Honing Your Skills – practicing how to “be Prepared”

You should never go hiking with a brand new pair of boots without breaking them in first. Likewise, you should never expect to rely on any survival tips you’ve read about but never actually have practiced. It’s always best to check out gear or new techniques in a controlled environment before you go afield and may have to rely upon them in a real, less forgiving situation.

Whenever I am going to be out enjoying the outdoors, be it on a car camping trip or even an afternoon hike, I try to practice a survival or back-country skill that I might need to draw upon in a critical situation. I also like to try out new or improved pieces of gear before I have to put them to a more rigorous, extended test.

Walking sticks/staffs provide additional, stable flowing support to one’s hiking gait. The smooth, wooden tip of the shaft can sometimes skid upon contact with rocks or used to balance support over larger logs. They are mostly useless without grabbing/biting power on bare ice.

An easy solution is to attach some form of ice cleat to the tip. I added a triangle of Ice Spikes
to my staff and used it against rocks and logs on a recent hike and found that the staff bites firmly into both surfaces allowing me secure support and increased balance when leaning into the staff as I walk through or over such obstacles.

Using a watch face to find North is a classic, almost parlor trick, technique familiar to most back-country adventurers. What many don’t quite understand is that it doesn’t matter if your watch is analog (with hour/minute hands) or a digital read-out. All that matters is what time it is.

On a recent outing, I had a notebook in my pocket, and knew the time from an old flip-phone style cell phone. By drawing a circle on the paper, using a stick to cast a shadow from the edge of the circle so it fell through the center of the circle, I knew that the stick marked 3 pm on my dial face. Knowing the process of halving the distance between the current hour and noon, I could create a south to north line from that point on the circle. This entire process took about 30 seconds.

I carry a minimalist survival kit with me at all times, and I mean bare essentials only: a Swiss army knife, a very simple ‘flint’ and steel fire starter, and a signal whistle, all coupled together with a small carabiner. These tools would enable me to crate a shelter, light a fire and sound a signal when rescuers are within earshot.

Oftentimes while relaxing while on a hike, I’ll look around for potential spark-catching tinder, testing various
dried leaves and seed tuffs to see what catches the tender sparks thrown from the fire starter kit. Practice honing your fire-starting skills while learning what natural resources (mixed with the lint from your pockets, perhaps) makes the best tinder.

Even your backyard can be the testing lab for new products or recently-learned methods. The key is to be prepared, knowing the limitations/challenges of a technique you expect to rely upon and then honing your own skills to a level you can count on when it really matters.

Be Safe; Be Smart; Have Fun!

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