In an age of technological reliance and rapid urbanization, essential outdoor skills offer you the opportunity to test your capabilities in the wild. With these seven critical skills, you can brave many ecosystems and climates with confidence and lead family and friends on grand adventures.
1. Fire Building
Firestarters, matches and building a basic campfire are a good place to begin honing your skills. From there, you can progress to using flint and steel or a bow drill for fire building in an emergency.
Experiment with different fire setups, as each has its advantages and is useful in different environments. A Swedish fire torch is useful for wet ground conditions or thick snow cover–plus, it looks incredibly impressive. Make five intersecting slices across the log’s diameter, which extends one-third to one-half of the log’s length. Use kindling to light the fire inside the log.
On the other hand, a Dakota fire hole is a stealthy underground fire that decreases smoke output, insulates the fire for hotter temperatures, cooks quickly and is easily extinguished. Despite its sophistication, it’s quite simple to build.
Dig a fire hole approximately nine inches deep and five inches in diameter. Next, dig a smaller hole approximately six to eight inches away from the first. Finally, connect the two holes with a tunnel using a sharp stick or a trekking pole. After you light your fire, simply set your cooking pot on the ground and top of the fire hole. When you’re done, extinguish the fire with water, fill in the gaps and cover with leaves to ensure you leave no trace.
Of course, being able to build and cook on a campfire is only half the battle. You also must know how to extinguish a fire and also know when it’s not safe to light a fire in the first place. Always check your local fire safety reports before venturing out into the wilderness.
2. Identifying Flora, Fauna and Drinking Water
From being able to identify poisonous snakes or insects to understanding which plants are edible, these skills are crucial for the outdoor enthusiast.
Knowing the habits of local fish species or the movement patterns of local deer can also help you hunt and fish in an emergency survival scenario. Coupled with proper fishing gear, knowledge of the fish and plants in and around your local rivers and streams can provide life-saving sustenance.
It’s also necessary to know how to find safe water sources and know how to purify and filter your water. Methods vary, from a simple bandana-filter and boiling method to sophisticated, lightweight purification tablets. Experiment with as many water purification methods as possible to boost your confidence and maximize your safety.
3. Finding and Building Shelter
Finding and building shelter are two distinct but interdependent skills. Finding shelter is the process of identifying what makes a good place to set up camp or build an emergency survival shelter. In general, you want to look for slightly slanted ground (so water doesn’t pool beneath your shelter) that is a safe distance away from any bodies of water or animal burrows.
Don’t set up your shelter or tent beneath dead trees or dead branches, as these can fall and inflict injury or cause death. If possible, avoid the tops of hills, as these can attract lightning and do not provide shelter from wind or rain.
In terms of building shelter, the options are almost limitless. You can choose what suits you best, from snow shelters for northern, wintry climes to hammock-and-tarp setups for warm environments that are prone to flooding. Investigate survival shelter techniques like debris shelters and emergency tarp tents. Know how to use an emergency bivvy and–of course–be familiar with how to set up most kinds of tents.
4. Tying Knots
Knot-tying is an often-neglected skill in modern life unless you frequent a climbing gym or rig for a living. Rather than the old-fashioned sailor’s skill it is often portrayed to be, knot-tying is crucial for outdoor pursuits. Here are just a few things you can do with a good knot:
- Use and tie paracord to string up a tarp
- Craft a makeshift guy line for a tent
- Hang up a hammock
- Build and bait an improvised fishing line or fix fishing gear
- Make an emergency kayak handle
- Fix straps on kayak seats, backpacks, hiking poles or ski poles
- Make a bow
5. Reading Weather
The ability to read the weather is a crucial skill for any outdoorsman. This isn’t just about reading weather forecasts, tracking the radar, evaluating avalanche reports or tracking wind speed if you’re climbing tall hills or mountains. It’s also about an ability to watch the sky, spot the differences between rain and storm clouds and discern weather patterns.
Aside from books or wilderness skills courses, the internet is a tremendous resource for those who wish to understand the weather of their local region better.
6. Sharpening a Knife
A dull knife is a dangerous knife. Knowing how to sharpen a knife on the trail helps to keep you safe.
Not only is a dull knife more challenging to cut with, but it’s also prone to slipping and inflicting wounds upon the user. Practice using and sharpening your knife with a kit or whetstone at home, so you’re comfortable on the trail.
You can also learn how to sharpen a knife in a wilderness emergency using river rocks and sand. Learning to rely on what you find in nature can be a great way to hone your survival skills.
7. Packing a Bag
Packing your backpack is a skill, and each outdoorsman or woman will have his or her preferences.
In general, remember to keep bulkier items closer to your back. This helps you maintain your center of balance. Put bulkier items toward the bottom of your back and keep essentials–like your wilderness first aid kit, snacks, map, compass, GPS device, phone and rain gear–near the top of your pack. Include triangular bandages and Israeli bandages in your first aid kit and take a wilderness first aid course to help keep you safe.
These are just a few of the many essential skills that every outdoor enthusiast should know and review. After you master these skills, consider moving on to map and compass navigation, water rescue and rope access. Practice makes perfect and challenging yourself regularly to learn more can help keep your mind, your skills and your respect for the natural world on point.