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Off the Grid, and Self-Reliant

MANY PEOPL E KNOW CODY LUNDIN as the former co-host of “Dual Survival,” the Discovery Channel show that paired a straight-arrow military sort with a freewheeling hippie type, both well-versed in survival skills put to the test in far-­ flung exotic locations. Lundin, with his long braids, bare feet and colorful bandana, was the hippie.

For four seasons, Lundin and his partner crossed deadly New Zealand crevasses, rafted the rapids of Laos, traversed the swamps of the Everglades in Florida and faced predators in the grasslands of South Africa. For the past two decades, Lundin, as founder of the Aboriginal Living Skills School, has frequented the Arizona desert with students eager to learn primitive hunting techniques, how to build an improvised shelter and other long-lost skills.

Lundin’s mantra: self-reliance. He’d been practicing it well before he launched his school or found television fame. He acknowledges that he once lived illegally in the woods by exceeding the 14-day limit by two years. When he attended Prescott College, where he studied dream analysis and holistic therapy, his accommodations were no less rustic. “I studied for my education on a pine needle bed next to two candles on a rock,” Lundin recalls.

We caught up with Lundin (, author of the wilderness survival guide 98.6 Degrees: ­ The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive! and the urban preparedness manual When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need To Survive When Disaster Strikes(both from Gibbs Smith), at his Prescott , Arizona, office, a small home with shelves of T-shirts and glass cases of knives and other survival tools for sale, and walls adorned with articles about the survivalist and other memorabilia.

Q Discover Life: Looking back on your formative years, what’s behind your compulsion for being in nature, particularly in survival situations?

Cody Lundin: In a military family, it’s not a fun situation when you’re a kid and you get constantly pulled away from your friends. That’s one of the reasons my mom split from my dad. We moved around a lot because we had no choice— nature was the one constant I had. I did have parents that were interested in the outdoors; my dad wanted to be a forest ranger before he was in the military.

I’ve always been fascinated by doing more with less. How did indigenous people survive? How can I be as self-reliant as possible? Those were interests of mine going way back. I can’t explain why.

Q DL: It’s hard to hold onto a lot of material things when you move around so much. Is it possible that’s what helped spark your interest in being self-reliant?

CL: We were a regular family; I’ve got no complaints about that. But as a teenager growing up in Wyoming I was always in the woods. I remember going out and collecting roadkill. I had some rancher friends, so way out on Wyoming ranches I was collecting parts, antlers and whatever, and making peace pipes and other things. I would make stuff­ for high school projects based on Native American culture. We would go into the woods with virtually nothing. We would definitely have…our 12-pack of beer but we would also bring a piece of fishing line and improvise everything to catch brook trout.

Q DL: Most people lack these kinds of self-reliance skills. Whether someone lives in an urban or rural setting, what essential skills would you recommend that people learn and bring back to society?

Cody LundinCL: The first thing I would have you do is start staying outside, and don’t drink any water and don’t eat any food. You’ll find out real quick what skills are necessary that we’ve lost for baseline survival.

We don’t know where our water’s coming from. We don’t know how to get it. We don’t know how to disinfect it if it’s bad. Most people don’t grow their own food. They don’t know where it comes from because they buy everything. There’s zero self-reliance on the two main things other than oxygen that we need because people don’t know shit about their water and they know nothing about their food.

The other thing that would be right up there is shelter and all that entails. If you go into a structure, it’s done for you, albeit with a lot of work and mortgage payments. You magically have heat on a stove. You magically have food. You magically twist this knob and water comes out. As far as the basic fundamentals of staying alive, the average American has no clue how to mimic or replace those things if they came crashing down. We’ve completely lost our ability to be self-reliant in the most fundamental ways it takes to keep a human body alive on planet Earth. That’s scary.

Q DL: It is. Let’s take water, for example. What should people know in the event they find themselves without water during an emergency at home in an urban area?

