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3 Basic Skills

Get Outside

Things are starting to cool off here in Montana and will start doing so across the country within the next month. This means that more people are getting outside and doing things like camping, hiking, and overall just being outdoorsy. But before you go into the woods, there are 3 basic skills that every person needs to have, even if it is “just in case”.


3 Basic Skills #1: Start a fire

One of the basics of being outdoors is having a fire. From warming yourself, to cooking food, to boiling water to drink this is a core requirement to every person’s skill set. While using a lighter is ideal and a safety net, one must also know what type of wood to use and whether it is even usable. While building a fire is not a difficult task, there can be an art to it.

Outside of some evergreens, burning green wood is next to impossible. One way to tell if it is green is to cut it and put the cut side on your cheek. If it is cold or cool, it is too green to burn. You will be lucky if you get a fire with this wood even if you had a flame thrower.

Once the wood is gathered, you cannot just flick your Bic and expect the log to light. You need tinder which is something that lights easily. Dryer lint, petroleum jelly soaked cotton balls, or even the inside stuffings of cattail are ideal for starting an assured fire.

Place small sticks in a loose bundle in your ideal fire spot. Keep in mind if the ground is wet, you need a way to keep the small sticks from laying on the ground. Place your tinder inside the bundle and light. As the fire rises, add more small sticks and then ultimately, your bigger sticks or logs. Then sit back and watch bushcraft television.


3 Basic Skills #2: Build a Shelter

The next core skill is building a shelter. I know, you are only going for a few hours. Many people have said that very thing only to die of hypothermia because the weather changes rapidly in some areas. Here in the mountains, the clouds can roll in, start chilling the air, and dump a bucket of water on your head in a matter of minutes. Then you get chilled and when the breeze starts blowing, you start losing basic motor skills.

At minimum carry a small heat blanket. These things fit in your pocket and are relatively cheap at your local big box store. However and ideally, you want to carry a quick tarp. This is a tarp that folds up fairly small and fits in a day pack or even a pocket. Some even come with a “cool” clip for your belt.

Add about 25’ of paracord or rope of your choosing and you will be able to make a lean-to shelter in less than 5 minutes. If you’ve never done it before, it may take a little practice and a little longer but the goal is a shelter that will work. Fast speed is not a necessity.

For a quick fix, a tarp can be draped around you like a blanket. But a lean-to is great for more than one person or if you are going to be there a while. Simply make sure the bottom is staked further back than the secured top side of the tarp. Once complete it will look similar to one side of a roof, which is actually the function that it serves.

3 Basic Skills #3: Land Navigation

This becomes one of the highly debatable skills that one should have before going into the woods. Many hikers have gotten lost just by walking off the trail to use the bathroom or following a butterfly. We all hope Search and Rescue will come for us but they ideally like self-rescue.

Some of the major outdoor stores and even some mom and pop outfitters offer a basic land navigation class for little to no money. Now they do hope you will buy a map and compass from them which is ideal. Otherwise, you’ve taken the class for no reason. Once you are in the woods it is too late to pull out a map for the first time. You need to know where you are going, where you will be, and even where you have been.

Simply put, a map, a compass, and a little time and money investment will go a long way to ensure you see another day. Even if you never use the skill, there is comfort in knowing you can get out of the woods as easy as you went in.

The reality of things

Yes, these are 3 basic skills that every outdoorsman should have and something everyone should know before going into the woods. To expand your “toolkit”, you and the person going with you should possess these skills. Then if the need arises, you can each take a task or help each other with a single one.

Hopefully, you left a plan with someone who cares. Because at its core, survival is not pretty. Knowing these 3 basic skills can give some added assurance that you will make it out alive.


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Bill Reese

Author Bill Reese

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