A few months ago, I was trying to determine a focus for the next CleverHiker video series. For our second season, I wanted get away from gear and focus on teaching skills. The idea came about to make a 10-episode series on the most critical trail skills and I started to scribble down ideas.
It didn’t take long to realize that there were far too many critical skills to cram into a single series. So, instead of filming one full series, I decided to film two. I’m calling the two-part series Essential Trail Skills I & II and I’m excited to hear your thoughts. The series will be 20 HD instructional videos to teach the most important trail skills for backpackers of all levels and it’s set to launch in early 2014.
I researched extensively to choose the most useful and sought-after skills for the videos. Beginner and intermediate backpackers will probably get the most out of the videos, but I’ve seen plenty of experienced backpackers that are rusty with a map & compass, don’t know how to properly hang a bear bag, and couldn’t begin to tie some of the most basic backpacking knots.
I fully realize that “most important skills” is a subjective statement, and that’s why I’m excited to hear your input. I’m really excited to continue my mission of building entertaining and engaging videos to help promote backpacking all over the world. Thanks so much for all of your support, – Dave Collins
CleverHiker Essential Trail Skills I & II
Below you’ll find the full episode list for Essential Trail Skills I & II with a brief synopsis of each video. How do you think I did? What did I miss? And what should I make sure not to leave out?
1. A Backpacker’s Oath – Leave No Trace
Practicing Leave No Trace ethics is just about as fundamental as trail skills get, but many backpackers still don’t really know (or choose not to follow) the rules. What should be done with soiled TP? Can bio soap be used in a lake? When and where are campfires allowed? We cover it all in this episode as we break down the seven principles of LNT backpacking at length.
2. Planning Awesome Adventures
Having a fantastic backpacking trip in the wilderness starts at home with proper planning. Once you’ve planned a few trips, it gets easier. But if you’re a novice, trip planning can be very daunting, often to the point where you might scrap the excursion before it even starts. This episode lays out all the critical planning points and makes the entire process easier.
3. Buying & Fitting The Right Pack
If your backpack is uncomfortable, you’re going to have a miserable trip. It’s just that simple. In this episode we cover how to avoid common pitfalls of choosing a new backpack and how to fit your pack properly to your body.
4. Packing A Lightweight Backpack
Learning to pack a backpack efficiently comes with experience. But you’ll probably pour out the contents of your bag more than a few times before you develop a solid packing system. This episode focuses on tips and tricks to packing an efficient backpack, so you’ll always know where everything is and you’ll never waste a minute.
5. Choosing Great Campsites
Choosing great campsites will lead to memorable trips. But it’s not as simple as throwing a tent down on a flat piece of dirt. If you choose your campsite poorly, you could damage wilderness areas, expose yourself to wind and cold temperatures, or even wake up with a few inches of standing water in your shelter. This episode addresses all things campsites. Locating them on the map, stealth sites, dry sites, water drainage, and a whole lot more.
6. Navigation 1 – Staying Found
Trail navigation seems very simple, but even experienced backpackers can get turned around in the wilderness. Learning to make smart decisions and keep from getting lost is just about the most important skill any backpacker can master. This episode will teach you how to keep from getting lost and tell you exactly what to do if you do get lost.
7. Navigation 2 – Map, Compass, & GPS
Knowing how to read a topographical map is critical for all backcountry travelers. And knowing how to use a compass in the wilderness could easily save your life. That’s why it’s shocking to see how few backpackers actually know their way around a map and compass. This episode teaches the map, compass, and GPS skills that all backpackers should master.
8. Protect Your Food – Keep Wildlife Wild
Keeping wild animals out of your food is for their protection as much as it is for you. Every backpacker knows that food protection is important, but few actually practice it properly. This episode covers several different styles of effective food storage that will keep wildlife wild and keep your food where it should be, in your belly.
