Your Brain Needs To Be Changed When Going Outdoors

The way your brain thinks on a daily basis brings you comfort. We look around us and ensure that we have what we need and what we want. It could be a cup of coffee, your favorite book, or your favorite pair of pants. But what if…

IMAGINE IF YOU WILL

You are walking in the woods, heading towards your favorite spot with a magnificent view. You just have to show your friend. It’s a nice warm day with a cool breeze blowing through the trees. To convince them to go on the hike, you told them you would drive them, pack the food, and even carry the pack. 

It is when you mentioned some of the narrow trails along the mountainside that they almost backed out. Because you have an adventurous attitude, you finally convince them not to worry and you “got this”.

No work. No stress. No chores. Just nature in all its beauty. You’re excited to go to your spot even if your friend wasn’t with you.

The first two miles are relatively easy. Even though the path has not been used very much, you can still see it easily. It is a little steep in areas and the switchbacks just add to the fun. 

You get to the clearing halfway up the mountain and stop to take a break and a drink of water. Pulling your backpack off your shoulders and sitting it on the ground, you feel thankful for the relief. The one condition to you carrying everything was your friend had to carry their own water. 

They ask you if this is the spot because it was pretty but not all that you made it out to be. You grin and say it’s not even close. You both take another swig of water. Look out at the view. Your friend thinks it will be a good joke to make you carry the rest of the their water. They grab your backpack to put their water bottle in it.

Realizing the bottom strap is caught on a random root, they give it a little tug. It breaks free and goes over the edge of the trail. You know the trail where there is a 50’ straight drop over the edge. Yeah, that trail.

Busy soaking it all in, you reach for your bag to put your water bottle back. You realize it’s not there. You do a brief search and then look at your friend who is looking over the edge with their mouth wide open holding a half full bottle of water.

They look at you and then look back down. Fear and panic strikes because you know what just happened. The sinking feeling in your gut tells you the backpack is…is…is over the edge. 

Your blood starts to boil. You have been friends a long time but you are seriously thinking about how gravity works on a human body. Peering over the edge you cannot see the gear. There is no ledge, no trees or any way to climb down to get it. It is gone…forever.

You both sit down in silence. You have timed this location too many times. It is five miles until you reach the main path and another five back to the vehicle. You’ve been hiking since 7:00 and it is just past 3:00. You were planning to spend the night at the spot and not go back down until tomorrow.

Mixed emotions swirl through your brain as your friend is trying to apologize for the tenth time. You once again, hold up your hand and shake your head.

What are you going to do? 

REDUNDANT MINDSET

This scenario and question has been posed to many of my classes. The horror on the face of some of the wives told the story they were not prepared for. One gentleman almost broke down to cry at the thought of how it impacted his wife.

Most of the time, before the class, I have casual conversations and ask what gear everyone carries. With a few following questions, I find the husband or the more adventurous person is usually carrying most of the gear.

The conversation and lesson that follows helps to change their kit mentality and overall thinking. Because of this process most people leave thankful and relieved. While others process the  situation you can see it weighing on their shoulders.

So what do you do? 

While not wrong, most people think if they carry two of everything, they are practicing redundancy. This brings them comfort for any situation. However, we see in the real life story the only redundant item is their water bottles.

By thinking of alternatives as opposed to duplicates for each piece of gear, you can completely change your brain. You are now practicing redundancy.

CHANGING YOUR BRAIN ABOUT A KNIFE

Admitting the knife is the most needed and hardest thing to reproduce in nature is a great start. I use this one to help shock you into what I am about to suggest. If your knife was not on your hip or in your pocket, it would either have been forgotten or placed in a backpack.

I wasn’t always prepared. I have encountered a very similar situation in which I was out scouting with a small pocket knife and it got lost. I’m still not sure how it happened but it did.

You may think you don’t need a knife and can get by without one. And you may be 100% accurate. But we will run through the rest of the list and I want you to revisit this subject later.

