For some of us, living deep in the woods for years on end is a dream. For some, it is the ideal lifestyle of peace and quiet; for others, it’s the only sane response to a world that has gone mad and increasingly dangerous.
But, uprooting your life and detaching from society to go live a monastic or hermit lifestyle deep in the woods is a major challenge.
It’s possible as I said, but it’s a big challenge. The wrong approach all but guarantees you will fail…
To make your dream a reality and help protect you from bad outcomes, I’m bringing you a primer of sorts that will tell you what you need to know to live in the woods comfortably for years on end.
You Will Need to Be a Legal Occupant of the Land
First things first, if you’re going to move out into the middle of the woods you need to be there legally.
I’m in no way advocating that you break the law, trespass, or fashion yourself into a semi-mythical ghost that haunts the forest and will be whispered about by locals ever after.
No, you need to do things right, and that means you need to own the parcel of land that you’re moving out to or become a legal occupant or tenant if the land belongs to somebody else.
That is entirely possible, in both cases, but you need to have your ducks in a row and be legal before you embark on this adventure.
Something else you have to contend with is possible laws constraining how you can live in your off-grid woodland residence.
I know, sounds crazy, but it’s true: your state and possibly your county as well might have strict laws governing everything from how your dwelling is built to requirements for being connected to water supplies, providing for sanitation in the form of waste disposal, and more.
Sure, it’s easy to say you’ll just hide out and to hell with what they think, but state authorities have a way of tracking people down who are breaking the rules.
You won’t necessarily run afoul of these problems, but you must take the time to research the relevant laws and if applicable building codes for your new dwelling.
Do You Need to Work?
Another entirely practical consideration that the vast majority of people I talk to completely overlook. Do you need to work for a living?
If you do, running off to live in the middle of the woods is going to be highly problematic in most cases unless you are willing to commute in and out of the woods for work.
I’m not saying it’s not possible, but I am saying that it is a major wrench in the works if you know what I mean.
On the other hand, it isn’t completely out of the question that you can still do business from your remote woodland retreat.
If you can set up an internet connection you can work remotely in a variety of fields, or maybe you make crafts, furniture, or some other useful objects in an attached workshop that you periodically schlep into town to sell.
Or, ideally, you are either independently wealthy or retired and have no need to commit to a traditional job.
In any case, make sure you’ve got the money game solved before you decide on this lifestyle choice.
Know Thyself: How Much Isolation Can You Handle?
Another chronically overlooked element, in my experience: how much isolation can you take?
Isolation is a funny thing in a lot of ways. For some of us, we can be surrounded by people in the middle of society and still feel isolated if we don’t have meaningful connections.
Other people feel content with a full heart knowing that there are just people out there, somewhere, who care about them that they do talk to periodically.
And, still for others, it is a matter of physical proximity.
If you’re uneasy when you are too far away from the mass of humanity or a potential good Samaritan, living in the deep, dark, and mysterious woods with absolutely no one else around to help you might be nerve-wracking bordering on terrifying.
Or maybe you are like me and crave genuine solitude. It all just depends, but it is important you have this conversation with yourself and that you answer the question with complete honesty.
In some cases it will be too expensive, or just too late, to turn back and you don’t want to find out you’ve been BS’ing yourself once you are out there.
Shelter Comes First
With all of this preamble ramble dealt with, it’s time to get down to the brass tacks of actually living, or you might say surviving, in the woods. Your first consideration is shelter.
Shelter is strictly defined as anything that will protect you from the elements and keep you from assuming room temperature.
That’s a pithy way to say “Keep you from dying from exposure”.
This could be something as simple as a tent or, keeping with the more primitive or mobile School of thought, something like a teepee, yurt, or similar.
These primitive shelters can prove to be highly effective and roomy enough to live in full-time, as many ancient cultures can attest.
Or you might go with a rustic structure like a hut, cabin, or cottage.
This is the ideal for most of us, and there is an undeniable appeal considering the idea that you’ll head out onto the land, chop and process your own wood, and after some days or weeks of hard work have an actual honest-to-God little house in the woods.
Again, totally doable, and plenty of people have done as much, but you must have a realistic appraisal of your skills and also the expense involved, if applicable.
You need tools, know-how, and more likely a big quantity of both in order to do a good job of it.
A shabby shelter is not only going to make you miserable but it might wind up getting you killed if it cannot adequately protect you from the elements.
You’ll Need Plenty of Food
You will, of course, need lots of food to survive. You need food to survive no matter where and how you live, for the record!
But out in the middle of the woods it will be an even more pressing matter.
