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Thomas J. Elpel

PO Box 697
Pony, MT 59747
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Thomas J. Elpel
Author, Builder, Educator, and Conservationist

About Tom: Résumé | Books | Videos | Programs & Classes | Articles | News | Blog
Back to Nature: Experiential Education | Wilderness Survival | Botany | Conservation
Sustainable Living: Green Building | Green Economics | Green Energy

Thomas J. Elpel with in buckskins with bow.

      "As a primitive-skills expert, author, entrepreneur and eco-philosopher, Elpel marches to the beat of his own buckskin hand-drum. Though his survival skills equal or exceed those of the more famous survivalists on TV, and though the philosophy behind his practice gives him a depth Bear Grylls and his ilk can only dream of, Elpel flies well below the mainstream radar. He's the Montana outdoorsman's version of those groundbreaking rock bands that inspire countless others but are too far ahead of the curve to sell many records themselves."

-Aaron Teasdale
Survive and Advance
Montana Headwall Magazine

Wilderness Survival Living
Extreme Sport? Or something deeper...

      On the surface, wilderness survival as recreation seems like an extreme sport. You go camping, purposefully underprepared, leaving behind the gear that normal people consider essential. Try camping in the rain without a tent or tarp to keep dry, or improvise a way to stay warm when you have neither matches or a sleeping bag. Go without food in the hope of finding edible plants. Go camping without weapons, hoping to improvise and kill something with sticks and rocks. Leave it all behind and walk into the wilds with little more than your bare hands and the hope of sustaining yourself from there. As an extreme sport, wilderness survival living often means being cold, hungry, exhausted, and maybe a little crazy. Why would any person in their right mind want to leave the comforts of home to endure all that?

Participating in Nature: Wilderness Survival and Primitive Living Skills. by Thomas J. Elpel.       To a certain extent I do enjoy wilderness survival as an extreme sport. Life at home can become mundane and unstimulating, especially as a writer, spending hundreds of hours at the keyboard. I reach a point when there is nothing comfortable about being comfortable. Comfort becomes toxic, and to recover I need to walk in the wilds, to feel alive, and to put myself in a situation where I am forced to struggle a bit to be adequately comfortable. Sometimes I even hunger to feel hungry. When food is just something I put in my mouth, and I no longer really appreciate it or need it, then I want to walk on the wild side long enough to feel genuine need for sustenance. As with most extreme sports, wilderness survival is about feeling the thrill of being alive by testing one's limits, if only a little bit.

Art of Nothing: Canoe Camping on a song and paddle. DVD with Thomas J. Elpel and Kris Reed.       Given my philosophical bent, I think my need for adventure stems in part from living too much in my head. Physical discomfort helps get me out of my head to reconnect with the real world. Jumping into an ice-cold mountain lake almost brings me back to my senses. In practice, I am inherently cautious, and my wilderness survival adventures fall well within my capabilities. When I push myself, it is to learn new skills, to become more self-sufficient and able to have greater experiences with less gear.

Thomas J. Elpel with Neal Tyagi.       On a deeper level, I believe that wilderness survival skills could be critical to our survival as a species. I don't mean that future generations will have to go back to the Stone Age and eke out a living with their bare hands. Rather, it is essential for our species to remain grounded in the real world. We are at risk of getting lost in a virtual world, with whole generations plugged into an artificial version of reality, disconnected from nature and the physical realm. Without a connection to the land, people are unable to understand cause and effect, to know where electricity comes from when they flip on a light switch, or to know where meat and milk comes from beyond the grocery store. How can we manage our natural resources sensibly when the public doesn't understand where their food, water, materials, and energy come from? The future we create must be based on physical reality, and to get there, people must be grounded in physical reality.

      The bottom line is that the more civilization becomes removed from nature, the more essential immersive experiences like wilderness survival living become. There is no better way to stay grounded than to live a hand-to-mouth existence, eking out a survival living with little more than your bare hands.

Adventures with Thomas J. Elpel

Wilderness survival skills walkabout and camping trip.

