How to Live Off the Land


The phrase “living off the land” means different things to different people. To some degree, though, it always involves relying on the resources available on the piece of land you occupy. Once you define your goal for yourself, take the time to build the skills and stockpile the tools and supplies you’ll need to be successful. Then, choose a piece of land that can sustain you and get to work finding clean water, creating a home, and meeting your food needs.

Part 1
Building Skills and Making Preparations

Building Skills and Making Preparations on How to Live Off the Land

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There’s no organization out there that certifies you as officially “living off the land.” It’s up to you to decide what that term means in your case. Are you looking to go “off the grid,” farm for self-sufficiency, live in the wilderness, or something else?[1] Some people define “living off the land” as surviving off only the resources available to you from the land you’re on. For others, it’s more about being as self-sufficient as possible. If you’re planning to make this change with a partner or your family, make sure everyone is on the same page about the ultimate goal.

Building Skills and Making Preparations on How to Live Off the Land

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However you choose to define “living off the land,” it always includes getting food and water from your surroundings. Study and get practical experience with the following skills long before you stake your claim to self sufficiency:[2] Purifying water so it’s safe to drink. Foraging for food and identifying what’s safe and unsafe to eat. Planting, growing, harvesting, and preserving fruits and vegetables. Hunting, fishing, and trapping. It’s extraordinarily difficult to truly live off the land if you cannot (or will not) locate, kill, prepare, and eat fish and wildlife.

Building Skills and Making Preparations on How to Live Off the Land

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While living off the land doesn’t have to mean being totally isolated from civilization, there’s a good chance you won’t have immediate access to medical care. It’s vital that you have the basic tools and skills needed to manage common injuries and illnesses, at least in the short term until proper medical help arrives.[3] Stock a first aid kit like you would for a long camping trip. Master first aid skills like bandaging wounds, treating burns, and doing CPR.

Building Skills and Making Preparations on How to Live Off the Land

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For example, you may not necessarily want or need to make your own clothes, but it will certainly help if you can mend them as needed. Practice fixing tools and equipment you use often instead of replacing them so you’ll be better prepared to live off the land.[4]Ingenuity, creativity, and adaptability are essential qualities when you live off the land. The more often you can fix something or solve a problem with whatever you have available to you, the better off you’ll be.

Building Skills and Making Preparations on How to Live Off the Land

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Living off the land can definitely be a physical struggle, but don’t discount the emotional challenge it can also present. Depending on your situation, you may end up spending a great deal of time either all alone or with the same small group of people. If you’re not the type of person who handles this kind of situation well, expect the adjustment to be very difficult.[5]For example, say you plan to live off the land on an isolated homestead with your spouse. Even if the two of you get along great, spending so much time with no one else around can easily cause relationship struggles and bouts of loneliness.

Building Skills and Making Preparations on How to Live Off the Land

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The particular list of the things you’ll need will depend on the unique circumstances of where and how you’re planning to live off the land. In addition to a first aid kit and medical supplies, though, consider building up a supply of things like:[6] Salt, vinegar, cookware, dishes, and other materials that will aid in food preparation and storage. Hunting and fishing gear, including things like ammunition and fishing line. Useful hand tools like a saw, axe, shovel, hoe, rake, hammer, screwdriver, pocket knife, and hunting knife. Rugged clothing and good-quality footwear that can handle tough conditions. Enough money to meet your planned expenses for 6 months, plus another 10% or more for unplanned expenses.

Part 2
Settling on a Plot of Land

Settling on a Plot of Land on How to Live Off the Land

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In very general terms, 5 acres (2 hectares) of land is typically considered the minimum required to sustain a single person, while 10 acres (4 hectares) may suit a small family. However, this depends greatly on the specific nature of the land. If possible, consult with others who live off the land in the same area to get a sense for how much land you’ll need.[7] Ideally, your land will have a fresh water source, spaces for hunting, fishing, trapping, foraging, and raising crops, a good location for setting up your shelter (and eventual home), and an area for disposing of your waste. You can try “squatting” on a spot out in the wilderness, but you risk running into legal troubles if you don’t buy or lease the land. You may want to consult with an attorney regarding land laws and “squatting.”

