Mandrake is a freelance author with an interest in the outdoors and wilderness survival.
Living Off the Land
I've always been one of those who has a romantic infatuation with the idea of living a simple and peaceful life, off the land, with nothing more than a pack full of useful items and a go-getter desire for adventure. I've spent many years plotting and planning for such an adventure, slowly training my body and mind for it, and writing many strategic plans.
I've heard all the naysayers and read all of the horror stories, but I've also read success stories, and I've come to the conclusion that such a life can be lived. Mind you, I am not talking about a complete and total separation from civilization – that is an impossible dream. I am talking about living as simple as possible, as free as possible, beside civilization, and with the full intent of having contact with it on a limited but consistent basis.
Why Would I Want To Live Such A Life?
It's not because I dislike people that I would desire such a life; on the contrary, I love my fellow man, but rather, I am extremely dissatisfied with what most modern societies consider "a good life." I am not one who finds fulfillment and satisfaction in owning many unnecessary possessions, playing with the latest high-tech toy, staring at a lighted box with talking heads, and all the other things which are supposed to entertain my supposedly simple mind.
I am also rather uncomfortable with the concept that I somehow owe society something and that I ought to be a productive member of it, on its terms, or else face the wrath of that supposedly benevolent master! How can you owe society a debt when you never asked for that debt, and what if you do not agree with what it has become and the direction in which it is going?
As far as I am concerned, the only thing I owe the order built by men is a few of my own thoughts because frankly, all that we have been given by order of men has been built upon thoughts, and I don't have to agree with those thoughts, nor take them for my own.
I am as free to have my own thoughts as all of those men and women who have gone before me and at no great debt to any of them. Now, expressing those thoughts is another matter, but then I have yet to see a society that truly believes all individuals have a right to express their own thoughts, for we are attempting to censor such things at every turn and under every supposed good intent that is imaginable.
I am also offended by the concept that self-proclaimed intellectuals and do-gooders have a right to force my compliance with the way they feel I ought to live: which is within and according to the societal structure they have molded. I just want to be left alone to enjoy God's Creation on my terms and His; if that makes the lovers of this world perceive me as an anti-social, then so be it. As I said, I do not have a problem with the people; I have a problem with their master.
Basically, I just don't believe everything that others put themselves through for the sake of a home, a piece of land, a car, a piece of paper that states you've read some books and understood them, and other material acquisitions are worth most of my life and experience in this world. I only get to live this life once, so why am I spending all of my time chasing abstract things like fiat money or trying to acquire possessions that will only be rummaged through and dispersed or sold when I die old and miserable, having seen and experienced one-billionth of what I could have? Am I doing it because society requires it of me in order that I might not be punished by that same society? Yes!
In reality, all I really need to do is grow old and die and maybe even pay taxes if I make enough to have that annoying practice forced upon me. Other than that I only truly require the basics: food, water, shelter, warmth, clothing, hygiene, medicine, security, and some form of social interaction (the nature of man is not one of solitude). If I can live such a life in a self-sustaining manner and supply the ever-hungry modern society with just a little bit of something "extra," then perhaps they will consider leaving this simple-minded soul alone to revel in his own fancies.
As I said, I have been toying with this concept for years and on every level imaginable: philosophical, sociopolitical, spiritual, practical, etc. You name it, and I have thought about it in contrast to the subject of this article! That doesn't make me correct, but it does mean I've probably placed more thought into these things than the vast majority have even cared to.
How to Do It
After years of racking my head trying to find a way in which I can live the way I desire without offending the beast of modern society or giving it an excuse to wrap me in its constrictive grip where it might swallow me whole, I have come up with several satisfactory and workable solutions. I am not going to go into details, lest my master squash my plans before I even begin to strike out on my own, but I do have some practical advice for others who have similar feelings as myself.
First, you need to understand that you are not going to live completely off-grid and separate from civilization – it isn't going to happen! There isn't anywhere to go where you will not be invaded by some modern society except perhaps the subterranean world or outer space, so you need to understand that total separation from civilization is not a reasonable expectation. Modern society will encroach upon you, and you will encroach upon modern society. You are going to cross paths with the dominant order, and there are also some decent benefits to that dominant order that you are going to want to keep at arm's length for those times in which you may wish to have access to those benefits (emergency medical help, for example).
You will also want to use common sense when developing your plan. Any plans you may have that include running naked through the woods or squatting in abandoned urban structures are frankly idiotic! If you do illegal things, you will get yourself arrested, so you do have to have at least some semblance of what is acceptable to the dominant society surrounding you if you wish for it to leave you alone. If you act like an animal, you will be treated as such when others come upon you. Man is a social creature by nature, so you have to accept that there will always be some behavioral expectations of you by others.
Your plan should be one that works within the boundaries of the law and considers avoiding the treatment of those who have been pegged as poor, uneducated, or nonconformist. You have to look like you belong to the club, you are not a criminal, and you don't need help forced upon you to lift you out of the misery you must surely be in. In short, you do not want to give the self-proclaimed intellectuals and do-gooders any excuse to reform you or to start playing "fairy tale princess dress-up" with you as their featured doll baby!
It needs to also be understood that you aren't going to be able to just jump right into this. If you try strapping a backpack on your back and heading out tomorrow without planning, training, and acquiring the skills, knowledge, and experience you need to succeed in your endeavor, you will fail! You should expect to spend many years planning for your simple life, which will give you time to not only prepare for the execution of your plans but also to discover whether or not you actually want to go through with them. Many people think they want something, but once they find out what all they need to do in order to attain it, they quickly become disinterested.
I would also suggest that you take many extended vacations away from the dominant social order to enable you to properly conclude whether or not you truly believe what you think you feel – the heart isn't made for thinking, and your brain might not happen to agree with it. You might just find out that you really do love indoor plumbing, air conditioning, and cheeseburgers more than you love the degree of freedom you are required to surrender in order to have those things.
You will also want to put something into society; society is a thief that must be paid or it will take what it believes it is owed. You've got to have an economy no matter how small you can make your budget (and even if it is nonexistent), and you've got to provide the dominating social order with a service, product, or information in order to be deemed a non-threat. You need to be able to show that you are offering something and that you are able to sustain yourself in the way of life you have chosen, or society will deem you a burden or threat to its existence. If at all possible, you want to provide a product or service which makes your way of life a necessity so that a reasonable explanation can be given for your chosen way of living. You do not want to be seen as a parasite feasting upon the benefits of civilization and taking more than you provide, so you have to give something, and you also have to take as little as possible.
Any plans that include staying in one place for too long or building a log cabin in the remote wilderness need to be tossed away right now! No one owns the land that God made, but several billion people and bureaucrats will adamantly disagree with your view. Even public lands are considered to be owned by the whole of a society and are regulated accordingly, so don't plan on building any permanent structures or resting your head in any one spot for too long – you will have to be nomadic by necessity!
Then, there are the basic skills, knowledge, and experiences that you will require. You are going to have to get out and travel, hike, and camp in all weather and seasons and learn to exist safely and comfortably under such conditions. You will need basic survival skills, rope and thread-making skills, experience with tailoring (to mend your clothes), and the ability to procure food and medicine from the land in a free yet legal manner.
You'll want to become an expert at plant identification, the collection, preparation, and use of plants for food and medicine, and have excellent skills at fishing and the hunting of small game. You'll also need to understand seasons, migratory patterns, and as much about the wildlife, environment, and geography of the region you intend to travel throughout as you possibly can. If you can not provide yourself with free food, clean water, and basic medicine without stealing or relying on the dominant society, your plan is doomed to failure!
You want to make sure that everything is done within the law, or you are asking for a disruption in your plans. Breaking the law will attract unwanted attention, cause you problems, and maybe even result in unintended injury or loss by yourself or another. It is difficult to figure out, but there are still ways to live off of and use what God gave us freely without paying a man for it and without breaking any of man's laws. Familiarize yourself with the laws of the land!
Next, you need to consider safety and social networking. If you are by yourself, then there is no one to help you when you need it most. You either have to find a small group of people (no more than 2-3 individuals) who share your enthusiasm, or you will have to develop some clever alternatives. The very best thing you could do is find others who share your dream, as this will increase everyone's chances of success as well as their safety; it will even enable you to divide up learning and then teach one another what you have learned as individuals.
Networking with others can also increase the potential means by which to obtain the economic resources required to replace equipment, clothing, and perishable items that would be nice for the group to have (toilet tissue, for example). A community is not a bad thing, especially if you agree with that community's objectives and what it holds dear.
You might be thinking that you will never find such individuals, and you may well be right, but you need to remember that you are not the first individual to conceive of such a wild and daring dream. Many have had these same thoughts on many different levels, and as I said at the beginning of this article...some have already succeeded.
