The Importance of Outdoor Skills

…Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms, and shade trees to make temporary shelters…”

Nehemiah 8:15b

If you were stranded in woods and had to build a shelter, could you? Could you build a fire?

Just a couple of generations ago, every person in Western Civilization would be able to say yes. Not so today.

Just over 10 years ago, I went along with my son’s Boy Scout troop on a camp out, expecting a nostalgic return to the woods, like in my youth. These “Scouts” could only cook on a modern grill and were mostly worried about battery life on their electronics.

After some soul-searching and a long tirade by me, the Scout Master and I decided that the next camping trip would be a “When the old guys were Scouts trip”. Despite the complaints at the outset, the boys had a great time once they learned real outdoor skills like cooking with no modern conveniences and what a true backwoods hike with map and compass was like.

The point of this is that in our current situation, what would you do if the power and gas stopped working? Could you cook, ensure your water was safe, and prepare a shelter? For the majority of Americans, the answer is a resounding no.

With a little reading, a lot practice, and a sense of adventure, everyone can return to these roots. You’re here because for millennia, humans could do all these things.

An excellent book to get started learning basic skills is the SAS Survival Handbook, by John “Lofty” Wiseman.

The first exercise in this is something I first saw on Viking Preparedness, by Pastor Joe Fox (an outstanding resource and a good author as well). Pack a backpack, walk out one hour into the woods (not a park). Once you are there, make a fire and prepare a meal. After the meal, pack up your waste and walk the one hour back. Simple, right? But do you think the average person would ever consider it? This simple test is a first step to self-reliance and self-confidence.

When you first learned how to drive, how did you get more comfortable driving and develop skills? By overcoming your fears, getting out there, and driving. Outdoor skills, or as we called it in the Marines to sound even tougher, rough country skills, are learned through practice.

The basics everyone should strive to learn are:

  • Fire Building – The ability to build a fire gives warmth, light, a way to dry things, and a way to cook.
  • Water Procurement – Not just how to find water, but also how to make it safe to drink. Even tap water, if the power grid is down, should be made safe before you ingest it.
  • Shelter Building – The ability to build a shelter to keep you out of the elements is critical. As Nehemiah pointed out in the verse, natural materials should be used, and they’ll not only keep you dry & warm, but hidden as well.
  • Land Navigation – Even avid outdoor people have become over-reliant on GPS. I’ve heard the argument that even if the power goes out here, the satellites will still work, but the truth is that if the ground stations don’t have power, you’ll get false readings. Learn how to navigate using a GOOD compass and a paper map. Paper maps are invaluable.
  • First Aid – Yes, first aid. There is really no excuse for not knowing advanced first aid in our modern society. The learning resources are there and are generally free. The resources are widely available. I’m not a nurse or an EMT but I know how to treat most common and many uncommon injuries, including how to reduce tension pneumothorax, and how to run an IV. Get quality training and build a first aid kit.

After learning the basic skills, develop an “emergency bag” for yourself and carry it everywhere (mine is in my SUV). In my emergency bag I have:

  • A USMC issue wool sweater – This will keep you warm even when wet.
  • Rugged outdoor pants and shirt – If I’m dressed for work, I’m not dressed for survival.
  • Boots – Dress shoes are not practical anywhere but the office.
  • Rain Gear – Both a poncho and a rain suit…the poncho has many uses.
  • An entrenching tool – collapsible shovel. Mine also has a knife and saw blade.
  • Two tarps and Paracord – I can make a pretty deluxe shelter with 2 tarps held up by paracord.
  • Shemagh – Can be used as a scarf, a bandage, a signal flag, or a mask.
  • Fire Starting Gear – Storm-proof matches, tinder that lights when wet, and a ferrocerium rod/striker.
  • Fixed Blade Knife – Always useful.
  • Food – I keep a few non-perishable and canned items (usually backpacking food) in the bag.
  • State-Wide map book and compass.

I also keep a separate first aid kit in back of the SUV, along with my personal ruck (another emergency/tactical kit, but that’s another article….).

Once you’ve built the kit, it does you NO GOOD unless it’s always near you. Just like carrying self-defense tools, you don’t know what day a disaster may strike and the coolest gear bag ever won’t save you if it’s at home and you’re at work.

Frequently recheck the bag and adjust spare clothing seasonally. Watch expiration dates on food.

Get started today, learning these skills will be fun, build self-confidence, and just might save your life.

As Nehemiah said, “Go out into the hill country”….


Published by JD

I am the author of the Tactical Wisdom Series. I am a personal protection specialist and a veteran of the US Marine Corps. I conduct preparedness and self-defense training.

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