Settling on a Plot of Land on How to Live Off the Land

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Even if you’ve brought a supply of fresh water to help you get started, you must secure a reliable supply of clean drinking water on your land as soon as possible. It is impossible to live off the land without fresh water.[8] Don’t assume spring water is safe and clean unless you’ve had it tested. Likewise, water from even the clearest stream or creek should be purified before use. Digging a well and having the water tested regularly may be your best option in many cases. Plan to pay $2000-$4000 USD to have a well drilled on your property.

Settling on a Plot of Land on How to Live Off the Land

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Don’t think about luxury right now—focus on protection from the elements and wildlife. Many people start out using a camper, then slowly get to work building their permanent home on their new land.[9] While a canopy or tent can serve as a short-term shelter, you won’t get much protection from the elements or wildlife this way. Whether you choose to work with a builder or build the house all on your own, prioritize practicality if you intend to live off the land. In this case, smaller is better!

Settling on a Plot of Land on How to Live Off the Land

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To live off the land, it’s essential that you learn to compost as much of your food waste as possible. You should also strongly consider learning how to compost your own (human) waste, since doing so can help increase the amount of food your land can produce.[10] If you are using an outhouse or are burying your waste, make sure it does not contaminate your water supply. You’ll also need a plan for disposing of trash and other waste that can’t be composted. See if you can find a landfill in the area that will accept occasional trash drop-offs.[11]

Part 3
Living Sustainably on Your Land

Living Sustainably on Your Land on How to Live Off the Land

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To grow enough fruits and vegetables to feed yourself for an entire year, you’ll need somewhere around 4,000 sq ft (370 m2) of garden space per person. Grow a variety of crops that mature at different times to maximize productivity and nutritional diversity.[12]Contact your local agricultural extension office for information on planting and harvesting times for particular crops in your climate zone.

Living Sustainably on Your Land on How to Live Off the Land

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After laying out your produce garden, set aside a separate space to raise chickens, which are an efficient way to get both eggs and meat into your diet. You might also want to raise goats in another area, since they can provide you with both meat and dairy.[13]Look into beekeeping as well. Bees will provide you with a steady supply of honey and pollinate your crops.

Living Sustainably on Your Land on How to Live Off the Land

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For many people, living off the land also means living off the grid. Setting up solar panels is often the best power choice, although wind or water power may be preferable in some cases.[14] Get advice on setting up and using alternative power supplies from other individuals and families living off the grid in your area. Even with alternative power sources, it’s also very helpful to have a stockpile of firewood ready at all times for cooking or heating purposes. Use trees on your property for firewood whenever possible.

Living Sustainably on Your Land on How to Live Off the Land

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It’s virtually impossible to live off the land to such a degree that you no longer require money. There will always be some things you’ll need to buy, you should keep some money handy for emergencies, and you’ll likely have to pay taxes on the land.[15] Try, for instance, raising additional produce and chickens and selling vegetables and eggs at a roadside stand or farmer’s market. Or, if you have skills like woodworking or quilting, make crafts to sell. Especially if there are others living off the land in the vicinity, you can barter goods you have for things you need—for example, you might trade eggs for potatoes.

Living Sustainably on Your Land on How to Live Off the Land

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Some people are tempted to live off the land as a way to “disappear” or “drop off the face of the earth.” This may become reality in some cases, but often you’ll find that you have to “rejoin” society at least temporarily from time to time, especially if emergencies arise.[16] Maintain contact with friends and family, for instance, so you have established connections should you have medical problems, money troubles, etc. Some people say you can live off the land and still have internet access, while others would call that “cheating.” Remember, it’s up to you to define “living off the land” for yourself.