Finally, there is your travel plan. You have to have your travel plans worked out in advance, so you know where to be and when. Perhaps you want to hike up and down the Appalachian Trail, shoot across the American Discovery Trail, detour up the Continental Divide Trail, backtrack and then rejoin the American Discovery Trail before finishing up a lengthy multi-year adventure by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail?
Maybe you want to migrate throughout a specific region? Maybe you are even thinking of stopping in at a few spots along the tour route of your favorite band or checking out a few of those festivals you've heard so much about. Whatever your idea might be, you've got to have a detailed plan worked out in advance, or you are going to create problems in addition to the difficulties you would have encountered anyway.
Ultimately, the secret to success is in planning, learning, training, and then testing the practicality of your endeavor. Do lots of research, learn much, gain as much experience as possible, take small steps, do practice runs, and start slowly living the life that you desire until one day, you find yourself actually living that life.
I know my suggestions don't sound like what some might call "true freedom," but frankly, if you are expecting the freedom enjoyed by wild animals, then you had better be prepared to be tranquilized, killed, or imprisoned when you cross paths with those who think modern society is just dandy because that is what happens to wild animals!
If you want to live in peace, you've got to make compromises. The best you can hope for is to live beside the modern world, and if you do it correctly, no one is going to think you are insane for doing so because, frankly, they won't even know that is what you are doing.
Techno Hobo on March 31, 2020:
lusa on June 15, 2018:
best article ever on matter!! thanks for the tips!
Drew on November 11, 2016:
I loved the idea of the article, "How to live out of a backpack." The simple simplicity of the title caught my ear from the gecko, but then I started to read... I've read a lot and I'm one for all kinds of styles. I started to to wince once you started writing things such as, "After years of racking my head trying to find a way in which I can live the way I desire without offending the beast of modern society or giving it an excuse to wrap me in its constrictive grip where it might swallow me whole." I understand your trying to break out as a writer, but don't fall into the cliche pitfall trap so many inspiring writers and bloggers have and the misfortune of doing. It loses many straight away. Keep your chin high, continue writing, and you will be on the path to greatness. Thanks for the read!
small wombat on March 27, 2015:
Well Said, All.
So, in essence i came to the same conclusions sometime mid october 2006, and bought myself a one-way ticket to Kuala Lumpur, a backpack and have been living out of it (although i've changed several backpacks) ever since.
As you well understand, living totally off the grid so to speak, is ridiculous. you still need to feed and clothe yourself, and so require work of some sort. Concerned also with environmental/ecological/ethical societal malpractices, i've also chosen not to drive, further inhibiting, (or exhilirating) my means of getting from A to B.
Naturally you also have to be nomadic, owing to choosing to not buy or rent land of some description in your travels.
Kate Loving Shenk from Lancaster PA on August 25, 2014:
Agree-seems counter productive to reject modern society. Best to detach from it, and contribute your greatest gifts!
Jennifer Arnett from California on June 06, 2013:
"As I said, I have been toying with this concept for years and on every level imaginable: philosophical, sociopolitical, spiritual, practical, etc."
I too have wrestled with the opposing forces of society and freedom. I desire a simple life but, by default, have been on the track towards the other side. What do you do when your lifestyle goes against your conscience everyday? It is a war that will never end. Maybe there are those of us who are to be the Kiplings, John Muirs, Thoreaus, of our day. You are not alone, we are few, but there are others out there that think like you do.
In some ways I have made peace with it by spending increasing amounts of time exploring as well as trying to live as a minimalist. Freedom is inside, no matter what happens out there.
Have you done any long term travel? The freedom it provides may be of interest to you. You become a citizen of nowhere, a member of no society, always an outsider. You do whatever you want on your own terms.
Land is super cheap in Alaska, you could buy your own mountain for nothing. Plus, the government pays you to live there. One thing that is fantastic, is people grocery shop with a riffle strung over their shoulder. I've seen it.
Jonathan Edwards' Resolution #17: Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
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Mandrake_1975 (author) from Pennsylvania on October 12, 2012:
Anarcho-primitivism is the name for what you speak of. I have very peaceful and passive anarcho-primitivist tendencies, as I feel that "civlization", at least in its modern form, fails to provide what it promised if we were to grant it the surrender of our individual liberties which it demands as payment for its supposed benefits. Perhaps you might find the likes of individuals like John Zerzan intriguing?
Scott on December 22, 2011:
Nice to hear someone else voicing the same opinions that I have regarding modern society. It is my own personal beleif that we made a massive mistake when we moved away from hunter gather society.