Interview with Cody Lundin: one of Americas top survival instructors

I have to say that I think Cody Lundin is great. I love his books, as they’re straight-forward, well written, and they’re full of knowledge and advice. I’ve enjoyed his TV shows, and in our conversations now and then over the past 10 years, he’s always been a gentleman, helpful, and accommodating.

Cody owns and runs the Aboriginal Living Skills School in Arizona, which he established in 1991. He’s one of America’s best-known survival experts, having done TV shows and two books: 98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your A** Alive and When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need to Survive When Disaster Strikes.

Cody Lundin
Cody Lundin

He lives in a passive solar home that he designed himself, off-grid and free from any utility bills. He collects rainwater, composts waste and thoroughly enjoys the off-grid life. Cody is known for always having bare feet and being in shorts, which I can relate to.

The following answers are from a recent interview with Cody:

How did you get into Aboriginal skills; what’s your story?

I’ve always been interested in doing more with less. I experimented with primitive skills in the early 1980s and pursued it more formally in the late 80s. This latter included modern wilderness survival skills, urban preparedness and homesteading. I started my survival school – the Aboriginal Living Skills School – in 1991. At that time there was no YouTube, no Facebook, no social media, etc. You had to work hard to market yourself. You had to earn what you were given and prove your field credibility. You had to be good at your craft.

It was a beautiful time when survival skills were “fringe” in the world and held integrity. There was little exploitation from the media, and people knew not to drink their piss, jump off cliffs, or go after killer bees in a garbage bag. While my “story” is largely the same as it was 27 years ago, I am currently much more occupied correcting the lack of context and credibility generated by media regarding survival skills.

What’s the most important lesson that you’ve learned from your time in the wilderness?

Nature is the boss, and cocky people die.

Vast horizons
Vast horizons

Have you ever been lost? If yes, where, when and how did you find your way?

Anyone who has spent time in the real wilderness has been lost. I was nine years old the first time I was lost in the mountains. I was living in Europe at the time and was skiing in Austria on vacation with my family. I had been skiing solo most of the day, and as the sun started to set, I saw a sign on the slopes that said “Germany”. As that’s where I lived, my nine-year-old mind skied into Germany. Needless to say, it got dark, and I was lost.

I eventually found a small Gasthaus on the slopes and beat on the door crying. I woke up the owner, who was an older lady and who brought me inside, gave me soup, and called a snowcat to take me to my very anxious parents. What could have easily been a kid dying of hypothermia in a winter wilderness had a happy ending. I have never forgotten that woman.

Where’s your favorite place to be and your least favorite place to be, and why?

My favorite place is my homestead; there are lots of good memories here and I continue to create more. On the flip side, I enjoy visiting cities, but I’m not a fan of being around them too long.

What’s your most used piece in your kit and why?

It depends on the intention of my training. Due to the incredible landscape variations in Arizona, I teach desert survival and winter survival, at one time both within a 48-hour period. The polarities of dealing with hypothermia and hyperthermia require flexibility in teaching methodology and gear.

What do you think is your most versatile piece of equipment and why?

It’s been known in the anthropological record for some time that “fire” and “cutting edges” are master tools that have literally built civilizations. There are thousands of tasks that these two items – alone and together – can accomplish for the survivor or the everyday person.

Exploring the wilderness
Exploring the wilderness

What “Golden Rule” do you live by?

Holding integrity. If you lose your principles, you lose your power.

What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?

That I’m not a victim of circumstance.

Of all the places you have traveled to, what place, in particular, stands out? And why?

I love the natural world, so they all stand out, they all have their place. From the jungles to the deserts, we live on a very beautiful and amazing planet. The learning will never stop.

What do you think are the most common error or misconceptions that people have/make about survival training?

Context. The failure to recognize that there are many forms of self-reliant training, each with their own intention, context, and content. Most people, especially mainstream media, lump all survival skills into one arena. Vague and inaccurate terms such as “survivalist,” “outdoor expert,” or “adventurer” are terms that have no clear-cut definition. They are impossible to vet to see if the would-be instructor is full of [it] or not in the experience they claim to have.

Imagine if I told someone I was a “city expert.” After the look of disbelief, the person would ask what I was an expert in, as the city environment has thousands of possibilities for being an expert. Proper context defines proper content. In the case of wilderness survival skills, improper context, thus improper content, kill people. So-called TV survival shows are famous for this misinformation. They have destroyed proper context worldwide without even knowing it. You don’t help a lost day hiker to survive by showing them how to kill a “wild” boar with an atlatl.

What’s your favorite wild food and why?

A few species of cactus fruit. Outrageous flavor, high sugar content, moisture, brilliant colors, no watering or care necessary, and free.

Cody Lundin in action
Cody Lundin in action

What’s your favorite non-wild food and why?

Everything. I love food.

What’s the worst food you’ve eaten and why?

I have never actually eaten s**t, but I ate a grub the size of my thumb in Ecuador that more than likely tasted like s**t.

I thoroughly enjoyed both your books and bought enough of them to give as presents for family and friends.

Are there any plans for a new book? it’s been a while and I’m sure you’ve got some more to share with us all. If you are/would write another one, what would the general theme be?

I do have plans for more books. The general theme, of course, is self-reliance. I have a few rough ideas, but nothing solidified that would make sense at this time.

If you could spend a day with anyone (alive or dead), who would it be and why?

I have always wanted to go back in time and spend a day with a tribal person in Arizona. Not just to see how they did skills, but to see what their mindset was like, who they were, and what it took, physically, emotionally, and otherwise to live in an arid region. I love training in deserts as they lack resources.

A lack of resources is always the foundation of all survival scenarios. It could be a lack of oxygen, heat, cold, water, food, clothing, fuel, or the many thousands of things that a human can need for survival. Native peoples living in arid regions of the world were some of the most highly skilled peoples at doing more with less. I would love to go back in time, hang out, and learn.

Who are your influences in your work and life?

I have many, many teachers in the survival world. Some of my greatest influences are Mors Kochanski (boreal survival) and Dave Ganci (desert survival). I was fortunate enough to be able to train with them (and others) for quite some time very early in my career.

They are professionals and straight shooters who don’t [BS], so I was able to build a solid foundation in the proper context – thus content – of various forms of survival training. This is very difficult to do today with all of the phony crap (people and gear) flooding the field of survival training.

What’s your favorite way of relaxing?


Have you got any exciting new things coming up that you can tell us about?

Absolutely, but I can’t spill the beans yet……

Who have you found inspiring and why?

Anyone who repeatedly has the courage to tell the truth and be true to themselves.

What’re your 5 top tips for anyone starting to get into the great outdoors?

Know your limits physically, mentally and emotionally. Understand how Search and Rescue works and be able to activate it when necessary. Know how to dress for hot and cold weather. Don’t take unnecessary risks. Have along a survival kit for your bioregion and know how to use it.

Cody Lundin sharing his knowledge
Cody Lundin sharing his knowledge

A huge thanks to Cody for taking the time to answer questions and share some wisdom with us.

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jack-beckett is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival