Have you ever gone camping or backpacking and had all the best equipment from your local Bass Pro Shops or REI and thought you were completely prepared for the trip, only to find that once you were out there the simplest of skills were beyond your ability to achieve? Sometimes not even windproof nuclear matches will get the job done if you have never built a fire, especially under variable conditions.
Having the right equipment without knowing what to do with it is a recipe for disaster. Here is a list of those things that you really need to practice so you get it right. Some you can practice in your backyard and others you can accomplish on a short day hike, but the key is to learn the basics so you and whomever goes with you can enjoy the great outdoors without having a miserable time, or Search and Rescue getting involved.
- Starting a Fire. This is a skill that you can Practice in your backyard. Try and get proficient enough to start that fire with one match. Learn to start a fire in variable conditions such as rain and wind.
- Can you pitch a Tent? This doesn’t just mean sticking some poles in the fabric and staking it to the ground. Learn which direction to have your entrance in the event of severe weather to avoid getting the inside soaked or having the wind tear the seams. Time yourself to see how long it will take you to set so the tent is secure and tight. This will help you know when you need to stop hiking and set up for the night.
- Practice staying warm. What sleeping bag make you most comfortable at certain temperatures, what clothing is comfortable yet keeps you warm and dry. Most camping situations can be performed in the yard or local park. Also note how wind affects you when inside your tent. You can do this at various times of the year for accurate information.
- Cooking over a fire. If you are not used to cooking over an open fire it can get a bit stressful as it’s not as easy as it seems. The key is keeping the fire small and concentrated while blocking any wind that might lower it’s efficiency. Practice this with pans that need covering and those that you need to boil water. You may think that since you have a really cool lightweight propane stove you needn’t worry about this, but if your stove breaks or you run out of fuel for the stove you may think differently.
- What plants are edible in your area? Being able to identify edible plants and berries can save your life. Not being able to can make you pretty sick. Know what you can eat in your area and what other plants can be used for other things such as healing and fire starting. When spoilage or animals decimate your food, identifying edible plants and berries becomes very important.
- How to walk the trail. Learning how to pace yourself and how to move comfortably over rocky terrain means you’ll be less tired, and less likely to twist an ankle.
- Wildlife Identification. Being able to identify the animals indigenous to an area is just one part of the task, you should also try to understand what each of their actions may indicate. Youtube is actually a pretty good venue for this. Can you tell if a Bear is about to charge you or merely trying to intimidate you? Knowing the answer to this can often make the difference between great campfire conversation or a trip to the emergency room.
- Watch the weather. Keeping an eye on the sky can often give you a great indication if the weather conditions are about to change. Being able to accurately predict changes in weather is vital to your safety. Let’s assume you are half way up a mountain and you see lightning or a change in the clouds or even increasing winds, knowing how to determine what might come next, the direction the weather is moving and how long you have before it arrives will make you trip much safer.
- Basic first aid. Learn to identify the most common ailments encountered when backpacking. Learning how to treat cuts and blisters are an important part of wilderness survival. But understand how to identify and treat more serious conditions such as hypothermia and heat stroke can save lives.
- Wilderness Navigation. Most of us have a handheld GPS unit when we go out backpacking, but if you don’t know how to use properly it’s pretty much useless. Practice using them. You can even begin by joining in on Geocaching. This is basically a treasure hunt where you use your GPS to find hidden caches in your local area by using GPS navigation. Having GPS, maps and compasses are great but knowing how to use them makes all the difference. Also practice identifying directions by the sun, stars and anything else that can tell you what direction to travel.
Understanding wilderness survival is essential if you are going to spend time in the outdoors. You need not be an expert or have your own Outdoors TV show, but it certain makes the trip a lot safer for you and those around you. These backpacking skills are fun to learn and make your camping trip that much more fun!