What is the number one backcountry skill people should learn?

What is the number one skill people should learn in case they get lost in the backcountry? The Editors Santa Fe, NM

Tony Nester

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On a physical level, firemaking–and the ability to make it under any conditions–is the hallmark skill of a competent wilderness traveler. You should be skilled at creating fire in the rain, deep snow, at night, with one hand, and so on. Your life, or the lives of your party (or clients), may one day depend on how well you have mastered this critical area of survival.

Now, I am not talking about the art of rubbing two-sticks together or fire-by-friction. This is an advanced bushcraft skill and not something you want to rely on if you are truly lost and hypothermic. I am referring to modern firemaking using a spark-rod, lighter, and matches along with a quality tinder like cottonballs smeared with Vaseline.

Practice making fire regularly with the above items on your family camping trips, backyard barbecues, and wilderness outings as such skills are perishable. Remember you will perform in the wilds under actual duress the way that you have trained, so ingrain the skills in your head and hands before you need them in a true survival situation.

On a mental level, the number one skill is mindfulness, or situational awareness. Be aware of your surroundings on a constant basis, and don’t forget to look over your shoulder at the landmarks as you hike along. These landmarks, such as boulders, hilltops, canyons, power lines, etc… will be your reference points upon returning along that same trail later. Most people stare at the heels of the hiker in front of them and forget to look around. Pay attention to the natural world unfolding around you!

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