Can You Run Away and Live in the Woods: Consider the Options

Life isn’t working out, and you’ve decided to run away and make a go of it in the woods. This is not something to be taken lightly. Nor should you disappear without a trace if there are any other options. Choosing an outdoor life can be pleasant and peaceful. Alternately, without access to medical care and other essential services, many people simply won’t make it.

I can tell you from experience that while most people do just fine on a quick camping trip. Sadly, even those who think they have the skills can quickly end up hurt, sick, or dead. Living in the woods should never be a go-to option. Instead, consider it only as a last resort unless you’re the sort of person who dreams of (and works toward) becoming a self-sufficient hermit.

Can you run away and live in the woods? There are two questions to answer here. Firstly is it possible to run away and live in the woods? The answer is yes. It can be done. Secondly, is it legal to run away and live in the woods? The answer is usually no because other people or the government own the land. It’s not legal to live off someone else’s land. If you own property or have permission, then it’s okay. 

Legal Issues

The most troublesome problem with running away to the wild is ownership. While it’s a beautiful dream to believe that people cannot own the sky above or the dirt below their feet, in reality, you can still end up in jail for trespassing or stealing from a person or entity that owns the land.

If you are fortunate enough to own a parcel of land or have a friend who will allow it, then you’re fine. The problem with this approach is limited resources. You cannot legally leave your land you have permission to hunt, fish, or even find water. Those who have abundant water, space, resources, and skills would be fine living this way.

Indeed, our ancestors lived for longer than you might expect without modern conveniences. However, it bears noting that they also typically lived much shorter life spans. Nevertheless, Australopithecus, one of our earliest ancestors, began living in forests, among other regions, as much as three million years ago. Housing and permanent settlement weren’t even common until about ten thousand years ago, and there are tribes of nomads living on the Earth today.


Most often, if you’re caught ‘squatting’ on public lands, you’ll be asked to move along. Though they may be understaffed, forest rangers do check over the areas under their charge regularly. If they find you on national land, they’re obligated to ask you to move along.

The laws are clear about other people’s property, including the vast tracts of land owned by the government. However, there is no particular law that requires you to have a job or live in a house.

Should you plan to raise children this way, you may run into some issues that have to do with schooling, beds being off of floors, and adequate shelter. Know that you could lose your child custody for truly living wild, free, and homeless with a kid. I’m not going to weigh in on that issue personally. I think kids need survival skills, too, but that sort of risk is up to the parents and children involved. As a single adult, couple, or group, things are different.

Places You Can Live That Aren’t Quite The Woods

Sometimes people consider this option because they have a genuine need to escape the place they live now. That’s perfectly valid. In a perfect world, no one would ever need to escape, and I wouldn’t have a reason to write these articles. Instead, it would all be camping tips. Meanwhile, back here, in reality, life isn’t that smooth.

Whether the world has ended, or yours has fallen apart, people have plenty of reasons to want to live wild. Choosing an outdoor life may simply seem like the only choice you have left. Before you go full mountain man (or woman), there may be some other options.

Not The Woods

  • A Homeless Shelter- If you’re losing your home, then perhaps a less extreme way to get on your feet is to get the social services of a shelter. If your situation is abusive, consider calling the police or a shelter. There are places to go, whether you’re a man, woman, family, or child.
  • Join a Commune- Not every commune is a crazy cult. There are plenty of people out there who wish to live together on one piece of land that is jointly owned.
  • Consider WWOOF- The Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms always need more hands tending their lands. You can trade the sweat off your brow for the chance to learn useful skills along with room and board.
  • Search Out Opportunities- Many employers offer room and board. Likewise, if you have a degree and skills, there may be chances to join the Peace Corps or a similar organization.
  • Job Corps- If you’re between eighteen and twenty-four years old, you can go live and work at Job Corps and get a career started.

These are just a few ideas. There are plenty of other solutions if you look for them. Often people may feel they have no other option than to run away. Wild-life isn’t easy, and most people have no clue how much effort it will take to truly make it work.

There are always other options. Carnivals and magazine sales companies hire people to travel around with no roots and no previous experience required. Just make sure you want a wild life, not just a different life before you try running away to the woods.

How To Survive Wild Life: The Beginning

Naturally, if the world has ended, and there are no more boundaries beyond what a person can enforce with their own strength and skills. Those who have the desire, skills, and need can absolutely manage to live wild. In fact, people do it all the time. We’ll assume you’ve found a legal place to live your life out in peace and quiet.

Get yourself an excellent internal frame backpack like the TETON Sports Explorer 4000 you can get on Amazon to pack all your gear inside. You may want to stash a few emergency rations inside, but mostly you need equipment and skills to use what you have. 

What should you pack in your forever bug-out bag? Well, Some needles and a lot of well-waxed thread that will stand the test of time to fix the bag or your clothing would be one of my first picks. You’ll also want a way to start fires for cooking and warmth.

