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5 skills that will save your ass

 

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We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. Wilderness survival isn’t about starting a fire with sticks, killing animals with elaborate traps, or drinking your own urine. Survival is about not dying – simple as that.

So we called our friend Tim MacWelch, an 18-year survival skills instructor and the author of a new book that teaches a wide berth of skills – from building a generator to catching fish with a PBR can – and asked him for some practical, no-bullsh*t survival tips. This is what he told us.

5. Learn to signal and communicate

You don’t need to learn Morse Code or those weird flag signals to communicate in the wilderness anymore (and no one under the age of 80 would know how to read your signals anyway), but calling for help and communicating your location are still essential to not dying in the wilderness.

The easiest way to stay in contact is the most obvious – bring a charged cell phone. Even if you can’t make a phone call in a remote area, you may be able to send a text message. With no service at all, search and rescue crews may be able to use your charged call phone to triangulate your position.

Without a phone, remember the golden rule of signaling: three of anything in succession signals distress. Set three fires or place three headlamps in a prominent location, blast your whistle three times or fire three gunshots, and any knowledgable person in the area should recognize this as a call for help.

4. Know how to build a fire

Starting a fire with a bow drill or hand drill is a neat trick. But in a survival situation, you’ll be grateful for a book of matches or a lighter. A good fire can be the difference between life and death on a cold night, so all backcountry travelers should have the tools and the skills to build one quickly and easily.

MacWelch recommends his students bring no less than three different ignition sources when traveling the backcountry. A Bic cigarette lighter works best, but waterproof matches and magnesium spark rods are also good options.

Practice fire building skills in camp or at home before your trip. MacWelch expects his students to build and light a fire with a single match, or to be able to build and light a fire in ten minutes with a cigarette lighter.

 

3. Understand shelter building

In a survival situation, shelter is your top priority. So if you find yourself lost or stranded, you should think about sheltering yourself from the elements long before you feel the need. And that doesn’t necessarily mean starting to work on a log cabin  just the clothes on your back count as shelter.

If you are concerned that you might be under-dressed, look for natural materials that might provide some additional insulation. Stuffing your shirt of jacket with leaves, pine needles, or moss can help you retain a surprising amount of body heat. If your concern is heat or sun, try to wet your clothes or use them to shade yourself.

You’re not likely to bring a tent or sleeping bag on a short day hike, but pack something that you can use for shelter if things take a turn for the worse. This can be a tarp, a space blanket, a poncho or even a spare jacket.

 

2. Use the buddy system

Sharing our backcountry adventures with other people is usually considered a social choice, not a survival skill. But grouping together has been one of mankind’s strongest survival skills since time immemorial  and that’s no less true today than it was in the days of sabre-toothed tigers and 8-track cassettes.

It only takes a quick look through the news to see why. Take the story of Aron Ralston: the solo hiker who famously liberated his own forearm to escape a Utah canyon. Solo adventurers are more likely to get lost or to make bad decisions in the backcountry, and are less likely to recover from the dire situations that result.

In a survival situation, an extra person can go for help, and can keep the a fire going while the other sleeps. So don’t be shy about asking that office acquaintance to join you on your next hike  it just might be what gets you home alive.

1. Develop a survival game plan

Above all else, MacWelch advises his students to approach every potential situation with a three-step game plan. First and foremost, he suggests filing a plan with someone before heading out. Let someone know where you are headed, when you plan to be back, what car you are driving and when you plan to park. If something does go wrong, a person with this knowledge can be your lifeline.

Secondly, he stresses the importance of a “survival mindset,” which pairs mental toughness, creativity, and a plucky, upbeat attitude. As a situation deteriorates and becomes dangerous, cultivating a sense of optimism will keep your mind active and open to potential solutions.

Finally, MacWelch suggests students always plan for the very worst. On a rock climbing trip, be ready to deal with an 80-foot ground fall. When hunting (or hiking during hunting season), be aware of the danger that you or someone from your party may be accidentally shot. It’s not paranoid to prepare for unlikely eventualities – and it just might save your ass.

Tim MacWelch is a Virginia-based survival instructor and author. His twitter handle is @timmacwelch

Pro Tip: Train an adventure dog

We love dogs. And, assuming our demographics are on point, we know a lot of our readers love dogs, too. But sometimes, no matter how much we love them, our dogs can become a chore at the crag, on the river, or on the trail.

So we reached out to the most adventurous dog owners we know (all sponsored by the folks at Ruffwear), and asked them how they keep their dogs fit, enthusiastic and obedient in the great outdoors

Karluk – The thru-hiker

Whitney LaRuffa understands distance hiking – and so do his dogs. All told, LaRuffa has hiked more than 6,000 miles with his canine companions. He’s dialed his systems so expertly he now tours the country giving talks about his backcountry experiences with man’s best friend.

His youngest companion, Karluk, has already hiked the entire Tahoe Rim Trail, the Timberline Trail, and 300 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. But not before some substantial prep work. 

In addition to basic obedience training, LaRuffa trains his dogs to return to the singletrack or stop on command, and to freeze at the sight of wildlife. It’s a slow process, he says, which starts short hikes with the use of a harness and short leash. 

On long hikes, LaRuffa loads his dogs with packs that carry no more 25 percent of their body weight, and takes care to bury or pack out his animals’ waste. For a complete look at his method for backpacking with dogs, check out his website.

Cajun – the B.AS.E. companion

 Climber and B.A.S.E. jumper Steph Davis and her dog, Cajun
Most dogs can sit, stay and heel. But when your owner is professional free solo climber and B.A.S.E. jumper Steph Davisthe usual repertoire just doesn’t cut it.  Found abandoned and starving by a cell tower at less than a year old, Cajun was raised from a barking, rebellious pup. After years of training, she’s become a near-perfect crag dog  trained to wait at the base of long climbs or to run to bottom of B.A.S.E. jumps (see a video).So what happened? ”We started carrying spray bottles of water everywhere,” says Davis, “and squirting her every time she bit, chewed, or barked. It worked like a charm!”Paired with “nonstop” positive reinforcement and strict enforcement of crag etiquette, this strategy has transformed Cajun from a liability to an invaluable backcountry partner (that can reportedly handle fourth-class slab better than most humans).

Riley and Kona – the paddlers

Riley and Kona riding obediently on a paddleboard with their owner, Maria Schultz

When Maria Schultz first took her dog Riley out on her paddleboard, there was a lot of splashing, a lot of running, and not a lot of actual paddling. But she’s since gotten so good at training her dogs for the activity that she’s written a book with her tips and tricks.

Any dog can be a paddling dog,” says Schultz. “You just have to teach them to sit and stay.” The real trick is conditioning dogs to be comfortable on the paddleboard itself – a feat Schultz managed by bringing the board into her home and playing with the dogs on top of it.

Everything should be fun for your dog,” she says. “Everything should be a game.” When your dog is ready their first trip on the water, break up short paddles with games of fetch on the shore.

Even dogs with strong swimming skills should wear a life jacket, says Schultz. These jackets are often brightly colored and have attached handles, features that will come in handy when you have to spot your dog in rapids or pull them back onto your board.

 

 

 

 

Cook a backcountry Thanksgiving

For all its virtues (family, football, about 2,500 gravy-soaked calories), the annual Thanksgiving feast has one major drawback: it’s almost always eaten inside.

And sure, it’s nice to have a comfortable couch to recline on when the tryptophan kicks in. But if you’re anything like us, you feel more like giving thanks in the great outdoors than you do in the dining room.

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5 reasons you aren’t motivated

When you made your fitness resolutions in January, you did everything right: you set realistic goals, you built sustainable behavior patterns … all that stuff. But now it’s been eight months, and your enthusiasm is waning.

Don’t worry – it happens to the best of us. But not always for the same reasons. So to understand what went wrong, we turned to Boulder-based sports psychologist Dr. Doug Jowdy, who helped us make these resolutions in the first place.

1. You’re bored

The problem: It just isn’t fun anymore. You’ve been doing the same few activities over and over again for months, and you’re sick of them. Your workout has gone from “want to” to “have to” – no wonder you’re not stoked about it.

The solution: Mix it up. If you’ve been focused on endurance sports, try something social like tennis, squash, or basketball. Spend a day lifting heavy weights, or hike a trail you’ve never tried before.

2. You’re psyched out

The problem: The problem?! Where should you start? Your job is driving you nuts, your checkbook is running on empty, and your social life feels like pro wrestling plotline. You’ve got troubles, and they’re making it tough to find time for the gym.

