In August 2021, reporter Hollie McKay watched the fall of Afghanistan...
Learning to survive is no easy feat. It requires continuous study, careful selection of gear, and hands-on practice. Fortunately, you don't have to learn on your own — an experienced instructor can help you take your skills to the next level, and be better prepared to deal with adverse conditions. Better yet, a group of like-minded individuals can assist you on your journey towards preparedness, and make the learning experience more fun and rewarding.
This logic formed the basis for the Modern Mountain Man Rendezvous, or 3MR. This non-profit event is a three-day gathering designed to share outdoor skills with students of all ages and experience levels. 3MR was devised by survival instructors Jonathan Heffron and Brady Pesola, and takes place each year at the Broken Oak Ranch in southern California.
Luckily for us, this location is only two hours from RECOIL OFFGRID headquarters. So, we're planning to attend the upcoming 3MR event on October 13th through 15th. If you're interested in joining us at the event, you can sign up at 3MR.vet.
We recently had the opportunity to chat with 3MR co-founder Brady Pesola, a USMC veteran who is also the founder of the San Diego School of Survival. We interviewed Brady about his survival philosophy, gear preferences, and the history of 3MR. Even if you can't make it to the event, keep reading — you may learn something from our Q&A below.
How did you first become interested in survivalism?
I grew up in the outdoors in northern Minnesota, and my dad had taught me how to hunt and be smart. Survival skills were just a byproduct. The older I got, the more I realized that it's common sense to know this kind of information if you are spending time in the backcountry. I am now slowly teaching my daughter these skills.
As you continued to develop your survival and emergency preparedness skills, what sources did you learn from or take inspiration from? Which books, movies, TV shows, instructors, or mentors motivated you to grow your skillset?
The way I see it, TV shows and books are all great, and teach both what to do and not to do. But experience beats all. You have to develop muscle memory and practice these skills!
They teach us in the military to train like you fight, and survival is a fight for your life against Mother Nature. TV shows definitely motivate you to get out and try it, but what motivates me to be in nature is the movie Jeremiah Johnson. [Editor's note: this 1972 film stars Robert Redford as a mountain man who overcomes the challenges of survival on the American frontier. You can check out the trailer below.]
I believe that by having just read the title of this film, hair grew on my chest. Also, Mykel Hawke ain't a bad guy to learn from. He's a solid dude and loves answering questions!
Every survivalist has different gear preferences and priorities, so we often ask this question: what are the top 5 items you'd never go into the wilderness without?
Every time I head out into the woods, go on road trips, or just go overnight camping, I never leave home without:
Conversely, are there any items you would NOT recommend carrying in a bug-out bag or survival kit?
Your bug-out bag needs to be light and easy to carry. Spend 5 minutes on any Facebook survival/prepper/bushcraft group and you will see people with the typical Alice pack filled with bullshit they don't need that weighs more than the 3-day patrol kit of the average Marine grunt. I've seen BS like cast iron pans, and out-of-date sleeping bags grunts carried in the '90s because it's “mil-spec”.
Look, your bug out kit is only good as long as your fat ass can carry it. Spend time on weekends and actually try to survive on it overnight on a long trip. I guarantee you will figure out what you need by mile 5.
Don't be afraid to pick the mind of ultra-light-weight hikers and the hippie crowd. People hike the Pacific Coast Trail for 4 months with less and survive well. They know a thing or two! There is a reason why the SF guys that civilian commandos worship go to REI for their combat gear. Might be a hint. If it says mil-spec, it means it's shit.
What EDC gear do you always have on your person in case of emergencies during your daily routine?
I have a pack I take everywhere that doesn't look military. Part of having an EDC is blending in.
My EDC pack is an OGIO Renegade. Inside, I have a first aid kit with shears and a tourniquet. My ham radio with two types of antennas, local repeater freqs, OC [pepper] spray, a handheld flashlight, 5.11 Tactical gloves for any work like changing a tire, a strap cutter, headlamp, extra batteries, my GPS and SPOT device, Glock 19, multi-tool, Gerber LMF II fixed-blade knife, a spool tool with 550 paracord, ferro rod, a water bottle, Enola Gaye signaling smoke device, and my hiking boots with Smartwool socks in my car in case I have to go on foot for long distances.
On my body is a Spyderco Endura 4 with Emerson wave, a Gerber Crucial multi tool, a small tac light with a defensive bezel, and my ferro toggle around my neck. Inside my phone case is my lock pick kit behind my phone. On my wrist is a Suunto Core which is getting replaced by the Traverse Alpha.
My belt is a 5.11 Apex gunner's belt. I started wearing 5.11 again now that they are going away from the 2005 contractor tux everyone strived to imitate at SHOT Show. I also carry a Sharpie marker with the cap taped shut — it's great as an impact device. In fact, the three things you can always carry with you no matter where you go are a belt, a flashlight, and a Sharpie as a weapon. These items won't land you in a third-world country jail.
Tell us a little about the history of the Modern Mountain Man Rendezvous (3MR) event. How did it begin?
3MR is partially my brain child, and partially that of Jon Heffron of the Wingman115 YouTube channel. [Editor's note: check out the 3MR recap video from Jon's channel about the upcoming 3MR event.]
We thought it would be cool to have an event where outdoor vendors can show off their gear, and campers get thousands of dollars of survival classes for the cost of a tank of gas. All the instructors are veterans and enthusiasts in the outdoor community!
This is our third event and it's shaping up to be a fun one, with a three-gun run-and-shoot course where the guns are replaced by a tomahawk, recurve bow, and a spear.
What's your definition of a “Modern Mountain Man”? How does this course address that lifestyle?
Modern mountain man to me is anyone who enjoys and knows how to survive outdoors. They can be climbers, hikers, off-roaders, hunters, and the list goes on and on. Each one must be a master in their skill, as mountain men were masters in theirs.
We all have the same passion for the outdoors, and know Mother Nature can be a nasty bitch who likes to throw chaos in our direction, but we all smile at the challenge.
How has the 3MR event evolved since its inception?
We are constantly evolving new classes and new types of people — in fact, women outnumbered men at our last event. Children took part in rabbit cleaning and cooking, and there were people of all political spectrums enjoying the classes together. This year, we are adding the three-gun-style competition, which is fun.
The first 3MR was just for fun, but the last two were designed as fundraisers for our veteran non-profit called Triple B Adventures, where we take veterans outdoors, hunting hiking camping and fishing. Our mission is to combat the common issues that plague the veteran community. All proceeds go back to Triple B Adventures.
Kit Fox Outfitters has also been instrumental in the development of the 3MR event.
How would you approach surviving an urban disaster, as opposed to surviving in the wilderness?
You know, to be honest, it's not much different. We still need fire, water, food and shelter. It just so happens that warmth and shelter are a little easier to accomplish in an urban disaster.
The only difference now is that there will be more people, and at times they can become more of a threat than the conditions that caused the urban disaster. In an end-of-the-world situation, my approach would be to hunker down, and raid my neighbors resources while they are stuck on the roads, at the gas station, or at the grocery store. My first option (if I can help it) is to pop smoke and get out of town with my family before it happens.
In your experience, what's the biggest mistake rookie survivalists make?
I don't come down on people for making mistakes, we all still make them, it's how we learn and become better at increasing our chances of survival. That said, the biggest mistake I see is using TV personalities as the authority on survival.
In my opinion there is no such thing as a survival expert. It's a fancy term that producers tell personalities to say for ratings. To me an expert implies that you know everything there is to know about survival, and I don't think anyone really has a handle on all of it. We are all still students to Mother Nature and the art of staying alive.
There's nothing wrong with making a mistake — what's wrong is never learning from it. You can't be a good instructor if you have never made a mistake.
Is there any other key survival tip you'd like to share with our readers?
Check your mind and your heart during times of crisis. All the skills and tools in the world don't mean shit if you can't survive your own mind first. That's the harshest environment to survive in my opinion. Once you figure that out and get control of yourself, everything else is a piece of cake.
If our readers would like to learn more about 3MR, San Diego School of Survival, and your other projects, what are the best ways to do so?
Give me a call or text on my cell phone. No, seriously, I tell all veterans I come across to call me for anything. When you call you will hear a human. 760-815-7673. Besides, all the numbers on the site are my cell anyway. You can also check out our websites: