Don’t Hike Off a Cliff – Before You Know How

In commercial arboriculture, new tree climbers are trained “low and slow”. This allows trainees to get accustomed to the equipment, body positioning, and cutting techniques, in a controlled, graduated manner. Full training can take many years of consistent practice. New backpackers and campers would be well advised to follow the same practice. Yet…

Every year I hear stories [note the plural] on the local news of how North Shore Search and Rescue is being called once again to bailout another dumbass. Among those being rescued, the most striking similarity seems to be the total lack of forethought, preparation and proper equipment. These same deficiencies arise again and again – no navigation skills, misjudged amount of daylight, under equipped, no trip plan, no contingency for a night out, etc., etc., etc. They couldn’t be bothered to learn, or worse, implement, the bare essentials before heading into the bush.

In most of these situations just a bit of experience, coupled with common sense, would have served these “victims” well. With 20/20 hindsight, rational people cringe at the stupidity, and “it won’t happen to me” attitude, of these fools.

There are numerous ways of gaining experience, the easiest of which, to my mind, is getting a good book(s) on the subject and practicing the skills in your backyard or local park (I’m thinking of knots and shelter setup here, not starting a forest fire). Next, head to a well trodden campsite for a weekend. With a map and compass in hand, practice navigating easy green spaces and trails. In a semi-controlled situation, try different types of gear and see what works for you, and just as important, what doesn’t. Have an easy out, whether it’s spare gear, or a short walk to the car.

Once you have the basics, you can gradually wander further from the pack to tackle more challenging terrain, and under a variety of climatic conditions. It won’t take long to learn the essentials, but do learn them. Don’t be in a hurry for a grand month long adventure, do weekends first.

Play what if. If you were delayed for reason X and unable to make it back to your vehicle before dusk, what would you do? If you were injured, lost, out of water, separated from the group. If your backpack or tent ripped. If you’re on a side hike and can’t find your way back to camp. If. If. If. This isn’t to make you paranoid. When you can answer these questions on a consistent basis, your confidence will begin to grow.

The outdoors offers a variety of activities in a constantly changing environment, and learning to adapt and enjoy the situations you find yourself in is an ongoing process. If you ask a seasoned outdoors person, I think you’ll find they are still learning new techniques and refinements, and most, if not all, would advise against complacency and lack of forethought. Get out there, but don’t “just do it,” as you’re more likely to get done.