The solution: Sort it out. Take exercise out of your schedule for a few weeks, and use that time to work on those bigger issues. This is called solution-focused coping – and while it won’t solve all your problems right away, it will at least help you bring a clear mind to your workout.

3. You’re not eating and/or sleeping enough

The problem: Unhealthy habits are doing you in. Sure, you stay active. But that’s not the only ingredient for good health. Successful fitness is all about stress and recovery, and your body can’t fully recover if you aren’t treating it right.

The solution: For starters, make sure you’re getting enough sleep. If you’re pushing your body in the gym or on the trail every day, chances are good that you aren’t giving yourself eight hours a night. Make a point to stay hydrated, and keep your calorie count high, especially if your focus is on endurance sports like hiking, running, or cycling.

4. You’re overdoing it

The problem: You tried to do too much, too fast. Maybe you’re trying to go couch-to-marathon in three months. Or maybe you’re trying to keep up with a training partner twenty years your junior. Whatever the reason, your body is using irritability and lethargy to send you a message – it needs a break.

The solution: Listen to your body. A healthy fitness regimen incorporates periodization – alternation of heavy and light doses of exercise. Mix in some active rest – swap your run for a hike, or your heavy lifting session for an easy bike ride. If you don’t have rest in your exercise plan, put it in.

5. You’re sick

The problem: You tried all this stuff already. You’re well rested, you eat right, and your stress level is at all-time low. But when it comes time to lace up your running shoes or strap on your bike helmet, you feel glued to the couch.

The solution: It’s hard to say. But persistent sluggishness isn’t normal, especially for active people. Make an appointment for a physical – you could be fighting an infection or struggling with some kind of thyroid dysfunction.

 

 

5 first-aid essentials

Let’s be honest - most of our outdoor adventures are day hikes or one-night backpacking trips, not week-long expeditions. So a lot of us go into the backcountry without the added weight of a first aid kit.

And that’s no good. So we called up our friend Tod Schmilpfenig of NOLS, who literally wrote the book on wilderness medicine, to ask him what’s in his first aid kit. You’ll be surprised how little is in there – Schimelpfenig says the whole thing fits in a 3″x 5″ ziploc bag.  

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5 ways to go farther

A profile of ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes

Dean Karnazes once ran 350 miles without sleep. He ran 50 marathons in 50 states … in 50 days. He’s a bestselling fitness author, and has probably the most impressive calves in the galaxy.

So in our unceasing quest to hike farther and feel better, we gave Dean a call and asked him to share his secrets to moving fast and living well.

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Don’t die: Heat stroke

Hiker in Judea desert mountains, Israel

It’s hot. And your hiking partner isn’t looking so … great. He isn’t saying much, but after an hour or so on the trail he’s gone all white and clammy. You know it’s his right to be uncomfortable, but how can you tell if he’s in danger?

Look for changes in speech or behavior, says Tod Schimelpfenig, curriculum director for the Wilderness Medicine Institute of NOLS. Life-threatening overheating is called heat stroke, and almost always comes along with hallucinations, seizures, or a loss of balance.

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5 ways to go stronger, longer


Stamina is important. Whether your next endurance challenge is a 100-mile ultramarathon or a five-mile day hike, you don’t want to hit the wall halfway through.

So this week, we turned to veteran ultrarunner, Ultimate Direction brand manager, and enduro supermutant Buzz Burrell. Follow his advice below, and you’ll still feel like showing those pearly whites (teeth, not thighs) at the finish line.

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5 ways to not die

Wilderness survival isn’t all bow-drilled fires, rabbit snares, and no-holds-barred cougar wrestling. Generally speaking, survival skills are just a set of techniques you can use to not die.

For no-nonsense pointers on how to come home in one piece, we turned to Steve Dessinger, who directs programs for the famously spartan Boulder Outdoor Survival School. They’re not all that sexy, but they might save your life.

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Barefoot running – in 550 words

Barefoot running is everywhere  – even the shoe store. Americans spent an estimated $59 million on “minimalist” footwear last year, and that number appears to be on the rise in 2013.

But eager as we are to fit in, we weren’t ready to bare our soles without getting answers to a few questions. So here it is – our introduction to the barefoot running trend in less than 550 words starting… now.

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