job with of myself, even like the importance of carrying a tourniquet, where to apply the thing? You’ve just gotta skim through and refresh your memory, it’s hard to memorize all that. Maybe some listener of yours has a photographic memory and they don’t need to do it, but I’ve just found that in reviewing it I’m like, “Oh man, I forgot. I forgot, the sequence for CPR.” So, I think it’s just something that takes training. I mentioned in there, we kinda talk about like a practice or discipline, right? It’s just like learning how to live, it’s learning how to live in a way that you’re reinforcing these information sets all the time.
Brett McKay: No, yeah these skills degrade. I mean I’ve noted… Like with me, like I’m not… I try to get out go camping, backpacking twice a year, and those are the two times a year where I start a fire with just nothing, with just a lighter and whatever I can find out. And every time I feel like I’m relearning how to do this. But I remember when I was a Boy Scout and I was camping like once a month for multiple nights, like starting to fire, rain, shine, it didn’t… I could do it, it was just super easy. Now, I’m like almost 40 years old, and like every time I feel like I’m re-learning how to make the wheel when I’m making a fire outdoors.
Steven Rinella: Yeah. I met a guy… I’m gonna start doing this with my kids. I met a guy that, he’s got teenagers, now and then when it’s raining, he makes them go out in the yard and start a fire, ’cause it’s like… There’s a thing I bring up… You know there’s this old thing in survival books, they always have the snares and dead fall section, right? And they always have a section about how to start a fire with a bow drill. I like to point out, you know who knows how to start a fire with a bow drill? People that start fires with the bow drills.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Steven Rinella: You are not going to… I’m just telling you right now, flat out, if you’ve never done that, and I took you and dumped you out in the woods and I told you, “Hey man, make me a fire with a bow drill,” you ain’t gonna do it. You are not going to do it unless it’s a thing you’ve decided to incorporate into your skill sets. And I think we try to in this book really point out which things is like, dude, this is the kind of thing you just gotta learn how to do. In a moment of despair is not the time to learn.
Brett McKay: Right. So yeah, it is something you continually practice.
Steven Rinella: Yeah, you live it. Like with wild edibles, man.
Brett McKay: Oh yeah, geez.
Steven Rinella: I’m into wild edibles just for the sake of wild edibles. I like to go out and pick berries, so I’m always… If I see a mushroom, I wanna identify the mushroom, if I see a berry, I wanna identify the berry. All the time. All the time. We’re just into it. We go do it for fun. I’ll ID mushrooms, ’cause I enjoy ID-ing mushrooms. That kind of stuff pays off.
Brett McKay: But you wouldn’t want an ID mushrooms the first time in a survival situation, ’cause you might eat something that kills you.
Steven Rinella: Oh, yeah. It’s almost laughable to think that you’ve never picked a wild mushroom, you have no idea about wild mushrooms, now you’re in a situation where you’re going hungry in the woods and now you’re gonna pick it up. [chuckle] It doesn’t work that way.
Brett McKay: So you’re a dad, any special considerations that you’ve thought of or you’ve learned or picked up along the way as introducing your kids to the outdoors?
Steven Rinella: You know, I’m always really careful about parenting advice. I always kinda wanna say I won’t know for 20 years how I did, I’ll just have to see how they turn out. But I am comfortable yanking them away from what they’re doing and making them engage with nature and making them come out with me even when they don’t want to go, and I’m comfortable keeping them out even when tears start to flow about cold toes and cold fingers. But with that said, I try very hard to not burn them out. So it’s like there’s a push and pull there, and I learned some… Looking at the way I was brought up, I kind of can’t believe that we didn’t get burned out. But me and my two brothers that I grew up with, were very very dedicated, and we got put through a lot. So I know you can put someone through a lot and not turn them off to the outdoors, but that’s one of the things I wonder about, what is too much? But like I said, man, I’ll tell them… They’ll be like, “I don’t wanna go.” And I’m like, “You’re going.” And I think that that’s probably a good idea.
Brett McKay: Yeah. You’re trying to set a pattern for them for the rest of their life.
Steven Rinella: Yeah. Yeah. And I don’t always ask them what they think.
Brett McKay: No. Right. [chuckle] Well Steve, this has been a great conversation, where can people go to learn more about your work?
Steven Rinella: Man, I would go to… Well, if you have a Netflix, you can check out MeatEater on Netflix. But I would really like if people went to our website, themeateater.com, where we have a whole… A podcast network, endless stream of articles and videos and how-to information. That’s the best place to go engage with MeatEater.
Brett McKay: Fantastic. Well, Steve Rinella, thanks for your time, it’s been a pleasure.
Steven Rinella: Hey man, thank you.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Steven Rinella. His new book is The MeatEater Guide to Wilderness Skills and Survival. It’s available on Amazon.com and book stores everywhere. You can find out more information about his work at his website, themeateater.com. Also check out our show notes at aom.is/outdoors, where you can find links to resources where we delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of the AOM Podcast. Check out our website at artofmanliness.com, where you can find our podcast archives, as well as thousands of articles written over the years, and if you like to enjoy ad-free episodes of the AOM podcast, you can do so on Stitcher Premium. Head over to stitcherpremium.com, sign up, use code MANLINESS at checkout for a free month trial. Once you’re signed up, download the Stitcher app on Android or iOS, and you can start enjoying ad-free episodes of the AOM podcast. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate if you take one minute to give us a review on Apple Podcast or Stitcher, it helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing this show with a friend or family member who you think will get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support. Until next time, this is Brett McKay, reminding you to not only listen to the AOM podcast, but put what you’ve heard into action.