      Looking for the adventure of a lifetime? Tom is always thrilled for the chance to get out of the office to go trekking some place new, and he loves taking people out to experience nature on its own terms, often with very little gear. Be sure to read our camping journals!

      With few exceptions, Tom's canoe trips and walkabouts are not structured like classes, nor is there a fee to participate, nor does anyone get paid. It is just something Tom likes to do with friends, family members, former students of Green University® LLC, and pretty much anyone else who is sufficiently physically fit and wants to come along.

Group canoe float and camping trip on the Jefferson River.       You are especially welcome to join us if you happen to be experienced in wildernes survival, nature awareness, and/or tracking skills, and you think you have something to contribute to the experience.

      Skills or no skills, just click on over to our Contact Page and send us an e-mail to tell us about yourself, what your background is, and why you would like to join us for one of our outings. Please keep in mind that these experiences are largely unscheduled ahead of time, so you may have days, rather than weeks, to make the necessary arrangements to get here.

     Tom occassionally joins wilderness survival treks through other schools as an opportunity to share what he knows, and to pick up new skills and new experiences. He is always open to novel invitations, although exceedingly busy and thus not always available to come.

Past and Present Adventures

Missouri River Corps of Rediscovery
A Five-Month Paddling Adventure (2019)

Carp Hunting on the Upper Missouri River
We do this trip approximately every other year

Jefferson River Canoe Trail Paddle and Campout
An annual event for the Jefferson River Chaper of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation

Yellowstone River Expedition
500 Miles on Montana's Yellowstone River (2023)

Paddle Back in Time on the Jefferson River
Annual welcome adventure for incoming students at Green University® LLC

See also: Tom's Camping Journals

Participating in Nature: Wilderness Survival and Primitive Living Skills. by Thomas J. Elpel.
Interesting Stuff? Check out
Participating in Nature
Wilderness Survival and Primitive Living Skills


Mr Elpel,

Primitive Living, Self-Sufficiency, and Survival Skills. by Thomas J. Elpel.       About 6 years ago I picked up a copy of Primitive Living, Self-Sufficiency, and Survival Skills in a chain bookstore and my life changed. I was 22 at the time and, as many 22 year old former boy scouts, I thought I knew everything about the wilderness. Thankfully, my arrogance never got me in trouble and left me quickly when I realized I had barely scratched the surface of what I thought I had a firm grip on.

      I was working as a 911-operator at the time and your book made for difficult reading because I constantly wanted to escape the confines of the office and go wander in the woods. Something about your presentation and writing style grabbed my attention and showed me things that other "survival" manuals had failed to do time after time.

      I've come a long way in the past 6 years and shared what I've learned with anyone willing to listen. Teaching is something I've always been interested in but never wanted to commit my time and money to a university, however that has all changed. I'm now in school learning to be a history teacher. I really don't think I would have ever gone down this path if I had not found your book. I may have always been in love with the wilds, but I doubt my journey would have been as fruitful without your occasional vicarious guidance.

      I can never thank you enough for the time you spent writing. You definitely helped change my way of thinking and introduced me to a whole new world, a more real world. A world that showed me how every single person on this planet shares so much in common. And a hope that eventually we might be able to live simpler and work together.

Thank you,

- Dusty Rumley

      Looking for life-changing resources? Check out these books by Thomas J. Elpel:

Green Prosperity: Quit Your Job, Live Your Dreams.
Green
Prosperity
Roadmap to Reality: Consciousness, Worldviews, and the Blossoming of Human Spirit
Roadmap
to Reality
Living Homes: Stone Masonry, Log, and Strawbale Construction
Living
Homes
Participating in Nature: Wilderness Survival and Primitive Living Skills.
Participating
in Nature
Foraging the Mountain West: Gourmet Edible Plants, Mushrooms, and Meat.
Foraging the
Mountain West
Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification
Botany
in a Day
Shanleya's Quest: A Botany Adventure for Kids
Shanleya's
Quest

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