The fanciful ideal is that you will hunt and gather a nutritious and all-natural diet of berries, seeds, edible plants, and wild game that you’ll grill up over an open fire.
Sure, can be done, in theory… to be honest it’s far more likely that all of those things will only ever be supplements to you stocking shelf-stable food to be prepared one way or the other.
The sad fact of the matter is that a genuine hunting and gathering lifestyle is incredibly difficult and draining, even in the most fertile and bountiful lands.
I’ve got bad news for you, nowhere, and I mean nowhere, in America is as fertile and bountiful as it was in past eras.
So practically speaking, this means you’ll need to resort to heading into town to pick up food assuming you cannot arrange for food to be delivered periodically.
This too can be done, but likely not from any of the usual service providers that we frequent online daily.
You might be able to set up routine deliveries or pickups through a trusted friend or family member, or just trek into town to hit the grocery and bring back some staples.
Both options are entirely viable, but if you’re planning on making a go of it purely living off the land, you had better practice the notion by participating in several long-haul camping trips or hunting trips beforehand.
What Will You Do for Water?
Water is an even more pressing matter than food, as far as necessities are concerned. Depending on where you live, acquiring that water could be easier or harder.
A large lake or river nearby might supply all the water that you could potentially ever need, but if you’re forced to draw from a stream it is highly likely that it will go dry from time to time.
No matter what kind of natural water source you are drawing from, you must have a way to filter and treat the water unless you want to get hammered with diseases and digestive ailments.
That woodland stream only looks crystal clear, when there is actually a dead moose decomposing in it a little more than a mile upstream!
Filtration can be accomplished using any number of natural or man-made methods, but filters don’t last forever and must be replaced or refurbished.
Boiling is also, as ever, a critical link in the purification chain when it comes to eliminating biological hazards and germs.
Another option is to catch rainfall, and if you live in a rainy place, this is certainly viable assuming you have adequate tankage to hold lots of surplus water.
Rainwater typically needs treatment just like any other water source, though…
Lastly, it certainly is possible to have a well drilled near your home. The problem is that modern deep wells require pumps and those pumps need electricity.
It isn’t out of the question that you could get electrical service to your woodland retreat, but chances are you’ll be responsible for providing that too.
I’ll talk more about that in one of the following sections, so just keep that in mind for now.
Intimate Knowledge of Local Plants and Animals Will Help
No matter how far you’re going when you live out in the woods, obtaining a thorough and really intimate knowledge of all of your local plant, animal, and insect species will help immensely.
For starters, this will help you determine which ones are dangerous and which ones aren’t, which ones are good for eating and which ones are not, which ones could potentially infest your home, and which ones won’t.
And so on and so forth, you see where this is going…
Believe me, you wouldn’t be the first to make a dire mistake concerning the edibility of a plant or mushroom, and if you’re lucky you will only be doubled over with muck coming out of both ends later.
At worst, you could be delirious, suffering from seizures, or lying in a coma with brain swelling. Not a good outcome!
Understanding the life cycle and actual ecology of all the various organisms in your local environment will also inform you about the health and also opportunities of the environment.
Recognizing tracks might lead you to food or help you avoid danger. Beneficial herbs could help you prepare better meals or sustain better health.
If you were all about living in the middle of nature, you’d better be able to live in harmony with and exploit it. Failing to do so is vacationing, not living.
Make Sure You Account for Waste Management
A huge consideration for anybody living off the grid is handling all that waste!
This can be food scraps and trash, sure, but more importantly, it is your own bodily waste in the form of urine and feces.
You don’t need anything fancy to deal with this stuff, but it has to be effective and it has to be maintained religiously.
Cutting corners on this front means that it is only a matter of time until you become ill, and you’ll probably be totally miserable the entire time before that.
You might resort to something as primitive as an open slit trench or pit latrine, or as rustic as an actual outhouse.
If you don’t want to give up all modern conveniences, make use of a composting toilet so that your waste can be turned into a beneficial compost (humanure) that can help you grow things that you need.
But, if you think you can just be a nasty little grubber living out in the woods, think twice: you can come down with horrific illnesses or parasites from improper waste management, and any animal that gets into your leavings can spread it all over the place, greatly increasing the chance that you’ll get sick later.
Whatever the case may be, this is also something you’ll need to look into before you commit because every state and indeed many counties have their own rules and regulations regarding residential waste disposal.
How Will You Heat Your Shelter?
Unless you live in a place that is truly temperate all year round, you’re going to have to deal with cooler temperatures and probably the genuine fury of winter.
