By Christopher J. Shaffer
If you have read any of my previous articles, you’ll know that I really enjoy leaving civilization behind and recharging my internal batteries with an energy that has nothing to do with electricity. Almost everyone I talk to loves the idea of following my lead and heading out under their own power to wander and explore the natural world. The barrier many people believe they face to achieving that desire is the sometimes very true belief that they lack the requisite skills and knowledge to enjoy a backcountry adventure either on their own or with a small group. The problem that most people really face is that they just don’t know where to start.
With the explosion in popularity of outdoor sports and social media, most people already have an idea of where they want to go or at least the type of trip they want to take. Couple that with the internet and people have their dream trip booked before they realize what they have done. This is where the panic sets in for many, when they realize that they don’t even know what skills they need to successfully enjoy whatever type of adventure they chose. Luckily with the help of your local outfitter, an outfitter or two from your destination and maybe even a book or two, anyone can learn the skills needed for any adventure. The most important ones can even be worked on before you leave your house.
The first skill you need on your journey is Attitude. In this case, it is actually a two-part problem. First, before you plan a trip or decide to join a trip that others are planning, you must decide what your objectives are for the hike and remember to “Hike your own hike.” I don’t remember when I first heard that sentence, but it is some of the greatest advice ever given to a beginner hiker. Hike your own hike, run your own race, paddle your own canoe, follow your own path. With the exception of the last one, these all mean simply that we hike for the reasons each of us is individually hiking for.
We may have a goal to reach a certain peak or overlook at the perfect time to experience that elusive meteor shower, or we could just be shooting for the local swimming hole. No matter what the objective is, it is important to have it in mind during the preparations for your hike and at the trailhead. Once you start down the trail, maintain at least a mental image of the objective and effectively communicate your needs to achieve that goal to the rest of your group.
NO! Don’t be that guy that repeatedly describes how beautiful the final waterfall was the last time you were here. YES! Be the guy that realizes and communicates that the pace is either too slow or too fast for a fellow hiker, that rest breaks every thirty feet are not normal and if a hiking partner mentions hot spots, it is time to stop. Of course, if you are the one experiencing the hot spots, be sure to call a rest and take care of it. Communication is the key to keeping everyone’s attitude in check.
Second, once you have found the right vibe for your trip and group, you now have to pick your own and realize that only you can make or break your trip. If you have planned your trip even kind of well, there are relatively few things that can ruin it as fast as a bad attitude. Keep it positive and trust in your plans and enjoy the journey.
That brings us to our second skill—Planning. I know it sounds strange, but not all adventures are going to be the same. That’s what makes them an adventure! Planning ahead is not only a great way to kill some time on a slow day at work, but this is when you learn at least what other skills you may need to add to your repertoire. Obviously, if you’ve booked a trip diving the Great Barrier Reef, you are going to want to make sure you know how to dive, or are at least in good enough shape that you can pass a dive class when you get there.
This is also the perfect time to infuse your chosen attitudes or themes into the trip while ensuring that you allow for wiggle room and formulate an exit plan. Once again, communication is the key here as well. I once did a bike trip with five days of food packed, while my friends had mapped out all the best conveniences along the way. I think I only ate one dinner from what I had packed. We had a great trip, but it may have been a little easier on some of those hills without the extra food. Planning what you are going to take with you and who is responsible for those items is really second only to deciding where to go.
The planning phase is also the time when you decide who you are going to leave a copy of your plans with at home and what their instructions are in case you don’t contact them upon exiting the woods.
In short, attitude and planning are two of the most important skills you can learn to prepare for your outdoor adventures. Then, once you have figured out the new skills you’ll need for your trip and the equipment you’ll be taking, that is the time to learn and practice those skills and familiarize yourself with your gear. Ask your local outfitter or supply store if they have tips to share or classes. They usually have some basic skills classes that are hands-on. These are a great way of meeting people and getting insight to places and trips that you might not be able to acquire over the internet. Remember that every trip is different and that is what makes them an adventure.
The Most Important Outdoor Skills