One alternative to create a “knife” in the wild is through what I call Monkey Knapping. Most people have done this as a child. You hit a rock with another rock and it breaks. Sometimes, you can produce a sharp edge. 

By doing this with intention, you can produce a somewhat usable edge for sawing or basic cutting. For example, take a roundish rock and strike the edge of it on a much bigger rock. You should shear off a good portion of the smaller rock. One of those edges might be relatively sharp. Do it again and you could produce the cutting edge. 

This is monkey knapping and is the basic process behind flint knapping. It can be one alternative to change your brain.

CHANGING YOUR BRAIN ABOUT CORDAGE

When teaching the class, I pull a hank of paracord out of my kit and a smaller hank of bank line out of my pocket. I ask what happens if you have already used all of your cordage for something else or if it gets lost.

There is a process of using other materials that can be utilized as cordage. Learning how to do this provides the alternative.While maybe not as easy or as good as the man-made items, it can still benefit you.

CHANGING YOUR BRAIN ABOUT A CONTAINER

To me, a container was the hardest to “reproduce” in the wild. And at times I still struggle with it.  You can learn how to make containers from bark, clay or even a wooden log. By doing this you will find a sense of confidence and security that you didn’t even know was missing.

CHANGING YOUR BRAIN ABOUT FIRE

Your brain may tell you, “It’s warm outside. You don’t need a fire” and in some cases you may be right. But it’s not just about warmth.

One example is boiling water to kill contaminants. But the only place for you to get water is from a stream. It looks clean and clear, but what lurks underneath says otherwise. Unfortunately these days, you need to consider any moving or still body of water contaminated. 

There may be a dead animal upstream. There may be runoff from a cow pasture up river. The fact is without a test kit, lab and microscope, you don’t know.

CHANGING YOUR BRAIN ABOUT SHELTER

“I’ll just sleep out under the stars”

I’ve said this more times than I can actually remember. And a good number of times I enjoyed the night…but not always.

You’ve been outside where it is a beautiful day and a couple of clouds started rolling in. The accompanying shower of rain was definitely enough to get you soaked even though it didn’t last long. 

The breeze started blowing and chilled you. You couldn’t wait to get inside or someplace warm. This is why you need many ways to have a shelter. 

Notice I said have a shelter not necessarily built. A shelter can be at the base of a low hanging evergreen tree or natural formation such as a cave.

THINKING OUTSIDE OF THE BOX

We all hope we can go adventuring without incident. I would hazard a guess that 90% of the time this is true. While I don’t believe in promoting fear, I do believe in promoting preparedness with a few examples of changing your brain.

Sometimes we don’t have the benefit of possessing what we need in certain situations. We have to look at our surroundings and take inventory of what we have versus what is needed. This applies to urban and rural environments.

By changing your mentality around being comfortable with what you have to noticing what is around you, you may just save your life. And heaven forbid you are also responsible for someone else.

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Bill Reese

Author Bill Reese

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Join the discussion One Comment

  • David Hemenway says:

    I enjoyed reading this article. Thought provoking.

    I hiked up to ‘The Bowl’ in the Guadalupe Mountains of west Texas in 1985. The trail was only three miles long, but rose over 2,000 feet. I had 60 pounds of gear in my pack, and I was carrying an 8 gallon cooler with ice (yeah, I was not too bright). Planned to stay for a few days.
    Anyway, after about 5 hours, I reached the top and found a nice spot for a camp with a great view of the Chihuahua desert looking east. Gonna be a fantastic Sunrise.
    I started to set up camp when I noticed my belt knife was gone. It had fallen out of the sheath somewhere on the trail. It was a new blade, and the only one that I brought.
    I set up camp and began my descent. The knife had fallen out about 300 yards from the trailhead. Only took me a little over an hour to go down, and get back up, without any gear except a canteen.
    That was when I started thinking about what I carried, and why. And now I always carry more than one knife.
    I still pack heavier than some. Definitely not an ultralight backpacker. And I do like to think about what I would need if I decided to stay indefinitely. Multi-use items, and redundancy are an important part of the process.

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