AdventureExploration & Survival

The Lost Arts of the Outdoors

Introducing a complete course in authentic adventure, fitness, gear, sports, sex, and so much more

(Illustration: James Olstein)

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Sure, you know how to use Google Maps to get your overstuffed Subaru to a car-camping site. And that's great: We applaud whatever methods you employ to get outside. But as our recreation habits evolve, we risk losing other skills teetering on the brink of obscurity—like how to navigate sans phone or weather spells of boredom without it. Fear not: We've assembled more than 20 masters of their craft to help you relearn those simple pleasures.

Build the Only Repair Kit You Need

We spoke with Patagonia's Worn Wear crew about the tools they use to keep stuff looking good and working well for decades

One of the most environmentally friendly clothes options—fixing what you already have. (Photo: Donnie Hedden)

When your favorite jacket rips or the zipper on your sleeping bag starts to stick, you could pack up the gear, send it to the manufacturer, and wait six weeks for it to come back. Here’s a better solution: Fix it yourself.

Keep Your Cool, No Matter What

There's not much that will make you panic after ten years of dogsledding in the wilderness. And there are lots of ways to feel equally calm in all kinds of outdoor emergencies

(Illustration: James Olstein)

When I started dogsledding ten years ago, I dreamed of one clean run. A run where nothing went wrong—the sled didn’t break in half with 14 huskies attached to it, or a blizzard didn’t close in, or the dogs didn’t get stuck in a river. I loved the sport, but I was always holding my breath for the next crisis. Because at its core, dogsledding—traveling through subzero wilderness by tying yourself to a team of very strong, very manic dogs—is a practice in chaos management.

Start a Fire (Plus 15 Other Outdoor Skills That Aren't Complicated)

Pitching a tent, healing a wound, and finding your way are about the most important things you can learn how to do. They're also the easiest

A fire requires oxygen, heat, and fuel. Supplying those three things it the key to starting one, and the key to keeping one going. And they all exist in abundance. (Photo: Mathias Erhart)

Because having fun outdoors shouldn’t be complicated, here’s a reminder that even some of the most important skills are simpler than we often make them out to be.

Use a Real Camera 

And stop taking goddamn selfies. Award-winning adventure photographer Krystle Wright lets us in on nine of her secrets

This photo of Michael Tomchek BASE jumping in Castle Valley, Utah was a finalist in Red Bull's 2013 Illume competition. (Photo: Krystle Wright)

You did it. You stepped up and bought a real camera. Not just some accessory lenses for your phone—a real, honest to goodness camera with a detachable lens and manual control. Now it’s time to learn how to use the thing.

Make Friends with Strangers 

We aren’t perfect, but most members of our species are worth knowing

(Illustration: James Olstein)

Travel is one long introduction to the broadest of humanity. To meet those neighbors, follow these simple rules

Pitch the Perfect Campsite

Six tips to follow, whether you're pitching your tent in a national park or in your backyard

To find a perfect campsite, you should focus on safety, comfort, and fun. (Photo: Courtesy of Nemo)

First, find a legal spot.

Read a Proper Map

Or, the greatest oversimplified explanation of how to navigate ever written

(Illustration: James Olstein)

Once you’re outdoors, you can’t rely on technology anymore,” says Christiaan Adams, developer advocate for Google Earth. Being able to read a good old-fashioned paper map is one of the most fundamental outdoor skills.

Train Your Dog to Walk Off-Leash

Having an off-leash companion in the outdoors is the whole point of having a dog

Bowie's a German Shepherd/Siberian Husky rescue, or in proper dog parlance, a mutt. So's our other dog, Wiley. (Photo: Justin Owensby)

Right now, my girlfriend and I are busy turning our 15-week-old puppy from a tiny ball of furry terror into a trustworthy adventure companion. And a big part of that is making Bowie reliable off-leash.

Get Your Shit Together

Tidying guru Marie Kondo lets us in on how to declutter our closets and our lives

What’s important is to have a purposeful relationship with your belongings. (Illustration: James Olstein)

Taking the time to reflect on what gear you really need and what you don't has the potential to change your life

Make Two Plants from One

Making your favorite tree or flower reproduce itself is easier than you think

Propagating the wildflowers you see in nature is surprisingly easy. (Photo: borchee / iStock)

Years ago, my father-in-law, Jerry, was walking along the Clark Fork River in Missoula when he noticed a beautiful flower—no one in the family can remember what kind—beside the trail. He knelt down and cut off one of its stems. Then he folded the cutting into a damp square of toilet paper, tucked it into his breast pocket, and brought it home to his rock garden, where it thrived.

Find Lost Things

Seek and ye shall find, writes Ian Frazier

If the universe is entropy, finding lost items restores a tiny piece of order, and suggests a heaven where every sheep has been found. (Photo: Beata Ratuszniak)

We accept that the universe is chaos. As for my own excursions into the outdoors, they produce entropy in such abundance that I even lose the list of things I’ve lost. 

Make a Gourmet Meal

Pro chef and cookbook author Nikki Fotheringham on the number one recipe you should have in your arsenal, plus other camp tips

Focus on the planning, the packing, and the storing. (Photo: Teddy Kelley)

Nikki Fotheringham, editor of Green Moxie and author of The Flaming Marshmallow’s Guide to Campfire Cooking, wants to help campers make flavorful foods easily, many miles into the backcountry. Here’s what she suggests.

Tell a Great Campfire Story

A sneaky ghost is good. A real mystery backed up by history is even better.

(Illustration: James Olstein)

Want to rivet your audience? Here’s one true short story that will do the trick. 

Have (Good) Sex in a Tent

Quietly, is the short answer. Or as loud as you want, if you're way out in the middle of nowhere

Sunrise while camping at the Pawnee National Grasslands. (Photo: Shannon Dizmang)

I guess the truth is that a tent isn’t going to be the limiting factor to banging in the backcountry, but there are still some tips and tricks for maximizing the fun.

Buy a Tool That'll Last the Rest of Your Life

What to buy and how to treat it right

I've owned this ESEE 6 for a decade or so. (Photo: Wes Siler)

A knife is the fundamental tool for the outdoorsperson for many reasons. It’ll help you start a fire. It’ll help you build a shelter. It’ll help you make dinner. It might keep you alive. A knife is also incredibly simple—a sharpened piece of metal with a handle on it—which means it should last forever.

Stay Warm

The number one most basic, most important camping skill

Hilaree O’Neill has spent years in the backcountry honing her apparel system. (Photo: Ales Krivec)

Don’t rely on your fancy tent and minus-15-degree sleeping bag to keep you warm in the backcountry. Sure, those things help, but your comfort, possibly even your survival, comes down to the basics: the clothes on your body. We spoke with professional ski mountaineer Hilaree O’Neill about her apparel system, gear hacks, and love affair with wool.

Find Joy in Every Workout

Kathrine Switzer on the lessons she's learned after a lifetime of running. Nonrunners, take note

Kathrine Switzer crosses the finish line in the Boston Marathon, Monday, April 17, 2017. (Photo: Elise Amendola/AP)

We asked the 70-year-old icon what she’s learned from her lifelong relationship with her sport.

Make Your Own Gear

Our savvy, Norwegian-folk-school-trained writer shows you how to craft your own skijoring belts and mid layers

Creating your own gear allows you to embrace new skills, personalize your essentials, and have fun with the off-season. (Photo: TommL / iStock)

Camping and backpacking are empowering, because they help us break down perceived barriers: we don’t actually need to sleep in a bed or use electricity. And making your own equipment helps to break down another mental barrier: the idea that we need to buy special equipment to be comfortable in the wilderness.

Go Anywhere Outside

From rafting trips to big-wall climbs, here's how to do it just about anywhere outdoors

Some say that plumbers make civilization possible, but you have options even when away from it all. (Illustration: Brendan Leonard)

No matter the sport, there’s a clean, quick way to take care of business, and no one should allow a fear of poop to keep them from trying something new.

Brew a Great Cup of Coffee No Matter Where You Are

Six tips from James Freeman, coffee drinker extraordinaire and founder of Blue Bottle

According to Blue Bottle founder James Freeman, all you need to brew a good cup of coffee are quality beans, dialed proportions, and a pure filter. (Photo: Courtesy of Blue Bottle)

Brewing great coffee doesn’t have to be complicated. The key? Go with a pour-over. While the term may evoke images of mustachioed baristas, this highly portable, completely analog tool is easy to learn how to use and just at home on the trail as it is at your local café.

Ford a River 

Advice from a longtime NOLS instructor on when and how to cross a river, without drowning

Hiking partners cross a stream near Nelson Lakes, New Zealand. (Photo: Parker Woodworth/NOLS)

Imagine you’re backpacking with a few friends in the mountains. Then imagine that the thin blue line on your map indicating a stream turns out to be a river blown out by snowmelt when you arrive at its banks. Perhaps the trail you’re following disappears at the water’s edge, continuing on the other side. You’ll need to cross the water.

Weather a Storm

In other words, how to not lose your mind to boredom, according to polar explorer Eric Larsen

When leaving the tent is suicide, keeping busy is the key to sanity. (Photo: Eric Larsen)

I have literally spent years of my life in a tent, caught in storms, on one adventure or another. During that time, I’ve gained a few insights into the best strategies to overcome the boredom and anxiety that can ensue. After all, learning to deal with delays is just as important as knowing how to tie a figure-eight knot.

Plan a Last-Minute Adventure

Baja: The ultimate weekend escape. And it’s way easier than you think to get here.

(Illustration: James Olstein)

Last Wednesday, I bought a truck. Friday morning, I loaded it up with camping gear, my dog, and a girl, and drove to Baja. By lunchtime, we had a beach all to ourselves

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Lead Illustration: James Olstein
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