Eating & Drinking

I suggest you get a handful of these Uberleben Zünden Fire Starter sets from Amazon. Each one is good for twelve thousand sparks or more. You don’t want to run out of heat in winter, or the ability to sanitize water, even if you’re a hundred percent okay with eating raw foraged food the rest of your life. 

Just surviving long enough to start to do better is the important thing at first. You’ll need something to cook food inside. Despite the weight, it’s probably worth carrying a cast iron pan and/or cooking pot with you. They last forever.

Add a good canteen. Choose a durable but lightweight metal, and some water purification tabs to get you through at the beginning of your journey.

Other Tools You Need

Assuming that you’re not a tool-making guru, then you may want to grab a couple of good axes or ax heads as well. You can make a good handle with some patience, but most people wouldn’t be able to create a forge in the wild and make their own steel tools.

I like the CRKT Woods Chogan Tomahawk Axe that I picked up from Amazon. It’s differentially heat-treated, which means the edge is harder, and the body has more flexibility to it. The hickory handle is solid and well made. Plus, it’s a tomahawk style, which means I can throw it for self-defense and entertainment or cut wood with it. 

You’ll also need:

  • A good knife or two for whittling things you need.
  • A metal cup that won’t break.
  • Paracord, and lots of it for making things you need or just stringing your food up in a tree, so bears don’t get it.
  • Some fish hooks would be a good addition. I suggest you put them in a metal tin, so they aren’t loose.
  • Bring a wild plant identification guide and a mushroom identification guide for foraging.
  • A sleeping bag so you don’t freeze the first time it gets cold would be smart.
  • Pack a good hammock. This will get you up off the ground, so you don’t need to worry about bugs or rocks.
  • Some fishing line makes an outstanding snare for small game and will help you fish so you can eat.
  • Bringing seeds to plant a few things you’d rather not live without is wise. Herbs can be a real treat if you’re living without modern conveniences.
  • Salt is necessary for life. Without enough salt, in your diet, you won’t survive, so bring plenty and make sure you can find more wherever you plan to live.
  • Extra shoes will keep you from needing to make your own for a long time. Don’t wear them, but keep them dry and secured.
  • Take a compass in case you get turned around.
  • Get a map or map book that shows you any areas you may want to travel to. While you’re at it, make sure it has topographical charts. Plus you need to know how to read maps.

Honestly, if you have the right clothing and skills, that’s about all you’ll need. Some of these things are luxury items you can do without.


Making a Permanent Life in the Woods

Once you reach your destination, you’ll need to start setting up a permanent shelter. Get familiar with what lives in the area, and where possible, choose a spot far from any large predators. Bears, wild cats, and wolves will make a meal out of you in a heartbeat if you’re not wary. You can learn to live with them or eat them in a pinch, but it’s better to avoid the problem in the first place.

Focus your energy on finding water, sources of food, and a place to set up camp. Your first camp doesn’t need to be your permanent home. Stashing some of your duplicate items near your first campsite is a very wise plan. Make sure you bury them in a waterproof container somewhere you won’t forget. This will let you come back years later to resupply.

Whatever you do, don’t bury any food with your long-term resupply cache. Wild animals will smell it no matter how well concealed it. They’ll dig up your stash and make a meal out of it. Items they can’t eat will get scattered to the four winds, and you won’t have them later.


It’s a good idea to set up more than one place to shelter. Moving around to three or four different spots helps you avoid trouble. You’ll need a fire pit at each site, and a shelter of some sort. An unoccupied shallow cave would be ideal, but if you need to build a shelter, you’ll be glad you have those axes.

Use each site as a spot to stash some of your necessary and duplicate supplies. Equally important, whatever food you have needs to be hung in a tree, away from camp on a branch too high and thin for a bear or other thief to reach easily. There’s not much you can do about humans who encroach and take your stuff unless you catch them in the act.


Be Invisible

Dig your firepits down far enough that the light won’t be seen at night unless someone is close enough to see inside your camp anyway. Don’t light fires in the daytime. The smoke will give you away. If you plan to disappear into the woods, you need to disappear completely. Live quietly and unseen by people.

Learn to enjoy the natural sounds, and identify anything out of the ordinary immediately. Rather than confronting people who may pass through your space, make sure they don’t see you. This is why you need more than one campsite. Instead of taking the risk involved in meeting new people, just pick up and walk away before they get near enough to be a potential threat.


Final Thoughts

Living in the woods can be delightful and enlightening. You can do more than merely survive. You can thrive and live a wonderful life among the trees if you genuinely wish to do so. There is an uncountable number of people doing precisely that right now. They stay away from towns and cities. In fact, they rarely see other people at all.

When you think about running away to live in the woods, scan your motivations, skills, and needs very carefully. Choosing to forego society is fine, but it’s not something you should decide carelessly. If you have medical needs or a lack of skills, then you won’t make it very long.

People who choose a wild-life are rare these days. We, as a species, enjoy our conveniences, like indoor plumbing and heat in winter. However, you don’t need these things to have a good life. You can run away and live in the woods if you’re determined and skilled enough.

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