The pictures I’ve taken don’t do justice to the experiences I’ve had, experiences of freedom, self-reliance, community, and even fear. One time in Western Pennsylvania, for example, a hiking partner and I were washed off the trail by a massive thunderstorm. This taught us important lessons about survival, keeping a cool head in pressure and preparedness as we struggled our way back to the trail.
Camping has very direct carry-over for a prepper’s life. Camping allows us to learn valuable skills and put knowledge into action. It also gives us an opportunity to test ourselves away from civilization, even if it’s only a dozen or so miles away.
In this article, we will examine some of the lessons that can be taken from camping and hiking and how they have explicit or implicit connections to prepping.
Soft Skills and Hard Skills
Hiking and camping are ways of teaching two types of skills, hard skills and soft skills. By my definition, hard skills are things that you use your hands for, things that are physical, like building shelter or gathering wood or cooking with a campfire.
Soft skills are skills that are more mental, like managing stress or conflict, having general survival knowledge, knowing how to navigate and learning to follow your “sense” about building shelter or using specific skills.
Paying attention to and using these hard and soft skills are what create the largest carry-over between camping and prepping. Camping gives us an environment where we can use or learn new skills, rely on our knowledge and test new gear.
It also gives us experience in the backcountry and having a limited amount of supplies, something that you truly cannot know until you experience it firsthand. Reading about it or watching a video on the internet doesn’t do it justice.
Connecting to the idea of using skills and knowledge while camping, camping can teach us valuable lessons in self-reliance. Self-reliance is becoming more and more passé in a world of instant information and complete connection. It’s becoming less necessary to tinker and to learn skills when Youtube or Wikipedia can give us all the information we need.
Self-reliance happens when it’s just us a problem that needs to be addressed. It’s about being aware of our abilities and limitations and being able to use our knowledge and skills effectively. It’s also about having confidence in our own abilities to manage difficult situations.
Camping can teach this because it gives us a situation where we are limited in our ability to use technology and must rely on skills and spontaneity. It takes away the safety blanket a bit and makes for reliance on simple gear and simple skills. This is especially true for the minimalist camping style that is becoming more popular and uses a bare minimum of gear during a hike. Self-reliance is something we can hone while spending time in the woods or backcountry using the skills we learn while at home.
Bushcraft is a term used to refer to wilderness skills. If you’ve watches Les Stroud or Dave Canterbury on television, you have been exposed to bushcraft. The aim of bushcraft is survival in the wilderness by using skills, techniques and tools in a minimalist perspective. It is an ultimate survival skillset and something that is sharpened by camping.
Bushcraft is built around using knives, axes and simple tools to forage, hunt, fish, build shelter and ultimately survive. For example, a bushcraft campsite could incorporate a simple shelter made of tarp, rope and branches with traps to catch small rodents, a handmade bow or atlatl for larger game and a fire built using a fire bow. While you may not need to be this extreme on a camping trip, but camping does allow you to practice bushcraft skills in a wilderness setting.
Food and Gear
There is a weird feeling in the backcountry of knowing you’re away from civilization and have limited supplies, but also knowing that your pack carries food, water and shelter – the necessities of survival.
Camping teaches you how to pack food and ration accordingly. When you go on an extended camping trip you quickly learn that you can survive on less food than you think and that simple, packable foods are the best. When I got camping I’ll usually bring lots of bars, jerky and packs of almond or hazelnut butter. It may not be “comfort food” but it allows me to get an accurate read of the total calories I’m carrying. Hiking allows you to learn how much food, or how many calories, make for a comfortable trip.
Camping also allows you to experiment with different camp stoves and cooking gear, if you decide to pack non-prepared foods. I’ve gotten by with a minimalist kit including a sterno, wire stove ring and a cup that I use mainly for morning coffee or tea, but you can get much techier with your gear by buying something like a Jetboil. There is always the question of weight and space though, much like with a bug-out-bag. Camping teaches you to check everything you put in your pack and ask if it deserves the added weight.
Camping and hiking can teach you the value of other people and make for some very concentrated interactions. Camping with partners allows for tasks to be divided so that more can get done in a shorter time. There is also the general truth that your group’s knowledge is the sum total of all of your experiences. So, if you have a newbie hiking with an expert, the knowledge and experience level is automatically heightened.
There are also times were hiking with partners can make for difficult moments. Once, when I was hiking in the Allegheny forest, a friend of mine tried to take over navigation duties and got the whole group lost off the trail. It wasn’t too difficult to find our way back, but it also made for high tensions within a tired and hungry group trying to find camp for the evening. Moments like this can test friendships but also give an important lesson in managing conflict in a group.
In a survival situation, these lessons in managing group stress and conflict and using the knowledge of the group can be invaluable. It’s easy to be distrustful and to choose isolation, but even still, you might have a family or close group of friends to look after. It is important to be able to manage the interactions that can come and camping is way to experience this on a smaller scale.
Preparing a campsite is an almost an art form. It can make a big difference to your mentality whether you have a well-prepared campsite or one that is hastily picked. The shelter is a part of this, but so is the area around the shelter. Camping is a way to learn what makes an enjoyable campsite and teaches you what to look for hazards like dead trees, unstable ground or exposure to insects or animals. This is also the time to test your gear and find what’s the most comfortable for you whether it’s a tent, bivvy or hammock.
Hiking is a great way to get quality exercise specific for traveling distances by foot.
Walking for distance under a load builds both strength and endurance. Add in some hills and you’re getting a high-quality level of exercise. Hiking also makes for mental benefits in that hiking forces you to keep moving, within reason, which could simulate a disaster situation where you’re tired and hungry but need to keep moving.
When I was hiking in Yellowstone, I almost encountered a grizzly bear. My group had a sense that a bear was close, there were markings on the trail and bear droppings and when we came upon another campsite two people were up in a tree with a handgun, watching the trail. They told us we were about 2 minutes behind the bear and would have caught up to it if we were a little bit faster. This was a pretty frightening moment, especially considering that in that summer 2 people were killed by grizzly bears in Yellowstone (and another in nearby Gallatin National Park), the first time this happened in more than 20 years.
Camping can make for some scary moments with predators, including bears, wolves and snakes to name a few. My story illustrates how being in the backcountry exposes us to animals that can easily kill us. However, I did learn an important lesson in my near-brush with a grizzly and that’s to follow my instincts about being close to other animals. It also taught me to be prepared as I clutched my bear mace and used my bear bell while walking down the trail. Camping makes for a scenario where you can come up against physical danger but also forces you to learn how to deal with it and have a sense for it.
Everything mentioned above suggests this main point about camping: camping is a way to learn and use survival skills with the safety net of knowing your miles from your car or permanent shelter. Sure, camping is a great way to get in touch with nature, enjoy a bit of adventure and get weekend exercise outside of the gym or running track, but it is also the time where we test and hone our skills.
It’s up to you how you want to do this. Do you want a comfortable yet heavy camping trip where you pack everything you need or will you take a minimalist approach that makes you rely on knowledge and simple gear? The former will allow for adventure, but the latter may make for the best way to create something like a survival environment.
What are your own experiences with camping and how have they informed your prepping lifestyle? Please comment below.