My Side of the Mountain | Survival Techniques

My Side of the Mountain is a beloved children’s book by Jean Craighead George in which 15-year-old Sam Gribley runs away from New York to live in the wilderness. A quintessential adventure book, this story has resonated with many generations of boys and girls because of its faithful depictions of wilderness survival techniques as well as animals. Though the original was published in 1959, my 10-year-old read it last year in 2015 and loved all of it. She had just finished reading Hatchet, another survival book, and was fascinated by the nature connections. Here are some of the great survival techniques inspired by the book that kids will love.

My Side of the Mountain

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You can get the book here: US | UK.

#1 Do Advance Research and Plan Ahead

My Side of the Mountain

Sam doesn’t take off in the Catskill Mountains on a whim. He decides to leave the big city after having read a magazine on wilderness survival. He also reads nature guides and books that discuss living in the wilderness. Later on in the story, he needs to learn about catching and training birds of prey and heads to a library to gather more information. The local librarian helps him find the information he’s looking for and thus he trains a falcon.

Advance research is key to any adventure in the wild, particularly if kids are discovering new terrain, new habitats, new places or new activities. Doing advance research forces them to think about what they will need and how they may be best prepared to enjoy themselves on new adventures. As in My Side of the Mountain, I would suggest that kids conduct their own researches to foster independence and self-reliance.

#2 Hollowed Trees Make Great Shelters

My Side of the Mountain

In his quest to build himself a home to keep him safe, Sam finds a partially hollowed out giant hemlock on his grandfather’s farm. As the hollowed part of the tree is not big enough for Sam to live in, he carves inside the tree directly and ends up burning some of it to create more space.

Giant old trees often have holes at the base and some of them are even famous for having been hermit homes in the wild. In case of emergencies, hollowed trees can be assessed to make shelters and to play and build treehouses, they are certainly good options for adventurous kids.

#4 Find Useful Plants to Survive

My Side of the Mountain

In My Side of the Mountain, Sam survives on berries and vegetables he gathers from the land. His connection to nature is very strong and he spends long hours observing woodland creatures, learning from them how “nature works.” Obviously, finding useful plants in nature to survive in the wild takes a long time to achieve, but interested kids can learn to recognize basic common wild plants from:

  • Nature websites
  • Plant guidebooks
  • Children’s classes organized by park rangers
  • School resources (forest schools too)
  • Wilderness camps
  • YouTube videos

Note: I’m not advocating for kids to go experiment on wild plants by themselves without solid practice, that would be irresponsible. However, it’s always useful to have an idea of common edible plants in your region as well as the most toxic ones and animals to look out for. Check out FrogMom posts on foraging to learn more.

#5 Learn from Nature Experts

My Side of the Moutnain

A Park Ranger interacting with children.

During his wilderness adventures, Sam needs to learn a lot of new skills, such as lighting a fire, hunting wildlife or navigating the wilderness. He learns how to make a fire from a man who cooks his fish. He follows maps handdrawn by the librarian. He’s not afraid to ask for help when his knowledge comes short or when he has questions.

People who love and know nature are usually very happy to share their expert knowledge with others. To find local nature and survival experts, I suggest that you look for:

  • Scout troupes
  • Park rangers
  • Bushcraft experts or online forums
  • Woodland wardens
  • Local parent & nature groups
  • Naturalists
  • Nature magazines or books

#6 Locate a Reliable Source of Water

My Side of the Mountain

Without water, we cannot survive. In My Side of the Mountain, Sam looks for a river to be next to a drinkable water source but also to be next to a food source, as he plans to fish. Streams, rivers and lakes are obvious sources of water in the wild, as well as rainwater. However, a lot of waterways in the ground are contaminated to some extent and their water isn’t drinkable directly, but there are survival techniques to make your own purified water. There are lots of techniques onlinme and Ray Mears and Bear Grylls both have excellent ideas on how to find water in the wild. Some of those include:

  • Digging holes next to a water source to create a nature filter
  • Collecting dew water in the grass
  • Collecting condensation water on trees
  • Sipping water from berries

And way more. Water is a big topic and in any nature survival situation, it’s likely to be the biggest issue. Anybody who knows about water has a much bigger chance of survival.

#7 List of Essential Survival Tools

My Side of the Mountain

When Sam leaves New York, he only has

  • $40 in his pocket, as well as
  • a penknife,
  • a ball of chord,
  • an ax, and
  • flint and steel (to start a fire).

This basic list seems minimal by anybody’s standards and yet, Sam manages on his own resources. In Hatchet, Brian only has a hatchet at the beginnig of his forced wilderness adventure but manages to salvage emergency packs from a plane wreckage, this coming in possession of cups, knife and food. During the course of the book, Sam realizes that he needs to rely on his wits to create water containers and other essentials. To head out into the woods, Sam’s basic list is a good one but it’s also good to have:

  • A (rechargeable) flashlight
  • Cellphone to contact help
  • Notebook and pencil
  • Emergency blanket
  • Map

I love that My Side of the Mountain assumes that kids are not made of sugar and that they can survive in the wild as independent human beings. This is obviously not for everyone, but a child who knows nature so well that he or she can actually see food and shelter where we only see Instagram photo opps is a child ready to face the world.

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Laure Latham

Laure is an author, environmental advocate, blogger, open water swimmer and now mother. She's passionate about inspiring families to enjoy the outdoors with their children, learning to unplug and living a healthy lifestyle, giving kids life skills and exploring the world around us sharing Family Friendly, Fun Ideas for the whole family on Frog Mom.

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