By Jared Dangremond
When I went backpacking this past summer in north Georgia, I had no idea how my trip would pan out. It certainly wasn’t my first time backpacking, nor my first time on the specific trail we hiked in Cloudland Canyon State Park. However, it was the first time for my friend Kyle, which meant for the first time I was backpacking with someone who had never been before.
Now Kyle is a capable young lad, but in this context I was the one who had to do the heavy metaphorical lifting. (The physical lifting was split between us with around 40 pounds on both of our backs.) I packed everything we needed from a first aid kit to a deck of cards. I labored intensely making sure I got everything we needed because when you’re out on the trail, you only have what you brought in your pack.
Yet somehow we forgot everything. Well not everything, but it seemed like with every half mile of hiking I remembered something else we were lacking. First, I realized I forgot that deck of cards. Then, Kyle realized he forgot a lighter and some tinder for the fire. But most importantly we realized a miscommunication between the two of us left us with just one person’s supply of water.
We were never in any real danger or anything, but our lacks made us very careful and deliberate with our actions in a way that we, as a culture, are not used to doing. I called upon all of my survival knowledge that I had obtained during my days as a Boy Scout and together we made it through the weekend. The two of us rationed water effectively, and I managed to start a decent fire without a lighter (in the truest of Boy Scout ways). A great time was had by all, despite a couple of panic attacks in the beginning.
At the end of the trip Kyle asked me how I knew what I did and how I was able to quickly call and act upon my survival knowledge. I suppose I was taught some things by my parents and some things by friends, but most was probably learned through experience.
I learned from Kyle that people are scared to try “outdoors-ier” things because of a lapse of knowledge they don’t believe they can overcome. While it’s true you can’t learn all the necessary survival skills from a WikiHow article the night before, there are many ways to gather knowledge so that you feel comfortable venturing out into the world.
First there are guides for all sorts of outdoor activities and necessary skills that can be found online. I have, on many occasions, supplemented my knowledge with some YouTube videos. I’ve always been more of a visual learner, but there are thousands of written guides in print and online alike. These are especially useful for things like first aid information or maybe even knot tying guides. Of course, those can actually be folded into a backpack or saved to your phone.
In addition to reading guides, studying up on the specific place you’re heading to is also wise. Learning what kind of flora and fauna are there, especially the dangerous ones, will prepare you for a safe trip. This usually goes without saying, but also checking weather forecasts and actively preparing for potential conditions goes a long ways towards surviving and enjoying time outdoors. So many problems can be prevented with proper gear for heat, cold, wind and rain. And finally, many online forums actually have reviews and helpful advice for certain parks, areas or trails. Sometimes seasoned hikers or outdoorsmen and women will share helpful tips specific to the area you’re heading to.
But reading and watching guides, especially on depressing things like what to do if a bear eats all of your food, can really bog you down. Sometimes all of the information can scare away someone from doing any outdoor activity all together. So while it is very important to be knowledgeable about important things like first aid and situational issues such as bears, it is also important to not overload with information and just go out there. Like I said, the majority of my outdoor knowledge came from trying things out. The outdoors isn’t as scary of a place as it might seem. Whether it’s a day hike in Georgia or a summit attempt on Everest, doing a little bit of preparing, grabbing a friend and just going somewhere is the best way to experience what nature has to offer.