As outdoor enthusiasts spend more and more time in our backcountry, a handful of skills become more and more essential. All of these skills are easy to learn and add considerably to the overall enjoyment of spending time out-of-doors. The key word here is enjoyment. In order to enjoy ourselves, we must be comfortable with ourselves and our surroundings. This is especially true in the backcountry. So let's talk about life skills that, when mastered, will lead to heightened enjoyment as we find ourselves off the beaten path.
1. Understanding basic first-aid is paramount. This life skill is needed whether you enter the backcountry or not. If you haven't taken both a first-aid class and a CPR class lately, what are you waiting for? Accidents happen, be prepared. The American Red Cross offers both classes all the time.
2. Backcountry travel requires a basic understanding of how to navigate. Whether you prefer to use a map with a compass or with a GPS, learn how to find your way around. Getting lost is bad. Fear of getting lost can be worse. Classes for map reading, compass use and GPS use are readily available in most communities. Check local libraries, community colleges or orienteering clubs. On-line classes are readily available as well.
3. How are you at tying knots? This too is an easily acquired skill. Nothing is cooler than needing to use a rope and actually knowing how to use it. Whether you are tying off a tent stake or repelling over a cliff, being able to use the right knot at the right time is important. Learn how to tie a bowline, sheet bend, rolling hitch and timber hitch, to name a few. Many books and websites are available with pictures and instructions.
4. To start a fire, only two things are needed - heat and fuel. Whenever you visit the backcountry, always be sure to carry both heat and fuel. Heat is easiest to carry in the form of waterproof matches or a weather proof lighter. Fuel is tougher to carry although starter fuel such as lint and mineral oil shouldn't be too difficult to carry. Nature provides an abundance of fuel if you know what you're looking for. Whether rubbing sticks together (yuck) or using waterproof matches (yea), be sure you know how to start a fire before you start your journey. There are many ways to start a fire and you should find at least three of them that work for you. You can find lots on-line regarding this life skill.
5. The most enjoyable way to experience our backcountry is the "low impact" way. You've most likely heard the phrase "leave only footprints, take only pictures." If we take good care of our wilderness areas, not only will we be able to enjoy them our entire lives but our descendants will have the opportunity to enjoy them too. There are many organizations actively educating outdoor enthusiasts as to the best way to "low impact" recreate. Two very popular organizations are Tread Lightly! and Leave No Trace.
Knowing these five life skills will provide you with the confidence to fully enjoy your time in the backcountry. Once you've mastered these skills be sure to pass them on to your friends and family.