CL: As an urban dweller, I’d want to know where my water is coming from and how it operates. I would want to know where the emergency water sources are in nearest proximity to where I’m living. What I mean by that is I lived on the streets for a while, and back in the day they would have the faucets attached to a building and you could get water. I got really good at knowing which gas stations or grocery stores had those faucets. Now they take a lot of the handles off­ and you can’t get at that, because of the homeless population.

For a water source outside the house, maybe there’s a fountain that’s near or a pond, lake or stream. Maybe there’s a statue outside the library with a public fountain that people throw coins into that has at least a thousand gallons of water after . Stuff­ like that.

We can store excess water. The problem with that is it’s 8.3 pounds a gallon; it’s heavy and non-compressible, so it takes some . If you’re in a third story you might come crashing through the floor if you’re hoarding water in a closet and putting all that load on those 2x6s. But there are places that have water. The back of a toilet has water; we can disinfect that. Not the bowl, the back.

Conventional water heaters store water, and if someone knows there’s a pending emergency, they fill everything up: the bathtub, the sink. Put all the drains in and fill everything up. Obviously watch the kids—you don’t fill a bathtub up and have your two-year-old drown in there.

Q DL: Where I live, on Long Island, many people own pools. Can a pool be used, taking into account the chemicals that are added?

CL: You’d have to do your research on that. ­ There are certain chemicals that people put in pools and hot tubs that you can’t disinfect. When you talk about water disinfection, that deals with organic pathogens—parasites and viruses. But trying to get out some chemicals we put in the hot tub, that might never be able to be screened out.

I know that in my house there’s some water that’s trapped in water heaters, the back of the toilet, whatever. I know I have things like washing machines and sinks and bathtubs or whatever where I can store water if I need to. Do most people have that? ­ They have no clue.

Q DL: It’s taken completely for granted.

CL: And you’re dead real quick without water as opposed to food. At least you don’t have an arid environment in Long Island, but I can imagine the humidity is oppressive in the summertime. Many more people die of heat-related illnesses in your part of the country because of the high humidity levels. When the humidity is over 70%, sweat doesn’t evaporate from the skin. So you can see how far down the rabbit hole this can go.

Any survival instructor should know these three Ps inside and out—psychology, scared people under stress; physiology, because we’re trying to keep this human organism alive; and the physics of heat loss and gain, hypo-and hyperthermia, which are the biggest causes of death and dehydration. water exacerbates both. Most people don’t have any clue about what we’re talking about right now but their lives depend on it.

Q DL: Some science backs the idea that going barefoot is healthy. You’ve been going barefoot, except for socks in snow conditions, for more than 20 years. What’s behind that, and how has that worked out for you?

CL: In the snow I wear three pairs of wool socks. I know a lot of native people went barefoot, and I know shoes take resources to make. ­ They’re still finding fossilized barefoot footprints. ­ They found another off the coast of London. It was a group. It was two adults and some kids, and there were fossilized bare feet. So, I know people walked barefoot because when you didn’t back in the day, you chewed through resources. You wore out your yucca sandals, your deer hide, whatever. If you don’t need to do that, then you don’t do that.

That’s something that’s been lost in our culture—not using stuff because you don’t need to. We use stuff because we can go buy it again. ­ That’s one of the reasons, but also helps you slow down and pay attention, and I wanted tough feet.

One of the first things they did with prisoners of war is they took their footwear. Why? Because they couldn’t go anywhere. You have these highly trained soldiers worth millions of dollars that are worthless without their shoes. I thought bullshit. I basically experimented on myself.

Cody LundinQ DL: What do you mean when you say you experiment on yourself?

CL: It’s a constant experimentation. I went all over the world and I was barefoot, and there are some places that you shouldn’t be barefoot, like Peru. ­They have cactus that drop these balls, and you couldn’t walk. ­That’s when I made tire sandals from a Volkswagen. I had footwear that I would make, but that was like two or three times out of almost 40 shows.

Q DL: So, you experiment by pushing yourself to see how far you can go.

CL: ­ That can be terrain and distance, but there are definitely limitations. But if you stop doing something, you have to start over. So, if I just went barefoot in the summertime I would lose my callus base and I would have to start over. You have to keep doing it. It’s like training in a gym: Use it or lose it.

Q DL: Not only are you doing your part to put a crimp in the shoe business, but you also have little use for the residential construction industry. Tell me about the home you built in a remote part of Arizona.

CL: Up to 40% of our energy budget in the US goes to heating or cooling a home, which is asinine. So, we’re spending heating people’s homes because they’re built like shit, have no thermal dynamics whatsoever and are totally dependent on the grid to make them habitable. I wanted to design a home that regulated its own body temperature.

So, I designed something after I took a great class on passive solar design. Again, this is not my idea. I dealt with three main things: light orientation, thermal mass and insulation. I pointed my house solar south; in our hemisphere, passive solar homes are south. So, I pointed my house, with all the windows that let the sun in, in the right direction and then I used a lot of insulation.

Q DL: Explain how passive solar energy works.

CL: Passive solar has no moving parts. When people think of solar, they think of panels that collect to make electricity. With passive solar, my home has an overhang for when the summertime sun goes high in the sky, and I don’t want it on my ­ floor because it’s too hot out. So, the overhang makes the ­floor nice and shady and it keeps the sun out. The sun’s how I’m heating my home. I don’t want heat in June. So, I built my overhang about two-and-a-half feet out, which is right for the height of my structure and for my latitude. And all of the tables for latitude and the height of your structure are out there.

So, it's nice and cool in June. On the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, the sun’s farthest in the southern skies and so it goes beyond that overhang; so the sun shines into my home most of the day in the wintertime, and that’s shortwave radiation from the sun. It goes through my windows and soaks into my stone ­ floor. We have natural ­ flagstone; it’s like sandstone. We ship it all over the world from Arizona and it stores that heat from the sun into the stone ­ floor because it has mass.

Then when the sun goes away and it’s cold outside, when I walk barefoot, because I am all the time, my ­ floor is warm to the touch and it re-radiates out that heat as longwave radiation. That longwave spectrum has a hard time getting out of glass or plastic.

Q DL: Why is the home you built (pictured on header image) shaped like a parabola?

CL: Parabolas are a natural shape in nature. A dome would be if I had a sphere and I cut it in half; that’s a natural shape, but not really in regard to load. What I mean by load is putting a bunch of earth on the house. You can hold tremendous amounts of load for not a lot of building expense because of the parabola shape. A lot of tunnels are parabolas.

The three rooms in the back are parabolic domes, tied together like a series of igloos. The big main part looks like you took an orange and cut a wedge out of it. Everything is tied into a load-bearing foundation, which was a very deep footer of concrete to hold all this mass. Back in the day they used to reinforce tunnels for trains going through mountains with gunite, and my house is sprayed gunite.

Essentially, my home works on thermal mass. My walls are reinforced concrete, so when I put the three or four feet of earth on it, that’s more thermal mass so it stabilizes the inside temperature. I have insulation before I put the earth on top, and that air space keeps the cocoa hot and the Kool Aid cold. It can help protect someone, with clothing, in cold weather or in hot weather. Where I live, I’ve seen it 105 degrees and I’ve seen it 20 below zero. That’s over a 100-degree temperature ­ fluctuation, and my house performs in both of those.

Q DL: You also enjoy many other comforts of a modern home. Tell me about those.

CL: I do have a TV. I have a refrigerator. I have a microwave. I have solar panels that provide electricity; I have my own power company. We watch movies. I have a washing machine. My water is gravity-fed in the bathhouse. That’s on a pump for water pressure. I have a propane on-demand heater. I’m going to build a solar one as well. I can do whatever you do in your home except I’m in the middle of nowhere. But anyone can. You can do the same thing I’m doing as long as the codes will let you in your town.

Q DL: You go barefoot. You built your own home. The average American is not going to take self-reliance that far. But it seems that there is much in this arena that is relatively simple for anyone to do.

CL: Just the fact that you’re letting people become aware that they have no idea what they’re doing about basic things that are necessary for human life will cause readers to go get training or go on a FEMA website ( or whatever. It can be as simple as, “Hey, Judy, when you go to the store can you buy another bag of lentils?”

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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.