9. Learn To Love Backpacking In The Rain
Being good at backpacking in the rain is a skill that takes years of practice, and most backpackers aren’t exactly looking for that type of experience. But backpacking in the rain can actually be a lot of fun. You’ll avoid the crowds, see more wildlife, and experience wilderness areas in a completely different way. This episode covers tips and tricks for having great excursions, even when the weather sucks.
10. Fire Building in Harsh Conditions
Having a campfire while backpacking can be a lot of fun, but it can also be the type of skill that can safe your life in an emergency, especially in harsh conditions. Knowing how to start a fire in harsh conditions is tough, but with the right tools and skills anyone can do it. This episode covers fire skills, from basic to demanding.
11. Wilderness Emergency First Aid
You’ll hopefully never have to use them, but wilderness first aid skills can literally safe your life. Even though first aid skills are obviously critical, many backpackers venture into the wild without even the slightest level of understanding of what to do in an emergency. This episode addresses some key wilderness first aid scenarios that every backcountry traveler should know by heart: CPR, hypothermia, heat exhaustion, cuts, burns, heavy bleeding, broken bones, sprains, and shock.
12. Lightning Danger & High Elevation Hiking
Hiking in beautiful locations can often come with unavoidable tradeoffs. For example, backpacking above tree line will give you fantastic sweeping views, but you’ll also be much more exposed. Lightning safety and high elevation hiking safety are two key skills that often go hand in hand. This episode teaches the warning signs and proper reactions to dangerous situations.
13. Bear Encounters – Truth & Myth
Bears are the animals that we want to see the most in the wild, but they’re also the animals that we’re most afraid of. Many hikers don’t really know how much danger bears pose and how to protect themselves. This episode covers all things bear, including what to do if you do see a bear in the wild and how to avoid close encounters.
14. Snakes & Cougars – Truth & Myth
Knowing how to treat a snakebite in the wilderness is a critical skill. But there’s so much misinformation out there about snake bites that most hikers just get confused and panic. Cougars are another popular source of uncertainty and panic for hikers. This episode lays out everything you need to know about snakes and cougars.
15. Fording Rivers Safely
If you spend enough time in the backcountry, sooner or later you’ll need to ford a river. And knowing how to cross safely will be incredibly important. Drowning in the backcountry is a real danger, so river crossings should not be taken lightly. This episode will teach you how to plan a proper crossing and make it to the other side safely.
16. Snow Crossing – Ice Axe Self-Arrest
Even if you’re not planning a winter backcountry trip, you may still have to deal with crossing snow fields on the trail. Knowing how to cross them safely will be the difference between having a successful adventure, turning around to head home early, or risking a treacherous fall. This episode covers general snow tips, useful gear, and demonstrates how to self-arrest with an ice axe in several different positions.
17. Essential Knots – Because Granny Won’t Cut It
Knowing how to tie the right knot for a specific job is a very useful skill, one that most backpackers gloss over quickly and easily forget. Knots don’t have to be hard to learn though. In this episode we focus on the five most important and useful knots for backcountry trips.
18. Backpacking Blades – Knife Tips for the Trail
In the wilderness, a good knife is a very important tool and knowing how to use one properly could save your life. On the other hand, not knowing how to use a knife properly can put you in serious danger. This episode covers knife safety, knife sharpening, and addresses how to choose the right blade for your hiking style.
19. Insect Protection & Poisonous Plants
Fewer things can ruin a backpacking trip quicker than nasty bug bites or an itchy allergic reaction. But with insects and poisonous plants, a little knowledge and preparation will go a long way. This episode covers insect and plant protection so that bite and itch free trips will easily be the new normal.
20. Wilderness Hygiene Tips
No matter what you do, staying clean on the trail will always be a tough task. But keeping good hygiene is an important part of staying healthy and feeling good while you backpack. It also doesn’t have to be that hard. This episode discusses all things hygiene and addresses how to minimize odors, chaffing and rashes.
Well, what do you think? Did I highlight the 20 most important skills or did I leave some out?
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