backcountry skills

Survey Says: Help me build a fire, ID a constellation and more

A big thanks to all of you who responded to our June survey about how we can help you become a better hiker/backpacker. Your response was helpful because until now, we’ve relied primarily on anecdotal information — chatting with you on hikes and trips — to create our programs. This survey helped us see where we were making good guesses, and where we weren’t. 

Today, we look at your main needs, based on the survey, and address how we plan to help. 

We’ve made a good guess on one of your biggest interests: getting better at navigating the woods. Asked if you needed help figuring out how to use a map and compass, then relating that information to the terrain around you, 84 percent said yes. 

Solution: We feel that we’ve had that base covered for the past three years in our GetOriented! Finding Your Way in the Woods class, which spends a half hour or so going over basic map and compass usage, then takes you down the trail, and off, to help you make sense of your newfound knowledge. We’ve got two GetOriented! classes scheduled this month. See below for details.

What gear should I buy?

Another big area you’d like help with: gear. You have, understandably, lots of questions about gear, especially how to pick the gear that’s right for you (68 percent), what are the key things to look for when buying gear (52 percent), where can I find good deals (48 percent), and where can I find honest gear reviews (48 percent).

Solution: While we address gear pretty thoroughly in our GetBackpacking! Intro to Backpacking class, we haven’t addressed general hiking gear. This fall, we’re going to launch a series of gear-related clinics. The format hasn’t been determined, but the clinics likely will take the form of midweek, evening get-togethers of a show-and-tell nature. Look for details in mid-August.

Help me understand the natural world

And there were several areas where we’ve been no help. Take the arena of being a better naturalist

Topping your list of naturalist wants: to be better at reading the night sky. Boy howdy. It’s frustrating to have a pristine night sky on a camping trip or night hike and have no clue what’s going on up there.

Solution: Our plan is to team up with one of the existing night sky watching programs run by local astronomy groups and tap their expertise. We’ll start that in August; look for details soon.

Shoot me, eat me

In the category of artistic expression, 50 percent of you said you wished you could take better photos with your smartphone. Better micro photos, better long shots, better photos of your fellow hikers. Really, it’s mostly a matter of following a few simple rules of photographic thumb that can be taught. We have an instructor in mind and hope to offer the first class in August.

Better identify what I can and can’t eat in the woods. We’re guessing a number of you heard the “Dangerously Delicious” episode of the Outside podcast in which a mis-ID’d mushroom cast a pall over a dinner party. (If you haven’t heard it, give it a listen.) This class is also on the list for fall, again with details to come in August.

Trip planning

Planning a successful trip takes practice and patience. It also takes knowing what to look for when planning, and where to look for it. Also, having spreadsheet skills is a good thing. GetBackpacking! Trip Leader Scott Hicks is one of the most meticulous and effective hike planners we know, and he will be sharing his expertise in a two-part clinic this fall. Details and dates shortly.

24 Hours of Backcountry Skills

We may have given the impression that we’re waiting until fall to start offering these skills clinics. Au contraire! In fact, on Aug. 10-11 we’re holding our first GetBackpacking! 24 Hours of Backcountry Skills clinic, at Eno River State Park in Durham. We’ll start at 3 p.m. Saturday (Aug. 10), hiking the half mile to our campsite (loaner backpacks are available for non-backpackers). We’ll start with three 20-minute rotating skills clinics covering bear hangs, knot tying (the key knots to know and what they’re used for), and leave no trace. We’ll work on building a fire before dinner at 5:30 p.m., then strike out at 7:30 for a 3.25-mile hike to work on dusk-into-night navigation skills. Sunday, we’ll work on building a fire again over breakfast, then head out for a four-hour wayfinding session that begins with a 20-minute intro to basic map and compass use, followed by a mostly off-trail 2.5-mile hike in which we work to relate your newfound map and compass knowledge jibe with the terrain around you. We’ll wrap up around 2 p.m.

Again, thanks for participating in our survey and helping us shape our upcoming skills clinics. We’re looking forward to it. Hope you are as well.

Sign up!

Here’s where to go for information on the skills classes currently on our calendar. Again, we’ll announce additional classes as a result of our survey results in mid-August.

GetBackpacking! 24 Hours of Backcountry Skills, Aug. 10-11, Eno River State Park, Durham. Go here to learn more and sign up.

GetOriented! Finding Your Way in the Woods. We have two upcoming sessions of this 3-hour clinic that begins with a half-hour session getting acquainted with a map and compass, then spends about two and a half hours meandering through the woods to help you make sense of how the map and compass relate to the terrain around you.

Triad, Haw River State Park, Greensboro, Wednesday, July 24, 5:30-8 p.m. Here for more info and to sign up.

Triangle, Eno River State Park, Durham, Wednesday, July 31, 5:30-8 p.m. Here for more info and to sign up.

And the winner is …

backcountry skills
Action shot of Dave Anderson on a trip to Standing Indian.

As thanks for participating in our skills survey, we — and by “we,” we mean our good friends at Great Outdoor Provision Co. — gave away an awesome Osprey Stratos 24 daypack. An impartial drawing of eligible participants, whose names were in a Talenti container, was held at the weekly Tuesday evening meeting of the Weaver Street Market Knitting Guild, Hillsborough Chapter, with guild member Nancy drawing the name of Dave Anderson of Garner. “Way cool,” replied Dave upon hearing the news. Hopefully we’ll see Dave and his way cool pack on the trail soon!

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