Interest in bushcraft and outdoor survival skills has skyrocketed over the past few years, especially among some surprising new demographics.
According to NBC Boston, survival instructors in the Northeast experienced a huge boom in business starting around 2020. Other wilderness schools have reported similar boosts in enrollment in the UK and Canada. While bushcraft has historically been popular among middle-aged males, the biggest cadre of new students appears to be millennials and women.
Some experts attribute the popularity increase — across ages and genders — to shows like Naked and Afraid and Bear Grylls: Man vs. Wild. Both shows have a reputation for glamorizing wilderness preparedness. Other analysts point to the pandemic as a leading cause. Lockdown felt apocalyptic for many, and millions of people reported feeling helpless and anxious during those years. In search of an antidote for their anxiety, some turned to wilderness preparedness courses.
Studies show that time spent in nature is an effective way to reduce stress. On top of that, learning survival skills can help give people a renewed sense of control and self-sufficiency, reports BBC Travel. That, in turn, can boost confidence, which is often the key to moving forward during uncertain times.
The pandemic might not be the only thing fueling a renewed interest in survival. Climate anxiety is on the rise, and many people fear the effects of rising sea levels and catastrophic storms. For those people, learning how to purify water or forage for food simply feels like a practical skillset to have.
“If something breaks down, if the grid drops out, all of this modern technology fails us instantaneously,” said New York-based survival instructor Shane Hobel in a recent interview with NBC News, “These skills will keep you alive — period.”
But it’s not all gloom and doom. Bushcraft doesn’t necessarily have to be about doomsday prep, after all. It can also be a great source of joy and a fun hobby for anyone who likes to explore the woods. In a world where people are increasingly disconnected from nature, many aspiring survivalists are simply looking for a break from modern life: a way to slow down, play in the dirt — and maybe even learn how to start a fire.