This isn’t just a matter of comfort: exposure kills more people in the wilderness than absolutely all other factors put together, so you’ve got to get this right.
Generally speaking, unless you are fortunate enough to have full-time electricity at your woodland abode, you’re going to need a fireplace or a wood stove.
Either can work, but you’ll need to have a huge supply of firewood to get you through the cold times and the cold days.
This firewood must be chopped, appropriately-sized, and seasoned and this will take up a huge amount of effort at the appointed time of the year.
If you live in a place with a bitterly cold winter and omit this step, you will likely die.
But beyond that, keeping your shelter warm as a matter of keeping an insulated with the right materials, busting drafts by closing up cracks and crevices, and keeping moisture to a minimum by appropriate ventilation.
Your body heat will do a little bit to warm a smaller space, and combined with appropriate clothing can make all the difference in the world in your comfort and survivability.
Something else you should definitely keep in mind if you’re building a more elaborate cabin is to set yourself up for success by positioning windows to take advantage of the sun during the day and then using thermally dense materials like stone flooring to help that heat radiate out slowly over time.
And don’t forget about a good rug! A rug or carpeting can keep the cold floor or earth from stealing heat out of your body.
Bonus points if it’s a bear skin rug, but you don’t have to go that far.
Be Prepared to Deal with Lots of Pests
It is difficult to impress on people who have never been out that far just how many insect and rodent pests you’ll be dealing with deep in the woods.
We’re talking clouds of mosquitoes that could carry away a child. Immense wasp and hornet nests that will boggle the mind. Mice and squirrels in teeming abundance.
All these things, and more, will await to ruin your day and infest your shelter. This isn’t just an annoyance either. Many of them can transmit diseases or hurt you directly.
They can spoil and steal food. They can parasitize you, potentially inflicting you with such devastating diseases as Lyme disease in the case of ticks.
You are definitely not in Kansas anymore, and you’re definitely not in the suburbs.
Accordingly, you’ll be sharing your surroundings and much of your life with these tiny woodland occupants.
Chances are you won’t be able to rely on an exterminator to help you, so instead you’ll need to resort to DIY pest control methods and holistic tactics.
Getting rid of pests usually means employing deterrents and using traps to depopulate when necessary.
For tiny animals like mice, chipmunks, and squirrels conventional rodent traps work well.
Larger creatures can be caught with snares or cages if you have access to them and insects can be easily with using over the counter or naturally made poison bait or glue traps.
Tar, resin, and sap often work great for catching insects trying to sneak in through chinks in the wall or around windows.
And don’t forget the power of fragrances and other materials that can drive animals away.
Raccoons, for instance, despise the smell of many spices like cinnamon and will typically stay far away from them. Different materials will work on different animals.
If you’re able to source these materials from the surrounding environment, so much the better!
It’s Still Possible to have Modern Tech and Luxuries
Despite the notion of going back in time when you’re living out in the woods, it is entirely possible to still make use of modern luxuries and technology. Indeed, you should!
With a little bit of planning in the right equipment, you can generate your own electricity or even enjoy an internet connection and cell phone communications.
You can supply it using a generator and being very miserly with your fuel.
Alternately, a good solar setup could provide all the power you need whenever the weather is good.
You’ll have to constantly work to keep trees and branches from blocking it, but it’s viable in some places.
With the right antenna, you could make use of satellite or cellular-based internet, and then assuming you can keep a cell phone charged, you’ll have access to email, text messaging, and more the same as usual.
This could be a great benefit when it comes to keeping in touch with people or alleviating boredom, but it’s also a tremendous lifesaver in a genuine emergency!
This technology has gotten more affordable, more compact, more capable, and more adaptable than ever before.
Unless you genuinely want to live the life of a luddite, which is fine, consider making use of the choicest bits in your woodland retreat.
Have a Plan for Contingencies
The very last thing I can tell you when it comes to living in the woods for years, and trying to do so comfortably, is to have a plan for all eventualities…
- Does anyone know where you are?
- Is anyone coming to look for you if they don’t hear from you in a certain length of time?
- What will you do if you get desperately sick or injured?
- Do you know first-aid and can you treat yourself as the patient?
- What will happen if your shelter is knocked down or destroyed?
- Do you know how to defend yourself from a crazed psychopath or a large and dangerous predator?
- Do you have the means and the will?
All of these questions and more need answers, and it’s in your best interest to have a plan.
You don’t have to cover every single contingency you can think of, but you need to cover the most important or the most severe.
And once you’ve done that, once you’ve laid the groundwork for responding to trouble, you really will be able to live more comfortably in the woods because you won’t be wondering “what if..?”
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.